The lesson of the week? Control the shoulders to control the horse. Seems simple enough, but try telling that to Ike’s right shoulder and my aching arms. Ike’s right shoulder is rather pushy. It is the shoulder you would want with you while fighting the crowds at Black Friday sale. It regularly bulldozers through my leg and attempts to direct our movement. It is responsible for us drifting out while on a circle to the left or causing a death spiral while circling to the right. Because of this, Ms. C had us work on shoulder control during our lesson this week.
After we worked through Ike’s warm-up crankiness, we began the lesson with trot circles to the left with normal left flexion. Despite my best effort with my outside rein, that pushy right shoulder kept moving in its own trajectory. Hmm, I tried shifting my weight to the left. It was soooo tempting to overuse my inside rein but I resisted temptation. That right shoulder resisted submission.
Clever Ms. C had me slightly counter flex Ike to the right and really step down into my left stirrup. We rode 3-4 circles in this counterflexion, easily fed off onto a circle to the right, and then when we circled back to the left, we resumed normal left flexion. The benefit to this exercise I discovered is that it helped Ike stand up on that right shoulder by shifting his weight to the inside. And a lightbulb moment for me…my overuse of my inside rein can actually cause Ike to fall onto that right shoulder and exacerbate the problem. Oh. Crap, rider error again.
The lesson also included schooling or attempting to school shoulder in tracking to the left and to the right. The photo with this post is our attempt at shoulder in to the left. It is actually the easier direction since that right shoulder gets to lead the way. As you can see, we are nowhere near where we should be, but I think it is an okay attempt for a gangly four-year old horse. Tracking right is harder and I mean it is exhausting. That right shoulder does not want to yield, “thanks, but no thanks” it seems to say. To overcome this struggle, we have found that it sometimes helps to leg yield for three to four steps and then half halt the front end to stop the lateral movement. Some of our best shoulder in right steps come after this exercise. You do what you have to do to teach the concept.
We do have our struggles, but compared to where we were at this time last fall, we are succeeding and progressing. We are seeing less and less Marmaduke; some days we can even make a passable go at being a dressage team. Any bets on where we will be next December??