My riding instructor is now making corrections to (hopefully) transform me into a more balanced rider. She says I have a hunter/jumper seat, which means I tend to ride more forward and into my legs, and she’d like to have me more open and flexible. It’s her sneaky way of transforming me into a dressage rider. I’d have said that that’s way too fussy for me, but after reading about the communication that takes place between the horse and rider in dressage, I am way more impressed with it as a style of riding.
We had some breakthroughs. Of course, my lessons are only 30 minutes at a time, so it’s hard to keep using the skills I am learning, because, whoops, it’s suddenly over. But I hope that it’s one of those learning experiences where your body/mind continues to think about/process what you’ve worked on even when you’re not on top of a horse.
I borrowed a book on dressage (beginner!) and it had some very interesting things to say about half-halts (getting the horse’s attention and allowing him/her to collect him/herself by gently pulling back on the reins, then releasing – not a full-stop, just a ‘hey there, I’m gonna ask you to do something, ok?’) and about different kinds of walks/trots/canters WITHIN those gaits. We put some of this into practice – coincidentally – on Wednesday morning last. I was on a new horse – Hawk (a lovely paint boy with blue eyes) – who was very responsive to all of my cues, and I’d asked him for a trot. He obliged, but it was kind of fast and I wasn’t super comfortable posting it. My instructor suggested I post slower (posting, for the uninitiated, is rising and falling with the trot in such a way that you miss the bouncy part – so your bum is happy, and the horse is happy because you’re not bouncing on his/her back), so I sat a few bounces and then did what she asked and Hawk slowed down immediately. This was very exciting. I mean, you’d think that intellectually I’d have figured all of this out after reading those chapters on the different trots within trots, but some part of me still thought, “a horse has a trot at which s/he is comfortable, and there’s not much you can do about it – it’s either fast or slow or bouncy or just right (like in the 3 Bears stories)…” He also had a lovely canter, which we fell into for a few strides after that very fast trot, because he thought I was asking him to Go.Very.Fast.
Later we worked on opening up my shoulders and sitting back/more upright, which allowed me to better telegraph my turns to Hawk before we turned – just by moving my upper body. He caught onto those cues right away, too.
My riding right now is a hot mess. It’s been a lot of years and I feel like I’m a little out of control. Not exactly floppy all over the place out of control, but I need to remember how to talk (and listen) to my horse all over again. In my last extended stint of riding, I was managing our school barn over the summer and I could ride as much (and as long) as I wanted. I had a chance to really work with individual horses and get to know them (and they me), and I was a much better/more secure rider as a result. I kind of miss that freedom of figuring out my riding and my horse on my own. But this individual instruction is a good thing, too – I’ve never done one-on-one riding instruction before (always group), so the individual attention is kind of nice (kind of overwhelming, too – like if you took a yoga class and you were the only person who showed up and your yoga instructor spent an hour just positioning you).
At the end of the lesson we worked on half-halts, since I only had my book-knowledge of them, and Hawk responded wonderfully to those as well. A lot of my horses in the past have been lesson horses, who have definitely been more challenging to work with because they ignore a lot of cues, so I’ve had to be “loud” with my legs, or my hands to get them to pay attention. Hawk was dreamy in this respect. I could tell that he was listening, and even if I was confusing both of us with some of my messages, he was really eager to do what I asked. Lovely!