Posted in Riding/Horses

Dressage Lesson – Breakthroughs Galore

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I adore shadow pictures and find myself taking one nearly every time I ride. It must be my thing. This is at the entrance to the dressage ring. 

Traffic can be really finicky which puts me at the barn either an hour early or barely on time depending on if I leave 15 minutes earlier or later from work. Growing up 15 minutes early was on time and anything after was late, so I always err on the side of way too early and Wednesday was no exception. It was 85F and sunny when I pulled into a crazy busy barn and I really enjoyed getting to sit in the grass and watch the lesson ahead of me. They were working on a really cool jumping exercise that I hope to someday be good enough to get a shot at: four cross rails were set creating an inner 20 meter circle. The girls would jump into the circle at the trot, maintain the canter after the jump and circle depending on which direction the instructor told them as they jumped in, and eventually she would tell them which jump to exit the circle on. It was all about maintaining a rhythm and rideable canter and planning ahead. It looked really hard and really fun!

But that wasn’t what my lesson was about.

I tacked up Ralphie, the Welsh-Arab cross gelding I rode the first time, and Trainer J told me we were going into the dressage arena. I was a little disappointed to not get to jump, but that soon evaporated in the lovely weather and good horse under me. Any time spent riding is good by me.

She explained the inner workings of the large dressage court I would be riding in which was all new to me having never been in an actual legal size one before and she put me to work riding down the long side on the quarter line, making a sharp and direct turn and back down the opposite quarter line. The goal was to work on straightness. I failed. When I turned down the other short side and headed back down my original quarter line I saw my woefully drunken sailor line I had previously made. Straightness is not my friend. We did it again and this time I worked really hard at keeping my horse between my legs and gong straight. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much improved.

Dusty and Wyatt showed up around the time we began a series of exercises that really helped me 1000% and I actually got some pictures to show you!!!

In order to better figure out both my own and Ralphie’s body, Trainer created a 20 meter circle at C placing a cone at the pinnacle f my circle at the center of the arena (no clue what letter belongs there, but it was a 20 meter circle at C). She asked me how many corners are on a circle: none. Then why was I adding 4? Oh.

It was pretty difficult at the walk to get Ralphie to actually bend and I wasn’t riding it right anyway. I wasn’t preparing far enough ahead and was making more of a flat tire at every single point of the circle.

circel exercise
Love my paint skills, don’t you? The point was to only take 1-2 strides anytime I hit the rail or cone and to make sure my horse was bent into the circle, my shoulders were turned and my inside leg was pushing his body out while my outside aides stayed on and steady. 

I’m pretty sure she was about to just give up on me when we started to trot and it just hit me. I began to sit taller, and actually look ahead. Once I figured out to look one full marker ahead of where we were and turn my entire body to reach that point, Ralphie’s body bent around my inside leg and we maintained bend around the entire circle.

It was like a light bulb cam eon and it felt amazing to ride him like that!

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Back to walk. You can see how much I LOVE to keep those darn elbows locked out straight. ugh. But…..all those tracks were mine and they are actually CIRCLES!!! Like my horse was bending and tracking up and we made 20 meter circles!!!

She then took us to the very far end and we repeated this going the other way. It took e a few revolutions to get back to where I ended before, but we got it and I saw her grinning just as  much as I was. I wasn’t  a lost cause after all. We finished this exercise by adding a third circle in the center.

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They were all actually circles, but you get the point

After that was done and we took a short walk break, she had me string it all together in a steady serpentine along those same circles. This was my favorite exercise to date. I’ve done serpentine exercises with Gem, but apparently never really correctly as I always squared mine off. This time I had to keep on those same 20 m circle tracks I made earlier and really plan as they came up quickly in the large dressage court.

serpentine

We did this at the trot mostly and everything really clicked for me here. I had to be constantly changing the bend n my body to allow Ralphie to bend too and it forced me to really open up my shoulders and relax my body. Trainer was being gracious and mentioned that I try to sit so still to be quiet which makes me stiff. I replied that I am really just that stiff of a person. Seriously, you should watch me try to dance. I look like Frankenstein. Loose doesn;t come easily to me.

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I really like this picture. My arms are a lot looser, Ralphie is relaxed and head down and we are still on the circle. 

I thought we were over at this point having accomplished a lot, but she said it was time to work on the canter. My stomach knotted up a little. I was doing so well. Why end it with so much horror?

We went back down to the circle at C and did a few revolutions (pretty sure that isn’t how you describe it in dressage terms, but oh well) to get the feeling back and then she told me to sit two strides and cue the canter.

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Yes, that is me with a grin while cantering!!!!

And I did. And he did. AND IT WAS AMAZING!!!

We just cantered. Trainer let out a whoop of joy and clapped. WE WERE CANTERING. In a calm, easy and bent manner around the circle while I continued to steer. It was SO MUCH FUN!

Ralphie dropped to a trot without me meaning to and all I did was sit and ask again. No fuss. No theatrics. No taking 3/4 of a turn to do it. He cantered immediately. And on the correct lead. We repeated it the other direction and the wheels fell off a little as he was now super racey in the trot and it took me a while to gather him back up, but once I asked to canter he did again. I was grinning like a fool by the end.

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ZOOM!
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Grinning and giving Ralphie a big pat. 

We called it a night after that and I was on cloud 9 the entire way home.

Things that went well:

  1. CANTER!!!
  2. She didn’t have to tell me to fix my lower position at all. I’ve dialed in what she calls a neutral seat since she had me fix myself two lessons ago and it has already become second nature
  3. My circle were circles and we actually bent around them

Things to work on:

  1. Relax those elbows and bring my arms into my body. Ugh. Will this ever happen?
  2. Plan ahead more. Quit riding one step ahead and ride three or four. Planning makes everything better
  3. Be greedy with my posture. Don’t let Ralphie pull me out of position in a down transition and don’t throw myself at him during an up transition

 

11 thoughts on “Dressage Lesson – Breakthroughs Galore

  1. Love that pic of you grinning and cantering!! It’s kinda amazing that from the outside, things like “20m circles” or “straightness” kinda sound like… Idk, “duh” exercises. The reality tho is that it’s surprisingly hard to do truly well. Just ask Charlie and the judge who scored our misshapen figures last weekend haha.

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    1. At one point I told Trainer I had no more body parts to control. I was moving my shoulders, keeping my hands low, unlocking my elbows, heels down, legs long, looking ahead….ah! My brain shut down 🙂

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  2. I love shadow pictures AND welsh/arab crosses 🙂 Sounds like another great lesson! I had a judge ask me if I failed geometry because my circles were woefully lopsided. It’s not from lack of riding skill, but from my lack of ability to judge distance. Mike will vouch for the fact that I can’t tell the difference between ten feet and forty…

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    1. Ha!! Riding a circle shouldn’t be so hard, but it is! I’m really liking the Welsh/Arab cross. I’ve been keeping my eyes half open for a Welsh Cob for Wyatt but I’m also really liking this cross.

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      1. CP is Welsh/Arab and you know I adore him 🙂 He’s also the horse I couldn’t do a circle on, though…

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  3. AWESOME! So excited to see/read that the canter is going well. It’s my favorite gait and I’m so happy you’re getting to enjoy it. =) One day you’ll have to ride Q’s canter. It’s absolutely dreamy. I think as you relax and are more comfortable those elbows will absolutely soften. Your whole position has softened as you’ve taken these lessons and you really look awesome! Gem has taught you to be a super defensive rider (and omg I would be too if a horse did to me what she’s done to you lol). You’ll totally have bent elbows in no time at all. =)

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