Stop Doing Things: A Lesson Recap

or, Dino Has An Enormous Tantrum In Front Of The New Trainer.

or, Why Do I Ride Like An Idiot In Front Of Other Humans?

or, Poles. So Many Poles.

But-kicking is about to commence. I am terrified. Dino is irritated. Sounds about right.
Now seemed as good a time as any to schedule a lesson with a new trainer to get to know her teaching style before show season starts to ramp up. Dino and I also both needed a sort of "status check" to see where we're at as we begin the new year and get back into work.

Considering how slow he had been to warm up and get in his groove the day before, I arrived about 15 minutes early and was able to walk and trot around a bit to get the warm up process started. By the time Trainer S arrived, Dino wasn't 100% warmed up, but he was starting to stretch his neck down and work over his back a bit more.

We began the lesson with lots and lots of trot work, focusing on setting the rhythm of the trot with my posting and keeping a steady connection to give Dino a place to go. The new trainer picked up on my nagging habit right away, and spent much of the lesson reminding me to leave my pony alone unless I need him to react to my leg, allowing him to make the mistake of slowing down and then correcting him. It's something I know how to do, but for some reason all knowledge of riding my pony correctly flies out of my brain when I'm riding in the presence of someone else.

When I ride in front of other living humans, I tend to nag Dino 10x more. I feel this weird need to keep him going AT ALL COSTS and make things happen RIGHT NOW instead of taking the time to ride as well as I know how. It's pretty irritating.

Despite my sub-par riding, Dino was rather pleasant and round in the trot, seeking the contact and going around like a good little pony. Trainer S also gave me a really helpful new way to think about turning through the corners by opening my inside thigh to allow Dino's shoulder to come around, instead of trying to push his front end around with my outside thigh. It was cool to feel how just allowing his body to go where I wanted it helped maintain the straightness. After establishing a good rhythm in the trot, the poles began.


We started with trot poles set for a slightly longer trot step, which Dino stretched to meet easily. Then we added in a set of poles on the opposite side of the ring that were set much closer together for a very compressed trot step, and rode from one set to another on a big circle. Dino thought the 'collected' poles were VERY HARD, and they definitely highlighted is lack of 'sitting' muscles at this point in the year. The longer stride was much easier for him, but I really had to focus on not chasing or nagging him through the poles and just support him with my leg. Eventually we were able to ride through both sets of poles in both directions in a nice, round balance and steady rhythm, including trotting raised poles on the longer side.

Then we started the canter work, and the first depart was shockingly uneventful. I was starting to feel optimistic that this lesson would be tantrum free. (HAHA, JOKE'S ON YOU, SUCKER) Even though I totally threw any attempt at being on the bit at the canter out the window, I was pleased that Dino was cantering like a normal pony and not making a spectacle of us.

We moved right to canter poles set on a slightly shorter stride, and Dino felt that this was basically impossible. He'd canter the first couple poles, and then break to the trot halfway through, because sitting on his butt is hard. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to keep him cantering without driving and pushing him so much that I rode him right past the distance. I needed that bouncy, Short & Quick jumping canter we've been working on since last year! After several frustrating attempts, we FINALLY got it, and got to take a break before moving on to another exercise - a series of about seven cavaletti/canter poles set on a normal stride followed by two corssrails on a bending line.

That's when all hell broke loose.

Dino was tuckered out from all those poles, and the trotting, and the lengthening and shortening, and decided he was done. There would be no more cantering. He was Done. Really done. Full scale pony'tude Plant His Little Hoofies In The Dirt And Buck Done. The new trainer got to see him in all of his angry glory.

But I loved Trainer S's approach to moving past Dino's tantrum. She didn't make a big deal out of the canter depart after it was clear that Dino was going to fight to the death over it. Instead, she had me just change the subject and work on walk/trot transitions and re-establishing a good trot, trotting through the new canter pole exercise we were supposed to be doing and getting Dino to a place where he was happy and relaxed again. Once we had his brain back, we tried the canter again. It was sticky, but successful, and we were able to complete the exercise!

However, at that point I was throwing every ridiculous tactic I had at Dino to attempt to keep him cantering. Flinging my upper body at him, driving wildly with my seat, whipping him haphazardly around turns, and probably flapping my elbows like a lunatic.


Thankfully Trainer S is also patient, and had me use the last part of our lesson to focus on Not Doing Anything to keep Dino going. No flailing. No extreme upper body movement. No driving with my seat. Just a gentle close of my lower leg, opening my thighs away from the saddle, and a tap with my stick if he didn't respond to me asking nicely.

And you know what? It worked. We were able to canter through the cavaletti without breaking (yay!) and Dino greatly appreciated my quiet riding.

By the end of the lesson we were both totally exhausted, but I'm happy to report that we are way ahead of where we were at the beginning of last season. The beginning of 2015 was a rough one, and we didn't have our first lesson until April. That lesson was pretty much a complete trainwreck. This year I've been able to keep riding fairly consistently, have had 4 (!) indoor schooling sessions since last month, and we're getting started with lessons a full two months earlier than last year.

I think we're gonna be okay.


  1. You guys are gonna be great!! This new trainer sounds like she's got the right temperament for working with Dino too- yay for finding potentially workable lesson program solutions!!!

  2. Trainer seems awesome! Glad she could help work through the pony'tude!

  3. Oh goodness, you're right, pretty much identical lessons. We'd have made awesome lesson buddies, although putting 2 such angry ponies in one place might have broken the world or something ;)

  4. That sounds like a great lesson! I certainly know how pony temper tantrums go so thats a great result that you were able to get good work after!

  5. Ugh, yes, I am totally guilty of trying to rush things along to look perfect when there are other people around too. Sounds like you guys were able to work through pony tantrums with a good outcome. Bring on show season!

  6. Sounds like a packed lesson! Glad you got some good tips.

  7. EXTREME PONY TANTRUM! Wow, Dino. Way to turn it on for the new trainer! Sounds like a very productive lesson, though. I can't wait to hear more about your trainer though!

  8. This sounds like such a great lesson! In some ways you're really lucky that Dino decided to throw a big fit. I mean, we don't pay people to watch us rider perfectly, right?! Btw, your 2015 start and 2016 sound IDENTICAL to mine!

  9. I just imagined cute like Dino when you mentioned his Hoofies that I wanted to snuggle him through the screen. Why are naughty ponies cute from the ground only?


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