Friday, December 3, 2010

Jesse Lessons!

Sofie may have taken some time off this month, but I’ve had the opportunity to take consistent lessons for the first time in two years, and I’ve gone with it. Jesse Collins is one of the best dressage trainers in my area. He’s sometimes here, sometimes elsewhere (earlier in the year he was working on an Oldenburg stud in Germany), and on the occasions I’ve seen him ride and train, I’ve been impressed by his lightness and his lovely, textbook dressage position. He’s also a genuinely nice person, unfazed by non-dressage-ideal horses with “issues”. I’ve wanted to work with him for quite some time, but circumstances (my absence from the “dressage barns”, crazy horse, lame horse, busy, etc. etc.) got in the way until recently.

With Sofie out of commission, I needed to rent one of the lesson horses at the UP Equestrian Center. After all this time, I didn’t much care what kind of horse I rode, as long as it had three gaits I could access. But I really lucked out with Choo-Choo, the little 19 year old, chestnut, park-seat trained Morgan mare we ended up using. I love Morgans, I love large pony mares (obviously), and I really love Choo-Choo. She is hard to catch (and she’s usually out in a huge field) but she’s a sweet little thing, and quite an enjoyable ride. She really catches on, and so far she has been a ridiculously easy and fun retraining project.

When I started riding her the first time, she walked off quite inverted and tight. Her walk had an extra, tense kind of spring to it, and it felt like she was tossing me around as I sat very much on top of her, not into her. It was a disconcerting feeling. The same was true at a trot; I felt an extra lurch that made posting kind of awkward and difficult. She cantered once in confusion, and she cantered in place. Also an odd feeling. Her park training showed in her inversion, quick, tense, “up and down” movement, and whenever I turned her across the arena, she jerked to a halt and “parked out” on the centerline.

We spent the lesson (which wound up being two hours long…I love enthusiastic dressage trainers with time on their hands) working on flexion at the poll. When Choo-Choo actually flexed, Jesse had me lengthen the reins forward to see if she would maintain the flexion and lengthen her neck. It took her a while to understand what I was asking, but she stayed nice and light in her mouth and slowly, with all the quiet flexion work, her head started to come down and she began to uncoil. She needed a lot of suppling work, especially tracking right. But she improved little by little, until she was walking forward, relaxed, stretching her neck out on a long rein. The exaggerated motion of her walk quieted, and she began overtracking instead of undertracking as she’d previously been doing. Her trot developed relaxation as well, and it became less hurried and much more comfortable to ride. She turned from seat alone and by the end of the lesson, she had stopped trying to park out on the centerline.

As far as my riding was concerned, Jesse reminded me to stretch up (I might‘ve heard that before, just a few times…arrrrgh) and bring my elbows in. He also told me to bring my leg forward, since I needed to influence the horse’s shoulder, and I was swinging my leg way too far back (which, as my mother pointed out afterward, she’s told me a million times). And he emphasized training the horse to be responsible and forward by letting them make mistakes and then making the correction, not by keeping them going forward/straight/whatever with constant seat and leg. Which is a very good idea, but let me tell you. It. Is. So. Hard. When you’re sitting there on a green horse or retraining project, you just want to HELP IT ALL THE TIME! Oy. Jesse did say that I have a good position (if I just make the adjustments I need to make), and he liked my hands, which makes me a very happy dressager.

Anyway, it was an excellent lesson. And the day after, when I went to ride Sofa, I was actually able to apply what I learned in the lesson to my horse, without instruction. I’ve never been able to do that before, so it was pretty cool. It helps that Sofie and Choo-Choo are rather similar. They are both better and worse in different ways, but they have certain similarities, and what I’m working on with Choo-Choo is very relevant to my work with Sofie.

In the subsequent two lessons we worked more on the same. Choo-Choo was slightly dead to the leg during the second lesson, and she required some “reminders”, but eventually she started listening better and moving with lots of energy. When we tried for a bit more of a connection, Choo-Choo raised and shortened her neck faster than I could reel in the reins, but we had more success with a slightly longer rein, focusing on the relaxation and stretch that seems to be the key with this horse. When Choo-Choo is relaxed and stretching forward, it’s fairly easy to get the flexion, and as she gets stronger and more secure in this new way of moving we should be able to get more of a connection.

By the third lesson, Choo-Choo’s improvement was clear. She started out with a longer neck and a more relaxed way of moving, right from the beginning. She generally has a lovely, swingy way of moving now, and her back is no longer tight. She showed marked improvement on her right side, balancing on the rail and on a circle without needing much help at all. Her left side, which had been okay, was actually much worse, she really wanted to fall in while tracking left. She was really starting to “get” the whole flexion thing, and we had some really nice moments when she flexed at the poll on a long rein with her nose way down, and the line of her neck was really lovely. On a long rein, she responded to the lightest touches on the reins I could give, which was cool. I really like how light she is, since I hate having to use strong rein aids, even when I have to. We did quite a bit of flexion on a long rein, flexing one way, then the other, which was a nice exercise.

We had some very good moments where I felt a good connection, and there was one point as we trotted around a big circle, when I felt Choo-Choo go forward, not faster. It is a very cool feeling, and I guess it feels just how they describe it. It’s not an increase in speed, or anything like that. Her trot didn’t change in the typical, rushy way. It was like the same gait, but more, if that makes any sense. Very cool. And good to know!

We also started some canter work. I really need to work on my canter skillz…sitting trot, timing, cuing the canter depart, not getting all excited because OMG WE’RE GONNA CANTER and I hardly ever get to do that, etc. Between my total sloppiness and Choo-Choo’s strange tendency to want to fall in and get really, really crooked at the canter, it was a little rough. I think it will get better; I’m just rusty and the canter depart is a tricky thing anyway. One thing I’ll try next time, is not swinging my outside leg soooo far back, because (as my astute ground person-Mom pointed out) Choo-Choo doesn’t have Sofa’s longer back (or her big barrel), so I pretty much had my leg way back in Choo-Choo’s flank. Awkward. Choo-Choo is trained, after all, so I don’t really need to be using exaggerated, green-horse, “PLEASE CANTER” cues on her.

Choo-Choo has a nice little canter, not as nice as Sofie’s, of course, but then Sofie’s canter is the best. We did have one very nice canter depart. It was instantaneous and very light. Unfortunately she dropped back into a trot without continuing on in the canter, but it was still a nice depart, and I like those. I’m looking forward to hopefully improving our canter work, since we both kind of need help in that area, and I look forward to learning more from Jesse and Choo-Choo that I can apply to Sofie.

1 comment:

  1. Yay for morgans. They are the best. Glad your having fun in your lessons.