I finally busted out to the barn Tuesday afternoon determined to not only get a ride in but also actually sit in the new saddle for more than 5 minutes. I shuddered a bit when S suggested that we were going to do transitions, and nothing but transitions. without our stirrups. for the entire lesson.
My whiny brains started down the path of but, this saddle isn't broken in yet! But, I don't know how my balance is in it! But, but, but!
But then the smarter, more rational side took over saying. Who cares. You're not gonna fall off, and frankly, if you do, you probably need more time without your stirrups, not less. Touche smarter self... touche....
Now, I'm a huge proponent of riding without stirrups, although I think that like a lot of people, it's easy to let your stirrup-less ride quickly convert from challenging your weak spots, to reinforcing bad habits. I've seen plenty of people (me included) nobly bopping around the ring without their stirrups with every intention of lengthening their leg and solidifying their seat, but really then end up more crooked and clamped than when they started. One of my first dressage trainers (who lacked any sort of charm in her bedside manner) had a MASSIVE mural down one wall of her indoor that declared
"PRACTICE DOESN'T MAKE PERFECT. PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT"
Yeah, yeah, it's a truism, I get it. But it's not what your 10 year old self wants to be staring at while you're struggling to get some good connected canter transitions on your pony.
However intimidating it was at the time, that damn mural drilled itself into some permanent part of my brain and is always there lingering when I feel myself cheating an exercise, or hitting a wall with my riding.
It's also always there when I see someone with the best intentions slowly turning themselves into a pretzel as they attempt to (mostly) stay over the middle of their horse's back.
That's why I prefer to do my stirrupless work with someone on the ground. So S can remind me when I start sucking my hips up, or twisting to the left, or (somehow) totally removing my right leg from the situation.
Left to my own devices I only reinforce the crookedness that I'm trying to correct. (oops)
But I digress.
So there I was, in my new (slippery as shit) saddle, irons crossed and awaiting torture.
S announced that we were going to work on getting P2 as collected as humanly possible and getting her butt to drop 2" for both upward and downward transitions. Some people might say "like a real dressage horse," but I prefer to think of it sorta like a fancy military statue.
|you know. like this.|
But never fear! S had schooled the tweedle out of Prairie in my absence and the new saddle does wonders for my balance. At no point in the lesson did I feel like taking my stirrups back would improve my riding or effectiveness. My hips stayed mostly loose and I stayed mostly upright.
We started at the halt (hooray! I can do this). Half halting and just getting tuned in with trying to shift P2's weight onto her hind end without letting her move her feet. Then we took it to the walk. walk/halt/walk, reinforcing both up and down transitions coming from behind. This is hard with Prairie's Loch Ness Monster back, and hard for me to be accountable with. But we got it
Then we moved to some walk/trot/walk. Asking for as active a trot as we could muster while really trying to keep it collected. I was shocked at how well Prairie was stepping up and engaging her butt. Dare I say that when I added leg I felt some half-steps.
The trick is for me to keep her straight and hold her accountable alllllll the way through the transition. I like to bundle her up, ask for the transition then throw it away in the last stride or half stride. This is disappointing, because in my head, I'm doing it all totally amazingly. :)
I also noticed that in asking for Prair to collect-collect-collect I am not giving her enough support, as evidenced by her big caboose swinging wildly at 45 degree variance from"straight." I was getting the motor going, and asking her to stay tight, but then not really keeping her between my aids. Remember that elusive right leg of mine which (when tracking left) likes to just float off into space? Not helping.
When I actually threw my leg on and held her straight, we were back to a very uphill (for us), very collected (for us), very active trot, with a few hippity-hoppity half steps which I'm pretty sure was Prairie telling me that her engine was on and primed and ready to do something already.
So we did. We started going from a collected trot to a collected canter ONLY accepting the transition if it came from a big *sit and push* instead of from her pulling into it up front.
I need to work on my management of her body (all of it), because again, if my leg dropped off or I wasn't vigilant in my timing of half halts, bend, leg, seat, etc. We sorta wiggled all over the place. But when I had her locked and loaded it felt like we were walking around on her hind legs and had the engine to push into anything we wanted.
It was so cool. so cool.
It wasn't necessarily perfectly pretty, but I felt so connected to her, and she felt so light and engaged I was giddy.
We worked on the same qualities for dropping back into our collected trot which was not quite as magical feeling, but just as difficult and probably even more necessary.
It was a rad ride. I feel like I got a glimpse of things to come when we start putting all the pieces together...