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July 23, 2014

Mehr Forwards!

Kristin Alexander is working on going forward in her riding, but it's not the first time.

I’ve taken a lot of language classes over the years, and in most of them you adopt a new name to help you identify with the culture and immerse you in the language. In Spanish I was “Maria.” In Russian I was “Tanya.” In French I was “Sophie.” And in Arabic…well I didn’t make it long enough in Arabic to even get a name. I never took German classes, but if I did I have a pretty good idea what my name would be: “MEHR FORWARDS...”

…or at least that’s what my trainer Susi would rename me.  

I have been hearing “more forwards” from my trainers for years now, constantly working on moving past my preference for a mellow ride. In fact, I should probably go ahead and apologize to my future trainers who will likely have to tell me the exact same thing somewhere down the line. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard go more forward, I’d be able to buy myself one fancy horse.

See, the problem is my seat is apparently the equivalent of taking two Ambien with a glass of wine. I tend towards relaxed strolls through nice weather on a long rein and shuffling along in the canter. Maybe it’s from riding lots of spooky, young horses, but left to my own devices I think slow and steady is just fine. When I was jumping I’d always want to add extra strides in the lines, and when I was reining, my big fast circles were never really fast enough.

But as I’m progressing through the dressage levels these lackadaisical movements just aren’t cutting it anymore. There is no way to get through a line of tempis without forward—and believe me I’ve tried! As dressage riders, we need forward at the walk, forward in the lateral movements, and even forward into the halt.

It’s not that I don’t believe that I need to be MEHR FORWARDS; I’ve seen my videos and it’s very much the case. And I can’t blame the language barrier for my lack of forward because everyone has been so generous in speaking English and teaching me German riding phrases. I have definitely become mehr forwards since I started riding in Germany a year ago. Unfortunately Rosetta Stone doesn’t have an equestrian supplement, so I’m left to asking others at the barn to help me learn some of the specifics!

“Forwards” is one of the main themes addressed in my weekly lessons. The amount of forward that I had been accustomed to riding other horses with is just not enough to reach Acridos’ full potential. Luckily Susi knows Acridos inside and out, and she does a fantastic job of communicating the best way for me to get the most out of him.

Though I have to admit that while I do my best to listen to her instructions, I often have other thoughts competing for space in my head. These might be anything like:

  • “Legs back, sit tall, lean back…no REALLY lean back.”
  • “Hands up and together; don’t forget your thumbs.”
  • “Do I have stuff for dinner? Don’t lose the forwards!”
  • “Did he just say [in German] he was jumping the green fence or the oxer? Was that even German?”
  • “MEHR FORWARDS!”
  • “Shoulder in, inside leg, changes with the hips, don’t move your inside leg for the changes. Forward in the changes!”
  • “Wait—was that work presentation due tomorrow or Thursday? Shoot, what fence were they jumping?”
  • “Outside rein, sit to the inside; did I leave laundry in the washer?”

Luckily, my trainer manages to get through the noise in my head, and she’s able to get the best out of me. I usually come out of lessons exhausted but with tons of things to work on in the short week until I ride with her again. She keeps at me for more collection, more impulsion, and all-in-all a better, more active ride.

Despite my frustration with my inability to fully move past this issue, I have to admit my forwardness is getting better with every ride. With every horse I’ve ridden and with each different trainer, I am getting “more forwards” and closer to the upper-level rider I want to be. This recent challenge is another step in the right direction. Although as an adult amateur who moves every few years, it often feels like I’m treading water.

So it seems the only thing to do is to keep moving…mehr forwards!

Kristin Alexander is an adult amateur dressage rider living in Kaiserslautern, Germany. After being in Northern Germany many years ago as a working student, she moved to California, Virginia, Tennessee, Washington D.C. and Florida for school and work, trying to fit riding in at each location. She is now living in Southern Germany where she lucked into an amazing lease on the super horse, Acridos. Kristin’s taking lessons, participating in clinics and recently started showing again after a 10-year hiatus. Follow her as she navigates language barriers, re-entry into the show ring, and balancing riding with traveling around Europe.

 
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