Woohoo! - they've finally let me get onto my blog at school. I'm a busy girl and have lots of work to do when I'm here, but I also live in a house with two other girls and only one computer with Internet access, so it was a struggle to get anything posted.
I had a surprise lesson with John last week. I've been meaning to write about it for a few days now, but I've had to think quite carefully about the things he said and how it made me feel. I had warmed up before he arrived and so was ready to start immediately. He asked how I was getting on and I told him that I though things were improving - particularly Echo's straightness. The last time he saw us we were having real issues with the left shoulder and left contact, as she wasn't taking the contact forward into my left hand at all. In this lesson, however, she was really starting to straighten, and I'm sure it has something to do with me learning to use my left leg.
What I have been doing is trying to control her left shoulder with my left leg. I've found that this does work to some extent - it has definitely helped so far, but John pointed out that I still haven't got enough contact in my left hand. He said that I should control her left shoulder with my left rein rather than my left leg, as I need my left leg to move her quarters around. I played about a bit with this during the lesson and felt much more positive - I can take a contact with my left hand - I just don't!!
In the way all good instructors do, he called me over to go through some things and while I was talking to him he asked me what my long term goal is with Echo. I have never really attempted to define this; I feel that you have to just see how a horse goes - otherwise you let yourself open to disappointment and won't appreciate your horse. When I broke her in, my goal was simply that she be a well-rounded, well-behaved, pleasurable ride. She is this. Obviously, as you make progress, goals change and now I am pretty sure that we can compete in a bit of dressage. In order to give John a tangible goal, I said that I would like her to eventually, at the peak of her career, be able to perform a decent Medium test. I am under no illusions that she is going to be a world-beater, but I believe that any horse, with the right training and dedication, is capable of doing this, if you are prepared to work hard enough. All of the movements for a medium test are only extensions of the exercises I do now anyway.
John was slightly taken aback, but said that if this was the case, I would have to start working towards it now, not leave it until later. He said that the movements in any test are only schooling exercises, not performances, so I should begin to use them in my training, using them to develop her, rather than seeing them as an end product. All of this makes perfect sense; I have started to work at my shoulder in and in fact, we went on to practise this in the rest of the lesson and it was really successful. However, he then said something which has bugged me ever since. He said, "I often sit there wondering why you've taken such a difficult route." By this, he meant why I have chosen a horse of Echo's type, if I want to be a dressage rider.
I was quick to defend her. I know that what we lack in natural ability and flashy paces, we will have to make up for in accuracy and suppleness - John has always said this, and I trained a pony far more stocky and 'unsuitable' than Echo to quite a high standard before. However, I was really surprised by the 'I'm not sure why you're bothering' subtext to his comment. The dressage riders that I worked for before becoming a teacher had competed internationally at grand prix, yet they encouraged me to take on a 14.2hh gypsy cob type and work hard on him. They were of the opinion that it was just as worthwhile making an 'ordinary' horse go very well, as one that is flashy. Indeed, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I used to beat a lot of under-schooled flashy horses on my accurate and obedient gypsy cob.
I know what he meant. I would get a lot further in dressage if I had a horse with more natural ability, however, I wanted a horse like Echo. I have had her since she was a yearling. Apart from the early handling and halter training she received, which set her up to be extremely obedient, everything that Echo can do is down to me. I broke her in with very little help, I hacked her out for the first time (and believe me, I am NOT a brave rider by any means), I jumped her for the first time (and I don't jump!) and I would never have had the guts to do any of these things, had Echo not been the character that she is. I am phenomenally grateful to my wonderful horse for being so patient with me, for looking after me and for teaching me so much. I could never be disappointed with her, because she has already exceeded my expectations. But, I'm a perfectionist and once something has been achieved, I want new goals to work for and I think this will always be the case.
Though I know that he didn't intend to offend me, and he didn't really, I felt a need to justify myself and my horse. He then remarked that when he first started in a racing yard, an old jockey told him, 'you can criticise and owner's wife, but whatever you do, don't criticise an owner's horse!' I think there is some truth in that.