Riding Lightly

Riding Lightly

I’ve always been a big, strong girl.  I’m tall (5’9″) with very strong/thick limbs and a football attitude to match.  I’ve always been a bit stubborn, a bit aggressive, and a bit rough.  I’ve spent years trying to soften my touch under saddle, but always go back to strength.  I tend to go to “fight” mode when my horse disobeys and sometimes pick fights where I shouldn’t.  Not because I’m going to lose the fights…but because they’re unproductive with a horse like Spice.  It’s truly amazing he puts up with me, as sensitive as he is.

As most of you know by now, I’m pregnant.  Being pregnant and being a rider isn’t convenient.  I have the blessing of being an AA, so I don’t HAVE to ride.  But mentally…I have to ride.  I have to keep working towards my goals.  Having those goals has probably kept me in the saddle longer than most.  Spice isn’t getting any younger.

With the challenges of my changing body, being pregnant has brought out a whole different rider in me.  I cannot try and overpower a situation now.  I cannot try to win my battles with physical response.  I cannot push him.  I cannot hold him.  I cannot force him.  Could I really do any of those things before?  No…not really…but because I was strong…I mentally felt that I could.

I’m still riding now at 37 weeks pregnant…why?  Because I never felt my balance go.  Because my core is still strong.  Because our rides are still productive (more on that below).  Because I trust Spice.  I have observed from riding him the last many months that he knows he needs to be more gentle and his attitude when I ride him has totally changed.  When I get on him…he’s ignored wild animal craziness, loose horses, bronc bucking horses, horses acting up in turn outs and “scary” horses being hand walked outside of the arena.  He’s taking care of me.  It’s pretty amazing.

My physical limitations added onto Spice’s new attitude (or my appreciation of the fact that he doesn’t have to be a tense nut-ball all the time) has lead to some dramatic improvements for us.  Things that caused meltdowns just 6 months ago are now smooth and easy (walk/canter transitions to the left).  I’ve been working smarter and not harder.  Lightening up the aids and getting extremely quick, relaxed responses from him has been a real eye-opener.  We’ve gotten some REAL work done these last few months when most moms-to-be are lunging or have handed their horses off to their trainers.

On top of my physical and mental changes, I’ve been reading Uta Gräf’s Effortless Dressage Program, which has lead me to a ton of exercises to achieve lightness and ease in my riding.  Along with exercises from my trainer to help Spice specifically and homework on the Home Horse, I have been able to improve the following things while very much pregnant.

  1.  Promptness and quietness into transitions
  2.  Ease of lateral work
  3.  Improved relaxation and carriage in the pirouette canter
  4.  Excellent, forward walk pirouettes
  5.  Overall relaxation and suppleness
  6.  My body position and quietness of my aids
  7.  Straightness (Spice and me) – I have become much more aware of what being truly straight means and can really feel and adjust as necessary.
  8.  Our connection

This slow, deliberate work I’ve done over the last few months is going to pay off big time here in a month and a half or so when I’m pregnant belly free and back in the saddle.  I’m really looking forward to showing him in the fall now as I think our silver medal scores are going to come much more easily because of this pregnancy.

While I initially looked at pregnancy as inconvenient, I now realize it has been a huge blessing for my riding and has made me a much better partner for Spice.  Learning to ride lightly has changed the rider I am for the better.