Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Learning to ride, tortoise style

This has been brewing in my head for awhile, so I'm going to try to hash it out.

I consider myself an h/j rider.  Sure, I did eventing, I even showed at Training, but it was mostly h/j girl learns to ride cross-country without dying and gets a 40 in the dressage.  Up until I landed at a very fancy barn in my mid-twenties, I knew zip zero about dressage.  Nadda.  I perched and jumped and was considered very good at it.  I thought I knew how to ride.

When I landed at the fancy barn, I was introduced to dressage.  The trainers all had a heavy German influence and beat that view into my stubborn, American head.  My horse had a butt and it should be engaged!  The headset was not nearly as important as what was going on behind me, especially if I wanted to jump big and turn sharp.  It was eye opening, earth shattering even, when it finally hit.  I genuinely affected how my thousand pound animal moved and it was my job to get them straight and truly forward.  Not racing around like a loon, but engaged and powering along.  I learned to feel the difference between dragging along with the front end and powering along from behind.  Once I knew what I was after, I never looked back.  It was like a drug.  I dabbled in hunters and equitation, but jumpers and dressage became my new home.  Mostly jumpers.  I'm an adrenaline junky.

When I decided to make the leap to eventing, I brought what I'd learned of dressage with me.  It was enough to get me through Novice, since I'd shown at First level, but I started to stumble at Training level and Prelim was out of reach.  I didn't know how to sit the trot.  It's just not something you work on at an h/j barn outside of learning to do it long enough to get through an equitation test.  Since I was mostly doing the jumpers, I had no reason to sit.  I didn't even really sit the canter.  I struggled and I flailed, but I didn't have the guidance I needed to make that leap.  When my princess started to school Second level movements, I knew I had reached a spot where I had to fix the sitting problem.  Falling off while trying to sit the medium trot was a dead giveaway.

When I moved to the current place, I was looking for dressage training.  I wanted to move up the levels and not worry so much about things like head trauma.  Fi gave me a taste of what it felt like to ride a powerful, well schooled, nicely balanced horse.  Dorkzilla showed me what was possible when I stole rides on him.  I wanted more.  I knew I was going to need to rebuild somewhat, but I'm an experienced rider.  How hard could it be?

Judging by the Advil I took tonight?  Quite hard.

I've enjoyed my lessons.  I really enjoy the fact I'm still cross training with jumping and bouncing about in the open.  That enjoyment doesn't change the fact that this has been difficult as hell.  As in ready to cry and quit some nights difficult.  Everything I was taught, all of my muscle memory, is wrong.  I'm having to relearn how to do things like sit on the horse and turn.  This is so ridiculous!  I coached kids at shows, I showed in jumpers up to 3'6", I evented at Training, I know how to ride!  I want to scream this some days when I'm being told, yet again, that I'm doing it wrong.  I'm one of the most experienced riders in the barn, how can I not know how to trot?!

But there I am, struggling with the basics of where to put my body, how to position my legs, and how to cue a turn.  The difference is that I'm learning this with an eye toward asking for more than a trot transition.  I need to get a clean, balanced downward transition in preparation for the simple changes through the walk.  I need to get my seat cleaned up so we can ask for the half pass and not have it be a complete disaster.  I know these are the building blocks to something much bigger, but it's still frustrating to be in a lesson where we're working on moving from halt to walk and not getting it right.  The sitting trot lessons?  Beyond frustrating.  It seems so simple when the Trainer tells me what to do, but my body wants none of it.  When I lose my balance, I snap back to what I know.  I'm balanced and happy, but I'm also very wrong.

I'm not in danger of quitting or anything like that.  This is more about acknowledging that this sucks.  It's hard and it's tiring and it's frustrating.  I'm human and I have to let myself be tired and frustrated some days.  Then I have to smack myself a bit and get back to work, because my logical mind knows that this isn't the same as when I first learned to ride.  There's a big difference between learning to get a horse to walk and teaching a horse to step off with his hind foot instead of the front foot.  One is simple, the other takes feel and timing.  I couldn't do what I'm doing now if not for the decades of experience.  I repeat that to myself when I find out I don't know how to do a twenty meter circle at the trot.  Really?  I really don't know how to do that?  I got an 8 for that movement once!

 One day I'll get to trot down center line at a sitting trot and look like I'm a real, honest to goodness dressage rider.  It's just going to take me a ridiculous amount of Advil and booze to get there.  Trainer A said today that she has plans for our Winter Training (it needs caps) to get us ready for those First level tests and it made me start aching in anticipation.



I saw somewhere the suggestion that a rider get a tortoise tattooed on their body.  I'm seriously considering getting a little tortoise tattooed on my wrist, where I can see it above my gloves.  A little reminder that slow and steady wins the race.  There's no point in trying to rush ahead when my body isn't ready yet.  I need to rebuild muscle memory and that takes time in the saddle.  The more I think about it, the more I want that little tortoise.



Riding tortoise style.  It has a ring to it.

2 comments:

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  2. ughhh yes i so relate to this. i was doing just fine in the h/j world for a long time (tho i haven't competed at nearly the same levels as you haha) and learning how to get a correct seat for dressage has been SO HARD. sitting the canter? what? using my seat independently? huh? ugh such a struggle... you're right tho - those forward gaits pushing from an engaged hind end ARE addictive. it's worth the effort, i guess :)

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