Clay and I had two lessons with our trainer Gina this past weekend–what a treat! I don’t get to be “seen” by my trainer very frequently–she travels from over 3 hrs away–so when she does come, there is usually some bad habit or another we’ve fallen into in her absence. She always gets right to work ironing out the problem. This time is was that my legs were tense and I was over-using them. As a result, Clay had become pretty shut-down to my leg/not hot off the aids anymore.
I was feeling this happen slowly but surely (it was set off by our shows this summer…I was riding tensely at them, and he tends to be pretty quiet and a little shut down at shows as well), but my response was all wrong…I used my legs even more, getting the opposite reaction that I was going for.
Right off the bat my trainer had me collect and then lengthen the walk, over and over, with just my seat and core and the tiniest bit of leg aid if needed (reinforced by the whip) while really focusing on keeping my legs “at peace”. Sure enough, Clay would cut the engine whenever he would feel me relax and unclench. Hah. Yep, I had trained my horse to only keep going when I am working waaaay too hard. We did this collect–lengthen, collect–lengthen over and over until he could keep the same forward energy without any nagging or tensing up on my part, and the occasional reminder from the whip to not shut down or push into my right leg (his favorite evasion).
Next we did it at the trot. Then at the canter. My biggest take-away from this exercise? Nature keeps the horse going, not the leg. Clay, poor thing, had gotten very used to the new (wrong) way of doing things and now here I was, changing it all up on him. But he is a smart cookie. After a bit of this, WOW, was he ever hot off the aids and I had some of the best lengthening steps and steps of true collection we’ve had in a long while. A quick tap of the leg, and he’d suck his little booty under himself!
No surprise, my seat bones felt bruised for a few days after these rides. With a more relaxed leg, I was able to ride with a deeper, more connected seat and wasn't pitching forward like I tend to do when overusing my legs (see the above show photo where I am too forward, working way too hard in my groin muscles). Ah-ha!
Obviously, I teach riding lessons (mostly hunter/jumper, but my own journey with dressage influences a lot about how I teach) and I am always telling my students not to nag with their legs or hold them clenched against their horse, but here I was tooling around on my pony, more or less oblivious to the fact that I was doing exactly that. How easily we fall into bad habits, especially when we ride alone most of the time, that may seem inconsequential but have a HUGE impact on everything else! I was really thankful for this lesson and what came out of it.
It was also a reminder that no matter where you are with your overall training, the basics are so vastly important and you're never too "advanced" for them. "The basics" shouldn't even be called the basics...they should be called The Foundation of Everything, because without them you have diddly-squat!
Thanks to Gina for traveling to us and standing out in the cold for us, and for her priceless guidance and encouragement.
Read the previous "Notes from my Lesson" post here.