Be Prepared

Standard-Cam caught rare photo evidence of Sully and I doing some walk work

or, Why Relaxation Is At The Bottom Of The Training Scale.

(you're welcome for getting that song from The Lion King stuck in your head.)

Before I delve into my rides from last night, first things first, take this survey!

Emma is compiling some very interesting data concerning safety, and what behaviors, equipment, and other factors we as riders deem to be safety risks. I, for one, am very curious to see what people have to say about the subject, so have at it!

On to the ponies, big and small.

I learned my lesson the last time I rode both boys in the same afternoon, and started small with Dino. I was all jazzed up from our fantastic dressage lesson over the weekend, and wanted to practice ALL THE THINGS, because obviously we were now basically ready for Grand Prix now that I have figured out how to get him straight.

Ha. ha, ha.

When will I learn to slow the heck down and not expect a total transformation overnight? Probably never.

I started off my ride sans stirrups, since it had really helped me not to be over-active in my seat. I tried my hardest to follow the motion of the walk, and to be as subtle as I could with my forward aids. Dino, however, took this to mean that I was Not Serious about going forward, and we had to have a couple chats with Mr. Whippy about that. Once we got that cleared up, things started coming together!

Though parts of this ride frustrated me, there were other parts that felt really fantastically lovely. I made a point of releasing my inside rein to give Dino the responsibility of holding the bend (and holding himself up!) and the result was a huge improvement in the back-to-front connection and throughness over Dino's back.

Correct riding: improving horses since the dawn of time.

In the trot, Dino wanted to lean on my left leg and drop that shoulder BIG TIME, and I struggled a bit to get him off my left knee. I wouldn't be surprised if he was still a bit sore from our Saturday lesson, but man, it was a lot of work to get him off that shoulder! I did find that a light tap with Mr. Whippy on the shoulder helped reinforce the knee aid quite a bit, and again, when we did get it right Dino felt fabulous. I took the improved straightness into a lengthened trot once or twice, and THAT was a blast! To feel him stay so connected in the lengthening was a real treat!

I found that the posting trot was actually easier when it came to keeping Dino off his left shoulder - I could post a bit 'into' my knee on the left side, giving him a solid barrier to run into when he tried to lean on the offending shoulder.

Sweet Sullivan and my inability to lengthen my leg in a dressage saddle...
The canter work was pretty darn good for us. Dino stayed round and engaged in the depart (yay!) and as long as I was keeping up my end of the bargain, he did quite well in the straightness department, even if we didn't quite get the good stretch over the back that we've been able to unlock in the walk and trot.  Footing was a bit slippery, so I chose not to canter for long stretches at a time, but I was happy with the quality of the short bursts we did. The left lead was surprisingly way better than the right - but I'm not complaining! He stayed fairly relaxed in the base of his neck, and held the bend all by himself for most of the canter work. After a few nice canters, I quit with Dino for the day and hopped on Sullivan.

The mistake I often make with Sully is assuming he is, and expecting him to be, more schooled than he really is. It's an easy trap to fall into since he's just so GOOD, and sometimes I can push him past what his sweet puppy brain can handle.

We started off the ride with some easy walk work, just getting Sully moving off my leg, bending, and into the bridle a bit. His walk is quite nice and he's really figured out how to use his whole body in this gait.

Moving into the trot, however, it became clear that Sully was not yet in front of the leg! He tried his old favorite trick of just quitting out of nowhere, but a couple kicks and a tickle of Mr. Whippy had him marching forward nicely. My goal for Sully in the trot work is for him to be consistently round and hold a steady tempo without too much interference from me. While he is capable of going absolutely beautifully, he's not used to doing it for long periods of time, and so will pop up above the bit, nap behind the leg, and just try to take a break whenever he feels like it.

Not allowed in dressage, Mr. Sullivan!

Thinking Cap Engaged!
When I insist on Sully sticking with me and working properly for longer than he wants to, or adding in things like moving slightly laterally off of my inside leg, sometimes he has a little brain-melt, but usually quickly gets over it.

But yesterday I made the mistake of not giving Sully enough of a chance to really relax in his work before asking for canter, which is without a doubt the most difficult thing for him at this point in his dressage training. I kept the pressure on, and insisted on prompt, round canter departs, and Sully couldn't quite take it.

He started champing nervously at the bit and his neck felt like a 2x4, and instead of cantering he would rush into a fast trot or throw his head up in exasperation.

Thankfully, I soon realized that my tough approach was NOT working for this sweet, sweet horse, and I asked Sully to halt.

I patted his neck, and spent a few minutes doing one-rein flexions until he was responding softly to my rein aids again instead of setting his whole front end against my hand. We walked off, and I could feel Sully breathe a sigh of relief. He hadn't been prepared for the pressure of the canter work, and I had definitely made the right call in taking a break and doing something totally different to settle and relax him.

When I picked up the trot again, holy moly what a difference a little relaxation had made! Sully was swinging through his back, super engaged, and very happy to go forward. We practiced a few more canter departs on each lead, and while not flawless (or even kind of round), he obediently went forward and it only took a stride or two to get him back on the bit. I am also happy to report that the left lead canter is officially re-installed!

So, the moral of the story is: good green horses are tough to ride. Sully is naturally balanced, and can feel like a horse with a lot better of an understanding of dressage than he has, and his affable personality and overall Labrador-like willingness to please make it easy to ask for more than he is prepared to give at any given time. While Sully does need to be pushed a bit in order to improve, I need to be better about listening to him when he tells me that he isn't prepared for what I'm asking, and do what it takes to get him in a better mental place before insisting on the tough stuff.

Sully is, at his core, an EXCELLENT foxhunter, and this dressage thing is really tough for him! He would much rather be out in the field with his hunt buddies, galloping hell-bent-for-leather and soaring over giant coops that would make me pee my pants. Dressage is an important part of his education, but it's not his forte, and I need to respect those limits while gently stretching him both mentally and physically.

I need to be prepared to prepare my horse for what I'm going to ask him to do!

As always, I'm still just so grateful to Sully's mom for letting me have the ride on her lovely guy! I'm itching to get back in the show ring with both of the ponies, and hope to have a few more successful competitions on both Dino and Sully this season.



  1. Sully sounds like a total doll!

  2. So cool that you're getting to play with Sully. He sounds like a wonderful chap.

    1. He is really spectacular... the world's greatest amateur horse for sure!

  3. Aw you and Sully look so great together! Also yea my leg doesn't stay long either. Wtf so annoying!

    1. Aw thanks! These pictures make me want to take away my own stirrups forever UGH!

  4. What a fantastic experience. You are doing great with him


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