I Just Need Some Space: A Lesson Recap

Probably the best moment in trot we had all lesson!
About halfway through my trainer's (very long) vacation, I started feeling like I really needed a lesson. Nothing seemed to be clicking the way it had been a few weeks before, and I was sensing the need for a tune-up. Thankfully, I got one this weekend! And thanks to Becky (of Dig My Size) I also have media!

As per usual, I had a lot of problems I wanted to address in the lesson. I'd been having trouble with the left bend again, I felt like all my rein aids were way too over-dramatic, I felt crooked, and I was still figuring out how much contact I should maintain to keep Dino coming forward into the bridle.  At home I had also started playing a bit with weighting my inside seatbone to influence bend and lateral movements more effectively, and over fences my usual distance panic/under-paced canter/jump anxiety refusal issues needed to be worked on.

Why is learning to ride so hard?

Dino was also rather disappointed that he came off the trailer at my trainer's barn, and not at the park or a hunt meet. He was pretty sure that a few weeks off from lessons meant no more lessons, ever. He felt super sticky and behind the leg, definitely the 'worst' he's been in the indoor in quite some time.

So we spent the warm up establishing basic things like bend, and forward, and shortening my reins once every other minute. I still go back to the habit of throwing away the contact when Dino feels dull, and it still doesn't fix anything.

This is his eager face.
We also spent quite a lot of time riding a big circle at the end of the ring, and then heading down the quarter line to leg yield to the wall. This exercise was easier to the right, and also went a lot better when I actually remembered to hold appropriate contact on the outside rein. To the left it was frustrating; Dino was just kind of leaning into my left leg instead of moving over or bending through the rib cage at all, and I wasn't being very helpful by collapsing my left side and stooping over my left shoulder. When I opened my left side, held the outside rein, stopped trying to manhandle him over to the wall, and softened the inside rein, while the movement wasn't a '10', it did result in Dino reaching for the contact, stepping under with his inside hind, and settling solidly into the outside rein.

Weird how applying the correct aids gives a better result than twisting oneself into a pretzel.

The ideas that really helped me make the biggest improvement in the connection in the trot were: #1 OPEN the entire left side of my body and bring my shoulder back, and #2 With short reins, ask Dino to come into the bridle and then once he says "yes,"  provide the space for him to do so by softening my hands forward and pushing him up with my lower leg into the space under my seat. When my reins are too long, I get into a constant "pulling" mode wherein my hands are always moving backwards. This is unhelpful in many ways; including shutting down the impulsion, encouraging Dino to retract behind the bridle, making all my rein aids super dramatic, and making it impossible for him to let go of the tension he carries in the base of his neck. Short reins allow me to "push" the bit forward without losing contact, so that Dino can reach towards it and "pull" us forward. (Not that we're going for him pulling on the bit here, it's just a really helpful mental distinction for me to differentiate between good connection and poor connection!)

The canter work started out rather uninspiring, with a lot of kicking and assists from Mr. Whippy to get things going. I pretty much just dropped the reins and booted him around the arena in a half seat to establish forward. However, after practicing a few departs they got much sharper, and we could start working on the canter instead of just struggling to achieve it. I was still working WAY too hard at this point - Dino wasn't giving me anything for free and I was getting tired!

As Dino warmed up, the flatwork got better and better. He still wasn't as incredible as he had been the day before at home, (more on that later!) but he was allowing me to influence and shape him in the canter, and we had some pretty great moments! Personally, I'm thrilled that the below video represents our "bad" days. I was so frustrated with how behind the leg Dino was during this lesson, but honestly, this is a vast improvement over where we were this spring.

That's the stuff.
In the canter work, the things I needed to do remained the same: keep the reins short, ask Dino to reach over his topline, and then push him forward and allow him the space to do what I've asked him. This was a lot tougher for me in canter since it just took SO much leg to keep him going and I had to work hard to keep my seat light, but the good moments were starting to come close to our best.

Trainer caught me off guard while I was cantering around on the left lead and told me to come around and jump a Swedish oxer on the quarter line, which was honestly pretty brilliant because it didn't give me a chance to go into a total panic over the fact that she was going to make me canter a sizeable oxer as the very first jump of the lesson. I had no time to request to trot a crossrail instead.

And y'all.. it was perfect.

This was the first jump of the day. Could've gone home after that and been totally happy! 
The canter was perfect, the distance magically appeared, and Dino jumped it like a total champ. We did it three more times as our warm up and it was amazing! I felt like the king of the world!

