Kind of a thinky dressage-y post ahead; you’ve been warned!
One of the things I’m working on hardest with Tristan right now is establishing a new baseline for forward. He is not a naturally forward-thinking horse (pretty much the opposite, actually), and when I was starting him I was coming off some bad experiences – so I unfortunately throttled any of his possible natural tendencies early.
Right now I’m starting off every ride with isolating and re-confirming driving aids. It’s occasionally ugly, but spending 10-15 minutes saying “yes, legs mean go immediately” and repeating that for driving seat and clucking, can make a big difference. We start on the buckle – I pick the reins up only if he’s going completely to the middle of the ring – and once he’s responding and moving out I take in enough rein just to feel his mouth and start over. By the end of that he’s usually warmed up enough to really pick up the reins and start asking him to bend and be supple.
(side note: some of you who have horses who just…do stuff?…for strides and strides at a time? and don’t need to be re-convinced every other stride? like they just go…straight when they’re pointed straight or…they keep walking after you’ve asked them once?…what is that even like?!?!?)
One of the things S. has been hardest on me about in lessons is my posting.
It goes something like this: in an ideal forward horse, you’re using the energy and thrust of the horse to propel your body forward out of the saddle. You’re kind of recycling that energy around and through. When I’ve really been in a groove with this it feels like my posting is more horizontal than vertical, and like I’m barely coming out of the saddle at all.
On Tristan, I have two big challenges in posting the trot.
First: my posting mechanic is reactive rather than active. I’m following his motion and staying out of his way, rather than recycling his energy. I’m using my own muscles to post and focusing on rhythm to match. That means it’s a relatively slow post, and based more on caution than active riding.
Second: at any given second, it’s very possible for Tristan to trip either in front or behind. He’s just a klutzy horse, especially before he’s been put together; if he gets too on the forehand he’ll just randomly put a front leg in an imaginary hole. If he gets left out behind, it feels like the whole back end vanishes and then in the next second he surges forward to make up for it. When I’m sitting that’s fine – I follow it and I’m pretty used to it. When I’m posting, if that happens when I’m up out of the saddle, I tend to drop him and abandon my posting rhythm because it’s really easy to catch him pretty hard in the mouth when all of a sudden half the horse underneath me is gone. And obviously I want to avoid that.
I’m making him sound like a lot of fun to ride, huh?
Anyway: in service to both of these things, S. has me trying to actively post faster. The things preventing me from doing that are both of the former things – and also some of my own body mechanics. She thinks I’m posting too up and down – like my back is too straight. And that makes more distance for me to cover when I’m out of the saddle, and thus it’s harder to move faster. So she’s got me tipping forward a bit – to me it feels like way too much but apparently it is only like an inch or two.
I had a small breakthrough last week but I’m not sure if it’s a correct one. I was wearing some super-sticky silicone full seat breeches, and concentrating pretty hard on my body mechanics, and found that it was much easier for me to post more quickly if I almost…use my calves to pull myself back down into the saddle.
I’ve been playing with that feeling more, and thinking about Jen’s recent post about posting mechanics, and about lowering yourself into the saddle versus letting gravity bring you down. That makes a lot of sense to me – but I can’t wrap my head around the quickness of it. I just can’t get out of my own way to move as fast as I’m meant to, without pulling myself back down. And I’m just not sure that using my calves to do that is the best thing to do.
I did bring it up with S., and she’s pondering it and we’ll address it further in my next lesson, but…in the meantime, any ideas?