Sunday 6 January 2013

Don't overthink it Curmudgeon. Eat Less. Feel more.

It is winter here in Canada.

You know that that means. We buy skis, snoeshoes, and trendy puffer jackets with saucy hoods and cuffs trimmed in silky cat fur harvested in China.

The really moronic among us who are doing our best to deny climate change in Southwestern Ontario spend upwards of $10,000 on a snowmobile and accompanying insurance and trail pass. All for the opportunity to spend 6 hours driving to Sudbury a few times a year to get the chance to actually use the smelly thing, thereby justifying our crazy expenditure.

Motard is ...CANADIAN! (but that is actually my sled).

But what it actually means is - although we put a brave face on regarding the horrific climate in which we live, what we really spend most January days doing is dreaming of getting on a plane and escaping this slush coated hellhole and going somewhere else. Somewhere WARM.  To lie on a beach and work on our skin cancer.

The one good thing about snowmobiling is that you get to wear a lot of bulky clothes and no one notices the size of your ass.  The bad thing about going someplace warm is that you don't, and everyone does.

Now, I am sure we can all agree that one of the funnest experiences of being a few pounds overweight is going out to dinner with a 5'11", willowy twig-like ectomorph of a buddy, who, while scraping the last traces of whipped cream off of her dessert plate, (as you finish up your water with lemon) announces:

Seriously Curmudgeon - I think that a rider with a reasonable amount of "feel" probably does not need to focus on the horse's legs to this degree.

As though it had never occurred to you that the easiest way to look smoking hot in a bikini is to not worry about calories, or exercise, or any of the other tedious methods that may have been suggested to you to achieve our unrealistic culturally defined version of hotness.  

The best way to look hot in a bikini is to be born with the genetic ability to ...uhh... look hot in a bikini. 

Oh - wait a minute.  I am getting my blogs all mixed up here, aren't I. That is a passage from my other blog, "short-ass, sawed off and hammered down Curmudgeon who must watch everything she eats, especially since she is now over 40 and her metabolism is on some sort of crazy hard-core work to rule that any Ontario elementary teacher would envy"

What do you say to a rider who just isn't FEELin' it?  Saying "you just have to learn to feel when to apply the aids" is like saying to an overweigh person "you just have to eat less".  

Why yes, of course. Great tip. How does my fork FEEL in your eye?

(The hunter equivalent of this is of course the naturally gifted rider who says "Did you even look for your spot there? It was right there!  Didn't you SEE your spot?  Just ride your horse forward to your spot. The five strides will come naturally once you get your spot to the first jump!)

The problem with being human is - sometimes we just aren't endowed with the genetic potential to "JUST DO IT".  So fuck off, Nike.

Unfortunately, I was blessed with neither the ability to look effortlessly hot in a bikini, nor feel the precise moment to apply a perfect aid.  

However, the good news is - these things can be learned. Being a rider with "feel" is not a secret club you can't get into.  Don't despair. 

By following the concepts learned during too many years studying nutrition, and running an insane amount of kilometers per week, I now understand how not to morph into a shapeless roll-laden Sharpei dog, and it is such second nature that it takes very little thought or effort - it is part of my daily routine, and now comes naturally to me.  

And - likewise - by spending time learning where my horse's feet were once upon a time, way back when...and playing around to see how my aids affected them at different points in my horse's gait - knowing when to apply an aid now comes fairly naturally to me.  I don't have to put a lot of thought into when to ask to get the effect I want.  I have learned FEEL.  It did not come naturally to me.

Had I not done this - and had I just ridden around waiting for FEEL to strike me like lightning - the process would have been much more frustrating. I would suggest if you are waiting for this lightning - what the hell. You might want to give the footfalls thing a try. 

(If FEEL does come naturally to you - well, aren't you fucking special.  Where is my fork...)

We probably all have had different moments when we were struck by the fact that something was horribly wrong with the timing of our aids.  For me - the biggest revelation that perhaps there was room for improvement was in the walk-canter transition. 

(Which of course is one of those transitions where your hunter friends scoff at you "...Oh Curmudgeon!  We ALWAYS canter from the walk.  It is EASY!"

No. No you don't.  And no, no it isn't at first. Hunters typically canter from one or two strides of trot, shoved between the walk and canter. (Which is why the "simple change of lead through walk" cannot be faked by a hunter rider trying to show second level)).  

A dressage walk-canter transition happens in one, beautiful light step, and a good one is really one of my favourite things about dressage - so simple, so smooth, when done correctly. 

The problem is - as your horse is walking (inside hind) -two (inside fore) -three (outside hind) -four (inside fore), one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four... there is only one moment when the outside hind foot is about to take its turn in sequence - and that is the moment when you can step into a perfect, light canter.  

If you ask at any other time - the horse physically has no option but to wait for his legs to catch up with your request. It might happen...but it will take a second.  

If you are an inexperienced rider with no feel, as was I, that second feels really long.  You start to worry. Oh my god. This can't be right. I am not getting an "instantaneous reaction to my aids".  Why isn't anything happening?  I am asking for canter...giddyup there, Paddy...

And so, my obvious solution was to dig in my heel and apply the aid even harder. That always works, right?

