I am very grateful for the opportunity provided to me with a CDCTA scholarship to participate in a program being offered by Alison Johnson, Dressage Instructor, to prepare me and my new pony Jack for the 2016 dressage season. We are halfway through the program so I wanted to provide an update.
My first session with Ali focused on myself as a rider. I could clearly see how my riding related to Jack’s performance. He is small, 14 hands, and is easily influenced by my weight and position. Ali explained how important it was for me to lift my collar bone which would help me not collapse into the saddle which in turn would help Jack lighten his forehand. Another focus was on securing my elbows by my side and connecting them to my hips, and while keeping them elastic, providing Jack with a steady contact to reach into. She encouraged me to visualize the connection between my elbows and the bit almost as side reins. This helped me to ground my arm and improved our connection. The last area I needed to focus on with my position was to teach Jack to move forward with an aide or reminder and then sit quietly and let him do his job of carrying his rider around. By quieting my legs and seat Jack started to hear me and listen to me when I put on my aids, without the constant nagging of my leg.
My next session with Ali was on a focus on Jack’s strengths and weaknesses. His nature tends to be quiet which is a strength, however, can also be a disadvantage when he likes to be on the lazy side. On the positive side, because of his quiet nature, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him to be very well behaved even in new environments, which allows me to be more relaxed and focus on the work we are trying to accomplish. While he has very nice natural gaits, Ali feels that he carries a fair amount of tightness in his back which inhibits his forward movement. Ali also feels that Jack doesn’t always reach as much with his left side. Jack has a very nice naturally balanced canter with a nice jump. Because he is young he is a little on the forehand but as he grow stronger we believe he will have a beautiful canter.
In our third session Ali focused on working on improving Jack and me as a team utilizing a number of exercises. To help him activate his back, Ali taught me how to use the dressage whip for light taps on his croup. This exercise helps him loosen his topline and move more freely forward using his back. To help Jack move more evenly into the left rein, she has us do an exercise where we do a circle to the right but counter bend to the left and then go straight encouraging him to fill in the left rein. Ali also has us doing multiple trot to canter transitions to help him loosen his back, improve his balance and move forward. Once he is forward we focused on some lateral work such as turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. This helped activate his whole body through isolating specific body parts. He was then more focused mentally on me, willingly looking for what I was asking of him. It has also helped improve his coordination. He has a tendency to sometimes fall behind the leg and this exercise allowed us to get him mentally focused and physically ready to respond to my aids.
Alison is a wonderful, encouraging, knowledgeable instructor with a great eye and numerous tools and exercises to help the horse and rider achieve their maximum potential and goals. I have three more lessons in the program and am excited about continuing to work with Ali to improve Jack’s and my partnership.
Clinic and Event Participants.