Hey, I was wondering: should I add a "what is dressage" page to this website? Also, what do you think of the new look for the site? Opinions?
"If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much." D.Rumsfeld
That is the truth. Many of you know, I also try to take lessons and clinics frequently. Sometimes, those rides are a bit tough. Sometimes they don't really feel good, and it takes time to process the lesson afterward. Oftentimes, those tough or un-fun lessons make the biggest impact. If a boost is what you need, then criticism is your friend. Some people take riding lessons for approval and recognition. Thats fine if that is what you need. Your personal goals determine what you need. Those goals are derrived from logically stating where you want to "be" in a specifically determined future. Once recovered from the tough clinic or lesson, the good ride and improved understanding create joy for me. It is really worth the struggle. I write down my yearly goals every January and post them in my masterbath seatroom. It keeps me focused and discourages distractions throughout the year. Seeing my written goals keeps me from resenting my teachers. It also keeps my chin up when life rains on my parade. Why do written goals help me keep my chin up? I feel confident that I will meet them, because I usually do. I usually do because I am a practiced at goal setting. That feeling of achievment makes me feel calm and patient. I can do it... with help, and maybe a little criticism to get me off my duff.
Often the description of dressage contact includes the word, "light". That is a fairly vague word. Is a feather light and an egg heavy? Or is an egg light and a coffee cup heavy? Or is a coffee cup light and a brick heavy? Nobody really knows where "light" begins and ends. It really depends on the horse you are sitting on and what phase of training he is in. For example, if your horse is 17 hands and 2500 pounds of pure muscle, schooling early levels, and the weight in your fingers can be described as a feather, then most likely, you do not have good connection. Your horse may be light because he is behind the bit, not on the bit. Maybe he is so lazy behind the saddle that there isn't any pushing power toward the bit. Either way, it is a glass ceiling (invisably blocks you from improving). But, if he is an educated FEI schoolmaster, that feather light connetion is most likely correct because he has self carriage. A large, powerful horse in early training isn't in self carriage. He may be honest in his contact when the weight in your fingers is described as a coffee cup. The feeling of elasticity of contact is more important than the weight of the contact.
Classical texts describe contact as being developed from the pushing power of the active hind legs, over the back and into the hand. Pausing on that thought: the potential thrusting power of a horses hind legs can be measured in thousands of pounds.... How does a rider receive the thrust provided by those active hindlegs and feel a "light" contact? In the advanced levels, the contact becomes light enough for the rider to be able to execute a full release of the contact for several strides and the horse stays balanced, uphill, flexed, rhythmic, very active and thoroughly on the aids. Clearly the rider's reins are not holding him together. How does a rider get the horse to advance his contact into a light self carriage while maintaining the power in his hind legs?
Before the horse is asked for self carriage, the horse has to learn to push over his back to the connection. The rider's fingers feel the lips and tounge of the horse, steadily through the bit. (Painful, pressured, or harsh bits are counter productive to dressage contact for this reason.) Then, the well established connection is adjusted over time to be lighter as the horse manages the power of his hind legs differently. What is the "key" that enables a rider to adjust the horse? The key is: the balancing half halt. A half halt is a temporary "whoa" aid that is followed by an allowing hand combined with a leg aid (go aid). However, as with everything, it is not that you do the whoa aid, it is how you do it. These balancing half halts keep your horses' 3000 pounds of thrust from feeling like a freight train in your fingers. Develop your half halt well with successful education (beginning with the balanced seat). And develop your pushing power well (some horses have more then others by nature.)
If your horse feels like a wheel barrow hitting a rock when you halt, then, that halt is not helping you teach a correctly light contact. It never will... and I do mean never. If he ducks behind the bit during your whoa aid... or if he flings his head in the sky objecting to the whoa aid, then you are not developing good connection. And I do mean never. No matter how many times you halt or half halt. Learn to give a balancing half halt. Practice thoughtfully. Reward when he improves. Don't wait till he is perfect. Reward when he goes in the direction of correct.
Most problems are not black or white, right or wrong. Most things are done in degrees. Your horse is more of a dial than a switch. So, your horse may lean a little on his forehand like a wheelbarrow, but not nearly as much as your neighbor's horse. However, if he is even a little incorrect, he needs to be corrected so that he will understand what you want. You want him to carry you into a halt like an airplane balancing its passengers gently onto the runway. Every time. Every whoa. Horses learn over time. So, if your horse is not clued in to balance and connection today, continue to teach him and he will improve. Always remember: it is not that you do it, it is how you do it.
If the early levels request "pushing power" and the connection is supposed to "come from behind" how does a rider create a "light" contact from a healthy horse's big hind end Push?
Poor Ines. She got test disection tonight. That is where I put the poor rider through the wringer and drill every segment of a test to a higher standard. It may be a little painful to go through at the time, but... every time I can say there are very positive results. It is amazing how well one learns to ride a test, once they know how to ride a test.
I have to add one little complaint: I don't like this time change. Long, dark evenings are good for what? Wine drinking perhaps, but not horses! Good grief. I can hardly get the horses done before dark. Start earlier you say? Well, my kids leave around 8, so I get going after they are gone. Ah well, such is the way of life.
Congratulations Dana and Susan. Together they "swept" all the first level at the Fenridge show. Four tests, four blue ribbons. Cool way to end the season.
Perhaps I spoke too soon. Tuesday, I took Wonder, my four year old, out to the hay fields next door. It was a lovely day. I left the other horses out in their pastures. When Wonder and I were returning from our work in the field, we had the lovely pleasure of walking down the old logging road toward our arena. It separates our land from the cow and hay farm next door. It is framed by towering pines like a photo in an old story book. My lower pasture fence runs along one side. It is a beautiful space. But, on that day, it was the scene of the crime. Welle and Winnie saw Wonder returning from the rolling green hay field and decided to greet us along the fence with an explosion of enthusiasm. Bucking, neighing, and thundering forward, they screeched to a twirling rear near the fence just as Wonder and I hit the logging road. Wonder jigged, but stayed on the bit. Winnie and Welle decided that wasn't enough. They galloped away, full speed ahead. Then charged again. I felt Wonder's back hunch. She dashed forward. Before I could swallow another breath, she was on her hind legs. She hung there. I clung to her neck. She landed in a jig. We jigged 20 more feet to our arena. There she calmed down. I loosened the reins and we practiced free walk. I am working with too many babies, I think.
But, on a positive note. It is that logging road, with cows on one side and free roaming horses on the other, that gave me the opportunity to teach Welle the aids for passage. So, if you ever get to see Welle show her passage in the arena (soon maybe?) think of Welle snorting and "prancing" down that beautiful, precarious logging road! A death defying training opportunity.
In the last 16 days I have been to two shows and two clinics with four different horses and I've been to my childs school twice to address two major disasters. Been busy. But, I haven't been bucked off, reared with, or knocked on my butt. But I have had a major year long project fail in the most public facility it has been presented so far. Butttt... nobody's dead and I'm still breathin' too!