Permission to Dance

We had theBimi privilege of having Katherine Bateson up for a clinic at Bel Air Farm last week. She’s such a lovely person; I’m so grateful to be able to know and learn from such awesome human beings. What is especially cool to me is that in my lessons on Bimini, we basically touched on everything that Courtney and I have been working on, but there was just a different voice – different words to guide me on the same path. I love that feeling of connection when we’re all on the same track.

 “Keep everything as simple as possible.”

So maybe this Dressage thing really is pretty complicated, but it’s never going to simplify if we don’t at least try. My aids and my mind need to be as clear and basic as possible. We started out by making sure that my aid for the half halt was simple, not reliant on my hand (partially so that we can try to keep his neck long), and effective. Katherine reminded me to lean back a bit beyond where I usually sit to access my back. This made a clear change in my seat to tell the horse that it’s time to sit and wait. When it was good, it got to the point where I felt like as I sat back the hind end would lower. If it wasn’t instantaneous, I could use my hand quickly to say, “Hey, that meant woah!”

I was reminded that it’s important for me to do lots and lots and lots (millions) of these half halts. I need to make sure that there’s an immediate response when I sit back and tighten my abs, but I can’t just sit there and try to hold the half halt so that he gets “claustrophobic.” Since Bimini is such a go, go, go, energizer bunny kind of a horse, my body tends to want to ride negatively, to keep him under me instead of riding positively, pushing him to go and then just using the half halts as a reminder to sit and wait.

A big focus was to see how long I could go around letting Bimini be sort of, “on his own”.  He needs to learn to wait for me, to stay with me instead of deciding that dragging me around town is more fun and efficient. “Just keep saying, ‘I’m not going to hang onto you.’”

She had me ride 10 meter circles in every corner to give me the chance to ride positively. I could really put my leg on to push his hind end without him just getting away from me or burying into my hands. Leg doesn’t mean run, buddy! The voltes sort of did the collecting for me. I realized that I usually use too much hand in the turns because he looks for it. He would rather have me hold him up than to sit and carry himself around the circle. “When he wants you to take back, you’ve got to give.” So when I choose to give and my hand just sort of disappears, he’s forced to sit his butt down and hold himself up. Then my hand becomes unnecessary. See, it is simple after all.

Schooling the flying changes went along the same lines. I get especially caught up in my brain when I go to ride the changes. It’s so obvious when changes go wrong, so I tend to think harder, ride more, and just generally complicate them in my effort not to make a mistake. I’m learning that spinning wheels are often counterproductive. It reminds me of a song that my Bestie and I were listening to on a road trip with the lyrics,

But we’re willing to wait on you; we believe in everything that you can do, if you could only lay down your mind.”

 The way we started practicing the changes was all very relaxed and simple. “The aid for flying changes can’t be faster than the rhythm of the canter. He already wants to be too quick. Don’t get ahead of him, it’s gotta be like a dance.” I had to make a clear effort to be lazy. Hmm, that’s an oxymoron. But really, just quieting my mind and body helped me to feel my horse and let him move with me like a dance partner.

 It’s time to give myself permission to dance.

Getting My Pen Moving

 I have been feeling guilty about not posting a new blog entry in many weeks. It’s a little bit out of laziness, having long days and then just wanting to read a book for a few minutes and fall asleep instead of giving my brain a bit of a workout by writing. But see that’s just the thing. I think I’ve been working too hard at making this writing thing a certain way, a certain style, with a set of rules and constraints for what it should be like. Bearing in mind the expectation that I think others may have for it. I live my life with a pretty strong filter, often one that filters my thoughts before I can fully process them. When I write with the intention to share, I think about what kind of people may be reading; I think about what they probably expect and want from my writing; I think about what I would want to read; I judge it and think about how it’s judged before I even give it the chance to be created. So this is me just getting my pen moving again.

 I started to put this blog in a tidy little box with the label being, “Safe for the Public: Lessons from a Riding Student.” But finding perfectly neat little lessons to write about seems to be missing the point a bit when nothing in my head feels safe, perfect, and orderly. It’s pretty messy up there. It’s full of so many lessons, thoughts, and feelings that don’t line up perfectly with any sort of prototype I have created and am comfortable with, unless it undergoes quite a bit of drafting and gutting. Constantly stripping down my thoughts to judge their fittingness before even trying to type them is tiring and pretty uninspiring. I want to let go and make a habit of just letting words come. No more boxes.

