Posted by: shannonc | January 22, 2010

In the matter of the chicken and the egg

I had my second dressage lesson at Apple Valley yesterday.  Some things started to make more sense.  I think this mare I got matched up with is just what I needed.

I’ve also re-entered the hell of saddle searching.  At first I was hopeful I could make the Amerigo jump saddle I got the pony in late summer work for dressage (how many saddles should I need for a BN pony anyway?), but I just can’t.  I know some professionals who ride a beautiful dressage test in a jump saddle, but I am not going to be that kind of rider, at least not in this jump saddle.  It’s very frustrating, because I know the pony is a cute little mover, and I can feel that he is not moving freely over his back or through his shoulder when I try to play dressage seat in that saddle.  The balance just isn’t right for it.  And when my balance is not right he sits there underneath me as if to say, “what the hell are you asking me?”

I need to learn one of those programs you can use to write over photos so I can put one up with red circles and slashes to show you just how bad it really is!  Any suggestions?

I don’t like saddle searches, period.  For me they are mind-numbing.  I don’t have enough patience, and frankly, I don’t have enough expertise.  As a result I tend to settle for something that is kind of right.  This summer I was told, “if you’re going to spend a bunch of money on a saddle, it ought to make you feel that you’ve had about 3 months of extra lessons.”  But when I don’t feel that way, I figure it might be my fault – i.e., I’m so used to doing X Y and Z wrong, this perfect saddle isn’t comfortable because I need fixing.  Is my leg too far forward because that’s where the saddle puts it, or because that’s my habit?  Chicken, egg.  Egg, chicken.  Welcome to the cycle of second-guessing and infinite self-analysis…the only way out of this is a sharp stick in the eye, or the writing of a check.

My friend Vicki, looking at horses, can get on and off again in 5 minutes.  Sometimes she watches them go and doesn’t even get on.  She just knows when something isn’t going to work.  How I wish I had this ability when it comes to saddles.  Especially dressage saddles.

My idea with the AVF lessons is to minimize the impact of some of the me variables.  If I have confidence in being more correct, just maybe this search thing will get easier.

The reasons I think the mare is perfect:

  1. She will not offer of her own volition to be in front of my leg.  If I nag with my leg, she will slow down more.  If I get her properly in front of my leg, however, she will tend to stay there and carry me.  Unless I begin to nag with my leg.  Result = positive feedback from horse leaves me with tools I can use to teach the pony how to get and stay in front of my leg and carry me.  Result = immediate negative feedback from horse on excessive busy-ness with aids should smack the habit down cold.
  2. Her barrel is built such that the lower leg tends to slide too far forward toward the girth.  Which is where my lower leg often wants to go no matter how the horse is shaped.  So if I can train my leg properly on her, I should definitely be able to carry it over to my own horses.

In my lessons I’m doing a lot of trying to tuck my butt under and stretch my upper leg longer, so that my lower leg can go back with the heel staying down.  It’s very difficult so far because it feels very contrived.  I can feel it when it’s right, but I have to concentrate on keeping it there all the time.  I admitted this flat out to Rachel and she reassured me that if I can do it physically, which I can, I can make it a habit.  She said I’m coming to her with the pieces I need to succeed – my balance is right side to side, and my leg is secure and still.  Not necessarily in the right place all the time.  But still.  Lol.

So, swinging your leg over horse wearing dressage saddle = leg falls naturally in perfect position:  myth.

It’s too bad there’s no video, because you would be amused.  Here is a partial list of things I was doing wrong:  executing shamefully shaped 20m circles.  Losing power in corners.  Getting 17 strides on the long side when I should have been getting 11.  Not holding my reins much at all.  Riding wobbly diagonals.  Scissoring the outside leg forward in an effort to shove the inside one back.  I saw all this going on but I let it go because I was there to work on Only.  One.  Thing.  Position.

Once I got the position down, most of the rest of those things fixed themselves.  My only questions remain, can I really own it the way it should be?  Without a mirror and a running commentary from the ground?  And if I can, how long will it take?

This week was a little easier than the last, so I’m going to stick with the program and see how far I can get.  I’m in a hurry (that patience thing?) – if I go to Aiken with the pony, I only have five weeks left to become perfect *and* find the dressage saddle of our dreams.



  1. Re: “My friend Vicki, looking at horses, can get on and off again in 5 minutes. Sometimes she watches them go and doesn’t even get on. She just knows when something isn’t going to work.”

    It’s easy to tell if a certain horse can hurt you. Much harder to tell with a saddle. ;-) — V

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