The first AHA! happened in the fall. We were in the midst of a lesson that simply wasn't going well. Speedy's nose was jacked up in the air, he was racing around the arena with no attempt at maintaining a rhythm, and when I asked for ANYTHING from him, he threatened to buck or bolt. In an absolute fit born of frustration, I leaped off him, jerked him around, and stalked off to the other side of the arena secretly wishing I could just yank his tack and send him packing. I kicked the dirt for a few minutes, said a few choice swear words, and got back on. Coach made the comment that if I wanted to continue, I was going to have to find a way to make Speedy G work in the arena even when he didn't want to, which was pretty much always.
Somehow that simple statement gave me permission to GET TOUGH! The next time I rode Speedy G in the arena I MADE him behave. And when he didn't, I got MAD instead of scared to get bucked off. It didn't happen right then and there, but within just a few weeks he went from charging around the arena to working in a quiet, nearly submissive way. When he worked well, even if it was only for ten minutes, I quit. He started to understand that working well meant less time working. Once he could work fairly quietly, we were finally ready to start working on more accurate circles, straighter lines, and better halts.
During a lesson in February, I had a gigantic AHA moment when I finally realized that the outside rein had a purpose. While doing any turns, Speedy G would either fall in or drift out while my outside rein flapped in the breeze. At some point Coach said more outside rein which I shortened at the precise moment in the turn when I needed to, and voila, Speedy G made the turn correctly. CLICK - got it! That's what they mean when they say the outside rein controls the bend.
Speedy G could now work pretty quietly without fussing too much, and I could get him to make reasonably round corners. We spent the rest of the spring developing his rhythm and encouraging relaxation. I also continued to work on my seat and other aides. Then I had those two lessons with Leslie Webb. It wasn't until I watched the video at the end of the first day that I had another AHA! moment. I watched myself ride around with straight arms. It became so obvious why I couldn't get a decent half-halt or even better collection. I was basically riding with my thighs and hands. As soon as I bent my elbows, my shoulders came back, my core engaged, and my seat felt like it lowered and steadied itself. Don't get too excited. Bending ones elbows doesn't magically produce an awesome rider, especially in my case, but it did help!
When I went back for day 2 at Leslie Webb's, I was in a much better position, but Speedy went back to some of his old tricks. That darn nose shot straight into the air and would not come back down. I don't know if this counts as an AHA, but it surely was a turning point. Leslie slapped on a running martingale which helped me get more control of Speedy G's head. The running martingale gave me the leverage I needed to make up for my lack of strength.
We have had some of our best rides in the last month. Speedy G will get to work without too much fussing. We're making much rounder turns. He's developing a rounder frame and is even searching for the bit when I ask for long and low. When I first started endurance riding, I didn't feel qualified to call myself an endurance rider until I had completed my first 1,000 race miles. It was only then that I confidently used the term when describing what I did with my horse. After these last few AHA! moments in dressage, I finally believe that I really DON'T STINK. Acknowledging that I can ride somewhat "okay," allows me to admit that I just might be a dressage rider!