Lesson Recap: Changing The Conversation

inspiration from my beer... 

My first lesson with my new trainer was a resounding success! I can't wait to schedule our next one, and I came away with tons of stuff to work on at home.

The biggest thing I was concerned about when it came to starting to work with someone new was that they wouldn't listen to and respect what I told them about Dino's many quirks. I know each of us thinks our horses are special, but when it comes to my pony, techniques that work for 90% of horses out there don't work for him. His brain is just wired differently. The last thing I wanted was to have a trainer try and stuff us into a box that we just wouldn't fit in.

To my relief, my trainer listened carefully to everything I told her about him, respected my experience, and subsequently tailored the rest of the lesson to Dino and I as individuals. That was HUGE, and gave me fresh admiration for her as a horsewoman. She was also extremely perceptive, and was able to pick up on our biggest issues right away.

Forwardness and responsiveness to the leg has always been a sticking point for us, and Dino's most-used evasion has always been to simply ignore the leg/stick/spur/whathaveyou. My tried-and-true method in dealing with this up to this point has been to totally let go of the reins, and then push as hard as I can with my seat and leg to get him going forward at all costs. In general, it works, but at the expense of a round, connected pony - which I get eventually after 45 mins of hard work on my part.

After my trainer was able to observe this whole song and dance, she had me ride in a way that seemed counter-productive to me at first, but really got Dino listening, thinking, and responding much better.

First on the list was to slow down my seat, and push Dino forward from my leg alone. This set off alarm bells in my head at first - DO NOT STOP YOUR SEAT OR THE PONY WILL COME TO A SCREECHING HALT!! Only that's not what happened at all. In reality, Dino listened to my leg and was able to start to connect himself and bring his back up because I wasn't digging my seatbones into him like a crazy person.

Next was to stop nagging! Nagging my pony is probably one of my worst bad habits. My trainer said that she definitely understood WHY I was nagging, but that we'd all be happier if I stopped and just tuned Dino to my leg better. She had me kick him forward sharply when he slowed down, and then I was to leave him completely alone. Wouldn't you know, that worked too. And Dino was not offended!

After we established those two basics, the biggest theme of the lesson was introduced: keeping the connection with the bit. Trainer suggested that for Dino, changing the conversation from "forward" to "connect" would break the cycle of resistance and allow him to use his body more correctly from the beginning, and then the impulsion would grow out of that. So, working on a 20m circle, we rode walk, trot, and canter both ways, focusing on never, ever dropping the contact - even when Dino declined to move off my leg right away. Miss Trainer also had me spiral in and out of the circle using leg yields, always ALWAYS maintaining the bend and the contact. If Dino chose to break gait, he was sent FORWARD in his gait of choice right away, the contact was kept, and there was basically no escaping the work.

This shift in the conversation between Dino and I did a few really cool things. First of all, it made my pony THINK. It was totally different from the way our rides are normally structured, and his ears were swiveling wildly the entire time trying to figure out what was going on. When riding a smart pony, capturing the brain like this is essential. Secondly, maintaining the connection with the bit and Dino's bend no matter what put him in a situation where he had to choose to give to my aids, or else he would fall over in the circle. This made going correctly Dino's idea, which is KEY when it comes to ponies, and he started to come round all by himself without me having to over-exert myself. And I was able to get Dino to do what I wanted him to do without doing all the work.

We ended the lesson with a little bit of jumping, starting with a single trot pole to a crossrail, followed by a ground pole one stride away. The first several times through, Dino couldn't be bothered to actually jump the crossrail, and he just sort of trotted over it until my trainer turned it into a decent-sized vertical. Even then, he'd jump the fence, and then trot out over the ground pole instead of cantering away. When we turned around to do the exercise the other way, Trainer added in a 2'9 vertical on the other side of the arena. We jumped the pole-jump-pole, then floundered around and broke to the trot and I made the executive decision not to go to the vertical. We tried again, and this time we cantered away and made it over the vertical, but it was some sort of awkward trantering situation. Ew. Again one more time with the trantering/levitating. I just could not establish a good rhythm for the life of me! So Miss Trainer pulled me into the middle of the ring, and tied my reins in a knot. I was to hold my reins in front of the knot, and KEEP. THE. CONNECTION. I felt like my elbows were totally locked out, but I trusted her and went through the exercise again.

This time, we had a fantastic trot coming in to the first part, and Dino jumped it beautifully and cantered out over the ground pole on the other side. Yay! Because I kept the connection, and focused on looking at my trainer's upraised hand instead of over-focusing on counting, I was able to maintain our awesome canter all the way around to the vertical, which came up beautifully out of stride, and Dino jumped it like a champ.

The moral of the story here is that maintaining my contact with the bit while not nagging and doing weird things with my seat allows Dino to carry himself and maintain his balance and length of stride, resulting in good flatwork and perfect distances.

Can't wait to put all this stuff to use at home !


  1. You write such awesome recaps! Sounds like an awesome lesson!

  2. SO AWESOME! Glad you had a good first lesson :)

  3. I am also SO guilty of nagging, and it really came up in my last lesson- he should respond to me leg immediately, and not just whenever he's ready! So hard to get out of the habit- but I'm right there with ya!

  4. ooh sounds like a super productive lesson - glad you like the trainer! and nagging is such a tough habit to break... i'm always so busy scrunching up my leg nagging away that everything else goes straight out the window lol

  5. I was so happy to read this! You have found a GREAT trainer, hang on to her for all you're worth!

    1. She is so, SO good! I'm just thrilled I've found her!


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