The Master Plan Revealed: A Lesson Recap

"Moar snax, less working. mmkay?"
Get ready for a VERY long lesson recap with VERY little relevant media! WOO!

Last night I had my first lesson at Trainer's Very Fancy Shmancy New Barn, and boy do I have a LOT of great stuff to chew on and practice until my next one!

I think we've probably hit just about the end of jumping at home for the season with the cold snap coming in this week and starting to freeze up the ground. Our immediate future will likely have a lot of long walks in it. And with the sun setting at around 4pm nowadays, I'm very grateful to have a cushy, bright, warm indoor to lesson in!

Dino was hilariously 'up' when we arrived at the new farm. We rolled up in the dark, it had just gotten VERY cold and windy, he'd been recently clipped, and a herd of deer was running around the field next to where we had parked. EuroPony was on high alert and spooky! I.e. he had his head up, ears pricked, and was snorting a lot.

Whoa, there wild stallion.

I hand walked Dino around the indoor to let him get a look at the place and start warming up before hopping on. He was very curious about the giant, strangely-clean mirrors that cover one entire wall and had to take a good long look out the open doors to make sure no monsters were lurking outside. The footing in this indoor is downright magical - it's that fancy synthetic stuff that feels like you're walking on a cloud and doesn't stick to anything. I really enjoyed walking on it, and Dino's performance in the lesson said a lot about how much he liked it, too!

I had an idea in my head that I wanted to dig into some flatwork in this lesson - I was feeling pretty good about our jumping and with our recent detour into bitless exploits, I felt that I needed some guidance in the dressage department. My trainer, however, had other ideas, and I had to switch my mindset and trust her plan as I watched her set fences during the warm up.

Dino was a little Freshy McFresherson as we warmed up - he really wanted to do that whole quick-but-behind-the-leg thing and felt just a bit tight all over. So we worked towards getting him to take me somewhere and be truly forward, which is a theme that has been running through many of our lessons as of late. As usual, I had to be reminded several times to Shorten. My. Damn. Reins. I just love to loosen my fingers and let them slide!

We explored the concept of short reins as a forward aid: short reins allow me to get my hands out in front of me, putting the bit out in front of Dino, and (ideally) eliminating any kind of backwards pull on my part, all making it easier for my pony to go forward. Warming up in a light seat with a short rein and encouraging Dino to keep his head (and forehand) up while we got his back and hindquarters moving, I firmly established that a softening of my elbow combined with a gentle hug of my lower leg meant, "GO!" I had to back up my quiet forward aids with the whip now and then, but for the most part Dino was extremely compliant and happy to move out. I had to adjust to riding with Dino's poll much higher than I'm used to, since I love to let him poke around like a western pleasure horse in the warm up, but he went MUCH better when we started out with his head higher than normal.

And, wouldn't you know it, as Dino warmed up and I maintained forward impulsion and a steady contact with short reins, he started dropping into the bridle all on his own and moving forward into the contact with a soft back and elevated shoulders.


We warmed up the same way in canter (Which Dino picked up the instant I asked in a brand new indoor. YAS.) again pushing Dino forward and asking him to carry us and maintain the impulsion while moving towards and softening to the bit. I transitioned from a half seat to a full seat partway through our canter warm up, and it was so exciting to feel Dino coming round underneath me and really taking the contact in canter so early on in the lesson. My trainer encouraged me to keep my eye up as we went around and look in the giant mirrors to "See how pretty that trot/canter is!" I'm not used to having such a big wall of mirrors, but it was pretty great to be able to see Dino and I go and check on our straightness!

It's still a bit of a struggle for me to keep my hands quieter with properly short reins - a couple times I took too much instead of just closing my elbows a tiny bit, and Dino responded by tucking his face slightly behind the bridle. Thankfully, though, I can feel when that happens and correct it! We worked the whole warm up to feel like we do out in the field at home - forward, relaxed, and confidently GOING PLACES! I'm happy to say that we definitely achieved that feeling.

After a very successful warm up, we moved on to the jumping!

