I have been taking dressage lessons in a Hunter/Jumper saddle. I have never ridden in a dressage saddle except to try one out at the saddle shop. I wanted to be medically evacuated from the saddle. The position with my legs straight and wide is not one handled by surgically installed titanium hips. The replacements have very little range of motion.
But I have been enjoying my lessons and wanted to try to do better. I’m almost 60 but there’s always time to do better. So when one of my boarders offered up a dressage saddle that would fit my wide, tall mare I thought I’d give it another shot. As luck would have it my vet was here as we put the saddle on my horse for the first time. She declared the saddle could not fit my horse better.
The brown saddle is a jumper saddle-meant to be ridden in a forward seat with shorter stirrups. The second is a dressage saddle-meant to support an upright, deep seat and longer straighter legs.
Now if only I would be able to sit on the saddle without great pain. We put the saddle on Nova and bought the mounting block to the horse’s side. My mare quietly waited for me to mount. I quietly waited to have my hips ripped out of my pelvis.
It was definitely uncomfortable but not as bad as I had feared. I rallied and said I would try to do the lesson in the new saddle. Everything felt different about it. My stirrups were a lot longer-changing my center of balance, my actual seat was forward in the saddle, but my shoulders and back were straighter and my legs were reaching down for the longer stirrups.
As we progressed through the lesson going from walk to trot and then to canter I started to understand the beauty of the saddle. When we got to the canter I was able to sit very quietly on the horse’s back, my legs barely moving. My heels deep and down. It felt a lot like the old equitation classes I had taken when I had ridden western pleasure. That certainly required me to have a straight back. And I will never forget my old instructor telling me over and over again, “headlights, Cindy, headlights!!” You might be able to guess where my headlights were located in that keeping my back straight certainly kept my headlights up.
The lesson was not a gold medal round. I had a lot to learn. My foot slipped from the longer stirrup. I slipped back in the saddle. But bit by bit I got more comfortable. I was quite proud of my progress and bought my first dressage from boarder Lisa that night.
I went to bed Friday night pretty pleased with myself. I got up Saturday to aching muscles I had not even known I had. The backs of my legs hurt. My abs felt like I had done a hundred sit ups. Wow. Who knew? I have been riding a few times a week for several months (since the broken rib incident) but I felt like I just started out as newbie to the saddle.
Sunday I saddled up Nova for another practice ride. It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and we spent over an hour in the ring. We practiced all the things that we had been taught. I had a really good ride. The most amazing thing was to be able to sit so quietly at the canter and I trotted and trotted-enjoying being able to set the trot. Our transitions are still a little rough but I have so much to learn.
After my stint with Nova, I got Betty Sue out. She is two and a half now. Many Quarter horses and thoroughbreds are started under saddle by this time. However, she is European warmblood and they tend to mature more slowly. We won’t be really riding her for another year or so. But there was nothing to stop me from continuing her education. I saddled her up with my heavier western saddle-just so she could get used to weight on her back and the heavier stirrups flapping at her sides. Everything done quietly and easily now will pay off in spades when the time comes to actually ask her to accept a rider.
I got her bridled as well and we spent some time walking the round pen. I would ask her to “whoa” and gently pull back on the reins. I would cluck to her to move her forward and release the pressure on her mouth. We worked turning left and right. Soon, I will add some long lines. My theory is to have the horse able to walk forward, halt and turn before I get on. Brakes and a steering wheel go a long way on that first ride.
We also did some work on standing quietly as I approached her side from the mounting block. This was not her best drill. I would stand on the mounting block and she would move away. It will take some time. Patience is a big virtue with a young horse.
Of course my dogs were with me for the glorious afternoon as well. It was the perfect afternoon, both due to the weather and with the time I had with my two girls (Nova and Betty Sue). It was good for me to get back to what I love best-it has been too long since I have had a day like this.
Throughout the day, I kept an eye on phone. My friend Tim was running the Chicago Marathon. Quite an endeavor to undertake after not running for many, many years. In fact a year ago, Tim was just starting to do some walking. Then some short races were completed. Step by step, he has worked toward his marathon goal.
I got a few updates as the day progressed. I knew Tim had gone into the races with sore, strained hamstrings. I wanted him to reach his goal but was worried the injuries would hold him back.
I needn’t have worried as he crossed the finish line in a very respectable time-certainly for someone my age (that’s pretty old) and someone who just started running again after so many years. I am very proud of him! Here is to making and attaining your goals-from trying new things to sticking out the hard ones! Bravo!