Friday, July 9, 2010

Back to Basics

Grace and I are about to make a big breakthrough. I can feel it!

2 weeks ago I had a lesson with Sarah. We did some exercises to get Grace to engage her hind end. It was amazing to see and feel the difference. Grace was sound behind, and happy in her work. I continued to practice through out the next week with some level of success. I felt that Grace was improving, but I was struggling to ride the new movement, especially at the lope. In our next lesson a week later, it was very apparent that I was the problem. No matter how hard I tried, my lower back would get tight and my legs would shoot out in front of me at the lope. I became very frustrated, which is how I know that I am about to make a break though. I have been riding like this for years. It’s only now that I can feel how absolutely awful it is. How is my horse supposed to lift and soften her back when mine is tight and ridged? How is she supposed to move forward off my leg, when it isn’t even making contact with her sides? So now that my brain is acutely aware of what needs to be fixed, how to I get my body to listen?

This week I have been riding Grace in a bareback pad. Nothing connects me to my body faster than getting rid of the saddle that sits between me and my horse. I also put Grace in her Little S hackamore. It has a fleece covered adjustable leather nose band. I like the Little S because it offers a lot of flexion and lift, and with the soft nose band I am not going to hurt my horse. This way if while trying to find my seat, I commit the cardinal sin and hang on my reins, I am not going to abuse my horses mouth.

First off, I think I need to give myself a break. I am being hard on myself because I want so desperately to improve. I have to remember that for the last 20 years I hardly ever rode bareback. It was only a year ago that I loped Grace bareback for the first time. I did get a lot of practice in this winter though, Sarah took away several of her students saddles and had them ride bareback to improve their seats. I am grateful to have been one of the chosen. I will say that after the last 3 days of bareback, I am incredibly confident without my saddle. The lope is by far my favorite gait right now. In the last three days I have been able to feel how out of whack my body was. I started to remember tidbits of clinics I’ve done in the past with Peggy Cummings. I found my connected seat again.

Today I went to Peggy Cummings
website to order one of her books. There is a before and after picture of a dressage rider. He asked his horse to come though in his natural way, while the rider was bracing his body. There is a quote from the rider where he says “This horse is lazy” then there is the after picture where they got the rider to change his body and quit bracing. His quote now is “I have never felt my horse this free ever, he doesn’t feel lazy” This really caught my attention because on our first bareback ride this week Grace felt lazy. She would not respond to my leg. I finally used a dressage whip to get her to move off it. I had to spend the next 5 minutes getting her to settle down. What didn’t change in that ride was me; I was still tight and bracing in my back. How could she move freely under me?

Last night I caught Emile Faurie Master Class on RFD-TV. It was an episode of Horse and County TV. I had a big light bulb moment.

Emile Faurie Masterclass - Episode 1

I really encourage you to watch the entire episode. There are some amazing gems in there, it's like getting a clinic with a Master for free!

Here are the paraphrased quotes from Emile that hit me up the side of the head:

Most important thing – horse wants to go on the bridle from their back end

When people learn to ride on horses that are not naturally built to be on the bit, what happens is that they bring them onto the bit from the front end from the reins.

What we’ve got to do is to encourage everybody to bring them from behind onto the bit

The worst thing you can do is to try to bring them onto the bit from the hand and as such pull them onto the bit.

It is from the walk trot walk, trot canter trot, walk halt walk, so that they get used to the half halt.
The Trot Canter transition is the most beneficial thing to do with a young horse to teach them to swing through their back

Ok, So I know this, I've heard all of it all of my riding life. Yet still I lost it. Somewhere along the way, I got out of balance. I then started to rely on my hands. I quit using my leg. When I tried to use it, it didn't work because I was still out of balance. Even when my trainer tells me to use more leg and less hand, my body does not follow.

Somewhere along the way I quit doing transitions while schooling my horse. I added a bunch of cool bells and whistles, but stopped doing tons of transition work in my daily rides. So tonight in the bareback pad and hackamore I did transitions. Lots of nice, quiet, balanced transitions. Do you know what happened? My horse relaxed, she stared to come though from behind, off my leg. She went onto the bit, in a hackmore. Her lope work was really great, but even better was the trot after the lope when I added my leg though the downward transition.

See, I told you, a breakthrough is coming!


  1. Very good stuff - so often when the horse doesn't do what we ask, we're the problem. But knowing about it is the first step to fixing it, and riding bareback is good therapy. And transitions - so important! You're right about how many people just "ride the head" - it's the road to nowhere.

  2. My riding took a totally similar path. At some point I stopped using my legs. I'd had a hot horse and somehow completely missed the idea that she still needed to be driven forward into the bridle...instead I took my legs off and pulled a lot! And then the transitions. I remember working on transitions all the time and then somewhere along the line I got all caught up in specific maneuvers and forgot about the basics of good schooling.

    I'm now in the process of retraining my legs and changing my schooling habits. It sure isn't easy but like you, I see a breakthrough coming!

    Great post!

  3. It's really neat to hear about your progress, and your analysis of where it is coming from. I hope the breakthrough keeps on keepin on, and I look forward to reading more!