 In other news, I’m sure that anyone reading this has heard that Courtney and Jason’s baby girl, River Madison Dye was born on February 20th! Courtney is posting updates and adorable pictures on her blog at www.ckddressage.com. I got to meet her for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think I’ve ever really been around a baby so young! If I have, then it was definitely not one that was born so close to my heart. The first time I saw her I was standing with Courtney in her kitchen when Jason appeared holding River in his arm. I had no idea that I would have such an intense reaction. The day she was born I was thrilled and couldn’t stop smiling, so happy and excited for them, but meeting her a couple of weeks later I didn’t think I would feel quite so much. The immediate immense swelling in my heart at just a first glimpse of a tiny, beautiful, new little Dye really surprised me! I’ve never felt that sort of awe and love.

 Jason showed me how to hold her and handed her to me. It was weird when I noticed my body automatically started to sway side to side as I stared at her innocence. (Umm, maternal instincts… say, what??) At some point, Jason making conversation asked me a question…. about my car I think… it was a few moments later before I could pull myself away to utter some sort of, “Umm, huh? Sorry… I’m in another world…” one that’s such a bigger reality than the state of my wheels. She just pulled me in close and held me in Almost Auntie Koryn land. There are lots of exciting beginnings these days!

Wait For It…

Bimini is a smart little orange horse. He wants to be a very good boy; so he sometimes guesses what we want to happen next, especially when it comes to flying changes. He quickly picks up on trends and tries to take over and do things on his own.

For a while we schooled the changes after making two real corners on to the centerline. Pirouette canter consistently helps before changes. Anything less can be a dangerous grey area. Could I really get the butt down and shorten the canter if I wanted to? Am I making an “invisible” half halt or is it invisible because the reaction really isn’t there? Schooling the pirouette canter before the real corners helped to setup our canter, and he didn’t expect a change on the centerline, so he stayed on my aids. Though soon enough, he picked up on the exercise and the anticipation made for sloppy changes. So we started doing them after making a corner to cut across the ring instead of centerline – same idea, different place. This worked for a while, but soon he figured out that game plan too. In my attempt to make the change happen I ended up rushing my aids to sort of pretend that the change was my idea (making it “mine” before it was sure to be his). I would start asking just before he took over, but that’s just as bad. I might get in a change, but it’s not honest. It’s not the timing that I really want.

In one lesson I was cantering down the long side and Courtney called out to do a change. No big deal. Bimini didn’t expect it, his canter was already good, and it was right on my aids. So we had a nice big change. Yay! I called out, “He didn’t expect that!” Then Courtney had me go on the short diagonal and do pirouette canter saying, “If it’s good, we’re going to do a pirouette.” We haven’t been schooling actual pirouettes, just the pirouette canter, so I got myself in thinking mode. I tried to ride the canter the same as if we weren’t planning to pirouette, but simultaneously tried to be ready to turn and know what to think of in the turn etc. etc. etc. My brain was as caught up with thoughts as this wordy explanation. Wrapping itself around and around the plan. Ok, short diagonal. Pirouette canter. I think it’s pretty good – preparing for the turn but waiting for Courtney to say, “Pirouette.” Instead I hear, “Ok, change.” — Wait, what?! But, but, but, the plan! I’m not ready for that! Ha. I spastically tried and failed to switch gears and ride a change before we got to the wall. It was so messy and I was so thrown out of Koryn Overthinking Land that I just halted and busted out laughing. There was definitely a sizable snort that escaped somewhere in there too. Why do I crack up so easily?

Courtney’s plan was to see if I’m the one anticipating the changes… a fair enough theory, though I don’t think it’s usually the case with Bimini. I shouldn’t have been so thrown off guard. I’m sure that I’ve done the same sort of thing to students! It’s a good reminder that I should be ready and able to do anything, and I always appreciate a good laugh!

