I. Get. It. Steady contact is just that: contact that is even and consistent. Why was it so hard to feel before? Why has it taken me nearly three years to develop this feel? I can't be that stupid, can I?
If you're like me, riding something other than a school master and doing most of the training yourself, get yourself over to a dressage simulator pronto! Now I get why riding a school master is so encouraged. How else can you really feel it done correctly?
I was worried about forgetting the feel of connection that I felt while on the simulator. I needn't have worried. I think it's like knowing Santa's not real; once you know, you can't unknow it. Now don't get all worried. I didn't become this fantastic rider over the last week; I still suck most of the time. The key here is that I only suck most of the time now rather than all of the time. It's a great feeling!
Two "new" ideas also revealed themselves to me once I understood the feeling of connectedness. First was something that JL likes to say which finally makes sense: you bring the horse to you. I used to let Speedy jerk me around. Even when he wasn't actually jerking me, I allowed him to have his head and neck wherever he wanted them to be. Now, I think about bringing him to me and keeping him there. I am amazed at how much softer this had made him. I am able to do this by keeping my elbows bent and allowing them to move.
The second idea that finally clicked came from an article in Dressage Today by Jennifer Howard that addresses the horse who pulls (which is Speedy on occasion). "Instead of pulling, let the pull travel up your arms, down your back and sit on it. If a rider sits on that pull, he is using the core muscles of his whole body, which keeps your seat deep in the saddle, nullifying the pull."
I have ridden Speedy with these two "new" ideas in mind. Bringing him to me gives me permission to establish the bend and manage the pace. When he resists by speeding up or rooting his nose, I know that I can fix it by simply lengthening my spine and refusing to let him pull me forward. Instead, I focus on sitting on his pull. It works beautifully. When I rode on Saturday, we did some of the best loops and serpentines we've ever done! And as a bonus, our canter is really coming along.
I get it. I get it. I get it!