This is starting to become routine. I stop blogging for a while, I change around the website and I never get things fully finished so that I feel comfortable with starting up. But whether or not I am ready to get back to regular posts, I do feel an urge right now to write about the latest developments with my riding. There may also follow posts about dog training, because I’ve been bitten by that bug too.
But to start with the riding, I am still riding Barka as part of a project at the riding school to give a few students a chance for more intense training as well as some low-level competitions. I ride my regular lesson on Mondays and then I ride Barka on my own on Fridays. In addition to that, we get a chance to ride for external trainers. Last year it was mainly jumping for Gunilla Fredriksson, which definitely highlighted just how basic the jumping we’ve done before has been. This year I’ve had the opportunity to ride twice for Sten Åstedt and that has been a real revelation when it comes to dressage. He has been training the instructors at the riding school for some years, so some of what he said wasn’t exactly new, but being taught one-on-one and really focusing on what he does differently was a whole new experience. Basically, its a matter of retraining a lot of the things I’ve been taught over the years. For example, my seat needs changing from the ground up, since my body is still too used to the old “push your heel down” school of riding. He wants my legs further back, my feet horizontal to the ground and the toes pointing forward. If the horse were to disappear from underneath me, I should land on the whole foot, not the heel which would mean I’d tip over backwards. And then there’s the fact that whether I am doing a circle to the left or a circle to the right, I sit for the wrong direction. One way would be natural (which way depends on whether you’re right- or left-handed), but both being an issue means its a learned behaviour. The fault? Having been taught to look far ahead, which on a circle means your pelvis is going to be going in a different direction than the horse’s body.
He illustrated this very clearly by having me ride Barka on a circle to the right while keeping her flexed at the poll for a circle to the left. As long as I did that, I sat correctly. The first few times that I changed the flex at the poll, my seat changed as well. That is going to be a lot of muscle memory to retrain. He also asks his students to ride from the outside in (outside leg to inside rein) instead of inside out (inside leg to outside rein), in part because he wants us to tell the horses what we want them to do instead of what we don’t want them to do. Show them the way with the inside rein instead of hindering them with the outside rein. A lot of it is definitely the opposite of what I’ve been taught before, but it certainly felt very good once I got it to work. Is it the one true way? I don’t know, I am not experienced enough, but I like the way he presents his ideas. He talks a lot about how it is easy to communicate something other than what you think you are communicating and this is something I’ve had ample proof of when training Breeze as well. Trying to get across exactly what you mean to another species is not easy, especially not when you’re using ways to communicate other than talking or writing such as balance or body language.
The last lesson for Sten (this past Wednesday) also involved a lot of focus on my rising trot. During the first lesson, he’d told me I kept going a little too fast. Now, he also wanted me to sit down much more lightly, as if my horse had a bad back. I definitely need to get my balance down into my feet for that to work and I need to rid myself of my urge to create momentum by using my seat to push the horse forward (in part learned over years of riding the laziest horses I could find), both when trotting and cantering. He had me give canter aids without sitting down in the saddle and at first I couldn’t quite visualize how I could lift the horse’s ribcage by just using my heel, but then suddenly it worked. Quite an amazing feeling, given how much I have struggled with giving soft canter aids and not trying to rock the horse into motion with my whole body.
The final thing for my new checklist was to keep my inner hand steadier (and lower) by imagining that I am holding one finger on a neck ring. He noted that generally he’d place the virtual neck ring further down on the horse’s neck, but my arms were too short. ;P Well, at least I have an expert agreeing with me there, I’ve always said I struggle to ride larger horses because of my short arms. Fortunately, Barka fits me pretty well. No modern dressage horses for me, which suits me just fine. I like the more baroque models. Fingers crossed that she will stay fit so that I can keep taking these extra lessons this semester, because its really motivating.