Decidedly Dressage: Spicy Style
When life throws a wrench in your plans, sometimes the best thing to do is look around and see if there’s a better path to your goals. Your current path may not be the best one…and maybe…just maybe…the universe, or God, or fate, or luck, or something is trying to tell you to look around and make different choices. That’s exactly what happened to me. Champ was lame again, and I was left thinking…”what do I do now?” Just hours later, I saw an ad on Facebook for a PSG level horse for lease not too far away, I thought…”can I ride a horse at that level?” I cowgirled up and contacted the trainer. In one lesson, I was in love. In one month I was leasing. Now 4 months later, I’m on my way to my 3rd recognized show with Spice. Will I make my goals for the year (get my scores at Training level and 1st level done)? Training level done, and I am short one 1st level score. I aim to get it next weekend if all goes well. So it looks like the answer is yes. Would I have met those goals if Champ had stayed sound…most likely not.
In 4 months, I have experienced what it feels like to have all 4 feet off the ground in a big trot lengthening, I have become comfortable with single flying lead changes and ridden tempis accidentally many times (the problem of riding a horse so much better than you!). I have ridden a canter lengthening and brought the horse back to a super collected pirouette canter. I’ve ridden a canter pirouette for that matter. Playing around I have done a canter half pass/lead change/canter half pass.
Now it hasn’t all been fun and games. Spice is named Spice for a reason. I’ve ridden out probably nearly 100 spooks, rears, bucks, jigs, shys, uncontrolled tempis and other misbehaviors without coming loose. I have struggled to nail the free walk/walk/trot/canter transitions in the lower level tests (Spice is much happier to walk/canter than do this low level business). We even got eliminated from a test at our last show because of some disobedience (bucking) during this transition flow (I laughed on my way out of the arena). It seems the harder the task, the happier Spice is to do it. The easier, the more anxious he gets. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps he feels my anxiety at nailing the transition? Perhaps he’s just bored.
That takes me to a different subject…the subject of Thoroughbreds. Spice is a lot more sensitive and picks up on my emotional state in a way that Champ never did. Titan was like Spice, but a bit more mellow. He seems like a lifetime ago though. I got complacent with Champ, knowing that he was going to give me a similar ride, no matter how I felt that day (assuming the wind wasn’t up). I like to think I am a fairly emotion-neutral most of the time, but at shows I get intense. Spice has taught me that I have to stay neutral, not get mad, not get scared, and just ride on. Laughing even, as he throws his tempis or rears. If I play into his misbehavior, it just gets worse. If I let my shoulders get tense, he braces and takes me hostage. If I let my balance slip a moment, he’ll get hot and throw tempis.
Spice has been a boot camp in dressage, and I’m still struggling to pack it all in. I’ve had to learn to sit up and use my core to really support myself and to collect him/bring him back. I’ve had to learn how to keep my balance even and consistent, especially in the canter. No leaning or shifting, or I will get a line of tempis I didn’t really want. Don’t let your leg slide back. Don’t follow with your body so much at the canter and stay upright. No piano hands. I’ve had to learn what contact is supposed to feel like. My ankles/leg have been helped by the addition of some stiff boots and my hands are much better than they had been before as I now know to use my shoulders and elbows before my hands. Yesterday I learned how to use my seat at the sitting trot to get more lift and forward momentum. I also learned that I like to release my left outside rein and that I’ve been half-halting wrong all of this time. Every lesson I learn something new and groundbreaking and I feel my riding jumping forward by leaps and bounds. Finding Spice and his owner/trainer Brenda has been one of the best things I have done for my riding career. I also now have a whole new network of barn friends to add on to the ones I had before. That can never be bad and they are some amazing women.
I cannot wait to see where I am with Spice in 6 months. Ride on, work hard, keep calm and be brave!