Team Building: A Lesson Recap

Building Trust While Trying Not To Get Killed By That Alien From 'Signs'
It felt like FOREVER since I'd had a lesson, and was so glad to get one in on Saturday morning this past weekend! Between my vacation and my trainer's schedule, we hadn't been able to connect in a while, and Dino and I were long overdue for some professional assistance. I really wish I could get in one dressage lesson and one jumping lesson every week, there is just so much we need help with and it's impossible to address everything I want to work on in one hour-long session! But I'm very grateful for the instruction we do get, as frequently or infrequently as it comes.

Even though there are numerous flatwork issues I want to work on, I requested to jump. My confidence and trust in my pony needs quite a bit of practice, and it's good for me to stretch my mental boundaries a bit under the kind and knowledgable eyes of my trainer.

We started our warmup with a long line of poles (8 poles? 10 poles? there were a lot.), some slightly raised, some flat on the ground. They were set to canter through, but we began by trotting through them at first.

My focus was on keeping Dino straight and forward without over-riding, which is tough for me! While he's been MUCH more in front of the leg in general lately, I found myself doing weird things with my hands in the corners in an attempt to ride "straight", instead of just funneling my pony between my legs. I couldn't stop myself from fussing with the reins, so at some point in the exercise I just let them go floppy so that I couldn't make Dino crooked with my hands. It was a simple exercise, but it had to be correct, and I had to ride very straight and make very balanced turns in the corners using my legs and not crossing my hands over the withers and contorting myself.

Eventually I got my act together, and Dino was prancing through the poles on his own power, only needing minimal support from me to stay forward and straight. He's really come a long way from when I first started doing these longer gymnastic type exercises with him a couple years ago!

We then added in a small vertical on the opposite side of the arena, flanked by placing poles 9ft out on either side. This was stupidly difficult for me at first, and I found myself getting left behind or jumped out of the tack at this ridiculous tiny trot fence, so much so that I had to grab mane to stay with it. Eventually, using the revolutionary technique of keeping a supportive leg on and posting all the way to the base, I figured out how to trot an 18" fence with a placing pole.

Lessons. I need them.

Once we were flowing through the poles and small jump at the trot, we moved up to canter and came at them again. I got a chance to practice my "no big deal" canter aid, since Dino thought about throwing a bit of a tantrum when I first asked, but with a light seat and a deep breath, we were cantering away with a nice forward pace. Dino only took one time trotting halfway through the poles to figure out his feet, and after that we were cantering through the whole thing for the rest of the lesson! I can't believe that canter poles in the indoor used to be such a big deal for him. This exercise felt downright EASY, and I was calmly and accurately seeing my spot to the first pole out of a light seat every single time.


Again, the focus was riding straight, riding balanced turns, and keeping a light, supporting position without nagging or over-riding. My trainer told me to imagine I was in the hunter ring, and that definitely helped it click for me! Dino took it upon himself to carry the pace 9 times out of 10, and floated through the poles even when my trainer raised up every other one to low-cavaletti height. It felt rhythmic, and balanced, and just GREAT. The small vertical with placing poles also rode really well each time, and the poles were incredibly helpful and confidence-building for me. Once I was in the "launch zone" past the first pole, I knew that we would make it over the jump no matter what the distance was. While we found that a more forward, open pace produced the best jump, we left the ground from spots near and far, and I just stayed calm and let it happen. A Brain Win, for sure!

After a few rounds each way of the canter poles followed by the small gate, I needed a breather. 9 days of sitting on the beach had NOT been kind to my riding stamina. While I was gasping for air, my trainer built the line of canter poles into a three-fence bounce: a small cavaletti to a very tall crossrail to another cavaletti. She also added placing poles to a skinny gate and a jump that consisted of some barrels on their sides covered by a liverpool mat, a la T's Gym Mat of Doom.

Once I had sufficiently raised my blood oxygen level once again, it was time for coursework. We put together the four different elements in various combinations, and my job was to get the pony to the fences with adequate pace and straightness. That meant no crappy motorcycle turns, no backwards riding, and no dropping the pony in a blind panic if I didn't see a distance.

