Life has been complicated, but one thing I've been trying to do is to take time for myself. Scheduling lessons has given me drive and focus when life keeps getting a little more chaotic.
Last Thursday, I squeezed in a lesson. It was a lovely day as far as Midwestern weather goes. So strange to be riding outside in late November!
We started off the lesson on playing around with my straightness in the saddle. I am tight in my left hip flexors from a previous hip surgery and can often twist in the saddle, but ironically enough, my shoulders are straight. Some of this subsequently is reflected onto the horse as Chili often wants to track crooked as well and I'm sure part of that is myself and part of that is Chili's own previous injuries.
What my coach and I have been discovering is that I need to tighten my obliques a bit while riding to also correct some of the hypermobility issues I have elsewhere.
At the trot, I have been working on almost "bouncing" from one seat bone to the other while being cognitive of my obliques. Chili is very expressive and so it does become clear what she approves of and disapproves of quite quickly (thank you mare ears!). The goal of the "bouncing" is because I can't really open my left hip to have a way to send energy and shift my seat while essentially bypassing a blocked joint.
This was most evident while I was working on spirals on the circle a couple weeks ago. While spiraling with my left leg on the outside, Chili was having a difficult time maintaining the bend until I went a little rogue and had my left hip a little more forward than one would traditionally have it and then used more of the idea of the bounce to maintain forward impulsion and then had the right leg asking for the lateral movement. I'm hoping one day I can get video to share what I mean!
This also has come into play at the canter. I have long been overwhelmed with the great canter discussions on if the canter lead should be picked up from the inside leg or the outside leg or a combination. One stallion I rode for a while was definitely off the inside leg, while of course, many others I've ridden were off the outside leg. Some off both simultaneous.
One takeaway from the lesson was Chili absolutely did not appreciate the canter coming off both legs. I think there was too much of a squeeze and the tight hip blocking her from really moving into the canter fluidly. When I worked on moving the left hip out of the way, canter coming off the right leg and then more of a "scoop" on the left seat bone, she seemed much more fluid about picking up the lead and without extra "expression".
One canter exercise we began working on was pretty simple, but I thought it was useful, since most of our canter work at this point has either been on straight lines or on a 20 meter circle.
I started on the 20 meter circle, then went to the diagonal at X. While on X, straighten the horse and go straight while in canter.
Chili is still gaining strength in the canter and still at times, not quite sure about accepting the contact and changing reins while in the canter. She swapped leads once and broke to the trot a couple of other times while starting to ask her to straighten, but all in all, it is a good exercise for me to think about just continuing to work on straightness and I'll begin teasing apart what I need to do to help her. It just takes a little outside the box thinking!
It is somewhat promising to see progress. Chili is a talented horse, smart, and creates her own games. Some of it has been while she's had time off from injury as well. But I feel like some of our stalling has been because she hasn't followed the logical progression that dressage said she should. I also am realizing I may not be able to ride in the exact fashion that people say is "proper." We all have physical differences, but it is hopeful and a little bit inspiring to work with someone who can think outside the box on how to help both of us progress in our skills.