I was talking to a client last week when we spent the lesson revisiting the basics. The previous lesson she had lost her way with her inside/outside, left and rights whilst spiralling in and out on a circle. I think she was overthinking everything and tangling herself in knots, so this lesson I just broke it all down and went back to basics.
This week`s lesson was much more successful and we talked through a couple of changes in her aids – very subtle shift of weight or bringing the outside leg back slightly more. By the end she was riding much better circles as she had a bend throughout her horse, and her shoulder in was much improved too, again because the whole of her horse was wrapped around her inside leg as opposed to just his head and neck coming onto the inner track. My client could feel the difference and it was almost like a lightbulb switching on as she got each aid correct.
What was the point of my story? Oh yes, the circle of progression.
At the end of the lesson I explained to my client that she may not feel like she`s improving, because we`re revisiting movements, but each time we ride leg yield, for example, I raise the bar higher and continue to nit pick. I also used the example of the pyramid scales of training to describe her progression.
The first two scales of training are rhythm and suppleness. Many people say you can`t have one without the other, and I agree. But in very simplistic terms, when you start riding you establish the rhythm of your gait whilst trotting around the arena. Once the rhythm is established you can theoretically tick that box and move onto developing suppleness. However, this is where I think the pyramid is flawed. You cannot just tick the box and move on, because as you ride the new movement you lose the consistency of the rhythm as the horse finds their balance.
In my eyes, once you establish the rhythm, on the track you move on to riding twenty metre circles. The first circle the horse is stiff and unsupple, so loses his balance around the circle and thus the rhythm deteriorates. On the next circle the horse is slightly more supple so stays more in balance and the rhythm is more consistent. After a few hundred circles the horse is supple so stays in a consistent rhythm, and thus you can tick the first two scales of training. Then you move onto the next movement, be it a ten metre circle or leg yield.
This is how I see training the horse and rider through each school movement and lateral work. Obviously the next couple of steps in the stages of training come into riding each movement too. After suppleness is contact, and once the horse starts riding movements in a rhythm and with suppleness they begin to accept and work into the contact correctly. Once this occurs they can begin to move with more impulsion. But as you develop each step you lose elements of the previous steps and need to revisit each one and improve them.
So if we go back to my client. She`s been riding leg yield and shoulder in successfully for a couple of months now, but as we raised the bar higher she lost her way with her aids and the suppleness of her horse – in that he was not bending correctly through his body, and cheating her by turning his head and neck. This meant that our lesson that revisited trotting forwards and in a rhythm, with circles and serpentines, got her thinking and feeling about her horse moving correctly underneath her and her aids working together in unison. Once she stopped thinking too much about her riding and brought her aids together (for example thinking of pushing her outside hip forwards on a circle to allow the outside of the horse to stretch around the outer track of the circle. As the outside hip pushes forwards, it pushes the inside shoulder back so that the spine stays vertical and the body weight distribution helps the horse balance around the circle.) her circles became very consistent and balanced.
I felt that the next step to utilising this new found feeling was to try riding shoulder in. We used ten metre circles to get my rider a bit freer and looser in her outside hip so that she was working with the horse as opposed to against him, and then she rode shoulder in down the long side of the arena. The first time she didn`t allow her outside hip forwards and resorted to pulling her horse`s head to the inside, but the second time she kept her hands still and brought her upper body around and voila! They produced a lovely three track shoulder in for half of the length of the arena.
I think this week`s lesson brought it home how important it is to revise the basics every so often, especially when we all get so fixated on riding sideways everything else goes out the window and we forget about our left leg or we overcompensate with our right rein.