Classical Conversations - A Masterpiece in Progress

4/28/2009  - By Sally Cochran

About a week ago, I ordered a book from Amazon.com called 100 Ways to Improve Your Riding. I mainly got it for more riding lesson ideas, to plan my lessons out better and get some more good ideas. Since I had several hours this afternoon to spend some time reading, I took advantage of it! One of the things I read about was about 'classical' riding, and going back to the basics. Reading about weight shifting and using your seat bones to influence your horse's movement was, quite honestly, something I had never really used before ' mainly because of in teaching, I'm teaching mainly beginners. Teaching beginners means instead of working so much on the classical,  complex, little things in riding, we work on learning how to post the trot, learn how to steer, stay in two-point position, etc.

For those of you that don't know, Mystique has been a pain recently. A combination of being in heat, not getting ridden or lunged enough, and my low tolerance for idiocy has made for some pretty interesting rides lately. Many times I get extremely irritated and end up needing to get off to keep myself from riding too harshly and being too frustrated. I know/knew I needed to do something. I frequently read to increase my learning, since with so many expenses, I find it hard to justify taking riding lessons from an expensive (albeit talented) riding instructor. I've never been much on dressage, but I have absolutely nothing against classical riding, and now that I've been doing more research on it, I find myself intrigued, if only to see if it will get my witchy little (big) mare to behave and stop being so obnoxious and attitudinal!!

So I buckled down, got on, and tried out some of the things I was reading about. When Mystique starts off when I first get on her, she always wants to go FAST ' i.e. starting out at a trot, rather than warming up at a walk first. I always end up doing about a million half-halts and circling her many times before she finally settles down. Then, when she finally is allowed to trot, she never wants to walk again!! It's highly annoying and very frustrating. I was reading about having a 'following' seat, so I tried that, and did my best not to get tense or resistant with my body. Lo and behold, she slowed down and stayed relaxed at a walk. I did end up doing half-halts, but I also did them by using my seat and legs, rather than reins.

When I used to ride Mystique about a year ago, I had trained her to respond entirely to my seat and legs without touching her mouth. She's regressed a LOT, to the point where she resists everything I ask her to do, and frequently throws a witch-fit when I ask her to do something she would rather not. Anyway, I did some half-halts by closing my hip angle and squeezing. When she settled down to a nice walk, I worked on her transitions back down to a stop, by closing the hip angles and making sure I wasn't in her mouth.

To ask her to walk or trot (when the time came), I worked on opening my hip angle and lifting my seat up and forward ' and I didn't even have to use my legs! To get her turn, I practiced moving my seat bones forward and down  - in order to turn left, I brought my left seat bone down and forward, and turned my shoulders and hips where I wanted to go. Without touching the reins, good grief, she turned!

I tried hard not to get after her or interfere with her. Once we were nice and warmed up at a walk, and she was stretching down and long, we started trotting. We practiced circles and half-arena turns, plus going all the way around. Downhill was difficult at first, but I practiced half-halts all the way around whenever she sped up. It was hard to remember to not go back to my old ways of doing things, with so much resistance. I wanted to keep things natural as much as possible, and try not to interfere with her movement more than necessary.

Everything went great for about 25 minutes ' she was even slow-jogging around and rounding out her back and neck so pretty! She did so well I decided to trot/canter over a few small crossrails. She went over them fine and dandy, but then picked up a canter and started back her usual stupid bucking. I pushed her through it and wouldn't let her be stupid, and then made her work for about 10 more minutes to make sure she was good again.

We ended on a good note, I unsaddled her and led her back out to the pasture and let her go. She was so sweet and followed me around for a little while. So'.this note is about a conversation I had with my horse'..using HER language, not mine. And it's a Classical Conversation, since I was riding her with classical horsemanship. And it will eventually become a Masterpiece!