Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Start of a New Journey- Our First Dressage Lesson

Tonight Louie and I took our first lesson with a new dressage instructor- Marlene Schneider.  Marlene is an accomplished USDF judge and rider/trainer, and as it turns out, an excellent instructor.  We are pretty lucky to have the opportunity to take lessons with such a great instructor, and I'm very excited to start on this journey!  Louie, on the other hand, I think saw tonight's lesson as more work, and being the smart horse he is, is already contemplating how to get out of doing more work and get back to his food. 

Introductory lessons are always rather slow, but being that this was my first lesson, I feel like we really left with some good ideas to chew on and a lot to work on in the next few weeks.  We plan on taking lessons every other week or so, but due to holidays/travel, our next lesson will be a month away.  But that is alright, it will give Louie and me plenty of time to work on what we learned tonight. 

One thing we learned tonight is that Marlene has an interesting, and effective way of viewing the amount of pressure used with the seat, leg, and the hands-she grades it on a scale from 1-10 and frequently asks me what number I'm at with each hand or leg, etc.  We then use these numbers as she instructs me to put more weight in my inside seat bone, etc. 

Another analogy that I really liked was one about holding both ends of a whip and pushing them together to make the center of a whip raise up.  This is like using the legs and the hands to bring both ends of the horse together and raise up in the middle- lift the back.  If you let go of your hands or seat, the whip goes flat, as does the horse's back. 

Tonight we worked most on walking in a circle, staying bent to the middle, but with more pressure on the outside rein than the inside, and my inside leg and seat pushing him into the outside rein.  This was very challenging to do, especially with a horse who is new to the concept and a rider who hasn't asked her body to work in this particular way before.  We then worked on this briefly at the trot, which was actually easier as Louie seemed to be more responsive to my legs at the trot.  The moral of the story of tonight's lesson though, I think, is that I need some spurs or my legs are going to break.  Owww, I know I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

There were glimmers of hope and understanding, and moments of frustration and total transparency of my deficits in Louie's training tonight, but Marlene has a really good eye and was able to help me to see these strengths and weaknesses in my own self.  She is also excellent at reading body language and could tell every time Louie gave her the stink eye or told her or me how he felt about his new expectations.  There was actually a moment of laughter and frustration mixed into one as she asked us to trot and Louie, totally dead to my legs squeezing with all my might, plowed right through my right leg into the middle of the circle and would NOT trot.  He walked in a circle to the right, tighter and tighter, going through my right leg as I was shoving it into him with all the strength I had.  Ugh!  I kicked, bounced, did everything I could and he would NOT GO faster.  Finally I walked him back to the rail, caught him off guard, then was finally able to pick up a trot and complete the exercise. 

Marlene also had some good advice for me on my downward transitions.  Currently, Louie feels the need to lift his neck up when we transition from trot to walk.  So, we're going to work on slowing down and lightly working the bit in his mouth to keep him active and on it, and continue to go slower and slower, while maintaining the head position, until we break into a walk.  If he tries to raise his neck up, he has to trot more.  I think this could work.  I've got a few weeks to try it, so I'm hoping that it will work because we really need to work on our downward transitions in a bad bad way. 

Overall, I thought the lesson was great, and I really feel that Marlene is going to be able to help us- not only to learn dressage, but balance and improve our riding, and strengthen and develop the proper muscling for both horse and rider.  Louie and I have much to gain from Marlene's expertise, and I think she is going to be a good fit for us.  I love that she is not critical of the fact that I ride a Saddlebred, or the fact that I really want to work him as a hunter (right now, though that could change at any time) and use the dressage as more of a cross training exercise.  I think she understands the utility in which I'd like to learn dressage, and I love how open minded she is.  Plus she really stays on top of me and pays attention to what I'm doing and how Louie is responding- something that not all trainers seem to have a knack for. 

I'm really excited to begin working on tonight's lessons, and though I'm sure Louie is going to protest, I think these lessons are going to be such a huge benefit to our riding.  We will see how the next few weeks go practicing on our own- I'm sure they're be fraught with frustration, but in the end I know it will be worth it. 


  1. Louie's reaction reminds me of Grey. I ride with spurs to help with leg yields etc, but they don't work for trot or canter cues. A couple of weeks ago I thought I might sharpen up Grey's canter depart using the spurs. He slowly dragged to a halt, threw his head up and said "If you don't get that damned spur out of my ribs we're not going ANYWHERE. Do you think after all these years I've forgotten what the word 'canter' means? Just be patient and let me get my legs sorted out, and then we'll go."

  2. oops! Almost had the reverse effect for Grey! I know I used them on one of our walking horses once- he wouldn't respond to my calf, so he kept getting the spur. Didn't seem to figure the association out, but eventually did become quite ornery. That's why I'm scared to use them on Louie. We'll see! He seems like he's getting some of these basics- hopefully Marlene will agree that we're doing it right in our next lesson.