Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons In-Hand

Tonight we had our first lesson with our resident Classical Dressage Queen, Lisa. Okay so she's not really a Queen, but since another border refers to her as the DQ in a snide fashion I now call her DQ, lol

I do love to watch her work with her horse both under saddle and on the double lunge. So I decided that I would switch off lessons between her and Debbie. We'll work with Lisa on "in-hand" work one week and with Debbie under saddle the next. Not sure how long I can afford to do this, but I'm going to try it for a bit.

Tonight was really educational as she spent the first ten minutes discussing the anatomy of the horse and the importance that relaxation plays in classical dressage. Nothing is done right now, it is done when its ready. I said "oh just like natural horsemanship, you are on the horses clock, they are not on yours". She laughed and said exactly. So we are both on the same wave length, which is good. She was happy to see that I don't use a flash band anymore nor do I tighten the cavesson. I actually keep it a tad loose. I've found this has helped G relax a lot more with the bit. Lisa filled the whole hour with lots of tid bits about classical dressage training and its importance in the proper training of the horse versus how its done in modern dressage. It solidified a lot of what I've read.

We worked on three exercises tonight, the first being one to teach the horse to relax in the bridle, drop the nose to the ground and learn to relax in that position. Here you stand in front of your horse and hook your thumbs into the bit rings. Concentrating on only one side at a time you hold one thumb steady as you close your other thumb in a slight pulsing manner asking the horse to give a little at the poll and to slightly turn the head in that direction as you continue to lower the head. Like a bend in the saddle, you only want to have a slight turn in. You then switch to the other side. Once we got that down I then walked backward in front of him and while doing the same exercise asked him to walk forward slowly. The key was to keep his head as low as possible yet relaxed at the same time. Then ask for whoa and to keep the head down and relaxed. Hah, not easy! Eventually we will ask him to back up with his head down. But this is great as this exercise helps stretch out and work the neck, back and croup muscles. It seems like a simple enough exercise, (edited to change wording) the analogy she used was it would be like a woman who walks in high heels all the time and putting her into flip flops. All of a sudden the muscles of the foot are being stretched in a different manner and it hurts. But in time, the more we do this exercise the more supple the muscles will become and the stronger his back muscles will be. It will become second nature for G to feel relaxed in this frame rather than where his comfort zone is today.

The next two were lateral exercises. Doing a square where I ask G to do a walking turn on the forehand for two steps, walk straight three steps and repeat in a square. We did this several times in each direction as well. The last was working on a circle and then asking G to sidepass two steps out of the circle and then back in. This was the hardest as we've never worked on side passing. G can leg yield and he can do a shoulder over, but putting the two together is a new concept. By the third time around we got a few good steps in both directions. We worked for an hour and Lisa was great at picking up my bad habits. Things that I didn't realize I was doing to counteract all the relaxation techniques I was using. Like when G would do something wrong I'd puff up and say "ack". His head immediately comes up and he'd brace. There were also times where I wasn't being careful about where the piaffe whip was placed and G like the good boy he was would do what I asked although I didn't realize I was asking, lol. So lessons for me will be all about more relaxtion. I'm almost thinking Tai Chi would be a good thing to take, as I hear it does wonder for focus and control (yeah like I can afford that too). Nope, horse comes first. Anyway, she also observed that he appears to be stiff in the neck mid point. And while we were talking and turned his head to me he both heard a good "pop". This even after I did neck stretches before we began our lesson. I think it's time for the massage therapist to pay a visit. She was very pleased at how willing he is and responsive. He has so much heart its no wonder he wormed his way into mine.

When people say that good horsemanship is a never ending journey, they aren't kidding. I've owned G for 6 years now and I find I'm still learning something new about him every day. I'm real excited about our new journey....dressage from the ground!!