Lesson Recap: Sharing the Responsibility

love this little guy!
Dino and I had our second lesson with our new trainer last night, and let me just say that I LOVE HER. Even though we haven't been doing anything very 'technically' difficult, I still leave feeling like we accomplished something great, and she's changing the way Dino and I work together in little ways that are making a big difference. I'm just so happy with this whole situation!

Despite how well Dino's been going at home, at the trainer's he decided that he wasn't really into the whole 'forward motion' thing, and that walk breaks meant he was done for the night. Punk. I swore up and down that he's been doing GREAT at home, and I think my trainer believed me? But if there's a good place for Dino to be a snot, it's in a lesson where I have my trainer's input and vastly larger toolbox to help me work through it.

In any case, we worked on the same calm, steady contact instead of me getting all naggy and riled up about getting Dino forward. My trainer was really happy with how we've improved since our last lesson - she noted that Dino's balance was much better, and that he was much more connected and soft in the bridle. I was really happy that the difference I've been feeling is one that my trainer could also see! So, now that Dino and I had the basic concept of a soft connection, it was time to up the ante. Miss Trainer had us doing lots of transitions and changes of direction while maintaining the contact and bend, stressing that no matter what my pony was doing (slowing down, breaking, drifting off the rail), the priority was to KEEP THAT CONNECTION!

It's still counter-intuitive for me to keep a feel on the reins when Dino's plugging along like a snail, but now that we've established that there is no escape from the contact when he breaks gait or drops behind my leg, he's offering to maintain the momentum all on his own, and responding much more promptly to my leg aids. So cool.

Our canter work was still a little sticky, but overall MUCH better than in our last lesson. Dino picked up the canter promptly for the most part, but the first five or six strides were disconnected and iffy - like neither of us were sure whether or not we were going to maintain the canter. But I kept the commitment to the contact and kept my leg on until Dino settled into a rhythm, and WOW what an awesome canter that was! Keeping a short rein during the transition and through those first few tentative strides helped Dino maintain his balance going into the canter, and once he really got going, the resulting canter was incredibly balanced. Dino maintained the pace all on his own, which allowed me to just sit there without nagging him for every stride. It's crazy how a shorter rein is giving us MORE impulsion!

My trainer also had me ride a lot of my canter work in a half-seat, keeping those nice short reins. It was a first for me to feel Dino going with an uphill balance while I was perched over his shoulder... In the past I've really had to sit down and back to keep him up in front, but with this new short-rein thing, he stays elevated in his front end. Again - so, so cool!

this is so, so us.

After a walk break, we moved on to the jumping portion of the lesson. My trainer had a great grid set up - a one stride to a bounce to a two stride. She set everything at 2' and under, and had me pick up our awesome new canter and head at it, instructing me to just grab mane and keep kicking on if Dino decided to drop to the trot.

Dino hopped hesitantly over the first fence, and then politely declined to jump the rest of the grid, coming to a stop right before the bounce.

Instead of telling me to smack him and come again, my awesome, amazing trainer just said, "That's okay!" and took the middle two fences down to poles on the ground and made the first jump half a crossrail since Dino was feeling a little overwhelmed about the whole thing.

Did I mention that I love her?

While Dino is very athletic and could probably jump a 4' single fence from a standstill, he has a hard time maintaining a proper, connected body position - and this long grid really posed a challenge for him! I've known for a long time that it's what happens in between the fences that's the issue for us, and the grid we jumped last night really exposed that hole in our training.

We just kept working at the grid - my job was to come forward out of the corner, stay out of my pony's way, grab mane, and kick on. It was Dino's job to figure out the footwork and how to shape his body to make it through the grid in balance. Sometimes he'd break to the trot in the middle, once he WALKED out, but my trainer just had us keep trying. She is so patient and persistent. By the end of the lesson Dino had figured it out, and was much bolder through the second half of the grid; really taking me to the final fence and then cantering away with purpose.

We ended on a great note, and my trainer and I had a nice chat to round out the lesson. The big takeaways were:

  • Do less. This is the same thing Dr. Jenny pointed out to me in June - I do WAY TOO MUCH to try and keep Dino going, and at this point in our partnership, it's time for him to take on some of the responsibility for our forward momentum. My trainer gave me a great way to think about it: Ride him like he's a beautiful, made 4* horse and see what happens. Stop pushing so much and just see what happens. TRUST HIM to be responsible. 
  • I have a good eye for a distance - trust it. Ride forward and positive to the fences, and use that great canter! 
  • When it comes to jumping, height is not the issue - consistency, balance, and connection between the fences is. I need to stay in a forward balance and maintain a good canter instead of driving so hard from the backseat. 
  • Short reins, all the time, ESPECIALLY in upward transitions. Keeping contact during upward transitions, especially canter departs, helps Dino find balance and connect his body.
  • Reward Dino for giving to the bit, but don't release him completely. Soften with the elbows, not an open hand. 
Our big-picture plan for the rest of the year is to work hard all winter on these basics and come out swinging in the spring. My trainer tells me she's got lots of grids and good flatwork planned for all of her students, and I can't wait to see how much Dino and I will progress with a few more months of hard work! 



  1. LOVE that last photo, and I really love that you're having such great lessons with this new trainer! She sounds wonderful and I can't wait to hear about you and Dino "coming out swinging" in the spring! :)

  2. awesome lesson and great recap! 'commitment to the contact' is such a useful way of putting it (esp given my own struggles w throwing away the reins...). i also really like this trainer's approach to getting Dino through the grid in a positive manner that's of his own doing... essentially i wanna ride w your trainer lol. nice work, excited to see what other challenges she sets for you!

    1. She is awesome! I'm really excited I found her. :)

  3. Grids are really hard. I love that your trainer broke it down instead of making a big deal over it!

    1. Anything that requires Dino to use his butt is hard. Using the butt is SO HARD. He has a rough life.

  4. I`m going to steal some of these tips! Thank you :)

  5. These photos make this whole post even better!!

    1. Thanks!! I just discovered a whole trove of pictures from the shoot that I hadn't used yet!

  6. Love the photos, love the message. I feel like we're learning the same stuff now, too. I had that same epiphany about Archie moving forward with more contact and sustaining his own little engine. Amazing stuff!

    1. Isn't it awesome!? I never would have thought more contact would help a slowpoke create more energy.

  7. He's so cute! I can definitely use some of those forward-motion tips on Lady.


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