I had a dressage lesson on Friday. Well, sort of. I invited my longtime friend Anne to come watch me ride on Friday morning. She’s my go-to dressage guru; we’ll call her my dressage adviser, because she is uncomfortable being thought of as a trainer of any kind.
I wanted to get her thoughts on Gina and First Level; unfortunately, it rained Thursday night and the outdoor arena was too slippery for riding. I’m incredibly grateful for the indoor arena- it isn’t large, but it is dry, with good footing and enough space to work on the basics. It’s not great for lengthenings or the shallow loop serpentines required in First 3, which were two things I definitely wanted some advice on.
At any rate, I did get some helpful advice on a number of other things. Anne suggested I do more small circles and serpentines while Gina warms up on a loose reins, instead of cruising around in big loops. This was an effective warm-up technique: Gina was much more supple and relaxed once she began trotting. Anne also advised keeping my reins looser than I have been, because tighter reins make it easier to pick fights.
I practiced lengthening across the diagonals; it went really well once and I totally felt Gina step up underneath herself and make her stride larger. The next time I asked for a lengthen, Gina broke to a canter. I’m totally okay with this, because it’s a forward movement. Gina understands I’m asking her to move forward, she’s moving forward, and we can refine it later. It was tempting to drill the lengthens a little, but I opted to work on cantering because I didn’t want Gina to be confused or stressed out.
The big epiphany I had came at the canter. First Level requires 15 meter canter circles, which did not go well at the last show. Anne pointed out that if I used my inside rein too heavily, I would cause Gina to canter around falling in on her shoulder and swinging her haunches out. She suggested I put Gina on my outside aids: pick up my outside rein just a little and think about pushing Gina’s haunches toward the inside of the circle. I’ll admit I was skeptical about this- it seems counter intuitive. But I did it anyway, because Anne knows far, far more about dressage than I do, and lo and behold, it worked!
Gina cantered around beautifully on the bit, in a perfectly balanced 15ish meter circle, and I could feel her haunches leading instead of her shoulders. I said, “Is this what a canter pirouette feels like?!” to which Anne replied, “You’re about 15 meters away from a canter pirouette, Stephanie…”
I’ve decided not to enter Gina in the schooling show this weekend. At this point, I think I need to work a little more on First Level requirements. I want to feel like I did well at a show, not like I could have been significantly better. Maybe next year we’ll dominate and win a shiny year-end award and big neck ribbon! For the rest of this year, Gina and I are going to work on our lengthenings and circles and leg yields- and go foxhunting! I think G could use the mental break from continuous dressage and I know I could use some more time riding cross country (you know, so I remember how)!