Monday, July 25, 2016

Corridors and canter mechanics pt 1

I have now had two lessons with the dressage trainer Megan recommended. She's pretty great. Actually - revise that - she sees more things and knows how to change them than anyone I've ever met. She is a genius-level trainer.

Here are some things I really love about her lessons.
  • I feel an entire world of possibility before me that I did not know existed previously - meaning specifically that I think she makes me feel like it is possible to ride VERY well, I don't have to luck into it or be born that way or just wait it out or whatever: make these changes and you will ride better. Make these (very HARD) changes, and you are on your way to being the sort of rider you admire.
  • If I start to 'get' something, she's willing to remain dogged on it until she's certain I understand.
  • I don't get a free pass for being a 'trainer' or riding a 'difficult' horse. The horse is now ready to be trained. I don't ride all that great even though I'm good with kids and teaching low-level stuff.
  • Her guidance is going to allow to me to be a much better trainer than before. 
 Right off the bat I could feel how much the work I’d been putting into my leg position had helped me - this was actually my first ride back in the Neidersuss on Kat since my first lesson with Tracey. I am at home in that saddle because I’ve spent more hours on it over the last year than other saddles, but because Tracey pointed out how my balance was off in the saddle I’d been doing some experimenting.

Kat also came off the trailer a bit quieter than the first time. I’ll talk about this now because I find it fascinating, but it really has nothing (or everything?) to do with the lesson. When I bought Kat, I think a HUGE part of her challenge with normal work was that she constantly guesses. You’d shift your weight a bit and she’d move around and maybe decide that that was a cue for something, but then when you tried to keep her straight while changing your balance the next time she’d be pissed because you changed the rules on her.

A significant part of bringing her to this point was just teaching her that there are some things you can safely ignore.

Now Tracey is taking my position and moving it to somewhere more secure than I had previously imagined (I will expand on this...) which means that I am physically more consistent than I have been able to offer Kat in the past.  I’m finding that Kat comes out calmer each day than the day before and seems to come into me very quickly as I work on myself, my security, my basic position.

I have some theories on this. I think Kat is finding me safer and less confusing. I think she is SO sensitive that I made her uncomfortable any time my balance wasn’t right. I’m excited to see how this develops because I know I still have a long way to go.

I’ve written before about how Kat sometimes tunes in to me so much that I over-aid her - notable mostly when jumping and she starts to come back to me and all of a sudden I ask for a smaller canter and we’re trotting. Currently Kat is coming to this level of connection after only a few minutes of moving about and this is allowing me to calibrate myself to this level of sensitivity. This is echoing out to my other horses too... and before you jump me for writing about these seemingly awesome changes that are occurring a mere two lessons in, trust me, I’m wondering if there are other variables. Maybe there are. But I honestly think turning the eye onto me is making all the difference.

These lessons are mostly about what I’m doing. Where I’m holding myself, how I’m using my body, the way I’m talking to Kat. Kat is transformed into a schoolie and I am the fumbling beginner. She is as much my trainer as Tracey. Megan has aptly summed it up with this: OH MY GOD (while you’re grinning, ecstatic, full of amazement.) ... ohmygod... (while the horror and enormity of this undertaking creeps in.)

I used to make all these excuses for myself, "well, the horse is going better each week," or "she's so sensitive that she has a very specific way she wants to be ridden..." And maybe that's true, but I can better ride her the way she wants when I am in a more correct position.

When I met Ivan from Running In Systems we had a conversation about good mechanics being attractive because, on a fundamental level, if you move correctly you will outlast the tiger. This subconscious recognition of beautiful movement doesn't translate to being an automatic movement coach as biomechanics are complex, and other such challenges.

Denny Emerson writes about good position not being about "prettiness" or any of that, but as being derivative of actually effective and safe position. These rides that Tracey has helped me to have and the rides I've had since (it's been 14 days since my first lesson, so between all the horses I work with that's a good number of rides) are proving to me, with the horses in agreement, how important it is to get this stuff right.

With Tracey, I've yet to hear her say that something looks good. Instead she tells me that my mechanics are better, or that I've gotten closer to her goal for me. It comes down to learning to be more mechanically effective in order to better influence the horse. More on that later.

Jean Luc Cornille writes EXTENSIVELY about how the horse will protect kinematic abnormalities because 'it feels normal'. Horses don't understand why we're asking them to move differently or use different muscles, so we take them to a place of better balance, lose that place, and bring them there again. Eventually the horse learns to avoid bring brought there by staying there, even though it is harder than "normal". This makes sense to me. What I'm learning, however, is how much faster it is when the horse has only taken a single step out of balance before bringing them back. Previously the horse would start to lose balance, I would follow, then I'd struggle to get myself back and then, finally, bring the horse back.  

When I wrote this post, I continued directly from this lengthy discussion with myself into a more detailed lesson recap, but I think we'll split it up to spare you from both philosophical musings and technical riding details in one post.

Tomorrow, we'll delve into what it means to be an up vs down rider. Or my broken, shallow understanding of the matter.


  1. Sounds like a great lesson. I should probably do some lessons with her sometime.

    1. She's pretty phenomenal, I'd love to read about it if you do

  2. YES! I am loving your lesson recaps so much I feel like I should be paying for part of your lesson. Haha. Good position is so much more than "pretty" especially in Dressage. I found out last week my improving-but-still-bad position is the root of a lot of Connor's problems. Good position is effective!

    1. Once you go beyond thinking that your position is only a matter of aesthetic pleasure and somehow doesn't matter to being effective, then I think you really start to play the game of dressage. Once you realize how much the horse responds to and your ability to feel and pay attention increases... well, I go back to the OH MY GOD ... oh my god... conversation

  3. Your lesson caused so many breakthroughs in my own riding over the last week! Craziness. You guys looked AMAZING and I'm heading to the library now to send you the pictures!

    Your list of reasons why you like riding with her is exactly my list. Never have I felt like I was both an amazing rider and a terrible rider all at once (lol the oh my god sequence, so accurate!). I'm so glad you're riding with her! She's not for everyone, but I knew you'd appreciate her! She took me from struggling at 4th to schooling all of GP in only a year and a half. Insanity.

    I'm still not sure I fully understand all that encompasses up vs down riders, I'm so curious about what you think because I think it will help me understand it. I just keep thinking about gravity and how much the rider seems to be affected by it. But I also think it's a lot of how the rider uses their mechanics in collection- does the rider sit heavier into the horse for collection or sit lighter? And I'm sure there's more. Totally regret not asking Tracey to expand. I'm sort of thinking of skipping the gym tomorrow night and going to audit her lessons so I can ask more questions, if I do that I will surely text you!

    1. Thank you once again for the photos, they're seriously gorgeous.

      Yes please let me know if you go - I would like to carve more time out to audit some of her lessons because I think just absorbing her words instead of sweating while struggling with the words would be good for me.