Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Two lessons and a fit

Last night I had two lessons, one each on Skyy and Albert.

Skyy's lesson was great. It started off kind of shaky, with Skyy not making a consistent contact to the bit. After a little warm-up my trainer had me ride a 20 meter trot circle at the far end of the arena. Then she asked me to have the horse stretch his nose down to the ground.

Here is how I usually do this, especially with Skyy. I ask him to put his neck extra round and extra deep, then I push a bit with my legs and seat and at the same time let the reins get longer. As he stretches his nose down I keep just a little contact with the bit so that if he stops stretching, needs to turn, or brings his head up I can use the reins to adjust whatever is needed. Even during the stretch circle exercise in the test you really shouldn't completely throw your reins away and have the reins lose, since what the exercise is supposed to show is that the horse maintains contact, or at least seeks the contact, with the bit no matter where you put the bit.

So this is what I did in the lesson. Skyy was stretching some, but not all the way down so I kept trying to ask him to stretch down by taking a bit of contact and loosening his neck. My trainer said "Longer reins, and have him stretch down more." I tried to have a longer rein but he wasn't stretching to it, so I kept shortening them.

She kept saying "No, longer rein, as in just hold the buckle of the reins." Well when you hold the buckle that is as long as your reins can possibly get. But he wasn't stretching. Still she said "Longer reins, just let them go!" and I finally said "But I have no contact, see?" and she said "I know, just let them get longer."

I completely didn't get what I was supposed to be doing. Clearly she wanted me to have the horse stretch. He wasn't stretching. How would a longer rein with no contact at all help me to make him stretch? I was getting frustrated, because I felt like I was trying but I just wasn't getting this exercise. So I'm ashamed to admit that I threw a little hissy fit and said "But I have no contact! Nothing in my hands! How can I get him to stretch? I HAVE NO CONTACT!" To illustrate my point, I shook my totally loose reins forward so they were waving elaborately.

She said, calmly, "I know. Just hold the buckle and don't worry about it."

Fine. If that's what she wanted that is what I would do. I held the buckle, and Skyy put his head in the air. He didn't race off or even speed up, but he didn't put his head down and stretch like we were supposed to be doing either. When we came to the spot where we should have turned to keep on the circle I didn't do anything with the reins but tried to turn him with my seat and leg, and he didn't turn. My trainer said "Okay, well, turn him back onto the circle and keep holding the buckle."

So that is what we did. A few times my trainer had me establish contact and a working frame again, only to have me hold the buckle again. Then she said "Pat his neck, talk to him, get him to relax." I started to scratch his withers and talk to him, much like I did at the last show after our tense ride. The whole time all I kept thinking was "Where are we going with this? I'm clearly not doing this right and the horse isn't getting it either." But I kept my frustration in check and did as I was told.

Suddenly, after trotting for what seemed like an eternity with his head up in the air and the reins completely slack, Skyy stretched all the way down to the ground with his nose. His released his neck and his back, and gave a big sigh. He did this all on his own without me touching his mouth.

Oh. That's what you wanted. Huh. Now I get it.

My trainer said "Ahhh! Yes! That's it!"

We worked this exercise for a few more minutes that direction, and then worked it the other direction. After that Skyy's contact was much steadier and he had much better swing and relaxation in his back. Then we took a walk break and I prepared to run through the test.

As I was sitting on Skyy running through the test in my head I heard my trainer and Skyy's owner laughing quietly. I said "What? Are you laughing at me because I'm talking myself through the test?" and my trainer said "No, well, yes, we're laughing but not about your test." They giggled a little more so I said "What is it?" and my trainer said "Just run through your test and I'll tell you later."

So we went through the test twice, and they were both pretty decent. The second test was better because I was able to fix some of the issues from the first test. He's got the basics down but now I have to put the polish on all the movements.

As I was cooling Skyy down I said "Okay, what were you laughing at?" My trainer smiled and said "You never get rattled like that in a lesson, but I could tell we were having a breakdown in communication. It's just because you're so intense right now with the show coming up. It reminded me of that one lesson where you freaked out on Kaswyn with the 'He just WON'T get off my LEFT LEG!' "

I laughed because I remember that lesson. I think we were working on trot half-pass to the right, and my horse was sitting on my left leg. I was squeezing with my left leg as hard as I could and he would not move his haunches over. It was exasperating. We tried again and again but he was completely blowing off my left leg. Finally I came unglued and put both reins in my right hand, took my whip in my left hand, and spanked his left butt cheek with a WHAP WHAP WHAP! My trainer, shocked, said "Um, okay, what was that for?" and I said, in my best snotty fourteen-year-old brat voice, "He just WON'T get off my LEFT LEG!"

So that makes three times that I've pitched a fit in a lesson. Well, maybe not pitched a fit, but got a little bratty. I guess with as many lessons as we've had in 10 years it's not too bad, although it shouldn't be any. At least she's not mad at me!

Albert had a great lesson too. We worked the "buckle stretch" with him too, since he's not stretching down as much as he should either. He needed a bit more convincing with the reins though. We will work on that at home. I also ran through the test twice and made the same mistake twice - the same mistake I made last week in the lesson. I will not be happy if I go off course at the show. You would think that making the same mistake and then correcting it at home would drill it into my brain, but for some reason I keep screwing it up. Albert is very solid and ready for this. I just have to keep him slow and relaxed because he gets a little pumped up after his first medium trot in the test. If I can remember that we're good.

Two more lessons Thursday. Schooling rides on Friday. Clipping and riding Saturday. Packing Sunday. Then on the road Monday!


Anonymous said...

Love your post - I am a "won't get off my leg!" tantrum thrower, thought I usually beat myself up for being such a cr@p rider.

Having made my first tiny steps into dressage, I am completely hooked and am taking my mare along to the last local show of the year in just over a week.

We are completely novice, and just doing Prep and Prelim tests (the lowest you can get) for the heck of it. It won't be pretty as both of us are still very rough, but I think we'll have a great day out and I get to dress up for the first time ever! Woo!

Thanks for the post on Stretching - my Appy thinks she's an Arab and likes to run around like a giraffe. My instructor uses the "real deep, real round" to teach stretch, and I haven't been able to shake the whole "is this really how to do it?" feeling - but it's working, and I think what you've described is how I'm being taught. Great to see it validated!

Best of luck!

dressagemom said...


Isn't dressage fun? Be careful, it's addicting if you have an obsessive personality. Not that I would know anything about that...

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