I’ve been thinking a bit about our move up to First Level next year and I’ve had a couple of epiphanies. One is that we can do every movement in the First Level tests quite easily, we are just lacking quality lengthens. If I just approach First Level as Training Level with some extra movements, more shoulders lifted balance, and a bit more energy, moving up seems a lot less intimidating. As I said, the movements are all easy, the balance is pretty good, but then there is the question of energy.
I realized somewhere during the end of this year of showing at Training that I made a bit of a compromise with Jet. As long as he was relaxed and calm he was allowed to be a bit low energy at times. Just like going slightly BTV occasionally, the low energy was allowed when in stressful situations like spooky venues or on a super windy day. Sometimes you’re not going to get it all, so you settle for the most important thing. Everything starts and ends in relaxation. This worked really well for us with some very calm reactions(judges stand blowing away!) and some nice comments about calmness and partnership. But. If we are going to show at First we have to have a more uphill balance and more energy. I started working on the uphill balance with great success (and got rid of the BTV!) but the energy has been a work in progress. Then I remembered “Forwards NOT Faster!” just like in the picture above.
Back in the Stone Age when I was a baby rider, I had the opportunity to work in various barns in the PNW as a working student and take tons of lessons and ride with some pretty spectacular clinicians. Think Olympians that have multiple medals. Anyway, in addition to all this H/J training, I also had the privilege of riding in clinics with a German Bereiter that we’ll call GR. GR had ridden with some BIG names in Germany, had his Gold Medal, and Bereiter. He was a super nice man, with limited English, who gave a very unique dressage clinic experience. Essentially he rode the horse through you. Everything was forward, figures, and transitions. Your ass hit the saddle and it was on. And when I say forward, I mean FORWARD, but not running. One of GR’s favorite sayings was, “EVERY STEP YOU MUST RIDE!” And I tell you what, you have never seen such through horses who found gears they never know they had. There was a lot more to his methodology, but the base of everything was forward to the connection. Sometimes the horses ended up looking a bit BTV and stressed, but the biomechanics of the hind leg and the back were superb. And lengthens were not a problem.
I now prefer my horses to look like the bottom of the illustration but in my everlasting quest for energy I wondered if I could take all the things I like about Dressage Naturally like partnership, relaxation, a long neck, and softness and add in a bit of FORWARD BUT NOT FASTER to some of the work some of the time. Not really using any leg, seat, or hands heavily, just having the mantra in my mind of FORWARD BUT NOT FASTER. That extra bit of zoom. Interspersed with freestyle and/or working gaits in whatever energy Jet offered. And hit the jackpot. More through the back. Better transitions. That feeling of an airplane taking off. Canter steps with more jump. If I rode Jet like this all the time, I think it would be too much, but by doing it some of the time between ordinary, slightly lower energy work, his general energy level is higher and the quality of his movement is so much better. Interesting, how something from 25 years ago could be so helpful in the here and now.