Monday, December 20, 2010

Butt Before Nose

The weather gods have continued to bless us in Colorado.  At least in my opinion.  So far it has still been warm and pleasant enough to have my lessons every other Sunday (even if we are stuck in an indoor).  Usually by now we are seeing windy days well below 0F so I don't mind riding in 35-40F.

Last week I was told to stop working so hard, and I think I'm getting it, mostly.  As we started out I could tell I wasn't having to push Dexter as hard as I had been.  We worked on this a lot since the last lesson.  If I asked for a trot, I expected a trot.  If I asked for more trot I expected more trot.... simple I know.  i still feel myself tensing up the more I go along, trying to hold my position and his, but we will work on it.  Both Dexter and I didn't get at winded this lesson so its a move in the right direction. 

Now that we didn't have to work so hard, we started engaging Dexter's engine (butt).  Previously when asked to move forward, he ducked his head and quickened his stride.  Now that we have good contact with the bit I am working on not focusing on putting his head where I want it, but "driving" him into position. I know this works and I understand it's proper, but because I don't always get how it works I forget to do it and focus on "wiggling" his head into position.  At any rate, this lesson while trainer was explaining this strategy i really really focused on keeping my hands as still as possible and moving him with my legs (seat will come later).  And it seemed to work.  He kept his head down, but not in (not quite vertical either but that's OK), and felt more balanced.  He hasn't been diving into the turns for the last several lessons.... I almost forgot he used to. 

Another "Ah-ha" moment came during a serpentine exercise.  Trainer has been telling me to bend his barrel before his head when switching directions.  And I've been trying but haven't really gotten it.  I'd still end up "steering" with my reins.  But yesterday during one of the serpentines I was pushing with my new inside leg and shifting my seat and I felt his midsection move underneath me.  It was cool. (I get excited by the littlest things... you have to in dressage).  I thought "Oh that's what I'm looking for" and could feel that we had gotten it right even before trainer told us it was perfect. 

We also practiced a mock dressage test where trainer would yell out movements as we went around the ring.  It was super fun and was a good gauge for where we were.  And it was encouraging. He bent well and stayed steady.  The only disasterous parts were his canter to trot transitions and that was expected being as we haven't worked on them at all.  We've been busy getting a good canter first.

So homework for the next 2 weeks:  Stop staring and worrying about head position!  25% of the horse is in front of me, I need to start riding the other 75%.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dec 5th - Relax Your Hips - Don't Work So Hard!

Indoors again.... a brisk 35 outside, unfortunately for Dexter he is ready for winter so the indoor makes him sweat quite a bit.... even if it is only slightly above 40F.

So it was back to the basics this lesson.  No cadence, no shoulder-fore, no sitting trot.  Just re-training Dexter to go when I say go, and keep going until I say stop.  I say re-training because when I got Dexter he was very sensitive to the leg, and now, due to my bad habits of thinking I have to push him, he has let me take the lead.  Meaning, the minute I stop asking for the canter means its time to trot.  Which results in me getting very very tired and him finding every excuse to break or not go forward.  Like I said its my fault, but fixable.

So we spent the fist part of the lesson going around in circles at the trot, asking him to bend without me holding (in my hands).  And Trainer reminding me to relax my legs, hips and thighs every 5th stride or so.  I think its every time I half halt I forget to release all the way.  Plus I was trained a long time ago to use my hips and butt to maintain my seat so learning to relax those muscles is a subconscious battle.  I have a new mantra - (being that trainer said it 50 times) "Relax your hips!".

The second part of the lesson was working at the canter, again... no fancy stuff, just keeping him going without me pushing him every stride.  It wasn't the prettiest canter, but it was forward without being out of control.  He even went down the long side a few times without picking up speed.  I really concentrated on loosening my hips and legs and flowing with him.  It made it much more comfortable for me and it seemed like he was able to swing up and under better.  But, he thinks no leg means stop, so it was a fine balance of taking my leg off for as many strides as I could, but catching him before he broke into the trot.  I think the max was 4 strides, but its better than it was last lesson.

And finally we worked on serpentines, like I said the basics.  Keeping him forward and bending without me holding him.  I also noticed during our walk to trot transitions after each break that I really have been getting soft with Dexter.  I try to bring him back to work easy after a short break, but this has translated into having to convince him to trot.  It was very apparent in this last lesson when I'd have to squeeze really hard and still no trot.  I had to wake him up with the whip before he believed me that it was time to go back to work.  So I'm going to have to remember to be more deliberate with my aides.  Not, beat him if he doesn't respond in an instant, but if we are going to get anywhere he needs to understand that every time I move my hands or legs I am asking and expecting a very specific response.

I seem to have let him trap me into working too hard.  Being a perfectionist I keep trying to fix every little thing at once and end up holding him in position, with my seat, legs, hands, everything.  Its exhausting :) and not the purpose of dressage.  So we are going back a few steps. I will get Dexter to understand self carriage, I will not position him every stride, I will be consistent and deliberate with my aides, and I will remember to keep my seat fluid.  These are my goals, Dexter has no homework this week.  He is a smart hard-working horse.  His only fault has been to follow my lead, at this point if I can fix my tendencies, I have no doubt Dexter will respond well and follow suit.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lesson Number 8-ish Video

Since it's been a while since my last lesson, I thought I'd share some video from one.  I'm hoping to add some more as we go to compare our progress.  It all depends on how often I can talk my husband into coming to video us.