My favorite exercise for the two of us came next. Courtney had me ride around and around the arena pretending that I wanted a change without really asking for it. I stayed a little off the track or occasionally went across the diagonals – wherever. I would push him into what would be the new outside rein, collect the canter, slide my new outside leg back, push the canter forward, anything that would make him think that I was planning to do a change, but never actually pressing the new outside leg, never actually half halting with the new outside rein, never actually asking for a change. At first he would get tight every time, everything in his being wanted and started to change, but Psyche! I was just fooling around. You don’t get to guess little friend!

Whenever he would start to hop and try to do a flying change, I would do my best to clearly tell him to stay on the current lead. If he threw in a change before I could stop him, then I just walk and pick up the other lead again. Around and around… Maybe we’re going to do a change? Nahhh, I’m just going to slide my legs around and we might do one later. I can psyche him out anywhere, not just on a diagonal when he’s sure he should anticipate something, just on a centerline, just on a short line, or wherever we might “normally” do things. He gets bored of guessing because there’s no specific place. He has to just wait and pay attention everywhere.

When I was sure that he was not anticipating and that a flying change was completely my idea, I would do the same setup and then actually put my aids on to ask for the change. What was cute was when he was so sure that we weren’t doing changes that when I finally asked, he just wouldn’t change! He would hop around a little, as if to say, I really want to change, I want to do it, but NOPE that’s NOT what you want mommy. I will refrain! I can do that for you! After a couple of tries he realized that it might be an ok thing to do now, and then we had some great changes. It’s so nice when things are totally honest and not a guessing game.

I think pretending to do changes is something we’re going to have to go back and use often. We WILL have to school specific exercises – sequences, changing after half passes, changes on the short sides, etc. So he does have to be able to do things in specific places. I can’t always just ride around so that he won’t have a way to figure out a pattern. In his last lesson, Courtney had us practice canter half pass with a flying change at the end. The priority was having a good change, so we didn’t half pass very long in order to give lots of space and time to prepare the change. Sometimes I would pretend to do a change, not change, and then really do a change. Sometimes he anticipated the whole time and I didn’t do a change. Sometimes he felt patient and I could ask for a change without fooling around first. We need to practice them everywhere – just wait for it!

Whoa, Give. Letting Go.

A simple but important lesson that has stuck out to me lately is, “Whoa, give.” I like to think that I’m not one to sit in the saddle and just hang on to the reins, but often I hold on just a little too long. With a light connection it could be that I just have hands that are lifeless or too vague in communicating my aids. Sometimes I try to just hold on to the correction I’m trying to make – whether it’s actively holding or just unchanging, I wait a few strides too long, one stride too long, even a half of a stride too long. I don’t relent the control.

It may have started simple, but as usual my brain spins and tries to take things deeper – bear with me. My train of thought goes something like: Whoa, give. –  Short whoa, clear give. – Whoa, let go. – Whoa, trust. – Reminder of good balance, let go and see what comes of it.

There’s a reason that so much is written on letting go. Come on, you know that you hear Passenger cooing about it on every other radio station. It sells because it’s hard, and everyone seems to struggle with it in some way, shape, or form. We can relate. It could be control, fear, a relationship, an idea or plan, bitterness, resentment and baggage that’s so old you can’t even remember why it still weighs so heavily, or whatever…  Isn’t it all the same with training? Horses and riding lessons tend to teach me at least as much about myself as remembering to put my heels down and figuring out the timing of my whoa, gives.

I tend to want to hold on a little too long. I want to make my own vision happen all on my own. I want to sit down, close my legs, and hold on to that rein until I create the push, until I make the butt sit, and so that I don’t let those shoulders get away. But if I never give my partner the chance to react, if I don’t trust him to stay when I let go, if I don’t let him show off how he can dance and live and shine, well then he just won’t. I put a glass over the flame. I try to make that fire burn by keeping it close, by holding it tight, but I suffocate it.

Holding on slows progress. Holding on feels natural, instinctive, easy. Letting go seems more like a decision. But oh the world is lighter and fancier when it’s gone! Holding on, whoaing longer and tighter does not make you anymore in control. Without the give, without the instant willingness to let go, there IS nothing to trust. You can’t control the result you want without giving it the chance to exist. 

Letting go leaves a space for bigger mistakes to happen. If something goes wrong, you can’t give yourself credit for trying to avoid it or not letting it happen. Holding on gives that security. Holding on keeps the fear at bay. Letting go makes room for progress. Letting go allows the magic that we can’t see or grip a chance to come in and shine.

