Monday, April 9, 2012

First Dressage Clinic, or RHYTHM!

Well, I'd been in Chicago all week for work, so I had to come into my first lesson with Alex with low expectations. But luckily, although she was indeed a bit tense, Alex focused in on me and my position. He was encouraging me to sit up and sit back. I'd been leaning forward a bit to try to be gentle on her back. No more! he said. He explained in his very thick German accent that since the horse was built uphill (and then he showed me how she was built in a heil-esque gesture), I should not lean forward because then I just overload her shoulder with my tall upper body, forcing her to move her front legs like an egg beater. As soon as I sat back, she became much more elegant in her movement, and never lost a beat in her balance as I re-positioned my weight further back, so clearly the time had come to stop babying her in the flatwork!!

Next up came the Q&A with Professor Alex, where I came across as dyslexic at best.  "What is the horse's comfort rein?" he asked. I knew this one!! She's more balanced going to the left, so I said "Left!"


Ok, wait, what? I could have sworn she feels more balanced to the left...

He then asked the same question six more times in six different ways, and by the end I realized that when he said "rein" he meant the physical rein in my hand, not the direction of travel. Oops.

After 5 minutes of confusion, we're back on the same page, speaking the same language (although his accent is still cooler than mine).

So, she's more balanced to the left, and she looks for that balance (/comfort) from my right rein, which is the outside rein to the left. Ok, that all makes sense.

Now where it gets tricky: when I go to the right, the right rein is still the comfort rein, so right now for this horse, I need to actually balance her on the inside rein when going to the right!! Just to illustrate his point, Alex had me trotting down the long side and asked me to float my left rein. No change. Right rein? *Thump!* my stirrup hit the wall.

Photo Courtesy ShortHorse Studios
Similarly, when we would canter to the left, she would spook a little at the auditors at the far end of the arena and drift to the inside. If I tried to correct her with the outside (right) rein, she would happily swap leads! Alex told me to float that right rein and allow her to drift into a circle. We're at the bottom of the training scale, so we need to teach her to maintain RHYTHM right now, and every lead swap is a loss of rhythm. We'll get to acceptance later!

On the second day, we carried forward this topic of the comfort rein on the right, and how that affected my right lead departs. At the clinic last weekend, Leslie Law really gave me the proverbial "keys to the kingdom" when it came to Zahra's right lead canter. If I took the time to activate my right leg before the transition, I got it almost every time. Alex took it one step further by saying yes, activate the right leg, but drop the comfort rein at the same time. If I try to hold the right rein, she can use that to balance into the left lead. In one small change, Alex took the "almost" out of the equation!

I feel so fortunate that I've been able to work with this amazing instructor for so many years. He sees things and understands them in ways that is just boggling!

As we're walking out of the arena, he asked, "Zo, does it jump?"
"Oh yes!" I told him. "She loves it!"
"Well, she will certainly do the dressage."
High praise indeed from the German! :)

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