Friday 13 September 2013

Things seem to be going a little bit sideways...

And what exactly was it that was so rosy on the riding side?

We were finally starting lateral work. My very favourite work of all. (Incidentally, all of my moves at work tend to be lateral as well - coincidence? Hmm... I just don't know)

The good news is that beautiful half passes, once you learn how to do them and when mounted on a horse that is up for the task, are easy. Really. Nothing is more therapeutic to me now after a long day of doing whatever it is that I might do in a day that I don't enjoy than riding a nice tight little 10 m circle (no Bullit-esque fishtails)- shoulder in - 10 m circle - half pass (which you may recognize as parts of the beginning of our current PSG tests).

No No NO!  Weight should be on your INSIDE seatbone

Sure, it doesn't have the flash of a line of tempis. But whereas tempis have always felt lumpy and awkward and confusing to me (you have to move your legs and count for Pete's sake - too much like work), if you set up your half pass correctly (establish correct bend during your circle, sitting in the direction of travel, forward as always is key), and your horse has been schooled to know what the hell this all means, you just get to sit back and enjoy the ride, with only minimal pilot input required.

In fact, I would say that if you ever find yourself straining during a half pass - if you are ever swinging your leg so far back that you poke yourself in the ass while trying to get that aid "behind the girth"...if your saddle pad is all folded up into an intricate series of pleats like one of those towel origami things they put on your bed at all inclusive resorts in Cuba ...if your horse is doing a big beautiful, booming trot around the arena, but then decelerates to a dust kicking shuffle when asked to move sideways... you are doing it really, really wrong.  Just like lots of other people.

Honey! Look! Someone has been riding shitty half passes on our bed.  Isn't it beautiful!

I don't know why there is such a monstrous abyss between "beautiful lateral work" and "horrific sideways stumble with horse's neck cranked in some direction, and a toe out, heel in spur gouge".  But, being a horse person on the internet, I will take a stab at explaining something on which I have no true knowledge with an air of authority. It's what we do, right?

We have already covered several of the terms that you will want to include on your "things coaches yell out to clueless beginners" bingo card - things like "half halt", and "bend through the jowl" and "did you feel that?".  You will definitely want to add "leg yield" to a corner or two of your card, as it is always on the list of pithy advice that is barked at the riders of board stiff, dum-de-dum school horses as they plod around doing the same shit they have done for the last 15 years, with little regard for anything the rider may or may not be attempting to execute up above.

In fact, a quick surf of our favourite bulletin boards shows that the leg yield is such an important item on this bingo card that it is the go-to solution used to cure a wide range of problems that the average horse might face - and not just in the dressage ring either.  Bolting, overbending, failure to pick up a desired lead, inability to change leads, pulling on the bit, rushing through courses, falling souflees, impotence, crab lice - yes, having this one little tool in your toolbox can help you to turn just about any arab cross into Hickstead, if you just know when to apply it.

Which is great news.

The part that is a bit frightening is that when you actually look for information on "how to leg yield" - things get a little foggier. As with the half halt, there seems to be the perception that horses and riders are born with the innate ability to move smoothly sideways at just the right angle, shoulders leading slightly. Very little time seems to be dedicated to explaining to the rider - or the horse for that matter - exactly how the hell this is accomplished.  As a rider, you are just supposed to magically know where to sit, pull, poke - and when.

I do think most of us can blame this on our origins as hunter / jumper riders, because I don't think there is a h/j person out there who will believe you if you tell them "your horse cannot leg yield", just as 99% of h/j people bopping around with draw reins or a chambon clipped to their pelham think you are just being a catty DQ if you announce that their horse is not really "on the bit". (And come on, you kind of are. Polite dressage riders avert their eyes and shut their mouths, then slam their h/j friends on bulletin boards). 

But the truth is - most of them can't - well, not in the dressage sense of the word in any case.  And I don't think anyone notices or cares.  I once attended a BNT hunter clinic where a group of about five 12 year olds on sour faced ponies were instructed to "shoulder in down the long side".  Hey, call me a Curmudgeon but I think his request was a tad on the optimistic side - or conversely, on the "what the hell, it is a clinic and I will never see these people again, let me throw out some juicy instructions to wow them, who cares if these little wanks even know what it means" side. You can pick.

So - if like me, you have this foundation in place, and you come from a world where as long as your horse was drifting somewhere in some fashion, while you pulled on a rein or dug in a spur, you were deemed to be "leg yielding", and crab stepping up the long side was "shoulder in" - you may find lateral work to be a challenge at first. Just like connection. And sitting trot, and ...and...and...and...(insert various aspects of dressage here).

Now I am not saying that there are no tips at all on the internet to help explain the mysteries of the leg yield.  For example, I found a site that promised to teach you how to leg yield in 14 easy steps.  Here is an excerpt:

With your core muscles, lighten the seat bone which is on the hind leg that you want to cross over. For example, if you are leg yielding to the left, lighten your right seat bone by scrunching up the right side of your core, making sure that you keep your upper body straight.

A-ha. Makes perfect sense, no?  In my books, this advice does get points for using the key dressage words "core", "lighten" and "seat bone" all in one sentence, along with the no doubt classically inspired term "scrunching".  You don't see that every day. I must also point out that this was not the first step in successfully executing your leg yield - it was somewhere down near number 14.  There were other preparatory steps early on, such as #2 - mount your horse.  Huh. Good tip. 

Now after that -if things start going a little sideways - well, we will know it is working.

P.S - Happy Friday the 13th!