It's Not About The Canter: Lesson Recap

"More listening, less with the spurs and stick, mmkay?"
I'm gonna break all my own rules here and skip right over our lesson from two weeks ago AND last weekend's indoor hack and get right on down to business with recapping this weekend's lesson. Boy howdy is there a lot to unpack here, folks.

But first, let's set the stage:

Enter Dino, who had been ridden exactly two times in the week leading up to this lesson, and who lost a shoe on one of those occasions. So, definitely very physically and mentally prepared for an hour long private lesson.

And then there's me, and let's be real, I am not in the best shape of my life at this moment in time. Our last lesson found me struggling mightily to get Dino to just GO, an experience made all the more painful by the absence of spurs and my dreadful mistake of allowing too much slow-speed toodling as a "warm-up."

Given the circumstances, when I got on to warm up before my trainer arrived, I knew that I had to get right to business to prevent the lesson from devolving into a complete Hot Mess Express. Thankfully, Dino was feeling fairly perky and was willing to work with me, so I spent our solo warm-up doing lots of figures in a marching, forward, on-the-contact walk and trot, and having a pointed conversation about picking up the canter when I asked for it. By the time my trainer and her adorable, squishy baby daughter arrived, Dino and I were pretty well loosened up.

In the two weeks since my last lesson, I'd been really working hard on sitting evenly in my desk chair at work after we had identified a whole lot of crookedness in my seat. I also thought a lot about allowing my elbows to "float" forward instead of tucking them in tight by my sides or locking them out straight, and that concept proved to be instrumental in improving the connection.

We worked on these concepts even more in the flatwork portion of the lesson, really focusing on keeping my body straight, aligned, and balanced in order to help Dino do the same. As I work to develop a better muscle memory of a more effective position (instead of letting Dino throw me out of whack and back into our old bad habits), it's SO, so valuable to have my trainer's input in real time catching me each time I start to get tired and slip into my old ways of holding myself. Each time I felt my pony get more balanced, round, and connected, she was there to point out exactly what I had done with my own body to produce that result. I tuck away these little feelings as I ride, and eventually, they'll become second nature.

I still love to contort my upper body and do funny things with my arms, so as we rode simple circles, transitions, and changes of direction, we focused on me keeping my elbows elastic and "floaty", my middle strong, straight, and stable, and my shoulders and back soft and open.

It was difficult, but very rewarding! Dino gave me a dramatically better feeling when I sat well, and especially in the canter it was SO easy for me to feel how his gait deteriorated when I got tired and started to collapse.

And then we started jumping and it all went to hell in a handbasket.

Instead of continuing being the soft, following, thinking rider I had been during the flatwork, I transformed into some sort of flailing, mindless oaf once jumping was mentioned. Suddenly I couldn't get Dino to pick up the canter, he was bucking all over the place, he was angry, I was angry, I stopped sitting well, and Dino and I were having an ugly, ugly fight.

While I was getting him over the fences, riding super confidently, and making small improvements each time, it was hideous compared to our flatwork.

In a fit of desperation after I was unable to get my pony to canter, or do anything but balk and buck, I halted him and took a deep breath, and then went to go do some halt/walk/trot transitions to try and get the Go Button working again.

Fancy Pony took a brief hiatus...
It was then that my trainer chimed in with the most profound piece of advice: "Do you feel how heavy he's standing on that right shoulder? Maybe you should get him off of it before you ask him to move forward."

I thought about it.

You know, he was leaning really heavily on that shoulder. I hadn't stopped once to think about his body alignment or balance or straightness at all once we'd begun jumping, despite my trainer's attempts to bring me back to my flatwork mindset.

I put my right knee into my pony's shoulder.

He shifted his weight.

We trotted off.


Our fight hadn't been about the canter at all, it had been about Dino's right shoulder being in the way and preventing him from doing what I was asking, and once I helped him unblock that part of his body, his entire demeanor changed. Dino was instantly happy, willing, and forward. I was back in my Dressage Brain and sitting better, floating my elbows, and paying attention to Dino's straightness. In each transition he was sitting down on his hind legs and lifting his withers up, and he halted in a beautiful, uphill posture on a downhill sloping side of the arena. He picked up the canter when I asked. It was beautiful. We jumped the jumps. The jumps were beautiful! I felt like I could jump a skyscraper out of that canter. We jumped over a Christmas tree! Dino was happy, I was happy, and we were working together instead of fighting each other.

Blurry, but FANCY!
While I absolutely feel like a jerk for not listening to my pony when he was trying to tell me (albeit with lots of bucking and propping and angry faces) that he needed my help to get straight before he could do what I was asking, I'm also SO EXCITED about what I learned today. The difference in Dino, and in me, when I slowed things down and got us both aligned before attempting to jump was really phenomenal. I can't wait to keep working on this newfound awareness and seeing where it takes us!


  1. omgosh i love/hate it when the solution to all our woes boils down to something so simple. that's awesome tho that you figured it out and were able to correct it for a strong finish to the jumping! yay christmas trees!!! i haven't jumped one of those since i lived in rochester, but it's somehow so so so fun!!!

    1. The Christmas tree was actually my motivation to fix what was happening in the moment! I REALLY wanted to jump it but it wasn't going to happen if I couldn't get Dino moving forward happily!

  2. So awesome for you! I can just imagine the feeling of the fight...W and I have shared plenty of those moments. So great that you were able to figure it out and end on such a good note! Yay good "learning" lesson!

  3. I love those excellent breakthroughs!

  4. Floating the elbow.. I'll have to remember that one!

    1. It helped me a TON.. vs. thinking about 'soft' or 'elastic' elbows... the image of 'floating' really made it click for me!

  5. (*waves* New reader, here! Yay PONY POWER!)

    Awesome points about how small things can change so much. I've been (re)learning that this week as well. As Emma said's fun/terrible all at the same time! ;)

    1. Well HI there! PONIES FTW!! And yeah... sometimes it's totally not what you think the issue is. At all.I love these challenging moments!

  6. ugh you mean we have to listen to our horse UGH (LOL Just kidding but yes Dino was telling you he wasnt happy and you guys figured it out). ALL IN ONE LESSON KUDOS TO YOU!! WOW. Sounds like a great lesson. And I know i get rusty as heck so i am sure my horse does too in this godforsaken winter we have been having. PS he may still be the cutest pony around. LOVE his clip and his fancy attitude in the screenshots. :)

    1. He definitely is the cutest thing ever. The longer I own him, the better I learn to listen. He's amazing.

  7. So glad you were able to figure it out! It's so crazy how one little thing can affect what we're doing. But once we get it...majikal lol.

  8. It's both the best and the worst when the whole problem is something so minor! Glad you figured it out though!

    1. Ha totally! It definitely taught me that I need to pay more attention to the details before jumping to conclusions.

  9. Isn't it amazing when someone can help you unlock like that!? You guys look damn fancy!


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