A Fine Line: Lesson Recap

You know it's going to be a good lesson when your trainer introduces your steed as "Dino the Wonder Pony"

Yes, it's another long, boring lesson recap devoid of relevant media! These posts are mostly for my own edification, but I hope someone out there can benefit from what we're learning these days.

Since I've started being more diligent about not totally giving away the contact when Dino offers to stretch down, he's figured out that hiding just behind the bit is much easier than working correctly over his back. Between that and my continued understanding that behind the vertical isn't 'close enough' to being on the bit anymore, we have some work to do on the flat. And of course, this all ties in to the tension we experience in the dressage court.

Having Dino in a training program is so much fun because he changes SO QUICKLY. As soon as I think I have this pony figured out, he thinks up a new trick to get around having to work, and my trainer and I need to outsmart him all over again. I just LOVE that pony brain! It keeps me on my toes and adds new tools to my toolbox constantly.

It was another absurdly hot and humid morning, and I had to be reminded that even our easy warm-up walk needed to be forward and marching. It's still difficult to find a balance between keeping Dino forward and not nagging him! It takes a lot of focus on my part to allow him to make the mistake of slowing down, and then correct him in a timely fashion instead of just letting him mosey along however he feels, or constantly poke at him.

We dug into our behind-the-bit issue right away, with Dino helpfully demonstrating his new trick right when I picked up the reins to put him together.

"Learn to accept that I am smarter than you."
The solution was simple, but the execution and feel was difficult. When I felt Dino back off the contact, I was to simply push him forward off my leg until I could feel him in my hand again, and then once he was there, give my hands even more forward from the elbow to give him a place to go and a feeling of freedom to move forward. Always with leg. Moar leg. All leg all the time.

When I got it right, the difference was dramatic.

Dino's back started to swing, I could feel his hind legs reaching several inches further forward under his body, his withers lifted, and he just felt so incredibly light in every way. Moments like that make dressage so addicting! The tricky part was balancing on the fine line between taking too much contact and throwing it all away. I still needed to have a good, connected feel of the bit, but not so much that I was pulling Dino's nose in. During the lesson I erred on the side of too little contact, and was a bit wary of "making" him go behind the bridle. But my trainer encouraged me to keep a slightly stronger feel, and just push Dino forward if he started to hide behind the vertical, always then pushing my elbows forward to give him a place to go.

One of the most interesting things about this process was that the better the connection between Dino's hind legs, topline, mouth, and my hands became, the lighter he felt to ride. His stride became noticeably bigger, and I could feel so much more movement in his topline, but the feeling in the reins was soft and delicate, definitely nothing like the heavy contact I'm used to with this pony!

We had some really beautiful work in the walk and trot, sticking mostly to straight lines and big circles with square turns across the center of the arena to change direction, focusing on keeping Dino forward and reaching from behind in the turns. The canter work began with some sticky departs, but soon we were rocking around the arena in a very forward, very fun 'victory gallop' canter, and Dino was reaching his neck out to seek the bit and really loosening his back! He felt awesome, and my trainer commented that he has been looking really happy in his work lately.

we had a little bit of this goodness goin' on!
The same concept of pushing my hands forward and then pushing Dino out to the bit applied in the canter, and we had some really exciting moments of connection in that gait, and one super-phenomenal trot-to-canter transition that was uphill, and engaged, and just full of power. Both my trainer and I shouted with joy over that one! When Dino felt like he had a place to go (into my forward-giving hands) his whole way of going freed up and he rolled along effortlessly. It felt awesome, and it's been so thrilling to experience this kind of improvement in our flatwork.

The last thing we worked on was the transition from free walk to working walk. Free walk has been a very strong movement for Dino since I spent one entire winter working on it, but now that I am not letting him lean on my hands OR curl behind the vertical, the transition between free & working walk is definitely not pretty. I started out trying to bring him up slowly and incrementally, but that approach was just making my pony go hollow and then stick his nose in his chest. My trainer suggested that I bring Dino's frame up in one fell swoop, and that tactic helped a ton. He only got tense and inverted for a step or two, and then with continued encouragement from my leg into forward-pushing hands, reached immediately for the bit and began swinging his back again. We practiced this several times going both ways, and the transition got smoother and smoother as we both got the hang of it.

Dino had done so well and put in such a good effort with the dressage that we decided to jump a few fences as a reward for his hard work! My trainer set up two five-stride outside lines - one made of biggish crossrails, the other verticals, and I worked on getting a good forward, reachy trot before picking up our 'victory gallop' canter and heading for the jumps. The first time through the crossrail line I didn't quite have the right canter and we got six strides, but after that Dino really got rolling and soon we were flying around the arena, nailing the five every time, and getting a great distance to every single in fence, even when my approach was less than perfect!

To top it off, I didn't feel the need to stare at the jumps, sit down and drive with my seat, or pull, pick, or otherwise fuss with the distance. There were no panic moments or refusals. We just went FORWARD and every fence was right. there. It felt amazing, and I found myself wishing the jumps were bigger!

I can't wait to see where we go with these new tools and skills!


  1. Dressage really can be so addictive! Sounds like a really wonderful lesson

  2. Interesting, I'll have to give that free-walk-to-working-walk thing a try. This is something we struggle with too. Thanks!

    1. I hope it helps! I played with it a little more yesterday, and it's kind of a shorten the frame with one motion and then GIVE immediately into the medium with the elbow. And, obvs, leg. All the leg. It really helped me keep the swing in the walk while shortening the frame instead of shutting down the looseness in the topline!

  3. It's funny - Isabel and Dino are very different creatures but a lot of this is basically exactly how she needs to be ridden too. Awesome that he felt so good for the ride!

    1. That's why I'm so glad we had this lesson - this way of going is so foreign to me since Dino generally wants to tend towards heavy/stiff in the bridle vs. behind the bit. My toolbox is filling up and it's awesome. :)

  4. That sounds like an amazing lesson!!

  5. That sounds like a great lesson! :D

  6. Love your recaps, so much is applicable for my girl! She's recently figured out the slightly behind the bit thing...too stinkin smart!

  7. I personally love lesson recaps, its great to see the incremental progress in yourself and stories you follow.


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