Well, no. Since Paddy had a good haunches-in button installed, this harder aid by outside leg slightly behind the girth meant - haunches-in.  So now I had a crooked horse, unsure as to whether to canter, or crab-step down the longside, or just get pissed off and do absolutely nothing. 

My GOD.  Seriously. It took me a pathetically long time to figure this out.  Poor, poor Paddy.  (May you RIP in horse heaven, where no stupid women are messing with your mind giving you horrid canter aids).  

The worst part is that 25% of the time, entirely by chance - I asked for canter at precisely the right moment and of course thought I was finally doing something right. In fact, I was really just spinning the roulette wheel of legs. YES!  Numbah THREE!  Winna - Winna - Winna (horse steps off in a perfect canter transition).  This only made things even more confusing.  

So, what was my eventual solution to the problem...since FEEL was apparently not one of my wins in the genetic lottery? I needed to develop some little trick to follow, until feel..uh..felt natural. So, for me (and you will have to develop your own plan here, but this is how my brain worked...) the thought process was...

If we count inside hind as #1...inside fore #2....the magic moment of the outside hind stepping into a beautiful, light canter is #3. for outside shoulder to move forward - that would be #4 , the end of a given cycle - then get ready to ask in the next cycle.  

I would count...

#1 (AND...get organized..) - #2 (NOW - my leg is in position ready to give aid) - #3 (CANTER...give the aid)

One might argue that really, I still haven't fully figured this out, as I admittedly ride tempi changes very poorly and the same sort of thought process is involved...but any timing errors are even more  screamingly evident.  At least for walk-canter transitions, if you apply the aid at the wrong time but just hang out patiently waiting, a good horse will step into canter when his legs catch up with your request and onlookers may be none the wiser that you really don't know what you are doing.  

When doing 4-tempis (generally agreed to be the most difficult, believe it or not) - incorrectly timed aids give you some mess of a zig-zagging 4-4-3-4-3 count, likely with a late change or two thrown into the mix as your poor horse counts out 1-2-3-W...1-2-3-T...1-2-3-F... along with you.  

Yah, in this case...onlookers will realize you are a bit out of your league.  Just ask me how I know. 




  1. Ahh, see my bone to pick with footfalls is that I tend to get distracted and drop a beat. Got any magical solutions for dressage ADD?

  2. I put a different coloured boot/bandage on each leg, looked in the mirror and had someone on the ground chanting, pink, now, blue, now red, now green. GO you idiot.

    Don't know if it helped but it added some colour to an otherwise boring lesson.

    I do however have the aid perfected for hit the rafters. Strong leg aid requesting canter out of a reinback produced rafter hitting buck from nearly any neddie. In fact the older more laid back ones go higher, since it has been years since anyone asked them that! And clearly they are delighted to comply. Cheers them up no end! :-)


    1. I love the rainbow leg wraps- that is awesome. :)

  3. I have no idea how so dont ask but there is a way to just be aware of your two fronts and know which one is the one to note.

  4. Literally the first time someone has explained this to me in a way I understood it. Thanks!!!

  5. This makes so much sense. I come from the hunter world, and never really realized that my clean walk-canter departures do actually have a few strides of trot in there. This gives me a lot to think on, and so much to work with. Thanks, Curmudgeon!!

  6. I think when I did breed shows and hunters my canter transitions were prompt without trot steps... just not balanced and organized. Like, the horse may be half falling on its face, but goes straight into canter...

    I'm one of those "I don't think about it, I just feel it" for canter transitions folks, and for me it's based on feeling the inside shoulder moving. The delay from feeling that to my brain telling my body to cue amounts to the same timing as the count you gave her, but confuses me less. I think for a lot of us who go by feel, it's a matter of lack of coordination of brain and counting skills, so learn that when you think of cueing as you feel a certain aspect of the stride you get it right.
    I'm also incapable of calling out which leg is moving because I get it wrong due to brain delay, and trying to post on the correct diagonal by feel means by default I sit two after I start posting because I feel what I want... and go the next stride. Every time.

  7. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds 4s much harder than 3s and 2s. Took me two years to master 4s, two weeks to master 3s and 2 days to master 2s. Even now I am more likely to screw up the 4s. Probably because I don't have time to overthink in the 3s and 2s, but 4s give me lots of time to think about stuff in between.

  8. The 4's and the 3's are killing me right now. We've got lovely changes, my horse gets it, I just cannot get the timing of my aids under control. It is interesting how the holes really get glaring as you move up the levels. If you had asked me even 6 months ago if I have problems with timing I would have told you (and fully believed) that I am one of those naturally gifted ones. Thanks to those damn tempis my bubble has officially been burst. I say this almost daily, but Dressage is truly the most humbling sport of them all (although you wouldn't always know it if you've met a DQ)!

  9. I will refrain from making some smart allec joke, and just say that there is an error in what you've written for the foot fall pattern in the walk. Unless the inside fore really does land twice in each sequence--maybe that's where I've been going wrong all these years! Oh I just couldn't resist after all.

  10. thank you, Copenhagen- I was wondering if it was just me.... otherwise, brilliant post!

  11. Duh...Duh...YES you are correct! Must need another coffee this morning, it took me a few tries to find the mistake even after you pointed it out. I will leave it in there as kind of a "where's Waldo" for future readers... :)