There’s a large element of trust and willingness to trust; however, if the horse doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain and continues to run around like a freight train, then of course after my clear give I must give a bigger correction saying, “Hey, that little something I just did, yea that meant something! Specifically… whoa boy!” Courtney said something like, trust that he knows what it means. Yes, correct him if nothing happens, but give him that chance to understand my quick little whoa, give or else he never will.  It makes such a big difference in the lateral work, transitions, mediums… everything really. That clear give, moment of trust, just allows him to step up to the plate and bring the spark. I can feel the energy from behind go over his back and up to his poll. I can feel his feet dancing a little lighter off the ground – a feeling that I can’t quite create, a feeling that only he could show me was even a possibility.

Sensitivity, Stretch, and the Power of Mental Pictures

It continues to amaze me how sensitive horses are. That what seems like just a mere thought, a slight shift in balance or frame of mind can transfer through my body, through the saddle, and to the creature carrying me around. Sometimes it’s the simple act of imagining a feeling or a picture that creates that same picture in the horse – there must be a clear change of an aid in my body too, but it often feels so subtle it doesn’t seem possible that they could understand… oh, but they feel and listen ever so closely.

Do you remember in the movie Avatar the way that the Na’vi (yes, I had to look that up.) can attach the tendril at the end of their ponytail to the same tendril on the horse? (and later with those awesome dragon-like creatures that will only bond with one master…) It connected the avatar’s mind to the animal and made them hear their thoughts as if they were one being. Cool, right? Sometimes these boys make me feel like my hair must be plugged in to theirs somehow.

One of Courtney’s themes with all three horses has been to “think stretch,” but don’t actually stretch, just think it… Invite the horse to stretch but don’t let the poll go down. This change of mentality immediately makes the back feel more supple, soft, and moving underneath of me. I can feel the back rolling… the connection is more honest and makes it so much easier to access the hind end. I don’t have to prepare so much in order to make good transitions. It’s like the rolling back builds a bridge to the butt. Throughness. It’s kind of like having the horse compress into more of a ball. The feel of stretch fills the ball a bit fuller with air so that it’s rounder and quicker to bounce on and off the ground on its own without me just trying harder to make it jump.

I remember the understanding dawning with Fargo’s canter. When Courtney said to think stretch, everything in my body pretended that the horse was stretching, and my aids prepared him for stretch without ever letting him. I find myself subtly playing my fingers on the reins and my seat imagines what it feels like to sit on a stretching horse… a bit softer, deep, but allowing and encouraging the energy to flow. Immediately, the quality of the canter felt better and his back felt strong and supportive.

In another lesson we worked on adjusting the canter within an actual stretching canter. I was going along on a circle in a normal working canter when Courtney told me to ride a collected canter without changing the stretch. I loved how easily he understood my aids – by just sitting down a bit more, thinking of collected canter, using my core to tell him to stay with me (not to go forward with bigger strides), the collection was so available. His back was really working which made it so easy to then activate the collected canter more with my legs. It makes sense that the two thoughts and aids for stretching within collection and collection within stretching go hand-in-hand.

With Bimini I noticed how the stretchy thought really helped our canter to trot transitions. He often feels a little tight and wants to blast forward in the transitions instead of sitting and pushing. If I just pull on the reins I end up blocking him more or pulling him too deep. But thinking stretch before the transition (knowing that if I let him he really would stretch down in that moment) once again bridged together his front and hind end and the pushing, collected trot we are always looking for was right there! It also makes a big difference for Shanghai’s transitions who likes to test the bit and come against the moment of a transition or a couple of strides later.

Now I’m not one who thinks you can simply “will” good riding to happen. It takes real training and rules, but there’s definitely something to having a mental picture that makes my body search for the right feeling instead of just being bogged down in whatever simple goal I’m trying to reach or rule I’m trying to keep. The power of a thought to my body is as interesting to me as it is that the horse is sensitive enough to react to such a minute change.

