Friday, May 4, 2012

Don't Let Old Glory Wave, Plus Troubleshooting with Brian

In the past two days I've had two extremely helpful lessons that have really worked me, mentally and physically, and that I think will give me some great homework going forward. The weird thing is that I'm not sure the two lessons could be any more different! Last night I had my first real Western lesson (I've ridden Western a few times before, as chronicled here and here, but have have never really had any formal instruction), and then this morning I had a great dressage lesson on Ringo with Brian Sabo. Though the horses, instructors, tack, and ways of going were all vastly different from one to the next, I really enjoyed both and hopefully took away some good things to think about for my riding in general.

(Me and Master)

For my Western lesson, I rode a little quarter horse named Master. Master is (in)famous in the PE classes I teach for being unbelievably lazy, to the point where it took one girl 9 weeks of lessons to figure out how to kick him hard enough to get him to jog. Despite that, he actually has quite an illustrious past, having won over $100,000 as a big-time reiner back in his youth. Mysterious. All I know is that he is teeny tiny (15hh would be a bold estimate of his size), extremely downhill, and extremely cute.

(Master is adorable! And not large)

Right from the beginning, my instructor really nailed my on being too loose and fluid with my torso. As she put it: 'you don't want your upper body to be waving like Old Glory' (this is probably the most patriotic riding metaphor I've ever heard - AWESOME). This is one of the biggest critiques I get in dressage, and apparently in Western it is even more important to have a solid, unmoving upper body. This tendency became especially pronounced in the lope, where, in an attempt to keep Master from trantering due to his extreme laziness, I found myself scooping with my seat and pumping with my upper body. Tsk tsk tsk!! Bad Kate!! It was a massive workout for me to really concentrate on lengthening my body, wrapping my leg around, and keeping my hips and lower torso as still as possible, and while I certainly didn't figure it out completely by the end of the lesson, I did feel definitely improvement.

The biggest lightbulb came when I really used my upper thigh to anchor myself into the saddle. This was a direct parallel of the lightbulb I had with Kiki at the beginning of this year after watching Mary Wanless tapes, and so I know that it will be key as I keep trying to improve my sitting trot. I just wasn't strong enough to hold it for longer than a few strides at a time! I'm planning on taking a Western lesson every week for the rest of the school year, and I'm really really excited. Western is fun!!

 Then, this morning I had a private lesson with Brian. I came into it with three very specific things that I wanted to work on: medium/extended trot, turn on the haunches, and reinback. For most of my other work I by no means have everything perfect (by a long shot!), but I do generally feel like I have a good idea of what I should be working on and so have a plan of attack that I'm pretty happy with. With these three trouble areas, though, I've been a little lost. I've tried a lot of different stuff and just haven't gotten great results, and was getting worried that I was developing a bit of a mental block about them. So, given that I only get one real private lesson on Ringo about once every few months these days, I thought it would be best to really troubleshoot the big issues while I could.

And man, Brian is amazing!! We really had big improvement in all three areas. Some take aways for each thing we worked on:

Medium/Extended trot: basically the problem I've been having is that I've been very successful in getting Ringo to sit more and be more loadbearing on his hind end, but haven't really felt the reciprocal lightness in the forehand that this is supposed to bring. Brian had me play with carrying my hands much higher than I normally would (while still maintaining a positive, not pulling, connection to the bridle) to try to encourage him to lift his head and neck, while really focusing on not losing the connection at the base of the neck and withers. We added this in while in a very collected, almost half-step feeling trot, then asked for a few steps of medium with the front end still lifted. What a difference! The first few times I could really feel both of our tendency to lower in front and dive forward - carrying my hands higher really kept me honest in insisting that the front end stay elevated and the power come from behind. Brian was also very complimentary with Ringo's super collected trot, which is getting very strong. Good boy, Ray!

Turn on the Haunches: we started by doing small (5m) circles in haunches in, focusing on keeping the tempo of the walk going and keeping the shoulders moving. As he got better, I could try to risk making the circle smaller and smaller until he was performing an actual walk pirouette. Then, we carried that same feeling into the half turn along the rail. Very effective.

Reinback: Brian had me start making a 5 loop serpentine at trot. Every time I crossed the centerline, I was to halt and reinback, thus avoiding potential stressful arena locations like the walls or ends of the ring. Brian stressed to me the importance of patience; once halted, I needed to quietly vibrate with my leg until he yielded his back, and ONLY THEN ask for the reinback. Any sooner, and the result was not pretty. Ringo is prone to getting a little panicked in this exercise. Brian reminded me that it was way better to have a painfully long and immobile halt and a good reinback than a brief halt and a crappy reinback. Take a deep breath and wait it out.

Basically, the lesson was awesome. I wish I could have more!! If only this state weren't so stupidly large and southern California (where Brian lives) wasn't like EIGHT HOURS away from Stanford! Oh well. I also wish I had some photos from today, especially since I'm pretty sure there's a fine line between doing it right and doing it incredibly wrong with the high hand technique we worked on. I'm working very hard to make some good mental images instead; hopefully my memory will serve me well for the next month or so until I can see Brian again!

 I also got a few more photos from Nationals, this time from the girls on the Cal Poly dressage team. Unlike the pro photos, which I was pretty lukewarm on, these are awesome! As I'm usually the one behind the camera, I'm always extremely appreciative when I get to be on the other side of the lens =) Here they are:

 (skipping across the diagonal - not clear what I'm looking at, but no matter haha)

 (Showing off for the judge)

 (mid leg yield)

 (15m canter circle)

 (I think this is supposed to be a medium trot - whoops! Not looking particularly medium!)

(Medium canter - wahoo! I probably should've tried to make the balance a squeak more uphill, haha)

(California represent! All the California riders who qualified: the Cal Poly team, an individual from UC Davis, and myself)

1 comment:

Suzie said...

Excellent recount! Those three areas seem to be tough ones for every one. While I'm not close to working on extended trots yet, that will be valuable information in the future! Ed and I are distinctly in the lengthened trot region right now.

I especially loved the haunches in to walk pirouette exercise. I will be trying that one soon!

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