There’s a reason Olympic-level riders take lessons and even great instructors pay to ride in clinics: Bad habits sneak up on you.
I took lesson upon lesson as a kid, and the experience riding different horses was wonderful for enhancing my riding skills. As an older adult, I didn’t go back to lessons until I decided to switch from hunter/jumper because, umm, 3’6” jumps have gotten bigger since my younger years and the idea of jumping didn’t appeal to me anymore (actually, it sort of made me nauseous).
Needing something to focus on, I settled on dressage. It looked challenging enough so I wasn’t bored, and my horse’s feet would stay on the ground. I wanted to do it the right way, though, because one day I might compete again. So I found the best dressage instructor in our area and rode with her for over five years on lesson horses. I learned a lot. In fact, much of what I learned I wish I had known back when I was doing h/j. I soon became a much better rider (not braver, though).
Sally was improving, too, because of those lessons. All was going well until my “cheap side” hit and I decided I’d learned enough to go it alone. Why pay to ride a horse that wasn’t as talented as my own? Plus, I was so tired after a full day’s work that driving 40 minutes to her barn became a chore. I decided to watch videos, read articles and ask for advice from my expert friends.
That was dumb, dumb, dumb. Over the last two years, bad habits snuck into my riding, and the only way I knew something was wrong was because Sally had taken full advantage of the situation. Bend? Forget it. Collect? Dust maybe. Adjust the stride? Not unless you mean walk, trot, canter.
We now have a dressage instructor willing to come to our barn for lessons, which means lessons on our own horses. Hurray! We just had the first one Sunday, a real eye-opener. Of course, like everyone, I wanted New Teacher to think I was “good.” I sat up as straight as possible, checked my leg position (not difficult, as the only natural gift I have is that my legs have always dropped beautifully from my hips in the saddle), and tried to ensure Sally was on-the-bit and connected.
Sadly, the first thing out of the new instructor’s mouth was, “Having a perfect position isn’t going to do you much good if you’re not effective.” Pop! Balloon burst. Rats! So much for looking good. But, just in that one first lesson, I became aware of the bad habits that I’d formed. Sally had to actually work, too! We were both sweating!
New Teacher even caught why I was struggling to not be so forward in the saddle. I thought it was my old h/j roots (or just ”old”). She said it was the saddle. No way! I bought this saddle new, and it was perfectly balanced then (about eight years ago, I realized). I took it off the horse and looked at it with a fresh eye. Sure enough, the pommel sat noticeably too low compared to the cantle, and it caused me to be constantly thrown forward. I’m working on that problem now.
My goal for the next lesson? I just want to be effective.