Unfortunately this lesson has been written up some time after the event, so I’m a bit blurry on some of it now. Sorry. Life got in the way. Nor is it particularly well written. My brain got in the way.
I have never yet managed to avoid being apprehensive on the morning of a lesson with Lee Pearson. This one was no exception. My energy levels were varying so much from day to day that I didn’t know what I would have to work with.
Much as I usually like being first lesson of the day, this time I was glad to go second; I would have plenty of time for the energy-saving version of getting ready for a lesson, which involves having a nice sit down between grooming and tacking up. And if necessary between stages of grooming. It was also an energy-saving groom, I have to admit. The horse-boy was not as shiny as I would have liked and he was well overdue for a mane pulling. But to make up for it I’d made an effort on the bits that didn’t cost me any energy, and we had our white-for-best saddle pad, best lambskin girth cover and my good boots. I did consider the white breeches but didn’t think I was physically capable of managing the pre lesson prep without either sitting on the ground or leaning against something dirty so I went with my smartest black breeches and a white polo shirt. Also the saddle was not clean. While etiquette demanded I clean it, handling the weight of the saddle with limited energy has been so difficult for me that it just got a quick swipe over. So we were pretty dressed up for us, but not show standard.
We went in and I got hooked up with the earpiece to hear Lee before I mounted. We had a quick chat about my health and riding and we set to it.
After the initial warmup (during which Lee lets you do whatever you usually do and watches eagle-eyed) we went into a series of walk halt transitions. He suggested that they’re a great way to remind your horse whose in charge and especially useful when you have a horse who doesn’t want to listen but you don’t have the physical capacity to fight them. D was pretty good about it and wasn’t difficult to deter from trying his repertoire of halt evasions (rein-back, turn on the forehand, ploughing on regardless) which was pleasing and showed we’re getting better there. It felt good to be back in a Lee lesson knowing how restricted my riding had been since I last saw him, but being able to show progress anyway. Also, he made a positive comment about my dressage whites, despite the absence of white breeches, which he did not mention. I was pleased to have the effort made recognised. As someone who really cares very little for appearances, I had made the effort for him and he had not only appreciated it but appreciated it aloud.*
Part of Lee’s mission for the session, I think, was to give me ways of working the horse that aren’t too taxing for the rider, and while we did trot work and had a little canter, the main focus of the lesson was in walk.
When Lee said we were going to look at lateral work I was delighted. For years I’ve been reading how lateral work is so important for the horse, and wondering when I was going to get a chance to get my teeth into it. One way or another we’ve never got to a place where I felt I could say to an instructor “I want to learn about lateral work.” We had so long where cantering was such a big focus for all of our lessons, then we had the brief jumping phase, then not long after that our respective health issues meant we didn’t really have any lessons for a very long time. Also as I’ve changed instructors there was a lot to learn from Mr Higher-Expectations-Dressage-Instructor in the most familiar territory without asking for anything new. So I hadn’t got round to lateral work but I was more than happy to get introduced to it by Lee, who has a way of making things simple.
I think part of his technique of making things simple comes from rephrasing things. For example when someone tells you to half halt, it’s pretty easy to over think it, if you’re that way inclined. Core, seat, hands, shoulders, leg, brain, breath can all come into the right half halt for the moment, but you don’t have time to think about them all. Lee might tell you to “Get his nose back towards you,” bypassing all the mental clutter around half halt. You might still do the half halt, but you won’t get hung up on the process. Well that’s how it works for me, anyway.
So what did we do? We did leg yielding, shoulder fore and turn on the haunches. I’m afraid I can’t remember if that was the order we worked them in, but those were the thing we learned. I got more pleasure from the second two, which suggests to me that we found them easier and were more successful at them, but obviously they’ll all need work!
It was not exactly a surprise to me that each movement was much easier in one direction than in the other (apart from leg yield which felt equally impossible from both sides) but it wasn’t always the way I expected. On the right rein Drifter prefers to overbend to the inside, so I expected shoulder fore to be easy on that rein, but somehow it was easier on the other rein.
I found turn on the haunches pretty taxing mentally and also in terms of trying to catch the difference in feel between when he did it correctly and when incorrectly. Quite why I found mentally taxing I don’t know. Left leg and left hand to bring him round to the right- what’s mentally tough about that? Maybe because turning from the outside rein is still newish to me. On a previous time when we saw Lee we were still at an “inside rein to turn” place, particularly in canter on the right rein where hauling his head round with the inside rein was at times the only way to avoid hitting the walls of the school! Despite the mental challenges in turn on the haunches I also found it the most fun.
After trying shoulder fore in walk we also had a go in trot. My main challenge there is that Drifter rushes to avoid hard things, so maintaining the collection needed is more difficult.
I was delighted to show off our canter to Lee. Two directions, correct legs, transitions when I asked for them, not looking like an out of control giraffe – I was a proud pony-mama. I gave much credit to the horse. Lee gave some of it back to me, which was nice. He also pointed out that I was asking for canter transitions from my seat not my leg and I need to stop doing that. That’s a work in progress.
We didn’t go to the full lesson length, but stopped before I ran out of energy. This was a good and positive thing, keeping spoons in the drawer for later use. Drifter on the other hand, had spent a lot of energy, and was extremely sweaty, not having been asked for so many challenging things on one day since early summer last year! So Lee had managed to wear out the horse without wearing out the rider. Nicely done!
It was a really good lesson and we came away with loads to work on and once more having had a great experience. There was a small and unexpected disappointment to realise that when you’re the one having the lesson you have less time to appreciate it compared to when you’re sitting out watching someone else. You can’t actually appreciate all the principles behind why he’s asking for what he’s asking for and when he asks for it when you’re the one trying to coordinate body parts, understand new ideas and pass the challenges on to the pony underneath you. So it would be best to either get someone to record your lessons** (difficult to get a person willing, equipped and skilled for the job) or to both have a lesson and watch others as well. So the target now is that next time Lee comes, I have to have practiced my lateral work, stopped getting canter with a seat aid, and develop my stamina to the point that I can not only have a full length, full on lesson of my own, but also manage to watch someone else’s lesson on the same day. Hmm. Maybe not feasible for next time. But maybe sometime after that, who knows.
*Coming from a music background, it would never have occurred to me to dress up for a masterclass with a small audience, let alone a private lesson, whoever it was with. Anything more formal than jeans would count as dressy for a musician, but it seems that in the equestrian world doing the equivalent of turning up for your lesson in full concert dress is not weird. Interesting. I have had lessons from musicians no less world-renowned in their fields than Lee. Is it the horse people or the music people who are weird? Both I suspect, but in really different ways. Also, I paid the same price for my baroque violin and my horse which feels like it should have some bearing on the matter although I’m not sure what. Maintenance costs are not equivalent though!
** When I last had private music lessons I used to mini-disc them for later use. But then I was having 4-6 hours long lessons*** once every few months and it is much easier to audio record a lesson where you stay in one place compared to videoing horse and rider whizzing round while getting Lee’s directions on the audio as well.
***I had an unusual deal with my teacher. I’d travel to his for the day and he’d charge me full price for the first three hours of his time (at a rate close to Lee Pearson’s, coincidentally). Then he’d carry on for free for as long as I could manage to remain receptive and “fun to teach.” We did have a lunch break, but otherwise we worked solidly. And then when we finished I’d listen to the recording on the long train journey home again, able to analyse my own performance and understand his comments better from the external perspective.