So -- yesterday I rode; today I had a lesson.
Yesterday's ride showed some improvement on all counts -- I was better able to anchor my lower leg and got some good responses out of her. I had the ground poles out in a serpentine and a set of four basic trot poles, and my goal was to "do the exercise we did in the last lesson and do better at it than I did before." I can say for sure that we did better, though we still had some tempo (rhythm) problems and certainly had impulsion problems as a result. Still -- it was better than before. We got a little bend, and we got a little better in tempo and balance. I worked really hard on my lower leg and on shifting my balance correctly from seatbone to seatbone.
And then this morning, we had a lesson. I learned quite a bit and have several things to put on my list for this week's practice, starting from the first moment of longing.
Before I even type about it, I'll say that I think there were three main reasons things went so much better today than last week or even yesterday: 1) I'm feeling fully healthy again, 2) I've been practicing and focusing and reading, even when I'm not riding, and 3) I checked the "I can't!" at the door. I realize that, honestly, my horse and I are a lot alike: if I/she gets a thought in my/her head, we can be complete impossible to deal with until we get rid of the thought and replace it with something more productive. (Seriously, my friend C has accused Rev and me of being reincarnated sisters, the way we work together/argue, and she's sort of the way I'd be if I were a horse. Not to ascribe any special or romantic ideas to her -- she's a horse, nothing more, nothing less -- but she does have her own distinct personality.)
Anyway, I'm sure that when I get that way, it's terribly frustrating for MT -- he's not really the sort to say "look, you're being an ass; quit it," even though I probably deserve it sometimes -- and I always feel terribly guilty when I do that. I'm extremely fortunate to be able to take lessons from MT; this is the caliber of instruction you can't get just anywhere, and he's superb with training horses and teaching riders. So I do the Jane Eyre thing -- I try to do well, try not to 'give offense,' but fail every now and then. Mea maxima culpa, and I'll always try to do better.
At first, MT was riding a young horse in for training while I was longing. Rev was good, overall, with only one spook at first, and then calmed right down. Of course, that also implies "a little bit dead." I was very pleased with Rev when MT asked us to hang out in the center of a ring for a bit while he worked the young horse's canter, which is a little all over the place -- Rev got a little freaky for about 5 seconds, I held her in place, and then she completely calmed down. Good girl. When MT left the arena and then came back, the Learning started.
Step one: Get Rev to respect my aids from the ground on the longe line -- get her to move forward energetically. As MT said, give her a light aid to give her the opportunity to respond to it. If she doesn't respond, give her a stronger aid. And if she ignores that, as she's prone to do, get after her hard. So I worked at that, with her in her side reins: ask for a trot. No trot? Cluck in the rhythm I want her to trot in. (Not cluck twice rapidly, which is what I usually do and need to unlearn.) No trot? Shock the crap out of her with the longe whip. Suddenly she respected my voice aid! Duly noted. Avoid walking out in front of her, trying to drag her along -- stay still, and let her move forward.
Step two: I feel a little like I'm in the Mystery Men movie -- to get her to hold the contact in the left rein, little gives and takes on the right rein. To keep her correct on the inside rein, use the outside leg. Not that "outside leg to inside rein" isn't one of the Dressage Commandments, if not the first one, but gimme a break. I'm just now experiencing it for real.
MT got on her first just to ride and demonstrate, and I found it really useful. I saw what he needed me to do -- keep her neck straighter and not worry so terribly much about bend, just about tempo/rhythm and contact. So after he worked her a bit, I was able to get on.
And I did a LOT better this time -- I was able to keep my lower leg more secure and use the correct part of my calves to give her leg aids. I felt like my weight aid was much more effective today -- I was having much less trouble using it and with shifting from one aid to the other, that's for sure. MT talked a bit about the correct way to give aids -- clearly, with loose leg, then give the aid, then soften the leg again -- which I'd been getting better at last year and need to focus on again. Clear, definitive aids. Rev will do much better with that, and I think it'll help me get my canter departs back.
We kept the tempo/rhythm going this time, through my weight aids and through a softer and different rein contact than I'd been working with. Softer on the left, where she's hollow, and lots of tugs on the right rein to connect her up on the left. Even, elastic contact. It helped a lot that I wasn't fighting through her nose or fighting to have her correctly bent -- we were able to get going a lot better.
Through the poles, I worked to keep my balance back a bit, give her plenty of rein, and support with my leg.
And overall, a good lesson. Thank God -- if this had been as dismal a failure as last week, I would have been in a bad place. :) Today, I can ride.
Tomorrow and the next day are her days off; Wednesday I'll just work her on the longe line with her side reins, and we'll shorten them a notch as MT suggested. I love watching her figure out how to work over her topline! She can have SUCH a nice topline, and it helps develop her muscles so much. So Wednesday, longe line; Thursday ride, Friday off for hanging out with friends, Saturday and Sunday ride. Seems like a good plan.
In other news ... oh I hope I get a tax return this year. (Should find out today.) I really need a cooler for her, since we're not out of the cold season yet no matter how gorgeous today is, and my half-chaps are, if you'll forgive the pun, on their last legs. Both snaps at the bottom are broken, the zippers are really starting to come apart, the stitching over the top of my right foot is coming loose, and the elastic that goes under the boots is down to three little stretchy threads on one of them, and not many more on the other. Thoroughly disreputable, in other words. The USDF may allow half-chaps now in lower levels, but these make me look like a mounted ragamuffin. (To say nothing of my mare's long, Western-style mane, shaggy bridle path, and muddy feet.) So I hope I have enough money to pick up a set of Tredstep Ireland half-chaps. I like them because they seem high-quality, and almost more important, they come in exactly my size. As a short-round, I find it hard to get good tall boots and half-chaps -- even when I'm slender (which I'm not now), my shanks are still really short, and my muscles are bunchy. One of these days I'll be able to afford custom-made everything, but ... um, maybe I should buy a lottery ticket first. At any rate, on my wishlist are those half-chaps and a nice fleece cooler for my girl. Of course, the wishlist is much longer than that, but ... it'd be nice! :)