A couple of years ago I started assembling some thoughts for a blog, but, oops, it became DRESSAGE Unscrambled. Other than The Godfather, Part II, I can’t name very many sequels that measured up to the original. So, now it’s back to Plan A. I ended D.U. for the same reason that you stop eating potato chips—at the time I was full and, presumably, so were you. But like an old dictator haranguing the crowd, I’ve got my second wind now. You probably join me in observing that many, many riders get in their own way—by over-analysis, by under-analysis, or sometimes because they just ought to be in analysis. Dressage is full of Truths. You are bombarded by them in books and articles, during lessons and lectures and even over a glass of chardonnay at your dressage club meeting. Unfortunately, those truths are not all equally applicable across the board in all circumstances. Some obfuscate; others downright confuse. Navigating the whole shell shocking world of dressage is as fraught with pitfalls and booby traps as the task of Buying Your First Horse is to an unwary and unaccompanied novice. I certainly don’t claim to have a monopoly on dressage wisdom, but the same rules that apply to the human condition are equally valid as applied to our sport—exercise some common sense and avoid the mistakes that everyone before you has made. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take it all so seriously. It won’t make you ride any better. As before, the tales which follow are not arranged chronologically but in studied disorder. Some are meant to illuminate. Others to distract. Some just can’t stand to hide in the dark any longer. Light and Truth R Us. And, oh, by the way, feedback is GOOD! I’m afraid that within me there’s an element of Alexander Haig after the Reagan shooting or Riff in Rocky Horror–“I’VE GOT TO KEEP CONTROL!” Consequently, this isn’t an open contribution blog. Tell me what you think. If it fits in, I’ll post it. If not, at least I’ll have learned something. CLICK to comment on anything below.
Seeing into the future (a few strides)
Recently beyond the “how” I discussed why you should ride accurate arena figures. If you’re having a problem of execution, preplanning and visualization can help. Try to compose a mental video tape (as though shot from the saddle) of what you’re attempting to do. The tape should be at least six strides or a quarter of the circle in advance of where you actually are in the movement. As you perform what your mind has pre-rehearsed, keep advancing the video so you remain ahead of the action, not behind it.
In that blog I also suggested that you must be more than an empty vessel waiting to be filled up with information. You have to maintain your normal interaction with the horse you’re sitting on AND integrate the information your instructor is giving you into what you’re already feeling.
It can also really help when you are able to be figure out what your instructor is “up to” as he selects various exercises. Often I find that someone I’ve taught a long time seems to know what I’m going to ask for next even as I open my mouth. This is because they can visualize “the bigger picture” of what’s happening in the lesson. On the other hand, it can be can be a little disheartening when a student wanders off in a random direction during an exercise, the thread of my logic obviously eluding them.
No, you aren’t supposed to be a mind reader. But if you don’t understand what’s going on, pin him down and ask! Watch other lessons. Become familiar with the patterns he uses and in what sequence he usually employs them. During a break in the shade on a hot day or sitting in the tack room after your ride, probe your instructor’s mind and figure out the “whys,” not just the “whats.” This will make lessons far easier for both of you!
Responsible S’il Vous Plait
“I’m going to supple her a minute.” That’s what a student announced to me as she was riding. Because I have a kind and generous soul and always display good temper, I did not act incredulous that she should seek permission to do something that riders should automatically be doing all the time.
But the exchange highlighted a differing perception of what a rider should be doing in a lesson situation. When you take a lesson, you mustn’t act like a puppet who takes no action other than what you are told to do. I don’t mean you should spontaneously disappear to the far end of the ring and freelance around when you feel like it, but no instructor can tell you everything you should be doing in real time. Keeping your horse soft, supple, and attentive is an assumed part of your job whatever project your coach is helping you with. If he or she doesn’t like the way you’re doing it, count on being told so, but don’t just sit there like an empty bucket waiting to be filled with knowledge. Ride your horse!
A caveat: if you’re asked to do something- let’s say to make a shoulder in at the beginning of the long side–- and your horse resists in the corner, most instructors will be perfectly happy that you interrupt the plan and get him back on the aids with a 10 meter circle. However, to my way of thinking if everything I ask a rider to do is preceded by “Wait, I have to get him on the aids first,” it means the rider has not been doing her job all along. Depending on the circumstance, my response may be “He IS ready. Just do it. NOW!” or “Okay this time, but he is supposed to be ready without extra circles. And I refer them to my vending machine analogy in which your horse is not allowed to tell you to “make another selection.”
The texts of past blogs which used to appear here have their own page. Access them with a simple click below