To ride dressage is to play Whack-a-mole with your position flaws.
Remember that carnival game where the “moles” pop up and you try to whack them with a wooden hammer? Pretty soon they are popping up all over and you are furiously whacking hither and yon. You may have already whacked one, but guess what? It’s baaaaack…
Hands too far back and reins too long? Whack it and fix it! Concentrate, concentrate, o.k. after some months a life long riding problem is mostly fixed. Hooray! Now let’s fix the gripping legs. Concentrate, concentrate – whack it and fix it! Yes, your horse is now forward and happy since he’s not being squeezed like a tube of toothpaste. What a relief for him! And less tiring for you. But wait…a new mole just popped up: your left hip is crooked! And guess what, as soon as you fix that, there will be others. And back come the “reins too long.” Whack it again.
Today I learned that my left hip is tight. I never knew this (how oblivious we are to our own bodies), but once my trainer noted it, I could feel the difference in my horse every time I thought about relaxing my hip. As I cantered in a circle, concentrating on releasing the hip and letting it flow with the movement, voila! My horse released his back and became more round and through, stepping under behind, bending more softly to the inside. Interestingly, when I have fallen off horses, I almost always fall to the left, landing on that left hip. Is that why it’s now tight, years later? Could be. Regardless, I need to stretch and relax it.
When we brace in our bodies, the horse braces in his body. The bracing and resisting I had been trying to fix with legs, hands, and shoving with my seat just…went away. Guess who was causing the problem? Yes, me again. Oh, bother. I love dressage! I hate dressage. If you ride dressage, you probably know what I mean.
Of course this is not limited to dressage. Riders in every discipline have to control their bodies, stay supple, strong in the core, and soft but clear in the aids in order to ride in harmony with the horse. I feel this when I am jumping a round with a horse, or out on the trail navigating some rough terrain. My body stays softly balanced (ideally) and helps the horse to stay balanced. We communicate as we dance along the trail, the jump course, or the dressage court.
There’s an almost Zen place I can occasionally find where the horse and I are in balance and in harmony. My thought translates to his action with hardly any effort on my part. I feel like a Centaur for one brief shining moment!
These brief shining moments motivate me to persevere; to continue to whack those moles that keep me from harmony and balance – my left hip, weird arms, crooked head, and so on, and so on….world without end…