When I arrived for my first lesson at JM's barn with Kat, she said, "our only goal in the next two weeks is to get her on the bit, quietly, at all three gaits."
Sure, sounds like an easy goal, right? Anyone who rides enough dressage will quickly come to realize that not only is "on the bit" a ridiculously nebulous term, but also that a good trainer can take what felt amazing and help you hone in on the three steps right there that could have been different and exactly what needs to happen, but then while she explained all that something else specific has happened and... then you have fifteen new feelages to assimilate into your riding all the other horses and it's weird but exciting because they're all at different levels of accepting the aids and in their training...
Oh wait maybe all of that doesn't apply to everyone.
Anyhow! To recap a small amount of the things I learned while at JM's:
- Overbending is not, in fact, a tool for connection. (Welcome to mis-interpretationville, I'll be your guide, my name is Kate.) It is an excellent tool for mental suppling, for taking the head&neck away when the horse is being resistant, and testing how much flexibility the horse is willing to give us. The second the horse is willing to give us everything, we have to stop asking for that and start riding the horse primarily off the outside aids.
Honestly that seems a little confusing when I write it out, like you're just suddenly changing the rules on the horse, but the way JM shook it all out Kat was totally chill. We're going to bend, and bend, and bend, and now we're going to go large. And when you: race, brace, resist, spook, charge, drop the back, scoot, etc, we're going to do a circle. And bend. And bend. And bend. And when you're quiet, you get to go large again.
- 10-meter circles are my best friend ever right now. If the warm-up goes nicely and we're cruising around the outside of the arena, anytime she either relaxes so much she loses the energy or comes above the bridle and rushes I have to guide her onto a ten meter circle and continue on. Let her work against herself, all that.
- Ready for a big one? Don't let the horse change you. You're asking for a little extra bend on a twenty meter circle and your horse throws it's head around like it wants to punch you in the face with it's poll? Whatever! Your core is already engaged and you're already sitting up and in the saddle (Right Kate?!) and so your aids stay EXACTLY THE SAME until you start getting the response you want, at which point you make a big deal of the horse. Ignore the shit and embrace the improvements.
(Why does so much of this sound familiar? Why do I feel like I've taught that exact lesson?)
- Sit up. All the time. Seriously. If your core isn't engaged and working properly, you're going to overreact and perch and pick and pick and pick at your horse. Wait, maybe that's just me again. Dammit.
Holy tamole guys. She was perfect.