The Road Ahead

sweaty summertime pictures because I have no recent ones...

Yesterday was a very exciting day in the land of PONY'TUDE!

To start, my saddle was all done being adjusted, and I was able to take an hour in the middle of my work day to go pick it up. After consulting with Prestige Italy, the Prestige people in NJ ended up widening the saddle a whole 1cm. Once I picked it up, I was really anxious to see how it fit Dino and it was tough to wait until after my work was done to go to the barn and try it on him!

I was tempted to buckle it in for safety

My anxiety about saddle fit was also compounded because I had a lesson last night. I told you it was an exciting day!

So, running 15 mins later than I hoped to be, I raced to the barn after work to load the trailer, clean my pony, check my saddle fit, and head to my lesson.

Note: I am getting so badass at backing up my trailer. It's like we are one.

Dino was, of course, absolutely disgusting when I pulled him out of the field. We're talking ears-to-tail totally encrusted in dried mud. Any hopes of us both arriving to the lesson in pristine, sparkling condition were totally dashed. At least my pony ended up being reasonably clean.

THEN, the moment of truth: I placed my newly-adjusted saddle on Dino's back, slid it into place.. and..

It fit perfectly.

Widening the tree in front didn't change the balance AT ALL, and Dino's shoulders now had enough room under the front of the saddle - I was able to slide my hand down the front on both sides easily, just gliding over his shoulders, and the best part is that I don't even need a half pad. Sweet relief! I'm so excited to have a well-fitting saddle after years of making do with my Pessoa. Though I might indulge in a thinner half pad for enhanced squishiness and fanciness...

The Great Saddle Conundrum solved, I shoved my pony on the trailer and headed out to my trainer's.

We arrived and were greeted by friendly faces, as always. I'm continually astounded at how NICE everyone at that barn is! Everyone, of course, fawned over Dino and his extreme cuteness, and were amazed that he's 16 and not 6.

Our lesson was not so much about the skills we developed during last night's ride, but more about setting Dino and I up for the road ahead. Our flatwork was brief, and focused mostly on my position. My trainer really liked the new saddle (yay!) but commented that I was still riding like I was in the old one, even though the Prestige is a much better fit. She had me lengthen my stirrups 2 half-holes for flatwork so that I would be able to get into a more upright, dressage-like position with my legs draped down and around my pony. Now that Dino and I both have a very good working understanding of contact and balance, we need to up the ante by shifting both of our weight back over Dino's haunches.  When I rode with my shoulders nearer to vertical - thinking almost about riding in a chair seat to correct my forward-perching tendencies - Dino responded by carrying more weight on his hind end and lifting his shoulders even more. In our trot work he was consistently round and on the bit the entire time, which was a first for him during a lesson!

Our first canter transition going to the left was downright awful, BUT on the bright side my trainer noted that the powerful trot Dino gave me while I tried to get him to just. canter. was really lovely. THAT trot needs to be our new normal.

The right lead canter depart was MUCH nicer, and we tweaked my position a bit here on a 20m circle. My trainer had me continue to sit up up up, keep the inside rein opened slightly to ask for bend, and reminded me to flow with my arms as well as my seat. Once I realized I was tight in my arms and let them move with Dino, it felt like his whole body unlocked and we were much more in sync. Flowy arms - something to remember!

The stirrups went back up, and we began tackling the grid my trainer had set for the evening: two trot poles to a crossrail, two strides with placing poles to a bounce, two strides to an oxer.

We started with everything as poles on the ground to let Dino figure out the distances, and we trotted through the whole thing a few times. He was really into his job last night, and happily bounced through the poles. Then the jumps started going up one by one, starting with the first crossrail and the two fences of the bounce set as half-crossrails. Dino, again, trotted through like it was no thing. Up went the jumps! Once the fences in the bounce were 'real' jumps, Dino popped over them and then cantered out over the last fence, which started out as a small vertical. Each time we went through the grid, Dino got more and more forward and easier to get going, and I was able to leave him totally alone once we had landed from the first fence.

We also focused on balancing in the turn to the grid - not letting Dino motorcycle his way around to the first pole, but instead keeping his little butt underneath him so he powered forward once he was straight to the poles. As he powered through the grid and took us away from the last fence, my trainer asked me to think about sitting UP after landing and around the corner - creating a much more balanced turn with much more impulsion. If there was another fence coming up, we'd be ready for it.

Eventually we worked up to the bounce being 2'ish veritcals, and the ending oxer was a wide 2'3 or so. And while the middle and end of the grid was no problem for Dino, he showed his weakness when it came to the first fence.

The trot poles were set at a standard 4' apart, with just 4' between the last pole and the first crossrail. In order to jump it instead of just trotting over, Dino had to seriously compress his body, sit down on his butt, and rock back. This is hard if you are a lazy pony, especially a lazy pony who just loses impulsion and shortens his stride to fit into small spaces instead of collecting and lifting his shoulders. On our last go through the grid Dino actually JUMPED that first crossrail, which was fantastic! While the rest of the grid wasn't pretty, both my trainer and I were ecstatic that he made the effort to collect himself at the base of the fence, and we ended with that. I'm confident that once Dino has a chance to sleep on it, he'll do much better with this exercise.

Takeaways and homework:

-Dino has come SO FAR already with just 3 lessons. Trainer noted that he is like a different pony, and is extremely pleased with his transformation into a broke little eventer. He is now consistently balanced, happier in his work, and much more willing.
-The saddle is a great fit for both of us, hooray! It fits Dino very well, is balanced, and allows me to use a variety of stirrup lengths depending on what we're working on.
-Dino now has the capability to go in self-carriage and propel us along like a nice broke little dressage pony. The powerful, forward, balanced trot we got while attempting our first canter transition needs to start to become our new normal. I need to be the one to start asking for more, because Dino is capable.
-I need to make sure I lengthen my stirrups for flatwork so that my leg is the most effective it can be.
-In the canter, I need to be conscious of my arms and keeping them flowing along with Dino's motion. Flowy arms = a flowy pony
-When it comes to jumping, our homework is to trot a lot of 4'-spaced poles, encouraging Dino to stay engaged, connected, and uphill. As he learns to sit back more and fit his body into small spaces by collecting instead of letting the engine die, he'll be able to really jump correctly from the base.

Last night set us up for the next few weeks of work - it's time to up the ante and make AWESOME our new normal.


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