Thursday, December 7, 2017

Embracing the Suck

Alright, I am trying to get back on the wagon here. My fall was slow for blogging because working on the basics isn't really exciting blog fodder, I haven't had new media (the cats have been featured a lot on the Instagram), and then November was particularly bad because of the stress of organizing GP Rider's clinic (which was this past weekend and was great!) and that time when I thought Penn tore tendons in both hind legs. Good times.

So let's start going over stuff!

The barn had a fall party where we pulled out all the obstacles: cowboy curtain, side pass over a pole, weave through some cones with no reins (or as I did it, hit a ball with a broom and make the ball weave through the cones), walk over a tarp and mat, walk over the bridge, walk over the mattress, drag the sled, push the giant ball.
Penn has taken to walking into, and kicking, the giant ball with glee. He actually seems to enjoy it.
Side note: I found a dressagey barn a few hours from here that holds "Intro to Cattle" clinics. Hehehe.

Embracing the Suck:

I have had a bunch of rides this fall where I have thoughts along the lines of, "I am completely inept, why do I think I can dressage, I need to sell everything horsey and buy a goldfish."

Usually the day's trauma is an inability to canter or Penn is stuck as a 2x4 in one direction. It was inability along the lines of, "How did this horse and rider even compete at First Level this year, let alone Third?"

Through the inept feeling, I've been pushed to really think about my feel and timing. Penn is not at fault here; it is completely rider error. The walk and trot have been bad, the canter horrendous, and then zero bend and a 2x4 feeling in Penn's spine.

That was so frustrating to me- I couldn't get the inside hind stepping up. Penn was just speeding off. Half halts didn't work. He was laying HARD on my left rein, both directions. I let it bother me for a few hours one day a few weeks ago, then resolved to work out an easy way to feel the inside hind because I was thoroughly stuck.

Here's some conclusions I came to about timing the aids for a better walk and trot, and thereby better bend and a better inside leg to outside rein connection. I needed to write them down to further cement them in my mind, but I think some readers might like to read what works for me:
  • To find better bend, think about making the inside hind step up even more. The barrel will move to the outside to make room for the inside stifle to come further up. I need to activate the inside hind to do that, which means Penn needs to not move sideways or faster in response to my leg.
  • Walk: the rib cage naturally swings in and out with each side's footfalls. To get better inside hind activation, push the inside leg into the girth as the barrel swings out. The barrel is already swinging out to make room for the inside hind at this moment. A few leg bumps and Penn is bending in like a champ.
  • Trot: This was harder. You post up and down with the outside front, and therefore the inside hind. When I was originally teaching myself to feel my diagonals all those years ago, I found if you relax your hips, they naturally fall right and left as the horse trots. I got the correct diagonal every time by posting on the next step after my outside hip dropped. Therefore, if I stayed sitting instead, the inside hind is stepping forward as my outside hip comes up. Apply inside leg as the outside hip comes up, and inside seatbone sits down. Bam, all of a sudden I had a supple horse in the outside rein instead of a 2x4 from Home Depot that enjoys my left rein all the time. This is probably why my Event Trainer always had me post on the wrong diagonal to help get the inside hind going- I would sit as the inside hind was stepping up, and you apply leg in the sitting step of the posting trot. I think that's why I found First Level so much easier to do in the sitting trot- you really shouldn't post on the wrong diagonal at a show.
  • In lateral movements, like the half pass where Penn wants to not bend and I don't want to sit on the inside seatbone: Same rule applies, apply inside leg when the outside hip comes up. This sits you on the inside seatbone in the half pass. Start the half pass by trotting on the diagonal, then asking for haunches in while keeping the outside shoulder on the diagonal line. I applied alternating inside leg and outside leg (not always outside leg, it just stayed put to remind Penn to keep stepping sideways). This kept me on the inside seatbone, kept my inside rein soft and light, and kept pushing Penn to the outside rein.
  • There is no "just apply the leg all the time" in dressage. Biggest lesson here. Tactful application of leg gets better results (durr, it's the same as lesson horses getting dead to the leg because their riders constantly thump away).

Penn got a fresh clip job too! So shiny. And he's got some dapples!

Some neato things that have happened since I worked this stuff out:
  • More bounce and suspension in the trot.
  • More suppleness everywhere.
  • Better throughness everywhere.
  • Lateral movements in trot are infinitely easier. I can time the inside leg to the inside hind and maintain better bend through the movement. I can even fix it mid movement. Penn positively glides sideways in the trot and canter half passes.
  • Speaking of lateral movements, I've found I am unintentionally gravitating towards sitting on the inside seat bone in all of the movements, just like you're supposed to in order to keep the bend.
  • I was able to take shoulder fore on a 20m circle, half pass it in, and eventually settle in a large trotting pirouette/turn on the haunches. No fuss, no fight, both directions. AND in both trot and canter!
  • I've been able to do the first diagonal in 4-1: medium trot, collected trot over X, medium trot. What we do isn't really a true medium, but it is a true go and come back and go right away again. A few weeks ago, Penn could not do this. He could go, he would struggle to come back, and then we'd fuss for a while before we could go again. This isn't exactly because of the inside hind work, but it is because he's carrying himself more in these last few months.
  • Penn doesn't speed up when I apply the inside leg tactfully. He bends instead.

I'm still struggling with finding the inside hind in the canter- each footfall in the stride happens so fast, by the time I work out what might work, my timing is completely off/rushed or Penn has broken to trot. The best I can come up with is to apply leg directly after the most downhill moment of the canter- that is just before suspension, and in suspension, his inside hind is already off the ground coming forward.


  1. it's good to see a blog post from you again! sorry it's been kinda a rough fall for riding, but sounds like some big things are clicking into place!

    1. I need to get back to blogging! It was just the first thing to go in times of stress. Lack of media to share didn't help the cause. Except now I have a bunch of new media and some posts in the draft folder, and I'm ready to go!

      Things are finally clicking into place, and GP Trainer kicked my butt this past weekend and gave me some solid next steps!

  2. Ahhh...I struggle with embracing the suck but a lot of time it's where we are at right before a breakthrough.

    Sounds like you are heading in the right direction.

    1. I've found there's a lot of embracing the suck in dressage. It sucks. Lol. But it definitely means we're near a breakthrough!

  3. That is a lot of really great information

    1. I'm glad you found it useful! I wanted to share because I know I always looked for that kind of tip.

  4. So great to read the update! I'd say I'm glad that someone else is dealing with the suck except I'm not happy that anyone is dealing with this haha. It is really encouraging for me to read your posts and know that this happens even to more experienced riders :)

    1. I'm pretty sure it just gets worse the more experienced you are- I have so many more days where things just don't go as planned and we work on basic things and not the fun things!

  5. I love how you break down your thought process with all things dressage! It sounds like you two are getting out of the sticky spot and making some breakthroughs.

    1. The sticky spot comes and goes, that's for sure! I've been playing with fun things lately, so now I have to revisit my walk/trot transitions.