Tuesday, May 12, 2015

All the Excitement!!

I seriously can’t believe how great the rides Copper and I have had recently have been.

I’ve been riding around the arena with the biggest, goofiest grin on my face – I’d look like a madcap to anyone watching, but we are all by ourselves so…  

It started two weeks or so ago – I can’t really remember how many rides I’ve done since the last update, but it’s been a few. I’ve ridden during the week (we’re hiring a babysitter every Wednesday so I can ride – yay!) and the weekend, so we are actually clocking up some decent saddle time.

And to make it even better, we’ve had a ton of new AHA! moments – three to be exact!

All this excitement makes for an uber long post – so here’s the TLDR:

  1. Your shoulders influence your horse’s shoulders. Keep them dropped down and back, and don’t forget to turn them from your tummy when when you are bending. 
  2. Your belly button is important. Think relaxed, loose back, and supported/pulled in core. Draw your belly button back and up towards your spin to active your core and allow your horse to step more deeply underneath himself.
  3. The canter aid can be confusing, but you need to use your inside hip AND your outside leg to signal the aid correctly.



Copper’s really struggled with circles for a while, maintaining the bend from nose, through his rib cage, to his tail.  He’d lose it through his shoulders a lot – particularly on the left rein – and I thought it might have been because he wasn’t strong enough to hold it. 

Turns out, not so much – it was me! 

One ride we were gong around on the left rein and it just clicked with me that my right shoulder was hunched up and forwards – really quite tense.  Now whether that has something to do with the fact that my right ankle was twisted a while ago and my body is still trying to protect it, or that my right ankle doesn’t stretch and flex to let my heel down as far as the left one – I’m not sure.  The point is: I was unbalanced, and that had come up through my seat into my shoulder. 

As soon as I felt that, I dropped my shoulder down and back and it was like I had poked a finger in the middle of Copper’s whither and unravelled a huge knot! 

He was twisting himself up, trying to bend the way I was insisting that he should, all the while I was all crooked – blocking his shoulders from moving freely.

I started playing with my shoulders, keeping them dropped and back when I was turning, swivelling them from my tummy – and wow! A fun new button to play with!  Copper is so much more responsive through turns, and I can really feel that connection like I couldn’t before – his shoulder mirror my shoulders and vice versa.  It was a real eye opening moment for sure. Especially when I can turn him without using my reins at all - as in, he’s on a completely looped rein, and we are doing half volte turns!

We’ve actually managed to get a few steps of a true shoulder-in because of this AHA moment.  We are working on it – it’s still quite hard for Copper, but he gets it!  So that’s been really fun too.


Then the next button I discovered was my belly button.  No joke.  :P

Okay, so I knew it always existed, but then I found out that it can influence your horse’s back and belly too!

I tried a core activation trick I had learned in Pilates – relax your back entirely, including the small of your back and your glutes.  Then, slowly draw your belly button back towards your spine and slightly up, almost like a string is pulling at the front of your pelvis.

This “tucks” the front of your core, activating it.  Funnily enough, it has the same effect on your horse!

When I did this, I felt Copper instantly lift his back and engage his abs, and not only that, step further underneath himself. It was like lifting a dam gate and the power just flowed from his hind quarters through his back, neck and then into my hands.

It was an incredible sensation – not one we could hold on to for very long unfortunately – neither of us are toned/fit enough to keep our cores so active for any length of time yet. I’ll definitely keep visiting this one often though, it’s excellent toning for the both of us.


Last but not least - a canter aid breakthrough! 

So recently I read (on the Facebook Dressage group I’m apart of) a question about the canter aid.  It basically ran along the lines of “What’s the correct aid for canter? Outside leg or inside leg?”

The answers where many and varied, but it got me thinking.  It seemed to me that using the outside leg to ask for canter was less than desirable, as some people mentioned it could cause crookedness.  But it also seemed that a LOT of people also mentioned that they’d been taught the outside leg transition technique in multiple different times and places from many different instructors.

Basically, it’s one of those tricky ones where there’s a lot of conflicting information.  I’ve personally always gone for the inside aid – lifting and scoping the inside hip – what I considered the ‘correct’ classical way to give the aid.

This has worked really well for me in the past – particularly on Copper’s good side – his right lead.  He will just lift and pop into the canter if he is balanced well to begin with.

