I've been carrying Mr. Whippy pretty much everywhere we go - on the ground and in the saddle - to help enforce a "Yes Ma'am" response, and Dino has really been stepping up in that department as I find myself needing to employ Mr. Whippy's services less and less. Once in a while he still does pretend that he "didn't hear" me, but trusty Mr. Whippy cleans out his ears right quick.
As I slowly start to understand how much pressure I can put on Dino and what kind of performance I can expect from him, he's also really been stepping up under saddle.
I went into our dressage ride on Tuesday afternoon with expectations.
Expectations that I would ride for the quality, straightness, and responsiveness that I wanted, and that Dino would answer my requests promptly and appropriately. My trainer told me a while ago to ride like I'm sitting on a 4* horse and just see what happens, and that is the attitude that I took to my dressage school.
It paid off big time.
Turns out, when I stop riding based on how I think Dino will respond versus just expecting him to give me the correct answer when it comes to skills, movements, and behaviors he already knows, he gives me the correct answer. Instead of wishy-washy thoughts like, "I hope he picks up the canter," or, "He's going to get heavy when I try to put him together," or, "He'll get crooked, pop his outside shoulder, and slow down in this part of the field," I changed my thinking and riding to reflect how I wanted Dino to respond.
Homeboy gave me some excellent work, and I only had to employ Mr. Whippy a handful of times when WonderPony decided to test whether or not I was really serious about him maintaining the same speed without constant reminders. We did a lot of transitions between and within the gaits, since he's been feeling a bit weak in his stifle with the hormonal changes that happen in springtime. When I demanded with my position and clear, unambiguous aids that he carry himself and give me the gaits that I wanted instead of allowing him to dump around however he felt like going, Dino totally stepped up and performed.
He's even starting to step UP into the bridle in his transitions instead of getting inverted or wanting to stretch down, which is just the coolest feeling! To feel his shoulders lift as he sits and moves uphill is just amazing, and makes me feel like I AM riding a 4* horse! The level of strength this pony has at age 18 is far and beyond way more than he has ever had since I've owned him. And now I can access it on demand!
The next day, I decided to go for a nice long walk around the property as a physical and mental break for both of us. Leg day had not been kind to me the day before, and I knew Dino might be a little bit sore after all of the good dressage work he had done.
However - Mr. Whippy came along for the ride, and I required that Dino march forward at all times. I didn't care much what else he did, but forward and generally straight was a must.
We were having a gorgeous, relaxing ride, and every so often I'd ask Dino to come on the bit, mostly to get his rogue right hind leg up under him and stop making a hole on that side of his back that I kept falling into. Afterwards I'd let the reins go and he'd happily stretch, marching along and taking in the sights.
As we started up the first big hill, Dino really got into his long-and-low stretch. It must have felt really good after doing so much work in a higher frame the day before! So as he stretched his neck out, I just sort of held my core and thought about closing my fingers on the (very long) reins, and maybe considered for half a second putting the top part of my lower leg on him, and holy cannoli Dino went ROUND.
Like SUPER ROUND.
From my SEAT.
I giggled. It was very exciting! It was so exciting that I kept asking. Engage the core, think about legs and hands, and BAM! Round pony!
This creature may be broke yet.