Yesterday was supposed to be a jump lesson.
Be still, my heart, because due to some lesson conflicts and overcrowded arenas, it turned into a dressage lesson, and a good one at that.
As mentioned in my former post on dressage, something I’ve been struggling with is keeping C on an inside bend. He drops in at the shoulder and disregards inside leg, which is a real problem when he’s meant to be bending around it. It’s either this or the polar opposite, in which his body resembles a wobbly serpentine with his head one way, shoulders the other, and God only knows where his haunches are because at that point I’ll be too focused on the head and shoulders.
T has also been working on this in training rides with no doubt more success than me, and yesterday gave me some tools to fix it. After noodling (I think noodle will be one of the most commonly used words on this blog) in circles around jumps with no bend, casually trying to avoid the riders jumping in the arena (with limited success) while focusing on baby horse, T just said, “Get off, I’m going to fix this.”
Off I came and C trudged back to the mounting block, blissfully unaware of what was to come. T got on in tennis shoes and, without stirrups, quickly got his attention. His attitude changed immediately because it wasn’t his softie mom up there any more, it was T and she was going to make him work for his grain. After a few complaints, head-tossing, shoulder-popping, and general moodiness, C complied. And walked around in what appeared to be a pretty nice frame by baby horse standards. And stopped dropping his shoulder (I say stopped, but it was more like every time he started to do it, T corrected him immediately).
T did this in tennis shoes with no stirrups. I was reasonably impressed.
After this, she explained what she was doing. Keeping contact on the inside rein, and half halting with the outside rein when he started dropping the shoulder, and pushing him along with inside leg when needed (and outside, depending on the direction in which he was noodling). We swapped places again and I tried her methods.
T called it “training wheels”, to hold the reins further out from my sides to artificially shorten them, and adjust as needed. Immediately C understood a little better where I wanted him, and we were walking circles with relative success. As predicted, near the gates he tried dropping the shoulder and every time, T had to remind me to keep contact with that inside rein and half-halt with the outside. The reminders worked wonders; he still wanted to pop his shoulder, but (somewhat grudgingly, I feel) listened when told no. It was essentially the same at the trot, only made slightly more difficult by a super duper interesting trailer pulling into the barn.
The hardest part for me was holding the reins outside my comfort zone (read: over the withers) was keeping my elbows bent. More than once I zombied and locked my elbows which is neither pretty nor effective. It was like something straight out of the Walking Dead.
I have decided to call this Zombie-Arm Syndrome (ZAS) and will be working on correcting it. It may help to have someone in the arena with me at all time, shouting ‘elbows’ every thirty seconds. I’ll look into hiring someone.
After some work in the busy outdoor to get the basics down, we headed inside to practice my dressage test again. Already it was easier to get a better turn down the center line, although we did have a case of drunken pony as we approached C (the letter, not the horse). The rest felt better, although I forgot a trot-walk transition. I think I’ll just need to practice every day until the show, otherwise I’ll draw a blank when we get in the court and have some kind of mental breakdown.
Overall, with the addition of new tools, C was much better, especially on the circles, though I am slightly worried about the number of distractions at the show because I have no doubt he’ll still pop that shoulder so he can look at something, anything. I just need to be vigilant about contact and reminding him to pay attention to what I’m asking, even if the stuff happening out there is way more interesting. C also has been throwing a fit at the end of the free walk when I re-collect the reins, so I’ll have to work on my consistency and collecting them slowly with plenty of warning. Regardless, I think we’ll finish the test (provided I remember it!) and that’s all I can really ask for.
Well, that and a cure for ZAS.