I’ve been riding with just mastering the basics for awhile. Years. Inconsistent years of walk, extended walk, working trot, medium trot, trying, getting, and losing the ability to sit the trot. Not that I wasn’t happy with the endless working on walking and trotting; it was providing me with a solid foundation of core strength, of understanding the mechanics of the horse, and helping me build up my confidence. Long gone are the days where my legs are too far back — well, okay, unless I’m trying to sit the trot and I go back to being a sack of potatoes. These are all important things, especially for the dressage-rider-in-training. But I was starting to lose hope that I was a good dressage prospect. Maybe the trail life or breed shows were what was going to be the better fit for me.

This week, my trainer added something new to the end of our lesson: an introduction to leg yields. Or, the addition of lateral work to our lessons. Kind of a big deal for the fledgling dressage queen. If always heard leg yields and lateral work talked about, but in a way that meant I was nowhere near ready to start lateral work, and chances were I’d probably never be ready. So I was beyond excited. This meant my trainer thought I was actually improving each week and it wasn’t all in my head! But the best part of the lesson wasn’t just that we started leg yields, it was that I was actually able to feel when the horse was properly giving into my aids and shifting his body over the way I wanted him to.

After taking poles off of a jump, my trainer had me walk straight through the center of the jump. Then, once we were through, I’d give the signal to leg yield: a mix of leg in the right spot and both giving and supporting with the reins. It was hit and miss until I started attempting leg yields at a trot (my lesson horse’s idea, not mine). Suddenly, I wasn’t over thinking what I wanted my horse to do and, because of more forward momentum, I was able to feel the first few times he steered towards the wall rather than side-stepping over. Finally, at another pass, I got it: he felt lighter in his movements, more balanced, and I could feel the way his hind legs crossed over one another as I pushed him towards the wall. I didn’t need my trainer to tell me when I didn’t do it right after that — I knew exactly the feeling of when we got it right and called myself on when I was too late in my cues, or just plain didn’t do it right.

Hard work and dedication pay off for that one moment: that moment where you feel your horse do what you want it to do, and it’s right, and you just get it. That lightbulb moment. You might not be able to recreate it right away, but you’ve done it and you’ll be able to do it again. And it’s the best feeling in the world when you do.