I was curious about just how many years it's been since I have had a dressage lesson, so I searched through my blog. (Excellent source of reference, a blog, which is why I'm going to post my lesson notes here – so I can review what we did.) I had my last lesson with Julie in the spring of 2017, just before Lance's health took a sharp dive. My last riding lesson with Suzan was in 2014 on Lance, which was more of a consolation on saddle fit and discomfort. (Poor Lance; our journey together has not been what I hoped for or expected....)
So I was both excited and a little trepidatious about Stella's and my lesson Wednesday. Have I gotten into all kinds of bad habits working by myself for so long? Have I given Stella have a decent foundation to build upon? Could we progress from where we are, or would Suzan need to tear things down to build them back correctly?
When we arrived, the rider before me had cancelled, so Suzan asked if I wanted to start right away. Oh, o-kaaay; I could hustle and get Stella tacked up and ready. Then she asked if we were doing a long-lining lesson (remember, she gave Stella and I two long-lining lessons last fall) or a riding lesson. When I responded, "Riding," she asked, "Are you going to lunge her first?" Well, no, I never do. "You're just going to climb on?!?" Well, yes, that's what I always do. Now Suzan was trepidatious; she was remembering my skittish, reactive girlie of last fall and clearly thought I was crazy. 😉
But after a few minutes of worrying about Stella freaking out (she didn't), Suzan settled in to doing what she does best: observe with the keenest eye I know, identify precisely what needs to happen, and expertly instruct the rider on how to achieve it. Before our seven-year hiatus, I took many years of clinics and lessons from Suzan (although I could only afford to see her once a month at most); my first Morgan and I never could have reached the FEI levels without her. So just like riding a bike (riding a horse?), I started following her familiar instructions and felt my little mare transform beneath me. Oh, Stella still had lots of 'moments,' but Suzan attributed those to her teething process. (Since Rick checked her teeth, one canine tooth has erupted and two others can be felt beneath the surface of her gums. We shortened Stella's headstall by a hole to better accommodate them.) Towards the end, Suzan grabbed some cell phone shots. I'm pretty pleased with what I see; look at my dressage Morgan!
Now for my CliffsNotes:
(Edited after riding; remembered more things!)
Shorten reins! (Old refrain. I ended up with REALLY short reins at the trot. I must keep the slack out of the reins to keep the bit from bouncing/bumping her and aggravating those emerging canines.) Keep thumbs up, knuckles in, fingers closed, elbows soft, hands apart. Keep lower back relaxed. Follow her head with my hands to keep the connection straight, not broken; if she raises her head, raise hands. (That can feel REALLY high.) She'll bring it back down and connect (sometimes only briefly, but we'll string moments together).
Look at her ears, not the ground; ride her straight with nose between ears so she can use her hocks. Turn her whole body, not her nose. (The first clinician I ever rode with said it should feel like turning a bus, which is a good mental image for me.)
If quick at the walk, half-halt with legs and body only, not hands, for 4-5 strides, then release. (Later in the lesson, Suzan said to take her to the trot when she got quick.) At the trot, slow her by slowing posting rhythm. When giving her a walk break, let her stretch halfway, not clear to the buckle. To encourage her to soften over the topline and stretch, use slow (over several strides) flexes with my wrist; nothing quick.
This was the first time I've ridden using bluetooth earpieces. Suzan called me on my iPhone from her cell phone so she didn't wear herself out trying to project her voice, and it worked well. Next time I'm going to see if I can get video footage of our lesson using my Pivo at the same time; we may also try some lessons via Pivo in the future. Times, they are a-changin'!
And now that I've refreshed my memory after giving Stella her usual Thursday off, I'm going out to see how well I can repeat the lesson's progress.