Professional Help

Wow... where to even begin?!

D-Money Ridin' In Style
Dino trailered to and from our lesson yesterday like a champ, of course. Well, except for screaming the entire way through downtown Frenchtown. The new trailer was awesome for its maiden voyage, I love it! It's everything we wanted in a trailer and absolutely perfect for our needs.

Heading up to Jersey, I was nervous. Like butterflies-in-my-stomach, heart-racing nervous. I did NOT want to get launched into a jump during my first lesson back with Elissa, and I definitely didn't want her to be disappointed in me, or to totally embarrass myself in front of a whole bunch of strangers. But as we pulled into the barn driveway, happiness and calm washed over me. I have had SO many good experiences and memories at that barn in the past, and they all came flooding back. Elissa greeted me with a big hug, and asked some questions about Dino's history and our current struggles while we tacked up. After giving her the run-down, we headed to the ring to warm up.

We took a tour of the ring at the walk and trot, and Elissa immediately keyed in on Dino's pony-mastermind brain. She noted, correctly, that he was assessing our situation and seeing what he could get away with. The solution? Put him to work straight away!

We worked for a while on a 20m circle at the posting trot, focusing on maintaining an even bend and using my outside aids like a wall to keep Dino in the "channel" between my legs and hands. And I'm still way stronger on my right side, an issue that plagued me when I was riding with Elissa regularly years ago! Some things I took away to work on at home from our trot work are to keep my reins short, keep my outside rein and leg solid and my inside aids soft, and to remember to ask Dino to take a step under with his inside leg before making a turn so we stay nice and balanced.

Elissa's thoughts on our canter: "That canter transition. It has to go away. It has to get better. YOU ARE TOO NICE TO THAT PONY!" Basically, I let Dino get away with rude, lazy, sloppy, delayed canter transitions. I knew this, but I needed someone to tell me that he CAN do it better, I just need to be tougher on him. Elissa didn't get too hard on us about it yesterday, but suggested I work on fixing it by nailing him with my stick the first time I ask for the canter, every ride until he gets the message that he can't be disrespectful. The pony also likes to show his disrespect and laziness by cutting corners, and Elissa taught me a fun little trick to help keep him into the corners: poke my crop into his shoulder in addition to pushing him out with my inside leg. It was a great tool for both of us and helped a ton!

Next, we moved on to jumping. We started trotting a single crossrail so Elissa could get a feel for where we were with our jumping. Dino jumped it okay, and didn't stop. After a brief tack check we also threw a gel pad on under my saddle since the pommel sits just a bit too close to his withers, and we wanted to rule out any discomfort there as a reason for stopping. I'll start using my half pad at home as well from now on to see if it helps.

I was really, really happy that we started out trotting some smaller fences! One of my fears was that we'd be over-faced from the start and crash, but Elissa is awesome, and started us out slow. We moved on to trotting in and cantering out of a small line, working on riding the pony UP and collected so that we could get the 4 strides instead of 3 long, strung-out ones. She made a GREAT point that Dino is a German pony, born and trained in Europe, where the riding style is way different than it is here. I had to change my approach in order to get into Dino's comfort zone and give him confidence. Elissa had me sit much more upright and wait for him to jump up to me, instead of "offering" my upper body at each fence, as well as maintaining a good amount of contact with the bit. Right away I could feel a change in Dino; his confidence skyrocketed and he became easy to ride straight to the base of the jumps, and in turn I grew more confident because I realized that I could MANAGE my pony and direct him to the distance I wanted. A big part of riding successfully was keeping my eyes, chin, and upper body UP! I've developed an awful habit of looking down, and the second my eye drops the entire ride stars going downhill. Elissa also had me really focus on riding STRAIGHT after the jumps to get my lead changes, keeping myself and my pony balanced instead of looking & leaning for the lead. That's also something I, admittedly, let myself get really sloppy about at home!

We moved on to jumping a few different lines, some straight, some bending, and a few rollbacks, always focusing on landing and then collecting and balancing back before heading to the next fence. We had a few drive-by run-outs at a couple fences, due mostly to me not riding aggressively enough when Dino started to waver in his track. Once I shut the side door and rode him up to the base, he jumped and everything was fine! We even made it over the Big Scary Rolltop after a couple tries, which made me happy since it looked really similar to the jump I had my one bad crash at.

By the end of the lesson we were both EXHAUSTED! I am so sore today. But it was SO worth it! Elissa is equal parts encouraging, challenging, and honest, and she gave us a lot to practice and think about until our next trip up to Jersey, but I think the most meaningful thing she said was, "You can do this!"

We can do this. :)


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