I’ve been averaging one dressage lesson per month on Candy. I like this schedule a lot because it works with my budget, riding schedule, and preferred method of practicing new skills. I like to take the information and tips my trainer gives me and spend time applying them in my rides until I feel as if I’ve firmly grasped the concept. I also like to feel as though Candy understands, too. Having a lesson every week makes me feel as though I’m relying too heavily on the trainer to manage my riding; it also makes me feel like I’m rushing through the concepts the horse and I are supposed to be learning.
Most of the work in my lessons has been focused on my position and how it affects my horse’s way of going. I like to work on myself, because I know my position is not…ideal for dressage. I have to actively think about maintaining what I think of as a dressage seat, which differs pretty drastically from my preferred position that’s somewhere between two-point and slouching. It’s been fascinating to see how making fairly minor adjustments to my body gets reflected in Candy’s body. For example, when I think about using my hips to half-halt, Candy begins to round through her back and step under herself more. When I focus on keeping my shoulders down away from my ears by using my lats, Candy immediately becomes lighter in the bridle.
This slow, steady work has really helped me have better rides. Candy is steadier and quieter under saddle and more obedient to my aids. She’s becoming more consistent about accepting contact and leaning on the bit less. Three months ago, she was regularly going around super counter-bent; now, she’s usually fairly straight or slightly bent to the inside. She still has zoomy moments and still does some funky stuff with her head, but she’s much more reliable than she was just a few months ago.
I’m beginning to feel better in the saddle, too. For the last year or so, I’ve been feeling really uneven in both my dressage and jumping saddles. My right leg feels like it’s an inch shorter than my left, and for a while, I was even riding with my left stirrup lower than my right in an effort to feel more even. My trainer gave me a few exercises to help even me out, and while my right side still tends to get tight and slowly contract itself, it’s much better than it used to be. I feel super balanced in my jumping saddle (where the stirrups are shorter), which is always a good feeling!
I’ve also begun doing yoga regularly. Johnny and I joined a local studio and have been going to a variety of classes three to four times per week. It’s been really helpful to go to a place with an actual human teaching; I’ve done a lot of yoga via DVDs, but having someone watching and correcting my position has been nice. Yoga has really helped me identify where I am weak and where I am tight, and I’m optimistic that it will help me even out those differences. I’m also certain that will help my riding!
While I still plan to hunt Candy over the winter, I’m glad to have all sorts of dressage things to work on. The focus on dressage work has helped us both!