Such enthusiasm!
My trainer moved the rails back up to make a big square oxer, and it was definitely the biggest thing I've jumped in a long, long time. I haven't done anything that close to the 3' mark in quite a while, but I knew exactly how to ride it since we'd already jumped the smaller version four times. We nailed it.

Dino jumped totally out of his skin over it, and then we cruised around to a big yellow vertical off a short turn, and exploded over that jump, too. I was DELIGHTED!

BOING! Can you tell by my release that I wasn't sure about this one? HA.
It was at this point that Dino's quarter ran out. He had jumped like a freak over everything so far, and decided he was tired. We had to come at the big oxer again, jump the vertical, and then add in a second vertical at the other end of the ring. As Dino slowed his canter with every stride towards the oxer, I performed my patented "OH NO MY PONY IS TOO SLOW THE DISTANCE HAS VANISHED THERE IS NO HOPE GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD" move, and sat there and did nothing while Dino crawled to a stop because I had neglected to actually, you know, ride forward to the fence. I did this a few times, in addition to, "I SEE THE LONG ONE AND THE SHORT ONE AND THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND. DEATH IS IMMINENT." It was rather anticlimactic and disappointing following the spectacular fences we'd just jumped.

I would use the excuse that I had just spent the entire lesson working my butt off to keep him forward and I was very tired, and he was tired from the flatwork and jumping so huge over bigger jumps than we usually ride, but really I should have just put my spur in him and went for it.

We lowered the jumps a bit to boost my confidence and make Dino's job easier, and were able to end on a good note riding a good forward, flowing pace over everything.

While I was definitely frustrated that I wasn't able to keep up the good momentum from the first half of the jumping, this lesson did reaffirm the decision I made to enter our last HT for the year at Elementary, and to continue showing below BN height for a while. I'm very comfortable and very confident jumping about 2'3, and can make bolder moves and ride more decisively at that height. If Dino asks a question, I can confidently say, "WE'RE GOING" when the jumps are lower, even if I don't see a great distance. When the fences go up to BN height and higher, I start feeling more anxious, as well as feeling pressure to be more accurate in my riding. If I don't see a perfect distance at those bigger heights, I get panicky because somewhere in my mind, I've decided that we won't make it over unless I hit that perfect spot. If my canter is under-paced at all, my goose is totally cooked in that respect - an under-powered canter with a pony that isn't pulling me to the jumps isn't adjustable, and I have no leeway to move up to a longer distance (we'll be too weak!) or balance to a shorter one (any sort of 'take' results in a total shutdown of forward motion!).

In short, we need a consistently better (more forward, more uphill, more in the bridle) canter to be able to move back up to the heights we were jumping last year. A stronger pony built by better flatwork will help that, too.

As usual, I've got my work cut out for me!  Riding horses is hard, guys.


  1. Riding horses is very hard! I know from personal experience. But I think that the two of you are looking very good and making progress.

  2. Seriously, riding is REALLY HARD. But you guys look FAHHHHBULOUS in those trot pics and daaaymn girl those oxers! So awesome!

    1. Thank you!! The good stuff is getting better and the bad stuff is more or less only popping up when I feel challenged/reaching my limits. It's slow progress, but progress!

  3. Dino looks like such a pro over those fences! also i kinda love that your coach sprung the first jump on you like that - sneaky sneaky!! glad it was a good lesson and that you're feeling good about your choices!!

    1. She is so devious and that's why I give her my money LOL

  4. You look great over those big jumps!!

  5. Yay! I'm glad you were able to get in such a productive lesson! Its unfortunate there was the stop, but at least you guys were able to round out the training session super positively!

    1. Thanks, me too! I feel like I get pushed in one way or another during every lesson, make mistakes, and then fix them. YAY LEARNING!

  6. Oh, I LOVE the "I don't know that we will make it so I will do nothing to assist this situation" move. It is a classic. Never fails (to leave me disappointed in myself).

    Sounds like an awesome and productive lesson overall. Honestly, the troubleshooting portion is the most productive part for me. Jumping with no problems over and over is fun and I don't need help doing it... I need help figuring out what the eff to do when I need help!!

  7. Riding IS hard. Definitely agree on this: "Short reins allow me to "push" the bit forward without losing contact, so that Dino can reach towards it and "pull" us forward. (Not that we're going for him pulling on the bit here, it's just a really helpful mental distinction for me to differentiate between good connection and poor connection!)" as I find the same thing to be true as I work with Grif.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts