Ride every stride

Hi folks.  My name is Sarah, and I’m one of Christy’s students.   Because she’s so busy at the moment with shows and students, I’m going to share my perspective with you and pen some guest columns every now and then for her blog.

So last night Christy left me a message shortly after she had ridden Jag.  “Your half-halt is re-installed and working well, and as a result his transitions and tempo were much better,” she said, ticking through the list of things we had discussed during my last lesson. “But OUTSIDE AIDS … we have to work on those.  You have to keep your outside leg on and keep hold of that outside rein.  Keep those shoulders where they belong!”

Oh, boy.  It had been about two weeks since she rode him, and clearly, my weak outside aids had enabled Jag to form some undesirable habits in that short time.  I’m rapidly learning that you have to ride every. single. stride in order to make progress.

That level of interaction can be hard for a beginner (such as yours truly) to understand.  Christy, thankfully, is as good at managing me as she is managing Jag.  Telling me to ride every stride won’t yield results.  So she takes a different approach, adding tasks for me throughout my ride.

Here’s an example.  Last week, Jag was feeling good and was trotting very quickly – he wasn’t interested in relaxing and rounding – he wanted to go go go.  As I struggled to regulate his pace with my posting, Christy started having me half-halt going into the corners.

“Half-halt, get a smaller trot, and hold it for a few strides,” she commanded.  I did as she requested, and was rewarded with a slightly more reasonable gait from my, um, enthusiastic horse.  “Let him trot on,” she called as we came out of the corner.  I breathed a side of relief as we started down the long side.  Jag seized the opportunity to speed up.  “Half-halt him!” came the command from the center of the ring. “And again!”  Ooof! I half-halted.  “Again going into the corner! Little trot!”  Eyes popping, I deepened my seat against the pogo-stick action of the horse, applied a little leg, half-halted the outside rein by flexing my outside shoulder back and …”Keep him soft!  Bend him inside!”  I pushed my inside seatbone forward, and played with the inside rein, inviting the bend.   And … the horse rounded.  I felt his back end finally come underneath him.  I had a good strong connection on my outside rein.  The trot became smooth, powerful, flowing, balanced

“That’s nice, huh? Ride that trot!”  Christy called from the center.  I did, for about two strides, relaxing just a bit too much.  Jag sped up.

“Half halt him!” And so the process began again.

But as we worked through the half halts, while flexing inward and outward, the quality of the horse’s trot improved exponentially, and by riding proactively – keeping him soft and using the half-halts to balance him, we were able to maintain that nice trot.   The key word there is ‘maintain,” however.   Performed well, dressage may look serene and flawless. But those beautiful gaits one sees in the ring are produced by an effective rider, who is riding every stride.


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