Thursday, May 18, 2017

Test Riding

Last week, when it was time for my weekly riding lesson, I was having one of those days when you just don't feel enthusiastic about anything.  I was tired, and I had a lot on my mind.  To be honest, I thought about canceling my lesson.  But that would be rather rude, and flaky, and I knew deep down that a lesson was really the best thing I could do for myself that day.  A lesson would take my mind temporarily off all that was weighing on it, give me some exercise, and most likely improve my mood.

I did, however, warn my trainer that I was feeling rather uncoordinated and blah that day.  She kindly asked if I would like to skip my lesson.  I relayed to her that although I didn't think I was going to be a particularly good rider that evening, I did still want my lesson.

Like a good teacher, she didn't want to over face me, yet she didn't let me slack at all. She suggested we 'do something different' that lesson.  I thought that 'something different' might be just the perfect thing that night.

What we did was hard.  And fun.  Challenging, yet enjoyable.  I rode really hard.  I sweated, a lot.  And I laughed a lot.  I felt totally uncoordinated most of the time, but there were some fleeting moments of "Wow, I did that really well!"

So what was it that we did different for that lesson?  We took most everything I've been learning and working on with T during my weekly lesson for the past four months, and we tested it.  My trainer got out her book of current USDF tests, and she had me ride the first three: Intro A, Intro B, and Intro C.  First she read the test through, we discussed it, and then she was my reader while I rode the test.

That was the hard part--the riding of the test.  Even though we've worked on and are competent in each part of the test individually, riding them one movement after the other, at the correct spot in the arena, with the correct timing was really challenging.  It's been literally 25 years since I've actually ridden a dressage test.

I made lots of timing mistakes.  We overshot the halt by a step or two every single time. The halts were square, but not in the right spot.  Who would have thought coming to a stop could be so hard?

I wasn't the only one who made a mistake.  In the midst of Intro C, my trainer looked up from her test booklet to watch me do the required movement at B.  Then, when she looked back down, she looked at the wrong test.  Since I had only heard the test read once, and haven't actually seen it with my own eyes, I did exactly what she read.  It was only several movements later when I said "Um, didn't we just do this?  What happened to the 20m canter circle at A?"  She quickly improvised a couple of movements to get me back to A at the trot, and we carried on with Intro C from there, both of us laughing.

Rather than being a stressful experience, (like showing can be), riding the tests was fun. It was a good change of pace, and at the same time it showed us both where I need to do more work. For instance, stringing together several movements in a row, and also being more aware of where I am in the arena spatially so I am prepared to change movements at exactly the right spot.  It also showed us that we've maybe been doing all our canter on 20m circles after a session of trotting, because in every test, as soon as I hit a 20m circle at the trot, T tried to jump up into third gear (the canter) without me telling him to.

It was a great lesson.  I sure felt enthusiastic about life by the time I got off the horse, hosed him down, and put him away.

This week, for my lesson, we didn't ride any tests.  Typically you don't ride the test when doing your at home training, just when you are prepping to show.  Instead, we worked on transition after transition after transition, changing at particular spots in the arena, and lots of 20m circles where T was not allowed to canter.  Instead, we did canter out of corners and out of 10m circles when returning to the long wall.  I think we had the best canter so far; he was obedient yet forward, and really listening for my aids.

DH calls dressage "riding in circles" and doesn't see the appeal.  He thinks it would be boring.  I can attest that it is not boring in the least.  Especially when you are doing 20m circles in which you trot the first 1/4, walk the second 1/4, turn down the center line, halt and salute at X, trot from center line back to the arc of the circle, change rein, walk a 1/4, trot a 1/4, etc.  That's not a whole lot of steps in any one gait, and you have to constantly be adjusting and getting ready for the next thing, be it a transition or a turn.  In addition to changing gaits, keeping the bend, and making tight turns, contact with the bit needs to be maintained, and so does the rhythm of each gait.

For me, the challenge, both mentally and physically, is what makes riding in circles so fun.  Test riding, falls into the same category.

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