There are some serious advantages to using a non-dressage trainer for dressage lessons. Yes, I know that there are disadvantages, too. At first look, the following will not seem like good things at all, but stay with me and you'll see where I am going.
Advantage 1: my trainer does not know the tests or what is required at each level. That means we just work on what she sees we need. Lately, that has included canter departures and the left bend stretchy trot circle. During last Saturday's lesson we worked on improving the bend and getting Speedy more active behind.
Advantage 2: my trainer doesn't care which tests I ride. That means I get to stay where I am if I want to, or I can jump ahead if I feel brave. She isn't there reminding me that I can't move up since this or that isn't yet confirmed. This also means that we work on what she thinks Speedy and I need in order to have a better foundation regardless of which elements are in the tests.
Advantage 3: my trainer isn't in the dressage circle so if I bomb at a show, her name isn't besmirched in any way. Her goal as my trainer is to help me help my horse to move better. She doesn't care if I stay at Intro forever or if I tackle Second Level. Her "business" isn"t changed by my success or failure.
Saturday's lesson was a good one. I already told you that. Monday's lesson was even better. I can see some real benefits to riding with a trainer more than once a week. We started right where we had left off. I didn't have a chance to work on getting more activity from the hind end by myself, but since everything was still fresh in both mine and Speedy's minds, we were able to get right to work.
I explained to JL that while I could feel when Speedy was obviously heavy on the forehand, I wanted to be able to feel it before he got that way. I asked her to coach me through the trot work by pointing out each time I was letting him get away from me. Little by little I was able to pick up when I was losing the connection. To the left, I could start to feel it when he got too light in the bridle. Speedy likes to duck down away from the contact. Each time he felt too light I was to squeeze him forward into a canter.
This had two benefits: first, it forced his hind end to work harder which encouraged more obedience. Second, our canter transitions got better and better. Each time I had to squeeze him forward, I engaged his hind end which in turn produced a better canter. Win, win!
Once we started tracking right, a whole new set of resistance problems appeared. Speedy is very bendy to the right - too bendy. As soon as we tracked right, he locked his jaw and fell apart. I went back to getting the better bend by lifting the inside rein and making my circle smaller and smaller. When he still wouldn't give, I cued for the canter. Small circle, forceful canter ... hard work. Within no time, Speedy softened his jaw and let me push his ribcage out. As we tracked right, he would try to evade the contact by popping his nose up. To correct this, I slowed down the front end by sitting tall and leaning back while squeezing him forward with my legs.
Little by little, Speedy and I developed a very elastic connection (that I could feel and maintain) with lovely canter departures. To return to the trot, JL had me sit tall and lean back while adding LOTS of leg. It was ugly at first, but before too long our canter to trot transitions were looking as nice as the upward transitions had.
Knowing that I have a show in just a week, JL had us follow all of this with the stretchy trot to the left. More tomorrow ...