Nancy Breakthroughs and Show Prep

Saturday Guinness and I saddled up for another lesson with Nancy, the last before we embark on show season for real. And, it was good. Very good.
A sleepy Pig greeted me that morning. Too adorable not to share.
For the second day in the row (I'd ridden Friday), Guinness came out of the barn with a completely sweet "let's get this" attitude and no drama. I have to say it was lovely.

The first half of our lesson, Nancy focused on getting my arms to my sides (no chicken elbows!), my shoulders down and back (mostly down), and my legs gently on. We worked on a slightly large 20 meter oblong, at the walk and the trot. The goal here was to get Pig relaxing into the contact and stretching his neck up out of the withers and raise up through his back more. He tends to brace against my hand and bring his neck up too high, instead of gently relaxing it out into my hands.

Pinpointing my contact as a point of contention between Pig and I, Nancy had me focus on keeping a steady contact in the reins. My elbows were reminded to stay back, and the contact pressure taken through them, not my wrists and hands. Then, my shoulders had to come down to keep my biceps and neck from tensing and resisting the elasticity the contact demanded. Not a hard concept, but a difficult habit to establish. As Nancy put it, I can't expect 2nd level and above collection until I get this sorted. So, I will.

When I got things right, Pig responded splendidly. His neck would come up out in front of me and noticeably lengthen. His stride would get loftier, which I would then encourage with my leg. Nancy explained that the lengthenings need to come out of this sort of stride. Then I can ask with my legs, and keep the tempo with my seat.

The concept of contact was expanded when Nancy reminded me that we DO use both reins in riding. Just because the outside rein is important doesn't mean we throw away the inside rein. Obviously this makes sense, but for some reason it wasn't clear to me until Saturday. We worked on turning Pig on the circle with both reins, keeping even contact and not letting him bounce at the end of the rein or waggling him back and forth in my hand. Elbows back, again, and weight on the outside shoulder when it bulges. I started to think of the circle as lots of mini shoulder ins, which is how I've been trying to think of them. 

One mnemonic Nancy used with other riders, but not for me this time (she has before, but it didn't sink in) was that of "two sticks and a ball". As in trying to control a ball with two sticks. You can't overuse one, or turn without both. Think of the ball as the horse's head and the sticks as the reins. Interesting concept. 

The last half of the lesson, we ran through some of the test movements that will be asked for this weekend in at our show. We picked up the canter and ran through the shallow counter canter loops, which were stellar. In fact, we only touched on them. Not even worth working on any more. That feels like accomplishment to me.

Then, we worked on lengthenings. I kept throwing away the contact I sweat so hard for in the first half. That was difficult. Then, I'd get off balance and forget to use my weight to keep Guinness' rhythm and keep him from rushing at the application of leg. Additionally, I would let Pig fishtail a bit behind or lean his shoulder into the wall, another symptom of throwing away my contact. My upper body kept collapsing and I wasn't following the forward movement with a strong core, instead 'pushing' by collapsing my lower back. We didn't nail anything here, but the homework was clear. I'm game for the work ahead. We can get this.

And finally, we ended with leg yields. This was stellar to the left, but exceptionally hard to the right. Nancy nailed that Pig is reluctant to take right rein contact (we've been struggling forever). She pointed out that to the right I need to take a lot more contact, even when going straight. The leg yields showed another issue stopping the contact. My weight isn't right. I'm weighting the inside way too much, totally blocking Pig from being able to move to the outside. After a few really frustrating minutes, we finally solved the problem. My outside leg wasn't on. (Nancy called it "peeing on a hydrant syndrome.") It's sort of counter intuitive, but the outside leg does have to be on in order to be able to weight that seatbone. Otherwise, I just throw myself to the inside instead of staying upright in the saddle. What a mess. More homework.

That last breakthrough was really big for me. I practiced it last night some, and it really does help me keep Guinness straight and on both reins dependably. Last night we worked mainly on changing directions multiple times without the usual raising of the head and resistance through the back. Turns out if your horse is steadily on both reins all the time, he won't resist changing directions so much.

Sigh. Homework. I like it when you are this clear.


  1. Sounds like a great lesson! Showing First Level this weekend, correct? Looking forward to seeing the two of you :)

  2. I can't wait. It's going to be fun weekend (even with all the rain in the forecast!)Yes, we are showing First 2 & 3. Hopefully we'll be a little better prepared than last time! Yikes!


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