dressage, dressage training, horse/rider communication, training

Conversing with Your Horse

Micah Headshot 2
This week’s focus has been on improving my riding to the left. It’s always been my most difficult direction and you can clearly see the difference in our work to that side.
The right side is so much easier, it’s tempting to stay in that direction forever. But that would be cheating.

Alas, dressage is about symmetry.

To the right, I can carry on an ongoing conversation with my horse pretty easily. My aids are faster, softer, and more responsive. I can sit correctly more consistently. Not surprisingly, everything is easier for Micah in this direction, as well.
To the left, I am sluggish. I have a tendency to give away the outside rein (although we’re making big improvements) and my fingers just aren’t as nimble on the reins. I also tend to push my left leg forward at the canter in this direction, stiffening in the saddle at the same time. I’m more likely to get pulled forward, out of the saddle. These are hard habits to break. Yet, I can’t expect my horse to improve if I don’t.
I’ve also noticed that when I’m working at something I find difficult, like haunches in, I freeze up once in a while. When I’m concentrating really hard, I’ll assume a position and lock into it — exactly the opposite of carrying on a fluid conversation.
I can now see (thanks to Natalie’s astute observations) that if the horse is locking up (usually coming above or behind the bit and glaring at me), I probably started it by locking up myself.
My new mantra is to keep the conversation going. To me, this means trying to keep my aids fluid and responsive at all times, in both directions, and especially when I’m doing something difficult.
We’ve all seen the polished rider who goes with the horse through a shy, kick, or a bolt — they just keep riding, no matter what. I want to be that rider minus the naughty horse.
As always, changing habits is hard but I love riding with a goal in mind. Chances are, you and your horse have one preferred direction as well. This week, try to feel the difference and work toward symmetry. Best of luck! Just by being attuned to this, you’ll make progress.