Good Intentions: A Lesson Recap

Since Dino has been such a rockstar at home and on the trail since his bodywork/saddle fit/pentosan regime began, I got us on my trainer's schedule for a dressage lesson yesterday evening.

I arrived with ample time to warm up before my trainer arrived. We spent about 20 minutes getting in the groove with some simple in-hand work (mostly jogging and asking him to match my pace to get the go button revved up) and a stretchy warm up under saddle.

Dino felt surprisingly wonderful for being in the indoor!

We started with his favorite - free walk - and I just quietly asked him to move forward and stretch over his topline, making some big circles and asking him to go in a working frame before stretching down again. We moved into a nice forward trot from there, not a ton of contact but enough to keep him working over his back, and Dino felt just lovely. I had a bit of a hard time bending him left (which I would realize later in the lesson was due to my own crookedness!) but other than that, he was great. Soft, happy, forward. I had no issues picking up the canter, and did a few laps each way in a working frame on the short sides and hand-galloping in two point down the long sides.

We were ready to rock and roll!

When my trainer arrived, she began setting up cavaletti at the short ends of the arena - one set of 3 canter poles on a curve, and one set of 3 trot poles on a curve with the outside ends raised up on blocks. I've ridden these types of curved pole exercises on Dino a few times before, and they've never gone very well, (poles = hard = not worth his effort) so I was curious to see how he would do!

Since we were already warmed up, we started working right away.

My trainer nailed me almost immediately for wanting to give away the contact - even though our go button and ability to work on contact have seen vast improvements, I'm still a little contact-averse unless I feel like Dino is already motoring forward on his own. We worked for a while at the walk, encouraging Dino to step up into the contact instead of me throwing the reins away whenever he offered to stretch down. Still at the walk, we started an exercise wherein we turned down the quarter line, rode straight, then leg yielded almost to the wall before turning across the center of the arena to walk through the curved canter poles. WITH good contact, naturally.

Right away I started doing too much. I'm so conditioned to work WAY too hard on this pony, and the second we added something more complicated than riding in a straight line on the rail (turning, and leg yields, and poles) I started doing ALL THE THINGS with my legs, seat, and hands. We had a crappy leg yield, with Dino braced against my inside leg and me doing way, way too much.

Trainer stopped me right there.

She told me to quit trying so hard to MAKE the leg yield happen, and just think about my INTENTION to move sideways. "Think about how your body needs to move to ALLOW him to leg yield," she offered.

So I stopped giving All The Aids and just kind of thought sideways... and Dino went sideways. No huge crossover, and he was a little crooked, but he took my intention and responded.


I played with this new button as we went around the arena, walking over the poles in both directions.

It was very, very cool.

Sleepy, but looking so good these days!
After getting some good passes through the poles at the walk (good = forward, on contact, me not doing fivethousandthings at once and nagging) we moved up to the trot. Again, my trainer could see me getting all riled up as soon as she told me we would be trotting, trying to "prepare" for the transition, and bracing myself for Dino's resistance. She told me to stop, and again, think about my intention to trot.

Deep breath out, light seat, a little leg, a little cluck, and we were trotting with nary a tail swish or ear flick.

In the indoor.

After a long, LONG time spent walking.

Sorcery, I tell you.

Dino didn't feel very zippy, however, which tempted me to want to abandon the contact and kick him on with every step. It was really tough for me to be firm about keeping my hold on the reins AND keep from nagging my pony, but I was mostly successful!

Keeping the contact and the forward, we trotted through the poles, this time adding in the raised poles at the other end of the arena. Dino figured them out very quickly, and my job was just to steer, support with my leg, and keep the contact and bend. The poles helped Dino lift and carry himself, and gave his busy pony brain something to focus on. It ended up being a GREAT exercise for us, and I was really happy with the way he progressed and moved towards self-carriage throughout the lesson!

During another walk break, Dino offered a FABULOUS free walk, and my trainer encouraged me to take the swing, throughness, impulsion, and relaxation from that free walk into the working walk, thinking about how the free walk felt and my intention to keep it as I picked Dino up into a working frame.

The result was one of the best walks I've ridden on him! I was grinning ear-to-ear, it felt amazing! We took that wonderful self-carriage and posture up into the trot (again, with good intentions backed up by Mr. Whippy only if necessary) and went back over the poles, this time going through the raised trot poles, and then picking up the canter to hit the canter poles on the other end of the arena.

Dino normally will totally splat through canter poles, nevermind canter poles on a curve, but he only had to go through them once each way to figure it out.

Of course it helped when I was riding well - when I stayed quiet and light in my seat and supported him with my leg, keeping contact with the reins, he went beautifully through the poles. When I tried to do too much with my seat or push him through the poles, we splatted.

After a few passes through the pattern, I could feel that crazy grin creeping up on my face again. Dino was attentive, he was responsive, his canter felt great, and he was trying REALLY hard! This was FUN!

Can't stop staring at the shine
During our next walk break, we talked about how I need to learn to lighten my seat when I am fully seated - not necessarily bringing my seat up out of the saddle at all, but elevating my center to put less pressure on Dino's back. My trainer reminded me of a great Centered Riding mental image of a spinning ball in my pelvis, and to think of that ball lifting up towards my belly button when I needed my seat to be lighter. I played with this image in my mind while she set up raised canter poles on a curve for our next exercise.

Dino had a little bit of a hard time the first time through on each lead, breaking to trot halfway through and then cantering back out, but he quickly got the idea and soon we were on our way to mastering this exercise. I tried my hardest to stay light in the tack, support with my lower leg without nagging, keep the bend, and maintain contact through the poles. The times when all the pieces came together resulted in some amazing passes through the raised canter poles! Feeling Dino lift and power over them was awesome, and I felt so in synch and connected with him. It was definitely the best experience I've had with him over canter poles, ever! Not to mention raised canter poles on a curve!

After several great passes on each lead, we stopped our lesson right there. Dino had been FANTASTIC, bringing 100% to the game and really trying hard for me. Throughout the lesson he was happy, willing, and moving very well. We ended the evening with a short hack around the property with some friends, and called it a night.

I am beyond pleased with how our dressage lesson went, and am hugely looking forward to getting back to jumping in lessons again! In the meantime, my homework is to keep working on getting a lighter seat while fully sitting the gaits, as well as maintaining good contact even when Dino tries to bait me to let go. I also want to keep playing with using intention as my primary aid, and see just how light I can get my pony to be.

It's good to feel like we're back on track.



  1. Yay what an awesome lesson!!! Idk if it's sorcery or not, how awesome to have a trainer who gets you and Dino so well!!

  2. That is so exciting! Glad to hear Dino is behaving himself

  3. My guy does the same thing, tricking me out of the contact. It's definitely hard to unlearn, so good job being more aware and improving!

  4. I think our trainers and our ponies might be twins! Glad you had a great ride!


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