I was able to meet those requirements about 75% of the time, I'd say! I did cause one stop at the skinny gate when I came out of the turn and saw nothing, and instead of moving up to a better, more forward canter and letting Dino work out a distance to the 2'3 obstacle, I sat there and stared at it like a deer in the headlights.

Not helpful.

This muzzle isn't REALLY necessary, is it??
But, what made me really excited about this lesson is that even though I did something dumb that made my pony doubt that his job was to jump the jump, it didn't fry either of our brains. I just came back around, put my leg on, and jumped the gate. It wasn't pretty, but I wasn't scared, either! After that I was able to find a much better, more forward canter to that jump and hit a great spot in the "launch zone" every time. I continued to cement the feel of a good jumping pace into my brain during this lesson, and was able to feel and recognize how letting Dino open up his stride improved everything about our courses, from the bounce fences to the turns and long approaches.

The first time my trainer asked me to add the Blue Mat of Doom jump into my course, I thought to myself, "Dino will probably stop at that weird-looking thing."


And not because he was being naughty, or spooky, or because I pulled, but because Dino has Jedi Mind Powers and read my thoughts, because I was not thinking about jumping, I was thinking about stopping.

I really need to get my stupid brain under control.

We came back at the fence from a trot (because it now scared me for no good reason) and jumped it just fine. My trainer then switched the placing pole to the other side so that the jump was now "new" since we would be coming at it from the other direction, and we worked it into another course. We are not allowed to stop and look at new jumps! I kept my leg on and jumped it the next time, though by that point in the lesson I was good and truly exhausted and half-heartedly trotted quite a lot of the course.

While I was happy that we had gotten around everything, it really wasn't great, and I wanted to end on a better note.

My trainer suggested that I ride a figure-8 pattern over the skinny gate and the Blue Mat of Doom, really riding forward and concentrating on trusting my pony to jump the jumps, and not fussing with the distance if it wasn't one I liked the look of.

We nailed it.

I was beyond pleased with how this exercise rode! We went through the pattern several times, and I found myself able to get into a great, FORWARD rhythm in the canter that allowed me to let Dino roll on down to the jumps and pick his own distance, trusting that he would get us to the other side if I got him into the launch zone. He was jumping incredibly well, and bounced up out of his skin over the fences. That was a note I was happy to end on!

During and after the lesson, we chatted a bit about where Dino and I are at in terms of our trust in each other, and it seems he's bouncing back from this past year's jumping debacles a bit faster than I am. I still don't always trust him 100% to jump the thing, especially when the distance isn't perfect, and that is very clear to him in my defensive riding and negative thought patterns. My trainer encouraged me to continue practicing with the placing poles and work on really following Dino over the fences, relaxing enough so that he feels that I am confident in his ability to get the job done. For better or for worse, we are very tuned into each other, and that means I need to take responsibility for my thoughts while I'm riding. I've got to believe in Dino before he can believe in himself and in our partnership! But, slowly and steadily, our team building is coming right along.


  1. yay i'm glad it was a good lesson - esp in how it ended and how it got you thinking! that figure eight exercise sounds fantastic too. lately, esp after some of my dicier jumping experiences (cough Gogo cough), i've been making myself loop a finger through the neck strap just to sorta anchor myself into a forward (but safe) position and prevent me from getting weird with my hands. it also kinda feels a little like a security blanket so i feel good about kicking on no matter what.

  2. Yay for conquering the blue mat of doom, I'm still not sure I'm forward and confident enough to that one. Such a tough mindset to overcome, but it sounds like you're totally winning! Glad you had a great lesson :))

  3. Not that our trainers don't tell us this every time we sit on a horse, but wow--how awesome is that forward pace to jump out of?! #weenieadultamateurproblems I feel you on that trust issue. Less with the stopping on Bobby's part, but more with the trusting him to make good decisions when left to his own devices on distance picking. Baby steps, right?

    1. Um, that canter is pretty much completely life-changing!! All of a sudden everything is SO EASY. Blows my mind. It's so hard to trust a horse that has given you lots of reasons not to, even when they are being basically perfect in every way... We'll get there!


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