Friday, September 10, 2021

just the basics, ma'am

One of my enterprising barn mates brought an exciting clinic onsite this past week! Specifically, she coordinated a full day of lessons with Molly K, local upper level eventer and coach who offers clinics with the Equiformance resistance bands. 

You might remember I took a handful of lessons with Molly last summer and fall at a nearby farmette, so I was quick to jump on the bandwagon again this time.

always important to set expectations with a new trainer haha... esp when you're a hot mess, whoops
It's interesting, tho. I thought long and hard about what I wanted from the lesson -- and what I didn't. Specifically, I wanted to set expectations about objectives, including being honest with myself about "off-limits" topics.

Which... Might sound crazy..., but hear me out. Charlie and I have been out of a regular lesson program for months at this point. Closer to years if we're talking specifically about dressage. It's not ideal, but it is what it is. 

In the meantime, Charlie and I have come to something approximating an "agreement" about how we do our work. We have an understanding, let's say. And a pretty freakin major part of that agreement relates to how we do "forward," and how much I fuck with his face. 

bonus 2-in-1 pic: 1) bizarre little rubber ball under my knee; and 2) excellent example of what the kids call a "gansta lean"
You might read that and interpret it as me enabling Charlie, or letting him call the shots on "who trains whom." And ya know... That's not an altogether incorrect interpretation lol. 

But the reality, as I understand it, is that we can make it work on the flat --- in a way that (most importantly!!) does NOT sour the horse to work in general, or make him sullen or behind the leg when it really counts -- like jumping. And until we're back in a regular coaching routine, I'm not really inclined to shake that up, ya know? YMMV, obvi haha. 

LOLZ the more things change, the more they stay the same.... 
So anyway. My unspoken (but top-of-mind) prohibited activities included chasing Charlie forward beyond what I would do in a normal ride. Obviously tho I didn't say that to Molly bc obviously it sounds insane. Like, well, why the fuck are you trying to ride dressage if you don't want your horse forward into the bit?? 

Lol... But ya know. My horse, my rules. What I DID say, tho, was that I wanted to work on "riding circles." All sizes, all gaits. And focus on my position and biomechanics while riding circles. To fix *me* -- make *me* better. 

next time i'm bringing my tools, charlie >:(
And? To her credit, Molly was game! I told her I was indifferent to whether we did the full body bands or not, and we ended up not. Tho she did pull out a couple other fun play things. First up:: These bizarre little rubber balls that she stuck under my knees. 

The idea with these were to literally force me to realign how my leg hangs ("drapes") off the horse -- and hopefully interrupt some of my hard-wired habits like clinging with the lower legs. 

there's a good boy tho!
Molly also described imagining my entire head-to-toe posture as if I were on skis. On skis, shoulders, hips, and *legs* all travel in unison in the desired line of travel. Whereas I, in my perpetual state of crookedness, prefer to rotate my outside toe outward, rather than inward

And THIS is the biggest contributor to my lower legs clinging. 

Well. Let me put a qualifier on that: I've gotten worlds better at the clinging, with both legs. But the habit is substantially reduced in my left leg compared to the persistently pasty right leg.** 

**Which... is probably related to my left ankle being basically useless after many repeated injuries. TBH, once the weather turns in maybe December-ish, I'll pursue more diagnostics bc it feels likely at this point that some shit is straight up detached in there, and might need surgical repair, argh....

lookie he can go the other way too!
Anyway, the "skis" imagery was helpful for me, tho I'm not sure the balls made an enormous difference. Tho it's all in the video so you can decide for yourself. I kept the balls there through the canters, at which point they wiggled out of position and I opted to drop 'em. 

Notably, tho, Charlie was a tad sulky in the lesson anyway (much to my chagrin, since I'd brought neither spurs nor whip....) and our canter departs were epically sticky. As evidenced by that "dinosaur stuck in tarpit" image above... Ugh. Charles. Gotta keep up your side of the deal, buddy!!

In his defense, I'm pretty sure the balls kept me from being where he expected me to be in the transitions. That's *not* an exoneration, to be clear, but that's what it felt like. 

charlie's smiley face! and the pretty late summer light!!
After dropping the balls, we switched to a stretchy rubber tube behind my back that looped over my fingers. This was probably more useful for me, tho I did tend to get a little "fixed" rather than "following" in my hand position. 

And separate from the bio-mechanical gadgetry, we basically just worked endlessly through very very basic figures. And it was wonderful. Seemed like each time Molly put me through one pattern, she realized yet another weakness or asymmetry in our way of going. 

gettin the feel for the next gadget: an elastic band behind my back (that little black strap)
Probably we could have spent an entire lesson working on each of those various "aha" moments individually.... And if we have future opportunities I'm sure we will. But for this ride, we kinda opened up allllllll the holes, and Molly outlined the first steps in addressing each of them. 

