The real takeaway of my last few rides: I really need a lesson to pinpoint what I need to work on next. I'll have to see how March bills shake out first, though. :(
Anyway. We've had some really good dressage rides the last few days, and I wanted to document a few things that have gone well or that I need to work on. With pictures, because I don't want to scare you away with a giant wall o'text.
Thing the first: Hips to hands. Always. Everything about our rides goes better when I remember this one. A former trainer used to tell me that I'm really riding and managing the horse in the space between my hips and hands. When I think about that so many other things click into place: my elbows soften, my hands somehow magically come up from my lap, and I start to engage my core. It's most useful when we are almost, but not quite, at the point of collection; usually those small but crucial pieces are the ones that I'm missing, and putting them in place makes a big difference, and then lets me ride the collection much better.
Thing the second: Tristan has been flinging his shoulders more than usual in warmup. It seems to be a refusal to go into the outside rein. For example: there's a particular spot in the ring. It's one of the short sides followed by the corner to go back to the long side. About midway through the short stride, as I'm asking him to come off my inside leg, into the outside rein, to collect more and go into the corner, he flings his shoulders and nearly squashes my leg into the wall. I respond by cringing away from the wall, shifting my weight, and totally disrupting what I'm asking him to do - which, of course, was the point of his shoulder-flinging all along. He gets away scott free from having to do anything in that corner. It's purely a learned behavior at this point: he doesn't do it in any other corner, for example! He replicates it in small other ways at other points in the ride (on the open curve of a 20m circle, while getting ready for our first canter, etc.) and I need to better anticipate it, because once he's got those shoulders moving, they are going, no matter what I can do. Prevention is the name of the game.
Thing the third: I need to add more 20m circles and serpentines back into our repertoire. Those changes of bend are so, so lacking right now. A good thing to remember for walk breaks - stay on the bit, stay collected, but work on changing the bend to increase suppleness.
Thing the fourth: Trot to canter transitions are so so SOOOOO much better when we both stay straight. Like a miracle. You'd think I would remember this from day to day, but if you think that, you have infinitely more faith in my brain than it deserves.
Thing the fifth: We are pretty darn close to ready for a Training level test right now! Not a good one, but all the pieces are there once we warm up and we're capable of them. Two nights ago I did a lovely free walk long diagonal to medium walk to medium trot at A followed by the first curve of a 20m circle. Everything was on point. Now, can we put those pieces together coherently? Nooooope, not yet. That's still coming slowly, those transitions between gaits and the quality geometry. But it's coming, and the gaits themselves are feeling awesome.