One of the things I liked about my barn before I moved in is that there is no established trainer. There are two women (one a h/j trainer and the other a dressage trainer) who train out of there, but I think that's mostly because they also board their horses there. I could choose to have a trainer come in, provided they had insurance, but most of the trainers I know are a long way away. So, I've been sitting on the fence trying to decide how to go forward.
It was pretty obvious after my last show that I need some help in dressage. There are things on the dressage test that I, with my background of riding like a wild hooligan, have no clue how to do or how to correct what I am doing wrong. Because dressage is basically the same whether it is for dressage competition, eventers or WE, I didn't need a WE trainer, but rather someone that does dressage. I also wanted to be able to take lessons during the evening in the middle of the week, so that I'm not giving up a weekend day hauling somewhere for a lesson. It helps our arena rides if we have something to focus on. With that in mind, I began stalking the dressage trainer at the barn.
We will call her AC. She works with several different riders, even though the barn is fairly small, and seems to do just fine with USDF dressage, general riding and western dressage. All of the people who ride with her seem to enjoy her lessons, and she doesn't repeat herself (like the dressage trainer at TMR who seemed to say the same thing to everyone). I had the opportunity to watch her ride, which she does very well. She has shown to Third Level and her horse is quiet, calm and very responsive to her requests. (I have started talking to her about coming to a WE show and showing. I think her horse would love it.) I also watched how she was with Alectra (Polish arab mare at the barn) and she was so quiet and sweet with that mare, handling her perfectly without over reacting to anything.
Right after the expo I approached her and probably overwhelmed her with questions and statements. I decided that if I was going to try a ride with her, she needed to know up front where I and Ashke were coming from. She listened calmly and agreed that everything I had shared was fine with her (curb bit, only I ride him, he has some physical limitations I am trying to work with/make better, only interested in riding in WE). A week or so later, I arranged a lesson for last night.
We started with me giving her a run down on what we have been dealing with as far as Ashke's hind end, and where I need help in addressing some of the elements on the dressage test. First on my list was the turn at E, the turn at B, and somehow making them a turn rather than a loop. AC knew exactly what I was talking about and verbally explained what I needed to do to make that turn. It's basically a quarter pirouette, which Ashke is the best at, getting the shoulder to move around the corner while keeping the haunches on the square. We started at the walk to the left and within a couple of tries, Ashke was doing a really nice turn. (We still need practice, but at least I know what a correct one should feel like). AC didn't want me to worry about the bend yet. She said that it works best to train it in two parts; first you train the turn and then you add the request for the bend. The thought being getting the shoulder to turn is the difficult part, while adding the bend after the rider has good control of the shoulder should be much easier. (I never thought to do one and then the other.)
Then we turned to the right. This direction was a bit more difficult to keep the hind end where I wanted it while moving the shoulder. But Ashke tried so hard for me and within five minutes we had the turn in both directions. Then we did square serpentines down the arena and back at the walk. Then we moved to doing the exercises at the trot. Ashke was very successful and I'm sure, even if we didn't practice those any more it would still be a better movement on our test (I am going to practice at least the serpentines during every indoor ride). Then we moved outside to work on the canter.
I'm not going to lie, I was really impressed with the next thing AC had me work on. I told her that Ashke has a hard time cantering with inside bend (he prefers to counter bend) and that if I ask for too much he will cross canter in the back to protect his hip, although he realizes that isn't the right answer and moves to correct it. AC suggested we work on spiraling in and out. I had read about that movement on other blogs, but had no real idea how to ride it. We did it first at the walk and then at the trot to give Ashke an idea of where we were going with the exercise. It was a lot of work to shape Ashke and move him in on the circle and then back out on the circle. His movement to the inside is much stronger and quicker than his movement to the outside.
After we did the walk and trot, I asked for a canter, which was fairly good. I began to move him inside and outside on a fairly decent circle, moving from 20 m to about 10 m. He did great to the left and although he thought about switching leads a couple of times, he was able to hold the canter correctly. And then the miracle happened: his canter got better, with better bend as I pushed him from the inside to the outside. We changed direction and he gave me a flawless transition, then did the spiral to the right. His canter got better and AC said she could see more correct movement in his hind legs as we were spiraling out. We held it to three or four attempts in each direction and then we were done. AC said that the spiral out is one of the best exercises for strengthening the hind end that she knows.
Ashke was a little sweaty from the canter work, even though we have cantered longer on trail without him being sweaty. It's hard work doing things the correct way. I was really, really happy at the end of the lesson. Ashke seemed pretty happy too, even if he was tired. We have practice things to add to our riding work during the week; serpentine turns (quarter pirouettes) and spirals. Maybe by next lesson Ashke will have gotten strong enough that the spirals will be easier for him to do.
The other thing I managed to fix was the slight issue I have with my saddle. I had a wither relief lift pad that I purchased several years ago that has been collecting dust in my house. I was looking at it the other day and had an idea. I cut it in pieces and took the part that was designed to fit on my horse's back where the saddle needs adjusting, cut away the right side but left the spine channel in place. I put it where it needed to go, tucking the spine channel into the channel of the saddle to hold it in place. It worked perfectly. There was no scuffed hair on his back, despite the spiral work, at the end of the ride. Now, I just need to figure out how to flock my saddle and I will be a happy rider.