RIDING THE SHORT SIDE
The standard 20m by 60m dressage arena leaves little room for error on the 20m short side. The higher up the levels you go the less time you have to think about what is coming next. In my lessons last week and also today the focus has been on riding the short side. I ride at the Prix St. George level and in the canter tour of that test the short side is the opportunity to present a nice picture to the judge at the end of the arena. It is also an opportunity for me to prepare for the next movement which will be coming out of the next corner. If I am in trouble going into that corner then the next movement, whether it be the half pass zig zag, the pirouettes or the tempis, will be a mess if I am not prepared and set up well.
In my lesson last Friday I came down the long side of the arena. It was all going well. Biasini was up in the shoulder, his front legs freely moving our in a lovely bounding canter, he was carrying weight well behind and bringing his hind legs under him, his poll was the highest point on his nicely curved neck, his nose was at the vertical and he was lovely and light in my hands. I went into the corner: Flex to the right. Nice! “This is going well,” I thought to myself.
“He’s FLAT!” Belinda (my coach) shouted to me. “He looks like a hunter!”
In that moment. when I was congratulating myself on how well it was going and how well I was riding and how well Biasini was responding to my aids, I lost focus, stopped riding properly and lost his frame. My focus had gone plop so he went plop. Plop! Flat! Shoulder not up, front legs just plodding along, hind end not engaged and he was heavy in the contact with the bit. In one more stride he would be pulling me out of the tack. I had to recover in a split second or the next corner would be a mess and the next movement would be also a mess.
Note to self. Always ride the short side. Don’t loose focus ; use the short side to prepare for the corner and the next movement.
“HE LOOKS LIKE A HUNTER.”
Now about the “hunter” reference. I have the opportunity to see the best hunt seat riders and horses in Wellington Fl. over the winter. They are excellent riders and horses. But it is a completely different look that they present. The horse’s neck is stretched out and the nose out in front. The strides are long and the lengthy. They calmly go around the course and go over the jumps in the perfect arc. This picture is the opposite of what should be created by a dressage horse and rider. So being told Biasini looked like a hunter was not a compliment.
I recovered and Biasini came back together. But this made me realize there is not a moment to relax and sit back. Every stride has to be ridden. Every stride I have to examine what is needed and do it instantly. When we see the top riders at the Olympics it looks like the horse has the test memorized and the rider is just toodle-oodle-oohing around like it was a ride in the park. Not so. They are riding every stride and at the Grand Prix level everything happens very fast.
When I move up to the next level, the Intermediare ,I will need to be even faster and more on top of my game. So I am starting with the short side. I am practicing riding that short side and not letting a second of it go.
No more Plop moments!
Photo: Susan Stickle