Sunday, October 12, 2008


Ok. I take it all back. You know how I used to wonder how on earth making circles on a horse could actually be informative or even (gasp) fun? Yeah, ok, with an open mind, a good horse, and the right instructor, it's actually a lot of fun.

First thing this morning, I confessed my canter depart debacle to Hardy. He agreed that he couldn't see my outside leg but yep, I'd asked poor Clipper to canter instead of trot. Then we got our horses saddled up and went out for my lesson.

Yeah, horses! He's going to ride with me for a while, so he can show me stuff instead of just telling me. I would probably be suspicious that he was just being extra nice to my almost-falling-0ff-at-the-canter dumb ass, but we'd talked about it before last week's lesson started.

We spent the entire lesson (which ran a full hour over!) just walking our horses in circles. We talked about trotting, but ended up just doing more walking and more walking and even more walking. It was amazingly informative for me. Those Old Masters of dressage who say you should spend years at the walk are actually on to something.

When I first started this dressage thing, I knew three ways to steer a horse into a turn. Neck reining, inside leg pressure, and "plow reining." By plow rein I mean pull the left rein to turn left, pull the right rein to turn right, pull both of them to stop. Plow reining worked well enough at the beginning, when I was still mainly concentrating on what my hands were doing and where my legs were. I added inside leg pressure pretty quickly and that worked ok, as in, we turned but we didn't remotely make ROUND circles.

Eventually I got my legs better under control, and managed to keep my hands in the general vicinity of the right place. The next hurdle was that elusive outside rein. I think I told yall this a little while back - I used to pick up the inside rein and fling the outside rein away into outer space. My rationale was that I was applying pressure on the inside and I didn't want to apply pressure on both sides cause how would the horse know where to go? In retrospect, this was a foolish idea, but ehh... it seemed like a good idea at the time. ;)

A couple weeks ago I had that huge lightbulb about the outside rein and how it really does contain the energy and blah blah blah. That was totally cool. But it was only part of the picture, apparently.

Today's big lightbulb was, I think, another big piece of the picture. When the circle gets too tight, you can let up a little on the outside rein - to show the horse where to go - and put a little more inside leg and rein pressure - to drive the horse forward-but-sideways-towards-that-outside-rein. Ugh. It's so hard to explain, and no doubt really boring to read about, but it was huge for me. I suspect it's actually really fundamental.

Anyway, all we did was walk in circles. Clipper is a schoolmaster and a sweet old fellow, so he often did the right thing without me doing very much directing. But sometimes he'd get lazy, and if I had enough inside rein to keep him bent and keep his attention on me, and enough inside leg to keep him moving forward, and enough openness on the outside rein - SOMETIMES I could get him to spiral back out and stay bent perfectly softly on the curve. It was breathtaking when it happened.

And sometimes I had not enough leg or not enough rein and he'd spin in tiny circles or just stop and flick his ears back as if he didn't have a clue what I was asking. Man, I love horses. This is so much more fun and rewarding than any comparable hobby I can think of.

The other thing we worked on was, uh, I guess the precursor to collection. I always start off for 10 minutes or so walking around with very light contact letting Clipper stretch out. Then, previously, at some point I'd have normal light contact but much shorter reins, and we'd walk in lopsided ovals or canter in hysterical circles or whatever. Today we worked on how and why the reins magically get shorter. I actually paid attention (without looking at his ears! DO NOT STARE AT HIS EARS, THEY WON'T FALL OFF!) to the way Clipper stretched out and warmed up, then softened his neck and accepted more contact as we continued working.

We talked about trotting, but we ended up doing the whole lesson at a walk. Yes, I was unreasonably nervous about trotting, but I'm fairly good at keeping my body language calm and I know what I did wrong last week. And I was actually learning so much at the walk that I was happy walking. Seriously. I am pretty open about "oh god gonna die" fears on here, and I seriously think I learned more at a walk today than I would've at a trot.

This week's goals for myself: Sorry Champ, this is your week again. I need to work more on that holding on with upper legs thing. If I think about it, I know which muscles to activate, but I need a solid week or two to get it built into my muscle memory. Once I can trot fairly well with my upper thighs really working, I'll canter Champ a bit and see if I can't actually follow his canter with my seat. The real problem is that I'm not at all secure in the canter on Clipper in a dressage saddle. On Champ in my westernish saddle? Yeah, sure, and if I lose it I can just haul back on the reins or yell "trot goddamn you I SAID TROT." Not an option on Clipper.

And Dixie. Need to ride her at least twice this week to see if I can get her nice and loose and relaxed again. I'm not a terrible monster, and I'm not going to let the Monsters in the Trees eat her, and a few more calm easy rides will be really good for her.

And yoga. Dammit. Yoga is still on the list. Must get my ass up earlier and do yoga in the mornings.


  1. Glad to hear your lessons are still going so well. I love reading about them.
    I've been having so much fun lately working on Klein's canter/trot. Getting her to not fall onto her forehand. I've had so many light bulb moments riding with out stirrups and figuring out what my body needed to fix to help her. She has made HUGE improvement in the past two weeks. We flow from the canter to the sitting trot now and it's such a feeling of accomplishment.
    Today I longed her in her Vienna Reins and got some beautiful walk/canters out of her.

  2. I love hearing about your work with Klein - I feel like I'm the human equivalent of her. Like I'm learning the human side of things and she's learning the horse side.

    If you think about it, could you post some more about those Vienna reins? I don't know much about how the work but I'd love to know more!


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