I plan to start doing the British Dressage Prelim tests this year on Hattie after having a good last year doing the Intro walk/trot tests both astride and aside. I just did not feel ready to do the Prelims in 2009 as I had only gotten Hattie in December 2008 and spent last year getting to know her and build up her confidence along with us learning side saddle together and doing our first dressage tests!
Doing side saddle has been a real eye opener for me and made me see how crooked I've been riding all these years and how it affects the horse's performance. This is another reason why we didn't attempt the Prelims last year, is that Hattie's left rein canter is her worse lead and I could never get her to canter on that lead astride on purpose and definitely not aside.
Anyways, I had an eye opener a few weeks back when looking through photos and videos of our dressage (aside and astride) and jumping (astride) shows and reading through my dressage judge comments and realized that my position was blocking Hattie from going into a nice outline and from cantering on the left lead.
I could see and even feel now when riding around on hacks astride, that I always want to twist my body to the left and drop my left shoulder down making everything crooked and unbalance. On the other hand, whenever I rode side saddle at the walk, trot and cantering on the right lead, my right shoulder was firmly right back making me nice and square and letting Hattie go in a nice outline and move forward freely.
However, whenever I tried to ask for a left lead canter astride and aside, the same twisting and dropping to the left would occur. It seems that my body naturally wants to twist to the left so I had a "light bulb" moment and thought, why not think "right shoulder back" for astride riding too and retrain my muscles?
With this new way of thinking, we did an Intro A walk/trot test astride at a show last Sunday to see what would happen and the results were like night and day. Although we didn't place in the ribbons, the judges comments were better, a got my highest mark ever (61.7%!) and Hattie was more forward and going in a better outline- just from thinking the old side saddle adage, "right shoulder back"!
I'm really trying hard here to keep my right shoulder back on the circle:
Slipped forward a little here but ALOT better than previous. LOL, my muscles were screaming at me wanting to twist to the left!!
My position is alot more centered:
We schooled this morning and with the same "right shoulder back", we attempted the left rein canter and we did it, ALL THREE TIMES I asked for it!!! Poor Hattie has been having to cart crooked old me around all this time, being confused by my wonky body without me even realizing it.
My muscles were trying to fight me all three times I asked for a canter and as we were cantering but we got there and I realized that I'm going to have to build up my stamina to hold this new correct position that my body is not used to. This means that I'll have to put put my dreams of riding the Prelim tests side saddle this year on hold until next year as this "retraining" of myself is best done astride for the time being so as not to overload my brain and Hattie's brain.
There are still a few walk/trot dressage tests that I would like to try riding side saddle this year and a novice side saddle equitation class (walk and trot) at a Side Saddle Association show in June I would like to enter but I think that our main goal for this year, is to get Hattie's left lead canter solid and uncrooked myself, then everything else should fall into place...hopefully!