Friday, December 30, 2011

Slightly Backwards

Today was a very interesting day.

I went and rode with Dr. P, a vet who just joined the practice that I work at. She had me ride her 5 year old Friesian cross, Sander, at the barn she boards at. She trains with a dressage trainer, though she has an eventing background. I've ridden with the trainer before, last year the dressage team organized a lesson with him. I don't dislike him, he's just very different from what I'm used to, though at the time, Jetta had just been started under saddle so I got some great, helpful tips that I was able to use.

I was a little bit tentative about riding this horse because everyone was watching and trying to tell me how to ride him and I didn't want to mess up! I love riding new and different horses and this horse was definitely different! Since he is a part-Friesian, he loves to carry his neck up high and not come over his topline and use his hind end. I actually ended up riding him for almost two hours!

The first hour, his owner was just trying to direct me aboard him. She had me do lots of transitions and half-halts to get him engaged and moving with energy but not rushing. After we got started and did some serpentines and circles, he really started to loosen up and accept my half-halts. I got him to carry his head lower (which I thought was the goal of what his owner was asking me to do) and he felt more engaged. I got a couple ok canters, though he tends to be disconnected with his long back and often fell out of the canter.

Then the trainer came out and gave me basically a free lesson, which is pretty awesome since he charges $75! That is when everything fell apart. I felt like a completely inadequate and ineffective rider. I do NOT like feeling like that, it's just not a good feeling. He had me curl my hands around so that my pinkies were pointing inside, towards the horse. He corrected my whip position and had me tap with the whip on top of the croup. He drastically changed the way that I half-halt. Not to mention my shoulder-in. That was the weirdest* thing of all and I just can't get over how off it felt.

He had me get Sanders lighter on the forehand by using my hands in an upward motion, he said he was too much downwards with his head and neck and while he didn't need to have his head in the clouds, he did need to lift the base of his neck and round his back.

For the shoulder-in, he had me place my outside hand with the whip on Sander's withers and maintain a strong outside rein. The inside rein, with my hand upside down was pulled towards the inside and I used my ring finger to get Sander to flex and come on the bit. Then my legs. This was the weird part for me. He had me place my inside leg at the girth and my outside leg back to do a shoulder-in. Usually I do the exact opposite, because then you are making sure that the hip stays on the wall and you push the shoulder into the inside of the arena. Cray-zee. I just could not manage the shoulder-in at all. Thus the feeling of complete inadequacy.

My half-halts were also slightly weird feeling for me too, usually I close my leg and my hand and think "up" so that the horse is ready for either an upward or downward transition or is simply more balanced. This trainer had me (with my upside down hands) flex the wrists instead of using the whole arm. He said that it allowed for a more stable core and eventually smaller cues. My whole body of course was going "No No No!!! Must have hands in correct position!!" I did get a very nice canter out of Sanders by the end - I was able to get him "packaged" so that he was moving over his back with an engaged hind end, but then came the working on the shoulder-in that completely threw me off.

By the end I was exhausted, though Sanders was not even breathing hard. I was the one who got a workout! We all ended up going to lunch - the trainer, Dr. P and her husband, two of the girls who were at the barn and me. It was really nice. They have a very close-knit barn that does a lot of things together. They often hang out at eachother's houses, go to lunch/dinner together, lots of trail rides and in the summer they even go waterskiing together! It was super fun and I wish I was a part of something like that! Afterwards I got to meet the rest of Dr. P's animals, she has quite an assortment!

It was really a fun day and I look forward to riding more with her. I'll have to continue to mull over my lesson as I'm still utterly confused, but I hope I can take something away from it that will prove useful to me. I ended up titling this post Slightly Backwards because it all felt so completely opposite to me and I hate feeling so ineffective! I'm sure the trainer was glad that I don't normally ride for him because I could barely even do a shoulder-in or trot-canter transition. Ugh.

As a sidenote: Does anyone else do a shoulder-in like that? I have always been taught the opposite of what he was trying to get me to do and by always I mean my whole life with multiple trainers. I can't quite wrap my head around it.

*I mean all of this in the nicest possible sense, of course :)


  1. I understand why you need your outside leg back in the shoulder in. It is so when you do shoulder in down the centerline, the haunches stay put and don't go flying. However, the curling of hands I don't get? I've always been taught to keep your thumbs on top. You can "turn the key" to create flexion, but hands always then return to normal position. But I'm all about learning new techniques!

  2. That is weird... I wouldn't agree with his methods, personally. Inwardly broken wrists have no place in dressage training. For shoulder-in, yes the inside leg SHOULD be at the girth. The rider is creating a bend here. But, the outside leg should be soft and pliable on the horse's side, on activating if needed.

    Good luck!

  3. Hmm, interesting. I've always learned it the exact opposite way with multiple dressage and non-dressage trainers. I can definitely see how the other method works now the way the both of you described it. It's still difficult to change something that has become so ingrained in my training and works for me and my horses, but at least I can finally see the point. I don't think the trainer was very good at describing things, because if the "why" is described then usually I can "get" it. Thanks!