To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dealing with what comes

So this morning I pulled Russell out of the pasture where he'd been munching on his breakfast hay (all the grass long since eaten up and dried out) and got him ready. It wasn't too hot out yet, but he was warm from standing in the sun and acted pretty sluggish. After walking around a bit I asked for a trot and got a very lackadaisical response. Okay; clearly I needed to get him thinking forward, and hotter off my leg. Like Jane Savoie says (and I paraphrase), a horse must be responsive to your leg or you have nothing to work with. So I began a series of walk/trot transitions going both directions; it didn't take long at all for Russell to get with the program. A couple times I got more than I asked for, but that's okay; I let him canter a few strides and then quietly brought him back and asked again for an energetic trot from the walk. (Never correct a horse for offering more than you ask for; just quietly bring them back to where you started from and ask again with more finesse.) After a walk break that included shoulder-in, renvers and traverse, we did the same thing from walk to canter (taking care that the downward transitions to walk were just as forward and active as the upward transitions were). I decided to end with one final exercise on staying forward: going from working canter to working trot with no "sucking back." The first time my instructor had me do this, it took forever to get it right! (Our obvious need of a more forward downward transition was exactly what prompted her to make us do it, I'm sure.) The first downward transition to the trot was good, but when I asked for #2 (I try to do everything in threes to solidify the point being worked on), Russell throttled back. Nope - forward at the canter again; you don't get to trot when you do that. I asked a couple more times, with the same response on first his, and then my, part. Then he stopped listening to subtle aids and went into overdrive, charging around like he had energy to burn. So - burn, baby, burn! I could have brought him back, but only in a way that would have resulted in a lot of tension, so I let him gallop around and around (round, of course) to the right, then asked for a flying change across the diagonal and let him bomb around to the left. The intensity seemed to lessen, so I brought him back to a working canter and asked for the trot with no change of speed or energy. Got it - three times. So, back to the right again, and got the transitions properly that direction, too. Then I let him trot, big and stretching, before we started a long cool-down.

I had no intention to work him that long and hard, but you gotta deal with what comes. And by not getting into a battle with him, I was eventually able to get what I wanted and end on a good note.



Wendy said...

Your work was an exercise in communication! At least that's how I look at it...

That's been the best part of my dressage training, learning how to communicate with my horse better. He's so much happier with me! and me with him!

If you could have seen what a brat he used to be and now he's the golden child. Go figure!

Also, it's nice to read that you're doing much the same at your level of training to get a point across as I'm doing at my level (much lower level) of training. And that you don't look for perfection immediately but for the right train of thought from your horse and fine tuning it.

You're reinforcing what my trainer has me doing - not that I needed the reinforcement but it's always good to see :)

A :-) said...

Michelle - this is cool to read - I'm learning a lot - not that I'll ever be on a horse again (not in this lifetime, anyway ;-)), but I'm enjoying reading about it. :-)

Michelle said...

Indeed, Wendy, "the basics is the basics"! I've shown through Prix St. George, but all the principles still apply, no matter your level. That's why even high level riders can benefit from the eyes of a less advanced rider on the ground. I think that's one of (the many) neat thing about our sport.

Michelle said...

Adrienne, I didn't know if a training journal like this would have ANY interest for a non-dressage person; neat to hear that you like it!

d2cmom said...

Could you explain what you mean by "sucking back"? I don't ride english and I have had very little professional training at all. I enjoyed the details you gave and am looking forward to your descriptions of your training sessions to see if I learn anything.

I love cheating off other's work!

By the way, my verification is "texha" - as in "Tex, HA!" :)

Michelle said...

Hey "Tex," (ha!),

In dressage (and I would argue in any form of riding, having done that, too), ideally the horse should be "in front of the rider's leg," meaning it's not lazy and slow to respond and heavy on the forehand, but working off its hindquarters, listening and ready to respond to whatever cues you give. When you have felt that, then it's easier to describe "sucking back," when the horse stops cooperating fully and loses some degree of its energy. For instance, if you are trail riding and come to a little creek and your horse walks right through at your bidding without changing stride or speed, that horse is working properly. But if you feel a kind of "reversal" of energy, even if the horse doesn't actually stop and back up, that horse is "sucking back," showing its unwillingness to trust you completely and do your bidding promptly. Does that help?

Leigh said...

Well, I don't know much about dressage, nor horses except that I always wanted to learn to ride. Great blog. And also, I didn't realize you homeschooled, I did too! I can also add that as a formerly lost sheep, I love the Great Shepherd too. :)