It was really rewarding to realize how much I've learned over the past three years. Sarah probably thought I was doing her a bit of a favor, but the reality is that she gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my understanding of steady contact and rhythm. I guess I should explain what we did.
Sarah's been riding for a long time, probably most of her life. She's been a western rider for most of that time. She trail rides of course, but she was also quite successful as a barrel racer with King Casanova (aka Howdy). At some point in their barrel racing career, Howdy told Sarah that racing was stressing him out so she decided to find him a new job. When I asked why dressage, she responded that it was as different from barrel racing as she could get which would be good for Howdy.
Sarah hasn't had much dressage help this summer, but she's still out there giving it a try. She and Howdy have successfully navigated the first three Tehachapi shows with scores as high as 64%. She's working at Training Level right now, but she's eager to move up once Howdy is happily accepting contact with a clear and steady rhythm. And that's where the peer coaching comes in.
Sarah and I had lunch a few weeks ago with JK, a mutual friend and rider. Sarah had just finished her second dressage show and was looking for some help in understanding the judge's comments and scores. The three of us had a great conversation about contact, using your seat, and showing in general. I invited Sarah to come out to my barn so that I could show her some of the exercises that I've learned from JL, Chemaine Hurtado, and of course, Christian Schacht.
Sarah gave me a call Saturday morning and asked if we could get together. In under two hours, she had Howdy saddled and was warming up in my arena. I am a teacher, but working with adults is slightly different as they tend to bring a lifetime of experiences with them. I didn't quite know how I could help Sarah so I started out by sharing some warm-up work that Chemaine had taught me. From there, I went from exercise to exercise hoping that at least one of them would really click for Sarah.
Coming from the western world, Sarah hasn't really had the opportunity to feel what steady contact actually is. As I was sharing every mental picture that I could think of, I realized that I really do know what steady contact is myself. I could tell by the look on Sarah's face that the things we were trying weren't helping her achieve that feel.
I was worried about insulting her, but I took a chance that she really wanted to feel some steadiness, so I shared Christian's exercise of planting your hands in your thighs. It took a few 20-meter circles for Howdy to trust that Sarah wasn't going to drop the contact, but once he realized that the steady contact was there, he lifted his back and stretched over his top line. Sarah felt it immediately!
While she was only able to get a few strides of connectedness, I think Sarah has a much better idea of what she needs to work on in order to achieve steady contact. I showed her a few other exercises, like tucking your pinkies around a bucking strap, that will help her develop a seat independent of her hands.
Once she and Howdy had had enough for the morning, I had thrown a ton of stuff her way, and I am sure her head was kind of spinning, I asked if it would be helpful to see Sydney do some of those same exercises. She thought it would be a good idea so while she and Howdy cooled off at the walk, I tossed my tack on and joined her in the arena.
I can't tell you how proud of Sydney I was! With hardly any warm-up at all, he was "moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit." Sarah told me that she could clearly see how my contact was very steady as I went through the exercises that I had shown her. At one point, I brought Sydney back to a walk and planned to show her something else. In my mind, I prepped Sydney for a forward cue, and in real-life, he lifted into a perfect canter departure.
I didn't deliberately ask for the canter, but since it was done so perfectly, I used it to show Sarah the canter exercise where you ride counter bent into the smallest canter circle you can manage. I was so pleased to finally get to show off how lovely Sydney is working. We may not have it a show, but we are rocking it at home.
I had a great time showing Sarah some of the exercises that I've been learning. Teaching someone else is one of the best ways to check your own understanding. I hope Sarah finds time to come back and ride with me. While I may be a very good 5th grade teacher, I am no riding instructor so she'll have to take my peer coaching with a grain of salt. I might have gotten more out of the work than she did!
Show write up coming soon ...