A while back I went to Courtney’s house to pick her up and bring her to the barn.  As I was filling a water bottle I saw a picture of her riding a horse’s trot lying on the kitchen counter. I immediately thought, “Wow, now that is beautiful.” It was so graceful, powerful but natural, and of course Courtney’s position is picture-perfect.  It’s definitely not an image that you see around often. Then I thought, “Hey, that’s the frame she’s talking about!! (and has been trying to get me to find)” The poll was up, nose out a bit, but the horse was very much over his back with a round neck, and was pushing forward to light contact. I think that it was about half of a second after I finished my thought that Courtney told me she set out that picture so that I could see the horse’s frame.  I wanted to just stare at it for the rest of the morning.

Today when I was trotting around toward the end of a lesson Courtney was saying, “Show that horse off.” She was calling out what she wanted different pieces of the horse to be doing, butt down, poll up, nose out, not too fast… it was all ok but not great. I wasn’t quite making enough of a difference. Then she said, “like that picture of me.” Sometimes at clinics Courtney will refer to me as  her “body.” But in the moment when I imagined the picture of Courtney’s body, the horse’s frame, and the whole energy of it all, it seriously felt like she was in me. Immediately Courtney said that it was good. I just started giggling at what a big difference the thought of her picture made for me and how it really felt like Courtney was riding for me in those few strides.

I think I’m feeling even extra thankful today.  I love it when I think my capacity to love and appreciate must already be as full as it gets, and then it just fills even more.

Tune into the Feel

I find that I have a love/hate relationship with mirrors. Who doesn’t, right? For some reason now I have Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” stuck in my head. No, but riding with mirrors can obviously be really helpful. It’s great to see what the picture of the horse looks like relative to what I’m feeling. However, I’m finding that paying too much attention to our reflection can be a hindrance that is just distracting me from really riding.

Lately I’ve noticed that my eyes aren’t being totally honest with me, and when I pay attention to the visual picture too much, I don’t stay as connected to the feeling in the horse’s body.  Riding the feeling in the body is the only way to create a really good picture, so when I look at the mirrors first, and then ride what I see and feel, I’ve already lost the initial connection that I need. When I forget about my reflection, just feel the horse, THEN take a peek to see if I’m on the right track, it’s consistently a much more impressive picture. I feel like it’s the difference between playing a video game, controlling your avatar by watching the screen and then reacting to a challenge by pushing buttons versus actually living the action, being able to feel the body, being in tune to the energy, preparing and affecting the horse’s body before the problem can even happen.

In a lesson on Bimini, Courtney called out for a shoulder-in on the long side. She had me turn and start it again, saying that I was riding it as if I was riding a movement, that she wants me to “ride the horse… ride the body…” and then just happen to put the horse in a shoulder-in. So all the components of the shoulder-in should already be there…. the correct bend, inside leg to outside rein, push, etc. and that I should be able to just “pivot his body” until it’s making a shoulder-in. Instead of thinking, “HEY, let’s do shoulder-in just for the sake of doing shoulder-in!” She says to ride the movement to help the horse, not to just ride the horse in order to make a movement happen. We’re after quality, throughness, strength, and these fancy little tricks should be used to make those basics better, not to just do the trick. For me, what I have to change in order to think that way is I have to take my eyes off of the reflection, and sort of look inside of myself and inside of my horse (now that sounds… weird.) and concentrate on the feeling. It’s also important that I “go somewhere” as Courtney says. No floating around, I have to look ahead and ride to a point, but at the same time paying more attention to the feeling in our bodies. Now I find myself looking at a point on the kickboard or a letter instead of the mirror, and then if I think it’s good I’ll check with my eyes to make sure.

Taking my focus away from the mirrors also helped me to be quicker to make corrections.  I lose a little track of time and ground that I’ve covered when I’m watching myself ride straight to the mirrors. Somehow the picture slows down time and always makes it seem like I have tons of space left on the long side. On Fargo we’ve been working on getting him off the right leg. He likes to lay on the right side, so if I’m going to the left I will often use a leg yield left or renvers as a correction or just as a test to make sure it’s always available before he actually gets crooked and needs it as a correction.  Once I started a long side doing just that, but then Courtney called out that it took me half of the arena to have that one correction go through. I sort of came out of my little mirror-entranced zone, looked around and saw how slow I was! Before she said something, it didn’t look that way to me; I could see his body moving over as I asked it to, but my eyes in the mirror were lying saying it was good. When I stopped burying myself in that reflective tunnel and just kept my eyes up, I could focus just on the feeling and was able to tell that my correction was not going through all the way nearly quickly enough.