This is not the case with his left rein – I’ve really had a lot of struggle getting him to canter properly on this rein.  He will literally run himself into the ground to pick up the left lead canter. It’s so messy that motorcycles have nothing on him!  It’s also impossible to bring this canter back into balance, so obviously it’s all kinds of wrong. 

I couldn’t figure out how to fix this canter depart. I toyed with the idea of ground poles or trying to train him to walk-canter depart which I’ve read can be easier for the horse to pick up, but really I wasn’t sure if these ideas were the best…

Spoiler: walk-canter depart when the rider doesn’t know how to ride a walk-canter depart, let alone train one, doesn’t work. I tried and we failed miserably, so I didn’t push it at all.

On a whim, I decided to try the outside leg ask with Copper today.  OH.  So THAT’S how he’s been trained to pick up canter!  It was not as neat as the inside hip scoop, but that doesn’t surprise me in the least.  Those canter transitions only happen when he is super balanced, on the aids, soft through his back and listening.

…So the inside hip scoop aid is something I have to work towards –not something I have right now.

This is a BIG game changer….

I was thrilled at how easy the canter transition was. It can be so hard to get him to canter if everything’s not already perfect, and he had been rush-y and spooky our whole ride.  When he’s like that a canter transition is a disaster – no matter which rein you are on. It’s like picking between an earthquake or a tsunami.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other and completely catastrophic!  So we literally never canter unless the ‘conditions’ of horse’s mood, schooling session, and weather are all in order.

This canter aid felt so ‘right’ for us, however, that I even switched reins and put the game face on to try it on the left rein.  AND IT WORKED!!  I was so shocked, but we got it without any scrambling and held it!  Of course, he was still leaning in a little, but it wasn’t too bad and I influenced him into balance with my seat. 

Then I was all “Is he really on the left lead??”  (That’s how rarely we canter this lead – I couldn’t even tell… (>_>)”…)   So I went to change rein and he freakin’ did a freakin’ flying change!!  A full-on bouncy, complete with back legs, freakin’ flying change!!  We even had, like, a whole right lead canter stride after it before we fell apart like a hot mess!!!! 

Of course I praised him like mad, because even though that was not what I was expecting and I was so not ready for it, he did it cleanly, and he was trying really hard to do the right thing for me.  *squeee*   I even have that little bubble of joy and pride welling up in my chest as I think about it.

My horse is a champ.

IMG_1845[1] - I iz champine! -

AND THEN (if you are not already dying at the length of this post already!) we went on to do some awesome trot work!  His stride was really free and relaxed, his back was up and soft and we had some great walk-trot and trot-walk transitions off my seat. 

I was really impressed by this because he’s usually so worked up after cantering that it’s really hard to get him back into a ‘soft’ frame of mind for any trot work. He is usually all “WHHHEEEE!! I wants to rhun forevah naow!!!”

And noted, he still did have that, but the fact that I was able to get him to find his marbles (brain) again was pretty dang cool.  That’s also something we’ve been really struggling with  - also adding very much to my reluctance to canter, because once we did I felt like the chance for any quality work afterwards would fly out the window and we’d be struggling to regain rhythm and relaxation for the rest of the ride.

Not so anymore!  We are FINALLY at the stage where I feel we can start working on the canter and not just the walk/trot. 

It’s only taken – oh, about a year….  Wait, nope – a lot longer than that!  Ever since I first started riding Copper I’ve been waiting to get to the stage where we could finally work on his canter!  And that would be over ten years now…  However, since I seriously started to pull apart my riding and try and figure out how my seat/body influenced Copper – that’s been about a year, and now I feel like that’s the point when I really started to ride.

The rest of the time – that’s just been sitting on top of a horse.

I can’t tell you how epic it feels to finally reach this stage I’ve been waiting for.  It’s like sunshine and cotton candy, and all the stars in the night sky wrapped up inside of me, waiting to burst out. 

It took a long time to get here, and I know there are mountains more to conquer, but right now I’m so thrilled that we’ve got so far.  Copper’s not a dressage horse, but we are riding dressage together anyway, and it’s a good thing. 

See ya,


P.S. – Jane Savoie breaks the canter aid down in the beginning of this video, and really it’s both – inside seat bone/leg AND the outside leg.  I guess in the end it’s really about how you look at it, and what clicks for your head.

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