Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Dressage as you've always imagined it:

It's all in the details, baby.  (This post also includes photos that prove Kat and I can trot in not one, but TWO directions.)

Kat's been doing really well at home. We've mostly been working on basic things, like smooth and non-fussy transitions of bend and gait. I was feeling really good about heading into this lesson.

And this lesson was GREAT. Very cerebral. I have much to think about.

Internal rotation of thighs

I have a tendency to let my thighs rotate away from the saddle and my right leg especially likes to jam itself forward into this braced, off-the-saddle position. (Perhaps I crashed into one too many trees while skiing as a child. Or it's just bad habits.) I did not realize that the right leg was as much of an issue as it is. It was humbling and exciting to learn how much of an issue it is. I point the right toe out, then jam the heel forward.

So by physically rotating my thigh inward, allowing myself to think about trying to get almost the edge of my quad touching the saddle, this is the first step in realigning my balance.

Shoulder-hip-heel line

As mentioned above, I have a feet-out-in-front-of-me problem. I ride in a backseat that becomes ineffective. I literally can get left behind in a walk-trot transition. How's THAT for a fun thing to work on.

Core engagement

I ride with my core and my back active, but this trainer wanted me to use myself in a bit of a different fashion in order to really lengthen my spine without becoming hollow. She said, "imagine you're crushing your rib cage down to your pelvis, but there's a brick of muscle so solid there that you cannot move the ribs down to your pelvis at all." (I'm completely paraphrasing.)

Don't post with your hands

Kat is green to dressage. Perhaps not green to 'being round' or 'being under saddle' or even 'jumping' anymore, but to real, honest to god, use your trapezius and ENGAGE yourself dressage. Kat is also spicy, opinionated, and tricksy. This means that I must give her a 100% reliable place to come into if I want her to honestly come onto the bit.

The above positional adjustments help with this. But I also have to keep a more independent hand in order to be totally secure in offering her the same place to come into all. the. time. My right hand likes to post with my hips. She had me place my hands down on the front edge of the saddle pad, then lift one for a few strides and focus on my elbows acting as hinges, then switch hands, continuing to really feel the hinge of my elbows.

Sneaky rein adjustment habit

I do this really super fun thing that is totally subconscious and I have no idea how to fix it without a trainer calling me on it EVERY TIME I DO IT. Instead of keeping my hands steady to shorten the reins, I do a funny release/spider crawl. I hang up on Kat, wiggle my hand around, and then try to continue the conversation. I am going to practice shortening my reins correctly while off the horse and try to rewire that habit.

Horse leans on right thigh

Based on all the warped things I do with my body in the saddle, it's not surprising that Kat leans on my right thigh a little bit.

Revisted circle geometry

Did you know that circles don't have straight lines in them? Also of note, it's hard to ride a really good circle when your shoulders and thighs are burning and your ankle things you're trying to twist it off because it's actually not-flexible-at-all.

Tempo control

Kat likes to come down to the bit, speed up a little bit, lose her balance, throw her head up. Wash, rinse, repeat. This is why when I feel her come into the bridle and connect with me, my immediate reaction with my seat must be to slow her down. Before she even takes one speedy or hasty step. And I have to keep breathing. And keep my elbows soft and hinging. And keep my right leg underneath me. And my left one too but less bad.


Also known as: this saddle probably doesn't fit either of us.

Pulling horse's back to me

When posting, you are apparently not supposed to just left gravity take over and collapse down to the saddle. (I am kidding, I promise.) I have to really fight gravity with my thighs and imagine not wanting to crush an egg placed on the saddle underneath me. (Spoiler alert: you cannot control your 'down' if your right leg is twisted out in front of you.)

Think about 'giving' in degrees of tone, not in a motion of the elbows

When Kat comes into the bridle and lowers her neck, when she takes a deep breath, I have to think and breathe softness into my arms. I can't change as much as I want to - I think I'm letting her know that's what I want, but instead that's changing the goalpost and making the bit an unreliable place to be. 

Hold the reins deeper in my hand for more softness

I hold the reins too much in the third joint of my fingers, out near the tips. I need to bring them deeper into my hand, nearer my palm, in order to allow the reins to rest in my hand and soften more truly. If the reins are in your fingers, you have to maintain tension in the arm to hold onto the reins. If the reins are better in my hand, I can release that tension.

The verdict?

The harder I worked on me (honestly I think there were too many things to focus on, which is AMAZING because it gives me a bunch to work on at home, but was mentally challenging during the lesson) the more Kat paid attention. It felt like she was almost asking me what I was doing, but the moments when it all came together and I felt the influence I had over her... I actually understood what Mary Wanless means when she says it should feel like you are taking the horse, but not carrying the horse.

We finished out with a different sort of engagement than I've felt from Kat in the past, and it was very cool. I felt so buoyant and joyful and light.  I have a lot I need to sort out for myself - which makes me so grateful I have smartphone technology to even get awkward fence videos to verify if I'm moving in the right direction and also that I have so many horses to practice on.


  1. I'm glad that you are posting more. I really enjoy reading it

  2. Sounds like a great lesson. I also need to work on holding my reins correctly. I do the same thing: holding them out near the tips.

    1. Of all the things listed, I'm finding this one the easiest to fix. I like holding things hahaha

  3. You guys look so good! Can't wait to see in person! I've totally had this exact lesson before. It pays off eventually, and she was so excited about you and Kat!

    1. I can see how it pays off - truly! I probably will get this lesson again, I'm thinking :D

  4. This is SO amazing! You put into a new perspective some of the things I'm currently working through myself. I am loving your more frequent posting! Congrats on a great lesson.

  5. I LOVE working on all those nitty gritty positional details bc it's so incredible seeing the change in the horse. Good luck committing them to memory!

  6. The lady who has a half-lease on one of my girls lessons with Mary when she can (usually once or twice a year) and a student of Mary's based in Germany (also once or twice a year) & I find all the info she comes back with so fascinating. She lent me one of Mary's books which I keep meaning to read yet never seem to sit down and do so #useless