Friday, November 22, 2013

Dressage Visuals: Wheelbarrows and Cowboys

Everyone learns a bit differently.  Some like specific directions -- "drop your heels one inch and pull them in towards your horse two inches".  Some like general directions that let you figure it out -- "if you want your horse to push from his hind engine, what do you think your body should be doing?"  Others, like myself, like visuals.   Even when my instructor gives me specific instructions (which I like too), I tend to go home and mull over those directions until I come up with a visual that matches the instructions.

I've come up with three visuals that I have been using to get more forward energy from Golly and they seem to be working well.

Cowboy Legs
Visualize your legs opening up as if you were a bow legged cowboy.  I have a tendency to lock my knees and upper thighs on his sides, essentially shutting down his forward motion.   I visualize my legs looking more like the legs on the right with open knees and upper thighs.  My ankles and lower calf muscles are also relaxed and draped, only coming in contact with Golly's sides when I need more energy.  Even when I use the lower leg to tap him, the leg from knee up remains relaxed and open.
Now of course, if you have normal muscular structure, this posture is actually impossible so its not that you are REALLY making your legs look like this.  Its more that you are visualizing the feeling and the end result is that you have a lighter upper leg.

This visual applies to both you and your horse.  For the horse, I visualize the power coming from the "large" engine in the back funneling the power to a smaller area in the front.  You have to add the visual of the person pushing the cart so you get the feeling of the pushing power coming from the rear. second way I use this visual is how to hold my reins, especially when I am starting my ride.  Of course, the "ideal" is to hold your hands at the wither, close together.  However, with horses new in their dressage education (and with horses like Golly), it usually works better to separate your hands similar to this wheelbarrow diagram.   It allows you to have steadier contact for one as you can move your hands in and out as needed to shorten the reins (faster than moving your hands up and down the rein).  Plus, for reasons I haven't quite yet figured out, they just like it better and respond with a softer neck and give to the bit.   Sometimes the why isn't needed... I know it works and will continue to do it and figure out the why later!

Body Position
The last one is something I am working on and still not good at yet. ...  having my body behind the vertical position.  I was riding at an upright or slightly forward position, with equal weight on all three points (pubic bone and seat bones).   If you read many dressage magazines and books, they will tell you that you should have equal weight on all three.   However, the ideal is not always what works for your horse and you have to be flexible to his needs.   With a sluggish horse like Golly it works better to have less weight on the pubic bone and more on the seat bones.   Its not that I am dragging the seat bones into him, but more than I am lightening the pubic bone.   Granted.. that sounds like a grey difference but there is a difference.

Putting all three together I am getting a lighter horse that is more willing to go forward.   I'm still working on figuring it out and hope to finesse this approach.   And like most things on this blog....  I may find that some of it isn't quite right later.... its a journey folks!  (By the way, I'd love to hear your approaches to get a sluggish horse to be lighter and move with more forward energy.)

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