Ashley Madison Clinic #2: More Trot, A Big Canter, and Finally Fixing Those Pesky Leg Yields

Blurry screenshot but OMG LOOK AT US WE LOOK LEGIT
As the date for our second lesson with Ashley Madison approached, part of me was a little nervous that it wouldn't be as wonderful and instrumental as the first one.

I was wrong. It was magical. I'm convinced Ashley is some sort of dressage sorceress. Also, she brought all of her dogs and I got to snuggle them before my lesson, so it was a win-win situation for everyone.

We started off strong in the lesson with Ashley expressing joy and astonishment at how much Dino and I have progressed over the last month. At one point she said something to the effect of, "If you had told me that the pony I saw a month ago could look like THIS, I wouldn't have believed you. He's like a different horse!" I agree, Dino feels like a different horse to ride these days, and it's only been a few weeks of this new training regimen. We rehashed what we'd been doing over the last few weeks, what's been helping us make great strides and what we're still struggling with. I told Ashley about the trouble I had coming back down from the canter lengthening at our last show, as well as my desire to keep improving on the First Level tests with more consistent impulsion and thrust happening in all movements. And that I still needed help with the leg yields, because they're awful.

I had only walked Dino a little bit outside before heading in for our lesson, so Ashley got to see us warm up from the very beginning of the ride. Dino was happy to show her how much he'd improved since she'd last seen him - he popped pleasantly right into trot when I asked, which was a far cry from the grouchy pony Ashley had seen a few weeks ago!

fancy trotting
She started there with us, helping me shape my warm up time to continue to focus on Dino responding to very light leg aids. I needed to stay aware of his tempo and be ready to ask him to pick up the pace the SECOND I felt that he dropped behind - if Ashley could see him slow down, I had already responded too late. Even in the warm up, Dino is capable of giving me more. As Ashley put it, I "don't need to go around passaging," but the old man can give a little more "oomph" a little sooner in the ride than I'd been asking. I think I'll be downloading a metronome app on my phone to see if that helps me keep track of the tempo a little better!

We really jazzed up the trot right away, and established a bright, energetic working trot tempo as our baseline, asking Dino to carry it himself without constant nagging on my part. The other big concept we focused on was being firm about the energy of the trot going into my hand. Years of letting go of the contact to get Dino to go forward still affects my riding now, and I'm super guilty of putting a loop in the rein or softening my hand enough that he comes above the bit when I ask for forward. Ashley wanted me to set the expectation that when I put my leg on, the energy doesn't just spill out the front before I try to wrangle it into some semblance of roundness. She wanted me to catch the energy in the bridle from the very moment I gave the forward aid, so that Dino got filled up with energy and made his body rounder as a result. It took a lot of mental focus, but the resulting work was super lovely!

Then we moved into canter work, and HRH the Wonder Pony pretty much just threw his head in the air and flung his legs around and said, "No, thanks."

So, we had to have a talk about that. Ashley wanted me to post the trot right into the canter, making the trot big and bold and round before I asked for a change in gait, and here's where Dino really tried to work his negotiating skills! I'd put my leg on to ask for a bigger trot or depart to canter, and Dino would come up off the bit and get hollow. He'd go forward - but not on the bit! Which, yes, is definitely an argument that we've had a lot over the years and  one that I'd given up winning.

But Ashley helped keep me firm in talking with Dino about trotting boldly forward and into the bridle before moving up into canter. Any time he'd duck behind the bit, above the bit, or behind the leg, we'd have a talk about it and reestablish the impulsion and the contact. Once the big, round trot was established I asked for canter, and Dino popped right up into it with no problems. We did this in both directions, and it really helped the quality of the transition and the canter a ton.

