With every lesson, I try to have something to "take home". Something that I make stick in my head to be able to work on for next time. Sure ,in every lesson there are some "in the moment" situations where corrections are made and the horse is better afterwards. But there is always something that can be applied to every ride that can make both me and the horse better, not just in that moment in that lesson, but better in the long run.
I was fortunate that Craig got video of my lesson with George Williams. I wish all of my lessons could be preserved on video, because I think going back to look at them is very educational.
For example, during my lesson George said that I should let my inside knee drop when the horse's inside leg is landing on the ground. Automatically I tried to do this, and at the time I didn't know why. I just did it because that was the instruction. Later, after watching my lesson, I decided that I'd try to adopt this new thing into my everyday riding.
When I began doing the sitting trot I had to look down to make sure I was timing my knee drop when the inside leg was hitting the ground. I did this most easily by checking when the outside leg was forward, like you do when checking if you are on the correct diagonal. So I started letting my knee drop when I would have been in the rising phase of the posting trot when the horse's outside shoulder was forward.
In my head I pictured George saying "Now. Now. Now." at the correct time. Once I got the timing right it was easy, but I caught myself looking down more than I should to check. Then I had to remind myself to look up, but I kept the "Now. Now. Now." going on in my head. After a few rides I got the hang of it and started to automatically establish the timing.
It was a little trickier at the canter, and it took a bit more checking to make it happen. George said it was on the third beat of the canter, but I found that hard for me to establish on my own. So I went back to the trot and got a good look at how the shoulder looked when the leg was on the ground. Then I went back to the canter and tried again. Eventually I think I got it, but with nobody on the ground it's just a guess. I'm pretty sure I had it right because it seemed to be timed right before the airborne phase of the canter, which would follow the third beat.
Then I got to thinking - why is this important? Is that to help with the rhythm of the stride? Or does it have something to do with the rider's seat or leg at that moment that helps to improve the gait?
One way to find out. I sent George an email. Here is his reply -
"The rider's inside knee goes down when the horse's corresponding front leg is on the ground at the walk, trot and canter. This helps the rider identify the rhythm of the horse. It is useful to know this on many levels.
The rider can mark half halts and encourage the horse to carry the weight and push off the ground more energetically to improve the quality of the gait. You can also use it for the timing of the aids in leg yielding and lateral movements. For instance at the trot if you know the inside front leg is on the ground then you know the inside hind is in the air at that moment. If you use your leg when a hind leg is "in flight" you can direct it further under the horses body thereby increasing the articulation of the joints when the hind leg is in the air.
That's the simple, short answer. I hope it helps. "
Ahh, perfect. That is just what I was looking for. So now that I had the explanation I should just be able to work that into my riding and presto! Better dressage!
If only it were that easy. There is a reason why some of us are trainers and some of us (meaning me here) are riders.
My next few rides I tried really hard to put this into practice, not just in the sense that I was marking out my knee drop in time with the foot falls, but also in the sense that I could, if I had my timing right, know when I had influence over which hind leg. I've often struggled with this in my riding, and there has been more than one occasion when my trainer would ask if I felt a certain hind leg doing something, and I rarely could. I don't know what is missing there in my "feeling" of the hind legs, but I thought now I had a tool to help teach me.
I was working with Albert, and while he is really getting a hang of the trot half-passes, he still has anxiety with the canter half-passes. At the trot half-pass I thought it would be very helpful to help activate the outside hind leg to help him get it farther under himself. So I warmed up, and practiced the knee drop, concentrating on the rhythm and trying to improve my feel. I did fine at the trot and canter when I was going straight forward, but in the lateral work it all went down the tubes.
There was so much more to think about with my aids when going forward AND sideways, plus the fact that Albert is still a bit iffy about the half-pass aids anyway. This all lead to me getting about one stride into the half-pass and totally losing the knee-drop association. I had issues with Albert getting tense, getting crooked, over-reacting to the leg aid, then resisting and falling behind my leg...all that fun stuff. So the knee-drop went out the window as I tried to salvage each exercise.
I'm not giving up on this yet though. I think that once the knee drop becomes second nature to me that I'll be able to unconsciously have it timed out in my head. Once this occurs I should be able to concentrate on the other aids and issues that come up and still know what's going on with the hind legs. So one of these days my trainer will say "Do you feel that?" and I can say, confidently, "YES."
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