Well, it isn't like I ever left, but I did take a 2.5-year hiatus from regular lessons. I've been doing clinics in the meantime (Buck Brannaman, the Californios, others whom I didn't like as much and so will remain nameless, and a Harry Whitney clinic coming up), but took a break from dressage lessons. When I quit the lessons a couple years ago it was because the tools I had in my toolbox, and the traditional dressage training that I was doing just wan't doing it with Mac. I needed more. Now that I feel like I've gotten proficient enough in ground work and getting to Mac's brain and challenging myself with new experiences, I'm ready to go back to lessons. I'm sure I've picked up some bad habits in the interim, so back to school I go!
We had our first lesson with a new instructor on Monday and I really liked it. She advocates Kyra Kirklund's method of training so one of the first things we worked on was the ABCs in Kyra's training. The ABC are basically "go when I put my leg on (and let him have his head to go forward), stop when I pull on the reins (and take the leg off), and steer" - it is that simple. In the past I've had dressage lessons where I was instructed to ride Mac "into the contact" and I would sometimes leave with sore arms and an annoyed horse - especially at that stage in his training when he knew even less than he knows now.
So one of the first things this instructor said to me was "lengthen your reins" and I really did say to her "I love you already." We did a very simple warmup exercise of halting and then asking Mac to walk on a loose rein by gently closing my leg - NO resistance from the hand. If he didn't go, I'd kick. Simple, yes? Then back to the halt by using hand and not leg. Then we did it from walk to trot. It didn't take too many times before Mac was nicely moving forward.
After that exercise we did the square exercise whereby we'd walk on a straight line on one wall then halt. Then use inside hand for flexion and outside hand for contact and outside leg to turn (once he flexed to the inside, I would give on that rein and support with the outside rein) and walk on. Halt, repeat. Again, this is so simple and not rocket science, yet for some reason I seem to have been in training programs that try to make things more complicated than they need to be.
We did that exercise from the halt to walk, then the walk to trot, then rounded off the corners to a 20-m circle, then expanded the circle more and used more of the arena. Mac did have a couple spooks because it was feeding time for the barn horses (we trailered in for our lesson) and they were running around in their paddocks, but it just gave me more energy to work with . . . as well as working on my brain and not getting distracted and staying in "work" mode and using my inside leg!
By the end of the lesson, Mac was moving so nicely, I really enjoyed it. When he gets on the aids and is forward and over his back, it is the loveliest feeling. I know he's a mustang, but in my head feel like I'm riding Fuego and loving it!
I think I'll probably do a lesson every other week, as I do like time to practice on my own at home. It was nice to have such good instruction and feel like I made a lot of progress in just an hour!