We had a lesson on Thursday evening and I tried out another new saddle- a Thornhill Zurich. Well, let's just say that the Saddlefitter is right when she describes the body types of her saddles- the Zurich is definitely built for a narrow, thoroughbred-type back. Needless to say it was too narrow for Louie and pinched him, so we had kind of a crappy lesson.
If I were smart, I should have taken it off and put our regular saddle back on and continued the lesson. But I wasn't. We didn't even make it past the basics, walking and trotting in a circle with a bend. Marlene wants Louie bent quite a bit to the inside while riding a circle, she wants his neck hollow on the inside and bulged out on the outside, the inside rein should never touch the neck. Louie's head/neck position was extremely inconsistent, as expected, he didn't want to stretch down to find the bit.
Because we couldn't get those basics right and consistent enough, we didn't have time to work on our lateral work. I did ask her to just quickly check our shoulder in before our lesson ended, and he did really well in one direction, and was dull/asleep to my aids in the other. The direction that he did well in though, Marlene was really happy with how we did.
What we need to work on:
1. Saddle fit. I need to ride in my regular saddle for a while to get Louie's back back to feeling good before trying more dressage saddles. In addition, Marlene thinks we should ride at least 3-4 times per week if we expect to make any progress.
2. Be very precise. When Marlene is not there, there is nobody correcting me for letting Louie drift inside/outside of our circle or for taking a step forward off of the rail and out of shoulder in. We need to be more precise in the movements we do, and Louie needs to respond immediately when I ask him for something (ie- more bend, move forward, slow down, etc). We also need to work on our up and down transitions, not only so that he doesn't throw his whole head/neck in the air, but so that we don't loose the frame and connection that we had when I asked for the transition. This means keeping contact, bend, and body position/direction of travel consistent. This is part of being precise, we want a smooth transition, not a stoppage of one gait and after a few seconds, resuming in another.
3. Holding hands. By this, she means Louie taking up more contact with my outside hand. This is frustrating because right now I'm getting about a 1 on a 10-scale for pressure on my reins, at some point in the past I was getting 2-3, but about a month ago I was getting about zero or even negative contact. So, I'm happy with 1 for now, but I need to continually work on getting 2-3 pressure on my outside rein. Marlene determines how much pressure is on each rein by determining which rein is higher, whichever looks higher from where it goes from the bit to hand, is holding more contact.
4. Relaxing, yet keeping good energy. There were a lot of distractions during our lesson, a lot of people riding, entering and leaving the ring. Every time Louie had the opportunity, he would lift his whole neck up, loose the bend, and gawk. We need to work on keeping his attention, relaxing into the work we're doing, yet keeping enough rhythm and energy so that he doesn't lose forward momentum when I ask for bends, transitions, etc.
Well, I think that's enough to work on. I'm trying to drive Louie more, and had a very nice drive on Tuesday, so it's tough to make a lot of progress between trying to vary Louie's workouts, my own *real* work schedule, trying to get some exercise for myself, and spending time with family and friends. Stress. Whew! Well, we've been making good enough progress on 2-3 rides per week all along, I don't think I need to quit my day job just yet.