OK, so we aren't at this stage yet, but it's something to aspire to! This is my old boss riding his beautiful Grand Prix dressage stallion Wurlitzer.
I'm not sure whether I have the time to do my lesson with the dressage trainer justice this evening, but I felt that I should say something. On Saturday morning I had a lesson with Kjeld Friedriksson - a Danish Olympic dressage rider. He was staying at the yard, giving a four day clinic of lessons. Most people had two lessons a day for four days, but as this was obviously out of the question for Echo and me, we just had a half hour single session.
Echo went beautifully. We went in the indoor school, as the other option was the woodchip arena, which is on a bit of a slope, and Echo has problems balancing in there. Kjeld asked me to walk round the arena, starting to take a contact and asking her to be soft. She shied a little at the new additions to the end of the arena, but otherwise was very well behaved. We worked mostly in trot and on trying to establish a balanced rhythm. She was slightly difficult in my hand to begin with, as her new evasion trick is to try to snatch the reins out of my hands. It seems that as soon as we iron out one thing, another materialises; I have just stopped her rushing in trot, and now she has found something else to try. This is, however, to be expected with a young horse.
Kjeld told me to ignore this behaviour, maintain my contact and essentially ride her through it. As soon as she was soft in her mouth, I could give freely with the reins. She soon settled and began to work softly. We then went on to work on lots of transitions. She is fantastic in going forward to walk from halt or to trot from walk, but the downwards transitions are slightly less balanced. She tends to tense her neck and fight my hand in the transitions. We did lots of work on these, and the results were very interesting. He told me to do sitting trot for several strides before I even think about the transition, as I can keep her more engaged in sitting trot. He also asked me to slow right down in the trot, until she essentially fell into the walk without realising she was making a transition. This worked well and she was soon soft throughout the change of pace.
He made a few other interesting points. He said that part of the problem with her fighting my hand is that she is opening her mouth in the transitions. He raised her noseband by a hole and tightened it by about four holes. When I worked for my old boss, he used to have nosebands incredibly tight, so I was used to it then. This is nowhere near as tight as that, but it made a huge difference to her contact.
Another idea he pointed out was that I was opening my inside rein on a circle or corner, in order to help her bend. In fact, Kjeld showed me that this was making her fall in through her inside shoulder and causing her to bend to the outside. This was quite a revelation, as when I kept my hands close together, I suddenly felt as if I had control of her shoulders.
The lesson was very successful and I have a short video clip to upload to this website as soon as I can. I will also try to put some stills on here, as I'm not sure if everyone is able to view the videos. My position needs some attention, as I persistently look down - an attempt to keep control of her outline I think!
At the end of my lesson, I was feeling very confident and was riding very positively. Echo was very hot and needed to walk for a bit, but another lesson was about to start in the indoor school, so I went for a walk - on my own! We had a hesitant moment, where Echo wondered whether I really meant that she should walk away from her stable and go off on her own, but she responded to my leg aids and we pottered off up the hill! We didn't go far - just a little wander, but it finished off a very good session in a very positive way.