This past weekend we had another opportunity to dip our toes in the water of the dressage world, and took a clinic from Lynn Jendrowski. I have no long-term goals of turning Tucker into a dressage horse, don't worry (though maybe someday, if we couldn't jump anymore for some reason, who knows). But I recognize the need for good flat work -- you can't have a nice hunter round without being able to smoothly extend and collect, balance your canter, and move the horse laterally off your leg when needed. Plus, if your horse doesn't have a solid foundation on the flat, he will fall on his face when you try to float the reins at him for the hack (ask me how I know this).
Lynn watched Tucker and I warm up and right away liked how he was naturally forward and willing to take the bit and stretch his nose down and out (we've been working a lot on that warm-up - yay for me!). Then she tried to fix my straightness -- for those of you not familiar, I tend to twist like a pretzel. I've pretty much mastered all my left arm issues. My left arm and hand are right where they are supposed to be. My right arm, however, seems to have a mind of its own. It's more like a crazed chicken wing. And I don't even like chickens. I also twist my torso -- left shoulder back, right shoulder forward -- in both directions (not helpful, yet still I persist). So we worked on getting my torso straighter, which made me feel crooked, but made Tucker much happier.
Then we worked on getting my weight on my inside seat bone (something that felt completely wrong but I understand is correct) and getting me stretching my leg down through my thigh. This last one I couldn't grasp at all -- I actually needed to stop and have Lynn physically put my leg where she wanted it. To be honest, my legs just don't seem to move like that, I have no muscle memory for it, but I'll work on it. And of course, we worked on me sitting up. I heard the oh-so-familiar refrain: "Shoulders back. Back more. Even more. Use your stomach muscles! There! No wait, shoulders back again. Back more. More!" I've come to the realization that I will never sit up enough to pass muster as a DQ, but I'll work on that too. It does really help me control the hind end. Especially on a big, long horse. [Insert constant inner monologue whining about how hard it is here.]
Once we made these much-needed adjustments, Lynn asked what I wanted to work on, and I targeted two things: downward transitions from canter to trot, and leg yields. Tucker stiffens and braces through his downward transitions, and he gets crooked and resistant through his leg yields. I have long suspected this is my doing, but haven't been able to pin point what I'm doing wrong. Lynn fixed our downward transitions with one simple aid: outside leg. DQ's, you're going to cringe at this, but here's a confession: I've never applied my outside leg for a downward transition. Ever. Hasn't occurred to me. But guess what? It worked brilliantly. Tucker gave me three beautiful transitions in a row. You can hear Tucker sighing in relief, can't you? Finally.
Then we moved on to the leg yields. If you haven't guessed it by now, my twisting is the culprit for the issues I'm having with Tucker's straightness. In the leg yields, I'm actually sending his haunches first, and then when I try to catch him in my new outside rein to straighten him out, he stiffens against it because I've made him crooked and he has nowhere to go. It took way more tries than I'd like to admit, but eventually, I kept my shoulders square and facing straight ahead, and used my leg, rein, and seat aids together, and voila -- straight horse.
I have to say though, my favorite moment of all was when Lynn wanted to sit on my horse for a few minutes. I so rarely get to see him go, it was a treat for me. She rides beautifully, and Tucker was oh-so-happy to have a pro on his back. He really did me proud, and he looked absolutely gorgeous. Plus, she told me he was a gorgeous horse, very well schooled, and clearly knows his job and wants to please. That's my boy!
A lot of what Lynn wanted me to do was too radical a departure from the way I ride for me to change it in one clinic, but I do want to work toward it. Baby steps, folks! We are going to keep working on all of it, especially using the mirrors in the indoor at night. I want to be straighter, and I want Tucker's flat work to be the best it can be, because I want him to be as adjustable and responsive as possible for the ring. It really, really helped to get a new perspective. How many of you have taken from trainers outside your discipline? Who do you go to? Do you find it helps?