Reformatting Habitual Riding

After having taken only  jump lessons  for months, I decided it was high time to get back on the dressage wagon. Consequently,  I have been taking dressage lessons for the last few weeks. As many of you know, we can become habitual in our riding, doing the same quirky things, while attempting to effect changes through practice and learning.

Recently, I had an interesting discussion with my trainer on learning and changing. The discussion centered on whether my mini epiphanies and changes, (for the better), happened because I practice and try to be a resourceful learner or whether changing a key part of the equation knocked me out my ingrained idiosyncrasies.

Sean and I had a challenging year last season and as a result, his topline had changed and of course, the fit of his dressage saddle was different and not optimal.  Therefore, when I started taking dressage lessons, I decided to trial some different dressage saddles at home and in lessons. They weren’t drastically different from my own, which is a monoflap, but they had different seats in terms of depth and twist, in addition to different feelings of balance and how I was able to get my leg on. Initially, I felt that Sean went much better in the first one I tried, nicely forward and more supple. Little by little with my trainer Sue’s help, I started to make small improvements. Then, the saddle I was experimenting with had to go out on trial to a customer, so I tried another new saddle. It was not the perfect fit for me but I felt that it fit Sean decently and he went well in it.  During this trial, I tried my own saddle again and I did not feel that Sean moved as freely  so back I went to the demo saddle.  I took another lesson in the demo saddle but because the fit for me was less than ideal, I could not quite achieve my position goals.

Fast forward a few days. I returned the demo saddle to the shop and rode again in my own saddle and was pleasantly surprised at how well Sean went and when I went for my lesson this week, I was excited with our progress. Sean is very good at rewarding me when I do something right and challenging me when I don’t.

I was so surprised by our progress. It felt “right” but something can feel right due to habit and not be the desired outcome so  I wanted my trainer’s confirmation that I was indeed “getting it” and not just feeling good again in my favorite and comfortable saddle. The question was why, after all of this time, did the changes come more easily and correctly, (mostly), and why did Sean seem to be going so well in my saddle again? Of course, Sue Berrill does have a good eye and can be very specific about what she wants the rider to do to influence the horse and that is a big advantage. However, she surmised that because I had removed the constant of my familiar saddle, I had to make adjustments and be out of my habitual environment, so to speak. That opened the ability for me to make changes and not rely on old habits in a familiar setting. When I got back into the comfort zone of my own dressage saddle, I was able to maintain those changes and notice the big differences. What a revelation.

Sometimes, just changing a variable such as riding a different horse, cross training, changing the saddle or saddle balance can be enough of a change to allow oneself to reformat the skills into a more successful outcome. As always, it is a work in progress but I am insprired!




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