Honestly, it felt like Molly "unpeeled our onion" in this ride, identifying first the 'symptoms,' then the root causes, let's say lol. Such that the exercises we ended on were more basic, but perhaps more important, than the exercises we started with, if that makes sense lol.

just cheesin around, creating epic dust storms on my leggy little beastie
So, the exercises:

For Charlie, change flexion / bend often to get him more even from side to side:
- Ride the quarter line and first flex out, then flex in
- Canter "rectangles" -- flex out on long sides, flex in on short ends
- Ride diagonal to half circle (See: exercises for Emma lol)
- Tracking L + quick R turns are notably harder for *me*
- Therefore, practice with purpose and awareness 

For Emma, be posturally correct, and prepare the horse sooner than I think:
- Keep my chin centered over wither and between ears
- Ride eyes up as if I'm riding out, even when inside the ring
- Be more mobile through arms/elbows/hands -- think throw pinkies toward mane
Rotate, don't lean
- For real, tho, Emma. Stop leaning.
- And plz for the love of all things holy, get your right heel off the horse. nowwww.. ahem. 
- Leave room for all steps of a movement or figure**
- Think about sinking/bending elbows in my half halts
- Also think about actually literally halting in halt halts haha. No, really tho. 

hands too low with this gadget, but we're werkin it out
**This "leave room" piece is my biggest take away not related to position. It was fascinating bc Molly maybe realized why I ride Charlie a little bit the way I do vis-a-vis forward lol, as evidenced by switching hard core to instructions like "Slow Down! Balance!" in this part of the ride, even tho we're not going meaningfully more forward lol. 

Basically, in my OCD desire to be "accurate," I'm always trying to do a movement or ride a figure at specific points in space. But.... then I get to that point, and we're straight up not actually fully prepared for the entire movement -- all the steps that must happen can't be done "on the spot" -- and we end up careening. 

This showed up most clearly in our left turns across the diagonal, right turn to half circle change of direction. I wanted to do be seamless from left diagonal to right half circle -- but actually there are more like three distinct steps: 1) half halt; 2) change bend while straight; 3) turn.

init amazing how i'm a different rider depending on which side of my body you see?!
So. Lots of good food for thought coming out of the ride. And I'm glad we did it, ya know? Well, I'm not sure Charlie particularly enjoyed it. But, eh, I'll digest all the pieces and adapt them into our normal schooling routine so that Sir doesn't feel quite so picked on lol, god forbid. 

It's funny tho. I watched a couple other lessons from the clinic, and wondered whether I might have been the most persnickety prickly protective student of the day. But.... I also feel like I got tangible takeaways that I can implement independently and still be reasonably productive. 

On one hand... I'm the first to admit that "I don't know what I don't know" and therefore who am I to pick and choose instruction, ya know? OTOH, tho.... Eh, Charlie's my boy, ya know? This week marks exactly 5 years since I first met him, and it doesn't take more than a quick perusal of our Events Page to see that he's a pretty special horse for me. 

Do I sometimes wish the flatwork were easier? That he were fancier? That I was more skilled? Sure. Obviously. But... Ya know... This horse has already given me so much, and still for all the world feels like he has so much more left. So. Yes, lol, I'm protective of him. But we also keep working on it. One little bit at a time! 


  1. As I always say ‘riding is hard’. I think setting limits is a good thing. You’ve worked hard. And I think this was a positive lesson.

    1. Super positive! I’m always pretty happy to have a nice collection of bite sized nuggets that I can carry forward in our work lol!

  2. I think you know your horse, and you know what you want to get out of a lesson, and there's nothing wrong with setting those expectations. It's nice to have an instructor that's willing to listen to you and work WITH you toward your goals for the day. Sounds like a productive day!

    1. 100% on appreciating that Molly rolled with it. It helped that she remembered us too, so it wasn’t like she was coming up to a ride expecting to do the whole “intro to the bands” thing and got handed an expectation to teach something else entirely lol

  3. Not to be dramatic, but I teared up a bit looking at those canter photos. He's so uphill and soft and looks like he's having a great time. I totally see what you mean with the elastic band, and Chuck seems to feel the same haha but it also makes a difference in your alignment and seems easy to recreate with a regular work out band??

    1. definitely -- all these little tools are the same stuff you might see in a gym, just normal resistance bands etc. definitely easy to rig up for anybody inclined to try it out!

  4. I feel you on the setting limits - in high school I took a dressage lesson with an instructor who, in an effort to get canter-walk transitions, made Zing and me so upset that we could not actually even canter a straight line by the end of the lesson. It took a few rides of just letting him go forward after while I didn't fuck with him to undo what had been done. It was after that lesson that I started realizing I knew him best and not just blindly following instruction because they were the expert.

    Awesome to have exercises to work on that can help even you both out! I'm definitely in the trying to mobilize elbows, forearms, hands club right now.

    1. ugh yea that experience sounds awful... and is definitely exactly where my head is. like, it's one thing when you're in a regular program with someone who will be there week after week to work through sticky spots. but clinics are just different... and we gotta be our horse's best advocates ya know?

      also re: the mobile arms and pinky thing, i wasn't really listening much at that particular moment bc it was early in the ride and there was a lot of instruction about kicking and doing more to get charlie going more, and i kinda interpreted the comments re: throwing my pinkies up as sorta "flapping" at the horse to get more of a response. so i just.... ignored it lol. but in watching the video and listening again, i'm pretty sure it is its own sorta stand alone positional critique as well. so i'll try it on for size in our next rides to see if it helps lol

  5. This sounds super interesting, but next time I'm going to need you to wear light colored breeches and shirt so I can see the balls and bands, lol.

  6. That's pretty cool you got to do another biomechanics lesson, and the devices used this time look really interesting. The behind the back one reminds me of a more elastic version of the ride with your mind belt (and honestly a more effective version of that device). Great takeaways, I know maybe you don't want to lesson with Molly K all the time but I hope that the opportunity is there for her to come and you to utilize her as much as you wish.


Thanks for leaving a comment! If you have trouble with this form, please email: fraidycat.eventing at gmail.