Let It Happen: A Lesson Recap

Wow, I feel like I have SO MUCH to catch up on from last week! Between meeting Stephanie at Dressage at Devon, to a lesson, to a horse show, a ton of stuff happened in Ponyville last week!

I'm going to start with recapping my lesson, since if I wait any longer I'm going to forget everything we worked on, which would be especially terrible since my trainer is going on vacation for a few weeks and won't be around to kick my butt for quite a while!

We had a lesson scheduled for Thursday night last week, but my poor trainer got stuck in traffic since no one can drive in the rain, so I just went over to school in the indoor by myself. We re-scheduled for 8am the next morning.

For having worked in the indoor just 12 hours prior to our lesson, Dino was awesome.

We started off with some leg yield work, prompted in part because lately I had been feeling that Dino had been pretty much totally ignoring my lateral aids.

Dino's reaction to me putting my leg on and asking him to go sideways:


So, we started at the walk, and came down the quarterline and leg yielded almost to the wall - the "almost" so that we weren't just getting sucked into the rut along the wall, ensuring the the pony was listening appropriately and not just kind of floating sideways due to the magnetic attraction of the rail.

I struggle with doing too much in the saddle, so I really tried to focus on doing just enough, and listening to my trainer instead of getting frustrated and kicking wildly with my inside leg when Dino gave me the Stanley Face when I asked for the movement. This lesson was all about letting the leg yield happen by keeping my inside thigh and knee soft while putting my lower leg on firmly to ask Dino to step over one step at a time, giving his body room to move underneath me instead of forcing him over with the entire inside side of my body.

This was hard.

It was hard to discern at times when Dino needed me to be softer to allow the movement, and when he was just being a little punk and ignoring my request. I did need to pop him with my spur or whip a few times, but I started getting a good feel for how subtle the aid should be, vs. what I want to do, which is Too Much.

We moved on and did the exercise at the trot and canter as well, and when it was good, it was REALLY good. Not as straight as it could be, but prompt and with decent crossover as far as I could feel. This was all on a longer rein with very soft contact, making it easy for the pony while I figured out how loud my aids should be. I could feel his inside hind leg wanting to make a connection with the outside rein, and could envision how Dino's body would change with just a bit more contact.

So we added more contact!

"yay. more work."
The leg yields were, actually, the best in the right lead canter with more contact. Dino scooted right over off my leg, and up into the outside rein. He felt balanced, and maneuverable, and just GOOD. With that, we started work on some jumping.

Our starting exercise was one of those exercises... the kind that looks stupid easy but is in actuality, very difficult. There was a short five-stride line of crossrails placed right on center line, and we were to jump it going one way, then change direction and jump it off the other lead, ad nauseum, in a very long, flat figure-8 pattern.

I had... problems.

The jumps themselves were not so much the issue as the very tight turns at the ends of the ring. I found myself needing to break to trot around the corners, sometimes not making it back into canter before the first fence of the line. The theory was that if the leg yield work had stuck, I would have been able to push Dino out around the turns a bit more and ride balanced corners. Instead we did our best motorcycle impression at the ends of the ring. It was great.

Eventually we improved over that exercise enough for my trainer to incorporate it into a simple course: centerline crossrails, right turn alllll the way around the arena to a "big" (2'6 SCARY) oxer on the diagonal a few strides off the rail, left turn over some barrels on the other diagonal.

I looked at the oxer. I stared it down. I said to myself, "Self, you're gonna make that oxer your bitch today." I vowed to not get weird about it, and not to ask my trainer to lower it. I would not look at it, I would kick, and we would jump it.

This plan was going great at first, We jumped the line successfully, and were coming to the oxer with the perfect canter - the one with enough impulsion and oomph and the feeling of Dino pulling me along to the fence. The perfect distance was there.  I got one stride away, and lizard brain kicked in. With an expletive, I yanked madly on the left rein and bailed.

I cannot tell you how mad, and how frustrated I was with myself at that moment. I was doing EVERYTHING right, Dino was on board and we should have jumped that (honestly, not very big) fence without a problem. But, thankfully, Dino and I are at a good place right now where we only run into trouble when I make a mistake, and it no longer colors the rest of our ride. He doesn't get stuck in "stop mode" anymore. So we came around again and jumped the crap out of that oxer. And the barrels, and then jumped the whole thing some more, and it was great. I was happy to end on a good note, and am more determined than ever to get through our next jump lesson without doing anything stupid and causing a refusal.

Some notes, comments, homework, and takeaways:
  • Trainer said that Dino is looking GREAT and that the quality of his gaits has improved tons since she started working with us this spring. I have to agree, and Dino's just been feeling so good and strong in his body lately! 
  • Trainer also commented that my overall position has improved a lot. In the beginning of the season, I had some bad habits of grabbing with my knees and thighs and seat, driving too hard with my seat, and overall just using those aids to muscle my pony around. I'm now able to stay in a light seat, use my lower leg to get my pony to go (and he GOES now!), and keep my seat and upper legs soft to allow his body to move the way it needs to. I'm also self-correcting when I catch myself grabbing with my seat, and seeing distances out of a light seat. Good stuff!
  • In the lateral work, I need to stay soft. Even when I feel like Dino is just nopeing his way out of it (because it's hard, poor pony), my first response needs to be to let out a deep breath and soften my thigh and knee, see if he accepts that invitation to work correctly, and if he doesn't, THEN pop him with spur or stick. 
  • The jumping is still, and always will be, about getting the right canter, which for us right now is our version of a mad, out-of-control gallop. We spent a lot of time when working through the five-stride-line exercise galloping around the outside of the arena, with my trainer yelling, "More. MORE. STILL MORE. FASTER. NOT ENOUGH. MORE!! GALLOP! GO!" Once we had that forward, in the bridle, up in the shoulders, take-me-to-the-jumps-Dino canter, everything was easy. The distances all came up perfectly. Dino rated himself in the shorter lines without me needing to actively 'whoa', and we had easy lead changes. The jumps just happen, and everything is easy. The moral of this story? Gallop the crap out of everything. 
  • Homework for the coming weeks will include continuing to practice our jumping "gallop", warming up with lateral work (leg yield, shoulder fore) on a longer rein, and continuing to encourage Dino to take the contact and use his topline instead of curling behind the bit or leaning on my hands. 


  1. Ugh, I feel your pain there with the completely uncalled for freak out. I get so mad at myself too. This is why I left my baby horse with my trainer... I don't want to do that stuff to him until he's learned enough to ignore me! (I mean I don't want to do it at all, but let's be real- I'm an ammy through and through.)
    Awesome job overcoming that and getting it done!

  2. why is it so hard to just keep going, more go FASTER NOW! ugh. the struggle is real. sounds all in all like a fun lesson tho!

  3. What a great lesson that was. And good homework too.

  4. We had some serious leg yield pain last night. I love your recaps, and way to come back and make that oxer your bitch!! :)

  5. I seriously suck so much at leg yield

  6. Love your gangsta vibe when conquering your fears!

  7. So much of this sounds similar to what we're working on right now! Jane's trying to get me to stop being tense and anticipating and just correct when it's not right. It's so hard though!!!


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