Secretly, I have always liked dressage. There’s something about the strive for perfection that connects with my soul. People like to compare it to dancing but with my gymnastics background I’ve always connected it more to floor exercise. You’ve got to be athletic, balanced, and precise to do a double full in a tumbling line; just as your horse has to be athletic, balanced and precise to do a half pass across the diagonal. And you can’t just start with the fun tricks, you have to start at the beginning. Sometimes that’s hard to remember. Sometimes it is extremely frustrating. And sometimes, the lightbulb goes on and things just get better.
Dandy has always been very anxious when we do our dressage work. He shows this in his excessive bit chewing and the way he overreacts to every little correction. He’s been horribly blocked for the past year and I was really starting to think we’d never get past that. That my dreams of maybe doing third level (although, not high scoring third level) with Dandy might be just a pipe dream. It doesn’t help that I am also easily frustrated and that sometimes that gets us into these arguments where neither of us win.
But I think we’ve turned the corner. For the first time, I had a lesson where Dandy didn’t feel anxious and I didn’t get frustrated. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a ton to work on but for some reason, everything just sort of clicked together. Dandy didn’t get blocked. We made huge progress on our bending and Dandy’s stretching and, thus, him using his hind end more instead of falling on his forehand.
My favorite exercise from the lesson was changing the bend across the diagonal at the trot. I had to really break it down into three parts. Riding the correct bend through the corner. Straighten Dandy across the diagonal. Push Dandy off my leg into the new correct bend. For some reason, it was much harder to go from the right bend to the left, despite the left being his easier direction. When going out of the corner in a right bend and switching to his left, Dandy wanted to run off his feet.
The other major thing in my lesson was that Kristen corrected my posture. It’s something I have to consciously think about (and I forget more often than not still) but the change in both how I rode and how Dandy felt was amazing. For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to have soft hands by relaxing just my elbows but my back and shoulders were still tense and that led to me bracing against Dandy. Kristen had me completely relax the shoulder and ride pushing my sternum up, instead of shoulders back. Wow. Immediately my whole arm started to move with Dandy. I had freedom in my wrists and in my elbows.
And when I practiced on my own the other day, I still felt like we were making progress. That I was remembering the feeling from my lesson and getting that feeling. That’s what I want.
We’ll have days were dressage isn’t fun but I’m starting to have hope again.