When I moved to my current barn and instructor I was honest about my riding ability. I told her that I could walk, trot and canter. My cantering wasn’t that great and don’t even get me started regarding the sitting trot! I was looking to change disciplines from hunter/jumper to dressage but most importantly, I needed fine-tuning and refinement. You know what I’m talking about, all that…minutia. The stuff that makes an average dressage rider into a dressage diva!

And that’s how my journey began.

We started by tweaking my posting trot. Wait a minute…did I say tweaking? Make that a major overhaul! It felt as though I needed to relearn everything!

To begin with I needed to change my upper body position. Less forward tilting and more of a vertical dressage alignment. In the downward part of the posting trot I was staying in the saddle too long and landing a wee bit too hard. This was putting me behind the motion. To fix this I was to just touch the saddle and then rise upwards. My mantra became “touch, you’re up, touch, you’re up.” In the upward position, I needed to think hips to hands and imagine that a string was attached to the top of my helmet pulling me upwards. Open and close my hips. If you don’t fully open your hips in the rise you won’t get the forward.

Then there was my back end to consider. You know…the junk in my trunk. We all have a natural arch in the small of our back but I had a habit of increasing the arch by sticking out my bum. That meant I was riding on my crotch. Ow! I needed to tuck my bum under me as I was sitting and rising. This would help flatten my back and ensure that I was riding in balance and on my seat bones. I spent a lot of time riding around the arena with my arm in the small of my back and a hand at my hip joint.

During this time we also worked on my canter. The funny thing is that I was stronger and better in the corners then I was on the straights. I know why too. I felt more precarious on the scary corners so I sat deeper determined not to fall off. The biggest change I had to make was opening and closing my hips. My mantra become “grow tall on the up, close on the down.” This also helped me keep my bum in the saddle. “I don’t want to see any air or daylight!” The other change was not to fall behind the vertical. I had to imagine a wall behind me so that my upper body would stay with the motion. Then there was my tendency to go fetal with my legs. I needed to relax my thighs. When I was remind my leg would drop about 2 inches! No more lost stirrups! I was also throwing myself off balance by bringing my outside leg back too far to give the canter cue. Who knew? She did. My biggest breakthrough moment was when my instructor said, “you have great balance, trust yourself.”

Trust yourself.

Powerful words.

Now I’m beginning to see and feel the rewards for this fine-tuning and refinement. My trot work has really come along and my canter! I’m finally starting to feel plugged in! At least on the left lead. Still working on transferring all this good stuff onto the right lead.

Please join me on the next leg of my journey.