What Dressage Trainers Do When Bored
Can you imagine how mind-numbing it would be, telling your students to shorten their reins all day long? Or to relentlessly remind them to “Use the outside rein!” only to watch them haul on the inside rein. It’s not that we (students) aren’t listening, it’s just oh so difficult to change old habits.
I can’t imagine a more maddening profession.
To survive, dressage trainers seek revenge in quiet, sneaky ways — such as taking away your stirrups or having you ride with one hand behind your back. In the old days, they’d rubber-band your hands together or have you hold a short piece of string to keep you from flapping your arms. While these tried-and-true methods of torture are still in effect, there’s a new kid on the block: the Equicube.
I know quite a lot about the Equicube, having written an article about it for Flying Changes Magazine back in 2014 (See the May 2014 issue for the full report.) At the time, I thought, “What a great idea!” but didn’t have a chance to test ride the product.
That all changed when —without warning — my trainer, Natalie Perry handed me an Equicube and said, “Let’s give this a try!”
To be honest, my first thought was, “Oh, crap.” There’s a learning curve to any new product and I really hate feeling inept. (Whinney if you agree.)
“Has anyone else tried it?,” I asked … stalling for time.
“No,” Natalie replied, cheerfully. “You’re the first.”
“I’m the guinea pig??!!”
“Yes,” Natalie said. “I haven’t even tried it.”
The Equicube is a solid rubber cube with molded handles. I knew from my own article that you hold the reins as normally as possible and hook your thumbs between the handles.
The cube weighs 4.2 pounds, which feels surprisingly heavy at first. While you’re supposed to hold it above your horse’s withers, I let it bump on Micah as we walked, to let him get used to it. In case of ineptness on my part, I didn’t want to startle my horse. Micah thought this was a stupid idea but graciously put up with the program.
I knew all of the theory behind the Cube, but it was a different thing altogether to use it. First off, the Cube prevents you from flailing your hands and arms about. If that was all it did, it’d be worth the money — but that’s just the start.
The weight of the Cube encourages you to keep your elbows at your side, connecting your arms to your back. (It’s simply too heavy to wave about, above your horse’s neck.) And, because you can’t flap your arms around like you usually do, you have to use your legs and seat to turn the horse. You naturally engage your core to deal with the extra weight, which encourages you to sit back (aka: use your seat). Finally, you try to keep the Equicube’s top side level — which indicates that your hands are level. If the cube tilts forward, back, or side to side, it’s a dead giveaway that your hands are uneven.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. And, it’s surprisingly effective.
We took our time getting used to the Equicube at the walk and trot before proceeding to the canter. “Impressive!,” Natalie said, watching my riding become more effective. I admit, I was floored. I could feel the changes in my position. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like an upper level rider.
I was a little nervous about trying the canter. False bravado does little good with horses and horse trainers, so I’m in the habit of putting it out there. “I’m scared,” I said.
Trainer Mari Valceschini was schooling a horse in the arena at the time and openly laughed at the way my eyes were rolling around in my head. A sure sign that I’m taking in new information.
The canter work went just fine! As Natalie said, focusing on holding the Cube encouraged me to keep my hands quiet, let my body move with the horse, and let my arms move with my body. (Instead of the arms doing a tango on their own.)
As I used my body more adeptly, Micah responded and used his own body better. I’d shift my weight back and he’d rock off of his forehand and really engage his hind legs. (These are things we’ve been working on, but the Cube pulled it all together quickly and consistently.)
I could really feel myself using my core more effectively and expect to have sore abs tomorrow. Success!!
We ended the lesson by taking away the Equicube and seeing if I could maintain my position. The thinking is that you can gain muscle memory of correct riding and eventually use the Cube only as needed for tune-ups. My position remained much improved, even without the Cube. I felt as I was carrying an imaginary Cube in front of me, and the imagery was effective.
My new plan is to warm up with the Equicube whenever possible, to get that correct position locked in my brain and body.
I suggested Natalie put a donation jar in the barn. This is a product well worth the $80 retail price. If we all chip in a dollar a ride, we’ll have it paid off in no time.
The Equicube is available through www.equicube.net and you can also learn about it on Facebook. If you have experience with it, let me know what you think!