It’s been quite a while at this point since we had our dressage lesson. At first, it seemed like we were making so much progress so fast. But now progress is a little slower. Sometimes Val comes out stiff and tight or worried about softening and I have to be happy with much smaller successes. Those days, it’s easy to be hard on myself and feel like I’ve somehow failed my horse or that I’m not a good enough rider to be what he needs.
But that’s not fair to anyone.
Because he is making progress. Does he look like a big beefy dressage horse? No. But that’s not our goal either. My goal is to teach him how to use his whole body from back to front, and how to loosen up those tight, upside down back and neck muscles so that his job gets easier. And even though he’s still plenty tight, he’s got 12 years of going fairly upside down to get past. That just takes time.
This weekend though, I finally realized how much progress we’ve made. I’ve been working really hard to sit up tall, and I think in the effort to do that, I’ve been a little rigid and digging my seat bones into him a little too hard, so I worked to soften a whole lot. I didn’t fight my own mechanics so much, and even though I don’t love how I look, the results were there.
Clearly I need to work harder on bringing my shoulders back in a relaxed way, and softening through my elbows rather than by rolling my shoulders forward. I also need to strengthen my core so that I can have a less hunchy but still soft, encouraging seat rather than a deep, almost driving seat (also someone needs to stand in the ring and scream at me about my stupid right shoulder/left seat bone). On some horses, a really deep seat is exactly what they need, but on a hot thoroughbred with a tight back, it makes sense that a really deep seat is more likely to make him more upside down. I just need to find that nice balance.
I actually got to do a lot of really good work in this weekend, and I kind of combined a really good flat with some schooling over small fences on Saturday so that we were ready for a lesson on Sunday. I started out just by trotting around and getting him loose and long, and then gradually brought him together in more of a packaged frame.
Through all of the work, Val was right with me and really trying to do what he was asked. He’s not without his rebellious moments, but he stepped right up into a nice low frame as soon as I put my leg on at the walk, and didn’t pop up into the trot like he’s prone to do. Every time I asked for a little more or a little better, he was right with me, putting forth his best efforts.
After a bunch of really nice trot work, we moved on to cantering, and I did a few loops before diving right into the jumping. I think I’ve mentioned before that I was going to start incorporating jumps into our flat work from time to time to help Val’s way of going on the flat to bleed over into the jumping, and that’s exactly what I did Saturday. We cantered up over a really tiny brush box, cantered some loops and circles, over another tiny jump, etc. we did a few simple changes and some flying changes, I made him trot through the trot poles in the middle of the course, and through it all he stayed quiet and returned to a nice round (or round by our current standards) canter without a lot of fuss.
I think we did all of four or five small jumps with a lot of cantering in between before we took a walk break, and then did another “course” over some slightly bigger jumps. I want to say they were around 3′. For the second course, I still wanted to maintain that good canter, but I also wanted to focus really hard on getting a good approach and helping Val to make a very correct effort over each jump.
To help with the mechanics of his jump, I set jump 3 as a really ramped oxer, and jump 4 as a kind of wide swedish. As you might expect from the rest of this write-up, he was great. He jumped me a little loose over the first fence jumping in such nice form, and landed playing on the back side, but then got it back together for a beautiful jump 2. We had a nice canter around the end of the ring and then went through the middle to turn back to the ramped oxer, and finished with a long tour of the ring to get back to jump 4.
All of this time between fences really helped Val to keep his brain in tact, and making the jumps so far apart prevented any anticipating on his part. I was really happy with him and after looking at the pictures, I’m glad I decided to kind of start from the bottom up again as far as my own mechanics at the canter.
Since this rapidly became a long, slightly theory heavy post, you’ll get a lesson recap in the next post!