Last Thursday was lesson day again. We did a warmup as usual – luckily it was quite a warm day, so Bitou got warmed up quite quickly and then we could work.
Very recently, I’ve started riding on outrides trying to ride on the neckstrap rather than the reins. The reins are there, but I don’t touch them – they hang on Bitou’s neck while I hold the neckstrap with one hand and then the other hand is loose. (Edit: Don’t tell my coach, I’m supposed to be working on my hand position!)
As I was getting ready to leave work for my lesson last week, I told Ant that I don’t feel like having a lesson (because it’s always hard work and I was feeling lazy). Her response was that the lessons you least feel like having, usually ends up being the most amazing ones. And was she right…
It was rather chilly and we know Bitou takes long to warm up when it’s cold. So we had a long trot and canter warm-up, taking care to ride the corners of the arena properly and focusing on getting my hand and seat position correct for the rest of the session.
Since the plan was to start working on shoulder-fore, as preparation for shoulder-in, Jenny wanted Bitou to bring his hind leg in further underneath him. To aid in this, we worked on trot-halt-trot transitions. Importantly, Bt must not stop on his shoulder, but stop from behind – this we get from ‘riding into the halt’. It’s difficult to explain but entails keeping the forward movement while asking for the halt. For this I found that it’s really important to prepare properly. If I didn’t, then I caught Bitou off-guard and the down-transition would be sloppy. If I did, he would literally feel like a wound-up ball of energy, waiting for my next cue and then respond the moment he feels it.
I’ve always done halts through the walk and we’ve only worked on trot-halt-trot once before, so initially I was a bit slow and we got a few steps of walk in between each time. Jenny then helped me with specifically the ‘halt’ aid. I was making the mistake of pulling back whilst asking for a halt with my seat and legs, but pulling on him is a cue for Bitou to pull against me. (He is extremely sensitive to rein pressure, if you pull, you WILL lose. No exception). Yet ‘pulling’ is such a default reaction!! So Jenny’s tip was to close the connection but not pull. So he effectively pulls against himself if he doesn’t respond immediately. So now we are basically doing a double downward transition (a sublimation, if you will!), all the while asking him to move forward into the halt. After that, Bitou got it immediately! If I prepared him sufficiently, the transition would be lovely, crisp and clear. Very cool!
Next we did turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. Interestingly, Bitou seems to anticipate the turn on the fore, and then rushes through it, rather than waiting for me to cue him. So we worked on that. The turn on the haunches is much easier (even though it’s supposed to be more difficult!). We speculated that might be that it’s a more difficult maneuver and therefore he waits for me and concentrates rather than rushing it? (I will read up a bit!)
We then proceeded to shoulder-fore. This is a preparation for shoulder-in. Basically, the horse’s shoulder is off the wall (to the inside) but he is moving forward in a straight line. In a proper shoulder-in, the horse will be moving on three tracks rather than four. Also Note that it is the shoulder that must be off the wall, not just the neck! We first did it at a walk so I could get familiar with the aids. Well – the aids aided in confusing this rider sufficiently! So Jenny had us rather do it at the trot. Although it’s faster, the trot is a two beat-rhythm (compared to the walk, which is a four-beat rhythm), so it’s much easier. We did it on the left rein and Bitou aced it! So much so that we went into full shoulder-in! He is incredibly supple, so once he understands what you are asking, he does it almost perfectly.
I was completely blown-away when we turned around, though. On the right rein (his difficult rein!), at trot, first time, and he did the most amazing, proper shoulder-in!! (We repeated it another 2 times to ensure it wasn’t a fluke!) This boykie is so athletic, he constantly amazes me! Obviously we have to practice and refine it, and “ride” it less obviously (me!), but wow!
We then finished off with some nice big, stretchy trot and canter circles.
The absolute highlight of the lesson was however when I asked Bitou for a nice fast canter down the long side of the arena. As we turned the corner, I dropped the reins completely down onto his neck and … he kept his frame and continued cantering as though I was still holding the reins!
Notice the grin (and the position of that hind leg!) (Please excuse the odd angles of my forearms – I’m still getting used to the new hand position!)
What a horse!
Everyone knows that there is a problem with modern dressage, but no one is changing their approach to dressage, because we all erroneously believe that we ourselves are doing it correctly, the classical way.