Maybe I’m the only one whose eyes cause her to stumble, who gives them a little too much power and allows them to make the decisions… Having a visual is certainly a brilliant tool to help understand and a great confirmation that the feeling is right. I am just realizing that I need to be careful not to get a little lost in it. If I can’t see, odds are that I’m stronger than if I could.

Corner Clarity

Lately, Courtney and I have been very focused on riding good corners with all three boys.  It has taken me a while to organize what needs to be fixed and how. With all of Courtney’s great input, I have many thoughts on what we’ve been working on, and I just want them to all stop flying around up in the air and settle into a neat list of ABC’s, just like writing. Think about this moment here, then think about that one, focus on this, now explain that. Sometimes things get cluttered and I need to just need to pick and start. There is a time to analyze the process (talking about it and writing helps), and there is a time to just do it. This seems to be a trend for many things.

I’m learning how helpful corners can be when they are used correctly, and how big of a tattler they can be when my inside leg to outside rein connection isn’t quite honest. When they are good, they feel like a great opportunity to half-halt, check in on the balance, and set up for whatever is coming next. It should be like part of a volte where the inside leg to outside rein connection creates bend for the turn and causes the horse to release the inside rein. When that connection is not quite honest and prepared before the corner, it’s really obvious that the horse needs my inside rein in the turn.

First off to get that helpful, honest corner, I need to make sure that my inside leg actually means something to the horse. When my inside leg goes on, there should be an immediate reaction. Courtney has had me be really picky that I am not always using my inside leg in a way to keep the horse balanced, but that I can do nothing with my leg and then get a very clear response of moving away the moment it goes on. It’s a feeling that I could do a very sideways leg yield with bend at any given time – and I should do that frequently just enough to get the reaction and know that my leg works. Courtney explained that the moment he moves away from my leg is the moment he gives. I can clearly feel that first real step away from my inside leg makes the horse release the inside rein, and that is what I want all the time. (When I think about it, I can feel the difference between that initial moment of release, and the slight automatic lean a couple of strides later) It should be made especially clear in those corners. So that give is the feeling that I have to memorize and consistently keep.

Also, I have a new picture in my head for my course of action. Somewhere along the way, Courtney pointed out that even if I could give in the corner, that I needed the inside rein immediately again on the long side. (Not the result we want!) In my focus of being able to give inside rein in the very depth of the corner, I made that right angle my destination. I was determined to give in that spot, so then when I made it through the corner, the goal was accomplished , but I wasn’t ready for anything else. So Courtney had me ride a leg yield AFTER the corner. The new priority was being able to have my horse pushing to the outside rein and releasing the inside rein immediately after. It was ok to take bend in the depth of the corner if I needed to… whatever I needed to do in order to leg yield and give right after. This changed the picture in my mind. Now I create an imaginary rail a few feet inside of the wall on both the short and long side so that I’m picturing a corner but I have room to leg yield to the actual wall when I need to. Focusing on that leg yield and the release  just after the corner without worrying too much about the turn made me prepare for the long side much better. Then somehow I could do that same preparation early on and have the leg yield feeling during AND after the corner. Cool.

Another helpful tool was making a box with a couple of poles across the ring to make the corners closer together. In the canter with Bimini, it helped when Courtney told me to really challenge the collection for the corner. Doing pirouette canter got him on his hind end, and I think it helped me because I really had to make sure that my half halt was going through, it’s easy to feel the shape the horse wants his body to be in that much collection, and in a way I have more time to think when I’m not travelling as forward. Also, it was helpful just to ride corner after corner, knowing that there was another one to prepare for very soon, so I had to make the canter good right away.

Then there comes a time to just forget all the mumbo jumbo (not that I actually think it’s mumbo jumbo, but it becomes just that if my wheels are constantly turning off their own wheels) and just ride. Ride something specific like a half pass out of the corner. After finding the right feeling of the horse being much better around my inside leg and releasing the inside rein, I make sure his body is going to be ready to have that for the half pass. Magically, that focus created a good corner without me even worrying about it. The preparation for the movement after the corner seems to be key for me.