Once a good canter was established, we worked on almost over-lengthening down the long sides of the ring. Ashley wanted me to come out of the corner, get straight, and then blast off down the long side. She wanted to see the canter build every time I put my leg on and get bigger and bigger. This was twofold: to actually school the lengthening as it appears in the First Level tests, and to get Dino thinking playfully forward out of the turns. Because things happen right out of the corners - lengthenings, leg yields, and other fancy movements as you go up the levels, having a horse that thinks, "Turn, straight, GO!!" every time he looks down the long side is hugely advantageous. It also allowed us to just coast through the turn on the short side with maybe just a teeny half halt from my core to get Dino back to a working canter. I really didn't have to do anything to bring him back, it was more a matter of not asking him to go fast anymore. Not at all surprisingly, this made our transitions in and out of the canter lengthenings much, much smoother! I also had to be mindful about putting Dino in a little bit of counter-flexion down the long sides. He tended to get overbent though his neck, which didn't leave much space for his inside front leg and shoulder to come up and through. As usual, once I straightened him the canter felt a lot better.

You can see here the change down the long side after I straighten him out with some counter flexion.

The last big chunk of the lesson was spent on leg yields. While I'd had a great lateral work bootcamp lesson with my regular trainer a couple months ago and hashed out some of the issues I have with going sideways, I was still struggling in the leg yields and Dino still wasn't responding the way I wanted him to. I wasn't sure if I was blocking him with my body or aiding him wrong or what, and when Ashley saw our "leg yield" in the lesson (i.e. a half-hearted sort of imperceptible drift towards the rail) she broke it all the way down back to basics.

We went back to the halt, to the turn on the forehand as my own trainer had me do as a warmup in our last lesson. But, again, it was the re-framing of what we were doing that made a difference. You see, I never learned how to teach a horse to leg yield. I was taught to do the movement by putting my inside leg on and holding the outside rein so the horse stays straight, and then somehow they would go sideways. My understanding of lateral work has gotten a bit more nuanced over the years, but I was still not educated in the sequence of responses a horse needed to learn to master a leg yield.

I got to learn that, finally, and it changed EVERYTHING about how I think about this movement!

This. Forever and ever, Amen.
We went way, way back to basics as if we were teaching Dino the leg yield for the first time, starting with asking for a turn on the forehand at the halt. Just like with the forward aid, he had to respond from a very light leg aid and shifting of weight, and if he didn't he got booted or tapped with the whip. I was not to MAKE it happen or PUSH his haunches around - I was to ask them to move, and Dino was to move them. This was, as I expected, a lot more difficult off the left leg vs. the right. And I of course really, really wanted to just bodily shove him over with my leg and make it happen.

Once that was established, we moved on to shifting the haunches away from each leg at the walk while traveling down the quarter line. If Dino didn't respond to a light aid, he got a kick/tap with the whip in the walk, and if that didn't work, we went back to the halt to shift the haunches over from there, and then back to the walk once he got that right. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Once the haunches were shifting away from each leg consistently, we let the shoulders follow them and rode a leg yield in both walk and trot. Again, if Dino didn't go sideways from a nice, quiet aid, he got a kick/tap, and then we kept working backwards through the steps until he responded correctly. The correction was also way more effective coming from the whip on his haunches instead of the spur, because the issue was quickening the inside hind leg vs. getting more bend in the ribcage.

The best leg yield! 
This consistent, systematic approach to getting the response I've been striving for to the lateral aids worked BEAUTIFULLY. Dino really understood what I was asking, I was able to ask consistently and lightly, and he gave me the best leg yield of his life off the right leg, after which I threw the reins at him and patted him and told him he was the best pony EVER IN THE WHOLE WORLD!

We have so, so much to work on in the coming weeks until we see Ashley again, and I'm most looking forward to continuing to improve our lateral work. Dino responded so beautifully to just one session of clear, systematic training to the "Move you haunches over" aids, and I'm really excited to see how good we can get it as we practice on our own. The rest of the work is just really improving on what we're already digging into: cementing a better response to lighter forward aids, getting Dino to carry himself with more regularity, riding him straight, and continuing to establish a way of communicating with him that leaves both of us with a clear understanding of what I'm asking for and what the right response is.

If Dino can transform into a different horse in just a month, what will he become over the next few weeks?!


  1. You guys are looking amazing! I can't believe how much progress you've made in a month, Ashley seems like a really good fit for you both.

  2. Wow, fantastic lesson! You guys look great, and that leg yield is swoon-worthy!

  3. This is so awesome! I really want to ride with her I have heard such great things! And her thoughtful approach is so magic. Loved your write ups!

  4. This is so exciting! You guys look fantastic!


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