Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Back to square one. Again.

When you start something new (like, say, coming back into work after being a pasture puff for a couple of years), your horse is in disbelief. He doesn't want necessarily want to work ("I could spook instead!") and it takes the better part of an hour lesson to convince him of what his job is and that he has to do it. And then, maybe the last 10-15 minutes of your lesson, he starts to really put in some quality work - like a nice, connected trot. And just when it's starting to feel awesome, your time is up. You've been through the wringer (how much inside leg can you possibly NEED???!?!), and your horse looks like he's just run the Derby. You despair at how hard that was and how you'll never be any good and how COULD HE PLEASE JUST TROT LIKE A NORMAL HORSE and jeez. Why do you do dressage again?

Spooking is the best way to get out of work. 

But each ride, it gets a little better. That connected trot comes sooner and with less effort. He starts understanding his job, and you start understanding how to use your aids with less conscious effort. You're both figuring it out, working a little more smoothly, more like a team.

You know, kind of like this.

Then you add something new and difficult, like asking for bend in the corners AND a nice connected trot, and you go back to square one. Because once again, how much inside leg can you possibly need for bend (more, always more), and oh now you have to actually prepare for the corners and you can't just ride halfway through the corners and use the far wall for the second half (I've tried, it doesn't work) and and and. You're back to despairing about the damn corners because there are four of them (whyyyy so many?) and why can't your horse just keep stepping up with his inside hind and just DO them and not lose his balance and...

Forget corners, just riding in a straight line is hard.

... then you realize, after approximately 123897587123 corners, that you CAN do them and your horse DOES stay balanced and forward and stepping through and in the outside rein and since you're feeling awesome why not add something like a canter transition because hey you need to do those too...

It's a canter transition. Really.

... and you're back to square one again. Only this time, you've lost that connected trot because now he's anticipating the canter ALL THE TIME and trying to fling himself into it and WHERE DID MY NICE TROT GO OMG I'VE RUINED MY HORSE.

Totally, completely ruined. 

So you go back to trot. You try not to get frustrated when really you want to stomp around and pout because JEEZ we could totally do this yesterday but now we can't and how could he have possibly gone and forgotten how to trot in the space of two canter transitions? You remind yourself how to put his trot together, and he relaxes because this is a job he knows how to do and he knows he's right and he's good at it and you tell him he's a good boy when he does it. And you spend the rest of your ride reminding both of you that you CAN do a nice trot and you still love your horse and he's still the best horse ever and he's awesome and he gets all the cookies. And you try the canter again. And maybe it's better and maybe it's worse, but that doesn't matter, because he's still awesome and amazing.

And you try again. And again. And again. You take all the lessons you can get your hands on because you really need eyes on the ground and someone to remind you what to do with your body parts and not to pull and add more leg (you'd think I would have that by now) and talk you off the cliff when you are frustrated. Some days the canter is great, and some days it's terrible, and some days the trot sucks too. But every day is a little better, a little more, until the pieces start coming together...

Having someone yell at you in a heavy Spanish accent also helps.

... and then you add something new. But this is how it goes. You're doing great until you add something new. Sometimes the "something new" makes other things better (like shoulder in is improving his right rein connection) and sometimes the something new causes the wheels to fall off (like w/c transitions have caused our t/c transitions to fall apart. And for heaven's sakes let's not discuss our c/w transitions, because sliding stops don't get you extra points in dressage.)

I'd give this a 10 for the WTF factor.

Progress is filled with lots of steps backwards (speaking of, it would be super if Taran learned how to step backward. As in rein back. Why is this so hard?). That doesn't make it any easier or less frustrating, because I often feel like I'm starting over again from square one. But I'm not, not really, because things that were really hard 6 months ago are (mostly) easy today*. I just keep making the square bigger and more complicated, and asking more and more of both myself and Taran. It's definitely not always pretty, but that little bit better every day? That's what keeps me coming back.

This was a long time in the making. 

*I've probably just jinxed today's ride horribly. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sort of Second Level

The dressage show scene in Texas is pretty much over between Memorial Day and Labor Day, because nobody wants to ride when it's 100 degrees out. However, I wanted to squeeze in one last hurrah and signed up for a schooling show this last weekend.

I opted to do 2-2, because 2-1 has like 9812738750123 simple changes plus rein back, which Taran currently does not do under saddle. And 2-3 is just... nope. Not yet. But I thought we could fake our way through 2-2.

And fake it we did. We can certainly DO all the movements in 2-2, and sometimes we actually do them really well. Taran has a collected trot, and he has a collected canter. And when he's balanced and on my aids and I'm not pulling on his face, he feels amazing and light, and sooo through his back. A canter/walk transition is as easy as sitting up and adding leg, a medium trot is as easy as opening the door and pushing him up into it.

But we're not there consistently right now. I struggle with feeling when he's engaged and when he's quick and short. I carry him too much and don't demand that he carry himself. If I can't get him through and over his back, and truly connected, the movements are disjointed because they stop right behind the saddle. If I don't keep him straight in canter, he quits or swaps leads. If I get grabby with my hands and forget to use leg... well, I have pictures for that. 

And of course, I did all the wrong things and none of the right things in our test on Saturday. I mean, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good either. It wasn't how I wanted to ride. Taran was a good sport and made a huge effort for me, but you can see at every turn I'm not making it easy for him. I didn't go in there to own it, I went in there to survive. And survival is usually not very pretty.

When you start with this as your centerline, you know it's not going to be good.

I think there was an Intro level horse that was this inverted in the halt.

FYI, sitting medium trot is HARD. I'm happy I stayed on, even if I leaned back like a pro. At least Taran looks good!

Shoulder in

Haunches in? Or maybe a leg yield down the rail?

Walk pirouette. I was actually really happy that he didn't plant a hind foot and do a reining spin.

Obviously this is a second-level trot/canter transition.

That moment you realize your're not entirely on the left lead for your counter-canter half circle...  

... watch the hind leg come through... 

At least he can sort of do changes?

I managed to hold it together for the second counter-canter.

In case you've ever wondered what happens when your horse is cantering on his forehand, and you ask for a canter/walk transition with LOTS of hand and take your leg off completely, here you go:

Look, my horse has two legs!

Sliding stop for a 10.

Final halt/salute. I think the judge was as happy that we were done as I was.

If you want to see the whole thing, here's the video. You're welcome for the laugh.

Oh yeah, final score was a 58.84, and we were the only ones in our class so we got a blue participation ribbon. 

Stepping up to second more of a leap, at least for us - I've only done one 2nd level test about 15 years ago, and Taran has never done it. We have a LOT of work to do to make it solid. Better body control for me (my outside leg hangs there like a dead fish, I swear, and could I BE any grabbier with my hands???), a better feel, more strength and straightness for him... when we are able to put those things together, it works. It's a matter of chipping away at the mountain. I have a plan for the summer that involves a LOT of trainer rides for him and lessons for me, so hopefully the combination will put us in a more solid place by the time things start back up in the fall. I feel like I'm just barely beginning to get to the fun part of dressage, but damn, the fun part is harder work than ever!