Always Evolving: Lesson Recap

The most handsome

Dino and I had a lesson last night, and it was sorely needed! I'd been feeling really stuck in our flatwork over the past couple weeks, and was excited to get my trainer's input on where to go from here in my dressage rides. 

I got to my trainer's barn about 20 minutes or so before my lesson; enough time to get warmed up and get the pony thinking forward before we started working. I also got to watch one of my friends go through part of the jumping exercise of the day, which was fun to see. Her horse is a huge, long, 17hh+ beast of a thing, so I was curious to see how the exercise would ride for my midget! 

Dino warmed up really nicely, to my surprise. He didn't feel heavy at all, which was a little frustrating since I had really wanted help with how to deal with that issue! He walked and trotted pleasantly forward, we did a little canter, and I felt both of us were ready to get down to work by the time my friend's lesson finished up. 

I updated my trainer on how Flora Lea went (i.e. AWESOME) and told her that Dino had been getting really heavy in my hands on the flat lately, and I wanted to address that in our lesson. I knew the feel I wanted from him, but the conversation was changing between us, and I wasn't sure how to achieve the roundness and self-carriage I knew was in there. 


We started with the free walk, since that's where Dino was the most soft over his back and stepping under with his hind legs. As I shortened the reins and brought Dino into a working frame, my trainer had me bump him up with my leg before SOFTLY taking up the contact, and just wiggling my fingers on the inside rein to soften his poll and jaw to the inside. The goal here was not to lose the forward or the nice over-step we had in the free walk, but to get the frame a bit shorter and the neck and back rounder. My trainer really helped me find a strategy to keep the softness over the back that was very much lacking in our last dressage test. 

The theme of the day was getting Dino to carry himself without me holding him up with my puny human hands, so when he softened to the bit and held himself up, I let him stretch down again. It was so hard to totally release him when I just wanted to hold everything together! We worked like this for a while - half a circle on the bit, half a circle free walk - all the time being very soft with my hands and seat but supportive with my legs for both impulsion and bending. 

When Dino presented resistance, either in the form of getting inverted and flinging his head up OR getting heavy and baiting me to carry him in my hands, Miss Trainer had me let go of the contact and boot him forward. Now that I have a pony that's in front of my leg and understands that the contact doesn't go away just because he's moving forward, the name of the game is making him responsible for his own self-carriage. This was a huge theme of the entire lesson, and one that I know will keep coming up over my riding career because of my desire to micro-manage every little thing and 'keep it together' at all times. Instead of following him up with my hands or shortening the reins even more, I was to NOT give in to the temptation to hold up his front end, and instead let Dino find his own balance.

We moved on to the trot and canter, working on the same concept. Strong bending aids, soft hands, no driving, digging seat. Release and be soft when the pony is soft, drop the contact and KICK when he resists instead of starting a tug-of-war with the reins. Dino has to hold himself up. In the canter my trainer asked me to "Look at his inside hip" to really bring my shoulder back. Let me tell you it was WEIRD riding around practically looking backwards at my pony's butt! But it worked beautifully to help Dino create a balanced, uphill canter. 

The result of this softer riding with my pony's poll a bit lower than what I'd been asking for was a pony that was really moving THROUGH and swinging his back. I got that 'cycle of energy' feeling quite a few times during our flatwork, and it was awesome! Now that Dino is really, truly in front of my leg the conversation has changed from "Go forward. Still go forward when I take contact. I'm not kidding. Go." to, "Be uphill and carry yourself as we go forward." He is super, super fit right now as well, which also changes the dynamic between us a bit. We're now working towards a more round roundness and really starting to develop self-carriage, with Dino taking responsibility for his own body and balance. 

I feel that there is a lot to unpack in the flatwork from our lesson, even though we worked the entire time just w/t/c on a 20m circle. The work we did really exposed a lot of my flaws, like needing to "control" Dino's frame and carriage with my hands, getting behind the vertical and driving with my seat, and allowing myself to hold him up with my hands when that truly isn't my responsibility. I know I'll be coming back to these concepts in future posts! 

Sleepy donks do a great job of breaking up text walls.
After that enlightening flatwork, we moved on to the Grid of the Day! 

Funnily enough, it was really similar to the grid we have set up at home right now: a biggish crossrail oxer, two strides to a small bounce, two strides to a big wide square oxer. I was feeling really good about it since Dino had totally nailed the grid at home over the weekend! 

My trainer told me to ride the in fence as if it were on a 20m circle, not focusing on the jump or on getting a distance, but on our path and canter. (Do we see a theme here?!) Then I was to just let Dino figure things out while remaining supportive and allowing with my leg and hands, again, because getting the perfect striding and jumping the jumps is Not My Responsibility. That's up to the pony.

The two-stride distances had ridden long for the 'big' horses, so I was thinking that we would probably do three strides instead of gunning for the two and getting Dino strung out and flat. The first time through we met the first fence very well; it came up right out of stride and Dino jumped through the grid like a total champ. The three-stride distances were really wacky, however, and rode more like two normal sized strides with a third tiny stride shoved in at the end than three even strides. I asked my trainer if I should be riding a smaller canter to the in-fence, and she said NO! Again, Not My Responsibility to figure out the grid. That is Dino's job. 

We went through the grid a couple more times from that direction, and both end oxers got bigger. I'd say the square oxer was about 2'9" by the end, and the crossrail oxer was no joke either! I kept riding forward on that circle approach, and though we got varied distances each time, the jump itself was GREAT every. single. time. because I committed to a good, balanced, forward canter. It was another great exercise in learning to ride a not-so-perfect distance just as well as a perfect one. Dino can gain confidence from this exercise as well, because he knows I'll always support him and go with him no matter how the jump comes up. 

My trainer also had me focus on trying not to rely on my rather hunter-princess-esque crest release and somewhat.. extreme jumping position, telling me to keep my thumbs up and my hands off Dino's neck until after I landed from the last jump. It was tough, but I could feel the difference in the stability of my position on the backside of the fences. More homework! 

We ended the lesson with a few jumps through the grid coming the other way, starting with the 2'9" square oxer on the same "20m circle" approach. Jesus take the wheel. 

I will admit that I was a bit nervous about coming to such a 'big' fence off of such a short approach with literally no time to 'set up' my distance - I just had to jump it out of stride as it came, and trust my pony to do his job. 


I had no reason to fear, though, because Dino is The Best At Jumping and he jumped the ever-loving snot out of that thing! The first time through he definitely popped me out of the tack a bit, but after that I knew to expect a big effort so it rode much smoother. I wish I had video evidence of this grid, because my pony was freakin' awesome! The very last time through my trainer gave me a reminder to lift my chest and hands just a bit through the bounce to help Dino rock back a little more for the final three strides, and the ride to the last jump was just about perfect. 

My trainer and I were both SO pleased with Dino in this lesson! He is getting so fit, he's really gotten in front of my leg, and he's putting forth a great effort in our work. I had a lot of eye-opening ah-hah moments during the lesson, and have a new perspective to take to our schooling rides at home. 

Learning is so fun! 


  1. Perfect tail AND perfect wraps! I agree, learning is super fun :)

  2. yep this post is SUPER relevant to my interests haha. pretty much every.single.point from your trainer is something i need to work on too haha. "what do you mean stop managing and let the horse carry itself and make its own adjustments?!? blasphemy!!" but you can't argue with what works :D

    sounds like a great ride!


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