At this point I don’t claim to be any sort of master of the corner. I still have a ways to go before I really own those bad boys, but I think the light for my road is shining a little brighter. It’s always satisfying when many ideas start to align and make everything a little clearer.

Butts and Giggles

Ok friends, get your heads out of the gutter; that is not where I’m going with this.

In my recent lessons with Courtney on Bimini and Fargo, we paid a lot of attention to riding their butts. With Bimini it started in the canter transitions. I can do canter transitions all day long thinking about the activity, the prompt reaction, or just imagining the feeling of a good transition, all good things, but there’s something about the way thinking about the butt going first triggers my body to ride it right.  Today Courtney said, “Butt canter… not horse canter… just the butt” and then we did it right. My seat sits a bit deeper and I feel like it just attaches to his hind-end while the other part of me sort of ignores the front end (though not shutting it down), which makes the shoulders and the rest of the horse secondary to the engine. It seems to make a better, more uphill transition every time, so now I need to remember to think those words from the start.

For Bimini’s flying changes, the same concept really helped the way I rode them. It’s interesting to me how just a simple phrase or combination of a couple of words can make an idea or understanding a reality. It’s not that focusing on the hind-end is a new concept; it’s the clear and simple words that create the way to make it happen.  So this time Courtney had me think of connecting my seat to his butt and then think, “Butt change!” and I had a couple of much better changes than usual. How can it be so simple?!

Just the other day at the very end of a ride on Bimini, I had been working hard, focusing, and then felt like I made a good difference in the horse.  I was trying hard not to overthink everything but to just ride. It’s such a tricky balance for me because there of course needs to be some sort of understanding and plan… it’s just that sometimes when my brain is constantly firing a bunch of signals it kind of shuts it down. It’s sort of like that feeling when someone asks you a question and you have so many different paths of thoughts or feelings that you can’t actually spit any of them out until you just relax and pick one – at least that happens to me sometimes! Anyway, I was really happy with the throughness and collection that the ride created, but it wasn’t until the last 15 seconds before I finished and walked that I just connected with how much fun the feeling of power and good connection creates in the gait! It’s such a good ride. There was a lesson that I remember having with Lendon at least a couple of years ago when I first started having the opportunity to sit on some fancier, more trained horses; I got to get on someone’s horse and ride around at the end of a lesson to just feel the trot and see what I could do with it… a little woah… a little go…. a little quick… a little bounce…. it was a slight variation of each, but the ability, the ride, the feeling was just cool… new… awesome… inspiring…. and fun! I noticed at the end of my ride the other day that the feeling I found with Bimini reminded me of that feeling I was so awe inspired by years ago, but it wasn’t until the end that it really hit me how cool the result of a good ride was! So I made it a goal to remember to notice and enjoy the awesomeness more often in my rides to come.

Well, I didn’t have a problem remembering that at all with my last lesson on Fargo. The fun factor hit me full on and I couldn’t keep myself from giggling throughout the ride. It’s not often that I actually want to keep myself from giggling… I sure love to laugh. But, the fun moments were so fun it was distracting! I had to keep reminding myself to refocus after a couple strides of pure joy.

We’ve been working on finding our good trot – one that’s active and pushing, not rushing or just bouncy. Courtney had me start by making sure the walk to trot transition was really good. We found it by asking with a little kick – not at all a big punishing thump, just a little bit of a surprise saying let’s go to work and let’s really mean it! Then when a little kick to trot transition made him ready to dance, I could ask with a very light leg aid and sitting down seat… the first stride into trot just pushed the giggles right out of me. This horse has such a big heart. I asked with a little whisper, and I could feel his immediate big effort to push and please, and I could see the fancy result of his shoulder lifting up in the mirror in front of me. How cool is it that just sitting on a horse doing a transition from a four beat walking gait to a two beat trotting gait could mean so much, feel so fun, and proudly display the heart and will of that horse? I love dressage.

In the actual trot I’ve been working to find the right trot. I often blast around the ring too fast or make a half halt to a step of passage instead of to a shorter, quick, active trot. I get moments of really good, fancy trot, but it’s not something that either of us can maintain yet… so I end up getting a few strides and then getting tired or it gets complicated with another aid and we lose the big fanciness and have to start over. But there is a way that I can just find a better, active and engaged trot that can be consistent without being too heavy of a work load…. but how? There are so many buttons!

