Rideable: A Lesson Recap

Lessons on hot humid days require increased water intake!

Dino and I had an AWESOME lesson last night!

Getting there was a little bit stressful, however. I was running just a bit late for no apparent reason, trying to get the other horses fed and tucked in before I left. Before I knew it, it was fifteen minutes after the time I wanted to have been on the road already, and I was just putting my pony on the trailer! I forgot my gloves and my checkbook, my boss was texting me about something, and I was quickly reaching Max Frazzle Level.

My new approach to lesson preparation - arriving 15-20 mins earlier than usual and warming up before my lesson was scheduled to start - was NOT happening! I was worried that Dino would throw a major tantrum without his normal warm-up time, since I got on only about 5 mins or so before my trainer was ready for me, and spent a lot of time walking & talking as she asked me to catch her up on what we'd been doing since our last lesson.

Blessedly, Dino was ready to work despite being rushed! He got a little cranky when I first asked him to pick up the trot, but once he got going he seemed to resign himself to the fact that we were going to have to do some work that evening.

My trainer commented that Dino was looking great - he was using his hind end so much better, and his neck was really filling out. I have definitely been seeing and feeling the improvement as well, so it made me feel good to hear that from her!

During the flatwork, we focused a lot on my posture in the saddle and doing less to achieve more from Dino, or in my trainer's words, "Ride him like he's 100% in front of your leg." Now that he's much stronger on that right hind leg and is capable of engaging it, the way I ask him to come round to the right is changing, too. Instead of having a really strong contact on the right rein, I can now start riding Dino more into the left (outside) rein like a proper dressage pony, using a softer inside rein to encourage and maintain the flexion in his neck. We stayed on our current theme of "more leg, less hand" and I was to use the bend to make Dino round instead of trying to "pick him up" with my hands.

We also talked a LOT about straightness! Again, now that we have the most basic of basics in place (going forward into contact is a thing) and Dino is fit fit fit, now he needs to be straight straight straight. Which means I need to be straight, too. I tend to collapse my right side and drop my right shoulder, so I had to concentrate REALLY hard on bringing that side of my body up and back, and making sure my left rein was short enough so that I could let that left hand remain in front of the withers and close to the neck. I felt SO crooked, but my trainer insisted that I was much straighter, and was helping Dino travel straighter, too. She also reminded me that straightness = more impulsion and better movement. If we aren't straight, we can't reach our forwardness potential.

We ended the flatwork portion of the lesson with the BEST canter work Dino has ever given me in a lesson! He was forward, he was round, he was mostly straight, it was awesome!! My trainer had me ride him FORWARD down the long side in half seat, and then sink into the saddle and NOT TOUCH THE REINS on the short sides and ride a 20m circle, using my leg and bending aids to get Dino round. He was absolutely fabulous, and I also learned a neat thing about the way I use my own body at the canter. Sometimes I get over-enthusiastic about getting Dino to GO FORWARD and so I do this crazy rein-flapping elbow-pumping nonsense to 'encourage' him, but my trainer pointed out to me that being so loose with my arms causes my hips and knees to lock up. When I lowered my hands and quieted them (without stiffening!), my hips and knees softened and started moving with my pony, allowing him to go forward without me having to do much of anything to maintain the pace. Very cool!

Not to scale, because math and perspective are hard.

The jumping portion of our lesson was an absolute blast! My trainer had set up a super fun course in the ring, beginning with a three-jump line down the long side and adding in a big X in one corner, a vertical on the centerline parallel to the long side, and a biggish oxer a few strides off the wall on the diagonal.

We started with the three-jump line, which my trainer said she had walked to be a four to a three for the ponies. Our first time through, Dino jumped it easily as a three to a two. He was on a nice open, forward stride and the distances just came up that way. Miss Trainer was surprised! My pony is a bit of a sleeper.

The line was also a great exercise in adjustability, with the two-stride portion coming up a little short if you really came in rolling for the first three strides. I had to focus on whoa-ing over the second fence without using my reins so that the next jump after the line - the big X off of a very short turn - would come up well. It was tricky and required a lot of focus, but Dino was SO game and rideable that he met me where I needed him to be and compressed himself around the turn to nail the X every time. After doing the line both ways and incorporating the big X a few times, we started building more of course, adding in the other two fences jump by jump.

The trickiest part was riding the three-fence line and then coming around on a circle to jump the vertical on the centerline. The distance seemed to come up short almost every time, but instead of pulling when I saw it was going to be close, I kept riding forward in the same canter and worked it out instead of riding an ugly, chippy jump or causing my pony to stop. It wasn't always pretty, but I committed to FORWARD and everything worked out just fine. My trainer commended my ride and said she really liked that I wasn't pulling as my first reaction to a less-than-ideal distance.

When we incorporated the oxer into our little course, I came off the wall in a great canter, saw a longer distance, and rode to it! Dino's more open stride was perfect for a more gappy take-off spot, and I was so excited that I was able to go with the type of jump our pace dictated instead of pulling and cramming in an extra stride. Our last go through the whole course was absolutely awesome, and I ended the lesson grinning from ear-to-ear!

My trainer said that we are looking like a different - and better - pair these days. Between Dino's increased fitness, muscle, and 'brokeness' and my improving skills and confidence, we are really starting to become a proper eventing team! I'm squishing my bad habits one by one, and Dino keeps improving with every lesson. While his constantly-shifting weak link can be a little frustrating, it's also extremely exciting because it means that he's improving steadily. I just have to keep up and keep learning to ride him better!


  1. YAY for great lessons!! You and Dino are a kickass team :)

  2. woo hoo - what fun! and you're right - it really was a super similar lesson haha. allowing that 'forward' without pulling (and i want to pull sooooooo bad) makes such a difference! Dino sounds like he ate that course for breakfast :D

    1. Oh another thing I worked on: sitting in the saddle with a CLOSED hip angle for jumping. Yes, Virginia, there IS a seat in between ass-out-of-the-saddle half seat and digging your seatbones into the pony's back!

  3. I'm pretty sure all of riding is defined that "constantly-shifting weak link". At least all of mine is. ;-)

  4. Love your lesson recaps! They're so applicable to where I'm at too :)

  5. Yess! Awesome lesson is awesome! That three jump line to the centerline does look hard, and I should remember to apply this lesson to myself also: keep the quality of canter and ride to the fence and ignore the fear of the short one!

  6. Love it, especially the part where your trainer was all "maaaaaaybe don't impersonate an old west cowboy to get your horse to go forward." :) My old project horse was so stiff in the back at the canter. If you didn't purposefully move with him (thinking "hoola hoop with your hips" the whole time you cantered), he would just break. It helped for me think about his back being stiff, and that I was following his movement and just asking him to be a little stretchier and bigger.

    I dunno if that helps at all. It was really hard to get the hang of for me. I will probably always need a horse with a good and easy canter...

    1. I do like the 'stretchier and bigger' thought! Because Dino tends to be really behind the leg I have gotten into the habit of nagging/over-riding the canter instead of just letting him be more forward and 'stretchy'.


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