Francis and I had our first private lesson together with Trainer this week. I’ve been so excited for this- more individual attention means more progress. I knew it would be hard work, but figured that we’ve been rocking it lately and just came off a great show. How bad could it be?
Spoiler alert: SO HARD. SO FREAKIN’ HARD.
I should have known from the very first moment of the lesson. I had been trotting around to limber up a little when the clock chimed 6, the lesson officially began, and Trainer turned to me and said, “OK now drop your stirrups.”
Clearly we will be wasting NO time getting down to business.
At the trot we experimented with having my hands go super wide, which helped keep Frankie steadier in the contact. As I get stronger and he gets more familiar we can bring my hands closer together, but this was a really great exercise to use on different sized circles. I was not allowed to have lopsided hands- they had to remain the same distance from his neck. Circling required steady inside leg to encourage the bend, outside leg to get his body in line, outside rein to channel the energy, and inside rein to soften. No pulling or kicking, just steady pressure and squeezing that energy up in front of me.
We also did lots of extension-collection work insisting on a prompt response to my cues. The collected work was not allowed to be weak- he had to remain round and bouncy and energetic. And in the extended work he could not run around with his nose poking out and his balance over his front end. He had to be pushing up into the bridle. Holy half-halt core work Batman.
As we moved up into our canter work, we decided to try something new: the driving rein. I honestly didn’t even know what this was until quite recently, so I told my trainer she was lucky I googled this last month. Perfect timing. For those of you who may not know the difference, here it is:
It feels like you’re giving the reins a handshake.
Um. Wow. MAJOR DIFFERENCE. Trainer had me do this to break some muscle memory and build new habits and WOW. Our canter departs were cleaner, he rocked and rounded into my hand more softly, our circles were rounder, and I got the tightest circle out of him that we’ve ever gotten. He basically sat back and turned on a dime for me.
His increased fitness and training rides over the last month have a lot to do with this, but I think my balance and communication was that much more straightforward with the driving rein.
We did a lot of canter-trot-canter transitions all over the ring and managed to get the lead every time. I have a weird thing where I tend to block him picking up the right lead, but NOT WITH THE DRIVING REIN I DON’T. RIGHT LEAD EVERY TIME BISHES.
So basically I was feeling magical floaty unicorn hooray for the driving rein I love this forever. And also wheezing and panting but that’s not important to focus on.
After taking a brief walk break to wheeze a little less, we trotted a few small jumps to get our muscles moving and then it was time to weeeeeerk. THE MAGICAL FLOATY UNICORN FEELING DID NOT LAST OMG.
Our first exercise was bending oxer to oxer in a shaped but forward five strides. I was required to keep using the driving rein and auto-release over the jump.
Turns out that when I have no neck to press into, I do a couple really fun things: jump up over the pommel of my saddle, straighten my knee back like superman, my hands go all sorts of different directions, and I roach back into my saddle like a sack of flour.
You know, exactly how you’re supposed to look.
So yeah struggle bus right there. So what do you do when a certain exercise is giving you trouble? That’s right. You move on to another HARDER EXERCISE.
Turns out I not only suck at jumping, I suck at steering. Almost turned right after D before swerving to the left, and straight up did a flyby on G because I couldn’t get back act together to steer. ALL WRONG IT’S ALL SO WRONG. We went back and at least managed to steer a teensy bit.
So we decided to just glue it all together and do this: bending A to B in 5, roll back over C turning across the ring to D, turn left, go around everything, then long approach down to E.
Still messy, still gross, but it had some redeeming moments. The first bending line was still a freak show. But we got our mojo a bit more coming around to C and the rest at least had a decent flow.
So, yeah. We didn’t end this lesson with some crazy breakthrough or wild improvement. We have LOTS of homework and strength building to do. It was really humbling to go in there and basically mush through every exercise in such a mediocre way.
This is what’s going to make us better though! If we practice the way we’ve always practiced, we’ll perform the way we’ve always performed. It’s going to be really hard and probably frustrating at times. That’s OK. I don’t just ride for the easy days- I ride to be a better rider. This is what’s going to help make that happen.
From now until eternity, I am not allowed to touch Frankie’s neck while jumping. It’s driving rein and auto-release until I am told differently, which likely won’t be for at least several months. Time to lean in and embrace the sore abs.
What are your opinions on using a driving rein? Have you found it helpful to switch things up?