Using Our Magic For Good: A Lesson Recap

I read a lot of fantasy novels.

In these books, characters gifted with the ability to do magic are often faced with a choice: to use their powers for good, or for evil.

This was the theme of our lesson last week.

Building on the breakthrough we had the week prior concerning getting Dino's shoulder out of the way and his body straight before asking for transitions or any other type of change, we focused on this straightness almost exclusively in the flatwork. Lateral movement is proving to be a valuable tool in this regard, and whenever I felt Dino getting stuck in his shoulders, moving his body back and forth laterally in a sort of baby leg-yield allowed his body to unlock and soften again. I'm getting better at noticing when he locks up like this and helping him unlock with appropriate movements, but it's definitely taking a lot of effort to remain aware!

Once more, the physical work was very simple, but there was a lot of mental heavy lifting to be done! It's still so easy for me to get caught in the trap of asking ineffectively over and over and over again, especially for a canter depart, instead of taking stock of Dino's balance and how freely he's able to move and fixing that before I ask for something. I got to see an amazing change in the results of my cues when I unsuccessfully attempted to get the canter via my patented Kick and Flail method, after which my trainer reeled my brain back in and I organized my body, got Dino's body straight and his shoulders out of the way, and asked again, giving him the best opportunity to give me the right answer.

And he did. Weird how that works.

Throughout the ride my trainer integrated some poles and a cavaletti in a technical flatwork exercise, which incidentally is one of my favorite things. Since my goals this year are more dressage-focused, she's using the jumping to improve our flatwork, which is a new concept for me but I'm excited to see how the approach helps us grow. We rode three walk poles to a small plank/cavaletti, beginning with walking the entire exercise first, then picking up the trot before the plank, reversing the pattern and trotting the plank and walking the poles, and then finally walking the poles and cantering the plank, and cantering the plank and walking the poles. There were only maybe 8 or so walk strides between the last walk pole and the plank, so our transitions had to be sharp and immediate and Dino had to be straight in order to get it done.

This was such a great, mentally-challenging exercise that allowed me to feel with such precision when Dino's shoulders were out of whack. It's not so much that his body gets crooked laterally, but he "slumps" on one shoulder or the other, usually the right. (Kind of like how I tend to sit in my chair. Hm.) When I get him to stand up in front, there is a huge release throughout his whole body and  his front end gets SO much freer. As I took my time to manage that straightness and "stand him up" through the walk poles and before asking for transitions, Dino was able to give me very sharp, prompt, balanced canter departs in the space between the walk poles and the plank, and the exercise did a great job of forcing me to slow down and consider his alignment. And when Dino was standing up straight and I floated my elbows forward, he was willing and able to really move beautifully over his back. One thing leads to another and suddenly we're going like a pair that knows what they're doing!

"The mud enhances my magical powers."
Another big key to our success, though, is my own mental commitment to whatever we're doing. I can ask for a movement100% correctly with my body all day long, but if there is the smallest shadow of doubt in my mind about whether or not Dino will actually do it, he won't. If I am committed mentally to something, there's nothing that will stop us from doing it, even if my aids are muddy. I don't want to sound like the delusional Black Stallion Syndrome sufferer who claims to have a "magical bond" with their horse, but... we kind of have a weird, psychic, magical bond. My trainer is often baffled by the way we seem to communicate telepathically with each other, and the potential for great damage this kind of connection can hold reared its ugly head when we started adding some bigger jumps into the mix.

After cantering over the small plank, we were to keep the canter and come around on a half-circle to a small 2'3" ish gate, and keep coming around back to the plank, circle over the gate, etc. While we lost our momentum a few times during this exercise, overall we had success with it. Letting Dino flow forward to the longer distance was a bit challenging for me that day, but I was committed to jumping the jumps even if the spot wasn't the one I wanted. My trainer then told me after jumping through the plank-to-gate half circle the next time, to keep coming forward and jump the entire outside line: gate to square oxer.

This would be the first oxer we'd jumped in many many months, but we were doing well and I was pretty confident that we could jump the line just fine. So, we came around over the plank, jumped the gate, cruised down to the oxer in five easy strides, and in the last step, I had a fleeting concern about the distance. I did not take my leg off. I did not pull. Dino heard my thoughts and put on the brakes, but it was too late and we were practically taking off at that point, so he bunny-hopped the oxer from a standstill, nearly launching me out of the saddle. I stayed on, gave him a big "GOOD BOY!" for jumping, and hauled myself back into the middle of the saddle. Okay. The five was DEFINITELY right there, and we could do this.

