Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dressage Disease.

There's a heat wave sweeping across our little prairie province right now, the skies brilliant blue, the pavement hot, the tar melting and the ponies sweating. So hot that at times, even the bugs can't seem to be bothered to move about in it, though as soon as it cools they show in swarms.

Monday had been a great ride to me, and while Moon had Tuesday off, I opted to deal with the sweltering temperatures and go to the barn anyway. It was almost unbearable to wear long pants, a requirement for a comfortable ride, yet so not summer appropriate the way shorts or skirts were. The drive out to the barn was blissful, the a/c powering out of the car vents, a nice change from our heat-ridden house.

Stepping out of the car at the barn, it was impressive how much cooler the temperatures were outside the city. It went from disgustingly hot to just hot, with a nice cool breeze playing across the grass and trees. Tolerable for sure.

So as a barnmate finished up her lesson with W, I went about getting Moon from the paddock, and with all the dry weather, was thrilled to not have any mud to groom from him. He just stood there shiny and beautiful, dappling and slightly podgy.

I stood a little while trying to choose what we'd work on, and finally opted for a little dressage. In part because I couldn't bear swapping stirrups again between saddles, and in part because I didn't feel like doing a trail ride. We might as well "work" for a bit.

In the ring I worked on loosening him up and lots of bending. Bending, bending, bending. A few steps of "half-passing" attempts mixed in with our leg-yielding. Around and around. Couple attempts at trot-canter transitions as well.

Which was peculiar. He really still didn't seem to have a nice canter transition, despite how well he had cantered last week. That awesome video I had captured. Why not???

As we went back to suppling and flexing, I suddenly realised that in the video, we didn't DO trot-canter transitions. I had assumed he was so revved, that he didn't want to trot, so I had skipped it and gone straight to walk-canter.

So yesterday, I asked him again...

*BAM* Canter. From walk.

Brought him back. Asked from walk. Cantered.


Did it in the other direction.

He walk-cantered again.

Got him to slow down, moving nicely in trot, asked for canter...nothing. Struggling strides. Half-steps.


Asked for walk-canter. He strikes off and I get a circle.

Back to trot. Ask for canter from trot...struggling, struggling, rough depart, falls back to trot.


Knowing I couldn't solve the mystery myself then and there, and also knowing that my horse had been working for at least an hour now, primarily at trot and canter, I spent another couple minutes trying to get him back to soft (he really does tense up during the canter work), though his right bend remained very knotted. It was weird to be able to *feel* him stiff. Surprisingly, in what was always his "worse" direction to the left, he was able to return to softness for me. So I opted not to push him overmuch to the right, instead praising him and ending on the left with lots of long and low. I had for a little while, considered working him to the right until he would "soften" as I wanted, but then realised that this would be like doing 100 pull-ups, and then not being able to get all the way up on the 101st. And someone not letting you stop until you did one more perfect pull-up. Unreasonable. And let's face it. You're sore, your muscles have been working hard, and it often gets MORE difficult as you go sometimes.

I was soo impressed riding Moon around with how differently he was using his body, that there was little doubt in my mind that he WAS and HAD worked those muscles over his topline and hindquarters significantly during our first 60 minutes of work, that I was willing to forgive his struggles at the end. He deserved a rest.

We neck reined around until he his breathing was back to normal and the sweat was starting to dry in areas. Untacked, threw his gear over the fence and left him to roll in the sandy ring. Oh boy, did he enjoy that!

I had a crazy idea to lead him back to the pasture without holding the lead line. And was pleasantly surprised when he followed me obediently, weaving and doing patterns in the lawn as we went. At one point he stopped to graze, and a simple "Angh!" made him lift his head and return to following me! Finally I stopped in the nice tall green grass and let him graze for a bit.

Of course, when I was ready to put him away, he stopped being the obedient horse that followed me out, and I had to remind myself of patience. I mean, I WAS trying to convince a horse to follow me with no lead line when there was TONS of tall green grass right there! : P

I left the barn as the sun was starting its decent into the trees, the weather already dropping wonderfully and the bugs in full force. Mmmmm...I can remember why I do love summer time.


Driving home, I was thinking about our ride that evening. How a year ago, when I decided to take him to W, it had nothing to do with wanting to do Dressage. I had a horse that was unschooled, green broke if you consider his training level (broke to death in calmness, but not in skill), and ran about like a giraffe. Regardless of what I may or may not have wanted to do with him, I knew that we needed "Dressage" training in the simplest form in order to have even the semblance of rideability.

