Since I had Jack fully looked over, I noticed some major changes in him. First he was beautifully relaxed and swinging through his body. But he was also stiff through the left side of his neck, whereas he used to be more flexible to the left and stiffer to the right. There’s always been a stiffness in his left front, and a sensitivity in his right shoulder. In any case, there are more upsides than downsides, but since getting him totally checked out he’s been a little different in the bridle and the saddle, and some adjustments have been needed.
Combining that with the outright (repeat) slap in the face that was my last dressage test, I was having some major confidence issues. Though in previous lessons we’ve been focusing on moving up the levels, I asked to specifically look into certain aspects of the test that I knew would make it or break it in the Championships.
In this particular lesson, it was transitions that we discussed, since I’ve been frustrated with how bracing he’s been in transitions in the last couple weeks.
So at the beginning of our lesson, I asked E to get on and feel him out. Our first nugget came when she explained that she was feeling out his medium walk to free walk transition, where any tension in the transition is sure to first come up. Within each step of walk, she wants me to feel like I have the option to halt, so that he is sitting (versus leaning over his shoulders), and within that more correct balance ask for the trot depart.
We then looked into working on my contact- many people let go with their fingers more than they realize, and even though that may feel “soft” to us, it can be confusing to the horse- much like having a conversation with someone on the phone and their voice is going in and out. Having a consistent connection is a much more palatable experience for the horse, and so we worked on my connection.
For this, she wrapped a straw in a tack sponge and placed that combination in each hand. The straws were meant to point up his neck, never to cross or point in. It’s a great visual indicator of what my hands are doing, since they are mostly in my peripheral vision and I can immediately see when they go astray. The sponge was to help me hold and keep a steadier connection.
I learned pretty quickly how difficult it was for me to truly keep my right hand closed- since it’s the more dextrous hand, it opens and moves more easily. So I had to work to keep my hand closed and my elbow soft, and using just my elbows to lengthen his neck made for a much better connection than I’ve had lately. Below if you look closely (and ignore the side conversation of my sweet and ridiculous barn family who are kindly videoing me) you can see the straws sticking out as I ride:
We also looked into his canter departs, both up and down to/from trot. These have also been a little sticky, and I have a hard time avoiding comments about him falling into the trot even when it feels pretty balanced. However, as you’ll hear in the video, I learned that’s not uncommon for big horses to struggle with that transition, and while I can manage it as much as possible it’s probably not going to be the highlight of the test- so aim for a 7 and move on. Also, enjoy more side commentary from the barn fam.
In general it was a good check in and some helpful reminders of the basics for Jack and I. With all the conditioning and focus on jumping we’ve been doing lately, the dressage work has been a bit neglected. But this lesson helped me get inspired to work on cleaning up some moments and making myself a better rider, hopefully to put our best foot forward at the AECs and also to be a better partner to him going forward.