The Mirror Mare

I just had a lesson on Lena, the faithful Arabian pony! It was my first lesson for two weeks so I was worried I might have lost some forward momentum, but not to worry, it went fine. Lena is my usual lesson choice. She’s turning 27 this year (!) and I always feel a little evil when I make her work, since she really should be allowed to retire. She’s a great little mare when I get all my equitation duckies in a line (which is maybe 20% of my lessons). We trekked out to the arena with way overgrown weeds up to Lena’s chest and had to limit ourselves to the less weedy short arena and work in a 20 Meter cleared area. It was interesting to be stuck in such a short area because I really had to think about my geometry and be intentional about where we went instead of just schlepping around the arena. Today’s theme was circles. Red circle, blue circle, one circle, two circle, etc. But it wasn’t redundant because we kept switching from ten meters to fifteen to twenty and doing different spiral exercises with shoulder in and haunches it. It was like a big hokey pokey game with horse body parts…I’m not sure Lena had as much fun as I did. I can’t decide which is the end-all-be-all-praise-Jesus-Holy-Grail, a perfect circle or a perfect shoulder-in.

We warmed up at a walk and trot and my current coach (let’s call her H.) kept telling me that my contact has really improved and I should take time off riding more often. It wasn’t perfect, but I definitely felt a big difference when I had her going “through the bridle.”

My contact was MUCH more consistent, but I found that I had to keep an extremely firm feel on the reins to keep her in the bridle. However, as I discussed with H., I used to think that this kind of contact was just me pulling and playing tug of war, but how I feel the difference. A correct contact comes from the back to the front and anchors in your center. And it has to be consistent, so I guess it’s okay if it’s strong in the beginning as long as Lena is steady. Apologies for the grainy pictures.

The beginning of the lesson, hollow and tense:

Here Lena still has a hollow back. She is

Here Lena still has a hollow back. She is “in a frame” in the front but basically still trailing in the back.

Here Lena has obvious tension in her neck and back, is trailing with her hindquarters, and has an ope, protesting mouth as an added bonus.

Here Lena has obvious tension in her neck and back, is trailing with her hindquarters, and has an open, protesting mouth as an added bonus.

 Lena at the end of the lesson, rounder and more on the bit:

Woohoo, yay for impulsion!

Woohoo, yay for impulsion!

Rounder, hind legs tracking up better. I'm choosing to ignore my leg position right now.

Rounder, hind legs tracking up better. I’m choosing to ignore my leg position right now.

And then my steed turned into a magical glowing unicorn and I levitated in the saddle.

And then my steed turned into a magical glowing unicorn and I levitated in the saddle.

Lena was so patient with me! There is always that bratty saddle club kid that sits in the back of my brain (I think her name is Veronica) and whines that if only I had a chance to ride that fancy big Warmblood with smooth gaits and perfect cadence and suspension, then I could REALLY ride. But then I always realize that horses are mirrors; they reflect their rider. I love the English proverb that says

“Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are.”

It’s very convicting. I think we all know how obvious it is when horses do and don’t get the level of attention and training that they need. We all want strangers to meet our horse and think “My my, what a lovely and healthy horse! And so polite and comfortable to ride! His owner must be a real peach!” This is the horse owner’s bread and butter.

Classical dressage people like to say that horses will naturally perform dressage movements when they are turned out at liberty. And to an extent, I’ve seen Shiloh do some very pretty things out in the pasture, a few Passage steps here and there, a balanced canter up the hill, and perhaps something resembling a canter pirouette around the corner. But I have yet to see him halt at X all by his little self and practice First Level A on his free time. Somebody start working on that. Maybe we need a point system or some kind of contraption with carrots and strings?

We call those horses that can perform upper level dressage movements and show novice riders the ropes “School Masters,” but we ought to call them “Masterfully Schooled” instead, since they may be talented but their excellence is only evidence of a great trainer at work.

Happy riding!

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