Where did March go? And April, for that matter? Ah well.
For the most part, other than when the car decided to act up, I have been riding weekly as usual. All of March was spent on Nelson, for three dressage lessons and one jumping lesson (plus a theory lesson to discuss the dressage test we’ll be riding in May), and there was in fact some significant progress. Being very firm right off about what’s allowed in terms of rushing away with me certainly helps, though after any break or if Nelson starts to get tired, the lesson is soon forgotten. I had some great results one lesson when we were focusing on “just” riding straight down the center line. Single-minded focus on such a precise task always means I am less fiddly with my aids, resulting in a softer, more relaxed horse. Nelson almost seemed on the verge of spontaneous passage at times when moving up was easier than forward in a straight line.
Another revelatory lesson was with a substitute teacher who employed a different approach than Ulrika. I am a little bit torn on whether it is a good approach or not, but it was certainly very efficient on Nelson in particular. Basically, she asked us to start by shortening the horses so that they’d find it hard to work in such a compressed form and come forward and down because of that (and of course be allowed to come forward and down). For Nelson, it worked very well. He likes to stick his head up and drop his back, but now he found he was simply asked to shorten and shorten whenever he did that, so eventually he came forward and down instead. We also worked on leg yields, with strict orders to keep the horses from slipping away with us, and when we got to the canter leg yields—we never really do this other wise—I had an amazing canter from Nelson. I could have dropped the reins.
Still, is it a good approach? Ulrika usually wants us to engage the hindquarters by riding the horses forward to the hand, not backing them up like this. I certainly have a tendency to collect too much on some horses rather than ride forward and get everything engaged that way. In most cases, I can tell its wrong after I try riding forward instead, but on Nelson its often very hard to get through to him by riding him to the hand.
We concluded March with a jumping lesson where I was perhaps too influenced by the dressage and held Nelson back too much to begin with. But I also had some issues with my back being stiff again.
April started off with Nelson ignoring me completely for the first part of one lesson as he had an abundance of energy. That earned him a stern talking to and all of a sudden he wanted to work. He is definitely starting to get the picture. The week after, however, I was on Shanti instead. We continued to work on turns on the haunches as we had the week before, though most of my focus that lesson was on dealing with some new issues with my seat. Or rather, not new issues, but issues that Ulrika have decided to tackle now that some of the others are out of the way. So, we have been trying to improve my knees as they grip too much and lead to a tense lower leg that is too forward. Shanti, of course, was lovely and talented.
Following a missed lesson, last week saw me back on Nelson for some jumping in the paddock. We had a new noseband on him and I really like the effect it had; I think that for my next dressage lesson, I will try him without the help reins he’s normally fitted with. I found that (just as on my dear Murphy, still sorely missed every week) when he comes forward without the help reins, his form is better than with the help reins. As for the jumping, we were asked to do gymnastic work, keeping the horses quite short. It went quite well when we jumped on a serpentine-path, but when jumping straight down the line I wasn’t able to hold Nelson together all the way. I think I made the mistake of lowering my hands instead of keeping them up, which made it easier for him to get away.
So, that’s where we are right now. Still all of May to go and a few lessons in June before the summer break. Unfortunately, Heddvig won’t be back after the summer, her owner is taking her home again. I hope she will get well enough before the summer break that I get to ride her again and next semester…well, we’ll see. There’s Nelson and Shanti, but I may have to look at moving to private lessons plus lessons at another stable where they have lovely medium-sized Andalusians.