Saturday Pony Extravaganza! PART 2

Immediately after my amazeballs jumping lesson on Dino, I did a super-quick pony switcheroo and hosed Dino off, tossed him in a stall, threw dressage tack on Sully, and headed back to the indoor.

Sully's mom also rides with my trainer and was on hand to watch the lesson, which was SO great for everyone involved! I'm really lucky to be able to collaborate with these ladies, and it was so helpful for the three of us to be in the same place and talk about Sully's training and exchange ideas.

If Sullivan is anything, he is lazy. Dressage is not his forte, and doing it correctly doesn't come as naturally to him as does galloping and jumping after the hounds. He's quite a long horse, which makes it a little harder, and is REALLY good at faking the connection. Sully just feels sort of round all the time, likes a very light contact, and when he tucks his little nose in just behind the vertical, it's pretty easy to think that he's going correctly if you aren't paying attention to where his hind legs are and the fact that his back pretty much doesn't move.

Miss Trainer saw through that trick pretty quickly, and we worked for the entire lesson on getting Sully reacting sharper to the leg and moving forward on his own, stretching out towards the bit and loosening his topline, and asking Sully to hold himself straight instead of leaning on the arena wall.

These things are very, very hard for sweet puppy-hippo-horses.

Reeeeach for it, Sully!
Sully put in a great effort, though! We really nailed the walk work, and it was so cool for his mom to be able to SEE the difference between his 'faking it' working walk and the real deal, back-swinging, hind-leg-reaching, contact-seeking working walk. The difference is also pretty dramatic to feel, and I didn't quite realize how much Sully wasn't using himself until he started using his body better.. and wow what a change!

The technique was the same as we've been using with Dino the past couple weeks - lots of leg into very soft hands that give forward from the elbow nearly constantly. Towards the end of the lesson Sully let me hold a lot more weight in the reins, which was great! It was cool to feel like I had something to work with instead of feeling like I was trying to hold hands with a butterfly. We also worked a lot of transitions, as well as some trot lengthenings down the long side.

Guys. Those trot lengthenings.

I am going to have beautiful, beautiful dreams about that lengthened trot. When Sully got it, he really got it, and suddenly I felt like I was flying down the arena on some huge Grand Prix horse. He was seeking the contact with his neck and nose reaching out, his back was up and swinging, and oh those hind legs were reaching so far under his belly! It felt totally incredible. If I can unlock that deliciousness consistently, we will be killin' it in the dressage court!

The canter definitely leaves a lot to be desired, though. I had a hard time with the depart unless our trot was 100% perfect, and by that point in the lesson Sully was getting tired and looking for excuses to not pay attention, so it was hard to get him to a point where he was balanced and in front of the leg enough to give me a good transition. I was getting tired, too, and grabbing at him with my seat where I shouldn't have been. But we did have some good moments where Sully started stretching over his topline a little more, and he did let me have a lot more contact without tucking his nose behind the vertical, which was a big win!

Takeaways for Sully were:
  • Prepare well for transitions. Unless your current gait is balanced/in front of the leg/steady in a good connection, your transition is going to be crap and/or not happen. Preparation is key! 
  • At this point it's OK if the first few steps of a new gait are above the bit - just a little squeeze of the inside rein is all he needs to get back on track. This will smooth out once he understands and gets stronger.
  • Allow him to make the mistake of slowing down and getting behind the leg, then boot forward. Repeat until he maintains the correct rhythm/impulsion. 
  • Hands should be soft & giving to encourage him to seek the bit. 
  • Open up the back with a forward canter in half seat on a longer rein, then once the back is loose bring him into a working frame. 
  • Square hips = straight horse
  • Your outside aids are the wall - don't let him get sucked into the actual wall! 
I'm so excited to be a part of Sully's training and can't wait to see where he goes next and how he develops into a mature sporthorse! 


  1. I'm so bad about allowing them to make the mistake and then correcting it. Instead I like to micromanage every little step to prevent any mistakes which.... Doesn't work lol. Also yay for awesome trot lengthenings - what a great feeling!!

    1. ahhhh yes, micromanaging, I love it too! Also known as "making the horse dead to the leg and incapable of taking anything but the perfect distance" :-P It's my favorite training method.

  2. Sounds like a great lesson. Very nice that you could all be there :)

  3. LOL hippo horses. they are my favorite.

    your 2nd bullet point is so true - sometimes the transition can be a little wonky but its one of those things where when it's too new and fresh it just flusters them more trying to get it perfect in one go.

    1. Yeah I've definitely been the cause of some Sully-meltdowns trying to get him to do it 'right' all at once! He is a precious, adorable hippo. Maybe you will see him at an event one of these days!

  4. I totally know how that feels! I hate when they fake it lol

  5. This sounds fantastic. Good trot lengthenings are the stuff of dreams!


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