Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dressage Love

Sometimes I question my identity as an eventer. Because - gasp, horror! - I actually like dressage work.

I know a distaste for dressage isn't universal, but it sure is part of the eventer image. Get through the boring part so you can get to the jumping! Do whatever you can to contain your exploding, hot, fit horse!

Well, yeah. Dressage and I have had our moments. But for the most part, I really actually enjoy it.

I love the process and knowing that it is built so clearly on a logical progression of increasing skill, strength, balance, suppleness, and communication. The better our dressage work gets, the better our jumping work gets. The more dressage work we do, the stronger McKinna becomes - and the stronger McKinna becomes, the better our dressage work gets!

Even though I've been gone a lot and thus riding very sporadically, things have been going quite well. Example: we had a fabulous dressage lesson last night. (Please imagine the word 'fabulous' complete with sparkles and angels singing in the background.)

I asked Leslie if we could begin doing some lateral work. We haven't spent much time on it at all, having been focusing instead on getting three quality gaits with suppleness and push from behind and all that good stuff. I've been feeling lately that she's ready, at the walk and trot at least, to begin working on some new things like leg-yield and shoulders-in. Leslie agreed, so we got to play!

Overall, McKinna was wonderful. From the moment I picked up a trot in warmup, I could tell her trot was just going to kick butt: it was soft, fluid, forward, and she was willing to be as stretchy or as compact as I wanted. Cool beans. The best part is that she is actually beginning to understand connection and contact, especially going to the right. We are still having issues accepting the right rein when it's the outside rein, especially in left-lead canter where she wants to motorcycle and it's virtually impossible to get her to stand up, but we're working on it.

Bonus: the lateral work will strengthen her and teach her more about proper connection anyway, so it's win-win.

We got some nice leg yields at the walk and trot, and some reasonable shoulder-in. Theoretically I know what a shoulder-in is, and how to ask for it, but I haven't really schooled it much, so it was good to get some guidance. McKinna can be quite noodly with her body, but I think as she learns what I want from a shoulder-in that problem will go away. Also, it really helps when I keep my outside leg firmly on. (Please don't ask me how my outside leg, behind the girth, magically keeps her shoulders in. It just does.)

Best part: Leslie had us do some trot lengthenings. One of them felt so good that I'm pretty sure I let out a 'woohoo!' as we went trotting along! McKinna took a steady contact, stayed soft, reached forward and up, and pushed from behind into longer and longer steps. Way cool.

We did some more, and I discovered that if I give her too much slack in the rein while trying to get her to stay soft, it backfires and she wants to pop up into the canter. I need to keep my contact, ask her to soften, and give her a supportive rein contact to lengthen into.

Yay dressage. Leslie is great, she really is. I enjoy my lessons, learn a lot, and McKinna is improving all the time. While I'm away, I'm going to have Leslie do a couple training rides in addition to my mom riding. She says she will continue introducing more First Level stuff - the shoulder-in, leg yield, maybe some shallow counter-canter serpentines. I think it will really help to have Leslie ride that canter, because I'm not sure if she can see from the ground just how much McKinna is avoiding the outside rein when we go to the left. When she rides, she'll be able to feel it and take steps to correct it.

Can't wait to play with the lateral stuff and lengthenings more at home.

That's all for now. Time to go do some laundry...


SprinklerBandit said...

Dressage is fun. I like dabbling in it... Sounds like you guys had a great lesson.

Jeni said...

There is nothing like a good ride is there!

Andrea said...

I LOVE DRESSAGE! And the best part of loving dressage is.... I am pretty much guaranteed a spot in the top three after dressage at every show I go too, and am usually always in 1st! Aaah the perks ;) Also, if my horse ever can't jump anymore, there better be SOMETHING fun to do! XD

Leah Fry said...

LOL. You know I'm still a novice, so much of the finer stuff you are talking about makes my eyes glaze over. But one thing you said caught my eye: the part about if you loosen the reins too much, McKinna wants to pick it up to the canter. Can you tell me — in plain English a dummy can understand — how to prevent that without hanging on the horse's face?

Carly said...

I LOVE dressage. There is almost nothing like getting the perfect circle or transition. Congrats on the great lesson. So nice when the hard work pays off!

Leah: I'm no expert at all but this is how it has always been explained to me: You should have contact with the horse's mouth. This doesn’t mean hanging or bracing but more that the horse is accepting the bit and "working off of it". A horse should not be allowed to hang on the bit. If they do I use lateral movement and changes in direction and bend to help them loosen up and carry themselves. The bit in a way is just like your seat / hands / ankles...- it helps- along with the other aids- to define what you want the horse to do.
When I have encountered this problem with my riding it always seems to be one of two problems. 1. The horse uses the gentle contact that the rider has with her mouth and works off of it. When rider softens instead of following the bit horse rushes and breaks into the canter. In this case I keep working on the horse understanding and accepting the contact so they want to follow the bit. Big part of this is the horse knowing how to carry themselves and the rider riding the horse correctly so the horse can work correctly. 2. Rider tries hard to keep a soft contact with the mouth and takes it to far to the point where the horse does not have the contact that they need. (This is totally my problem.)

For me I work on lots of transitions, tempo changes, circles, bending, lengthening and shortening of the reins with the horse staying on the bit (sometimes it is a very small change). I also always have to remind myself to define the rhythm with my seat.

Sorry for the essay!

manymisadventures said...

Leah, Carly's explained it pretty well ;)

Basically, in dressage, contact is like holding hands. It's a quiet but solid connection that allows communication both ways - if I want to go over here, you can feel it. If I want to squeeze your hand a little, you can feel it.

Hanging on their face would be more like grabbing someone's arm in both hands. Sure, you can drag them somewhere (maybe even to the same location you could go while holding hands), but it's a lot less pleasant for the horse and there's no two-way communication.

Specifically what happened in my lengthening: since she's a short-necked horse, I have to ride with long-ish reins and remember to ask her to come to me, rather than shortening up the contact and letting her get all cramped up. I went too long in this instance, because she needed contact to have something to reach into as she lengthened her steps - the contact gave her guidance, saying "take longer steps and add more power, but don't canter," while a too-loose rein allowed her to misinterpret my aids. Make more sense?

manymisadventures said...

Andrea - it helps that your mare is gooorrrrrrgeeeouusssssssss and has the most fantabulous gaits ever ;) But after only five months of dressage lessons we managed to place in the middle of the pack after D at our first recognized event, so I'm feeling optimistic for the future. When McKinna's 'on,' she magically turns into this adorably fancy dressage pony. Can't wait until we can reliably get that away from home!

Albigears said...

Ooh me too, I like dressage too! Yay dressage! :)

Val said...

Lateral work is my favorite part of dressage for the beauty, delicate communication, obedience, and, most of all, for the improvement it bestows on horse and rider. Even if the shoulder in was not perfect, the movement lets me feel and soften stiffness or tension in my horse's body, and then his movement has improved AFTER the shoulder in, because it is a tool first. The counter shoulder in helps the horse prepare for the canter by engaging the outside hind.

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