Since Irene ended up being a non-event, Spider and I have gone back to work full steam. My neck is feeling quite good, I've even been released from physical therapy. Although, there are still some problems, more on that some other time.
For now, we'll concentrate on the interesting bits: horse training. I mentioned in my last training post that I feel Spider's canter work is not up to snuff. I can get half-passes at walk and trot, but fail miserably at a canter-walk transition. So the canter needs work. With that in mind, I have been practicing counter-canter, shoulder in, and spiraling in and out on a circle with Spider. All those exercises will help him to sit down and activate his hind end at the canter. Once I have the appropriate amount of activity, I will begin to collect the canter, then send him back into a working canter until he reaches the point where he can nearly canter in place. From there, the canter-walk will be in the bag.
But, I don't like to work on one thing all the time in training. It is not good for the horse's (or rider's) brain, and it is not a sound way to develop strength. From a physiological standpoint, muscles are built by damaging them. Hard work puts tiny tears in the muscle fiber, which the body then repairs. But because the muscle was stressed to the point of damage, the body says "We need more strength here!". And so the damaged muscle is not only repaired, but also reinforced, making it bigger and stronger so that it will not fail again. The only caveat is that the muscle must be allowed time to repair itself. To compensate for this, I like to work on different things on different days.
So what to work on non-fixing the canter days? Well, it just so happens that during Hurricane Irene I picked up my copy of Heinrich Schusdziarra's Anatomy of Dressage and re-read it. It is one of my favorites. The book details how we ride from a biomechanical standpoint, why we need to ride in a proper position, and what happens when we don't. My re-reading of it has inspired me to be more conscious of my position and to work on it. So, a few days a week I just let Spider go around in simple circles while I think about my seat and leg, which muscles I am activating at what time, and what my upper body is doing while all that is going on. I'm actually enjoying it. Because, as we all know, dressage riders are all secretly masochists.
Actually, it's because my physical therapy has made me feel better and I'm not guarding my spine as much anymore. I feel much more free and able than I have in months, which makes working on my position a pleasure rather than a chore!