Today was a day without rain and I am happy to have it. I got up early for my second dressage lesson of Dressageapalooza. Still cynical from yesterday, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had heard good things about this barn, so there was a little more hope.
I arrived and was lucky enough to watch the instructor teach the lesson before me. This woman was very good, professional, quick with praise and criticism, and very sharp. She was working with a mare who dropped her head too far behind due to being ridden in draw reins as a youngster. I hate to be so categorical, but you can tell a lot about a dressage instructor by their attitude to draw reins. This instructor seemed to be in line with my personal beliefs, and I was relieved.
The mount for the day was a good ol' fellow, a 25 year old draft cross who looked a little long in the back. I checked him thoroughly while tacking up and he look fit, good eye, very inquisitive. And his back was not sore. Woot!!
I got to use my saddle and it was not a perfect fit, but the instructor got a different pad for it and corrected it immediately. Horse's comfort comes first. Excellent.
We got started. Although this horse was a draft cross, he was very different from Brego. He was obviously well schooled, and I found my leg aids too loud for him. He was obviously a little older and not quite as springy, but boy was he cool. This old man jumped to life and when I could quiet my outside hand and sit straight, he gave me some gorgeous moments.
The instructor was very detailed, she taught me a lot of theory around biomechanics of the bend. How you can't just focus on the bend, you have to focus on the outside which is stretching. The stretch was what was hard about the bend and horses that are stiff on one side are usually stiff to bend AND to stretch. It was a lightbulb moment.
We worked a lot on asking the horse to bend as a stretch into the bit and then asking him to balance there. I was not to adjust his balance by force, just ask for the stretch and let him balance. It was really neat. The horse also had amazingly crisp canter departs, illuminating another area where Brego and I can definitely improve. I also found I tend to relax my belly in the canter instead of sitting straight with my abs and sinking lower. I could definitely tell on this horse when I got it right. Brego's canter is so bouncy, it is very hard to ride, even for my former instructor, so it is harder to work on my seat and I end up clenching with my thighs. It was really cool to ride this horse's canter and feel my weight sink and my sternum grow tall.
So all in all, very successful and mind blowing, just how I like my dressage lessons. I want to understand dressage, not just ride it, and this instructor answered all my "why"s in ways that made a lot of sense. I am so happy to have found a great instructor. She is keen to meet my horse. I could tell by the way she talked about my challenges that Brego just might surprise her. Not that he is a horse up to her level, but that he is not your typical plow beast and can carry himself. He gets it, even if he is not strong enough to execute it all the time.
I am going to see how this week goes and then take another lesson, either on that awesome schoolie or bring Brego along. I am going to shoot for dressage every other week and jumping every other week, so I get a lesson a week. I don't have the cash to take two lessons a week from the two disciplines, so I'll just have to make do. Both of these instructors are so great, that I usually have plenty of homework to work on over two weeks.
After exercising my brain, it was time to exercise my fun. So we loaded up Brego and headed out to UNH to school cross country. The UNH course is very pretty, winding through woods on double track roads, breaking out into clearings of gorgeous grass. Most of the fences are maxed for their level. There's a lot of questions from light to dark and back to light as you weave in and out of the trees. It's a tough course, in my opinion, not unfair, but certainly rewarding confident riding.
From the two weeks off, neither Brego nor I were quite confident enough and we had some greenie refusals at the water, for example. The footing was also hit or miss, 90% would be dry and then you would hit a slick swampy area with tall enough grass that you couldn't tell it was wet until you heard the squish. Brego slipped a few times, but seemed to recover fine. He felt rock solid on his leg, but definitely out of shape for the work (both physically and mentally). We schooled pretty hard, over some spooky fences and then went back and did the whole course.
Once separated from his horse buddy and convinced he was really on course, he did great and got stronger as the course went on. He just starts soft and not convinced we should really be doing this. I am glad we schooled before the big show, to see how his leg does and to get him back into work. I think it would have been quite unpleasant to take him out there next week after not going cross country or doing much jumping at all for a month.
After the schooling, Brego was tired but jogged sound. He had worked hard and I pushed him, but he was in a good mood and really chatting me up. He was also all about relaxing and rolled in the sandy parking lot. Making himself at home, that's what he does. I then wrapped his hind legs for the ride and to take any heat and swelling off.
The big test will be tomorrow when the wraps come off. If his leg is unchanged after the heavy schooling and he jogs fine, he will probably be good to go. And then it's just the weather to worry about. We'll take it one day at a time.