Lol. I love that SmartPak has such a sense of humor.
So the weather, my schedule, and the dressage trainer's schedule all FINALLY coincided for a lesson last week. Funnily enough, a friend recommended this trainer to me and I totally did not connect the dots that I had already met her through my internship at Practical Horseman until I did some
Wait, back up, what?! Although I've hinted that I worked at a certain horsey publication, I didn't want to say exactly where at the time just in case some creepy person decided to figure out when I was there and follow me, but now that the internship ended, it's not a problem. I'll write a post about the internship sometime soon because it was awesome.
Back to the subject at hand: the long-awaited dressage lesson!
I rode a Dutch Warmblood (ooooh fancy!) named Christopher who was described to me as a "solid citizen." Of course, that meant that five steps after I mounted up, he skittered away from a monster in the tall grass outside the fence. Thank goodness I have made a habit of riding bareback or stirrupless at least once a week so it was no big deal, just a bit surprising. The instructor said that she had never seen this horse spook--I guess I'm just special :) After that, he was almost lazy with a nice, non-rushy canter...such a nice change! I was probably just nervous to ride a new horse in a grass arena (trainer's barn is under construction, but looks like it will be very nice once it is done) since normally I would never ride a horse outside until I have ridden once or twice in an arena.
I really liked her teaching style. She uses a lot of metaphors until something clicks, and we kept talking throughout most of the lesson to make sure we understood each other. Most of the time I am pretty quiet in a lesson, but I'm very interested to learn the whys and hows of this new sport. At the end of the lesson she also asked me what three things I was going to work on in my next ride would be, which was great since I won't be taking lessons every week and that focused my goals for rides outside of lessons.
She said that I have a nice seat (put that on the list of things it is inappropriate to say outside of the barn) but that to start, I just need to transform my hunter position into a dressage position. I already have the bad habit of leaning, so I had to practically go backwards to become straight. She told me to "line up my ears with my shoulders," which was the easiest way to think of it for me. Apparently my version of "sitting up straight" without putting my ears above my shoulders is just arching my back. I think even this simple position fix is going to help me since often at the canter, I brace my lower back (trying to sit up "straight") and inadvertently tell the horse to stop although my legs are saying go.
As for the rest of my position: I need to stay strong in my back to hold my hand position and contact together. When she put me in the right position at the halt and walk, I felt tension in the upside-down triangle of muscle between my shoulder blades (if that makes any sense at all) so I think that I will need to build up muscle there. When I stopped thinking about it, it was very easy to fall into my other bad habit of throwing away my reins at the walk.
We cantered briefly just to warm up, but most of our work was at the trot trying to get a really good bend out of Christopher on the circle. I was kind of reluctant to take up the heavy contact she was asking of me--not only because it was LITERALLY heavy, but also because I've always tried to be as easy on a horse's mouth as possible. If a horse isn't trained to relax down into contact, I don't force the issue. The most I will do is to keep my hands low with a supporting outside rein and opening inside to encourage them to stretch to the inside. However, the trainer explained it this way: you see Olympic horses being very light in the bridle, but they weren't always like that. You need to ask a horse to soften by taking up that contact and then softening it when the horse gets the right answer.
She wanted me to bend so that I could see Christopher's entire eye, rather than just the hint of an eyelash that I was used to. I got it once or twice, but it took a while since in my dithering and not taking up contact, Christopher decided that he could take advantage of me by falling in and not being terribly responsive to my repeated attempts to bend. Using my hands so strongly in a new position while keeping him at a decent trot out on the circle and posting higher out of the saddle simultaneously was definitely a challenge.
I worked on all of this when I hacked out by myself today. I was trying to get a nice circle out of an ordinarily pokey QH since he is more forward in the field. In all honesty, if I had to give myself a grade, it would probably be a C- just since I was not very consistent. I remembered to keep my ears above my shoulders a handful of times, but it is definitely not a habit yet and by the end of the ride I had totally forgotten about it. I have no idea if my arms were at the right angle or hands at the right height; I didn't even think of it. I was also riding a horse who isn't really trained in any particular discipline, so bending is still kind of hit or miss as to whether he'll give to the pressure or just contort himself weirdly. We did get some bend in the last two circles so then I called it a day.
Let me know if you like these lesson recaps. It helps me to process but I'm not really sure if it is interesting to others.
In other news...the lesson plans will be coming back! The instructor I am substituting for just started her maternity leave so I begin teaching this Sunday, and I've already started writing out a plan for each student. So excited!!!