Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hind Legs and Energy

We had a really good lesson on Monday. Despite the fact that we walked for 95% of it, I feel like I learned some incredibly important things.

I warmed up Val myself for around a half-hour while my instructor, C, was giving the lesson scheduled before mine. I went back into the "he WILL stretch and connect" mindset and got him to stretch and continue stretching even when I collected the reins. D, my instructor's instructor, made a comment I found interesting a few weeks ago. She said, if you have to shorten reins from the walk to the trot, or the trot to the canter, you know they're not stretching forward to and accepting the bit. Their neck shouldn't shrink; they should still be stretching forward to your hands. The rein length you use for the walk should be the same for the trot and canter.

When the other students were gone, we started a pretty simple exercise. We have mirrors on the F-M side of the arena, so we worked on that side. We started at M, tracking right. The idea was to leg yield to X, then switch to haunches in (in to the BEND, so although his haunches were technically to the left/ "B" side of the arena, they were to the inside of his LEFT bend in the leg yield) for a few steps, then straighten to the mirror and turn left, INTO the wall. We circled at that end of the arena until we were ready to go again, then we did it the other direction.

It sounds pretty simple, and it mostly was. The big things she talked to me about were his hind legs and how his energy moved through his body. When we're leg yielding from M to X, his LEFT hind leg is coming up under his body and pushing him forward. The energy is going from his left hind leg up through the left rein.

When we switch to doing the haunches in, although we don't change bend, it's now his right leg that's coming up under him and pushing him forward. At first, that really had me confused. How could that be when the bend hadn't changed? Then I realized it was direction that had changed. He was now just going forward; he wasn't traveling to the right anymore.

C fixed a little hole I was developing in our leg yields- I've always heard her say that you don't want the hip just trailing along, so I ended up over correcting and asking for his hips to move exactly with his shoulders. They're technically supposed to be just a teeny bit behind in a correct leg yield, so we fixed that by either speeding up the shoulder or slowing down the hip. Crazy-technical stuff!

We also worked on getting a really nice connection to the outside rein and using it with the inside leg to establish correct bend, especially on the circles after the haunches in part of the exercise. Val always likes to throw his haunches to the left, no matter what direction we're going. So, inside leg and outside rein, with a light tap of the whip on his hip, would get him to straighten up.

At the very beginning of the lesson, she finally found a way to explain how I should be sitting in the saddle so that I finally get it. I always have a dip inward in my lower back, and that's kind of interfering with my ability to shock absorb. You want a bit of a curve there when you're jumping/in two-point, but when you're riding dressage and trying to sit the trot, your lower back needs to be straighter. It's a feeling of tucking your hip bones under. If you stand up and place one hand on your stomach and another on your butt and push a little, that's how it's supposed to be. It was really hard for me at first to do it at all; I would end up accidentally pushing the entire opposite way. But whenever I did figure it out for a whole circle or so, Val would stretch forward to my now steadier hands and soften to the bit without my even asking, just because I was sitting better! That's something we'll have to experiment with to perfect.

We finished up by cantering a circle, again messing with Val's hind end. We wanted his hips in line with his shoulders, so it was more inside leg to outside rein, with an open inside rein to encourage his hips to come a bit more to the inside. It took a while, but he finally got the idea and it was just amazing to feel his balance shift! He has never been quite that round, up, and balanced in the canter. It truly felt like the beginning of collection.

So, a pretty fantastic lesson from beginning to end. :) We have another scheduled for Friday and I've got to admit, I'm itching to jump at this point!

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