Monday, July 15, 2013

Swan Lake

As you guys might remember, I've been in riding boot camp for over a month. A pretty crappy result at our first show of the season and a stressful lesson with Nancy in May had me completely reevaluating Guinness and I as players in the dressage field. I was feeling pretty down about us, and wondered if we would ever finally breakthrough into the world of consistent, steady contact and manage to ride a single test without looking like a hunched over toad riding a red giraffe with its head on backwards.
Man, I think that toad is actually sitting up straighter than me. The hell? 
The first two weeks of boot camp were pretty grim. I had mandated that we would work on contact until we got it, but it was slow work. Guinness and I would ride until he would relax into contact at the walk, then we would free walk for a half a lap. I would pick up the reins, and we would do it again. Sometimes (okay, at the beginning, often), he would balk and I would boot him forward, exaggerate his walking rhythm in my elbows and raise my hands a bit to catch his evasion. Once he dropped into my hands and his neck relaxed, I would feed the reins out into a free walk again. Finally, we added the trot with the same routine. I demanded contact, and there was no rest or getting away from it until he relaxed down into my hands. The trot was harder, and I would often have to back down to the walk to reestablish rhythm, then ask for the trot once he was relaxed again. No transitions happened until he was relaxed and in my hand.

Let me tell you, that was a tedious month. But? Oh boy has it paid off!

This last weekend, we had our first lesson with Nancy since May, and we could have been a completely different pair. Guinness was soft in the contact. He was established, forward and willing to put the work in. Finally, Nancy was able to nitpick at us and push for more instead of struggle to get me to understand our problems.

It was amazing. For all of you out there slogging through the ugly. I've seen the other side, and it is beautiful.
Actual representation of what riding feels like on the other side of ugly ... 
Now, I have to keep this work while asking for more. More straightness, more sideways, more energy, more engagement. Oh dear. It sounds like we may be going back to ugly town, hopefully our stay won't be so long this time ...

6 comments:

  1. I feel your pain ... I have been so ticked at Speedy this past month, but then we had a big show this weekend and he came through for me. For three of our tests, we had nothing lower than 6s, and for the final test, we had one single 5, but we followed it up with an 8. As long as we eventually make it past the ugly, it's worth it. It's tough while you're in the middle of it, but glorious when you see the good it produces!

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    1. Yay! I'm glad to hear last weekend went well for you two! I can't wait to hear the details.

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  2. Good for you, Austen! I have been around many people who don't understand that dressage training does not always look pretty and perfect - that you have to ride thru some ugly first.

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    1. It's a hard concept to grasp, that's for sure!

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  3. this is great - thanks for forwarding the link! i suspect that i've been rushing past establishing consistent contact to do other things - and your point about no transitions until the horse is relaxed really resonates. perhaps i've been trying to use other tools as a bandaid for contact, rather than just patiently working through it?? as always - more food for thought!

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    1. I definitely tried to bandaid contact issues for a really long time (sometimes with success!), but finally had to come to terms with the fact that I was going to need to actually solve the issue to advance. It was probably one of the longest-to-solve and hardest issues I've ever dealt with, but one of the best learning experiences of my riding life. The fact that resisting contact is always going to be Guinness' go-to resistance made this training super beneficial. No matter what, we have these basics to revert to when things go downhill, and I know without a doubt exactly how to get him calmly walking around on the bit. Some days, that's all you can ask. :)

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