The dressage lesson with Grant Schneidman was AWESOME! It was a pretty intense workout (I may or may not still be sore...) but we made real headway on developing a new and improved way of carrying ourselves. Plus trainer P watched our ride - so she'll be able to keep up the momentum.
My two biggest takeaways are:
- There aren't any holes or weaknesses in my training that I don't already know about - phew! (I mean, sure, there are holes and weaknesses galore - but knowing is half the battle, right? haha). But we need lessons. End of story.
- I've been doing a few things exactly backwards from what I ought to be doing - especially in how I distribute my weight and carry my hands. This was, um, eye opening lol.
I was thrilled with Isabel's performance. She brought her 'A' game for sure and we could immediately demonstrate our current maximum fancy (as opposed to having to work through any unusual tension or explain 'she's not normally like this!' haha). So I felt like everything in the lesson was truly building on our current level of training - which is the whole point, right?
ready for action!!
in polos bc she is a cute dressage pony. purple tho bc duh
After the introductions (with Grant joking that he can't train Arabians bc they are smarter than him lol) I started lapping the arena on a loose rein. He asked why I didn't take up contact immediately and I said it was to let Isabel have a little looksie first. He thought that was all well and fine - but that we won't necessarily have that liberty at shows so I should start expecting her to take her 'looksies' on a contact. Point taken.
Then it was off to work! He had us move on from the walk pretty soon since Isabel was quick to establish a solid forward walk on contact, then we trotted in both directions - mostly in our usual fashion but with his added prompts for more forward (a continuing theme).
After a couple circles and changes of direction, he asked me to turn up the quarter line and leg yield to the wall. I suspect he had already figured out at this point how crooked I ride - tho the hilarity of our attempted 'leg yields' absolutely confirmed this.
exhibit A (pic from last summer): dis not how you dressage
So: the problem? I shift all my weight to the outside, curl up my inside leg (bringing my knee up) and nag with my heels (the proof of this is demonstrated by rubs on Isabel's sides...). The solution: my weight needs to travel down my inside leg to push Isabel out.
He brought us into the center to show how Isabel should move away from leg pressure. He held the right rein and had me sit to the right side of my saddle (just like my bio-mechanics trainer had me do, interestingly) and put all my weight down my right leg to push Isabel left. It should feel like I'm "pulling" the saddle to the right.
When she didn't move off from just a bump, Grant tapped with a dressage whip. I got dinged for shifting my weight back to the left too quickly - something I didn't even realize I was doing - and had to really focus on maintaining my seat and leg position even when she started moving. When Isabel got the right response we were essentially pivoting around Grant - and he had me bring her to a halt by sitting in the middle of the saddle again and closing my outside rein. We did this in both directions.
'omg wut have you done to me' - isabel
Next, Grant gave me the dressage whip and had us do the following exercise: rising trot on a circle with my outside foot out of the stirrup and outside leg staying very neutral off the horse unless absolutely needed.
The onus was on me to keep that inside leg *down.* I should feel like my knee points down - and the weight distributed down that leg serves as the 'inside leg' to push Isabel into my outside rein. The difference in Isabel was quite clear too - she really went much better and rounder when my leg was correct - which Grant described as her 'bending' around my leg. And of course, we had to maintain forward forward forward, aided by the whip when a little leg bump wasn't enough.
After doing that in both directions, he had me pick up my outside stirrup again but keep the same feeling. He said to imagine I had some nasty pointy rock in my shoe - or maybe an awful blister - so that I didn't want to step on my outside leg at all. This was definitely tough - but something that should be easy to practice on my own.
'seriously tho - wtf just happened'
Next we worked on trot - canter - trot transitions on a circle. Lately I've been lifting my hands at the canter - and Grant said no no no, he wanted my hands lowwww. He said I had a nice hand position in the trot but that it all went to hell in the canter. I think the raised hands is my attempt to get my hands out of my lap while still leaving the reins too long... oops.
Our transitions into canter are so awful bc I take what is a decent, workable seat and upper body position in the trot and throw it right out the window to cue for canter. I throw my upper body forward, raise my hands, and tip my pelvis forward - all things that tell Isabel to do the exact opposite of what I want.
Grant compared it to trying to jump the jump for the horse -- which readers may recall is also something I do lol.
like this. exhibit B (also from last summer)
So I need to keep my hands down and "scoop" with my seat to transition for canter. Meaning - I need to sit up and back and keep my seat bones in contact with the saddle and use the whip for back up rather than pushing harder and harder with my legs.
He had me sit the trot before transitioning to canter. This was, er, tough... Needs work Emma! And it still had to be our forward forward trot - always forward. Interestingly as soon as we'd have a nice trot and he'd tell me to canter at will, we'd lose the trot. So clearly I'm changing my position in anticipation without realizing it and need to knock it off.
For the canter to trot transition, I need to take my time and not rush - and slow the canter down to trot speed first then ask. This was tricky, esp bc we kept breaking instead of doing a nice transition... but I think I understand what needs to happen. And the resulting trot must immediately be forward and nice.
He had me practice a few trot walk trot transitions since we're better at those - and told me I should get the same feeling for the canter-trot work.
'can we go home now?'
- use spurs and whip (keep whip in right hand)
- resist when she resists, soften when she softens - timing is everything!!
- outside hand at withers for inside bend (stop running the poor mare into the wall)
- forward forward forward (when Isabel softens everything kinda goes slack and blah - must remain active!)
- stirrups longer - dropped two holes from jumping length in my close contact saddle, would go even longer in a dressage saddle
- when the horse falls apart (like breaking from canter) soften into saddle to pull it all back together - don't just start yanking reins
- stretchy trot circle is a reward, but she has to stretch down. same with free walk. must stretch down otherwise it's back on to contact
- thumbs on the reins
- contact should feel like you're holding a rope connected to a block of wood that's floating in the river down stream from you
And guys - I am SO GLAD I recorded our run through BN-A last week bc it was quite eye opening regarding my position. At that point I really truly believed I was sitting up better - and became quite discouraged when the video showed that, nope, still perching. But the discouragement was short lived and just meant I needed to work harder.
And it totally paid off when Grant said that my position could actually be pretty good at times - and that I am capable of a correct seat and upper body position!!!! He actually said it was better than he expected - which I'm totally taking as a compliment (rather than dwelling on wondering what, exactly, he expected haha).
There's still miles of work to go - I can keep it up when we're just cruising in straight lines... but ask for any kinda of change or transition and I perch or pump forward - plus it's harder for me to maintain when I get tired.... but it's in there!!! yay!
face is literally lathered in sweat -- poor pony!!
So it was a great ride - with some affirmation that we're on the right path. Isabel's gaits all improved remarkably throughout the ride (as I got my shit together) and Grant agreed that she probably 'knows some stuff.' He also described her as naturally talented... so hopefully I'll really be able to polish it all up with regular lessons!
Isabel got sponged off afterward for the first time this year even tho it was only about 60* bc she was absolutely lathered. Poor thing! At least P got us some warm water - then loaned me a fleece cooler to stick on top of my Irish knit for the drive home. Princess then got a day off, and will maybe have a simple ride tonight just to stretch everything out :)