This Week in Dressage: Reviewing Basics

Considering our continued success at Prelim, and the fact that he’s cruising through all of the Prelim work, we’ve started to play tentatively with movements from Novice.

But. The idea of moving up stresses me out a lot more on him than it did on Arwen. With Arwen, I never really had a clue what I was even doing (and still don’t really). When we have points for a level, and we can do the movements more or less, we move up. I don’t expect miracles at any level, so I’d rather go and be mediocre at the next level and learn the ins and outs of it for the benefit of the next horse.

But Thunder is the next horse. He is scoring better than anything I’ve had before – better than anything I’ve expected – and he has the potential to go so far and I really don’t want to mess this up. Thun won’t care if he never gets out of Prelim – but I do. Not as much as I once did, but this feels like the shot at this sport that I’ve been hoping for.

It’s not really the placings, and I know everyone says that, but I truly mean it. Of course it’s fun to place, but I’d rather have a good ride and score a personal best than win with a poorer ride – the rider I want to beat most badly is the rider I was yesterday. No, the draw of the sport is in the dance. I want to feel what Medium feels like. I want to feel what it’s like to dance with a horse like that, something more intricate than circles and leg-yields.

And I’m grateful to Arwen for carting my behind up the levels like she has. But she’s bottoming out for one simple reason – her basics just aren’t there.

For that reason, I need to know Thunny’s basics are there before I move him up, so that one day we can move up to EM or Medium – God willing, of course.

So before I start schooling the Novice stuff seriously, as opposed to just playing and showing him the new ideas, I’m taking a big step back to assess our basics. Thanks to my sister, we have pictures to judge!

Spoiler alert: The problems mostly aren’t his. They’re mine.

Most of our trot photos were similar to this one. And here’s my take.

The bad: I have overcorrected my chair seat sooo badly, losing my lower leg completely and nagging him. He’s the typical lazy horse – too much leg is a recipe for disaster. It’s not helping his balance. My hands are in my lap, which is curling him up, causing his stride to shorten and his back to drop somewhat.

The good: Despite my hand, Thunny has managed to engage his back end. He is on the vertical even though the frame isn’t long enough, and his abdominals are engaged. My hands and legs are rogue but my core is engaged for a change and I don’t see any of my old issue with arching my back.

The fix: Thun’s frame will definitely look better and loosen his back once I move my hands forward and use a receiving contact instead of bracing. That will also help him go more freely forward. I need to go back to basics and get my heels back underneath me so that I can be more intentional with my leg.

Here’s a couple of fairly typical canter shots.
The good: Let’s all just take a moment and admire his amazing tail, shall we?

That done, I’m actually chuffed to see the canter quality we’ve developed here. He’s moving so well under himself, his frame is present, and he’s showing a clear uphill balance. We even have left bend! Again, my core is looking fairly solid.

The bad: … but I’ve overcorrected again, now sitting markedly on my left hip. Ugh. That’s causing him to lean to the inside, and probably not helping at all with our left bend issues.

The fix: Sit on BOTH seat bones EQUALLY already, Firn!

Our halts are also still a cause for concern, particularly from walk. Trot-halt-trot is better and very obedient, but those halts through walk are a mess. Obedient but a mess. I brace through my wrists and elbows and he sort of ploughs onto his front and throws a random hind leg out, then wiggles because he knows I’m worried about them and then he gets worried. And don’t forget about diving above the bit.

So we have some work to do. But mostly, I have some work to do. The horse is pretty much there.

The basics we’re solid at:

  • Relaxation
  • Obedience
  • Rhythm
  • Balance
  • Lateral suppleness, most of the time
  • Straightness
  • Activity and impulsion
  • My core

The stuff we need to do:

  • improve my lower leg
  • lengthen the frame
  • lengthen the strides
  • improve my symmetry
  • trust the horse! He’s got this.

Ready for this journey and so grateful for this horse. Glory to the King.

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