Lesson Recap: Learning To Do Less

Alternate title;

In Which My Trainer Doubles As My Therapist

Unfortunately I have no new media for you from this lesson, but let me tell you, it was a great one!

I got to my trainer's barn early so I'd have a chance to warm Dino up before we really got down to work. There wasn't a soul in sight, and it was nice to be able to have the indoor to myself. I started with letting him check out the door by the driveway that he always gives the hairy eyeball, and letting him touch a huge round bale covered with a questionable black tarp. After Dino was satisfied that there wasn't an ogre hiding under the tarp, I worked him for a couple minutes in hand. Just walk/jog, halt, back, and turn on the forehand. Nothing crazy, just enough to get him focused on me and moving towards 'work mode.'

Once I got on, the agenda for the day was FORWARD! I shortened my reins, put my leg on, and just went forward. I wasn't too concerned with Dino's frame, I just wanted him off my leg and listening so he'd be ready to get down to business once my trainer arrived. We hand-galloped down the long side in both directions, and I was feeling pretty confident about Dino's mindset. We ended up waiting a few minutes more after my solo warm-up since my trainer was running late coming from her own lesson, but I was just happy she wasn't in a ditch somewhere!

The flatwork was short and sweet, since there was a fun jumping exercise waiting for us. My trainer was SO pleased with Dino's forward attitude, and commented several times that he was looking wonderful. She said he looked sounder, happier, and 5 years younger. I couldn't be prouder!

On the flat, she had me focusing on keeping Dino together on 20m circles and around the outside of the arena, and not letting him sneak into a stretchy frame or get on the forehand. To achieve this, I had to change a few things about my riding and position:

  • "Today, there is no such thing as reins that are too short!" I held my reins just a few inches before the rubber ended and the raised leather part started, and tried my best to keep my hands there. I need to maintain a consistent rein length to tell Dino how compact his body should be. 
  • "Let the outside rein be longer and the inside rein be shorter, but keep your hands together and in front of your half pad." We're coming away from the wide-set hands and putting that tool back in the toolbox for now. I need to ALLOW the bend with a slightly longer outside rein and keep my inside rein short enough so that I can see Dino's inside eye. 
  • "Bring your inside shoulder back." Going to the right, Dino's weaker side, I get so incredibly contorted in an attempt to counteract his leaning on my inside leg. Saying "bend right" with my body helps Dino more than twisting myself into a pretzel. 
  • "There should be a reaction when you ask him to bend away from your inside leg - if he doesn't respond, tap on the shoulder with the whip and lift your inside hand." We're always striving to make Dino more reactive to my aids, and if he's not giving me the reaction I want, I need to tell him a little more strongly to move his shoulder up and out. 
  • "Ask for the bend with your leg before you go to your reins." This is something I know, but apparently needed a refresher in! Inside leg at the girth, outside leg back, torso turned in the direction of the bend, THEN back it up with a rein aid. 
  • "Lift your chin up and put your chest just a tiny bit forward." THIS was the MIND-BLOWING TIDBIT OF THE DAY, GUYS. When I lifted my chin up and pushed my chest out, my ENTIRE POSITION CHANGED. All of a sudden my thighs felt longer, my leg felt more stable, and I could sit lightly without driving. IT WAS AMAZING and I'm going to come back to this later!
Putting all these things into practice yielded some truly lovely trot work, although my canter work in lessons is still not super nice since I'm focused so much on him just GOING that I sort of neglect bend and roundness and all of those important things. But there will be time for that. 

The jumping exercise for the day was one of those deceptive patterns that looks simple, but totally kicks your butt. The idea behind it is to create and maintain a quality canter and let the distances work themselves out. Two three-stride lines were set up in the center of the ring, each line going diagonally, and there were two end fences at either end that could be added on to the pattern later. The lines are ridden in a figure-8, and we started out with the fences as cavaletti and small crossrails, which got bumped up to giant crossrails as we went through the exercise. 

Our first time through, I was just focused on keeping Dino cantering. There was not a whole lot of seamless cantering going on. Once we got the hang of the pattern, we changed our focus to me staying light in the saddle and letting the canter happen instead of micro-managing every stride and getting way in the backseat and driving him to the base with my butt. 

