Me: "Wait. You want me to keep full contact with the inside rein for the entire circle?"
My instructor: "Yes."
Me: "Like this?"
My instructor: "Absolutely and rotate to the inside of the circle."
Me: "Really? What about my outside rein."
Me thinking, "There must be something with the outside rein, right? What's the catch?"
My instructor: "Keep your outside elbow and allow with your outside shoulder."
So there you have it. No "half-halt on the outside rein", no "hold the outside rein steady", no "inside leg to outside rein", counter-flexion, or anchoring of the outside. I was instructed to lift both reins up a little, especially the inside, so that the bit works in the corners of my horse's mouth. My elbows were to be bent and, most importantly, my shoulders down and mobile. I tapped Harley's inside hind with a long, sturdy whip if he started to lose energy and the rest of the responsibility was up to my inside rein. If really felt wrong at first, but different always feels wrong. It is important in riding to ignore this feeling in the face of change and read your horse.
|Harley is engaging the inside hind, but I have dropped the rein and my position a bit.|
|Harley pushing his nose forward and opening his throatlatch area as he stretches into the rein.|
|A few strides later, he has rebalanced himself in a more uphill frame.|
Harley told me very clearly what this exercise did for him. He flowed right around that circle in trot. He lengthened his neck. Contrary to my fears in using the inside rein, he was less likely to tip onto his inside shoulder and if this did happen it was almost always because I let the inside rein drop. Nearly instantaneous change. How's that for cause and effect?
The more I allowed my shoulders to move, the more he fluid he was in his stride. I tapped him with my whip as needed, but my legs were completely passive. I kept them under me and my pelvis in neutral. If we lost the flow it was usually indicative of a loss of energy (Harley's job), a loss of neutral pelvis (my job), a dropped inside rein (me, again), or tight shoulders (you guessed it, me). If I kept these things correct, everything moved along effortlessly and I literally felt like I was doing nothing.
Nothing! Just try doing nothing.
Now try hard to do nothing.
It is incredibly difficult, especially for people who like to "try hard".
People like me.
I have revisited this "new" exercise of using the inside rein on each previous ride. Harley loves it! He is so flowy and relaxed. His canter has been amazing. Now that I have tried giving the inside rein the responsibility it deserves, I think that I have been annoying him with the outside rein in canter. I like to half-halt on that rein nearly every stride, especially going left. I had not realized that I was doing this until I started focusing on the inside and felt the urge to hold the outside at the beginning of each stride. At first I wondered if Harley was going to barrel out of control without the "support" I had been offering him. How wrong was I?
Not only was Harley's canter more fluid and consistent, he was lifting in front, shifting his weight back for turns, smaller circles, and transitions, coming down to a balanced trot with ease, all without the "help" of my half-halts or the outside rein. Instead, my inside rein was there in the corner of his mouth the entire time. He was even giving these cute little snorts with each stride, the hallmark of a relaxed horse in canter. For a self-proclaimed dressage enthusiast, that was a really weird revelation.
Correct use of the inside rein does not equal evil and does not make my horse angry, annoyed, or off balance. Quite the opposite.
I am loving this.