Friday 4 March 2016

Making Changes

I named this blog Autonomous Dressage because I'm the only dressage rider at my barn and I don't have a regular trainer. However, we can't do this dressage journey without some help. In the last two weeks I have hauled to two clinics, the mini-clinic on dressage with Sandra (Part I and Part II), and the Cowboy Challenge Clinic last weekend with Alex (When We're Not Dressaging). Even though these two clinics were not focused on the same type of riding at all, it's interesting how some of the lessons were complimentary towards each other. I've taken what I learned at both and tried to incorporate it into better rides on my own.

Here's what we're doing...

First, I have totally changed up my warm-up. Before, I started my warm-up by walking and trotting around the rail or on 20m circles with a loose rein. Now, I am keeping the loose rein but really focusing on the lateral work for warming up. I've been using a combination of exercises from both Sandra and Alex to move the hips, the ribs, the shoulders, the neck, and the poll. I'm also making sure to change direction more frequently as this is very directional work and I need to have her working through both sides.

Warm-up exercises like this

This type of warm-up is also great for getting Kachina really focused on me. During my last ride, a piece of the arena roof came loose and was banging loudly in the wind. I considered stopping my ride, but then I remembered how many scary obstacles we had faced last week and I put my legs on and got to work - Kachina was totally listening to me and barely batted an eyelash at the roof.

Second, I have really been using Sandra's circle exercise during my ride (20m circles and 10m circles with shoulder-in). It's a good exercise to get me to ask for shoulder-in and really use my inside leg and outside rein to get her bending her ribcage. It also helps me to not brace on the reins because I know that I can bend Kachina deeper into a small circle if I need to stop her from rushing. I'm doing this at both walk and trot.

Circle exercise - add and drop 10m circles as required

During my ride, I'm also constantly trying to correct my position. I still find repeating a mantra to be the best way to keep myself focused on 3 or 4 of the most important things that day. My mantra of the week has been "Legs on, sit back, pushing a shopping cart, half a stride to influence".

"Legs on" - Keep my lower legs in contact with the horse. Since the trainer ride with Sandra, I have felt a HUGE difference in how much I can use my legs on Kachina. I'm really trying to keep using my legs so that we don't lose this change. Also I find that when I have my legs on, I'm much better at keeping my toes forward. I'm already getting better at keeping my legs on a lot of the time, but when Kachina starts getting fast and rushy it's instinctual for my legs to fly off and my toes to turn out. When this happens, I think back to Sandra saying "don't let her trick you into taking your legs off" and that helps.
"Sit back" - tilt my pelvis back and sit on the pockets of my pants. This will probably be part of my mantra until the day I die. I've made a lot of improvement but I still have a tendency to tip forward when I get tense or get too focused on something else
"Pushing a shopping cart" - hands up and not pulling. Sandra described the reins as being like pushing a shopping cart, because you are holding something that is moving forward, not pulling it back. This is a really helpful visualization for me. This is more of a mental change than a physical one but it helps me to improve my contact and not hang on the reins.
"Half a stride to influence" - half halt can only be for half a stride. I have half a stride to influence Kachina with my hands and then I have to get out of her face.

The one thing I really need to work on is cantering. We do lots of walk in the warm-up and during breaks between trot sessions. I've been doing a lot of work with trot as the new exercises are really helping with our trot. Unfortunately though, I've been too focused on walk and trot and I've been neglecting the canter. I'm going to start trying some canter earlier in my rides so that it doesn't get missed if I spend too long on trot work.

Getting more of this trot work

For changes out of the saddle, I'm starting pilates this Saturday! I've been searching for an exercise program that will help with my riding. I just finished a 10 week yoga program that wasn't helping me much, so when I read Stephanie at Hand Gallop's excellent interview with Betsy Steiner, it encouraged me to look up pilates in my area. I have Betsy's Equilates book in the mail, and four intro lessons booked with a local studio, so we'll see how it goes =)


  1. I like your warm-up routine (and your mantra!)...might steal parts of those for myself :)

    1. Please do if they work for you :-)

      I find blogs are useful for finding out the exercises that a bunch of people are using so that you can pick and choose things to try with your own horse.