Eyes front! Core engaged! Shoulders open! Relax the hips! Relax the upper leg! Keep that supporting lower leg on! Relax the ankles and be ready to engage them if needed! Arms at your sides, elbows elastic, wrists flexible and not locked ! This is not some sort of Xtreme Yoga Boot Camp. This is ……..Dressage! And all of it must take place on top of 1,200 pounds of a moving horse who has a mind of his own.
Dressage. The best riders make it look effortless; horse and rider glide through the movements as if it was a pleasant ride in the park. How do they do that when in reality it is hard and physically demanding work for both horse and rider? Practice. Years of it.
Biasini and I have been training and competing at the Prix St. George level for the past year. This coming winter season I hope we will ride down the centerline for our first Intermediare 1. That is the goal. And what have we been doing to prepare for this? Have we been practicing all the advanced moves? No, we have not. Over the summer if we were going to a show our coach ,Canadian Olympian, Belinda Trussell would run us through some of the moves from the Prix St. George test but other than that we just worked on the basics. The basics: trot and canter on 20 meter circles or around the outside of the arena.
When people see the top dressage horses they think the horse was born with spectacular gaits; fabulous trots and bounding canters. Well, they may have been born capable of that expression but it is the hours, the years, of training that bring it out. Even the top dressage horse in the world , the Olympic gold medal winning Valegro did not arrive with the gaits he has now. His trot was good but not awe inspiring, his canter was huge and looked like it would be difficult to collect for the advanced levels. But now…he is stunning.
I am an amateur rider and an older one at that so I am not aiming for the Olympics but I am aiming to develop my skills as a rider and bring out the best in my very talented horse. Belinda sees to it that every lesson ( we have three a week) we are working to achieve that. For the past three weeks we have worked on the trot. Biasini’s trot was not in need of repair but Belinda wanted it to go to the next level: shifting his weight more to his hindquarters so he can lift his shoulder,giving him more spring and lift so he has more “air” time.
For the past three weeks we did whole 45 minute lessons at sitting trot .If you are not a rider let me tell you that is a marathon workout! If you are a rider you already know this.
A week ago, while riding on my own, Biasini got really heavy in my hands. In other words he was pulling. It is hard as a rider not to pull back when this happens but the horse will only pull more and they will always win that struggle. Belinda must have said 10,000 times: ” Leg before hand!” That means when he pulls I push him up and forward with my leg as my first response. So there I am , Biasini is pulling a like a freight train and….I respond with two bumps from my ankle on his sides and then lightening fast; fingers close , fingers open, on the reins. And then…BOOM! It happened!
His shoulder came up and he was light in my hand and the trot was airborne!
This is an extraordinary feeling! The committee in my head that had been saying “You’re never going to get this!” faded away. When I was able to reproduce this wonderful trot consistently in my next lesson I was thrilled. Belinda was also thrilled and Biasini was very proud of himself.
Why did it take three weeks for me to find this? I understood the aids that I had to give to Biasini and I thought I was giving them correctly but I did not get the right result. Why did it work on that one day? At that ‘lightbulb’ moment I had the right timing and reacted without thinking about it too much. Then once I had the feel for the movement it was so much easier to get it again.
So much of riding a horse is about the ‘feel’ and not about the thought process.