Lengthen Your Reins

Saddle Seat Wednesday

Before I can talk about the show, I have to tell you about my lesson the day before we left. Iggy and I had been doing okay but not great. We won a class [Show Report ACCHS 2016] and got good reviews at the last pre-show group lesson, but I knew we could be better. I just couldn’t see how. If Iggy was up and going like a fancy Saddlebred, I could equitate. If he was out of position, so was I. I knew I needed to sit back, but couldn’t seem to. So Coach Courtney says “Lengthen your reins.”



I can do that?

I had no idea.

“Follow the horse’s mouth with your hands.” “Keep a steady contact.” “Shorten your reins.” “Don’t drop your reins.” I have heard variations on these ad infinitum. Now that I had finally learned to pick up my reins [Camp Tweets], I was determined to hang on to them. I wasn’t seizing the reins in a death grip. I wasn’t balancing off the reins. I was being soft and fluid with my hands. However, I was trying to keep my shoulders and hands still, to maintain my rein at the correct length, and yet adjust to the horse’s motion. I could fake it well enough that it looked okay until it all went wrong.

One end of the line (my shoulders and hands) was fixed. The line was a constant length (no rein adjustment). The other end of the line (the nose) was moving in and out of position as Iggy decided that no, he didn’t really want to work right now. Either the reins stayed in one place, which annoyed the horse and led to ugly face. Or my hands moved, which annoyed the instructor but sometimes worked. Or, most often, my hands and shoulders moved, which annoyed the instructor and pulled me down into Iggy’s worldview, leaving me unable to impose my version of reality. I was ineffective. Someone was always annoyed at me. Mostly, I was seriously annoyed at myself. Riding well is something I have wanted all my life. I was deeply and earnestly trying to do so. It wasn’t working. It couldn’t work. Be still but follow. I was trying achieve something against the laws of physics. No wonder I was always frustrated.

I cannot overstate effect this revelation had on my psyche. Oh. Hold your shoulders. Lengthen your reins to follow the nose. I can do THAT. Keep my position regardless of the horse’s antics. If he fusses, don’t fight. It takes two to pull. Allow the him some room, then ask him to come back together. Well, yeah, when you put it that way, it seems simple. Not easy, but simple.

Knowing that it was possible and that I was capable completely changed my mindset. I went on to have an outstanding final lesson with Sam. I rode two schooling sessions that surprised Miss Courtney with their consistency. I had promising warm-ups. No, I wasn’t perfect in my classes. This was a breakthough, not a miracle step.

Ramifications of a Mental Nature
Yes, I was nervous. I’m human. It was a horse show. Gone was the hysteria and the paralyzing nausea. In five days, I took took Ibuprofen twice: Friday night for a headache (probably from dehydration) and Saturday for a stomachache (probably from too much restaurant food). Compare this to just one night last year:

The new outlook didn’t change my attitude in the ring. That has never been an issue. but the other 23 1/2 hours were far more pleasant for me and everyone in my vicinity.

Ramifications of a Practical Nature
Will it last? I don’t know. Will it effect on how I ride Rodney and (someday) Milton? I can hope. Plus, it is also possible that pulling up my socks in one area of life will have a positive effect on sock adjustment in other areas.

Ramifications of a Theoretical Nature
This is not how I understand dressage (and by extension hunter/jumper/eventing) to be. Does that mean the two are vastly different? Or does it mean I don’t understand dressage? I have pondered this at the canter [Show Report GFC 2014], and at the trot [Show Report ASAC 2016]. Greg’s driving clinician (more on this when I get done with the show) talked about having elastic elbows. Courtney & Co. do NOT want to see supple, moving elbows. OTOH, Olympic eventer Karen O’Connor talks about keeping your hands in a space the size of a dinner plate. This sounds a lot like keeping them still.

Tomorrow: Show Report

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

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