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The (not so) Straight & Narrow

Look at that, two posts in a week!

Tris and I continue to refine pieces of the First Level test for Saturday, because let’s be honest, neither of us is going to learn anything new, so I am just mentally writing off “halfway decent canter lengthening” already. I mean, we’ll go faster for sure, the judge will just have to make a sour face at us and score accordingly.

One of our biggest ongoing challenges for, say, 15+ years now, has been straightness. In all its aspects, of course: straight through the body is a relative and complicated thing in dressage, because “straight” does not always mean “straight like a ruler” and in fact that is often a very bad way to be straight. (This is one of the reasons why people hate dressage.)

There’s also straightness in the sense of “If I point you at a thing, will you go toward the thing?”

Folks, I am a touch ashamed to admit this, but Tristan does not.

Here is a sampling of my inner monologue after pointing Tristan toward a thing. It does not matter whether we are in wide open space in a field, on a dirt road, crossing a diagonal, or even on the rail.

“Okay: eyes on the end point, whoops, there goes a shoulder, okay, crap, now a hind foot is just…off in space?…and there goes the shoulder again, we are going straight, did you really need to cross over with your front legs for no reason? now catch the bulge through the ribs because we’re staggering drunkenly the other way, and now that the obvious stuff is corralled there’s this awful subtle drift and I’ve been playing whack a mole so much that now my eyes are off the end point and this diagonal is now a zigzag ending nowhere near where it was supposed to.”

If we’re on a rail there’s a 50% chance that he has either swerved in, sometimes all the way to the quarter line, or slammed my leg into the wall. Every pair of tall boots I have ever owned has paint scrapes on the outside. We can be having the best, most productive dressage school in the world and if I lose focus for one second, WHAM, there goes my knee.

If we’re out on the trail, or on a road, I guarantee we have sidestepped from one side to the other and he’s tried to fall into a ditch at some point. Especially if he’s on a loose rein. Especially if he doesn’t want to play that day. I can avoid it by putting him deep into contact, forcing leg yields back and forth, and riding every.single.step. but that kind of ruins the point of a trail ride, doesn’t it?

I know we’re not supposed to blame the horse for everything because it’s always the rider’s fault, but I’m telling you right now, I’ve ridden this horse for 15 years and a chunk of it is pure cussedness. He doesn’t want to have to. Another big chunk is just pure lack of coordination – so much for mustangs’ vaunted surefootedness, my horse can splat on his face or put a leg in an invisible hole on perfectly level & engineered footing. Lest you think I’m trying to get out of this, I’m also absolutely certain that a good chunk of it is him responding to my own weight shifts. But it’s near-impossible to control my own body and weight and seat in perfect straightness and evenness when I’m also playing constant catch up.

Jumping was never an issue. Tristan will lock on a jump and drag you to it from 10 strides away, and one of his best features is his willingness and ability to jump the jump pretty much no matter what. He will launch himself, pretty much guaranteed, unless you truly haul him off of it. He may have to take care of things with some stuttering footwork in the last stride, but he’s going.

Obviously, it’s much more of a problem in dressage. It has gotten both better and worse over the years. Better in the sense that it’s often more subtle and when he is truly 100% working perfectly, obviously it goes away. Worse in the sense that his evasions and wobbling have grown more subtle and more constant. I mean, it’s kind of maddening to loosen the reins for a break and almost immediately tip sideways to slam you into the wall.

I would appreciate any ideas the horse blogging world has for ways to improve. I think I successfully hide a lot of it from trainers because I’m so constantly managing it, but also, that’s exhausting. It’s more than a little frustrating to have a 25yo dead broke horse who acts like the world’s most obnoxious and wiggly green bean in this aspect.

2 thoughts on “The (not so) Straight & Narrow

  1. I don’t really have advice because I battle the same demon and it’s not gone away… Forward usually helps. but it’s a like band aid, not a cure. All three of my horses resort to moving sideways if I ask for something they don’t want to do (usually it’s a forward transition). Shiny especially… I also have scuffs on my boots from being run into walls and fences with her.

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