What I learned last winter: “Riding in the Moment”

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Julie Hoogeveen

By Julie Hoogeveen

This article won the 2020 GMO Newsletter Award for first person experience for GMOs with 500 or more members. It first appeared in the 2019 November/December issue of A Tip of the Hat, the New England Dressage Association Newsletter.

Watch the GMO Newsletter awards from the USDF Convention.

What does it mean to “Ride in the moment?” It is probably one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far in becoming a FEI rider. It means giving the right aid in the right amount at ex­actly the right moment. It requires being steady in your hands, and quiet in your seat, and tuned in with the horse. And being quick: Quick to help the horse and quick to correct him, if needed. The idea is to fix a potential problem early, when it’s small and by making small adjustments, prevent it from becoming bigger.

So what kind of changes have I made? Well, I had to find my legs for one. I had been underutilizing them Did you know you are supposed to use your legs every stride? Well, I wasn’t. Sure, I used them on transitions and when I wanted the horse to put more oomph into it, but a little all the time? That was a new one on me. So, I tried it. .. And I had too big an aid at first. (You know you have too much leg when your horse blasts forward and your half halt doesn’t work!) It takes a while to get the right touch. Then you have to be adjustable– stride for stride, depending on what’s needed– A little more or a little less. And of course, you have to apply your leg in the rhythm of the gait, enhancing the horse’s rhythm.

Then there were my hands and the half halt. I needed to be quicker and not hold. Did you know that if you pat your horse after the half halt you won’t be holding? I liked that one. And my horse liked it too! Interestingly like the leg, the half halt seems to happen more in upper level riding. Again, every stride kind of thing and again, “little.” Before I had used my half halt a lot like my high school English teacher talked about my use of commas, “Sprinkled here and there” when I thought I needed one. And how many kinds of half halt are there? The rebalancing kind, the collecting kind, the upward “no diving” kind. I’m sure a grand prix rider has about 25 different half halts. I’m working on my list. But they all have one thing in common, they start and stop quickly. They can be different strengths, but they all need to be at the second that you need it, in the rhythm of the gait, and then stop.

And last, but most importantly is the seat. It’s been in boot camp too. Learning to sit. Butt down in the saddle no matter what the horse is doing. Maintaining the position. Keeping the upper body still and as I like to say “Charlotte-like.” This has been a big challenge for me in canter. As both me and my horse have been rockers. But did you know that ‘1he seat” in dressage is more than just your butt? It’s the thighs, pelvis, core, chest, shoulders all those things that need to sit still so your arms and legs can give clear and independent aids at guess when-the right moment!

In the moment riding means you do not ride by habit, you ride based on what your horse needs right now. For instance, you cannot say, “I always start my half pass from shoulder-in.” Be­cause, although correct, that may not be what’s needed in the moment. You need to know what perfect looks like then aspire to it. Use your aids with this in mind and work with what you have right now. Don’t think about how your horse’s half pass was yes­terday. Respond to what you feel now and do the things that you know will make it better. Maybe it’s a little more bend, a little more haunches, a little more shoulder, a half halt, or a little more forward. And remember that keeps changing stride to stride!

Julie Hoogeveen is a USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist training with Gwyneth McPherson at Forward Thinking Dressage in Gray, ME. She is a 2018-19 AA NEDA Scholarship Recipient. She has two horses Lorenzo Ill a 20 year old Dutch Warmblood and Grand Irishman a 14 year old Connemara.

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