Great Expectations

or “My Life in Blog Sounds Much Cooler Than It Really Is”

A very revealing riding lesson…

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 24, 2009

One of the many sad things about leaving Germany was that I had to give up my weekly riding instruction.  While dressage is catching on (even in Alabama), I have been unable to find a local dressage trainer.  Most of the people I have met who do this type of riding have a trainer come in from somewhere else (even as far away as California) twice a year or something.  Since I knew I would only be here for a year, I just figured that I would struggle along until we moved.  On Sunday night, a fellow rider (let’s call her “C”) called to let me know that a big time event rider was coming to a local farm to give lessons – she had signed up and did I want to bring Dancer along and ride in her time slot with her?  Yes, I certainly did!

So, away we went yesterday afternoon.  Luckily, the farm where the lessons were being given was only 10 minutes down the road from our barn.  Which was good, because poor Dancer was crammed in C’s trailer like a sardine.  I got a little nervous on the way there – the trainer is a very accomplished rider who competes at Rolex and Burghley.  Would she like us?  Would she be mean?  Would she think we were wasting her time? 

There was a slight snafu when we arrived – C’s horse, Nate, jumped off the trailer like a champ and then we spent 15 minutes trying to get Dancer to come out.  She really would rather turn around and walk out of a trailer, so that she can see where she is going, but this trailer was too tight and when she tried to turn around inside, she kept getting stuck and scared.  I was worried she was going to wedge herself in there and get hurt.  I climbed in and tried to back her, but she was so nervous she wouldn’t budge.  Whenever she did take a few steps back, she would rocket forward again.  Even when I brought a whip inside and tried tapping her with it to make her go back, she would not.  Finally, finally, finally with much tail pulling and treats and encouragement, she came out backwards.  Of course, by this time she was a sweaty, quaking mess.  Time to mount up!

Luckily, the trainer needed some time to breastfeed her 6 week old baby (!) and we learned later that she had competed at an event four weeks after giving birth.  Wow!  So, I got Dancer tacked up and out to the arena.  I had her walk around and look at everything.  When we started trotting, I was worried I was going to have the rocket underneath me that I had at the horse show this weekend, but she seemed pretty calm.  I was thinking about keeping her loose and relaxed and letting her muscles warm up.   In about 15 minutes, the trainer came out to the ring.  She wanted to know a bit about us and our horses and what we wanted to do with them.  When I told her that I had taken Dancer to her first show this past weekend and that we got a 68% on our test, a very shocked look flew across her face.  I admitted that I felt this was a generous score, but it was just a schooling show and the judge had been gracious enough to write lots of comments for us.  The trainer agreed that scores at schooling shows are not indicative of what will happen at a recognized show, but that they are very good for getting the horse in the arena and having the chance to practice the test.

Then, it was time to work.  The very first thing she had me do was shorten my reins.  I mean REALLY shorten them.  I took up probably 6 inches.  She kept saying, “shorten them, shorten them more, shorten them, really shorten them Mandy.”  I felt like I was about to get rid of the reins entirely and just hold Dancer directly by the bit.  She explained that because Dancer is “9 miles long”, I really have to shorten her base.  I can’t let her trail out behind.  I need to get her hocks engaged and move her weight from the front to the back.  I agree with all of those things, but it just felt so weird to hold Dancer like that.  She also had me widen my hands and elbows.  It felt very, very akward at first.  I know poor Dancer was thinking “WTF?  Why all the holding woman?”  It was evident that the trainer really liked Nate.  She had some very complimentary (and very true) things to say about his movement.  He is very nice.  I was trying not to get my feelings hurt that she didn’t like my horse, but I am a very protective mother hen. 

Well, the more and more she worked us and taught me how to really keep her shoulders and neck straight and really and truly hold her with the outside rein, the more complimentary she became.  I think she could tell that I was worried about Dancer’s raised head and hollow back – she told me that the roundness will come after Dancer learns how to carry herself in this way.  In fact, she was helping me to get her more round towards the end, but still riding this new way.  It did start to feel amazing – like we could do anything.  I felt like a completely new horse was underneath me and I felt like I was a much better, more effective rider.  Our last few transitions from trot to canter and back again (on the left, her bad sad) earned some high praise from the trainer.  And, while I was walking around to cool Dancer down, she told me that when she first entered the arena, she found my horse to be “completely unimpressive” but that when I put her together she was “just lovely” and she thinks she will be “spectacular.”  Wow!  And, she also told me that I have an “excellent natural feel” and a “very strong seat.”  Hooray!  I would have given anything to have a video camera there so that I could have seen how we looked.  How am I ever going to be able to keep that up at home without the trainer there correcting me?  I am going to give Dancer the day off today – she deserves it (and judging by how sore I am today, I am sure she is too) and I have some other horses I need to ride – and then try it again tomorrow. 

I hope this trainer comes back to our area again before we move.  And, I hope to be able to find a dressage trainer in Wichita so that I can continue to progress.

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One Response to “A very revealing riding lesson…”

  1. Lori said

    You guys are headed to Wichita next???

    (That’s not all I got out of your post, but…)

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