I admit that I was nervous for my dressage lesson on Saturday. Big sticks and technical courses? No worries. A 20 x 40 empty rectangle? OH MY GOD. Yep, I know, my psyche makes total sense. In my defense I haven’t had a dressage lesson in like 2 1/2 months, plus this was my first time riding with Martin the dressage man extraordinaire. What if he thought I was an idiot? Ok, well, he would probably know within 30 seconds that I was in fact an idiot, but what if he thought I was a hopeless idiot??? I got to the barn with a little extra time to spare so I could get on early, re-acquaint myself with the dressage saddle (no the Devoucoux isn’t here yet), see if I could remember how to sit up, and get Henry thinking forward. As soon as I got on I kinda wished I’d grabbed my spurs, but otherwise he warmed up ok. Martin arrived, we talked briefly about Henry’s history, my history, what I thought our weak points were, and what we were trying to accomplish. Then he put us to work.
Turns out I’m kind of in love with Martin. Here’s the thing: some trainers just don’t “get” all horses. And with Henry (as with a lot of TB’s) it’s really really important that you understand how he thinks, because it’s 90% mental with him. He tries really hard but he also has to feel like you’re being fair, he has to keep his confidence at all times, and you can’t ask too much of him at once – he will implode. He’s really just getting started with this dressage stuff and he’s simply not there yet with a lot of things, so there’s a fine line between teaching him something and making him frustrated. Martin immediately spotted that line, and while he took us right up to it several times, he never pushed us over it. Mistakes were no big deal, perfection was not required, he just had to make a solid effort. Henry stayed relaxed the whole time, we had a couple of “a-ha” moments, and I had a better horse at the end. Was it a dramatic, amazing, night and day difference? Of course not. These things take time. A lot of time. But we made some baby steps and I have good homework.
The first thing he honed in on was how Henry really hasn’t released his back/hind end and truly gotten himself engaged from behind. As he stated “He looks lovely going around on a 20 meter circle but in the lateral work you can see it”. Bingo. This has been our struggle. So we worked on a few exercises to get him to start thinking about really crossing those hind legs over and engaging the hind end. We got a few good steps as we went along, which is I think as much progress as you can ask for in a 45 minute time frame. Martin also immediately honed in on some of my own issues: “don’t turn your toe out” (my h/j trainers spent all of the 90’s trying to get my toe out and my calf on – stop messing with my head, dressage), “open your shoulders”, and “heels down, let your leg drape” (I swear I’ve ridden before). He also asked if I’ve ever ridden Henry in a spur. Cue sheepish “um… yes… I didn’t think to grab them today…”
I think my favorite exercise was cantering a square. I could really feel Henry step up under himself and “jump” in the canter stride on the square turns, which was very cool. We also did some half turns on the forehand at the walk, which was difficult for both of us but after a few tries he started to get it and crossed over quite well for a few steps behind. Overall Martin was very complimentary of him and said he liked how pleasant he looked, he especially liked his canter, and said I’d done a good job with him. That warmed the cackles of my cold dark heart.
The extra awesome thing is that Brandy’s hubby got lots of video! And you can actually hear Martin pretty clearly if you turn up the volume, so it’s like having a mini-lesson all over again. When I put all the clips together it was too big to load on Vimeo so I had to break them up.
Sunday we went for a fun gallop out in the front hay field. Today unfortunately it’s rainy, so we’ll see what the week brings depending on how much rain we get.