Thursday, November 5, 2009

Workin' It: My Dressage Lesson with Karen

Karen began the lesson like most clinicians, asking about our experience and our horses, with the caveat that she knew Lindsey, the young woman who shared my lesson (and had apparently found her horse for her). She’s been doing Training level, so I was excited (and a little apprehensive) to be working at that level.

Karen, obviously an excellent judge of horseflesh, thought highly of Paddy, and thought she may have seen him at other clinics/shows

She watched both of us warm up. I tried very hard to make Paddy go FORWARD and to keep him straight and consistent. I was working pretty hard, but he was doing better than we’d been doing in terms of going (bigger spurs help—I don’t have to use them all the time, but they serve as an excellent “reminder”!).

She zeroed in on some things I’ve been working with Bobo and Weslee and Kathleen about: keeping by body more still from the waist up (and NOT leaning back); keeping hands fairly still, and only about as wide as the horse’s mouth/bit; not leaning into my turns; not collapsing, but stretching up; and USING my legs, but also keeping my feet anchored in the stirrups.

She talked about the Rider’s Responsibilities: Direction, Speed, Balance, and Rhythm. She also quizzed us about key terms:

  • Engagement (the horse using his back legs)
  • Contact (a connection with the bit, with energy coming from the back end)
  • Impulsion (a desire to go forward, mitigate by the rider)
  • Resistance (any kind of avoidance)
  • Throughness (energy coming from the hind end and through the back to the bit)
  • Preparation (what we do before transitions, etc.—eventually, it becomes less obvious, but it ALWAYS must be there; it lets the horse know what’s coming)

These are ideas that I understand cognitively, but it’s really hard to KNOW when you’ve got it (or, when you do get it, exactly HOW so that you can replicate it!)

I’m really interested in understanding/feeling “impulsion” and “thoroughness”.

She also talked about the four types of yielding that horses MUST be able to do:

  1. Front End
  2. Hind End
  3. Head Down
  4. Back Up

We work on these via lateral work, transitions (especially downward transitions), both between and within gaits, as well as ring figures. She had us do some of all of these—we did a lot of leg yields at the trot diagonally across the arena, and a lot of transition within the gaits. And, of course, we were doing ring figures the whole time.

We started out at the walk, and when Paddy would “jig”, she told me to “clamp my lower legs against him like I was cracking a lobster claw”. When he walks, I release. He got it very quickly.

When he curls his neck, I’m supposed to keep the connection consistent, which might mean I have to pull back on the reins, mimicking him. He has to learn that he can’t avoid contact.

We worked a lot on transitions within the gait, and I had a somewhat “aha” moment: I DO lean back when I sit (and even when I post, alas!), thinking that somehow, I’m HELPING him (aka “doing it for him”!). But, just like the jumping ahead, I’m actually HINDERING him when I do that….so we worked on my position. I need to bend forward just a tad (or at least FEEL like I’m leaning forward) to help him. She actually had us stop, then clamp with our legs (nothing), then push with our pelvis leaning a bit forward…and we got some GOOD forward motion (and we actually stopped the horses by clamping!).

So part of my homework is to sit a tiny bit forward (and look through the horse’s ears and not lean).

In sitting trot, I kept losing my stirrups! I need to work on that anchor without tightening my legs. It’s so counter-intuitive to tighten your core but relax your butt…!

In our canter work, I learned that if I prepared Paddy (that is, shortened his stride and worked on being more “up”), I had a MUCH better canter transition. ALSO: I need to go WITH him when I ask for the canter depart, not lean forward OR be caught sitting back. THINK AHEAD!

We cantered, working on a slight bend, a good circle, and consistency (which means NOT LEANING BACK), then lengthened on the long side OR in the circle. She encouraged us to “follow” with our hands and push with our hips as we lengthened…then, to shorten, we need to keep moving with our hips, but STOP moving our hands, keeping them still. When I did it correctly, it was AMAZING. It really works!

At the end of the lesson, she noted that Paddy has trained me very well (that is, I have to work hard to get him to go). She said to think of it this way: if we stop at a red light, we don’t get praised; it’s EXPECTED. It’s what we’re supposed to do. The same thing goes for the aids: it’s expected. It’s what the horse is supposed to do—and he’s suppose to do it when we ask him (first time, every time). I need to work on short, rhythmical pressure, but NOT constant! Maybe it’s like the reins: too much, and he protests. But he responds to light aids….

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