Ohh how I wish for more video - I'm totally regretting not bringing my helmet camera to set up on a ledge, as that proved perfect for Sunday's fix-a-test (post tomorrow). Oh well. Next time I'll be better prepared!
|regal mare <3|
He liked that I didn't get noisy or fussy when Isabel bounced around a little bit (matching trainer C - who says "it doesn't matter, keep riding her where you want her to be"), and that our typical frame has Isabel's nose poked slightly ahead of the vertical. C says this is harder for Isabel than ducking behind the bit (obvi I concur), and Stephen added that it's critical to "ride the horse's conformation" (something he repeated to multiple riders).
|isabel's confo can sometimes make for a unique ride <3|
I've been chewing on that idea ever since, and lately have been practicing the leg lifts in the saddle that Catherine Haddad discusses in this video (someone in blogland originally posted that but now I can't remember who!).
Specifically, I start each ride lifting my entire leg, hip to heel, from the saddle. Focusing on feeling my seat connect with Isabel's back - while still pushing my big toe into the stirrup iron.
Stephen liked this a lot, and took it further by adding that the heels must always be down. He said he constantly rides off his core, seat and stirrup irons - and *not* by pinching with thigh, knee or calf. The leg should be able to come off. This feeling really helps me - esp now that I'm learning to keep my seat in the saddle (rather than popping out) while pushing into the stirrup.
|lighting made for neat silhouette effects|
So what did he choose? Half steps (omg). Starting, of course, with sitting trot (without me even needing to tell him we are a train wreck in that department haha).
Obvi, tho, first we started with some basic trotting in both directions, complete with changes of direction to assess our contact etc. Directions of note included:
- Shorten reins one at a time (a la Austen's recent post on the topic)
- Don't let inside hand get too low - stay aware, esp with holding the whip
- Soften elbows, esp outside - must allow that softness in the outside rein to get flexion to inside
- Shoulder fore on a circle
- Counter flexion (think travers, or was it renvers?)
- Then back and forth between inside bend, going straight (on a circle), and counter flexion
Then we started sitting trot, just a couple strides at a time.
- OMG I was a hot mess - having stopped practicing as much, since we wouldn't be sitting in the upcoming show.. womp
- Don't let the connection go just bc I'm sitting the trot
- Sit a few strides, post a few strides, sit, post, rinse, repeat
- Don't look down!!
|mare fit right in with all the fancy dressage horses|
As might be expected, the sitting grew a little easier with repetition (and with C's many directives zooming rapid fire through my mind). But before I had a chance to think about it, Stephen shifted directly into working towards half steps (omg). All while ridden sitting:
- He wanted NO LEG, half halts with core and reins, and simultaneous tap with whip
- I was to take my time, no rushing. Think "halt" but.. ya know.. don't halt
- Carry whip in outside hand (haunches fishtailed in too much with whip in inside hand)
- Must be careful not to clench inside hand when moving outside hand to tap with whip
- Tap with whip tells her to quicken her hind end and push up into bridle - NOT go faster
- Must be patient and kind with aids to help Isabel understand what I'm asking
- Encourage her to stay ACTIVE while bringing the movement more onto the spot with the reins
- Rein aids need to mean a quickening of the step
- Then allow forward again. Then back to half steps. Then forward. Rinse repeat.
- This is the beginning of piaffe - becoming more and more 'on the spot'
|not half steps... still cute tho!|
Omg. Guys. This was incredible. It was HARD, yes, and Isabel grew a little frustrated at one point - but let it go and kept working, kept trying. She was SO ROUND. I finally know what you all are talking about when you say the horse "gives you a place to sit." Stephen said 'when you have the hind legs, you have a place to sit.'
- Depart into canter from that small trot. No running tho!
- Transitions were difficult and sticky (definitely harder for mareface!) - so I needed to truly commit to the canter.
- If Izzy tried running, we were to bring back to collection then bump with outside leg (as a correction, not as a signal to depart again).
- Half halt immediately upon cantering.
- Canter needs more inside bend (shocker - esp since we did all this work to the left, our notoriously harder direction)
Then back to trot:
- Working trot on a circle, then into medium trot, then back to working trot
- Back and forth, back and forth (a theme, and our homework)
- The resulting working trot was THE working trot we want
|isabel is so game|
Personally, I'm a little less sure haha. Honestly, the biggest reason I'm bummed about the lack of video is bc the way Stephen directed us through the movements - his voice, his timing, his choice of words - was SUPER effective for me and helped me ride Isabel to the best of my abilities. Without which we wouldn't have gotten as good results.
So I'm not entirely sure I trust myself to try on my own (unless I can somehow procure a recording of Stephen's voice? LOL) bc I can definitely see how battle might ensue if I somehow end up riding the mare unfairly. We'll see. I'll probably try a more watered-down version.
But generally - the canter and half steps work was incredible. I really felt like I "had a place to sit" in both gaits.
|stephen demonstrating a stretch through the back and legs|
It was interesting tho - later in the day Stephen, after discussing how to best manage a different horse, referred back to Isabel, saying: "She's stoic, she's not going to pitch a fit or explode if she's uncomfortable. You'll only ever know it after the fact by discovering she is back sore."
UM YES, DING DING DING. That is exactly Isabel, and our exact struggle over the years with her. She doesn't tell me much under the saddle, but carries it all through her back. Stephen's advice was to "manage her care accordingly." We're trying dude, I promise.
Phew. Lots of little nitty gritty details, and maybe hard to envision without supportive video/media evidence. You'll just have to take my word for it tho: Isabel was super game and worked her butt off (quite literally). I think the reason this mare has so much dressage potential (aside from just being a cute mover) is her ability to handle pressure. Ask her to do a thing, and damn if she doesn't try.
All in all, it was a really positive experience. Stephen's teaching style worked for me, and his philosophies meshed with my regular training program. Riding with him was worth the expense of a 30min lesson (and 3hr round trip), and I will absolutely try to do so again when he's in town.