By Jody Simonton
Editor’s Note: Last year, STRIDE member Jody Simonton won the Gifted Scholarship Fund from The Dressage Foundation for a week’s training with the instructor of her choice. This Fund was seeded with donations received in special remembrance of Carol Lavell’s great dressage horse, Gifted. Applications are due on or before September 15th of each year, and grant announcements are made by December 31st.
This Scholarship enables Adult Amateurs to set aside quality time, in concentrated training away from the daily pressures of job and family, with a horse the recipient owns or formally leases (as documented by USDF or USEF paperwork). Up to nine $1,000 grants are available each year (one in each USDF region) plus two additional $1,000 wild card grants (which can be awarded in any region.) Jody chose Greta Wrigley in Gainesville, FL, a well known instructor and USDF Gold Medalist.
I had several goals for my week with Greta Wrigley, some very basic and some more involved. Due to time constraints with my job, dealing with a family member’s medical issues, having to retire my equine partner that I had gotten three-fourths of my USDF Silver Medal with, and financial constraints, I had not been able to work with an instructor for five years. Due to this lack of consistency, I knew I had picked up some bad habits in my riding. To complicate matters, after I sent in my application for the Gifted Scholarship Fund, I dislocated and broke my shoulder. This put me behind in my goals, as I was unable to ride for two months.
After two months’ recovery, I spent a third month working with quiet horses to make sure my shoulder had the range of motion and strength to handle riding. When I was deemed fit enough to ride, I had to restart my partner for this journey, Andiamo (Andy). Andy is a rescue thoroughbred that I had picked up a few years before.
My original goal was to begin working consistently with a trainer who could help me fix the bad habits I had fallen into, as well as improve my position and effectiveness in the saddle. I knew my angles for lateral work were off and needed correction. Second, since I hadn’t had my upper level partner for several years, I knew my timing for lead changes and more advanced maneuvers was off . Third, I needed advice on saddle fit for my horse. And finally, after my fall, I needed to rebuild strength and endurance in order to help Andy reach his potential.
I had successfully trained and shown Andy through First Level, and started him in more advanced collection and lateral work. In the beginning, it seemed to go well. Unfortunately, over time, he seemed to stiffen in his back and to the left . I was afraid that I was compensating with my left shoulder, which I had injured in the fall, and with my left hip, which I had had issues with for years. I was also concerned that the saddle I had been using might be pinching him, making him compensate to avoid discomfort.
What I didn’t realize was that, in pushing collection, canter-walk, and walk-canter transitions, I had lost forward, canter-trot transitions, and gotten him “bottled up” and tight in his back. Andy had lost the “swing” and push from behind. So, we returned to the basics; moving more forward, canter-trot/trot-canter transitions, long and low, and asking him to move off my left leg.
As the week progressed, we added shoulder-in and half pass, still working on forward. We concentrated on using the outside aids, quieting my hands and proper angles in lateral work. Towards the end of the week, we worked on exercises to prepare for the canter pirouettes. Andy and I had started out well with some of this work at home, but had gotten to where I was overturning, losing bend, and getting “levade-y”. Andy was trying to come around too fast, almost like a spin, losing the canter. Greta had me ride down the long side forward, transition into a super collected canter, then ride forward. It improved the bend, stopped the “stalling out” at the end, and would help him gain the strength he would need to eventually perform the canter pirouette.
Greta had Linda Roberts, who specializes in equitation, come to help correct my position. Linda worked on relaxing my shoulders, lengthening my leg, relaxing my thighs, and lowering and softening my hands. All of this improved my seat, allowing me to apply aids more effectively and have an overall more elegant appearance.
As well as working with my own horse, Greta put me on three of her advanced horses over the course of the week. I learned how to deliver the proper cues, and discovered what the upper level maneuvers, such as piaffe, passage, and pirouettes, should feel like from horses that knew what they were doing. The opportunity to ride such well schooled and talented horses gave me a glimpse of what I could achieve in the future, if I continued to work hard under the proper tutelage. Not to mention, the strength and endurance I began to build in riding three horses a day was incredible.
Greta allowed me to try several saddles, for fit, from her well stocked arsenal of saddles. Between checking fit, observing Andy’s attitude about each saddle, and working on my position, I began to understand what I needed to look for in order to make my horse more comfortable and, in turn, more cooperative. At the end of the week, armed with that knowledge and a paper template of my horse’s back, I was able to find a used saddle that fit my horse and enhanced my position.
I was so happy that the week was so productive. Not only was I able to get advice for better equipment, but I became more aware of bad habits, improved my strength and endurance, and enhanced the suppleness of my equine partner. Now, Andy is more forward, better connected back to front, supple vertically and laterally, and seems more content in his work. I was reminded that no matter which level you ride, don’t ever forget the basics.
I am so appreciative for the opportunity that the Gifted Scholarship has afforded me. Between life events and financial constraints, I feel my riding and training has always centered me and been a wonderful part of my life, even when it had been derailed. The week I spent with Greta Wrigley Training helped me get back on track and start moving forward again.