After many hours of thinking it over, talking about it, and imagining it, I finally took my first dressage lesson. I did it on Z, again - after many hours of thinking it over, talking about it and imagining it. I've been given an amazing opportunity to start a high-end dressage horse and develop her in exchange for dressage lessons. It felt so strange to imagine leaving my Parelli bubble, but I realized that I owe it to myself to give this a chance. I owe it to my future and my development as a horsewoman.
I first went and watched the trainer ride a couple of her student's horses. I thought it would be good for me to see some L3/L4 Dressage riding. After all, that is where the dressage lessons would take me if I committed over time. It was interesting to watch and I really don't know what I thought afterwards. It's so different from what I do with my horses.
The trainer and I talked about it extensively and I asked her to watch a Parelli DVD. I wanted her opinion on the type of riding I've been striving for in the program and I wanted her to understand where I'm coming from. We had a fantastic discussion afterwards, during my first lesson, about what she saw on the DVD and where it fits in her world and where it falls short. Already, I've learned a ton and we're only in the first week.
I spent 3 hours with her on my levels horse, Zarah. We spent the majority of that time talking and discovering eachother's horsemanship. In small spurts we talked about riding, and she made tweaks to my riding that I have to admit left me feeling more balanced. Some of the concepts are the same, but they are definitely carried out with some interesting differences. I brought 2 horses along, just in case. I brought Cowboy as well. He ended up tied to the trailer the whole time. There is always a lesson to learn - I learned that he does just fine tied for 3 hours and he learned that a trailer ride might just mean standing around in a different location. He was a good boy and gave me no trouble at all.
I'm learning that in dressage, it's all about the core. All the movement comes from the riders core. The core pulls the hind legs forward and directs energy in a particular direction. The hips are always aligned with the horses hips, the riders shoulders with the horses shoulders. This is similar to my background. The difference is that the hips are always maintaining a parellel line to the ground. The hips don't lift or lower. The balance point is further forward in dressage. The rider never falls back on the tail bone, the rider's core is always pulling foward (even when going backward). Dressage covets the forward energy and it is never impeded by the rider. The way I halt causes my body to go behind the horse, a big no-no in dressage.
The hips and core remain fairly constant, following the movement of the horse, but never in the way of forward energy. The rider doesn't push the horse forward with the core either. It's a delicate balance. In the trot, I've been taught to let my horse push me up and control my down. In dressage, the rider controls the up and the down. The hips go up and forward and never just up in the rising trot. In the sitting trot, it's the same only following each hind instead of the diagonal hind. It was a different feeling that I'm normally seeking. To down transition, the hips slow to follow the hind required for the downward gait. So my hips ride a walk, my horse gives a walk. My hips would slow to a halt, my horses hind slows to a halt. In the back up, my core is still forward but my hips would move the hind legs. My seat position was always the same and my core again, was always forward. And you know what? My horse understood just fine. I'm sure I had a quizzical look on my face most of the evening. I opened the door to a whole new world. My horse was just fine with it, too.
In the trot, my hips should stay close to the saddle and should go forward toward the shoulders. The horse should always remain between my legs! We had to focus on that because I often ride Z without much particularity about our direction. In dressage, you're always particular about your direction - you are always the leader of that. The horse's job is to feel the direction and stay with it. So much for a passenger lesson! However, that is not to say that I won't continue to follow the program. I will follow it and I will continue to learn what the Parelli's teach. However, I will be conscious of when I need to horse to stay between my legs and when I can allow her to lead our direction. The biggest offense from this directional "looseness" (can't think of a better word) is that the horse will fall in when they turn. Naturally, they will fall in, lean into a turn and not stay upright. Another big no-no in dressage - the horse's responsibility is to stay up and light on the fore - ALWAYS!
Honestly, I was fascinated. We made some big changes in my riding in 1 session and I'll be practicing this new perspective moving forward. Z also was just fine with it and maybe even happier. The trainer commented on what a great horse she is and how perfect she is for what we're doing. I credit the Parelli program - she's the horse she is because I've followed the Parelli's teachings. I learned that our philosophies are not very different. She respects the horse as I do, she understands horses and how to motivate them, she also despises some of the championship riders' style - as I do. She mentioned the "housewives" that come out and learn dressage and force collection and ride rigid and she called it abuse. I know of a woman that always come to my mind when I think of dressage. I've never liked her style. Loma was talking about her indirectly, and she considers it abuse. Amen, sister.
So, now it's time to learn riding in a way the Parelli's don't teach it. I have to admit the Parelli's fall short teaching riding. They excel in teaching horsemanship, horse behavior, finding mental and emotional collection and many other things. But learning to ride well takes a teacher on the ground. That's where I am in my journey.
I love my life.