Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Freestyle Lesson

Today, I had a 3 hour freestyle riding lesson with my Parelli instructor. We talked at length about my dressage experiences and how I'll balance and merry the 2 worlds moving forward. I want to be sure I don't lose my relationship with my horse or sacrifice what I know about horsemanship as I lesson with a "normal" dressage instructor.

We started with a little groundwork and me asking Z to mirror my gait on the 12' line. She went into the canter with a little attitude, so Kime had me canter her for 3 strides then back to walk. I learned (after she demo'ed) that I can definitely use my body more in my groundwork and simulate my riding more. I cantered, so Z did, then I sat back as if I was riding and asked for the transition down. She learned quickly to watch my body and follow my gait. That was cool. Then, Kime noticed Z was not backing respectfully enough, so we fixed that up by backing her straight for as long as it took until Z changed her attitude. I was working hard at being assertive and probably doing too much and Kime showed me how to ask her to back - not necessarily quickly - and stay straight and assertive and do less until Z started to "think" backwards with a positive attitude. That was all great - groundwork polishing... you've never learned it all.

Then, I got on and we started with freestyle transitions. Z wanted to cook with gas and a down transition was not in her plan! I had to laugh. So, I was only allowed to pick up one rein for the entire lesson. Most of the lesson was riding the rail and I learned to get better about riding the rail and using my direct rein and my body position correctly to keep her on the rail. That was all great. For me, riding the rail at the canter has always been more of a challenging because Z is great about leaving the rail and cutting the corners. We worked a ton on my direct rein and my body (prior to picking up the rein) telling her that she'd gone "out of bounds". I spent a lot of time practicing being very clear with my body and where my energy was directed.

We turned on the rail transitions into the corner game quickly to help Z transition down. If she didn't stop directly in the corner, I would cause a lot of commotion on the opposite side of her until she made her way back to the corner and then give the release. I kept her head facing the corner until she made her way there. And I had to remember to keep my focus in the correct place (the corner) so that I was clear with my signals. That was very cool and new for me.

At one point, Z really had her druthers and Kime had me ride her hard until she ASKED to transition down. She wasn't allowed to transition down herself, she was allowed to ask. If she asked and obliged and then she found a need for forward right away, I was to ride her fast again until she asked again. Whooo!! That was hard! It took all my courage to ride her at a canter/gallop in an english saddle and not hold the reins in an arena with corners that seemed to come very fast! It was exhilirating and powerful to ride her that way and after a few turns and coming out of fetal position (lol) I realized just how effective it was. Z was pretty tired and started to change her attitude about things. I have to remember to lift my 1 rein STRAIGHT UP! And bump her if necessary. I also have to remember to ride the lead! I'm riding straight ahead in the canter and my body should be following her lead with my hip and shoulder on the same lead as hers.

After some time I did some passenger lesson at the canter and would call out the lead I was on. The idea was to get me feeling for it and riding it and knowing which lead from the feel. I've never done that - brand new for me. Lots of light bulbs going on in my head. I was actually surprised how well I could ride her at the canter w/o reins. I was better than I thought and although a couple times she nearly left me in mid-air, I stayed with her all the way. Good for me. When she finally cantered away from the gate, we stopped and I got off immediately. We stood and talked and rested there - on the opposite side of the arena as the barn and let that soak in for my girl.

Some other things worth mentioning - I was not losing my stirrups in the canter, which means I was much better at staying long and relaxed. I naturally went back to pushing backwards in the canter instead of forwards (as instructed in my dressage lessons). Keeping Z on the rail with my seat and THEN my direct rein is very effective - I've been lifting the rein which points her nose, but doesn't get her whole body back on the rail. Also, my head shouldn't drop when I use my direct rein - it should lift and turn in the rein direction.

Loved it. Broke through some thresholds and learned a ton in 3 hours. I'm sure I'm forgetting some things and I'll be playing it through my mind for a couple days so maybe I'll add more later. Still, passenger riding at the canter in the english saddle was a great confidence builder and it's time I pushed through that bubble. I'm good enough now.

Kime and I talked a ton about leasing Gemini, managing my principals while learning dressage, not being Parelli "snobs", Cowboy, how great Z is... just good conversation with a like-minded horsewoman.

I love my life.

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