I asked him how he knew that I needed to just think about something else while riding, and I was curious to know how often he'd used that strategy with other riders. To my surprise, he didn't know it would work, and he'd never done a lesson quite like that one before. In fact he offered a sort of apology because it wasn't really what you'd call a "dressage" lesson.
Typical lesson or not, I felt like it was the best lesson I'd ever had from him, and there have been many from which to choose. I rode with him again on Sunday, but that lesson turned out to be more like what you'd expect. While more traditional, he still incorporated exercises from the day before, and even threw in a few new ones.
I explained this one yesterday, but in case you missed it, it works like this: think of the answers to questions that force your memory to recall information. For me, a simple Q and A wasn't sufficient as I frequently multi-task at work. So riding and answering a simple question wasn't enough.
Answering a two-step question proved to be much harder. Diving a number that left a remainder was so hard that it literally took me minutes to solve even the simplest problem. Think of 35 divided by 2 - nearly impossible for me. The more steps the problem took, the less I focused on my riding.
The refrigerator question was particularly challenging for me because I had to visualize each shelf to identify what was on it. I wasn't able to simply recall that there is juice and butter. My brain had to create a picture of the shelf. The more detailed the picture was, the less aware of riding I became.
This isn't a novel strategy, but it worked wonders for me. Christian instructed me to count strides. To help, he counted aloud for me: 1, 2, 3 ,4 5 ... 10 ... 11 ... 12 ... 13 .... 14 ..... 15 ...... 16 ......... 17 .............. 18 ............... 19 .............................. 20 ... walk. Like magic, Izzy was walking when Christian said 20. I didn't do a single thing except follow his counting rhythm.
When I repeated the exercise and counted aloud, it didn't work. When I did it silently, I discovered that I could walk at any number as long as I started to slow my counting early enough. Christian also insisted that I count when my butt was in the saddle as opposed to when I rose. He also limited the count to 20. After twenty, the rhythm doesn't hold true.
The third exercise was challenging enough that it felt as though my brain's wires were getting crossed. It forced me to go back and forth between left and right which always throws me off. By trying to to differentiate between left and right, I quit micromanaging my horse's stride.
The exercise was simply a series of changes of bend. It distracted me because of the confusing elements, but its real purpose is to supple the horse. I didn't worry about whether my horse was supple though as I was too busy counter bending, pointing my belly, and counting.
Simply begin by trotting a 20-meter circle tracking either left or right. Every three strides, change the bend and your rising diagonal, but turn your belly in the direction of the bend. For example, trot three strides tracking right, change your posting diagonal, change the bend to the left, and point your belly to the outside. Trot three strides, change your posting diagonal, change the bend, and point your belly to the inside.
It's a hypnotic exercise that requires a strong coordination of the aids, especially the use of the outside thigh. When the horse is counter bent, you will need to use the outside thigh to make the circle. After doing this exercise for a few minutes, Izzy got super adjustable and felt like putty in my hands.
Christian showed me that the problems were not my riding ability. In fact, the only time he corrected my position was to insist I sit taller and back in the canter, and that I lower my hands. Other than that, he felt my position and application of the aids was fine (at least for where we are right now).
My diagnosis? Over thinking it. Prescription? Quit thinking about it so much.
I haven't ridden since Sunday (tired plus tons of life stuff to deal with), but I am looking forward to trying this all out on my own. Let me know if you try any of these exercises. I'd love to hear about it.