Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Joint Lesson No. 2

I skipped writing about joint lesson No. 1 because I thought chances were pretty good that I made the whole thing up. I had that lesson last Thursday. My mare had been at the barn eight days, and the growth in her could not possibly have been real. That's what I thought as I drove away. I thought I needed so badly for it to go swimmingly that I had succumbed to magical thinking.

But it did go swimmingly. It had gone swimmingly then, and it did today. My horse, Saxony. She's a blackish, 15.3, kindhearted Appendix mare. Since I bought her, I guess I've been riding the Quarter Horse in her. That would be the strength and calm, long and low. Now I've met the Thoroughbred in her. That's the lift and forward, contact and collection. It feels amazing to ride the horse that is rising up in her.

When I went to that Thursday lesson, I wasn't expecting to ride Saxony, so I was surprised when B told me I'd be having all my lessons on her as long as I had her at the barn. I understand why, now. If I'd stayed on a school horse, I wouldn't know how to ride Saxony in keeping with her training. She felt so different under me in that lesson that I quickly realized I'd have to work hard to stay with her.

Today we had joint lesson No. 2. Here's our drill. I groom and tack her in her stall, attach side reins and longe line, and come to the arena ready for groundwork. We step right into the longe line work, just a few laps in either direction of trot and canter. Saxony has difficulty finding the left lead, so my options are to keep her cantering (big canter) until she self-corrects or bring her back to trot and start again. It doesn't matter which option I choose, the important thing is for Saxony to become comfortable cantering on the correct lead in both directions.

Adding the inside side rein comes next. The intent is to encourage Saxony to lower her head and seek contact with the bit. (Sidebar: she's going well in the Baucher, fussing all but vanished.) From time to time today I became distracted, almost mesmerized, by watching Saxony bend, round and stretch into her big working trot, but I'll get better at keeping my focus.

We end the groundwork with a short session of in-hand work, shoulders-in for now, encouraging Saxony to cross her legs under. That work is hard for me because it feels unnatural to use a whip. I have to struggle through self-consciousness and remind myself that the dressage whip is a training aid, nothing more. I hold the inside rein just at the bit ring to bend Saxony toward me while moving her in a straight line along the rail, keeping her working in the space defined by the one hand at the bit and the other pointing the whip. She's a quick, quick study, and I can see that the stretching inherent in shoulders-in is something that already feels good to her.

All of this was amazing to participate in today, and I haven't even come to our work under saddle.

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