At one point in the lesson Courtney called for a walk transition. I sat, Fargo sat, and then practically halted…. oops… hmm… well it was prompt and his butt went down. “NO! Forward and butt pushing into the walk!” I needed more leg without holding and making him slower. So I rode around thinking walk, but before that thought made his butt slow down, I gave little tiny bouncy kicks with my legs…. come… keep stepping… active… I had to keep thinking about that butt stepping forward quickly, while sitting down asking for walk. Anytime he felt like he wanted to slow or drop into the transition I would think, “quick, go forward, but don’t… I actually want to get into the walk eventually…” It worked! We had a really nice trot to walk where his butt felt just as active and ready in that transition and actual walk as it did in the trot. yay!

Once we were on our break, Courtney explained that “By the way… that trot before the walk transition was your trot.” Once again, I felt like a silly little schoolgirl giggling… heehee… yea…. it was good. She explained that it worked because I rode him thinking that he must stay active when preparing for walk, but I “didn’t let him go” forward, so I really got the good trot. Ding! There are the right words to trigger my brain into gear. I just have to think about preparing for a good walk transition to get my good trot.

So in rides to come, I’m to keep my mind on the butts, my own butt down connecting to that hind-end, and my brain thinking about each of those simple phrases while having a blast but not letting the giggles totally take over. 🙂

Immense Gratitude

Those who know me well know that I am not very comfortable publishing details about my life to the world.  But, there is just so much that deserves to be shared. There are so many lessons I am blessed enough to learn in my position as a student that it’s selfish of me to keep it all to myself. So, here I am, diving in, joining the rest of all the brave online sharers, and making it a goal to use this place to record events and lessons learned. As a devout dressage nerd, said lessons and news will probably be mostly about my four-legged friends, and we’ll see if any other musings on life start to emerge.

I have so much for which to be thankful. SO much. If anyone gets even a whiff of griping from me, please, slap me upside the head and set me straight. I’m not even sure where to start (as I should have long ago, there’s a lot of catching up to do). The thing is, even in my extreme attitude of gratitude (hey, that came out cute), I tend to keep a lot to myself in order to keep from sounding like a bragger disguising herself by proclaiming “blessings” and “thanks” but with the larger underlying, “Hey look at me, me, me, meeee and the awesome things that have happened in my life.” kind of character. That demeanor is a bit of a pet-peeve of mine. I think that most people sharing their lives have good, true intentions, but my fear of being taken as the occasional fake, self-consumed snob keeps me from sharing a lot of good news. However, I’ve realized that as I do with most lessons in life, I’ve taken it to the other end of the spectrum and by keeping so quiet, am truly not giving back to those that deserve so much more than I could ever give. So, here’s to changing that!

I realize I am in a really special position with my job. It’s so perfect for me! I could have never dreamed it up myself; it screams of a perfect designer.  The people growing my dreams beyond what I could drum up on my own are incredible. Time and time again I have been shocked by how freaking awesome people can be! I don’t deserve them. For one, my trainer, mentor, inspiration, and friend Courtney King-Dye has been more generous with sharing her mind, heart, and energy than I could ever think possible. I’m so glad to be able to learn from not only her world-class dressage skills but also the way she conducts herself as a professional and as a really cool human being. I continually recognize what an amazing thing this life is and wonder how it’s possible that I should be so lucky.

New friend Fargo

A couple of remarkably generous things have happened in the last few months.  I’ll start by sharing that most recently, a longtime friend and client of Courtney’s, Francine Walker, donated her fabulous horse, “Fargo” to Dressage4Kids.  I’m eternally grateful for the support of D4K (including Lendon Gray, Fern Feldman and the many others supporting the organization) for allowing Courtney to lease Fargo, Francine for her mind-blowing donation and heart, Courtney for her indescribable support and will to give me the chance to ride this fantastic horse, and Clair Glover for always giving, always helping, and always making room for us at Bel Air Farm.  My body was literally (in the true sense of the word not this fad of using it figuratively) shaking in shock and excitement when I heard the news of Fargo coming (which of all days happened on my birthday!).  So many amazing people have given, given, and given some more, and it’s more than a dream come true to be able to learn from it all.  It has already started, yet I can’t wait.