In the meantime, I got to squeeze in two lessons with Kim yesterday morning before leaving for the airport, one with Ringo and one with Ky. Kim recently successfully made her Grand Prix debut, so after some serious congratulations, we got underway, with Ringo leading off. What follows is a pretty comprehensive novel of the lesson experience with, admittedly, very few relevant photos or videos, so if you're in a rush feel or don't want to read 1000 words of lesson recap feel free to skip down to the summary and wrap up at the end (I don't blame you, haha).
I stressed right from the beginning that I really wanted to work on my position, as my videos from my last lesson with Kim, plus a lot of the photos that my friend Patrick took of me riding Freddie, painted a pretty rugged picture in terms of rider crookedness. I know that my position is holding both of my horses back at the moment, and in these next few months of winter practice, I really want to work assiduously at getting straighter and stronger as a rider. Kim highly approved of this evaluation, and we set off.
(Not straight. At all.)
She also took me to task for sometimes wagging Ringo's head to make him falsely submissive in his neck, without actually making him straight and connected in his body. It was a bit of a wake up call to get called out on seesawing my horse's mouth (a cardinal sin if there ever was one!) but it was exhilarating to feel the difference in the connection when I did it properly.
Kim urged me to really control his shoulder with a steady outside rein, and then use my inside leg to add energy without resorting to waggling my inside hand. When I got control of his shoulders, he felt like a completely different horse - the connection to the bridle went from somewhat tenuous and something that I felt like I always had to fiddle with to keep in place to being rock solid, even, and easy, while his trot got instantly more powerful and supple.
For the duration of the lesson keeping this level of straightness was pretty much a series of constant corrections, as I've ridden him not-quite-straight with his shoulders to the outside for a loooooooong time now, so both of our natural tendencies were to immediately slip into bad habits again. Kim stressed that getting Ringo so that he was consistently straight, without constant correction, had to be one of my biggest goals for the winter, because without real straightness the move up to 4th level was going to be very, very hard. This was just the sort of homework I've been craving, so I'm really excited to work on building on what we worked on today over the next few weeks. We gave Ringo some big pats and moved on to the little Dude.
(My messed up left wrist strikes hard)
As we worked on finding a happier medium in terms of pace and energy, Kim also had me add in some smaller circles with a following, opening rein and supporting inside leg to try to encourage him to unlock his neck and back and bend more. It was sort of the opposite problem of Ringo, who is hyper-flexible in his neck and so I had to think about straightening out.
Again, the difference in Ky's trot once I had him unlocked and moving more freely through his shoulder was incredible. He developed a lovely and powerful-feeling trot and became night-and-day steadier in the contact. We then added in spiral ins and outs to really solidify the feeling in the outside rein, and Ky was feeling like a real dressage pony!
We briefly touched on the canter, which Ky is still currently pretty weak in after his vacation while I was in California. Kim really stressed the importance of the upward transition, which I know is pretty crappy at the moment but, admittedly, have been sort of glossing over. She suggested I use a lower and wider hand to try to keep him more connected, but stressed that I should be thinking straightness in the transition more than anything else. It was really hard! But we definitely got a few good ones before the lesson was over.
The Take Away
With both horses, being able to control the shoulders was essential to improving their way of going. With Ringo, I needed to use a steady, capturing outside rein to bring his popping shoulder back in line with his body. With Ky, I needed to use a guiding inside rein and leg coupled with an inviting outside rein to encourage him to open up his shoulder and unlock his neck and back. In both cases, doing so made a VAST difference in the quality of the connection and trot.
So, what are my homework points to be able to work on this before my next lesson? I need to:
--Control my left wrist, with THUMBS ON TOP!!
--Ride with a steady, following hand: if I feel like either of them are stiffening or beginning to bounce off the reins, I need to avoid the temptation to try to quickly 'fix the problem' with my hands alone, and instead use smaller corrections to get them straighter in their body, which will make the problems in the reins go away. No seesawing!!
--Ride off the rail! Often!
--Be precise and accurate in transitions, stressing straightness, connection, and energy EVERY STEP OF THE WAY
--Use spiral ins/outs with Ky to get more unlocked and steady on outside rein
--Keep stressing adjustability in gaits without losing energy, especially with Ky--but ask from the seat, NOT the hand
I'm antsy already to get back to the US so I can get back to work! Ky is going to get ridden by my friend Robin, while Ringo is going to get the week off, so hopefully they'll both be feeling as fresh and ready to go as I am by the time I return.