There's an expression I hear a lot from instructors in the horse world that a hard place for people to be in when you're teaching them is when the "don't know what they don't know". I used to not understand that expression because when I got back into horses after several years off I was fully aware of how much I had forgotten, and since I had mostly ridden hunter/jumper and never above training level in dressage as a kid, and suddenly I was hanging out with Grand Prix riders, trainers and judges, it was very obvious to me there was a lot I didn't know.
But as I continue to learn, I am realizing more and more what that phrase means, because there is so much about riding that is complex and non-intuitive when you start getting into the higher levels of riding (no matter what the discipline) that as I look back, I realize I would never have figured a lot of this stuff out on my own. I was thinking about this while reading this article in Dressage Today about half halts. Half halts are apparently a big mystery to a lot of people and I do wonder if I just don't understand them as much as I should because at this point they make sense to me and thus I wonder if I just don't know enough for them to be a mystery ... but that's not the point. The point is, I realized that I would not have understood what they are talking about in this article two year ago. I would've wondered what the heck they were talking about "driving with your hips - what???" You mean like when I see people trying to get their horse to go faster by forcing their hips forward so they're bearing down on the horse and pushing their hips up - which does kind of the opposite because it pushes down on the horse's back in the same way that you use your seat to ask for a stop, but then pushes on their back too, which can't feel good. But no, they aren't talking about that, and I know that now, but two years ago I would have had no idea what they're talking about. I imagine from the credentials of the writers of the article that they work mostly with upper level riders, and that is who the article is written for, so the writers weren't thinking of dumbing it down for folks like me two years ago. It's a different world when you're used to working with beginners (and are still somewhat a beginner yourself in the grand scheme of things).
Speaking of being a beginner, I had a riding lesson with a new instructor last week and since I don't have an arena yet and don't have a trailer to haul my Fjord to the instructor, I rode her horse, who is a beautiful, sweet Friesan trained to fourth level. I have never worn spurs (riders where them at the higher levels for more precise queues and I have so far not been advanced enough to need them) and the instructor said she would like me to wear them. I have also never ridden in a double bridle, but that's what she rides her horse in so I got the opportunity to try that too. It went much better than I expected. My legs were much quieter than I had anticipated, but still when we were doing the free walk at the end of the lesson I felt the horse twitch a little a couple times and I think I may have let my leg stray a little and touch her with the stirrups - it seems awfully coincidental that a fly would land on her and cause her to twitch right by my right ankle - twice during the free walk nonetheless. The double bridle was less of a problem because I just kept contact with the snaffle portion of the bridle and left the other reins loose. Of course, trying to take up contact with one set of reins while leaving the other set loose while walking or trotting was initially a huge challenge that ended up with me flailing around, reins flying everywhere (ok - it wasn't that bad, but it felt like it).
The thing that was so cool for me was that she's such a well trained horse that she responds to the slightest touch and movement. For instance, I just needed to tighten the muscles in my butt and inner thighs and she'd stop - without any use of the reins or anything. And I just needed to move my hips in a slightly faster "driving" pace - I'm not sure how to describe that yet - and she'd speed up without any leg aids or with just the slightest little squeeze with my ankles. That's the kind of thing that makes it feel like you're dancing with the horse, your slightest movement affects their slightest movement and everything becomes fluid.
In other good news, I met with my neighbor today and she agreed to let me use her outdoor arena to work my horses so I don't have to just try to work them in my backyard until we build our arena. I took my daughter's little POA, Frosty out for his first session on a lunge line and he's obviously had a little practice with that. He's had more training at it than my Fjord, Geir had when I got him. But his "I'll do whatever I want!" attitude did come out on the lunge line a few times where he'd suddenly spin and go the opposite direction or decide he was going to bolt and buck and kick out and then take off at a run. Thankfully, after over a year of dealing with my OTTB doing that, this little pony doing it was nothing and I didn't end up having to do any water skiing around the arena like I did occasionally with Tuff Toad back in the day when she'd suddenly have a case of the yahoos.
Tomorrow I have plans to go ask my neighbor if I can use her mule for the case study. Fingers crossed she will agree to it. I'll update with photos and some history and what I'm going to be working on with her soon, if her owner agrees to it.