Once we were settled into the new place, I started searching for a trainer who would come to me. I could travel, but that adds time and money and was a last resort if I couldn’t find anyone willing to come to me. Thankfully, I didn’t have to search far before landing on someone who was not only willing, but fully capable of helping us out. Plus she had a great sense of humor and a willingness to think outside the box, both attributes I love.
My new trainer (you guys don’t even know how awesome I feel to even be able to type that sentence. I’ve never had a trainer before!!! Squeee!!) was slated to come over at 4:30 pm Sunday and I planned on getting on Gem a bit early to warm her up. It was a good thing too as I watched Wyatt come running over with his helmet in his hand and big grin on his face, ready to ride. At first he climbed up with me (he can go faster when he rides with mommy), but since I had tacked up with the dressage saddle instead of my endurance one, it took all of 3 minutes before he said “Mommy, something in this saddle is hurting me”.
So, I hopped down and gave him his room. He wanted to trot so badly, so we started off. Gem is great at being trotted on the ground (thanks to endurance) and we went back and forth a number of times helping Wyatt by telling him to sit up tall, grab mane and grab the saddle. He did really well and laughed the entire time.
But…this isn’t about that.
Trainer J showed up right smack on time and I clambered aboard Gem. We had the big field to work in and we got right to work. I loved J right away when she told me that she loves dressage because any horse can do it. She didn’t make any snotty comments about me being on an Arabian, or my cheaper saddle and didn’t even mind the fact that I was in a biothane bridle. She just got busy putting us on a 20m circle of death at the walk and really grew in my estimation from there.
We began at the walk and I told her my #1 problem as I saw it: Gem’s answer to any question she doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to do is to go faster. My answer to her going faster is to think of my imminent death and clench with all body parts. You all know how much that helps.
She just laughed and said we would get there.
We didn’t do a whole lot of interesting things. Basically we stayed on that 20m circle at the walk, then the trot, then did spirals in and out, then did figures 8 at the walk and trot. We worked on our horrible halt transitions mixed in there too. While it seemed boring from the outside, I can tell you that I have never worked so hard while riding my horse in my life. I’ve had a few spattering of lessons here and there and always left them feeling like I could have just kept riding forever. Not this time. When she called it quits, I was elated. Everything hurt and I wasn’t sure I could have gone on.
Instead of a blow by blow I’ll break it down into what we did right and what needs some serious work.
What we did right:
1.) She loved my lower leg position. This is a really big deal for me because I was taught a chair seat when I very first learned english and I have been fighting that tendency ever since. I was so worried going into this lesson, that she would think my position was crap.
2.) She praised Gem’s movement. She said she tracked up beautifully and moved out really well. Once we get going, she thinks we can do quite well at dressage.
3.) She praised us both for a willingness to learn. While I made my fair share of mistakes, I did my best to listen to her and make corrections as I could. Gem was trying her best too as she always does and she could tell Gem had a good mind and was very intelligent.
4.) I look where I am going. She never once had to tell me to look up.
5.) Spirals. Gem did some great lateral steps as we pushed in and out. My right leg is stronger than my left, but we managed to move n and out of the circle easily both direction.
What needs work:
1.) My natural tendency is to throw away my nice position and ride defensively when things begin to unravel even the slightest bit. I’ve fallen off this mare too many times and it just happens naturally. She told me to be really greedy with my posture and not give an inch to Gem. I can ditch steering and pace, but I am to never give up my good posture.
2.) My elbows are as stiff as boards. I need to follow through more and RELAX. Once I was relaxed through my elbows, Gem was much lighter in the bridle and more flexible around the circle.
3.) While my head moves nicely to look where I am going, I keep my upper body perfectly straight and that keeps Gem from bending. I need to swivel my shoulders as well which changes the weight in my seat bones and legs. It was really an awesome feeling when I did this and Gem bent around me so much better.
4.) RHYTHM. We don’t got any. This was the main focus of the entire hour. We would walk then piddle out, then I would put my leg on and she would scoot forward into a trot then it would take me a full circle to get her back to a walk which would last a half a circle until she petered out and then repeat. Gem is very reactive/sensitive and we were working hard on finding the correct balance to keep her even.
Things I learned:
1.) Bend those darn elbows!
2.) Swivel my shoulders as I turn, not just my head. This changed the pressure in my seat as well as slightly changing my leg position relative to each other and allowed Gem to actually bend. Instead of being as J called it ” a large surfboard”.
3.) Quit giving up my posture. I’m not going to die riding at a walk on a 20m circle in my front yard. Quit acting like it. Sit tall and steady no matter what Gem decides to do underneath me. As J put it “make it really uncomfortable/hard for her to do what you don’t walk ie..trot when you want a walk. Don’t reprimand her, but don’t give in to her either”
4.) Ask nicely, but if she blows passed me being nice even when repeated, then make her know I mean business.
5.) Set her up really well by asking her early. if I am going to turn, start a few strides out of the turn instead of running her right into it then asking. This set s up so much better.
I was sooo happy with this lesson. J explained things in a way I could make sense out of it, never once yelled at me, and gave me lots of praise when things went right. I can’t wait to lesson with her again. She works out of a nearby facility too and I may trailer to her every other time or so. That way I have an actual physical space to work in so that my geometry can be worked on. It is really hard to make a 20 m circle in 6 acre field with no boundaries. She is also on board with me doing a dressage show in the summer or fall which gives me something to work towards.