Posts Tagged ‘dressage’

The Post of Don Sam Incognito

August 21, 2009

It’s been rainy since I got back from New Jersey and yesterday was the first day the corral was dried out enough to ride in a small circle without danger of slipping. I went out to ride Sam, hoping to consolidate what I learned in New Jersey and to get Sam back in shape for horse camp in a week and a half.

While I was gone, I visited two dressage stables, Holly Tree Dressage, in Shamong, and Transitions Farms in Elmer. I’ve already written about my first visit to Holly Tree and my ride on Cindy the quarter horse. A few days later, on a Saturday, I headed south to visit Debbie Morrison at Transitions and ride her Hanoverian, Clovis. It was a hot day—in the upper 80s—but I left early in the morning for a 9AM ride. The traffic was light, and I only made two wrong turns, and caught them early enough that I was actually on time. As I drove south, away from the congestion of I-295, I saw a landscape I recognized from childhood—white barns with silos, flat-fronted houses facing the road, fields of corn and sorghum, vegetable stands. By the time I got to Debbie’s place, I could feel all the tension of the drive wash away. I could hear crickets.

Clovis is a 17-hand bay gelding, a silver medalist in USDF competition. When I first saw him, he was in cross-ties with his saddle on, looking gentlemanly and aloof. We walked him out to the covered arena and I got on the three-step mounting block, stepped in the stirrup and eased myself into the saddle. He began to walk and I could feel his long strides pushing me forward with each step. It’s hard to describe—it was as if every part of him were in motion, as if his joints were springs. Debbie talked to me about feeling the footfalls of the horse—I had them completely reversed; I imagined that his hind leg lifting raised my hip at the walk, but the hip lowers when the hoof comes off the ground.

We walked for a while, working on my asking for give in the neck, and then she asked me to trot. His trot was so big it threw me up off the saddle in a post. I couldn’t imagine sitting his trot. He grew a little frustrated at my signals. I’m left handed and riding Clovis really pointed out to me how left-sided I am. My right leg hardly made contact with his belly; my right arm drifted out from my side. And riding him was work—everything I didn’t do precisely caused him to do something else than what I thought I was asking. He shook his head as if I weren’t articulate enough, as if I were trying to talk with marbles in my mouth—I couldn’t speak his language or share his vocabulary. But it was worth the try.

I went out again the next day, and the trot went better, and we worked on canter cues. Finally, he began a rocking chair canter, and I sat right in the center of it. All that energy: the impulsion of the hind foot, the reach of the leading front foot, the rocking leap of the gait itself. It was hot, and both Clovis and I were sweating—as was Debbie, following us on the ground. The air was dense and damp, and dark clouds were rolling in. There were rumblings of thunder and the light dimmed. At one point, as we cantered near the open doorway of the indoor arena, thunder and a passing motorcycle sounded together, and Clovis did an unplanned sideways canter, then recovered and kept on going.

Finally, Debbie showed me the piaffe, impelling him on and half-halting him all at once, lifting each shoulder and hind leg in rhythm until he performed a stationary trot. I don’t know if I can remember it enough to try it on Sam, but I might someday.

Then the sky got dark with lightning scratching through it. The thunder rumbled and crashed and the rain began to fall so hard we thought it was hail. I dismounted, and Debbie led Clovis through he rain to the barn where we chatted as we untacked and hosed Clovis down. I gave him a few treats to remember me by , then, when the rain lifted, I drove back through the farmland to my brother’s suburban apartment.

So yesterday, I tried to apply what I had learned about seat and legs and hands, both from Debbie and from Cathy, when I rode Sam. Sam was a bit put out by being ridden after a long layoff—and through a muddy corral, at that. He didn’t seem to like riding in the small circle of dry ground, and, when I tried to keep nudging him into an energetic trot, he turned and gestured toward my foot, as if to confirm to himself that I really meant it. Clearly he was contemplating an annoyed nip, but thought better of it. After Clovis and wide-backed Cindy, Sam felt small and narrow. My legs could barely find his sides. It was a short ride, but we’ll do more tomorrow.

Today I rode Mattie, and she did respond well to the seat and leg aids. For the most part, she bent into collection easily and moved well. She’s wider, too, so that the leg aids made more sense. Her gaits are so smooth, a real contrast with Clovis. It felt good to be back riding both of them.

Next week, horse camp.

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