Posted by: shannonc | January 7, 2010

Dressage is scary!

Okay, maybe not dressage itself.  But all caveats aside with regard to there being all kinds of people in all kinds of disciplines, straight dressage people do have a bit of a reputation, right?  For being, well, sort of perfect, but in a kind of cranky way.  So, yeah, I find dressage people, at least before I meet them, at least a little bit scary.  Or, put another way, intimidating as hell (just like, before they meet me, they may think I’m crazy as hell).  Did they have to go and ruin it for those of us out there striving to be imperfect, but cranky anyway?  :P

A few of the times I have ventured (paralyzed with fear) into the arena of a straight D instructor, I have had a really wonderful time and learned a lot.  I’ve already talked about Joy…another person who’s helped me tremendously is Lynne Kimball-Davis.  Joy only teaches here in the winter, though, and Lynne (for whom I can’t find a homepage…let me know if you can) is in Wellington, FL now.

I have also, unhappily, ridden with people who charged me a lot of money to scream at me for making my 5m circle 8m.  Not so much fun really.  Not that I don’t want to learn how to make my 5m circle 5m in the middle of an unmarked field.  I just, fundamentally, don’t like paying a lot of money to be yelled at.  Unless you’re, say, Jimmy Wofford.

Nevertheless, those of us who aren’t anywhere near being allowed to ride in white gloves (read:  can’t sit up straight or hold the reins) really need to get in some study time on classical dressage.  It was one of my resolutions…I was just too much of a chicken to write it down!  But since I headed out today for a lesson with Rachel Webber at Apple Valley Farm, I guess it’s safe to admit to the goal now…lol!

The thing is, I really think the pony can score well in dressage.  But he could use some higher quality help from me.

Since he’s on vacation (and more importantly, since he’s green) I was looking for a trainer with a schoolmaster type who’d be willing to throw me out on the longe line and go to work on me.  Joy recommended Rachel, which somewhat allayed my fears, although AVF is a very, very fancy place, which was somewhat petrifying.  When I say fancy, I mean that, aside from being beautiful and manicured, every stall has an individual hay-bale-containing tupperware trunk in front of it, and there is not a speck of dust anywhere.  Seen my barn?  You may not be able to find the aisle mats under the tracked-in dirt.  You get the idea.

So off I went, mostly breathing, to meet my mount, who was described to me as “an opinionated Draft cross mare.”

Eventing translation:  horse may or may not like you, and if she doesn’t (or upon secret signal from instructor after you execute wrong-sized circle), she will unceremoniously dump you on the ground and piaffe on over your gasping little body.

Rachel, thankfully, turned out to be very human.  And her mare, Devon, was a blast.  I can see already that she is going to teach me that nagging with my leg is a totally useless exercise.  After warming her up a little on the buckle at the walk, I got to watch Rachel ride her.  She kept up a very helpful running commentary, and I tried to pay close attention to what she was doing.  When I got back on we had a pretty fun w-t-c lesson.  Nothing too intense, just me getting used to the mare and Rachel making some adjustments in my position.

I love a teacher who understands that when she tells you to move a body part somewhere you’re not used to having it, she has to keep repeating herself like a broken record because you have no muscle memory of it, so as soon as you stop thinking about the correction, it reverts.  I will pay big money for this kind of patience!

The good news:  I am (today, anyway) balanced and “in the middle.”  Also, I got props for figuring out how to fix the impulsion I was losing in the corners without being told how (I straightened her shoulder).  Rachel had a kind word for my hunter education, saying that I didn’t ride front to back (ex-hunter riders everywhere have heard this ultimate of backhanded compliments.  Typically sounding something like, “you don’t get in the way,” it means – in the dressage world – “you aren’t doing anything.”  :)).  It turns out Rachel was a hunter rider once too, so she can relate…maybe straight dressage people aren’t born in shadbellies and top hats?  The bad news:  I want to be defensive with my leg (wonder why, PONY!…Though in all fairness, it also has much to do with the kind of saddle I’ve been doing flatwork in).  More good news:  this doesn’t mean I’m malformed.  I sort of had this idea that if I didn’t climb up and find my leg automatically hanging perfectly underneath me, I was doomed.  But Rachel tells me that in fact, I can retrain it by basically stretching my hip open more.  And lots of repetition, which is what I’m here for.  Yay!

We didn’t get out onto the longe line, but I’ll be back next week.  I hope I memorized all the barn rules right…



  1. Sounds like a great lesson! I bet you and the pony will really benefit from some solid dressage lessons.

    I had a bit of an epiphany last time I schooled fences – it was the first time in awhile, and in the meantime I’d worked hard on lateral work on the flat. Lo and behold, I could suddenly FEEL what was going on to make it so that we almost never land on the left lead.

    I’ve just started regular dressage lessons again (with a very funny, friendly straight-dressage instructor!) and I’m really excited to see how the benefits translate to jumping work.

  2. Dressage lessons – very exciting! Glad I taught you manners :-) Good luck!

  3. I need something like this really, really desperately.

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