|Time to go ride!|
Once we warmed up, I decided to move to sitting trot. We were riding in the small ring so as not to disturb another rider's lesson (or eat excessive arena dust from two horses moving about). The small ring is great for feeling straightness. The fence makes an excellent reference point and also makes it easier to judge positioning for lateral work. As we moved along in trot, I remembered a couple things that I have read recently. One was from a blog author, Dressage Mom, and the other was a recent article in Dressage Today, "Ride Like a Pro", Part 1, by Christopher Hess. Dressage Mom wrote about contact and described it as something that the rider and the horse make together. The horse and rider must each take the same amount of contact from either side for a harmonious connection to develop. The Christopher Hess article discussed the mindset of great riders. Really great riders are always working to improve their way of riding. There is no sitting back on your laurels if you want to be a great rider. You must ride every step and you must constantly strive to ride correctly.
So armed with insight, I challenged myself to ride every step. To feel every step. This did not mean that I was harder on Harley or nitpicked his way of going. It also does not mean that I chastised myself into riding better. I just tried to be present for every moment. I studied my aids. I shifted my focus from my feet to my hands and my seat, the reins, my shoulders, and back again. I felt how much I took on the reins and how much Harley was taking. If he wanted more support from me, I gave it to him, rather than worrying about not being light enough. If he started to shorten his neck, I could feel this as him beginning to drop the contact. I encouraged him forward with a nudge from my inside leg and a gentle push from my seat. If we transitioned up or down and the contact did not stay the same throughout, I repeated the transition immediately. I wanted quality, not quantity. The more careful I was about it, the less often we had to repeat something. Harley got steadier, because I got steadier. He paid attention more, because I was. Giving your attention and concentration to something completely is difficult, even if it is something that you love as much as I love riding Harley. That was the real challenge. Keep the focus. Don't lose it for a second.
I felt my outside seat bone in the saddle around turns. The inside was a little more forward and lighter, to allow Harley to lift his shoulders. I discovered that I could help us keep a super steady contact on the outside rein during a transition, if I focused on keeping contact with my outside seat bone and outside leg as well as the rein. My outside leg actually initiated the downward transition.
Isn't that weird?
My inside leg became active if we lost the bend or he started to back off the contact, but as long as my horse was honestly with me, the outside aids seemed to be more important for these "simple" trot-walk-trot transitions. I noticed that I found this exercise much easier when my right side was on the outside. I am right-handed, so this was not surprising. When my left side was on the outside, I had to think myself through every single transition and turn. At one point, I shifted my weight too dramatically to the outside, left seat bone, and Harley stopped. He wrapped his head around to look at me. Oops. Apparently, subtlety is more difficult for my weaker side, too. This was a meaningful discovery.
Once we were flowing along, I knew that I was getting better. My legs truly hung down on either side of my horse. I stretched into my heels and it actually felt good. Usually, I do not want to stretch my calves that much in sitting trot, but this time it felt right. My seat felt really glued to the saddle. Concentrating on each seat bone separately had given me that "plugged" in feeling. I had contact with the reins and the bit and contact with my seat and every inch of my inner thighs. Harley felt straight as an arrow and totally in my hand. I experimented with shortening the reins a hair and then letting them out.
Will my horse increase and decrease the contact as I ask him to?
This was an interesting game. Harley likes to play it from his side, too. He will move along in a nice frame and reach forward with his nose to stretch for a stride or two. My elbows open and go with him and then bounce back to their starting point. I found myself wondering if that would be considered a fault.
Should I not let him do that or was that precisely the type of elastic connection that I was supposed to have established?
I cannot wait for my instructor to return so that I can get out my list of questions. In the meantime, feel free to help me with your thoughts and answers!