Today was the day! I like to try new things every once in a while and thought some basic dressage might be good for us.
I hemmed and hawed a bit before taking the plunge... Cartman has been trained primarily Western style and I didn't want any part of "pushing him into the bride" or anything that would make him less responsive. I'm addicted to the neck-reining thing!
So, my friend Amber work's part time for a competitive dressage trainer and she suggested I give her a call and try a lesson or two. Coincidentally, I also ran into a lady at Mt. Adams riding a TB that comes up to Castle Rock to work with this trainer too! She had nothing but good things to say as well.
I had intended to bring Cartman up to the barn last night so he would be presentable for our lesson, but the power was out when I finally got home from work at 6pm. I had no way to fill the water bucket so the horses had to stay out in the field. I gave them plenty of hay in hopes that Cartman would stay under the arena for most of the evening and wouldn't be too muddy. Ha ha....
After spending about 45 minutes trying to get him clean and packing all my tack back out to the trailer we were finally ready to go.
Cartman was actually a little excited when we entered the barn, he's not much of a spooky horse so I was surprised to see him bounce around on the lunge line and flag his tail like an Arab! He didn't do much though and after a few minutes I climbed on and we walked around the arena.
I think Cartman's favorite thing was the great footing and the MIRRORS!!! Ha ha, I didn't know I had such a vain horse, but he kept wanting to stop and look at himself every time we passed one.
The lesson went really well. She had me ride him with really light contact and concentrate on using my body and seat to influence his movement. It's so nice to have a knowledgeable person to watch you ride and explain how to be more effective. You just can't get that from a book or video.
One of the things I need to practice is asking Cartman to lift up into an upward transition and not just think forward. She had me concentrate on bringing my shoulder blades back and sitting a little deeper prior to asking for trot from walk. When I did this I could feel his back lift a little and he felt more balanced, as opposed to just asking him to go forward, where I could feel his hind end lowering as he let it drag behind him in the transition.
Then for trot to walk again using not the reins but my seat and core to get a transition that isn't all strung out. It's really hard to write about this stuff- I feel I'm not explaining this well at all... but it was really cool!
She pegged his sticky spot right away after we had done some trots, circles, and little shoulder fores. I always have thought it was his right shoulder but she actually thinks it is his forearm that is a little locked up. She actually came over and stretched his right front a little and did some stretches across the opposite leg. Cartman was really intrigued by this but after the first couple of stretches he relaxed and seemed to be fine with it.
After the stretching we worked on moving him off and on the wall by moving his shoulders. I have worked on leg yielding off the wall a little (OK, I've tried) but have always used too much hand I think. This was way more subtle.
At one point she had me close my eyes and ride the long side of the arena (it's pretty long!) and try the exercise. It was funny but I could completely feel it better with my eyes closed! Luckily I trust Cartman enough to be able to do this and stay relaxed.
I think my favorite take away from the lesson was a new perspective on how we actually complete a circle or turn. Instead of turning by pulling on the rein or shortening up the inside side of the horse we should actually turn by lengthening the outside.
This is what we were doing all the shoulder work for, trying to get Cartman to step out and forward with the outside shoulder. Kind of like you don't stretch your right side out by kinking up and contracting your left side. You stretch your right arm up and over and make that side bigger.
She did suggest that I try a plain snaffle for this type of work (as opposed to the short shank Myler leverage bit). I have several at the house and will dig one out before our next lesson.
It was really fun and I learned something new!! I think we are going to enjoy this, and it is good for both of us.