I had a breakthrough realization in my Thursday night lesson. After struggling to maintain perfect dressage eq for the entire time, I finally realized at the end that relaxing and not focussing on rigidly maintaining that position allowed for me to follow and listen to Gordon a lot more. Additionally, I think all of the strength training that I’ve been doing out of the saddle has been making me stiff. So, my goal for today’s ride was relaxation (and building off some of the videos I’ve seen of myself riding, and the knowledge that I ride with too much hand-to-leg ratio, I also wanted to focus on impulsion and using way more leg). This morning before heading to the barn I did about twenty minutes of yoga, focussing primarily on opening up my hips, which tend to hold a lot of tension/stiffness. At the barn I did a few dynamic (moving) stretches before hopping on and I think that that had a really positive effect.
Something else I want to record is how I overcame my fears today. With the warmer weather and increased grain portions, Gordon was feeling a bit fresh. He was dancing around, spooking a bit, etc. I got off, took off my spurs, and lunged him for about 15 minutes. Even on the lunge he was acting a bit wild, but eventually calmed down. I think what also helped is that another rider came into the ring with her horse, which always makes Gordon go better. In any case, I worked through my nerves and ended up having a great ride – something to keep in mind.
During the actual ride, I used an insane amount of leg. Literally every step I would squeeze. Additionally, I was very quick at “demanding” when Gordon did not listen to my leg, especially in the upward transitions. I kept my hands light and high, and would squeeze with my bum and legs while tilting my right hand slightly to get him in frame. This all resulted in a much more forward Gordon who stayed in frame from behind a lot better. Things felt really good! Part of what helped with our impulsion was working at the rising trot, rather than sitting. When I sit I think I tend to hold back his impulsion a lot more and bottle him in – it makes sitting a more comfortable process for me, after all! In any case, the rising went well today because I was able to keep my hands stable and used a lot of leg. I think this will be what we go with for a first few tests at least. Better movement and impulsion = better marks, even if my eq isn’t as pretty while rising.
We also did a little work at extending the trot. Jenn pointed out that aiming for the extension off a circle, or doing a few steps of shoulder-in and then half-halting before asking for the extension usually has a better effect with Gordon. For the trot anyway – he’s more than happy to extend at the canter with less encouragement.
Our canter work is also coming along. Today we worked at a few elements from the Training level test that we’ll be starting with. Specifically, we worked at doing circles and cantering half-way through and then going wide down the long side after. On his strong side things went really well. On his weak side it was harder to get him in frame and to prevent him from breaking while trying to do so. I think I need to watch my body through the corners, as I might be sending him contradictory signals as I tend to counter-bend on the right rein. In any case, a little canter-frame breakthrough we had today was to think “soft transition” and then leg-leg-leg, squeeze bum, tilt hand (stronger tilt, if necessary), and then to support the canter with soft hands and a steady outside leg contact. This seemed to be the necessary recipe for success today. Really I just need to clock more hours in the saddle and continue to think impulsion, relaxation and soft hands! Six weeks until our first competition together, so I need to stay focussed and determined!
Lastly, my coach, Jenn, posted this on our barn’s Facebook page today. It feels really great to receive (public!) recognition for hard work and effort! I wanted to log this here to remember.
Amazing how one month can make a difference! Straighter back, higher hands and a better leg position! … All contributing to a better front carriage and stronger impulsion back-end by Gordon!