Friday, March 2, 2012

Lesson Day: Dancer, and riding in the passing zone

Checked on the boys before I headed over to my lesson yesterday afternoon.  The plows were out blading the 6"+ worth of slop off the even the gravel roads, but after the nearly 2" of rain we had before the snow started, the roads were awful.  It was a mandatory 4-wheel-drive trip.  The boys were happy to see me, and didn't seem to be any the worse for their drenching. 

At Eric's there was a horse trailer in the driveway and when I went in I got to meet the owner of another horse Eric has in training.  A nice down-to-earth seeming woman, she'd brought another of her horses over to work a bit. I didn't get his details, but a really pretty-headed, petite, but nicely put together sorrel paint she has listed at an upcoming sale.  Sharp markings, lovely white face, dark eyes, and initially a bit of an attitude.  He hadn't been ridden in a few months, and was not that enthused about the prospect. 

She longed him lightly both directions before she got on, and while he never offered to buck, there was a definite hunch to his back.  He spent the first half hour wringing his tail and grinding his teeth.  I could hear him from all the way around the corner by the cross-ties where I was saddling Dancer.  But once being annoyed didn't work, he settled down and cooperated more willingly, thank goodness.

Eric was finishing up with one horse when I arrived, and switched to the next at the start of my lesson.  His victim was a stretchy, long-headed bay with mounting issues.  The gelding arrived with extensive training, a show background, and a panic-stricken response anytime someone puts weight in a stirrup.  Eric spent the entire hour just calmly stepping into the stirrup, leaning over, and then quietly swinging on while the other rider and I did circles around the outside of the arena.  Finally the bay was calm enough to stand on a loose rein when he mounted.  When he dropped his head, licked and chewed Eric stepped off and on one more time.  The bay heaved a big sigh and relaxed - it was like a balloon deflating, you could see the tension drain away - and that was his ride for the day. 

I had a great view of all the action from the rail, because once Dancer was tacked up Eric had us join in the fun.  Since Dancer's stride covered quite a bit more ground than the paint's, not to mention she was working western pleasure slow to our more forward hunt seat, I lapped them fairly frequently.  It was good practice for the show ring - and good to be on a horse with show seasoning.  Neither horse paid the slightest attention to the other, but practicing invisible steering around traffic at the canter was a new challenge.

Like last week, the name of the game at all gaits was finding that sweet spot where Dancer remained collected, in frame, and neither too low or too flat.  Kind of like Goldilocks (but absent the bears), I was looking for the spot that was just right.  Unlike Goldilocks, three times was not always the charm. 

The majority of the lesson we went left, which is Dancer's stiffer direction.   Right he floats along without much more than minimal maintenance on my part, but left he finds it easier to go hollow or heavy on the forehand, so left was a workout for both of us.  We were both plenty sweaty by the time Eric allowed us to switch directions.   

My two-point is improving.  After watching lots of hunt seat classes both during the Scottsdale show and on YouTube, I've come to the conclusion that the two-point I was taught was NOT show-ring two-point as practiced by the hunter under saddle competitors.  I learned two-point for jumping.  By going over jumps.  We were taught a much crouchier style with a more forward release.  The two-point for hand-gallop on the flat feels much more upright and less exaggerated.  Of course, it's been 15 years, so I could be misremembering because heaven knows I've certainly forgotten lots of other things I learned that long ago!

It was interesting to have something of a group lesson for a change - although the paint's rider wasn't getting an official lesson, Eric would occasionally offer a comment or suggestion to her.  She was considerate about keeping to the same gait and direction that I was going, so even though I still had to pass her a lot, it really didn't interrupt the flow of my lesson.  Since Eric was basically stationary in the center, it wasn't as if he was really splitting his attention that much, and I think both of us were using the comments to the other rider as cross-check on our own riding. I know I was, at least, so it was certainly helpful in that respect, as well as for the passing practice.  

I didn't get formal homework for the week, but what I heard most frequently this lesson was pretty much the same as it's been: lower leg position (more two-point) and better posture.  Guess I can't expect the bad habits of a lifetime to be corrected overnight!  Not sure it will be nice enough to ride this weekend, but I have high hopes for next week.

And speaking of next week... this will, I think, be my last lesson on Dancer.  Remember, I said Eric had a proposition for me?  Well, it involves a gelding with a previous career as a Country English horse.  He's Eric's solution to the showing dilemma that my improved riding and Sunny's size presented.  Stay tuned for more details and hopefully pictures.

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