Therefore we are feeding this incorrect system. So what we are seeing is horses being produced and ridden incorrectly and people believing that what they are doing is correct. No one intends to do the wrong thing, after all! So if people think what they are doing is correct, but it’s actually incorrect, it’s no wonder that we see so many horses on the forehand, behind the vertical, trailing behind and not engaged at all (the exact opposite of classical dressage – in a nutshell). In every level of riding, from the basics to the top. Yet if you ask the trainer of that particular horse (or the rider for that matter) they will certainly defend themselves, stating why their approach is correct.
Today’s lesson was one of those amazing ones. I started a blog lnto which I post these updates, but there is still overlap. So here goes:
This lesson was very much a follow up of last week’s which was focused on my hand/thumbs and wrist position (post on the blog).
We started with a warmup as usual. Then we worked on corners – riding the corners effectively by preparing properly, asking for bend and flexion as we enter the corner and then riding the outside through. First at trot and then proceeding to canter. It was magnificent. Bitou used to motorbike around the short sides on the right rein canter, but by preparing properly and riding the outside through rather than dropping the connection, he took the corners like a pro!
We then did some turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand. Jenny had us do this because it is very effective in getting Bitou to step and reach underneath himself. Bitou finds it much easier than I do. I have to think (left, right, leg, hand, open, close! Turn around and it’s all the other way around! Confusing!) but he does it brilliantly when I get my act together and ask properly!
Now, we’ve been working a lot on bend and flexion. But today we worked on getting Bt to step in further underneath himself. So we want the connection but also the energy. We worked on a circle for this. We started with a nice forward and connected walk with nice bend and flexion. Then proceeded to trot. In the trot I then had to close my legs (more forward), hold the outside rein and give with the inside rein. (To give Bt the room to move into). But he became very stiff, hollow and uneven in the trot. He didn’t understand what I was asking and Jenny pointed out that instead of holding the outside rein, I dropped it when I gave with the inside rein. So I was effectively dropping Bitou mid-cue: he didn’t understand what I was asking. So to make it easier for me, I would use the same cue but instead of holding the outside rein, I would move my elbow back 2-3 cm (ie my arms would work in opposite directions rather than one being dormant but stable and the other active). The result was amazing! Bitou took the gap created in the inside rein and carried his neck, taking the connection up and ‘holding my hands’! All while this is happening, Bitou is keeping a perfect 20m circle by himself, just by my seat angle (remember the lesson a while ago when we worked on seat!). So much so that if I forgot to adjust the circle, the would go straight into a branch that smacks me in the face every time! (It must look hilarious from the ground!). A good way to remember, was Jenny’s tip ‘the outside rein should hold 2/3 vs the inside rein’s 1/3 of the total weight of the reins’ – of which the total should always be a light and consistent contact in order not to drop him.
We then did the same on the right rein. Main focus being to do exactly the same, but also by concentrating on keeping the weight of my seat bones equal. Instead of riding an oval and fighting to get around the top corner, which often happens on the right, Bitou kept perfectly straight on a perfect circle with no inside rein (literally hanging in a loop – i tested it!), and just a soft but stable outside rein, enough forward and equal weight. Riding the outside effectively (remember the beginning of the session!) and he was stepping in underneath himself and reaching for the contact! 😄
I so love how Jenny structure our lessons. Everything has a purpose and fits into the bigger picture towards the end goal!
I find riding more and more rewarding (as if that’s even possible) every time I realise how technical it is. You literally have to think of 1 million things at the same time, and the timing must be spot on else you’ll lose it. In fact, to think about it means your response is already to late. And that’s why breaking it up into bitesizes and then establishing it before the next bite is so effective and so rewarding!
Best lesson! (Again…! Starting to sense a theme here!)
ADVENTURES OF A CAPE TOWNIAN IN BAKU (this was posted on my Facebook account on 18 June 2015, but I love the story so much that I decided to post it here too):
So.. I went to the shop to buy washing powder. Only washing powder. I was a bit worried that I will end up buying some random other product because all the labels are in Russian. But I found some that is actually English! Well, I walked out with 3 bags full of goodies to take home!
