Practically Asleep: A Lesson Recap

BEHOLD! Caradino in the daytime. That mane is out. of. control.
In a decisive moment of scheduling, I set up a lesson for this past Saturday. As a result, I cantered my pony for the first time in probably 3+ weeks, and we jumped over sticks! WHEE!

Since apparently everyone else and their mother was taking a lesson mid-day on Saturday, the ring was a bit.. crowded. Sharing our space were two riders in a beginner walk-trot lesson, another small child hacking her pony around, and two women riding and lunging their own horses, one of which was an absolute spitfire of a red mare who was flying around the small indoor like her tail was on fire.

For Dino and I, who covet our personal space and really love having the ring to ourselves, it was a challenging environment.

But, of course, Trainer Extraordinaire used what could have been a big damper on our ride as an exercise in staying calm, thoughtful, and soft.

Considering the rapid drop in temperatures and our lack of regular work, we warmed up for quite a while at the walk, letting Dino cruise on a long, floppy rein and starting to move him subtly left and right off my leg, putting the idea of lateral movement into his body and softening his ribcage. We continued that warm-up into the trot, adding changes of direction, circles, and transitions all while floating back and forth, left and right.  

My trainer encouraged me to close my eyes each time I asked Dino to "leg yield" in this warm up, allowing myself to better feel what was going on instead of over-riding because I was trying to see what was happening. When Dino got locked or tense, she encouraged me to stay soft and fight the tightness in his body with relaxation in mine instead of allowing his tension to bait me into getting tense as well.

That simple idea totally changed what could have been a really stressful, unproductive ride into one where I was able to get a soft, relaxed, bendy, round, focused pony even in all of the chaos of the crowded indoor. I was able to catch myself each time I felt my body start to "grab" at Dino, soften myself, and in turn invite Dino to be soft. Closing my eyes each time we moved laterally was a phenomenal tool in allowing me to feel exactly how crooked or tense I was, and I could correct it and ask for a better movement from Dino. I remembered the words of a college riding instructor who had implored me to "sit sleepy" during a lesson on following the horse's body through a grid, and that same sleepy feeling helped me to invite Dino to be soft and relaxed. I took up more contact, and Dino gladly accepted the bit and went round. It was delightful!

And then we cantered and my brain fell out a little.

Cantering Dino in indoors with other horses is always a bit of a crap shoot. Will he canter when I ask?! Will he pin his ears and buck instead?! Will he get totally stuck behind my leg?! WILL HE KICK THAT SMALL CHILD'S ANCIENT PONY?! WHO KNOWS!

While we did have some initial stickiness, once I actually asked the way I know Dino likes me to ask (very very light seat aid backed up with a firm-but-gentle squeeze of the outside leg) he cantered around fine. But I was still stuck in "survival mode" and any thoughts of softness or bending or lateral movement was thrown out the window as red flashing lights and sirens started going off in my brain and someone started screaming, "OH FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY PLEASE JUST KEEP CANTERING AND DON'T CRASH INTO ANYONE!!!11!!!1"

Since my trainer is also a mind reader, she pulled me back into the center of the ring to have a chat about the unnecessary Code Red Crisis happening in my brain. She implored me to remain zen, stay soft, and ride intelligently into the spaces between horses in the arena, using those ever-helpful lateral moves to glide my pony in and out of the negative spaces that presented themselves. At that point the lights in my brain stopped flashing and I started instead imagining a Grand Prix dressage pair, floating effortlessly around a ring both looking relaxed and strong.

So with that mental image, we tried the canter again, and it went MUCH better. Not perfect, but vastly improved!

To top off our lesson, we got to jump a little. The first time I aimed Dino at the microscopic vertical at the end of the ring, he was a little confused and asked if we were, indeed, doing the jumping. I said, "Yes!" and he jumped, and then he got SO EXCITED for the jumping! We looped over the little end fence a few times, and I consistently made good choices about distances and picked the more forward one each time instead of pulling down to nothing. Success! We finished up with jumping the end fence (which had gone up to about 2'3, BIG TIME.) and cantering around the long side to an easy 6-stride line of two sub-2' jumps. Dino jumped everything great, but I kind of botched the turn after the last fence because I saw another rider in our path and my brain fell out again. Ah, well.

There will be more lessons for brain re-installation soon! It was just lovely to get out and move and work and jump again, and to hear how pleased my trainer was with Dino's movement and condition after so much time off. Dino was also beside himself with happiness to get off the farm again. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fully retire him; he just loves his adventures too much!

Trainer also asked me what my goals were for this year, and I told her honestly that I haven't had the mental space to think about them much yet. But I've been starting to come back to those thoughts again, and I think I'm getting a clearer idea of what I'd like to accomplish in 2018. Who knows where this year will take us!


  1. YAY Lesson and YAY DINO and YAY You for keeping your brain mostly on track :) HA! I am so glad you got to haul out and have a lesson. Makes it feel so normal doesnt it when you get back on things like that.

    In fact I swapped my weekends around JUST so i can have a lesson with Sally this weekend. I told my dad I will come next weekend. It is supposed to be in the 40s and i was like I NEED TO HAVE A LESSON and RIDE!! LOL I hope we have a successful one like you did! (I am like you are with the canter at Emily's but not w Sally jumping for some reason we have less issue but if i could try your zen falling asleep method maybe it will help LOL).

    I love Dino's wild mane :) YAY on riding :) (Sorry the arena was full though!)

  2. omg Dino no kicking out at ancient children's ponies!!!!! lol.... seriously tho that does sound stressful to get the first lesson of the season amid the company of such a broad spectrum of other riders and horses.... ugh. definitely stimulus overload! sounds like you got a ton out of it! your warm up sounds almost identical to what i've been trying to do lately too, tho the idea of "sitting sleepy" is fantastic, and something i need to remember while i'm riding!!

  3. Yay for lessons! Sounds like a really productive day despite the chaos and all the time off. Good boy Euro Pony!

  4. Crowded arenas get in my head too. I don't know why I didn't connect the dots until just now but B also tends to get majorly backed off if there are other horses "in our space"

  5. I don't mind having other riders in the arena, but overcrowding makes me nervous haha. I tend to just stay on the rail and do endless laps vs doing anything productive.

  6. It sounds like a great lesson. I love the simple visuals that helped you push through some mental blocks along the way. I've imagined similar things re: floating around to help get unsticky. Its crazy what simple visualization will do for a ride.

  7. Your trainer reminds me of me last week - I was chaperoning a bunch of kids in the indoor and they all started freaking out (their horses were fine) and I told them to "Find their peace and hold onto it". I don't think their frontal cortex are formed enough to know what that means (I'm also a very crappy kid chaperone). You got it when your trainer pointed it out though, yay for us having full brains!

  8. I love your honesty about the crazy,raging voices in your head! It's really refreshing. I'm so excited for you both to have a great first lesson of the year! Onward and upward!


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