I had a lesson! Long post ahead cause I have a lot to say.
It’s been forever since I’ve been in regular lessons. First, I am not at a barn with trainers that I want to take lessons with. I was taking a few on and off before Scarlet showed his neurological issues. After that, I was worried about money trying to treat him. And then just never really had the heart to look for lessons.
Now, I’ve gotten a half lease and have some of my riding muscles back. But I was really feeling like I wasn’t improving as a rider and I was getting frustrated with what I felt like were holes in my basics. I’m a decent rider, even good depending on the day. I know I’ve got a good feel for horses but I want to be better.
I looked up some trainers in the area and there was one dressage trainer near to my barn that had really good reviews. I also got a few recommendations from my neighbor and a lady at the barn about her training. So I decided to contact her. She had several horses she was able to do lessons off of and we managed to sync up last Friday morning. Now, I’m not switching to dressage but I personally find it important. I see it as the foundation for other disciplines you want to do and also like weight lifting. You can go so far without lifting, but if you want to be better, you have to build strength.
I met the trainer, who we will call J, the week before to get a tour and talk to her to see how we might work together. She was very nice and seemed like someone who I could ride with so I scheduled a lesson. At the beginning of the lesson, I explained to J that while I’ve been riding for a long time and consider myself a good rider, I know there are holes in my basics. My goal with lessons is to fix those so that I can do things correctly for both me and the horse. Once my basics are better, I’m open to moving onto learning more.
I rode an appendix named Zoe. She was much taller than she looked. It was also my first time riding in a dressage saddle ever. It definitely felt weird after a lifetime of riding in all purpose or jumping saddles. My legs felt so long and it was really only my calves pressed against Zoe’s barrel. My stirrups felt too long. J said they looked fine but after starting to trot, I couldn’t really keep the stirrups so we shortened them one hole and that helped a lot more.
So the big thing I struggled with was posting. Posting in a dressage saddle is so different. Between the long legs and blocks on my thighs, I flopped about like a fish for a bit. J explained, through her nifty walky talky system, that I needed to focus on just letting Zoe’s momentum carry me up out of the saddle. I could post as small as possible if I just let her momentum carry me. It took a lot of focus but after many loops and circles I figured it out.
J said I had good shoulders and a good downward transition. I’ve been doing downwards on Cav just kinda sucking up through my pelvis and very light hands. That’s apparently very good and worked well on Zoe. She liked that I didn’t immediately force her to transition within one or two strides but rather let her set herself up correctly.
The next thing we tackled were my arms. J said she could tell I’d ridden primarily green and sensitive horses as my arms were training arms, with my elbows held further away from my sides to try to make my hands even more soft. She wanted me to relax my arms and let my elbows fall next to my sides where they would be if I was standing on the ground with my arms next to my side. She wanted me to focus on that and see that I can keep soft hands and forearms while having more correct arms.
She also said I need to turn my hands a lot so my thumbs face upward. J wants me to practice by turning my wrists far enough that my thumbs actually point out and then let them relax back upward. All this took so much mental effort from me which felt weird. There’s so much that you do subconsciously while riding so having to do that stuff consciously was very odd.
J assured me that all this change would be difficult but to not worry about making sure all of them were good at once. When I’m practicing during my rides, she suggested I focus on one thing at a time rather than trying to do it all at once.
To finish off the ride, J gave me the choice of cantering or working on leg yields. I decided leg yields as I was interested in doing that with a trainer over the canter. The two aids she wanted me to focus on was the inside leg pulsing for sideways and the outside rein to keep the shoulders balanced under the body. That’s not how I’d been asking Cav to move sideways so I really had to focus on not moving my hands toward the outside. When I did that, Zoe happily escaped through the outside shoulder so I figured that out quickly.
We turned down the quarter line and moved toward the rail several times at the walk and then moved to the trot. Trotting has always been my bane with leg yields. Do I sit? Do I post? How do I coordinate my legs with my posting? (Which now that I think about it is probably related to fixing my posting mechanism.) She suggested timing the aid to sitting down. I did that and it actually felt much more comfortable. I got some good steps out of Zoe both ways and we called it there. It was such a good lesson.
I was super eager to test out all that I’d worked on with Cav. I rode Sunday this weekend and immediately I felt a difference. Posting in a jumper saddle helped me figure out what I had been doing. I’d been posting from my feet, not my thighs. With posting with his momentum, my thighs stayed glued to the saddle and my legs didn’t swing around as much as they do sometimes. I had never felt more secure on Cav. I literally felt stuck in there. My elbows and hands were interesting to work on. I can’t ride with a crop while working on my hands. It just interferes. Luckily Cav doesn’t normally need one. He didn’t pick up much on the leg yield cues but I think we will need to work on that. He’s never been super great at responding to my leg asking for sideways.
I’m so happy to have already seen a huge change from one lesson. Well both happy and embarrassed. It’s one thing to think you’ve been slacking on equitation and quite another to have it so clearly proven. But I’m working to get better and even every other week lessons will go a long way to helping me improve as a rider. I’m super excited to see what other things we can fix next lesson!