A Lesson for Lancelot

The white knight and I were supposed to be off to our first dressage show of the year yesterday, but the poor judge ended up sick in bed without a voice, so we decided to lesson with the show organiser instead.

M is not as high a level instructor as J, but I knew she was super nice and very technical, so for little Lancey it was a perfect fit – better than a show, actually.

Lancey is being a very interesting ride. Although not yet strong in his body and possessing the attention span of a gnat, he was nicely schooled when I gave him back to his child as a 4yo. I backed him slowly and meticulously and worked on him for a year, so he was pretty solid for a baby horse. We rode two Prelim tests for 67 and 68 with a very strict judge, after all.

Fast forward two years of showjumping and I have a very different little horse, physically at least. He is much more confident and independent now and can actually concentrate, and in jumping, he really takes good care of himself – I can freeze up a bit and he doesn’t really give his left sock. But in the dressage, sadly, he appears to have forgotten everything I ever taught him. He’s obedient enough in his transitions but likes to run onto the forehand, fall in with the quarters, go in zigzags, crash into fences instead of turning, fall in with the shoulders, hollow, lose rhythm, etc.

One thing that hasn’t changed is his super adorable personality. Lancey just still wants to make people happy and succeeds at his task 99.9% of the time.

So we arrived at the venue and he was, obviously, completely relaxed. This is a novelty after Thunder’s occasional brain evaporations, and I enjoyed tacking him up and hopping on with no drama. He does like to stare pop-eyed at things while walking around for the first time, occasionally accompanied by melodramatic Arab snorting, but didn’t actually spook.

Champagne and K were with us and Champagne, naturally, was a little loopy, so we started with walking around and using Lancey as Champagne’s brakes. Of course, he was totally good-natured about this – he barely noticed Pagney bouncing off his bottom. She soon settled down and worked really well, so we got to the lesson.

The work was very basic and simple, with M paying great attention to the fine details, exactly what Lancey needs. We did lots of large, some circles and a lot of tiny simple leg-yields – quarter line to track or 10m circle to 20m circle. Lance was quite willing to go to the left, but it took a few tries to go right, which makes sense because left is his stiff side. However, once M showed me how to get the timing of the aid right – applying the leg aid in pulses in time with his inside hind lifting – it made an enormous difference. Soon he was leg-yielding both ways without difficulty.

We also talked a lot about rhythm and tempo. Lancey has always had a really good natural rhythm, which got a little bit lost when he was being a showjumper. He likes to run onto his forehand and then sort of flinch away from my hand and hollow majestically as only an Arab can. M encouraged me to find his rhythm first and allow the hollowness to correct itself. She liked that my leg was keeping him active without nagging, but added that in order to keep a slower tempo – more active, less running – I had to slow my seat down without slacking off with my lower leg. This was a real light-bulb moment for me. Thanks to riding J’s schoolmasters once back in 2017, I pretended to be riding passage instead of a rather mediocre working trot, and letting my seat post on a passagey rhythm while my legs kept asking for forward really got him together without ever touching the reins.

We finished with cantering just a couple of circles. His canter work is horrible to be honest. He can be trusted to canter and be on the right leg, but apart from that it’s a bit of an epic disaster. But I’m avoiding it for now as we work on the trot first to get him more relaxed and soft in his own rhythm.

He had a few really gorgeous moments. When he does relax and start pushing, lifting and swinging, he just falls into the contact easily, and we get about half a circle of brilliance. But he doesn’t have the strength to hold it yet so then we flop around again for a bit.

M was saying how I’m very experienced and I added that yes, I am, but I’m still a total beginner at anything more than Prelim. I’ve backed more babies than I can really remember and ridden millions of Prelim tests, but I’ve only ever had three horses compete at Novice, and none of them for very long. When it comes to riding anything more than a 20m circle it’s still a real challenge for me to do well. In other words, I need a LOT of lessons lol. But at least I have spent a lot of time on the backs of moving horses – in the words of Denny Emerson – so the foundation is very much there; the balance, the effectiveness of the aids and the effort to understand the horse’s mind. Now there’s so much to learn and build on that foundation and I’m just really excited to go out and do it.

As for this wonderful little white horse, he just gives me so much joy and confidence. He’s such a relaxed, non-violent guy who just wants to have fun. Such a quick study and ridiculously sensitive to my seat for a horse that was ridden by a kid for two years.

Thunderbirdy is also still alive and getting back into work, and his first show is in two weeks’ time. I’ll post an update on the majestic one soon, but first Lancey and I have another lesson – jumping this time – tomorrow. It’s going to be really fun and I look forward to it. Darling is working away for a bit so I’m finding all sorts of horsy things to keep me occupied and avoid dwelling on the fact that not having him by my side feels like a missing limb.

How blessed I am to have something that I long for so deeply. Glory to the King.

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