Being asked to do a talk on "Dressage" to a local pony club group is probably sort of the same as being a dentist and being asked to do a talk on "The Magic of Flossing" to... well, just about anyone. You have to accept right from the get-go that your audience will be underwhelmed.
But you can't take it personally. In my case, the audience was thirteen years old, and thrived on Prince Philip Games (whacking your pony in the head with aforementioned wooden fish on a stick and whatnot) or blasting through cross country courses, or executing really bad stadium jumping where they get to fly around at mach-5 jumping 2 foot high fences, using levels of skill and finesse that would leave them dead or paraplegic if the fences were 3 foot high - why the hell would they want to hear about something as dull as dressage. Or flossing.
But it was the middle of February and I had nothing better to do, so I gave it a whirl. What did I have to lose - even if they all said I sucked once I left, it would have absolutely no impact on my life, and I really could care less. And, I was promised there would be cake.
And so, I prepared...
I spliced together a bunch of video clips shamelessly stolen from YouTube in an attempt to show off things like "horse with impulsion" vs "horse without impulsion" and "leg yield" versus "drifting horse with head cranked in one direction" and "person with steady contact" versus "person with really long reins and busy hands way in her crotch, who looks like she is pleasuring herself". (No, I didn't really say this. I just thought it quietly in my head while watching the video clip).
I think my favourite clip of all was a really wonderful "classic" dressage bit, where a woman did a series of perfect, slo-mo, set to dramatic music 4-tempis, every one of which was late... I guess that is what made it "classic" (as in "woah, man, this is classic! I can really help these kids understand what a late change looks like!")
I took a dressage whip and did that de rigeur thingy that every coach everywhere feels compelled to do at some point in time - you know, the one where you push the bendy end of the whip into your palm, showing how riding "back to front" creates a nice round bendy horse. Or something.
I brought a snaffle bit and some reins, and did a demo that involved a child holding the bit and me putting my foot on their ass and pushing them "into the contact". It seemed to make sense at the time. So far, no charges have been laid against me, so what the hell - maybe it actually did make sense.
But I think the point I wanted to get across most of all was the thing that I remember being very significant to me when I started riding the ponies in the Land of Lilliput.
If the ponies were ridden correctly - forward, into steady contact, using the concepts introduced to me way back when I learned about the mystery of the half halt... they went on the bit and stayed there, swinging along, in a forward and pleasant fashion. While I did nothing but sit pretty, monitor the situation, and adjust as needed (a little leg here, a squeeze of hand there)....yes, as bizarre as it seemed, after years of hunchy-chicken neck-jabby-jabby-see-saw hunter riding - there was this strange possibility that I could ride around someday without having to kick-fuss-pull-wiggle every fricking step of the way.
It dawned on me after a few lessons that this bizarre concept, taken to the extreme...yes, Curmudgeon, this general idea just might someday morph into...self carriage. As in - when horse does stuff without you holding them up, nagging them constantly, and muscling them through every manoeuvre.
At the risk of having someone tell me that I should learn to ride from riding horses and not reading books on the toilet, I will say that Kyra Kyrklund gives a good analogy of this in her book "Dressage with Kyra", where she talks about the fact that a rider should not have to influence their horse all the time, and that riding a horse is like riding a kick-sled. Kick-go-relax and enjoy the ride. No more kicking until speed decreases.
(I actually used this analogy with the Pony Club kids, but I changed "kick-sled" into "skateboard" and used a picture of Bart Simpson to make it seem more hip. Nothing like really putting the icing on the "old boring woman doing talk on dressage" cake like referring to a cool toy of the 1800's)
|Woah! Who needs an Xbox when you have a Kicksled!
Oooh, but Dressage Curmudgeon! We must constantly be rebalancing our horses! I do 1000's of half halts every ride!
There seems to be some pissing contest thing going that requires one to blather on about just how many half halts one does during their average ride. Or just how one must execute these half halts. Ass or abdomen? Lifted, or level hand? Zzzzz...
Honestly, you sound like idiots. Bottom line - there is no magic number, or magic method - you just have to play around and learn, with good eyes on the ground to let you know when you are doing it right. But every moment the horse understands, responds, and trucks along doing exactly what you want, in a balanced fashion without your input - even for a second - is an amazing moment. And I do remember being quite excited by this when it first came to life for me while riding the ponies of Lilliput.
(Developing the sensitivity and timing to run these moments all together into a seamless and invisible ride...uhhh, well... another story all together. Baby steps, eh?)
Annyway to wrap things up - the cake was carrot cake - and I felt it was fairly delicious and worth the drive to Fergus. I have no idea if the kids learned anything about dressage, or were just left wondering how Bart Simpson fit into the whole picture. But I hope that someday at least one of them is bopping along doing a nice big booming trot, just sitting back and enjoying the ride, and says to herself... HEY - maybe this is what that crazy woman was talking about back in 2012...