It probably seems like Prairie and I have dropped off the edge of the Dressage Arena and landed squarely in Hunter Land, but I assure you, it's not a total conversion. (although we are having fun).
I've put two "dressage" rides on the lady since the show which both have gone pretty well. I'm able to ride the mare much more back to front than I used to and Prairie's new found adjustability makes for much more dynamic flat schools.
That being said, Wednesday we're hauling out for a lesson with one of S's instructors, Nancy Free at Brass Ring Farm. I really couldn't tell you who the best of the best Hunter trainers are in our area, or even the country, but supposedly she's pretty fantastic and apparently (against my H/J stereotypes) really fun to ride with. I always love taking lessons from someone new and getting feedback from someone with fresh eyes on our struggles - so it only took about 3 seconds for me to eagerly snag the newly available time slot after S's own lesson.
When I told The Boy about the field trip, he asked if I was ever going to do Dressage again. After I got over my puzzled look I realized that given the last couple months, it's a valid question. Here's my response.
Aside from some oddities (like a total lack of impulsion and slowing your horse to a jog for a sitting trot), riding a nice, clean, rhythmic hunter course is essentially everything I'm working on for our current level of "dressage" (just with a few jumps thrown in). We're still working hard on adjusting our stride without tipping to the forehand, working on getting Prairie up in front of my leg, working on smooth controlled turns from the outside aids and staying light when we string it all together.
I also think that my emphasis on the work over fences has been because I've been feeling that the jumps are precipitating more progress than me nit-picking on the flat without them. Prairie's learning to find her own balance, adjust her own stride and figuring out that coming back to me is easier than pulling against me. Most of this is probably because over fences she has to, whereas on the flat she can just disagree with me (and my own skills leave a lot to be desired in terms of timing and sensitivity if I'm going to teach a horse like Prairie how to carry herself).
Growing up I remember my eventer gelding operating in one of two modes - the first was when we did mostly flat work, and the odd jump school would vastly improve our dressage. The other was when we'd be focusing on our jump phases and the odd dressage school would vsatly improve our jumping... Right now I feel like we're getting father over fences and taking more back to our flat work than the other way around.
Maybe it's just that I was indoctrinated with the concept of cross training early, but I've always (eventually) found success with bopping between different disciplines whenever I hit a wall in one.
Right now I feel that wherever the cross section is on Prairie's training and my riding - course work and gymnastics are getting us farther and building more relaxation and confidence than our straight flat work is.
I'm sure that at some point in the not so distant future, the teeter-toter will tip and we'll go back to 70% flat work and 30% over fences. But who's to say when that is.
After my ride this morning I can really feel how balancing for jumps has given Prairie a better sense of "sitting" and collecting than a few months of me banging it into her head had. We had an amazing ride collecting and lengthening our stride at all gaits, adjusting for our lateral work and switching the bend back and forth at will without losing our balance. It was a great ride. I guess right now I feel like we're on a roll (for all of one week) and I'm going to do my damnedest to keep it going!