On my way to the shop, I ran into a little kitty who was dozing off next to a lamp post. I’ve posted about the Baku cats before. They don’t seem to belong to anyone and they are everywhere. They are mostly quite slim (not starving, but certainly not fat) and quite dirty. So I start petting the kitty, who wakes up and immediately starts soaking up the attention. He actually jumped onto my leg and grabbed my hand every time I stopped petting him or stopped rubbing his belly! Now, this was around 6pm. And it seems to be common that the men in the area come out around that time and sit on the pavement in little groups to chat.
So keep in mind, that I am already stared at wherever I go. Now, this white chick is sitting on the pavement, playing with a stray cat and talking to him in Afrikaans for about 15 minutes! A guy approached me and welcomes me to Azerbaijan, and then told me the cat’s name is Vaska (don’t know the spelling). Vaska absolutely loved the attention. And the men on the pavement probably wondered what the hell is wrong with me!
Anyway, so off I went to the shop. When I came back I stopped to quickly pet all the cats along the way, as I always do (which almost made me late for my bus once!) and when I looked for Vasko, he was gone! Then, a couple of steps further, I saw the little kitty, on his back with his little paws in the air. Happy as a cat in Egypt, belly being scratched and head being stroked by all the men who sat watching me earlier!!
This one from 24 April with a link from my coach at the bottom in response:
My lesson last Thursday was probably one of the most important ones, although it would be easy to think that it was an insignificant one compared to the lesson Bitou and I on Tuesday (i had two lessons this past week because I didn’t have one the week before).
It was raining in the morning and rather chilly, but only drizzly when we rode. The rain made for fantastic spongy going, which is always pleasant to ride on. Bitou took very long to warm up. Usually he’s ready to go within a few minutes, but this time took much longer. So we used that time to recap the seat exercises we did on Tuesday.
Bitou has always been stronger on the left rein than the right: it took a full year before he would pick up the correct canter lead on the right (something we never forced, but just kept working until it happened), his bend to the left would be great but to the right he’d be stiff and reluctant to bend. It’s gotten better over the past two years, but still a distinct difference between the two sides.
When we finally started working we did the same as Tuesday – trotting with one stirrup, then with both, but with loopy reins. (However, on Tuesday we worked only on my seat and position, I never asked for bend or flexion.) Immediately Bitou started reaching down towards the contact, taking a soft but steady contact. Although he’s been doing this for quite a while now, I always find it amazing that he reaches for, and takes up the contact. It’s never strong, but he seems to like the feel of my hands. The best description i can think of is that it feels as though he is holding my hands smile emoticon
Anyway, the bend on the right rein was significantly better than before. We worked on trot/walk walk/halt transitions but Jenny realised that Bt was cooling down too fast so we worked more on trot and canter. We started doing three loop serpentines and both of our mouths were hanging open. All of a sudden this boy that was reluctant to bend to the right, was bending on both reins, like an elastic band. The moment I changed my seat, he would change his bend with barely any cues. He was doing it all by himself, perfectly! It was incredible to ride! So supple and flexible. I then started riding 4 loops instead of 3, which is obviously more challenging, and it was still absolutely perfect. What a feeling!
We did some canter work and then ended off by starting on trot/halt/trot transitions.
Interestingly, the same evening i watched a video (which I will share, since it’s really a good one!) which explained why a horse won’t be laterally flexible until they are thoroughly supple in their back. And that this doesn’t happen overnight but it’s months and years of correct work. So, hence this being probably the most significant session to date, on a cold and gloomy Thursday afternoon in the drizzle!
(Take note of the timeframe – 4 years!)
This one from 20 April:
I posted last week about the issue I’ve been having with putting more weight on my right, when riding, than the left. So yesterday I had a lesson which focused solely on my seat. This will be a slightly longer post, but it’s important because I need to remember all these details!
We started the lesson by warming up at walk, but only with the left stirrup. We then proceeded to rising trot, still with only one stirrup. This was to create the feeling of more weight on the left than the right (the opposite of what I am used to now). The next step was to remove both stirrups and get equal weight on my seat bones. Jenny had us do this by taking the reins in one hand and holding onto the saddle with the other (so I don’t slide off!). Then bringing (first the inside, then the outside) my leg forward and my knee towards my chin, as high as possible, but without leaning back or slouching. From that position, I had to swing my leg back as far as possible and then slide it forward. Then continue in a 20m circle. First at the walk, then the trot.
