It’s no secret that our Elementary needs work – our Elementary everything, basically. My first impressions from our last show was pretty much that everything sucked and would suck forever, but this time I have been able to be a little more objective (numbers don’t have so much bearing on a dance, you see) and pick out the things we really, truly have trouble with.
I came up with six. One for each working week between now and our next show. The beauty of schooling a movement is also that you don’t just improve the movement; in order to improve the movement you dig up a crookedness or a lack of impulsion or whatever it was that was causing the trouble in the first place, and so we improve.
This week’s movement was shoulder-in left. We had a 7 for shoulder-in right and a 5 for shoulder-in left on the same test. Ouch. I used the following exercises to work on this:
- Warmup with leg-yields in medium or even free walk, usually on the long diagonal. Transition to long easy leg-yields in working trot, then more difficult (usually just F-X-M) in collected trot. This got her off my inside leg and started to warm up whatever muscles make the leggies cross.
- Elementary 5 shoulder-in set in reverse: M-B shoulder-in right, B turn right, E turn left, E-K shoulder-in left. This one was to give me a feel for what was going on in the test itself and where we were going wrong. She felt very dull to my inside leg, so I headed for my next exercise, a favourite to get her off my inside leg.
- Circle 20m in working trot. Spiral down to 15m, then to 10m in collected trot. Complete the circle, then leg-yield out to 20m circle and immediately go to working trot (if her medium trot was any good we’d use that instead). I love this exercise because the horse really wants to get off the tiny circle, so there’s motivation to leg-yield. The upward transition on the bigger circle also creates some anticipation, increasing the energy in the leg-yield itself.
- Then we did the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins again. They were better, but still not super.
Arwen had felt SUPER responsive to my inside leg in shoulder-in right, the spiralling exercise, and the leg-yields, so I knew it wasn’t that that was causing our shoulder-in left problems. Back to the drawing board. Time for Googling and reading all those long dull classical descriptions of what the shoulder-in really is, and then the little light bulb went “bing” in my head when I was reading troubleshooting somewhere (EuroDressage, I think).
Now I know I have the seat crookedness issue, but I always underestimate how often it comes back to bite my bum. The descriptions mentioned that failure to sit DOWN on the inside seat bone could cause quite a bit of difficulty for the horse. BING! My left seat bone used to strenuously resist being sat upon. Lots of stretching has finally worked it so that it’s not sore anymore, but the old habit remains and my muscles are still trying to protect it. So I can sit on it, but it takes focus.
I went back and did the Elementary 5 shoulder-in work at the next session, this time really, really sitting on that inside seat bone (while maintaining the straightness across my shoulders and evenness of the distance between hips and elbows). Lo and behold, she slipped sideways like water. She established the shoulder-in well, but we had some trouble maintaining the position all the way along, so we started to play with some more difficult exercises.
- Shoulder-in down the long side. As soon as the quality of the position deteriorates, ride a 10m circle in slight shoulder-fore, re-establish shoulder-in and continue down the long side. We were popping 10m circles twice or three times in a long side at the start, but as she figured out that it was actually possible now that she no longer had to scramble to try and stay under me, and things got a lot better.
- M-F shoulder-in right; A turn down centreline; A-X shoulder-in right; X change the bend; X-C shoulder-in left; C turn left; H-K shoulder-in left. This is a SUPER difficult and challenging exercise and I didn’t get after her too much if we ended up in shoulder-fore somewhere along the way as long as she stayed rhythmic, but you can’t beat it for getting the horse off your leg and correctly positioned without using the wall. The quick little change of bend really helped to get her listening, not unlike the B-X half circle left X-E half circle right thing.
- Back to the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins and voila! We have ourselves an equal shoulder-in left.
Forgive my nerd splurge. I was so excited to figure it all out, and Arwen felt pretty awesome by the end of it.
Dancing with dragons. Glory to the King.