I had another dressage lesson on Friday with our favourite trainer of all time, who I refer to as ‘C’ on here! It was amazing, as always, though I didn’t have a mate on hand to snap photos this time. I like photo documentation of lessons because I usually look better and my horse does too – must be something to do with having someone tell me off for slouching forward or letting my leg slip back and off the girth.
I did, however, get one snap of us mounted during our lesson. It had been some time since our last one, and Oscar stopped in his tracks at the sight of C. The horse knows hard work when he sees it.
C is great because I tend to want to run before I can walk and she just laughs off my requests to do all the cool stuff straight away. I asked if we could look at lateral work but it appears we’re still not going straight well enough to go sideways. When I first met her I said I wanted to move up to 2nd level like yesterday, and she put that idea to rest really quickly.
Some riders don’t like trainers who tell them no, but I taught my horse to lengthen before he had a well developed working trot, and now that C has had us work on our basics he really struggles with lengthening. Because he has to carry himself aaand take bigger steps instead of just marching through the shoulder with the hind trailing. When he lengthens now I can clearly feel the hind legs come underneath and propel us forwards. So I learnt first hand that paying attention to the ‘boring’ stuff makes the fun stuff even better.
In addition to this, my ultimate idol has always been Pippa Funnell. Whilst my friends wanted to be Britney or Christina, I always dreamed of being Pippa Funnell, and certain things that she has said have always stuck with me. My love of bay horses began when I read that she had dreamed of a big shiny bay horse since childhood. I couldn’t swap my palomino pony for a plain bay gelding fast enough (poor Nugget!), and have favoured them ever since. The plainer and darker the better.
Pippa always reflected on her time with her trainer, Ruth, who wouldn’t let her out of a walk for a week – even after she’d had a lot of success tearing around the bigger one day events at Pony Club level. My Pippa obsession probably meant that I took what she said too literally, and as a young rider whilst my friends would be spoiling their ponies by galloping home and jumping every jump twenty times (just being kids enjoying their ponies), I would spend way too much time walking and trotting and cantering nice and slowly. I thought it would make me a fabulous rider but obviously I was just pottering around. Nevertheless, Pippa’s experience made me appreciate the idea and value of good basics.
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Back to my lesson! The lesson was spent entirely on a circle, both trying to get Oscar more supple through his ribcage and working on my tendency to collapse through my left ribcage on the left rein. C made me ride with my shoulders towards her on the left rein, whilst sitting up tall and straight. I had a stitch and was out of breath really quickly which goes to show that I usually ride like a potato on the left rein.
Whilst doing that exercise we were also over-flexing Oscar to the inside through his neck, maintaining straightness through his body by pushing the inside hind leg right underneath him and keeping the outside shoulder straight. Simply, a shoulder in on a circle.
He’s fairly weak and his favourite evasion is to run through the shoulder. However, when I fixed my shoulders he stopped running out through his.
I’m finally starting to get a really good feel of where the hind legs are. Usually it’s a concept that baffles me but my lessons with C are paying off and as my horse gets stronger and the difference between rubbish and good is more pronounced, I’m having ‘aha!’ moments more frequently. During our exercises on the circle I knew when he was moving properly because I could feel it, instead of waiting for C to say ‘good’. This is important because it means I’m improving too.
We also worked on counter-flexion on a 20m circle. When we flex to the inside our circles become smaller, and when we flex to the outside they tend to drift out. So something to work on before our next lesson (this Friday coming) is to maintain the circle size whilst flexing. I’ll be sure to spend a couple of days working on that. The theory is that if we can maintain straightness on a 20m circle, switching between over-flexion and counter-flexion – going straight will then be a piece of cake! And then maybe C will let us go sideways hahaha.
As always, our consistency with transitions was under scrutiny. I’ll admit that along with the collapsing left ribcage, settling for average transitions is one of my big riding sins. This made itself quite obvious during the lesson and it didn’t go past C unnoticed. She stressed the importance of excellent transitions every time – not only because it will bump up our dressage scores, but because it develops muscle memory. If I’m consistent, Oscar will build the right muscle memory to always switch between gaits nicely. Again – the basics are important, Christle!
I’m really excited for our next lesson this Friday, and a jumping lesson within the fortnight. I had to cancel my scheduled jumping lesson last week as I had bronchitis and filling a hay net left me dizzy and out of breath. If back to back lessons are a bit much then we’ll look at the following Saturday. It all depends how Oscar goes this week!