Hippoi Athanatoi

Moving Forward Sideways

Since we’ve all of a sudden been overwhelmed by summer temperatures in early May (not precisely normal for around here), I was figuring the risk of us riding out was pretty big today. Now, I know I get Murphy for these little outings, so I don’t really need to worry (I am a total chicken riding outdoors, and big horses are a total no-no then), but for my single riding lesson per week I much prefer to do some serious work. Especially since we have very little in the way of riding paths around the riding school since a bunch of new houses were built. Given this, it was a pleasant surprise to hear that a) I’d be riding Murphy again and b) we’d be doing dressage.

The hot weather did mean some of the horses were a little grumpier than usual, which for Murphy meant he really wanted to take a bit out of me. After he’d almost gotten my chin (okay, my fault to some degree; he was investigating the brush a bit closely, so I brushed him gently on the face, and he took offence and tried to nip my face) and my shoulder (not my fault; I was trying my best to carefully brush out some patches of dried sweat on his stomach), I decided to turn him around and tie him up shorter. Better safe than sorry, like the girl who got badly bit in the shoulder by Gamir when saddling him. He’s really gotten very grumpy of late.

Down in the arena (the paddock was too dry and dusty), it was fortunately surprisingly cool, and the horses didn’t seem too bothered. The plan for the lesson was to practice the last exercise that, together with our exercises from the previous weeks, will make up a little dressage program that we’ll be riding on the 23rd. So, today was all about leg yields ending in a transition to trot, all in order to focus on the forward movement in the leg yield and ensuring that we’re not just guiding the horses sideways with one leg but also using the other leg to keep them moving forward properly. Definitely something I need to practice.

As I had expected, given the weather and us being indoors, Murphy wasn’t as forward as he had been last week, but I still tried to ride him effectively from the start. I wish I had had time for more work on circles, though, as its hard to get him curved and with the right neck flexion in the corners without first softening him up with some circle work. I did try to focus a lot on getting him to put more weight on his hindquarters almost from the get go, to make him lighter in front. I am supposed to have a lot of horse in front of me, but it has to be light and feel like its moving upwards, not heavy and slumping forward.

When we started on the leg yields, my first ones came out pretty poorly. I couldn’t get a steady movement that combined lateral movement with forward movement, I got either or all the time, and when he did move laterally he tended to move with his hindquarters first. However, this had a lot do with with my legs doing it all wrong. My inner leg, the one asking for the lateral movement, was positioned too far back (old, bad habit, partly due to what was in vogue for teaching leg yields over 10 years ago), and my outer leg, the one that was supposed to ask for forward movement, was barely touching his side. When I push hard with one leg, my other leg sort of flies out all on its own. ;P

So, I had to concentrate really hard on a) keeping both my legs in contact with the horse, b) not applying a constant pressure with my inner leg, but using brief impulses instead, c) not moving either leg back or forward, but trying to keep them more or less parallel. Of course, once my inner leg wasn’t drawn way back, Murphy tried his best to ignore it, so it took a few more attempts before I could get the response I was after. But my position was greatly improved, and my instructor noted that some of the leg yields came out quite well. Just a year or so ago, she said, I would have looked like a contortionist when doing any lateral work. I suppose I have to be pretty pleased by the fact that I am finally getting some control over my body.

Additionally, I was very pleased with how well the transitions to trot coming out of the leg yield worked. Murphy responded quickly, and it felt as if he started trotting with his hindlegs most of the time. I also managed to collected him decently on a few occasions in the trot, and he seemed quite happy about the work, as he was getting more energetic through the whole class and his ears were alert and forward. At times, it does feel as if I use too much hand and perhaps not quite enough leg to get him to collect, but I think I am moving in the right direction at least. Certainly, he gets to work a fair bit, because when I tried to ask for a leg yield out of a more collected trot, he came to an abrupt halt. That was clearly too much work to ask him for, though I managed to get a decent leg yield out of a decent trot on the second try.

The plan is that we’ll ride the same horses for the dressage program, and if that works out I will try to work a lot on transitions and circles to warm up him. That should get him alert and supple. I’ll also have to do a lot of canter transitions, so that I know he is at a stage where he’ll canter for a light aid. I do have one more chance to practice on him, even if next week is theory, because I signed up for a private lesson on him for the 18th. That should be fun.

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