I had attended and worked on our Dressage training as a means to an end. Physiotherapy I had so often called it. I was doing it because he needed it, if we were ever to be a decent team.

Time had elapsed both quickly and slowly. I haven't a clue anymore how many hours of training I've put on him, how many walk-trot transitions we've done, how many attempts to leg yield. Yet, only a year or so has passed us.

Riding INTO the ring yesterday, felt different. Riding AROUND the ring yesterday, felt different. Walking OUT of the ring yesterday, felt even more different.

Yesterday, everything had changed. Well, Dressage had changed. Technically, it had been changing for awhile, but yesterday it finally dawned on me.


Not in a "this will make my horse better at the things I want to do", but in the way that I was actually really enjoying the training process. Instead of seeing it as merely a necessity to get what I really want. Suddenly, DRESSAGE was what I really wanted.


The biggest moment dawned on me during my drive home. The sun was blazing in my rear view mirror and I was still mulling over what I was hoping was contact and the start of collection in my horse. It was shaky at best, far from perfect and still included a whole lot of evil rabbit face. But I was falling madly in love with feeling like a RIDER. A guide for my horse. Even when there was no coach present to guide me through it. I was riding the horse beneath me, acting, moving and responding as necessary. Out of skill, not because I was being told what to do.

As the dust billowed around my car down that gravel road, and I mulled over our walk-canter transitions, wondering if it meant that he had enough impulsion and collection to drive solidly forward, or if perhaps it was something else that was not conducive nor helpful to improving our trot-canter and perhaps problematic, I found myself thinking about Tempi changes.

Yes, Tempi Changes.

Somehow, my little infantile dressage head had gone: Walk-Canter is the basis for flying changes. Flying changes are the basis for Tempi changes. Therefore, if we can walk-canter...maybe...

Could someday we Tempi Change?

I could *almost* feel what it must be like to ride a tempi change. Like skipping, beautifully, smoothly on horseback. In the amber-hued dust, I could almost picture Moon tempi changing across the dusty arena, lifting himself high as I rocked gently above him. It felt so real. So possible.

As I reached the highway, I shook my head clear. What WAS I thinking?!

Mr. Moon and Tempi Changes?!

Absurd!! I can't afford to pay for all the lessons needed to school tempi changes!!

Then I realised how absolutely silly it is that MONEY was the first thing I thought would be our limiting factor to achieve Tempi Changes. Haha. Yeah, cause even if I got a raise...

...I STILL wouldn't have the TIME required to devote to riding enough to school Tempi Changes!!! Duh!

As I crossed the highway and continued down the next gravel road, I nearly burst out laughing aloud.

I have, in a year, come from regarding Dressage as merely a necessary tool to achieve enjoyable riding, to suddenly LOVING the act of dressage and the schooling that comes with it. And in this discovery and pursuit, I have gone from desperately hoping to one day have a horse that did not move like a giraffe and *perhaps* has a decent walk-trot transition, to suddenly believing that WE could do tempi changes.

Mr. Moon, the podgy quarter horse I dragged out of a pasture from his occasional trail ride, and I, the adult ammie who didn't get on a horse until her 17th birthday who can't even manage to post on the correct diagonal.

And tempi changes.


Had I gone insane?

Or was THIS the disease that is Dressage? This sudden desire to bring your horse and yourself to some unbelievable, unattainable place, where you suddenly commit eons of hours of training and riding, all in a blissful yet unrealistic dream of someday achieving some high level movement?!

I was insane.

But maybe...I mean, it's not *impossible* for sure...




  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Laughing my ASS off cause it's SO 120% relateable. I didn't even realise all that you managed to articulate about my own journey... just knew that I had this refreshed BURN to RIDE. Not just plod along someone's fence post, but to pick my boy's brain and see what he could do! *smacks forehead* all along it was the DRESSAGE factor of my riding that was nagging me. DRESSAGE relit my match. pffft. go figure!

  2. never really thought about it like that but yes I guess dressage is a kind of disease or an addiction, jus like horses really...

  3. Mr. Moon and Tempi Changes is no more crazy talk than Ms. Wizard and Piaffe :) If you dream it, it can happen!