Note: guess who meant to post this last week and forgot? This girl.
If you’re recently joining us here at The Almanac, then you may or may not be aware that I have ridden a lot of horses at a lot of barns in a lot of saddles in a lot of disciplines. Because of this, I feel a bit like a jack of all trades (jill of all trades?) and truly a master of none. I’ve had a long time desire to improve upon my dressage skills, and several friends have told me that it will be a great way to fill in those holes in my education. Flat work is always the key to everything. I call it the Xenophon theorem: 2+2=more leg. More leg ≥ flat work.
This is my second lesson at a strictly dressage barn, and let me tell you that it made me feel like I’ve never ridden a horse before. Ellie, my trainer, is patient, but I worry that my mistakes may be testing that patience. Everything that I’ve learned through my years wasn’t necessarily wrong…. It just wasn’t right. I also discovered that I have no idea how big 20 meters actually is. After 17 years of riding, apparently I still don’t know how to close my fingers. My version of elbows being bent is apparently about 87° away from being a right angle. But, here’s the shocker, y’all: I used too much leg.
I’m not entirely unconvinced that me using too much leg isn’t a sign of the apocalypse.
Every coach has told me at some point or another that part of learning is unlearning the old stuff, which results in three steps forward and two steps backward. Example: “I promise you that she doesn’t mind you shortening your reins. Shorten your reins. Bend your elbows. Close your fingers. Shorten your reins. Stop using your outside leg. Is she bent in the correct direction? Look over her ears. Close your fingers. Bend your elbows. Shorten your reins.” Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but repetition is the key to building muscle memory, so that’s what I chanted in my head as Ellie talked me through it.
Vicky is a different ride from the horse I rode last time, Bailey. She’s in that large pony/small horse size zone and has a conveniently short neck. She also has a nice response to leg aids. This meant that she quietly and politely told on me whenever I incorrectly used my leg (read: used outside leg when I needed to use outside rein), but I didn’t expend all my energy trying to move her forward. Bailey is an absolute sweetheart but my nonexistent leg muscles and his journey to sainthood means that my attempts to move him forward were basically lost on him. Vicky’s responsiveness meant that I actually got to spend my energy fixing my body, my seat, my position.
This lesson, I didn’t move out of a trot, which I was fine with. I’m still adjusting to Florida’s heat (nearly a year later) and when I finally had a few laps and circles that were successful, I was happy to call it a day. I didn’t want to get tired and start to unlearn the correct methods; more importantly, Vicky had already put up with me enough, so I didn’t need to push her to be nice.
I’m already looking forward to my next ride because it means I get to keep patching these holes in my education. It also gives me an excuse to go treat myself to a much needed new helmet and maybe some new sun shirts. Suggestions welcome.