Thursday, August 27, 2009

Final Lesson of the Year?

Of course there is no final lesson in life as long as we are living, but I may have just had my last equitation lesson of 2009. This is the last Thursday I get off from work, and my equitation instructor only comes into my area on Thursdays. My friend arranged for him to come out on Saturdays just for me and her granddaughter, but that fell through. Now he needs to reserve Saturdays for the kids in his area, since they are back in school.

Normally, we have our lessons in the barrel racing arena at the Fairgrounds, but someone was using it, so I claimed the dressage arena. That turned out to be a good move, because when I asked my instructor to leave me with some new skills to practice, he taught me some dressage. I remember he taught me dressage on our last lesson of the year last year too, which left me wanting more. In some ways I'm terrified of the dressage discipline, because I am incapable of memorizing more than two things at a time. On the other hand, it forces me to really DRIVE and keep rigid control of my horse, which makes me a better rider.

Usually, I'm pretty easygoing with my horses. You want to go fast? Okay, let's go fast. You tired today? That's okay, let's just take it easy and mosey along. These equitation lessons make me more aware that I tend to let my horses call the shots more than I should. I think of it as empathy and working together, but if I give the horse too much say in matters, I lose my role as leader. With dressage, I have a set of instructions I have to follow, which in turn my horse has to follow, so neither of us is really calling the shots. We both learn to follow, and I learn to lead my horse to meet those directions.

My instructor was pleased with our side-passing from the quarter line to the fence. He then drew two circles in the sand and told me to trot between the two lines in a circle, and if a horse hoof lands on a line, I owe him $500. If a horse hoof lands over either line, I owe him $1,000. After several rotations, I only owed him $500. He was impressed. He said, "You wouldn't believe how many of my students can't do this exercise."

I also had to work on keeping Bombay's attention on me. There was another horse nearby, and Bombay has a tendency to show off when other horses are around. He pumps himself up taller, raises his head high, and moves with more animation. My instructor got on my case each time he caught Bombay popping his head up to look at the other horse, so I had to keep fingering the reins and funneling him straight through my legs to stop the gawking.

I had a mystery solved regarding loping. When my instructor first started working with me last year, Bombay always loped off on the correct lead. However, once my instructor started giving me specific cues to use to get a more controlled transition, we lost the correct lead. He's put in a lot of hours trying to get me to feel the difference between the wrong lead and the right lead, but it's so subtle to me, I'm never quite sure. He says that from the ground we look like a mess when he picks of the wrong lead. I just wasn't getting it.

When I would simply give up and not try to give the cues, Bombay took off on the correct lead. When I gave the cues, Bombay took off on the wrong lead. So, I stopped my horse and asked my instructor one last time to describe what I should be doing with my legs. He always says, "Give him some leg now!"

I clamp down with my inside leg quickly, because I know my instructor will get testy if Bombay doesn't respond immediately when we are set up at an angle toward the fence. Bombay has a tendency to take several strides at the trot until he's straight along the fence before loping. So, two things are happening: He's losing his set up at the corner where he's turned toward the fence at an angle, and I have more inside leg on him than outside. So, basically, I'm asking him to take off at the wrong lead, and he's just following directions.

There are two things I have to do to pick up the correct lead. When he is lined up at an angle toward the fence, I have to urge him harder immediately into the lope so that we don't lose our position. Secondly, I'm suppose to just lightly lay my inside leg against the girth, and the majority of pressure comes from my outside leg behind the girth. The outside leg is what pushes the hips over. Somehow I got my signals crossed during lessons and picked up a bad habit. I'll have to spend some time practicing to make the right cues my new habit. I'm sure that Bombay is smart enough to adjust, but I'm another story.

When heading for home, I made a big Bozo no-no. I'm sharing my mistake with you, so that you don't do the same thing some day. I have a habit of loading the horse into the trailer and closing the side panel. I then walk to the outside of the window and pull the lead rope through the window. I don't detach the lead rope and attach the trailer tie until the back doors are shut. So, I shut the doors, detach the lead rope, attach the trailer tie, put the lead rope in the tack room, lock it, and get in my truck and drive.

However, I spaced out and forgot a couple of steps. I got in my truck and drove a few yards, then looked in the side view mirror and nearly soiled my pants. There was the lead rope still attached to my horse's head, dragging on the ground, just inches from the trailer tires. Had the trailer tires run over the rope, my horse's head would have been pulled forward and smashed against the window bars. Needless to say, I immediately stopped, and fixed the situation, apologizing profusely to Bombay for such a dangerous oversight.

