One of the best things about working with Stephanie Durand is that she is precise. Not only is she precise, but also she adapts her precision to the rider. She doesn’t teach the nuances of how to get a finite bend on a contracted OTTB to the adult amateur that will be thrilled to do their first shoulder-in, even if the horse is a little above the bit. Likewise, she doesn’t drill me in two track movements when she knows she can teach me something about timing, feel, rhythm, or the overall connection with the horse that will improve the two track movements after she leaves. She’s very gifted at adapting her teaching to the feel of the rider, and finding the most suitable lesson for the rider based on their level of feel.
In November I learned something really special about combining horsemanship with the groundwork for classical dressage. In the past I did flexions with Gracie – along the wall, in hand, while walking, etc. She can do all the basic lateral moves in hand in a good general position, but not always with finessed precision. In the past it was considered good if I could get the flexion and a very clear action reaction. This time Stephanie wanted more. She wanted me to be very clear about Gracie’s balance in the flexions. Gracie was subtly leaning over her inside shoulder when I asked for flexions to the inside. If I were to be more exacting with the flexion, she would back up, then lurch forward and try to evade.
This is where Stephanie is fantastic at inserting a mini horsemanship lesson to gain respect with a horse. When Gracie did this with me she could evade in just the slightest way and get away with it. When she did it with Stephanie she was immediately put on a circle and had to change direction multiple times. The easy solution was to stand at the wall, listen patiently, and flex to the right. The difficult solution was to dance around. After Gracie settled Stephanie took her back to the wall and she stood quietly and flexed right.
This experience took my understanding of flexions to a new level. I learned how to manage and deal with my horse if she wasn’t doing precisely as I expected, to demand the focus of my horse when asking for the flexions on the ground, and to be more subtle and controlling with my outside rein. When Gracie flexes to the inside and twists her poll it’s often because I am holding the inside rein too strongly. The fix is to gently take and release the outside rein to balance the flexion and the rein pressure. It worked like magic, and now Gracie readily flexes to the left and right without any resistance.