Well, two weeks ago I got to have a lesson at the present incarnation of my old horsie alma-mater, North Fork School of Equitation up in Jefferson, MD. I got there early, and got to see Karen Fenwick, who runs the school, give a group lesson. This was interesting, it was a pretty big lesson, 12 people, from college age kids to a lady who looked like she was in her sixties, with physical shapes running from thin and sleek to quite plump. There was even a MALE student running around with all the ladies! All were riding Forward Seat, but at various levels, doing walk, trot, canter, and trotting over low fences.
Karen was kind to me, she got one of her students to catch, groom and tack up a nice half TB half Pinto solid colored brown mare named Lady Bug. This mare has been at North Fork for about 8-9 months, being worked on by one of Karen's students, so the mare is still exploring the exciting new world of Forward Seat riding. Since Karen was also giving a lesson to another lady whose horse needed work in a lesson situation she had Lady Bug's trainer walk and jog around with me at first as a back up authority figure. Luckily Karen has an indoor riding ring, and I found that out of the sun I can manage to ride a WHOLE HOUR!!!
I got a list of several things I need to work on, many of them are things that Debbie, my regular riding teacher also says I have to work on. Since I had already traveled over 500 miles the preceding two days, and it was still warm when I rode and I rode for an hour I am pleased that Karen did not have 20 things I need to work on! My hands move too much, especially when I use my leg, my hands were keeping contact by moving up and down some instead of just back and forth, my hands release too much after I give an aid, my calf needs to be closer to the horse's barrel, my shoulders move too much when I use my leg, I need to stretch my body up and my legs down on downward transitions, when I do the jumping position I need to keep my butt over the center of the saddle, AND I need to keep my upper body stiller when riding. Thankfully my lower leg stayed in the right place while riding. I think that Karen was telling me that while I may be ready to start riding at an intermediate level at the faster gaits I need to fix these problems before I become a GOOD intermediate rider.
I've ridden three times since my North Fork lesson. During my two lessons with Debbie I was worked HARD (for me), and when I concentrated on the above list my lower leg went back to its old habit of wandering back. Sigh. Am I ever going to be able to do all these things at once? Do I have enough brain room left to keep track of it all? I envy all you riders whose bodies learn to do stuff automatically and who have an operating proprioceptive system and automatically know where every part of their bodies are. I feel like I am trying to grow a whole new proprioceptive system in my body since my old one does not work. Maybe if I succeed at this I will be able to ride better with a lot less mental effort on my part.
Today my ride was better, I changed my bit back to the JP Dr. Bristol and put my spurs on. My hands were able to better follow the horse's mouth better than with the Wellep bit, and with the spurs and spur straps on I was able to keep much better track of my lower legs. Cider was all ready to go rush off, but after 15 minutes she started giving me some very nice halts (for her) and we practiced on keeping an even speed around the ring and keeping straight when riding past Shannon in the middle of the ring (Shannon is the center of gravity of the universe to Cider when I ride her.) When we bridled Cider she noticed that the mouthpiece of the bit was different, and she couldn't roll it around her mouth like she could with the Wellep bit. Cider constantly fussed at the bit with her tongue and ground it some between her teeth for the first 15 minutes, then she settled down and stopped playing with it. Its not like she has never had a Dr. Bristol in her mouth before as I've ridden her with one for years. Maybe she just liked playing with the Wellep bit mouthpiece.
I do not know if I am physically capable of ever becoming a GOOD intermediate rider of the Forward Seat system at the faster gaits. But I do know that if I do not work at it and try as hard as I can to develop I will never reach my goals. We are finally getting fall like weather down here in NC, the temperatures are finally dropping down so that highs in the 80's F are rare and I'll have to start wearing a jacket instead of my ice vest. Maybe if I work at this all fall, winter and spring I'll get better at riding the Forward Seat properly at the Intermediate level. Then, someday, I might be able to get out of the ring and feel safe riding a horse!
Karen Fenwick's web site is northforkschool.com. She warned me it does not get updated regularly.