Nailed It: Dressage Edition

Dino had two days off over the weekend while I was camping, county-fair-ing, ATV'ing, making friends with very fluffy cows, and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. He ate and sat around with his donkeys. I think it's safe to say we both enjoyed ourselves.

The dude seemed happy to see me when I returned to the barn on Sunday evening, and happily came over to greet me and see if I had brought him any snacks. The sun was getting lower and the air was lovely and cool by the time I got on and headed to the dressage court for some flatwork.

Now, I don't know if it was my good attitude, Dino feeling refreshed from his two-day break, the cooler temperatures, Dino finally having regained the fitness lost during vacation, or a divine blessing, but we were both ON IT for this ride!

I started working Dino before I even got on his back with some simple in-hand work to get his brain focused. Jogging, halting, backing, and just generally getting his mind on me instead of getting all googly-eyed about the deer in the soybeans. And the woodchucks in the hedges. And the birds. And hey what are the donks up to? Etc.

Once I was in the saddle, I marched him purposefully down the hill to the dressage court. A lot of times I will let him meander to wherever we're working at his own pace, in his own time, without asking for any focus. It can take up to five minutes or so to get to some areas of the farm where I like to ride, and it makes me feel like I'm "being nice" and letting him "warm up".

I'm really just making problems for myself and creating a belligerent pony when I do that.

So, while I let Dino have a nice long rein, I kindly insisted that he MARCH down to the court, instead of ambling along at a snail's pace whilst tripping over his own feet. EuroPony was happy to oblige!

I was reminded of something that Emma has been working on this summer in her lessons - getting a good, quality walk before moving on to the trot, and a good trot before moving on to the canter. So I really focused on what was going on in our warm-up walk, encouraging Dino to stretch over his back,  adjust his length of stride, bend, and carry himself straight. When I felt like we had a soft, balanced, round walk, THEN I went to the trot and did the same thing, and then onto the canter after the trot was satisfactory.

The trot took a little bit of doing to get where I wanted it, but Dino was in a fabulous state of body and mind and was very willing to work with me, and having done the work at the walk in the first place made the process a lot quicker and smoother than usual. In no time EuroPony was moving well off my leg, bending softly, coming up over his back and soft in the bridle. I could stretch him down, bring him up, change directions, change pace, change bend, with minimal effort and no weird contortions on my part.

So I asked for the canter, and HOLY COW I GOT A CANTER.

After a little head-flinging in the depart (I take full responsibility for throwing away the contact here!) Dino stepped into a lovely round canter. He was not leaning on my hands. He was not behind the leg. His back was up. He was bending. I began to wonder what alien had abducted my pony and left me an extraterrestrial changeling, that this creature should give me such a glorious canter the first time I asked!

I rode a few times around the whole court, made some circles, and then brought Dino back down to the walk and patted him profusely. I asked for the left lead canter. It was just as glorious! We tried a little counter-canter, which always sharpens Dino up and gets him to straighten out and 'stand up'  more. He was fantastic! The thing that really made a HUGE difference in the connection at the canter was that I was focusing hard on keeping it light, and releasing from my elbows when Dino softened in the bridle. I have such a bad tendency to want to keep the bit to myself instead of giving it to my pony and encouraging him to move over his topline into the bridle. My left hand, especially, needed to give a LOT to keep Dino round, soft, and bending, but when I released that left elbow forward the connection was effortless.

At this point I was grinning like an idiot, and dropped my stirrups to do some more trot work now that my pony was fantastically round, straight, and on the bit after the canter work.

Dino continued to give me absolutely lovely work - he made it feel easy. I never felt the compulsion to do weird things with my hands, or nag him with my leg, or get after him with my whip. He was so light off my seat and delicate in the bridle, I didn't need to ride as loudly as I sometimes do.

The cutest little pony ever!
The icing on the cake happened during the sitting trot - I had been working on changing speed with my seat, extending and collecting the trot between letters. I asked for a bit more OOMPH and Dino responded with electric energy from behind, swinging over his whole back and stretching down into my hand as he powered forward. I felt his back grow up into my seat even more as his neck seemed to expand to fill the space between the reins as I sat the trot in balance, hands still over the withers as my amazing pony floated harmoniously across the ring. I thought I was going to break my face from smiling so hard, and Dino was just so happy in his work!

It's moments like this that make riding the most magical, addictive, empowering sport in the world.


  1. Yes! You are completely right! Those moments where everything just CLICKS perfectly together, and you and your horse are practically one. LOVE IT.

    I think I will also start to focus on really getting a marching walk before I get to work too. I've created plenty of bad habits in my pony, so I should try to eliminate at least that one!

  2. Woohoo! I'm so excited for you that things went so well. It's always such an amazing feeling.

  3. oh man that entire ride just sounds so PERFECT! i love those rides haha and know exactly what you mean about them being 'addictive'. also that fluffy muppet is too cute :D

  4. whoa. That sounds awesome. what a great ride to have had!!! Huzzah!

  5. That sounds amazing! Glad you guys found your groove.


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