I’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately in my riding, the dressage side of things. I’d been making pretty good progress for a while but seem to have hit a plateau. Plateaus are not the worst thing ever, but after a while, they get a bit blah. I’ve been getting back into jumping some, which helps, but I’m still plodding along, with this idea of earning USDF Rider award medals.
This past week I took Bali into the chiro, I wanted to make certain that there was nothing out in her hips or SI area, or anything sore, since she often changes late behind when changing to the right, and has no problems cross cantering. The chiro said that her muscling is very symmetrical, her flexibility superb, and there was nothing sore that he could find. He agreed with Tina (Bali’s massage therapist…she’s not spoiled, nope not a bit) who says Bali is probably the soundest and most flexible horse she works on. The only thing the vet/chiro spotted was that her right front could be a hair shorter on the outside branch. Seriously, this is a very happy thing. I didn’t really think I had any pain issues, but wanted to make sure before I started to treat it as a training issue. Woot! Bali is still sound.
Onto the clinic. It was with James Houston. I’d heard of him once or twice, and nothing bad, and the farm is close. I like that the lessons were a full hour, and there was some time in the schedule to talk. I often feel so hurried in clinics, not ever time to say anything to the instructor, often, a bit like going to the doctor with an HMO who limits the doctor’s time.
We chatted a bit right before I got on, he asked what I wanted to work on today. At some point, I’d like to work on the flying changes, but working on those when showing Second level, where you are showing counter canter and simple changes is tricky. So, we did not work on that. Instead, I mentioned that my shoulder in to renvers was a bit sticky sometimes, and my walk pirouette (or turn on the haunches) was still needing work. Since those two are in the second level tests, we worked on those.
After I rode for a few minutes, James asked to hop on Bali. He got on, then really worked on getting her to release her jaw and really start swinging her back. After a few minutes, he got off and did some ground work asking for bend and really releasing her neck at the base. Bali really seemed to like him and what he was doing. When he’d ask for forward and bend, he’d then step back to give her time to think. She was a bit deep at this point, but seemed very happy and was really bringing her back up and getting more forward. He then got on again and rode her, getting her lifting through her back even more, a swinging back and a longer neck. Then he had me get back on, and the lesson went on.
First, we worked on getting the walk more active. Since I have trouble feeling when I’ve got the activity but need to shorten the stride, he walked next to me with a whip and added some light taps to the top of her croup. This seemed to help and I think I’m starting to feel the walk that I’ll have in my turn on the haunches.
When we moved into trot and shoulder in, I started to lose some of the soft feel, so we came back to walk and did shoulder in at the walk. I tend get crooked in the lateral work and one thing that really helped was that as I was walking in shoulder in, he was walking next to me and physically pushed the side of my hip over and down. He did that twice and it was a bit of an “ah ha!”. Then, later when I’d get a bit twisted he’d remind me of how it felt when he’d pushed it over, and I was able to do that. He was really good at saying when I was crooked. As soon as he’d say it, I could feel where I’d started to lean, but at a couple of points, I felt like a pretzel when I was actually straight…which means that I’ve been a pretzel when I thought I was straight.
The shoulder in was still sticky, so we made it counter-shoulder in, and then went to haunches in. That started to feel nice and the regular reminders to stay straight and keep the appropriate shoulder back were good. Then we went back to trotting and the shoulder in to renvers was pretty nice. We’d do 3 steps shoulder in, 3 steps renvers, repeat down the long side.
Last, we did get to some canter work. Every dressage instructor who has ever taught me could tell you that I have a tendency to lean forward with my shoulders when I ask for a canter depart. This was noticed today, and today, the instruction was not “don’t lean forward” but instead, “think of pushing the horse up in front of your seatbones for the canter depart.” With all the work we’d been doing, the canter departs and back to walk were getting better and better. I would put my inside hand forward a lot, to get her more freedom in her shoulders.
We finished with a stretchy circle…I was to make it a 9. And, he said that we got a 9 stretchy circle.
He asked if I was riding both days, and I’d initially thought I would, then hadn’t been clear enough with Katy who was organizing, and then decided I should save the money, but the lesson was so good, I said I wouldn’t mind another. So, I’m going to go over for a ride before the 9am start time and start around 7:45 or so.
For the most part, my hands were lower and my reins were much longer than I’ve been riding. Towards the end, the work had her feeing way more uphill particularly in the canter. I think my comment was “her neck is right here!” And that was from the more lifting shoulders.
Doug was there with his camera, so I will have pictures.
Edited 6/21/11 to integrate pictures into the entry!