I really appreciate everyone's kind remarks after last week's show. They helped me to stay focused on the positive and stay inspired.
Brego had most of the week off because of, what I like to call, my Other Life. Work, the farm search, various sundry nuances of everyday life crept in and by the time it came to ride, I had little emotional stamina left. Also, watching the videos 100s of times (you know, 'cause that's what I do), I started to agree with my Texas trainer: Brego was hind end tired.
So lots of time out for Brego, lots of time for me to reflect, in the few quiet moments, on my riding and my goals. A good friend is going through a personal crisis where she is considering selling her non-conventional eventer for a made pony. I see a lot of myself in her frustration and decision. It IS harder to bring Brego along than a Thoroughbred. I am as big a fan of drafts as anyone, but I will readily admit it is difficult. The big difference between Brego and my friend's mare, though, is that he is a good sport about the whole thing. He tries, and even when not spectacular, he's game and a good boy. My friend's mare doesn't want to play, she doesn't like the game, and she doesn't want to try anymore. I feel deeply for my friend who has stuck with her mare for seven years, but now it looks like they both need a change. It's hard.
All these ramblings and many others went through my head after our first show. I was surprised not only in how the judge received us, but how other competitors did as well. I think I just ran into a rough bunch, but I very much felt like maybe Brego and I weren't cut out for this. Maybe I needed to think about getting a more appropriate, made horse. Maybe I was working too hard to bring along a horse who would always score last in dressage, no matter how much we worked, who would always take rails because of fatigue.
Too much thinking, too little riding.
Today I went out and decided to work on just moving forward off my leg. I also wanted to focus on body awareness. A couple of very helpful readers suggested I think about what my body is doing and how I am reacting. So as I worked Brego out of his week-of-rest-induced stiffness, I thought "thumbs on top", "soft elbows", "toes in". I focused on my abs during transitions, I tried to grow 2 inches taller. I thought about opening my thigh and letting my leg grow long.
Suddenly, it wasn't so hard to get Brego moving forward. His bend came easier off my leg, he felt more elastic, more fluid. We had some mentally distracting moments with horses coming in and out of the arena, and I just stayed quiet and soft and asked for more bend, or more lateral, or more anything to get him back on me. No matter how much he wandered or tuned me out, he could not make me react by stiffening.
His canter to the right was elevated and balanced. His left was flat and stiff. It took a lot of transitions and work to get him to start reaching under with the inside hind and carry some weight. Then he got lovely. His left has always been his stickier, but it has largely equalized in the trot, not so in the canter.
Finally, I knew our downward transitions needed help. He broke from the canter to the trot so hard during our test at the show that he nearly bounced me out of the saddle. All stiff stifles and braced legs. So we worked on him coming forward into the downward transition and still powering through. I realized that his downward transitions to this point were exactly as I had trained them. When we were done cantering, we were done and I just dropped myself on his back and he dropped himself into the trot. But if I could stay tall and use my abs and my thighs down to the trot, he would stay up and come through his hind end. And then, just like that, in the huge trot inherited from a balanced canter, I asked him to come down and stretch and he did. I kept calf and an open hip to stay up with him and he floated along with the best nuchal ligament stretch he has ever done. So light in front, but there, in my hand and under me, like an ocean swell.
The hazy, far distance "stretchy trot" in Training Level Test 3 and 4 suddenly came into sharp focus.
So, you see, Brego is the most appropriate horse for me. He is my best friend and safe and a good sport. And he teaches me about myself, when I take the time to listen. He is sensitive enough to reward me when I get it "right", or closer to "right", or at least encourage me to try. At the same time, he is honest enough to not perform when I am not doing it right. It doesn't get much more appropriate than that.
(Talk is cheap. I will get video of us, closer to "right", soon :) )