This exercise put me right in the middle of the saddle. I would continue trotting and Jenny would call out when a correction was needed (ie when I dropped my weight onto one side instead of keeping it equal). I then had to tell her what type of correction was needed (ie I had to be extremely aware of my weight distribution the whole time), and do the correction. At first, I was doing this with one hand and kept having to do the leg lift exercise during the trot. Later, when I became used to the feeling of equal weight and how to glide over to the side that had the least weight, I got my stirrups back.
What is really important (more so than I ever realized), is to alter sagittal plane without dropping the transverse (horizontal) plane. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of changing the angle of your hips (for example to go onto a 20m or 10m circle, with the angle directly proportionate to the size of the circle) but then dropping the hip at the same time. This will mean that the horse has to move according to the weight as well as the angle that had changed i.e. mixed signals. So it’s so important to change the angle on the sagittal plane but keep the horizontal plane constant. (Eureka moment!).
My stirrups felt so short when I finally used them again – I felt like a jockey! So we lengthened them and proceeded with the same exercises at the trot (rising). I concentrated so much on my seat that I completely forgot about keeping contact with his mouth (see pictures), and yet Bitou kept a perfect 20m circle just by my seat cues! I’ve always had the problem on the right rein that he would keep coming in (obviously because I had more weight on the right than the left and he tried to ‘catch’ me) and for the first time ever, that didn’t happen! Once again, Jenny would call to me when a correction was needed and it was amazing to see how that correction influenced the geometry of the circle. He kept a textbook 20m circle with no rein contact whatsoever. We did this on both reins. And our right rein 20m circle was actually the most consistently stretchy circle that I’ve ever had.
This horse is just amazing. He rewards you so enthusiastically for getting something right. Neither Jenny nor I expected such a huge difference in his way of going, by just equalizing my weight. He literally blew us away by his response.
Then we went on to canter, doing exactly the same first, using the full arena. There are some trees with low hanging branches on the one side that hits me in the face if I ride right on the edge. So Jenny had me move Bitou in and out on the track around the branches only by shifting my weight. Absolutely incredible how horses can feel such a tiny change and respond to it so drastically! We finished by cantering in a 20m circle, again concentrating purely on weight placement. Barely any rein contact and once again he kept the circle by himself, using only my weight/seat angle as guidance for size of the circle.
How amazing is my horse!? And how amazing is my coach, for knowing all of this and conveying it so extremely effectively.
I’ve been sort of keeping a ‘blog’ on my riding progress on Facebook, but it’s really difficult to go back and find the posts again without having to scroll through many unrelated posts. So I’m copying it here for better record keeping 🙂
This one from 15 April.
I have a bad habit of sitting slightly to the right (my dominant side) when riding as a result of placing more weight in my right stirrup. Obviously this is not correct so now I have to work on keeping equal weight on my seat bones. A new technique we are using is to ride using only my left stirrup. This forces me to put more weight on the left which then creates the ‘correct’ feeling, which would hopefully even out the issue. At walk, trot and canter.
I tried it out on the trial for the first time yesterday – the weather was too gorgeous to waste it in the arena. It’s much more difficult than it sounds, but Bitou and I both managed really well! It was actually a lot of fun. We rode to the dam and stopped there to graze a bit. Then I hopped back on and rode back, doing the same thing.
When we got to our last canter stretch, a lady was walking her two dogs off the leash. I wanted the entire path to canter, so Bitou and I stopped and waited for them to pass. When they reached us, the dogs all of a sudden stormed up to us, one going towards Bitou’s legs! I dropped the reins and grabbed his mane (so he could use his neck to balance, should he want to swing around on the uneven ground), which is maybe stupid, but the only thing I could think of in a split second! Bitou totally surprised me by not moving. He was dead calm and just stood completely still. At the same time the lady shouted at the dogs and they ran back towards her. First negative encounter with dogs and Bitou handled it like such a pro!
We then headed home where Bitou had his supper. On the way to his night paddock, I hopped on sans saddle with nothing but his mane to hold on to. We had a little trot and canter (!) up to his paddock (a bit scary, i must admit!) but he stopped immediately when I asked as I was worried that my legs will bang onto the fence around the corner. We then had a quiet walk down the last stretch to his food 🙂
What a super, super golden horse he is!