Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In which I remember how hard circles are OR in which I remember why I prefer hunters over dressage

So, I started dressage lessons two weekends with Scottie.  As I mentioned before, I really want to start Scottie right, and dressage is the discipline that handles the correct bending, contact, and all that jazz.  I was fortunate growing up that both of my trainers emphasized a solid dressage foundation for jumping.  Both of them made me learn basic leg yielding/pressure, how to collect, correct circling, aids/cues, etc.  However, the fun part was obviously JUMPING, so as time went on, I tended to remember a lot about the jumping, and not so much about my flat work.  Fortunately, since I started with a good foundation from a young age, some of these skills stuck with me from muscle memory even when my brain wanted to forget :)

For my first lesson, I wanted to work on correct amount of contact, and correct bending both ways around the circle.  As with most OTTBs, Scottie can ride a straight line really well, but struggles on the turns. 

To the left (counterclockwise, opposite trackways), Scottie likes to lock her neck/jaw slightly to the inside and DIVE to the inside on her shoulder.  To the right (clockwise, trackways), she is a little better, but had a massive bulging problem in the last 1/4 of a circle.  ENTER DRESSAGE.

The first thing my new dressage trainer had me do was work on some turning on the forehand exercises so that the hind end and front end start working independently of each other.  The main purpose of this exercise to get the horse moving off your leg reliably.  It is also a good exercise for the rider to start paying attention using CLEAR cues for independent actions. At this point, we are working on just one step, not a complete 180 or 360.  At first, Scottie did not understand what I wanted, but she is getting better.  The reason I like this exercise is because its very easy to include while warming up, in between trotting or cantering work as a break, or even out on a hack/trail. 


It is amazing how difficult making a circle while on horseback can be.  It seems simple.  Turn the horse in the direction you want to go.  I had forgotten how difficult riding a correct circle can be. 

Going to the left is much harder for me than going to the right.  Going to the right was improved pretty quickly by simply solidifying my outside cues (outside rein/leg).  Going to the left is getting better now that I have worked on it a few days, but is MUCH harder.  Scottie really likes to lock that jaw and dive to the inside shoulder, so we can make it about 1/2 way around and then I really have to work on pushing her over with my inside leg, and making sure that I use my inside rein to "bend" her to the inside instead of having her locked to the inside (without dropping my outside rein....and blah blah blah... I could make this the world's longest runon sentance!!)

There is a reason that I am not a dressage trainer/rider.  As you can probably tell from my post, I have a hard time articulating the discipline.  However, the lesson was helpful because when I am on the horse, I can tell when I am doing it correctly, because Scottie really does soften and bend much better.

It will take a while to get her totally supple/bending, mostly due to my bad work schedule and really only consistently being able to ride her 3 days a week.  However, as it is staying lighter later, I am being able to fit in a few workouts during the week. 

Until next time.

1 comment:

  1. Last night I set out to work on circles, more specifically bending. Just your standard figure eight bending to the inside first and then to the outside if you're brave. I knew to not even try bending to the outside yet, and I am grateful. Let's just say the first half hour was spent correcting the fact that when asked to catch the left lead (his better lead!) he would turn his nose up in the air and try to run. It was so bad, I considered checking him for a severe lameness! He eventually settled out of pure exhaustion because we were both lathered in sweat. Looks like 1 simple exercise will give me a month of workouts!