I think in the future I will make a habit of walking the entire perimeter of the truck and trailer before getting behind the wheel. There was one time years ago when I drove 15 miles with people honking at me before I discovered that they were trying to tell me that I had a halter and lead rope hanging from each door handle of my trailer. If I had a horse in the trailer and people were honking at me, I would have pulled over right away. But the trailer was empty on this day, and I wasn't even sure if they were honking at me or if people were just being especially reactive in general that day. If the ropes had unraveled, I would have been dragging them on the ground behind the trailer, which could have caused an accident for a motorcyclist, or I could have just lost the halters. See what I mean? We are always learning lessons. Unfortunately, a lot of times we have to screw up before we even know that the lesson is there to be learned.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Maybe there will be more lessons with your trainer, who knows.

If you really liked the whole dressage lesson thing but want to take it slow I could recommend a great book. It's easy to follow, you can hang it on the fence and check out the exercises while your riding. But the good part about it is you can just work on one page and exercise at a time until you feel you have it down. It's a great motivator, I like it because instead of going round and round without direction this gives you a plan to follow. The book is:
101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider by Jec Aristotle Ballou. It's so easy to follow because it starts from square one and progresses slowly. Good luck if you decide to try it.

Andrea said...

Oh dressage is wonderful, and don't worry about memorizing patterns because you are allowed to have someone call the pattern out to you if you forget or look like you are going to mess up! At least in the lower levels you are!! Your lesson sounded wonderful, and it's so sad that you are not going to be able to take lessons anymore. Hopefully you will. Things just might work out.

And oh my!! That would have freaked me out too!! I am glad you spotted the lead rope before anything happened!

Paint Girl said...

I also have a hard time feeling the correct and incorrect lead. I always have to look. I always feel like an idiot cuz I can't tell by feel!
Good thing you caught the leadrope hanging out of your trailer! That is scary. Good reminder to all of us out there.

fernvalley01 said...

I just said this on another blog today "When we stop learning with horses , we are done with horse." I hope never to get there

allhorsestuff said...

Your lessons will only be put off for a time...just tell ourself this and look ahead to what may comne inbetween. In know...I have had to give up alot since last March.
That book 101 Dressage Exercises is EXCELLENT! Really...all of the 101 books are so good. Very well written, with tons of pictures..I think you will find so much to do and achieve that by the time you can take lessons'll have some cool tools in your belt!
Hang in!
Oh and- your plan to do the perimeter walk around the trailer,before driving...very good!
Glad that turned out the way it did!
KK sissy taught me to do a series of leg yields for prepartion to canter. 2-3 steps off the rail, then 2-3 back and the next aide ask for the canter as it is asking the outside hind to come under already.(as if you were going to leg yieled again)
Takes pactice and it is fun to feel which legs are moving when.

Breathe said...

I'm confused (surprise). Is it inside leg pressure to get the outside leg to go out? I think of it as a diagonal - push here to make the toothpaste ooze out over there on the opposite side.

Or am I wrong? Do I have it backwards? And the leg that goes... longer, or reaches forward the most is on the inside of the turn, right?

Yesh. This always confuses me. I guess I was to busy keeping my horse from bucking. But now I'm ready to learn something! LOL

Trailer: I think it's a good idea to do a walk around. But we still tend to rush. Maybe a check list or cue, like:
DHR: Doors, Hitch, Ropes...

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Breathe - The way I understand it, to pick up the canter, you keep the inside leg against the girth, press with the outside leg behind the girth to push the hips to the inside, and pick up the inside rein to lift the inside shoulder. In my case, I also have to pull back fairly hard on the reins or my horse will launch into a gallop. You want a tight hold to round up and collect your horse, so that it launches into a slow, smooth lope at the same time that you give the other cues. Not to mention adding the verbal cue of a kiss, this is all quite complicated.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Whew! Sounds like fate that you looked back there when you did, though. I'm glad you avoided any injuries or emergencies.

I have the same problem recognizing leads, but not just from the saddle, but also from the ground. It's such a subtle move that for some reason it just escapes my focus when it happens.

Good luck with your dressage practicing, NM.


Lulu said...

Phew! Good thing you saw the rope and avoided a possible injury!!!

I had my tack room door fly open once, while I was going down the highway....that nearly caused me to soil my pants! Once I realized it was the tack door and NOT the emergency door into where my horse was, I was able to swallow my heart and get pulled over! LOL