We jumped the plank, we jumped the gate, and as we cantered down to the oxer - five easy strides, right there - my own irrational terror leaped up and roared in my face like a horrifying toothy monstrosity and I yanked Dino away from the jump in utter panic, bursting into uncontrollable tears.

The fear was back.

My trainer is a truly amazing person, bless her, and gave me a moment to get myself together, reminding me that I am a good rider, that I can do this, that fear is legitimate, and that many of these challenges are limited only to my partnership with Dino and related so, so closely to our uncanny connection. On any other horse without mind-reading abilities, I could be jumping big courses with no problems, but this psychic pony of mine is a unique situation unto himself. She assured me that it had nothing to do with my lack of ability, but we all just have bad days. After her comforting pep talk, I went back around to ride just the plank to the gate again, but at that point my fear had taken over and I just couldn't do it, a new batch of fresh hot tears coming now. We decided to save it for another day.

I clearly had some weird emotional issues rumbling beneath the surface that day, so my trainer told me to pick up a stretchy trot, forget she was there, and just ride and let out whatever was bugging me.

So I did. I dropped the reins to the buckle, dropped one hand to my thigh, and cried and cried and rode Dino's big, lovely, swinging stretchy trot around the ring. Our connection became beautiful again as my pony turned and circled and changed directions as I thought about each movement. I thought about the canter and without a physical cue, he loped up the long side of the ring, withers up and nose reaching down into the dirt. The fear went away. I jumped the little plank twice more out of that long, rangy lope and as I looked again at the outside line that had frightened me so much, the jumps seemed to have shrunk down again. They looked friendly and jumpable, but we ended the lesson there. We would jump them another day.

While this lesson had a frustrating, frightening, unusually emotional ending, I learned a lot from it. I'm getting better at recognizing when Dino is slouching in his shoulders and helping him stand up straight, I'm learning to have patience and give him opportunities to answer me correctly instead of getting into a fight about 'forward', and I was made very, very aware once again that on this pony especially, I need to be fully committed to what we are doing in all aspects of my being. Because when you've got magic, you've got to use it for good lest it destroy you.


  1. Good for you for crying it out and ending in a good, comfortable note. You’ll defeat the monsters whenever you’re ready!

  2. This sounds like a page out of my Brantley diary. I really can appreciate all of this. Stick with it. You'll get through it ♡

  3. I love me a super technical ground pole flat work exercise too. Sorry the lesson took an unexpected turn but good on you for just working through it. This time of year is so hard to keep anything consistent. Which can help in some ways but not in other ways... Sigh.

  4. I love your trainer! But ugh, psychic ponies and making life more tricky! We all have days like that though, and I don't think a one of us can fault your reaction at all. With amazingness comes difficulty - ebb and flow. I really appreciate your candidness sharing about the fear though. You've got a great team around you though and you'll get through this in your own way. <3 hugs

  5. We've been doing a lot with cavalettis and ground poles lately too and I've really enjoyed it. On another note, some days our mental fortitude is weak, and I've had to learn that it's OKAY. That day wasn't your day, but another day will be <3 Hang in there girl!

  6. This post was such a thriller! I was loving the beginning. That flat exercise with the walk poles and the little plank sounds SO useful! Might have to try it when we get fit again.
    But then the stupid fear reared itself, and I was so frustrated for you! I relate so much to you here though. I get afraid for no reason at all sometimes, and it really gets in the way. I'm so glad your trainer is understanding and helps you through it. My trainer does her best, but she's never been afraid, and she doesn't understand. Not to say she isn't helpful; she doesn't pick on me for it or make me feel badly about it, but she just doesn't understand. Hopefully your next jumping day will go better. I'm glad Dino knew when to have your back, and I'm sure he'll help you out to push through next time.

  7. I feel very similarly to you. Amber and I have such a connection that I am constantly worried I'll ruin it somehow, and one ride I was crying and crying - I feel you. I'm glad though that you were able to get that back. Horses are such amazing creatures, and they somehow seem to know when we need them the most <3. Hang in there.


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