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Chewing the Bit

July 8, 2012

My dressage trainer always scolds me for how I warm up Carly.  She wants me to warm Carly up long and low to get her all stretched out and also cool down this way.  In theory, I understand why she wants me to warm up this way. But in practice, I find it easier to get her on the bit in a normal frame and then let her stretch down to long and low.

Clearly, we need to work on our long and low quite  a bit. So we did a lesson exclusively on long and low and teaching Carly to stretch down to the bit. At the very end, when she was stretched and supple, I would soften the reins to see if she would stretch down to the bit and start chewing on it.

To get long and long, we started off looking at bending.  We have to work on bending from the withers. We practiced this at the halt with me flexing her left and right until she lowered her head. I always think that her right side is so hard, but it’s her left side that she doesn’t want to bend.  (As a side note, I wonder if she rubs herself more on this side when she is itchy) On the right side, Carly did just like she always does when we ride alone. She locked her neck against my hand and refused to bend inside.  The correct response to this is to not use so much hand, but use inside leg to outside rein to get her to bend at the ribacage.

When we are tracking right, I really need to use lots of outside rein.  This seems counter intuitive –  she lock her neck when I try to bend right so I am using lots of inside rein to unlock her.  But the outside rein and counterflexing and flexing help her loosen up.  We did lots of circles, spiraling in and out.  My trainer reminded me to think of her inside ribcage shrinking and her outside stretching.  That image helped me get the correct bend through our circles and when Carly’s ribcage bent, her head and neck followed.

Once she was long and low, I started softening the rein to see if Carly would stretch down.  Many times, her head came up, but a few times, she stretched down.  I would give up contact for a minute to pat and praise her.  “It’s like a magnet,” my trainer said. We want her to always be stretching down to your hand, to the bit, and seeking out the contact.  I liked to think of like kneading dough, pushing and molding it into place … but I don’t think that image really works.

I got a few comments on my position. I need to point my knees down and rotate my thigh in, so I amriding off the inside, not the back of my thigh.

As we kept spiraling and and out, I would soften my hands and Carly did start to reach down towards the bit, but also chewed the bit!  The lesson marked a big step for us – long and low, stretching down to the bit – these movements lie at “the core” of more advanced dressage movements.  I also noted that Carly actually bends at the ribcage now – two years ago, she couldn’t do that at all.  Another small, but important step forward.



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