Monday, November 5, 2012

An Ass Kicking, Whales & Some Well Deserved Wine

I have been totally remiss in writing about my Wednesday field trip to lesson with a new trainer - but I've had plenty of time to think about it, and slowly recover from the physical ramifications of a 90 minute lesson with one walk break.


I may have exhausted all of my pondering and pontificating over the weekend while I stared at the Pacific Ocean for a good 72 hours non stop.  There's something about pounding surf that just puts my body into some sort of hypnotized state while allowing my brain to think quietly (assisted by a regular drip of good red wine).
I don't think I put that glass down in two days... but it was wonderful...
 My weekend sojourn to Sea Ranch was a fabulous weekend, filled with fabulous friends and more humpback whales than I could count, but the lack of any sort of horsey sounding board meant that the digestion of my Wednesday trip and lesson had to be mostly internal, wine addled, and therefore moderately discombobulated.
This picture has nothing to do with anything aside from showing how seriously we take our yoga (cliffside), but it was pretty darn cool to watch the whales migrating just off the shore while we in theory relaxed and strengthened our bodies...
The short summary of our lesson with Nancy is "amazing" and "ow."  And I'm pretty sure Prairie would use those same terms if she could.

Nancy runs a very well respected program and somehow manages to be a wildly effective rider, wickedly charming and charismatic, well dressed and also the mother of very active 3 year old twins.  As I sit here drinking my 8th cup of coffee and still struggling with basic sentence structure that sort of list makes me feel tired, incapable, and slow.

But back to the lesson -  I started by watching S take a lesson on Poppy, the lovely Holsteiner who is lovely and stunning when she's going forward, but a botched attempt at a young dressage career has left her surly and unwilling to seek contact or even really move forward. 

S worked her ass off and Nancy coached them through a very successful lesson focusing primarily on the hissy fit that tends to ensue during canter transitions.  By the end of the lesson, S was getting balanced, through, relaxed transitions where Poppy had previously liked to be a twit.  Oh, and both student and instructor were smiling (a feature I value highly).

Then it was my turn.  I opted to put Prairie's "show" bit in (the corkscrew D) since I wasn't sure how things would go over, and I was glad to have the extra brakes for the first few minutes, but after that I think we would have been just fine in our regular snaffle.  That was an encouraging realization.  Next time we go, we won't bit up. 

While S and Nancy talked and cooled out, I wandered Prairie all over the ring.  Small jumps were set including a few natural logs and piles of poles which I kept walking Prairie over to get her looking, touching and thinking a little bit.  I drew some raised eyebrows from the locals, but it proved to be a good calming start for Prair in an unfamiliar place.

Then we started the real work.  After I explained a bit of our history and struggles and successes Nancy just sent me out at the trot and asked me to show her our "regular" working trot.  She then promptly removed my nubs of spurs and sent me back out telling me to slow Prairie down and not let her pull herself around with momentum. 

The whole notion of "deliberate" vs "momentum" was a theme for the lesson.  In an attempt to achieve engagement and impulsion - I tend to let Prairie move out in a pretty big trot.  In turn, Prairie is very comfortable in a bigger trot and does a really fabulous job of making it look decent even if she's moderately hollow and backed off the contact. 

That was immediately identified as a "major issue" and the primary focus of our time together.  To get away from the momentum and start moving toward a better balance, lifted back and true impulsion, Nancy started making us work.  Hard. 

The first thing she wanted was more leg.  But not more spur.  She said that she thought my spur was pushing Prairie too forward and then in turn causing me to take my leg off which removed the support that Prairie needs in order for me to help show her how to control her caboose (ring ring!). 

First we started some tight serpentines up and down the arena, with 10m circles whenever I lost Prair's shoulders or haunches... Then we moved to haunches-in down the long side in one direction and a half pass to the quarterline coming back up the other.  Prairie did great, but I needed constant reminders not to just "drop" her when we straightened out, or I was trying to reward correct steps. 

Nancy also noticed that while it's really easy for Prairie to fly sideways and offer lots of cross over, she has a harder time moving laterally at a shallow angle and really reaching up and then over with her outside hind (assuming haunches-in or half pass).  Specifically her left hind (which not so randomly is the complimentary corner to her always a bit tighter right shoulder...).

We drilled the exercise both directions until literally both my legs and Prairie's butt were about to fall off.  But it was some of the most productive, effective work we've done in a long time.  Aside from exhaustion it was clear that Prairie was really having to use her back and consequently her contact in the bridle was more even and consistent which was neato-burrito. 

We spend the rest of the lesson on transitions.  Revising the work I had done with Sabrina and really slowing our trot before popping into the canter and visualizing the balance point were Prairie can just step into the transition instead of bobbling into it.  We nailed it to the right.  It only took a few minutes to get the transitions consistent and moderately relaxed.  But toward the end Prairie swapped her hinds twice for no real reason that I could tell aside from either soreness or weakness. 

If you recall- she did the same thing in our Eq class on the flat at the first Hunter show back in September.  At that point she had jumped several courses and was on minute 22 of flat class gait work... so maybe exhaustion played a factor there too?

But of course with the rein lameness and potential stress on that "diagonal limb" (left hind) my little antenna went up and got nervous. 

Our left lead was much harder and after 15 minutes we had still only gotten 4 good transitions.  But man, when we got them they were lovely.  Nancy also held me to a really high standard on the quality of the canter, so we made a point of transitioning back to the trot before things fell apart.

And holy lord - when I managed to eek out a downward transition when the canter was still awesome we would get 3-5 strides of soft, balanced, amazing trot that made me want to hit PAUSE and just sit there forever.

Long story short, it was exhausting, but really productive.  We got some very high quality work done and Prairie really put on her game face.  I don't know when our next trip back will be but I'm eager to make this at least a twice a month venture for us for a little while.  I think it might be the best "dressage" lesson I've ever had - even if it came from a H/J lady :)


  1. Ha to leave this before I kept reading: SEA RANCH? I love Sea Ranch! Oh man, what a gorgeous place. My family used to go every year around Christmas/New Year's, and I would love to go back someday soon. I hope you had a completely wonderful time!!

  2. Sounds like an awesome lesson!!!

  3. Wow sounds really.... fun (exhausting) and enlightening. :D


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