Dressaging, or, Get Your Leg Off That Pony

The die-hard Orchard Hill Eventers made our way to the indoor once again this weekend for some productive flatwork. As you can see, our horses were clearly enthused, excited, and out of control.

Dino started out our ride acting super fussy in the trot. He was content to walk and stretch nicely, but once we got into the trot he would pin his ears and swish his tail when I put my leg on, kick out, break, and was just acting like an absolute punk.

Determined not to play in to his 'tude, I just kept at it quietly with lots of transitions and changes of direction on light contact, pretty much just ignoring Dino's sass and asking him to please just get to work and quit with the nonsense.

After 10 or 15 minutes, a switch flipped in my pony, and suddenly he put on his Workmanlike Dressage Pony Pants and was an absolute STAR. Dino put in some really great trot work for his current fitness level, and we worked a ton on shoulder-in to get him into the outside rein a bit better. I noticed that Dino doesn't quite have enough strength back yet to really sit in a more collected trot, but the working trot was fabulous, and we got a couple OK lengthenings too. That is, until the lengthening got hard and Dino felt the need to break up into canter, because that was way easier.

The canter work was definitely a whole lot less of a hot mess than it was during our last flatwork session in the indoor. Dino was still bracing his neck some, but starting to hold himself together a little bit better. We even managed a bit of counter-canter down the long sides, which is always a huge help in the straightness and self-carriage department. Of course, after I got off I decided that I wanted to do a leg yield into the canter depart on a circle to get that inside hind leg more engaged, but hindsight is 20/20, isn't it?!

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how he's been coming back to work so far. I'm trying to get in shape again, too, and I'm sure as my position becomes solid again things will be even easier for Dino.

This ride also really confirmed for me the training concept that riders need to keep their legs OFF lazy horses. The more leg I use with Dino, the more recalcitrant he becomes, and constant squeezing, nagging, and gripping only makes him dead to the leg. The more aggressive I am with my leg, the more he either ignores it or gets irritated by it. Not productive.

But take the leg off and use it judiciously?

Well, then you have a focused, responsive pony under you! A quiet, light leg is a leg that means something when it's applied, and an aid that tells the pony you respect him and his opinions, and THAT turns a lazy, cranky, stubborn pony into one that wants to work for you.


  1. So glad that you had such an amazing ride!! I wonder if he was a little stiff? Katai came back a little sore and stiff in her chiro so she's been getting an easy week. The other night I decided to trot her a little and got almost exactly the same response you did.

    1. He definitely could be a bit sore/stiff from coming back into more difficult work, for sure, but that kind of response tends to be his default reaction to having to do work in an indoor!

  2. judicious, tactful leg aids? unglue my heel from the horse's side?!? i know not of which you speak haha

  3. Funny how with the lazy horses the key is less leg that means something when you use it, and with the hot ones, the key is constant light leg so they aren't so startled and undone when you really use it. It seems so counter intuitive, but it works!

  4. This is the story of my life too! I need to save those super leg moments for when I really need them so I actually get something out of Murray when I do! These days I'm working at teaching him to push more behind by encouraging to just "come with me to this better trot!" It's hard and frustrating... but I think it's working?

  5. I deal with the opposite problem. Annie trucks me into thinking I should take my leg off but I really just need to keep my leg consistent.

  6. Dino needs to get with Ellie- Sounds like he turned his sass into class for a great ride! You are preaching exactly what my trainers are saying about leg aids!

  7. Awww I love good rides and cute ponies!

  8. So exciting to start getting back to work!

  9. I'm going to try taking my leg off. I think Ries will just stick on the brakes though


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