My BO's mistake? Telling me that the lesson will go until either Gem or I were tired out. A solid hour and a half later, Gem and I were still going strong and looking for more. Sorry, but we can go all day. I know dressage is very different and is more akin to weight lifting, but seriously we can go all day. Specially after a two month hiatus from work and when doing baby, beginner, not really "real" dressage.
My mistake? Not realizing how addicting learning this stuff can really be and that is with not even getting anywhere close to actually learning real dressage. I'm learning the stuff most riders learn when they are 8 and in pony club. When I was 8? I was galloping along the battlefields of Gettysburg, charging up the carriage paths at Acadia State park and reaching the summit of the Allegheny Mountains in Ohiopyle. It was a glorious education on horseback.
But there I was walking in a circle and not being able to get enough.
I am so fortunate to be at the barn where I am now. Not only do I have access to the teachings of my BO, but she is a Stubben dealer and an incredibly generous one at that and she lent me her english tack to use for the lesson as well as for nay shows we may be tempted to enter down the line. You see, the main thing keeping me from doubling down on both endurance and anything else is my complete lack of any tack appropriate outside of endurance coupled with the precisely $0 I have to put towards any new tack. I would have to sell all my endurance stuff and the only way I am parting with that is when it is pried from my cold, dead fingers. When she offered to let me ride in her saddle, I was elated.
We worked in the grassy arena and used the terrain to help me understand some basics. She wanted me to keep a steady pace (rhythm? cadence? I don't know what you people call it) regardless of the terrain. Gem would tend to slow down going uphill and speed up going down. Since this field slopes in both the north-south and east-west directions we were always changing our elevation as we went around in the circle. I had to really engage my core (don't touch those reins!!) and sit up tall (quit hunching your shoulders!!) and unlock my rigid elbows to keep Gem right where I wanted her and not allow her to do as she pleased.
At first it was confusing and it took a while. In fact I didn't quite grasp the concept until we started doing it at the trot. I was just beginning to wonder if all you dressage people were drinking some kool-aid I didn't have access to and that this was all some hoax people just lied about feeling when we came down the hill at the trot and I sat tall and compressed my core while slowing my seat. And then there it was. Gem compressed her trot and I could feel her energy without her speeding up and I didn't even touch my reins. I grinned from ear to ear and giggled like a little girl.
On the next uphill side I was told to release the energy I had gathered so that she could move up the hill with more energy, but not more speed. I did and Gem responded and it was like a shot of cocaine straight into my jugular. I was hooked.
We did that a few more times and then moved on to large serpentine loops up and down the entire field. I was to not just run into the fence and then turn, but to plan out my turn well in advance and execute my plan. That shouldn't be that hard, but I tend to not think a whole lot when I ride and so we ran into the fence a bunch before my brain kicked in.
Gem, for her part, had been super amazing this entire time. She wasn't round or seeking out the contact or anything, but she was trying really hard to figure out what I was asking. BO said that she could see her thinking and the wheels turning the entire time. She did get tense doing this exercise because I was supposed to not only be using my core to control her speed as we worked our way up the field plus plan the turns and not let her cave in, but then I was also supposed to add some walk transitions in. Gem hates transitions. She gets very tense and very annoyed at the constant changes. She likes to pick a pace and just go. I could feel her getting more worked up as we did it, so I asked if we could just stay in the trot for a while and not worry about transitions. I don't want to cave into her and let her get away with things, but there is also no reason to do all the things at once right off the bat.
We ended by beginning to work on some lateral work. This had me nearly falling off laughing and my poor BO was at a loss.
I went around on a circle at the trot and when I got to a "corner" I was to go across the diagonal keeping Gem straight in the bridle and body but using my inside leg to push her out hopefully getting her to cross over her legs and do a real something. Leg yield? I think that was what we were after. When my right leg was in charge we actually didn't do so bad. I felt some real cross over steps and we ended our diagonal pretty close to where we were supposed to. Gem stayed soft and happy.
Using my left leg was a disaster. Gem basically ignored the paralytic flipper that was banging against her side which then led to me making some crap up with my upper body to try to lead her over and we crashed into the fence because I completely lost focus on where we were going. I laughed. BO shook her head.
The next go around, the BO started shouting off directions. She was telling me to do so many things with so many body parts at one time, that I collapsed into a puddle of laughter. Seriously. I am that mature. I didn't know that I a) had that many different body parts b) could move them all independently and c) could do it while riding a horse and maintaining some brain cells to steer. I told her as much and she told me to do it again. Slave driver.
We did it again and it went a bit better, but seriously my left leg could be amputated and I doubt I would notice any change in my riding ability.
The lesson ended on that note, 90 minutes after we started, and we wandered back down to the barn to untack and discuss some things. I told her my goal was to do a starter division event next spring or if she thought we wouldn't die, possibly this fall. She was game for that and mentioned all the places we could go to work on our cross country skills. I reminded her that I have no cross country skills what so ever and a horse who spooks at grass. We may change that to doing a starter combined test and avoid the whole xc phase for a bit.