Monday, September 15, 2008

A lesson, a lightbulb, and a deer.

My dad's pretty cool. Generally, he supports whatever I want to do - from "let me actually physically help you with this" to "I don't understand it, but I'm right behind ya!" Horses are definitely in the latter category. They're big, he doesn't understand their behavior, they're expensive, and they're dangerous. He'll ask about them, but it's more out of bemused politeness than any real desire to hear the answer.

And he really doesn't understand the whole lesson thing. It's not snobbiness about dressage, it's just that he plain doesn't understand what else I could possibly have to learn. I don't fall off (much), the horses do (roughly) what I want, end of story. About every ten days he asks if I'm through with my lessons yet. I keep telling him it's something you can keep learning your entire life, but he has no frame of reference and you can tell whatever I say doesn't really sink in. Ahh, well.

I'm certainly not "through" taking lessons. I was thinking about it Sunday - not in a "am I really getting my money's worth out of this" sense, but more of a "I wonder what I am learning" sense. Then I had my lesson, and I learned two things.

The first thing we did - the VERY FIRST THING after I got on Clipper - was a turn to the left at a walk around Hardy, the instructor. I'm always odd and clumsy when I first start a lesson, and I muddled up the first turn. I activated my left rein, looked to the left, and asked for a walk. My right rein was flappin in space, probably so loose it was banging Clipper's neck. Clipper started wobbing off in a strange oval, Hardy said "pick up your outside rein!," I picked up my outside rein, and KA-BLAM!, Clipper started bending perfectly.

It was a lightbulb moment. More like a lightning bolt moment, really. It was exactly what I've been reading about for what, two years now? The outside rein contains the energy of the horse and supports the bend. The outside rein supports the bend. I can't tell you how many times I've read that, or something like it, and puzzled over it and mentally shrugged my shoulders. There's a thousand more little lightbulbs waiting for me - reading dressage without ever doing it is like reading fiction - but there's one down. Too cool.

Then we walked and trotted in a bunch of circles in one half of the arena. I still make mostly wobbly circles, or lose my impulsion, or my legs start flapping around like a barrel rider, but I'm improving. And again, since I was noticing it, I could tell that when I got it all together and asked for a bend with my reins and legs just so we'd bend, me and Clipper, smoothly. I can even kind of almost feel when my outside leg is right, how it helps contain his butt. Yay!

We were working in half the arena because a kid on a pony was having a lesson in the other half. The pony in question doesn't like other horses and apparently will kick any horse that comes near her. Anyway, the kid's lesson finished a little before mine and Hardy wanted me to trot around the entire arena and do voltes in the corners or something. So off we went!

I swear to god I didn't ask for a canter depart. I just squeezed no harder than I'd been doing all morning and asked for a TROT. Clipper, for whatever reason known only to horses, took off like greased lightning. As soon as we hit the first turn, he settled down into a canter, but I was trying to grab reins and sit down and not lose stirrups or fall off or whatnot and it took two laps before I could even hear what the instructors were saying. "Sit DOWN" was the gist of it, but then we were on the long side and Hardy yelled "outside rein!" and I just barely pulled the outside rein and we skidded to a halt.

I scratched Clipper's neck and apologized for whatever I'd said to him that made him decide to do THAT and we turned and walked quite sedately to the middle of the arena, where all the instructors were standing trying not to turn white or purple or green. I just kinda laughed and said "told you I don't fall off much!" and we started trying to figure out what brought that on. Hardy didn't think I'd done anything wrong, per se. He thinks maybe it was just suddenly having the whole arena, plus that we were pointing towards the gate and going past some trees. I privately suspect that Clipper just wanted to see if I'd fall off or get the lesson over with any faster, cause that's how horses roll.

Anyway, my calves aren't perfect but they're getting there. My hips are still waaay too stiff and thus the bouncing. Bouncing is no good. "Must quit bouncing" is the second thing I learned in my lesson. Obviously I still haven't gotten off my ass and done any yoga. Swear to god, tonight I will.

After all that excitement, I went over to the field and grabbed Champ and we went on a nice sedate trail ride. Found some more trails leading off to a different pond. It's SO pretty back there - next time I'll bring my camera and take more pictures. On our way back out, we flushed a good sized doe. She went bouncing off while we sedately admired her. Cersei smelled her trail and thought it was pretty exciting but came right back when she realized Champ and I weren't going to chase the deer with her. She's a wonderful dog.

And Champ's a wonderful horse. He gave me some "what the hell are you doing that for, woman?" ears when I practiced riding with my calves wrapped around him, but he quickly realized I wasn't expecting anything different from him. I think it is easier to post with more leg contact.


  1. Ah yes, the lightbulb moment. You described it perfectly. Until I started to get those from something as incidental as outside rein or tightening my inside abs, I wondered what all the dressage fuss was all about (BOOOOORRRRRIIIINGGGG). But now I love it. It is so subtle and delicious, like a shared secret with my best friend. He dances for me and I am training my body to dance with him. It's the closest thing to magic that I have ever done.

    Thanks for bringing it home so wonderfully.

    What is it they say? "To master dressage takes five horses and three lifetimes"??

  2. What's the word on legal status? Dead or alive? Inquiring minds want to know!


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