Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Riding Reflection: Working To An Ideal

Harley felt great yesterday.  We started out with a ten minute walk on the buckle.  Then, I picked up my half of the contact and Harley picked up his.  He has such a nice way of softly arching his neck and touching the bit.  He feels like a horse who knows his job.  We worked some circles, leg yield, and half-pass away from the wall, all in walk.  I tried to feel him lift and cross each hind and front leg.  I didn't want any rush in the movement.  We were still warming up our bodies.

"Take time opening your shoulder to the left, Harley."

I watched his ears carefully.  They stayed level as I felt the inside rein meeting my outside seat bone and leg.  Harley listens for the half-pass.  Lateral work feels like the riding equivalent to puzzles.  I think he likes it.  I like it, too.  After a few steps to the left, I sent him straight ahead and he anticipated by starting to go sideways to the right.  I accepted his idea and asked him to leg yield away from my inside leg back to the track.  I could feel him thinking.  Now, we had warmed up our minds.

I asked for trot and Harley picked up the first step nicely, maintaining his half of the contact.  Yes!  That nice first transition is still a novelty.  I am trying not to take it for granted, because it used to be pretty raw, not like the elegant transition he is offered this time.  We stayed large at first and then worked some circles.  The energy was flowing really smoothly.  I kept my thumbs pointing at the bit and he motored along with a consistent frame.  I kissed him into canter and he found his rhythm almost immediately.  Little snorts escaped his nostrils at the end of each stride.  I love the staccato they create.  I gently hugged his sides with my lower legs in time with the canter.  I melted my seat and encouraged him to lift his back.  Harley was a workhorse.  He wanted to just keep going.  The canter and the contact in the bridle became steadier as I felt his back fully release.  We returned to trot and his back stayed with me, but he started to "over-flow" himself.  This feels like he is pushing just a bit too much for the amount that he can carry.  He feels very round, but with the scale tipped too far forward.  I gently half-halted on the outside rein as I sat in the posting trot to encourage him to shift some of the weight to his hindend.  He understood and found the strength to lift himself up a little more.  The sensation was awesome.  He was working at the edge of his balance, but he seemed to understand and wanted to try.  It is possible for a horse to want to improve as an athlete?  After a short time and a great effort, I asked him to walk and we called it a ride.  He blows my mind.

A+ for Harley

The kids are studying Newton's Laws right now.  Once a net force is applied, additional force is not required to keep an object in motion.  Although, we are not living in a frictionless environment or weightlessness, it is nice to image this physics concept when riding your horse.  Apply the aids to go forward once and then your horse should continue on.  He has overcome the collective inertia of himself and his rider, so he should not need additional aiding to keep up the pace.  His inertia is what makes transitions such hard work and so effective for conditioning.  He must apply as much force with his muscles to transition down as he does to transition up and skipping gaits requires even more strength.  Once the horse is moving, it is, in theory, easier for him to keep going.  The large muscles are all close to his body, leaving the tendons and ligaments of his lower legs free to return elastically to their starting position as another stride begins.  The fluidity and effortlessness is remarkable to experience as a passenger.  I find myself imaging that the purpose of dressage is to get the horse as close to the ideal as possible.  The physical ideal.  The physics ideal.  Combine this with a living, breathing, feeling, responding creature and you truly have a recipe for wonderment. 


  1. What a great feeling that must have been! :0)

  2. Your ride sounds nothing short of amazing. And yes I do believe that horses can want to be a better athlete and want to do everything correctly and be the best they can be. You're lucky to have such a wonderful smart guy.

  3. He sounds like he not only knows his job, but loves it! I totally hear you about the first transition - it really sets the stage for the rest of the ride.


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