So the good news is, trial is now officially over, and I can get back to riding, and blogging about it. The better news is that we won the trial, so all that hard work wasn't for nothing. The judge didn't hand me a blue ribbon at the end, which I found a little odd... but perhaps it's in the mail.
Tucker and I have been back to regular work for about three weeks and he's doing really, really well. We've been taking dressage lessons from the trainer at our farm (Cindy, you may remember she once let me ride one of her dressage mares -- results were comical) and I am loving them. Not that I'm going to leave hunterland anytime soon, but I am definitely going to keep up with the lessons as a way to get Tucker more supple, straight, and forward.
I think part of what I like so much is hearing things from a new perspective. The concepts aren't new, just presented differently. Example: I've always worked on keeping Tucker from popping his outside shoulder. Now I'm working on not letting him collapse his inside shoulder. See? Same concept, just approaching it differently. I like thinking of it this way better, it feels less like a game of whack-a-mole that I'm never going to win. Everything is falling under the general umbrella of "forward and straight," which is a goal we can work with.
The first lesson, we worked a lot on getting him forward, and straight. Cindy started off by pointing out that a crooked horse doesn't go forward. Yes, agreed. I like the idea of always sending him forward through and after every exercise, since that's what we need to do over fences as well. We started off with a bunch of quarter turns (squaring off the "corners" of our twenty-meter circle). Tucker was at first pretty reluctant making quarter turns to the right, but we've been working on them and now he thinks they're pretty easy (not to say we're doing it right, but it's a close enough approximation for my standards). Cindy told me not to ride each direction using "textbook" aids, but to use the aids Tucker needs in each direction, which of course makes perfect sense. So, to the right, since he's stiffer, lead him with an opening right rein and outside leg, instead of outside rein and leg.
Then we worked on some leg yields, some shoulder-in, and renvers (haunches-out, as I've always called it). The renvers is pretty pitiful at this point, not going to lie. For the shoulder-in we really just need to work on getting less angle, which is something I've worked on before. For the renvers... I just can't seem to get my weight to shift in the saddle the right way and I end up feeling all crooked and there's poor Tucker with a big old question mark in a thought-bubble over his head. It just needs work, we'll put it that way.
The second lesson, we had some really nice moments. At the trot we worked on getting me riding "up the hill" (a concept completely familiar to my DQ readers and brand-spanking-new to me). We also incorporated lots of leg yields to free up his shoulders so I can move his shoulder where I want it. I was amazed to find that when I open up my right shoulder, Tucker is more willing to move his right shoulder (amazing how riding properly fixes things, isn't it?). At this point Cindy has me working on just getting him going forward and moving laterally, not worrying just yet about getting actual cross-over (I assume at some point the finer points will come to us).
All this work really helped with our canter, so I could keep his shoulders straight instead of just letting him throw his shoulder to the outside, and keep riding "uphill" so he doesn't just fall on his forehand and swing his haunches around like a fish. In fact, it worked so well that at one point after about three or four really straight, engaged canter strides, Tucker decided this was really just much hard and protested by leaping through the air and striking his front feet at the ground while simultaneously swapping his lead back and forth... impressive. Apparently he decided that if it was tricks I wanted, he would give me some tricks. We had been doing smaller ten-meter circles, pushing his shoulder to the inside and then getting the inside bend, so he'd engage his left hind, but after the little, er, explosion, we went back to the more familiar leg yielding exercise and then back to our canter, and got the same end result from a different approach.
Funny horse. When certain concepts are first introduced to him in our lessons, he worries so much about what I'm asking and whether he's doing it right that he ends up stressing himself out too much to actually do it. The next two rides after each lesson are great. It's like he needs to go home and think about it, and then the next time I'm in the saddle he's goes from, "Omigod please stop torturing me I am not a dressage horse," to, "Ohhhh you want my shoulder over there. Yeah I can do that. Here you go." And then he gets lots of praise, which, after all, is all he's ever wanted.
I bet for your average dressage rider, these lessons would be appallingly boring, but for Tucker and me, we are working our little tails off. Seriously. At one point Cindy laughed at Tucker, who was drenched in sweat half way through the lesson despite Cindy's observation that he "really wasn't working too hard." I pointed out that I was also drenched in sweat and for the record, we were working really hard. All a matter of perspective, I suppose....