Tuesday's ride elicited some strange advice from my trainer. Well, it wasn't all that weird when taken in context, but if a dressage rider who didn't know our situation had overheard they would have thought it was unorthodox (if not plain incorrect). After watching Kaswyn and I trot around for a few laps, my trainer asked how I thought Kaswyn felt. I said I thought he felt great on the long side, but he felt tentative and unbalanced in the corners. She suggested that I don't ride into the corners of the arena at the ends, but rather turn earlier and make the end of the arena more like a circle.
When I first started riding, the riding arenas were not rectangular - they were big ovals. Most people tend to stay close to the rail when riding, which is partly a security thing on the part of both horse and rider and partly habit. When riding next to the rail neither partner need worry about making a straight line. All both need to do is follow the continuous line of the fence. In a giant oval arena I never encountered corners.
Eventually I moved to a barn that had a covered arena which was a big rectangle, and I was introduced for the first time to corners. I was forever being told to "ride into the corner", which means basically don't treat the short side of the arena like it was oval, but treat it as it's constructed - as a rectangle. So I learned to ride the long side of the arena straight, and then bend my horse around the corner and ride into the short side.
Dressage reinforced the corner concept even more. Dressage arenas are rectangles. Unless the movement in the test specifically calls for a circle at the end of the arena, the rider is always expected to ride the horse well into the corner. This demonstrates the balance, flexibility, and rideability of the horse as well as the skill and knowledge of the rider. Corners also serve as training aids by giving the horse and rider a place to prepare for a movement upon exiting the corner. Depending on the desired result the corner can be used to collect, bend, increase suspension, increase drive, etc, all of which can potentially turn a mediocre movement into a great one. So Kaswyn and I learned how to ride corners.
Tuesday was the first time that I purposely avoided riding into the corners. And Kaswyn felt much much better. My trainer commented that it looked smoother and that it appeared he was able to maintain balance and flow throughout the short side. A few times I rode into the corner mistakenly, out of habit. But I'll do my best to keep out of those corners until my horse gets stronger.
It's hard not to think of this as a step backwards. I just keep reminding myself that I don't have to re-teach him how to do corners, but rather remind his body how to do them, and then build those muscles and make him strong.