Trust What You Feel

Trust What You Feel

By Dawn Petraitis, SEDA Scholarship Recipient

As dressage riders, we are supposed to know what is going on with our horse at all times while riding. You’re always making very slight adjustments based on what you feel. I, however, have somehow developed the habit of looking down at my horse to figure out what’s going on instead of where I’m going. As I’ll get into later, that has some very interesting consequences.

I received the SEDA adult scholarship way back in November 2019. My plan was to take my mare, Amaretta, to a clinic with Charlie Hutton scheduled for May 2020. Well, a little thing called COVID-19 turned the world upside down in early Spring and that clinic was cancelled. I had no clue if and when clinics were going to start up again. So, I got to work with both Amaretta and my gelding, Criss, at home. I finally sold Criss in May and my horse search began. I found Fred, who I had tried out way back in November 2019, was for sale again. Without even hesitating, I purchased him in late June and soon he was on his way to me.

The timing of purchasing Fred couldn’t have been any better. Amaretta came up lame in late June, about a week before Fred showed up. I was lucky that I didn’t go any longer than a week without riding. Fred showed up on July 3rd, and we got right to work getting to know each other. We started lessons with Regina Milliken in late July. After our first lesson with Regina, she mentioned to me that she was trying to bring Kristi Wysocki to Oak Hill Ranch for a clinic. I didn’t even hesitate when she asked if I’d be interested! How could I not want to learn from a FEI and sport horse judge?!

Day 1 started off with Kristi introducing herself and her just watching me warm up. She asked me what I wanted to work on. I told her that I wanted to work on my connection with Fred and trying to get Fred to lift his sternum up, as that was what I’ve been working on with Regina. After we walked and trotted, Kristi honed in pretty quickly on what to adjust with me. We started with Kristi asking me to close my eyes so I could feel when the inside hind was hitting the ground. This is where I told Kristi that I don’t always trust what I feel. She asked me to close my eyes while she called out when the inside hind hit the ground. That gave me the feeling in my seat of when I could use my inside leg to influence Fred’s inside hind. Then when Fred got heavy in my hands, Kristi told me to play with the outside rein to ask him to come back to me. Part way through my session, Kristi stopped me and asked if I had a hair band. I did, as I usually pull my hair back while riding. She had me loop the hair band around my fingers on each hand. I started walking and immediately felt a difference. The feedback from that hair band was instant. I didn’t realize how different each of my hands were positioned until I held that hair band. We did a few more exercises, including some leg yield from the quarter line to the rail before the session ended.

Day 2 was a continuation from where we left off on day 1. I came prepared with a few extra hair bands just in case one broke on me. I started off right away with warming up holding the hair band, and got to work thinking about leg yielding on the circle to get Fred using his inside hind leg. Our connection was much more solid from the start, with no leaning on the bit. We worked on the same leg yield exercise as day 1, while really focusing on the connection and looking where I was going. My habit of looking down came back to bite me in the canter, when I kept drifting out on a 20-meter circle. Kristi would tell me where to look as I went around the circle. I realized then that I was not looking far enough ahead. I was looking only 2 to 3 strides ahead rather than then 5 to 6 strides I should be looking. Once I got the hang of that, we worked on coming through the corner and onto a diagonal line. Eventually, we used that diagonal line to start on shoulder-in. The corner then became the start of haunches-in. A combination of leg yields and bending became the start of half pass. But with each exercise, Kristi didn’t mention what we were doing. It was all broken down into individual pieces that I had to execute one at a time.

Kristi gave me some great tools and exercises to work on with Fred, and with whatever horse I ride in the future. She was encouraging but to the point with each of her instructions. I would not hesitate to ride with her again. By the end, I could feel when we got it right underneath me without looking. This is exactly where you have to trust what you feel, and it will always be a work in progress!

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