I had my weekly lesson with Lauren on Christmas eve, as she’s now off to Welly-world for the winter season. While she comes home three times between now and April 1, and while Cardoon and I will have regular eyes on the ground for at least the next two months (I’m lucky enough to be boarding at her farm for the winter again!), I wanted to have one last check-in with her on our progress before we were abandoned…ahem…left to our own devices for a while.
There are some things in the dressage world that have to be taught “just so” in order to avoid problems down the road. For example, I’ve seen that the flying changes can be kinda, permanently challenging if a horse’s propensity to be late behind isn’t nipped in the bud early on. While late changes were never a problem for Cardoon (he liked to demonstrate his savant-like capacity for changes as early as First Level), we’ve seen several horses go through this issue lately, it made me worry that there might be other complex sounding movements that could be equally screwed permanently.
Like the pirouette.
The pirouette feels right now like something I will never master. I feel as though I’ve been stuck for a month doing transitions between collected canter and very collected canter, and living in an exercise involving a 20 meter circle with a canter volte at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. We’re doing it, and the pirouette canter might be getting ever-so-slightly better, but it feels like I’m standing still and lack any skills to make the canter as small as it will need to be.
A few lessons ago, while observing our struggle to sit and collect, even for a few strides, Lauren suggested that the next step (for us) towards the pirouettes was to get Cardoon VERY round, while still in a collected canter. Think rollkur, but without the permanently cranked over neck, open mouth, and torture. Lets be honest here, with his big shoulders and driving horse front end, Cardoon is physically incapable of a rollkur position. That said, getting him to be truly over his back, giving at the base of his neck, while still cantering uphill and forward is a challenge. And it was getting in the way of our work towards the pirouette because his tendency is to brace at his withers, and bring his neck and head up. This isn’t conducive to the balanced, round, uphill movement we’re after.
In pursuit of this increased roundness, we spent about two weeks working on nothing but a very round, uphill canter. It was an awful lot of thinking about putting his nose between his knees, without actually ever getting his nose close to that place. We did a lot of suppling on the outside rein, giving, and then suppling some more. My left shoulder now hurts a lot, and its possible I now have a rotator cuff injury. But I think all of that suppling paid off.
In my last lesson, I asked Lauren to hop on Cardoon and give me her assessment of how she thought he felt. Basically, a check-in on whether she thinks he’s progressing and whether my training feels “right”. I don’t want to be working towards the pirouette only to find out that I’ve somehow permanently prevented us from ever getting there through incorrect work.
Much to my relief and delight, she actually giggled a little when she got on him and the words “He’s getting So. Fun.” may have passed her lips. She also assured me that pirouettes are not, in fact, like flying changes. One is not likely to completely FUBAR them by riding badly.
The other small joy in my lesson is that when he does misbehave while we’re working on collected canter (which usually looks something like canter-canter smaller 1 stride-flying change-one tempi-slam both front feet on the ground in anger-then leap away 2 feet-then continue cantering), its not me. Because he pulled the same exact thing with Lauren. Its not that I want to see my trainer fail – I pay her to succeed -but it is a little gratifying to know that this is just where we are, because it’s where we are, and not because I suck.
All in all, the check-in went well. Lauren assures me that we’re where we should be and that I shouldn’t panic. The pirouettes will come. Eventually. And in the meantime, we just need to keep chipping away at that very, very collected canter – with our head down and nose to the grindstone.