Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In the Arena # 124 - Redemption song....

An almost perfect Saturday. I could have used about three more hours squeezed in - (my most recent to do list is outrageous) but I'll take it. After feeding, walking and cleaning up after all the other residents of Edgewood Farm while savoring a tasty iced cappucino, I hitched up Orange Crush for our weekly mowing session.

We were soon interrupted by a visitor, one of my landscaping clients, who dropped by to pick up a load of Val's Super Dirt (composted manure). After a quick tour and filling his buckets, we chatted. I thought that the clouds of mosquitos would keep the conversation brief...

It turns out that my client was very well placed in the banking world before his semi-retirement. If his palatial beach "cottage" is any indication, this is true. He gave me lots of encouragement about my plans for the property, and offered to be a resource to help find financing when it comes time to build my house. This will be a fair exchange for my continued never ending consulting on his landscaping, (consulting is when people get my work for free) so the numerous bites were worth it. Who'd have thought horse manure would have anything to do with high finance?


Once the grounds keeping chores were completed, I threw Val a few flakes of his new hay. I gave up on forcing him to eat the last bales of this winter's hay. For a week now he's pushed it around, stomped on it and yesterday dropped a pile and peed on it. I got the hint. With him munching in his stall, I dragged the ring.

Apprehension built as I rode around. I try always to have a positive attitude, but falling off the other day just sucked. I had, after a long time, gotten to the point that I was excited to ride again. I looked forward to it. Ending our sessions was disappointing - I wanted to just keep on riding. We were finally working on the canter for heavens sake. My fall set me back six months confidence-wise.

By now it was hot enough and I was sweaty enough to make pulling on my breeches challenging. As I groomed and tacked up, I focused on my breathing, as well being a stickler for Val staying put. At first I had to physically touch him, but as we moved along all it took was a step towards him to make the correction. My experience has been that Val starts out with small tests of my leadership. If I let those go, it escalates under saddle. Things go more smoothly when I patiently correct him, as many times as is necessary, on the ground.

We worked on the buckle for quite a while. Forward seemed to have gone out the window. We had to do lots of transitions to get Val moving off my leg at all. It's likely that I may have been asking for forward with my aids, but saying not forward with my posture.

I could feel the negative impact the fall had on my body, as it took forever before my whole seat was down in the saddle, not perching. I used to think that perching was more like being in two point... your butt physically out of contact with the saddle. Yesterday I (finally) realized that you can perch with your seatbones and pubic bone too, while technically being on the saddle. If your butt muscles aren't relaxed, it's not possible for your "triangle" to be in contact. My not being on my seat is the main reason I fell off.

The revelations about seatbones continued. While focusing on maintaining outside rein contact through the turns, I zoned in on the outside seatbone as well. Our turns were better balanced and deeper when I really felt my outside seatbone. I'm not sure if this meant that both seatbones were finally equal, or if more weight was on the outside, but the results were good.

Now on to the main event. We got our act together enough, that I decided to ask for the trot. In out most recent rides since working on the canter, I've been getting canter departs when asking for the trot. This is exactly what we were working on when I fell off last week. My first ask resulted in the canter. I let it go a few strides, and returned to the walk. I made sure I was not holding my breath, not anticipating cantering, and asked again - this time with very little aid - instead visualizing the tempo and feel of the trot. Voila! Perfect relaxed trot transition.

Kate at A Year with Horses has been such an inspiration to me. Her thorough and honest assessments of her riding never fail to resonate. Lately she has been posting about softness, bracing, and how the quality of aiding can either lead to softness, or result in bracing.

Struggling with the trot transitions yesterday helped me realize I had been way over aiding, because when I just literally thought the trot - no leg, no voice and no whip - I got the most beautiful soft transition. I'm sure now that my over aiding + perching + bracing resulted in Val being confused about what I was asking of him lately... "When she gets all bent out of shape like this - I'm supposed to canter!"

I hugged my horse, told him what a gooooood boy he is, and ended the ride there, on a very positive note.

preferable to working...

also preferable to working...


  1. Sounds just lovely - I think we all tend to overcue since we humans are less tuned in/sensitive than horses, and learning how to be as tuned in and sensitive as they are is a lifelong search. Glad it worked for you - I've found it very powerful.

  2. Your ride sounds great. I find that the softer I get the softer the horse gets. When I ride I try to use the lightest possible cues and think what I want and it seems the horse will really get used to that. There really is no need for all the squeezing and over cuing. I mean if they can feel a fly or mosquito land on them they can certainly feel our legs or seat gently asking for something right? Hope you're having good rides this weekend.

  3. Terrific - so glad it all went well. I love your description - you write perfectly! Also, I've been enjoying Chris Cornell's version of Redemption Song this week so your title struck a nerve.

  4. Kate-

    Thinking about your post is what reminded me to back off the aids and use my mind. Thanks again!

  5. GHM -

    Softness begets softness... I have a tendency to overpower in my non riding life as well. ;)

  6. juliette-

    I was thinking especially of the line -

    "emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds"

    I feel that my ingrained bad (riding)
    habits are like mental slavery. ;)

  7. Seems we are the same wave lengths?

    When I give kids/never been on a horse adults - my very first lesson is about feeling. They never make it off lead line that lesson and I'm talking about riding by feeling. I start with "A horse can feel a fly crawl across it's hair, therefore it can feel the minimal changes in your weight position and must react to them." They are always at awe when I move my body position back to the stirrup line and with very loose lead ask the rider to simply sit up straight and tighten every muscle from groin to scalp and the horse stops immediately.

  8. Very impressive! It's so hard to really relax and soften after a fall. As I was reading your post, I started thinking about Sally Swift and how she describes feeling like you are like a tree rooted to the horse with your legs as the roots going down to the ground - or something like that. You know, Centered Riding. Anyway, one of the things that I have always loved about riding Silk is that she does what I am asking almost instantly when I think it. My horse, the mind-reader. They really are much more sensitive than we are.

  9. Jeni-

    My struggle is that intellectually I know how sensitive my horse is, but don't always ride like I know it. :)

  10. Victoria-

    I love Sally Swift. I think if I were doing more centered living, I'd be doing more centered riding.

    Her melting ice cream cone image works well for me. ;)

  11. You are making so many break throughs I can't keep up! I'm very impressed with the light aids you're using. I'm working on this too, and the results are so great when I manage to do it consistently.
    Glad you had such a great ride. The fall was a fluke. Enjoy your boy!

  12. Cool! I had the same outside seat bone in turns experience recently.

    Really planting the outside and lifting the inside seat bone forward can initiate the canter. Maybe Val was cantering off your seat!

    Loved his breathing and play in the video.

  13. I think so many of us are on the same wave length this week. I am all about "body conscious" this week. My seat, quite hands, looking up and where I am going. My seat tends to want to not "settle" in centered. Somehow I think I am more protected when riding on my crotch (NOT!). Ah, nice post. And he is so cute in the paddock.

  14. Story-

    I'll be holding off on acquiring spurs for the foreseeable future! ;)

  15. Carol-

    Consistency wouldn't be how I would describe us... There seems to be a smaller interval between aha moments, and some of the lessons are starting to stick. :)

  16. Val -

    It would be helpful if the seatbone shifting happened intentionally... I'm sure that being uneven on my seat contributed to the trot canter confusion. :)

  17. Margaret-

    There are so many elements to remember!

    I feel like all I do (internally) is go from one to another, checking. I can't wait until some of my riding becomes ingrained enough to be relegated to the subconscious. ;)

  18. So glad you had such a beautiful return to the official practice of dressage! :D


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