Monday, October 24, 2011

Lunge / Equitation Lessons

I've been driving to Port Williams for lunge lessons for the last few weeks to work on my equitation (the place I went to dressage camp last summer). So far I've had four. This represents a significant commitment on my part, as it is an hour and a half + drive to get there - so three hours + driving for a lesson. They're worth it though. Jane Fraser gives the lessons. She's Sue Fraser's sister and teaches at her barn some. Sue is a level three dressage coach and we're really lucky to have both she and Jane here in Nova Scotia. 
These lessons are intense and I love them. To give you a little background, instead of getting better, my riding has gotten worse since I backed Rogo. It was both my first time backing a horse, and first time riding a warmblood. Can you imagine? (I know it wasn't a smart thing to do, but it's working.) And I wonder why he didn't want to go forward at first? Oh la la. The movement is sooo different. Savanah is a big powerful horse, but the sensation of riding the two horses is like being on two different species. Rogo is shading over 17 hands and has a lot of suspension. 
When being lunged the reins are tied up and I hold (lightly when I'm doing well) a strap on the front of the saddle. This gives me the freedom to think about my equitation and work on isolating body parts and using them individually.
Here are a few things I've learned in no particular order...
I noticed that when I clamp my knees and thighs my lesson horse slows right down - I can almost feel them braking. I'm almost sure I've been doing this to Rogo, at least at times. Jane tells me that doing this will cause some horses to race and others to get balky. A horse like Rogo who wasn't anxious to go forward even on the lunge before backing wouldn't react well to this from his rider. I remember him lowering his head and shaking it all the time when I first asked him to trot under saddle. Not a happy boy, and I didn't know why. Hmmm, I think there may be a relationship. I've always felt there was something not right about how I was trotting, because he's nicely forward at the canter. I learned through my lunge lessons that although I can improve my canter seat, it isn't restricting like my trot seat often becomes with tight knees and thighs. Like many people I find it much easier to sit with stability at the canter, even the huge warm blood canter Rogo has. The school horse I rode that day was a Thoroughbred, so sometimes tight upper legs made her race and sometimes she just shut down / slow down. Relaxing got her to relax and lengthen her trot into a nice big, steady rhythm.
I've had teachers tell me to relax my upper leg before, and let it lie softly without 'clamping' but the lunge lessons make the effect of a tight thigh / knee so clear - instant loss of quality in the gait with upper legs tight and instant improvement in the length of stride and rhythm when the upper leg is loose and open.
And here's my big break through! Keeping my heels down has always been hard for me on Rogo, and forget keeping my legs quiet. Jane kept telling me to put my legs back, put my legs back. They continually crept forward so that I didn't have a straight line from ear to shoulder to hip to heel - my legs got too forward. She also told me to push down through my heels each time I rose in the trot. I just couldn't do it - my legs kept going forward and I couldn't hold them in place. Finally, in frustration with myself, I decided to correct the leg position with each stride. I pushed my lower leg back/down, back/down, back/down and suddenly Jane shouts "You've got it"! After a couple of rounds of it she had to stop me to show me the goose bumps on her arm. She said it was the single biggest improvement I'd made. I was so touched that she cared that much about my improvement, and so happy to finally 'feel' the flow and rhythm of trotting with my legs correct. I think it is this real caring that takes Jane from being a very good teacher to being a great teacher. She has the information, she's knowledgeable about how learning takes place, and she genuinely cares about her students and their horses learning and improving. I think I might have gotten a little teary eyed at my improved leg position :)
I told you this was in no particular order, and being that my readers are much more knowledgeable than me in many / most cases, you'll know the lower leg epiphany came before the upper leg relaxation. Once the lower leg learned the movement and I could relax into it without straining to keep my leg in the right place, or bouncing up off the ball of my foot instead of stepping down into it, the upper leg relaxed and my horse relaxed and went forward.
I feel like a blind man who is learning to see, and I'm disappointed that years have gone by without good lessons. I should have been doing this years ago. It takes so many years to get good, and now I've lost years. I need at least another hundred hours of this to start to crack the surface.
A couple of my biggest areas to correct are keeping my shoulders back, stretching up through my core and tucking in my butt. I'm moving Rogo to the Fraser Equestrian Center for Nov. and Dec., so I'll be getting training lessons with Sue and I want to keep my lunge lessons up all winter. OMG, I'm so excited! 
By the way, Rogo is recovering well from surgery and the vet expects he'll be in fine shape to start training with Sue in Nov. I rode him bareback yesterday (the incision is too close to the girth area to put a saddle on him). 
Here are some lunging pictures:



10 comments:

Annette said...

lunge lessons are soooo helpful - especially with a big warmblood. Like you said, their gaits are very different and very difficult, requiring lots of strength (core) and balance. I used to take them a lot when I had my WB -- it was the only way I could learn to ride him well.

Kate said...

Glad Rogo is doing well.

Lunge lessons can be so valuable - you're very fortunate and they're well worth the drive. Blocking the horse's motion with your body is very common, I think. Great stuff you're doing!

Christine said...

Lunge lessons are my favorite kind

Kelly said...

Taking mental notes right now to try your tips tonight! Great post :)

in2paints said...

I haven't had a longe lesson in a long time! I'm loving the tips, and it sounds like I could benefit from a few of those lessons myself!

twohorses said...

Longe lessons and lessons without stirrups are the best way to get that independent seat. How wonderful that you've found such a good instructor! Very interesting how closing your knees and upper legs slowes Rogo down, but sped up the thoroughbred of your lesson!

Carol said...

Thanks for the feedback. I'm pretty excited about it. Just as clarification, closinh my thigs and knees slows Rogo, and the warm blood lesson horse. With the Thorougbred, sometimes he shuts rigt down and sometimes the tension makes him race. I wasn't clear about that. Eithe way, the qualit of the gait suffes.

Carol said...

Ha ha, can you tell I wrote the last comment with my phone?

Jan said...

Carol, what a great lesson you had! I understand so much about frustration with the lower leg at the trot- I do that also- and have tried so hard to not bounce off of the middle of my foot bottom and try to keep my heels down- oh, and not move my legs - all while posting. Very, very hard for me. Then I started watching other good riders and for several I observed, their legs also moved. So I felt better about not having totally-non-moving legs. Still working on the heel, but it is like retraining your foot. Anyway, great work! And it is wonderful to get a trainer's undivided observations of you and your horse, who can offer suggestions that fit your horse. Glad Rogo is recovering well!

achieve1dream said...

That is so awesome! What fantastic epiphanies. :) Sounds like the longe lessons are awesome. I've never had any, but I hope to someday.