So the last week has been an interesting one for my riding. Just in the past few days, I'd gone from feeling totally strong and coordinated, with Ringo being the perfect little sunny-faced angel responding to my every whim... to feeling like a jarring, lumping sack of potatoes rattling around the arena on a horse with some serious transmission, bending, and relaxation problems. What gives?? Horses! So humbling!!
(Feeling very emo in my black finger nail polish... or am I just matching Ringo's black bits??)
I think the problem is that, because I haven't been getting a lot of eyes on the ground feedback recently (we're quickly broaching the four month mark since I last had a dedicated, one-on-one dressage lesson on Ringo... yikes!), I tend to identify problems and then try to work on them on my own, but often end up obsessing over them and in fact inflating the original problem even more.
Take, for example, Ringo's left bend. Ringo has always been a little stiffer to the left than to the right. He's a pretty supple animal all things considered (riding him doesn't feel like trying to bend a 2x4, like a lot of the school horses do, as an example), but the left is always a little more dead. I've tried solving this problem more ways than I can count: lots of shoulder in to get him more onto the outside rein, shoulder-fore on the circle for the same effect, spiraling in and out on the circle, leg yields, using just my outside aids to turn, using just my inside aids to turn, and on and on. Nothing has improved the situation in the slightest, and in fact he has felt stiffer and more resistant than ever. The more I worry about it, the more I pick on it, and the worse it gets. Bad cycle, right?
Today I finally cottoned on to what was happening clearly enough to do something about it. I was riding and things were tense, tense, tense, and I felt like I was jarring and flopping and things generally were not good. Instead of muddling along look a fool as I normally do, however, I actually stopped and took a deep breath and thought about what was going on.
Why was he being so stiff to the left? I wasn't sure still.
What did all the things I'd been doing to try to fix the problem have in common? They all involved a lot of focus of getting him light on the left rein by getting him to turn his head to the left and 'fill the outside rein,' without any success.
...wait, what? Crap.
Sigh. As I'd feared in my original post about the joys of riding in a straight line, I'd completely let the idea of being on the circle and being 'bent to the inside' take over my life, to the point where I was no longer asking Ringo to be straight on the curve, but instead was trying to get him to crookedly throw his head and neck to the inside of the rest of his body. D'oh! JV-league mistake, but still one that I'm very prone to.
So, we went back to basics, and working on trotting a circle ever so slightly bent to the outside while keeping my hands as much out of the equation as necessary (I also think I was whipping myself into an altogether too handsy place). After a few laps, I felt Ringo's entire body start to relax and beamed as he began to start reaching positively out towards the reins in a way I hadn't felt him do in weeks. He started snorting and chewing, too, so I knew I was on the right track. After we'd established our slight counter-bend, I very delicately changed the bend again so that he was ever so slightly bent in the direction of travel.
And what a difference! Suddenly I had a big, relaxed, and swinging trot that I could actually sit without feeling like a fool, a relationship with the bridle that didn't require me constantly feeling like I had to fiddle his head down, and a rideability that I hadn't felt in a loooong time. Wahoo! Turns out, as usual, that simple is best =)
I did the same exercise at the trot and canter in both directions. At the canter, I added in some counter canter too and was delighted to feel some of the best counter canter we've had - we even did some full 15m circles in counter canter without him threatening to change once (normally I always feel like I'm somewhat patching it together).
And, we did it all without stirrups! Hopefully this will be a good track to keep pursuing over the next few weeks... and hopefully we can get a lesson at some point as well!
(Not related, but here is me with Ronnie, one of the school horses who is so massive that he even makes me feel small - he's over 18hh!!)