Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rockstar Dressage horse

Pre-Fawkes, dressage and I did not have a positive history.  I learned to ride hunter/jumper style (ish.  I am not saying I was doing it right) and I was very happy in that world.  I dabbled in eventing, but treated the dressage test as something that you just had to do in order to go play cross country.  Contact?  Who needs it?

Who needs contact?  This guy.  Also, at this time (Feb 2012) he needed ulcer treatment and a lot of calories.  Sheesh.

Still miss this mare.  She was incredible.
In college, the perfect hunter I was half leasing also started getting dressage training and her sweet attitude took a nose dive.  She didn't like trying to come into a frame, she hated stepping under herself, and in hindsight, I think she had some physical issues that made really trying to use herself difficult.  Her confirmation probably wasn't helping her either.  She was super happy toting people around 3' courses on a loose rein and to this day, I still am not sure why her otherwise great owner pushed so hard for that mare to do dressage when she didn't enjoy it.  Regardless, the mare I had jumped 4' on, trail ridden by myself, and jumped really frickin scary things on - picnic tables, drops, water jumps, hanging logs, ditches, etc - soured about life and stopped enjoying everything once she started doing dressage and I blamed the entire sport. Yes, I know that is silly now but it made sense when I was 20 and knew Everything.

Then a few years later, I boarded at a dressage barn for a year.  Maybe I should capitalize that.  A Dressage Barn.  Even though it wasn't technically dedicated to any specific discipline, it was clear who ran this place.  The riders bitched about the jumps, the low quality horses (you know, anything not an imported warmblood), and pretty much everything else that separated Us from Them.

When I overheard an argument that started about whose husband made more money and ended with whose Porsche Boxster was fancier, I understood what the term Dressage Queen meant.  I didn't even know people like that really existed.  I didn't even know what a Boxster was.  It still looks like a typo.

Anyways, all that background is to point out how amazing it is that I now really enjoy dressage lessons.  This is fully due to my awesome trainer's efforts and a horse whose default way of moving I affectionately refer to as "The Giraffe"

One of our first rides, and this was actually a low headset for him at the time. My lack of dressage acumen (and sore need for dressage lessons) is painfully obvious
Dressage has been amazing for Fawkes and I think he really enjoys it now.  Although he would never admit it.  Yesterday, we had a dressage lesson and he was fabulous. He tackled his nemesis Shoulder In, and even knocked some Shoulder Outs out of the park.

We spent the early part of the lesson getting him rocked back and off his forehand with lots of transitions.  Getting heavy in front is his newest evasion (previous evasions included head flipping and curling) and quite possibly my least favorite.  But hopefully we are nipping it in the bud, as it didn't take long to get him in balance.

Fawkes saying "I won't" May 2013.
We then moved on to shoulder in and out.  Shoulder out was a new concept to both Fawkes and I, but he took to it without blinking.  That is not our normal - new ideas typically involve a lot of stamping, kicking, snorting, threatening to rear, bucking, shoulder bulging, dropped shoulder spinning temper tantrums.  But he surprised me.  He was quiet, accepting, and did exactly as asked.  I am not going to lie.  It scared me.  Is he sick? Dying? A pod horse?  And it continued throughout the lesson.  We have just started working on lead changes.  Fawkes is an auto changer, the very first I have ever ridden.  I am not sure if this is true of all auto changers, but he does not appreciate being asked to change leads and he doesn't care when I want the change.  He never cross fires and will always swap right before the corner.  So in his mind, this is a done deal, perfection has been achieved and to be honest, I don't disagree with him.  My dressage trainer begs to differ and thinks I should also be allowed to request a change at specific times.


Did I mention Fawkes harbors a lot of resentment for our dressage trainer?  Things like this are why.

So we have introduced the concept of me requesting a change.  This is hard for me as well since it requires being in balance and I am naturally happily crooked.  But damn if we didn't get 4 (four!) changes out of 5 yesterday that were when asked or within a stride.  On that note, I got off  him and took him to his dinner.  Good pony.

He rewarded me today by biting me in the shoulder blade while I was tightening his girth.  Ingrate.

One coming to jesus conversation later, I had an obedient horse again and we had a short ride where we mostly focused on stretching down into the contact.  Giraffe-y/periscope-y/sight seeing type horses apparently object to stretching and dropping their heads but he was pretty good about it.  J didn't get any really good stretchy shots, but I swear it happened.

Yay a picture from today.  Trying to encourage the stretch.  It is a work in progress.  Like everything about us.
I am also really focused these days on trying to keep the bend in my elbows with thumbs up and steady hands.  I cannot for the life of me figure out what I want to flap my overly straight elbows in the breeze with flat hands, but I am determined to fix it.  Fawkes clearly appreciates it when I get that shit under control.

Overall a very successful weekend.  Might be a couple days until I can get to the barn again but I have a tentative lesson scheduled with the new jump trainer Wednesday night so that should be interesting!

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