My 7 lessons with Elaine in February can mostly be boiled down to a single central concept: Kachina is a "wiggly horse".
|Gifs from lesson with Elaine|
I don't know if you can see the "wiggles" in any of these, I can't really, but it's still related media
First off, this kind of categorization is what I see as being one of the fundamental reasons why clinics are important. In clinics or shows, the clinician or judge doesn't have time to go into all the little reasons why you and your horse are special one of a kind snowflakes, they have to have some way of classifying your key problems and putting you in a box. I used to not like this categorization (especially with my last horse Ellie who would always be worse away from home and we'd get put in the the "spooky" category almost every time, even when I'd rather be working on other things). However now with Kachina and in this stage of my riding, I love it when someone classifies me and my horse. I can work on lots of things with Kachina myself, and deal with a lot of the day-to-day minutiae, but as a single-horse amateur, it really helps me for a trainer to come along with a 30,000 foot view, look at me and my horse and where we fit into the pyramid or training progression, and then tell me what our biggest problem is or what category we fit into. Of course ideally they also go into how to fix the issue, but even just being categorized is super helpful for me because it gives me a new outside perspective and helps me to figure out what I need to work on and how to tackle it when all that "special snowflake" individuality is added back in.
The previous boxes that Kachina and I have been put into have mostly been in the realm of "sensitive horse" or "needs better equitation". These are both true, and both interrelated. For example: Kachina is a sensitive horse, which used to make her jump forward when I touched her with any leg, so I would ride with legs off which was poor equitation and continued to make Kachina over-sensitive to leg -> solution: ride with legs where they are supposed to be and teach Kachina difference between different kinds of leg pressure. There are a lot of examples. Kachina reacts to every single little thing I do with my legs, my seat or my hands so I need to learn to be correct and steady in my position, and very intentional with any aids I give. For dressage I don't want to shut down Kachina's sensitivity because it's ultimately a good thing, I just need to up my game so I harness it correctly.
Over the last few years I have done a lot of work while being cognizent of these "sensitive" and "equitation" boxes. Of course I won't ever be done work in these areas, but I was stoked to find out that we've progressed to the point where those aren't our biggest problems anymore. Instead Kachina got the new title of "Wiggly Horse".
In reality, wiggly is probably an issue we've always had, in the past it was likely just eclipsed by our problems with sensitivity and equitation. Elaine was actually really pleased with the improvements I had made to my seat, my hands, and Kachina's education in the contact. At this new stage, the "Wiggles" became the next #1 issue to tackle.
So what does it mean to be a Wiggly Horse? The way I understood Elaine's description is that it is the opposite of steady, both mentally and physically.
Mentally, she is a bit all over the place. Anytime one thing changes, it means a whole new ball game. We might be going around at a nice tempo in a nice frame, but changing direction or having me correct my leg position so it's 3 inches further back take us right back to square one and we need to re-establish the tempo and frame from scratch. I think a lot of horses are like this to a certain degree, Kachina just has it to a bit more of a degree, especially in combination with her physical wiggles.
Physically, she is always changing how her body is, especially with her back. An advantage is that she isn't stiff, but she goes too far the other way. Elaine observed that she really likes to drop one side of her back which moves her rider off centre. Elaine saw this happen to me several times, especially during lateral work, but she realized it happened even more often when she rode Kachina herself for the last lesson of the month. Kachina's movements directly work to unbalance her rider but once the rider is unbalanced she uses it as an excuse to hollow, speed up, etc.
I was fascinated to hear this categorization of Kachina. When I first got Kachina I described her as a very "tippy" horse. She would react strongly if I ever leaned to the side to check girth, open gate etc. and even during normal riding I would sometimes feel like she was about to tip over to the side. I remember the "tippy" feeling unnerving me, but I think I chalked it up to her being a narrower horse with less muscling and over time I stopped feeling it. Again, curse of the one-horse ammy because the "tippyness" probably never went away, I just got used to it and stopped realizing that it was abnormal. It also makes sense that the tippyness is just due to her dropping her back out from one side or the other. I do notice that when Kachina rests a back foot while I'm on her, it feels like her whole back drops out from under me and I usually need to put more weight in the opposite stirrup to stay centered. I never connected the dots though and figured out that she was wiggling me out of position while I was riding. All the circles where I couldn't get my inside leg on make a lot more sense when I think of how hard it is to use leg when your upper body is out of position.
So how does one ride a Wiggly Horse? I have to be the steady one. Mentally, I need to establish that the rules always stay the same by being super super consistent. I also need to be careful about why and how I make adjustments (and this makes equitation work even more important because I need to stay in the right position, constantly correcting my position will make her more wiggly). Physically, I need to not let her tip me when she moves her back. Firming up my sides, imagining my spine and shoulders as the letter T, and visualizing crutches under my armpits were all useful visuals for keeping my upper body steadier and straighter. Also, if I need to rebalance my weight, I need to do it with my thighs, not my stirrups. Finally, I need to improve my recognition of the issue and work on feeling what her back and my seatbones are doing rather than just blindly following the motion.
I love having homework!