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Matching Ends

May 29, 2010

My head is once again spinning from everything I learned in my dressage lesson this morning. Definitely getting my money’s worth!

We started off having a discussion about me “grinding” and “doing the hoochie-coochie” on Carly’s back at the walk.  I thought I was doing the right thing by pushing with my seat, but apparently, I got a little too exuberant and overdid it. I think we were both happy when I stopped wiggling all over her like a caterpillar.

The overall theme of today’s lesson was to get matching front and back ends – her shoulders need to match her butt.  She was a little stiff today, so we started off working on suppling. When I supple her with the reins by taking a bend, she needs to lower her head AND step up with her back legs.  One way to make sure that her back end and her front end change together is by “bowing” her body, so from her poll to her tail she is in the shape of a bow.  I am not looking for the “Stevie Wonder” effect with her head lolling back and forth, I want her whole body to curve.  So for an inside supple, I need to use my inside hand and inside leg and my outside hand needs to stay neutral but with contact. It’s important to keep her moving forward as we do this, otherwise then I am just messing with her front end and her back end is not engaging.

As we went down the center line at a trot, I had to keep in mind this bowing to keep her soft.  If she seemed tight on one side, I would soften her by bowing her on that side.  This required a sense of timing and feel that I am still developing.  But we did well going down the center line, making half a 10 meter circle, and then going along the rail, and making another half ten meter circle. Carly’s head often came up in the turns – this is because she backs off and does not keep on stepping underneath herself in a turn.  So I need to push her forward and think of the bow shape (inside leg and hand) to keep her working through her back.  At the same time, I need to remember my outside rein and keep steady contact with the outside.

As we mastered this, Barbie asked us to go along the rail at a sitting trot and then go across the diagonal. “Now, ask for an extension!” I increased my leg pressure and Carly almost broke into canter. “Keep her together in front!” So, I increased my hands as I pushed her forward. It felt nice – smooth, energetic, powerfully marching along. She almost broke into canter once, but I held her back.”Lovely! Most horses can’t do an extension like that the first time.”

“Now that extension is where the upward transition to the canter lies.  We need her stepping underneath herself like that to get the upwards transition, so we’ll play with that a little.”

Carly was starting to get heavy in the front, rounding her head down too low, so started with some half-halts to get her front end up more.  After a few rounds of that, we cantered.  Not only did we canter without breaking, but I managed to keep her round most of the time in both directions.  Watching Jane Savoie’s video on half-halts helped quite a bit. Before squeezing my outside rein to get her round,  I made sure to use my legs first, thinking “surge forward” (Jane likes to say “Add, add, add”) and then squeezing my outside rein to get her round.

Progress! That is the best canter I think we have had yet.

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