This is where the therapy part comes in. 

My trainer very cleverly noticed that I do not like to go to a jump unless I know it's going to be "perfect." I would rather abandon ship than take a bad distance. Both Dino and I know what's correct, and we've enabled each other to give up and try again instead of working things out when our approach to a jump isn't 100% ideal. I.e., the stop we had on xc last weekend.

Um, hi this is my life. I don't want to do ANYTHING unless it's perfect. Let me pay you double for the hour because you're now getting deep into my psyche. 

I had to try really, REALLY hard to just stay out of Dino's way and let him - and the canter - do the work. My trainer wanted me to just ride the whole thing in half seat (AHH!) to avoid getting overly-defensive and sitting and driving my pony over the fence when things got questionable... i.e. when the "perfect" distance wasn't there. 

This exercise did a lot to zero in on my issues! As we kept riding it, it became apparent that I also need to be more assertive about the track that I'm riding. I sort of let Dino choose his own adventure when it comes to our path to the jumps, but it's up to me to decide what line we ride. I choose the line, he takes care of the balance. I steer, put my leg on, then get out of the way. When we added in the end fences after the figure-8 - a skinny gate and a row of barrels on their sides - it really highlighted my desire to either sit hard & drive or abandon all hope of getting over the fence. 

BUT - when I surrendered to the canter, rode a smart line, and kept coming forward, the distances were right there, I didn't feel the need to get in the backseat and drive him with my butt, and Dino jumped everything like a champ. Even when the distances weren't great, or we came out of a turn on the wrong lead, or Dino said, "Hey this isn't a perfect distance so we don't have to jump it, right?" by committing to the canter instead of worrying about the jump, my pony was able to work it out and there was not a single 'disastrous' fence. As I continue to ask him to keep going even when things aren't perfect, he will work out the lead changes and balance for himself. 

One absolutely HUGE success of this lesson was the fact that I did not ONCE pull my pony to what I thought was the right spot. We talked a lot about my hands needing to "push" the bit forward in Dino's mouth and follow him forward instead of presenting him with resistance on the way to the jumps. While yes, I need to be there to guide him on the right track and maintain a good canter, I've ridden him so restrictively in the past trying to get over our stopping problem, and now we're at a point of trust in our relationship where I can truly "let go" (cue Frozen soundtrack) of that desire to hold him and trust Dino to get the job done. 

SO much to practice and think about! 

I've also received my trainer's blessing to continue with our competition plan and run the Flora Lea schooling HT on June 7. They have an Elementary division similar to what I've been competing in at BCHP with a max cross country height of 2'3, so it's the perfect place to start getting out of my comfort zone and continue our season. 

Have a GREAT weekend, everyone! 


  1. I want your trainer and that exercise. I'll see what I can come up with.

    1. She is pretty wonderful and I'll try to make a diagram for everyone - but don't expect Tracy-level awesomeness. :-P

  2. Lifting my chin is the key to changing my entire position too. Dunno what it is, but it's magical. Too bad I rarely remember.

  3. Your trainer sounds priceless!!

    My problem - my shoulders. I luuuuuuuuuve to round my shoulders and hunch. My entire perspective changes when I roll my shoulders back and look up. Bingo.

    1. She is a total gem and I'm keeping her forever!!

    2. I do the same with my shoulders too!!

      Fab trainer for sure!!

  4. Wait just one minute. You mean you still have to get over the jump if the perfect distance isn't there, and the answer to doing that ISN'T to pull or drive to the fence?! Mind. Blown.

    I think our brains just became best friends.

  5. so much good stuff here!! sounds like a really awesome lesson. i am always amazed when a trainer can adjust one small positional thing that changes everything. my biomechanics once told me to bring my sternum and belly button closer together and it totally realigned my spine. NUTS. anyways the exercise sounds pretty technical - esp when repeated - but really awesome! you guys are gonna kick serious butt at Flora Lea!

  6. Sounds like a really great therapy session....err, I mean lesson. ;)

  7. Too bad you and I live so far away, because we could totally be in lessons together to work on the same stuff.


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