Elastic. I've never understood the concept of "elastic" horses. "Gooey", however, is something I can sink my teeth into! And I would never have thought that suspenders would be so important to my dressage seat. All this time I've been cruising for the most comfy breeches and boots that won't pinch my toes, small-batch, home-baked treats, and new saddles, and it turns out I needed only suspenders to change my entire relationship with my horse!
I realize this seems to be a mid-stream boulder in my Horse Shopping rant, but bear with me. I'll find a way to tie it together after I've reported on the utter joy of another day spent in the presence of Linnea Seaman. The diminutive dynamo made a rare appearance at Harvest View Stables, a private boarding farm near Harrisburg, PA, yesterday. I was lucky enough (because my daughter boards at the barn and arranged the clinic partly to end my whining) to be invited to participate. Luckier yet, it's just a smidge too far for me to drag Zip along to that venue, so Jess let me use her lovely mare, Dolly, for the lesson. I was able to focus on the details of seat correction rather than being forced to discuss the alternatives that Zip would have insisted on testing.
Far be it from me to reteach Linnea's lesson here, but there are a few points that I want to share. I learned these things:
- My hands are not connected to the bit rings. Ha! Who knew? There's invisible elastic that runs from the middle of Dolly's (and presumably Zip's) mouth through the rein, up my arm, around my shoulder blades, and back down the other side. When I got a grip on my back being in the middle of Dolly's mouth (seriously--close your eyes and think about it), my entire relationship with the horse changed.
- I do not need to constantly bump, squeeze, thrash, ooze, rake or otherwise assail the horse with my legs to keep her moving and "impulsed". Double ha! It's perfectly allowable (forgive me, Hunt Seat Goddess, but I have seen the light!) for my legs to just be legs. They are permitted to hang, knees gently flapping like chubby butterflies, with just the suggestion of contact between my boot and the stirrup. There are no points off for flapping. I could die of happiness!
- Said stirrup contact is weight-bearing. Knees are for flapping, not for gripping, and inner thighs are not to be velcroed to the saddle.
- The horse can't move if I'm in her way.
- I need invisible suspenders in order to accomplish all this, and only Linnea can give them to me.
I have miles in the saddle to go before the suspenders will be fully functional, and I'm not kidding myself into believing that I will achieve Equine Gooiness without a great deal of sweat, but the difference in Dolly's movement (from stiff, to rather mooshy, but not quite gooey) was nearly instantaneous the moment I let my right suspender reach up to the sky and my left foot take on the job of non-interference. Now that's what I'm talking about! Pretty lateral work without tears. Does it get any better than that?
I promised I'd tie all this to the Horse Shopping delirium, so here's the connection. If you are a crappy rider, a good horse is going to become a crappy horse the minute you lay butt on it. If you think you're "advanced" but you're not a professional or showing at the highest levels, you're not advanced. You're probably "intermediate". More likely, you're an "advanced beginner". If you can't find a way to honestly assess you're skills, take a few lessons with someone like Linnea (western riders, seek out clinics with Stacy Westfall). You'll be shown (gently) that the pea isn't under the mattress, it's in your head.
No horse will ever be perfect for you unless you are willing to understand who you are as a rider and what you need. A finely-tuned dressage horse (like Dolly) can untune before you can say "on the bit" if you're riding like a sack of potatoes with hands like rocks. There's no "gooiness" in a horse if there's no elasticity in your seat and back. Just getting the rod out of my spine and removing the "hunt seat arch" made Dolly so happy I swore she was singing "Kumbaya".
Not everyone has access to the best training, and I've heard fellow horse folks wail about the cost of clinics and lessons, but if you're going to spend big bucks on the latest bling browband just so you can stand around admiring the horse you can't quite make walk forward on a loose rein, that's money poorly spent.
Interrupt your shopping for a bit and go take a lesson or two. You might find a whole different perspective revealing itself.