Today was my first lesson since getting the new-to-me dressage saddle. Since getting it, we’d been working hard on our homework from our prior lesson, riding something like a 20M square, and asking for flexion left down one side, then right down the next, with me working in particular on keeping my elbows loose and arms soft. At the walk and trot, this had been going quite well, and Cally was feeling fantastic at the trot, probably the best she’s ever gone. Quite the transformation over two weeks! But the canter, oh the canter. That was a whole ‘nother ball of wax. At the start of today’s lesson, I filled in Trainer on how things have been going, and that I’d chosen to keep working on what was good, and mostly just trotting, and putting the canter on the back burner.
She was quite OK with this, and was happy with the progress we’d made with the trot. One of the things I like best about her, besides just her getting the Chestnut TB Mare sensibility, is that we’ve got a goal, very clear progression of steps that build on each other to get there, with explanations of why along the way. So we built on last week’s lesson by taking the good walk and trot flexion work, and introducing counterbend to get Cally stepping up under herself, which will ultimately give us more push from behind, better muscling, and a much suppler horse.
At first, we rode a serpentine in counterbend, which Cally seemed to think was novel in an “I’m totally getting away with something” way, until she realized I was serious, and was going to actually make her bend and use herself while doing it. It then became Hard. We progressed from the serpentine to spiraling in and out on a circle, while counterbent. That was a lot harder than it sounds, especially going left, where she’s much stiffer–mostly I ended up with a straight horse, rather than one bent in any direction at all!
When we finally were doing the spiraling in a somewhat non-embarrassing manner at the trot, we moved on to the canter. Not necessarily spiraling, just asking her to go counterbent on the right lead, leg yielding a bit off the left leg. There were quite a few circles that felt like I was trying to canter a crab, but eventually we had one good step, then another, and finally Trainer said “let’s get greedy” and asked for a little bend in the correct direction. Lo and behold, I actually got several incredibly nice canter circles, soft and through, with me mostly sitting up and having soft arms! We decided to end the lesson on that, because it was a big step forward. I’m hopeful that with some determination and hard work, we can get that feeling all the time, both directions. It’s taken remarkably little to finally get us there at the trot, once I really dedicated myself to working on it.
And we’ve got a good reason to really put our noses to the grindstone–I mailed our entry today for our first show of the 2013 season, a dressage schooling show at Bascule Farm on January 20. We’re entering the two Beginner Novice eventing tests, which should be good practice for the upcoming event season, and an even better test of being able to put our recent progress together in the show ring.