First Lesson of the Year: Complete

In this photo, you can see my trainer frying my brain. 
Last night's lesson was intense.

And kind of depressing.

And a little frustrating.

But at the same time, galvanizing and encouraging.

I got to my trainer's later than I wanted to - my original plan was to get on 10 minutes or so before the lesson and have Dino in 'work mode' before we got down to business, but it just didn't happen that way, unfortunately. I rolled with it. Thankfully Rachel was able to come with me and take tons of video, so y'all get to see how awful we look!

Ready To Be Bad. 
Before we got stared, Miss Trainer and I caught up on what's been going on over the past several months, and what I felt we needed help with. (Basically everything. Hah.)

I told her that we'd had pretty much the whole winter off, were just getting back to real work, and that I felt that I was really crooked and Dino was pretty unfit and tough to ride to the right because of his weak right hind leg.

So she had us start at the walk, and basically totally turned my world upside down. She had me lengthen my stirrups a couple holes, use my thigh and knee to move Dino laterally, and ride with my hands wide and away from Dino's neck while at the same time keeping a solid contact. My inner hunter princess was deeply troubled, and I wasn't sure that my thigh could even push against the saddle that way! Turn up the volume to hear my trainer's comments in this one... makes the walk video much more interesting.

At this point, we're focusing mostly on bending and weighting the troublesome right hind leg, so to accomplish this I had to WAY over-exaggerate my bending aids going to the right. This meant turning my torso completely towards the inside of the circle, bringing my right hand away from the neck and back, and keeping my lower leg forward so that I could use my upper leg to push my pony's ribcage out. The outside rein was held away from the neck as well, and just used to guide Dino around the outside of the circle.

This took a ton of concentration and coordination, and felt SO crooked at times, but Dino went much straighter and I could really feel his body parts starting to get organized as I worked on it.

To the left, my trainer had me ride Dino with nearly the same aids as I did going to the right, almost counter-flexing him to the outside. She wanted me to have a really strong connection in the right rein, and to keep giving forward with the left rein. This encourages Dino to put more weight on his right hind leg, and this sort of over-riding to the right actually helps him travel straighter.

Hunter Princess Heels In Action
We kept working on this concept in the trot, which also involved my trainer chasing Dino with a dressage whip because he was a stinky little snot who has decided that my trainer's indoor is only for walking. However, we did have some really good moments where Dino straightened out and started coming through from behind, so that was encouraging! The slow, pokey trot I was feeling in the saddle also didn't look half as bad on the video - the pony actually looks like he's going at a decent pace.

We did lots of this:

The canter work... didn't really happen. Dino was not having it, and the most we accomplished was a long side in each direction before he broke back to the trot. Ugh. The transitions were super ugly, my whole upper body did a gross wiggling thing in each one, and it was essentially just a mess. Thankfully my trainer is awesome, and didn't push the issue, but gave me some things to work on in the canter, namely staying lighter in the saddle, keeping my reins short and maintaining the contact, and driving less with my seat. I can work on that.

See here some major canter fail, plus some OK trot work:

We ended with a great jumping exercise that I would love to set up at home sometime - a small vertical, one stride to three bounce fences, one stride to another vertical. The middle bounce fence went up several times as we went through, causing Dino to really compact himself and use his butt through the grid. I was actually really proud of him for how he did with this exercise; we didn't take any jumps away the first time through, and he went through the whole thing without worrying about "all the poles"! It wasn't the most forward and fluid thing ever, but we did improve each time.

My trainer, however, was not a fan of my short stirrup for jumping! I felt like I couldn't get out of the saddle enough, so I put them up a couple holes, and she did not like how it changed my position at all. I need to analyze the video a little more to really see what she was talking about, but essentially the shorter stirrup length causes me to go all Hunter Princess with my heel jammed down and a stiff, bouncing lower leg and no thigh contact. So I'm to jump with "long" stirrups now. Yikes! That will take some getting used to!

After all that, here are the major takeaways, tidbits, and things to work on from this session:

-Tracking right, with trainer in the center of the circle, "Try to show me your left shoulder."
-Ride for the right bend even when tracking left - weight the right hind to strengthen it.
-Keep both hands equidistant from the neck, "Dare yourself to move that right hand away from the neck and give forward with your left hand."
-Longer stirrups for both flat and jumping will allow proper use of the thigh and keep the lower leg from getting too tense. Since Dino is not very loose, we have to start with me being loose.
-Lighten the seat in the canter depart.
-KEEP THE CONNECTION WITH THE BIT! Shorten your dang reins and keep them there. This carries over from our last set of lessons in the fall.
-Give with the elbow & shoulder instead of by opening the fingers. Duh.
-When Dino dives down, don't relinquish the contact - keep him compact. Don't let him be a bus.

While I definitely wasn't thrilled with our performance in this lesson, and some of the video was hard for me to watch, (OMG WHAT ARE MY ARMS DOING LITERALLY ALL THE TIME) I did get a bunch of great tools for the toolbox and lots to think about and practice. My trainer said that we are in pretty good shape after such a long winter break, and that Dino seems to have retained a lot of the work we did in the fall, especially in the trot. She also thinks we should be on track to run our first HT in the middle of May. AND my feet did not fall asleep, NOR did my boots rub gaping raw holes in the backs of my knees. So that's positive?

Time to get to work.


  1. I can't watch the videos at work, but it sounds like you got a great foundation on which to start. I also just had the exact same stirrup length over fences discussion with my trainer: "We're going to jump." "Okay, let me put my stirrups up." "No, leave them where they are." "Uhhh...." I lived to tell about it, but it was awkward!

  2. First lessons are hard.

    Scratch that.

    All lessons are hard.

    I keep having to pick one or two things from a ride that I feel improved or else I would collapse under angsty-self-imposed pressure.

    1. SO HARD. I have to really try not to dwell on everything we did wrong. UGH.

  3. Jumping in long stirrups would pretty much undo me. eek!

  4. sorry it wasn't a 'walk away grinning' lesson - but it sounds super productive! i work on that exact same 'over bend to the right' at walk and trot with my mare for the exact same reasons, and it seems to be working!

    i'm also working on using my thighs more rather than just heel... and it's super hard. a helpful idea tho has been thinking of pointing my toes 'in' (in reality they're just barely forward, rather than sticking out, but it feels like i'm riding pigeon toed) - and the result has been neutralizing my calf and bringing my thigh into better contact. it might also help w your trainer's concerns about your choice of stirrup length.

    also that grid looks like so much fun!! definitely stealing it :)

  5. I'm totally with you on Riley regarding these issues! We had a jump lesson and a flat ride (where I actually made him REALLY work) and they were UGLY! But I know we'll get better! ps. Riley jumped out of his pasture while I was in Florida (are he and Riley in cahoots?)


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