I’ve much to be thankful for but an ankle tendon injury is trying to get me down. It’s challenging me to find the “good” in it. One rewarding and hopefully long lasting “gift” came last Wednesday when I took my monthly Western Dressage lesson from Cathy Drumm at Mount Holyoke Equestrian Center, host of the Northeast Western Dressage Championships. I might have cancelled this lesson due to my discomfort, not being able to put my foot in a stirrup and feeling low. However, as a fellow instructor I didn’t want to cancel on Cathy. Deep down I also knew that if I sucked it up I would feel better for it. Riley and I needed this last chance to practice with “eyes on” before the Championships which were two weeks away.
I ride bareback as much as I ride in a saddle and actually prefer it. Therefore, riding without stirrups in my lesson was not a big deal. About half way through the lesson Cathy mentioned how much she loved my position without stirrups. We discussed this a bit and continued on with the lesson. Riley came up beneath me beautifully when I focused a little less on forward and more on upward, as Cathy prescribed. At the lope we are still working to improve strength, balance and rhythm in hopes of moving up a level next season. Therefore, we always throw in a few lope transitions to check our progress. The transitions happened easily with Riley getting both leads correctly on the first try.
After this lesson I realized that my new goal was to strive for achieving the same lightness, connection and feel when riding with stirrups as I do when riding without. On trail the next day I lengthened my stirrups two holes and tried putting my foot in the home position. I could only maintain this for a couple of short periods but it was enough to offer me some insights into where I carry a bit of unnecessary weight and tension which slightly alters my ride. Shifting back and forth between stirrups and none would be my homework with the goal of obtaining the same rhythm, tempo, balance and movement in both positions.
There was another discovery back at the trailer following my lesson. I untacked Riley, did a quick groom and proceeded with our routine belly lifts. These are always a challenge for him. Last year the lift was almost imperceptible. It has been getting better but on this day his back came up further than ever before. I “clicked” and rewarded him for such a big effort. I had just gotten the belly lift that I’ve envied on other horses many times over. It struck me on the ride home how valuable this information was. Riley physically felt really good after that ride.
So………pick a safe place to ride, on a quiet horse you trust and give bareback a try, or just try dropping your stirrups. Start off just doing it at the walk and ride circles, serpentines, straight lines and lateral exercises. Really feel your horse walk forward into a balanced, square halt. Advance to higher gaits as your balance, connection and confidence grows. I’ll bet you’ll enjoy all the benefits that “letting go” offers both you and your horse.
Be safe & Enjoy The Ride!