So. Fancy.
You can get a good idea of our set up in the above photo: three cavaletti set up right on the centerline (that last one by C is a bit hard to make out, but it's there!), an outside line set at 54ft (a steady 4), and a single Swedish oxer. You can bet your britches I was giving that yellow oxer the hairy eyeball right from the start.

But I didn't have to tackle it straight away, because we started by putting together a serpentine over the three cavaletti set up on the centerline.

I've learned my lesson well over the past several months in going with the flow and taking whatever distance our canter dictates - I was able to let Dino figure out how to adjust himself over the cavaletti and just took care of making sure I kept him on the track I wanted. We had some super awkward 'jumps' over the little rails, but I was zen and calm and not over-riding or over-correcting. I wasn't being super clear about wanting Dino to land on the opposite lead, however, and didn't plan my changes well at all, so spent too much time trotting to get the simple change. All in all, though, it was a good exercise that got me thinking about my track, pace, and rhythm while allowing Dino to take some responsibility for the jumps themselves.

We moved on to jumping each vertical on a circle, working on seeing and riding to a distance. We nailed it after two or three goes on each lead.

Then things started to get real interesting.

Playing nicely off the Circle of Death exercise from our last lesson, my trainer directed me to pick up the left lead canter, jump the middle cavaletti, and then ride a bending three strides to the far outside vertical.

The bend was a true 90 degrees and the second fence came up FAST, so at first I was over-compensating in riding too far out over the cavaletti and taking a longer track to get to the vertical in four strides instead of three. We were getting there, and jumping the jumps, but it wasn't what my trainer wanted!

She gave me permission to look for, and ride, that three stride distance, and make the three happen.

Once I rode straight to the center of the cavaletti in a more compact canter and put us on a direct line to the second fence, the three was right there, easy as pie. I was seeing the distance every. single. time. and riding appropriately to support it. We practiced the exercise several times, as well as to the right over the middle cavaletti bending to the near vertical with the flowers. We actually alternated purposefully between three and four strides in that exercise, and nailed both!

We have adjustability, folks!

After successfully negotiating those two tricky 90 degree bending lines, we circled over the cavaletti a few times before heading to the oxer.

Coming to the oxer, I saw a stupid long spot that was NOT going to work. I had a moment of hesitation, thinking about pulling up, but Dino was forward, in front of my leg, and committed to getting us to the other side, and he graciously added a step and popped over. GOOD PONY!

My trainer pretty much reads my mind when these things happen, and chided me for my indecision.

"You are allowed to add!" she scolded, "He's in front of your leg, you have something to work with, ADJUST HIM and add a step when you see that stupid long one!"

Once I realized that I was truly being given full permission to use my eye for a distance and act on what I saw, it was like the heavens opened up and a glorious holy light shone down upon me. The last six months of work on NOT seeing a distance started to make sense, I saw where my trainer had been going with this the whole time, and things got REAL fun.

Our first course was as follows: On the left lead, jump the middle cavaletti, bend to the far vertical in three, down the long side to the oxer, jump the line in 5 strides.

Aside from totally biffing the track to the first cavaletti, splatting over it, and having to start over, it was awesome! I saw distances, I rode to them, and Dino was right there with me the entire time. I never once worried that we weren't going to have enough gas to get over a jump, and when the spot I saw called for an adjustment, I had more than enough pony power under me to get the job done. We also came nowhere near getting 5 in the line - we barely fit in the 4! Trainer was expecting Slow & Sullen Dino, not Super Showjumping Star Dino! We revised the plan to aim for the 4 from then on, and it went a LOT better.

We continued adding onto that short course as follows: Land from the second fence in the line, ride over the middle cavaletti and turn right, riding a bending four strides to the near vertical, jump the oxer off the right lead, and jump the line again going the other way.

Again, more awesomeness, fun, and problem-solving skills!

We were nailing the oxer every time, and I started to figure out the canter I needed to get the four in the line going away from the in gate. Coming into the 4-stride bending line, Dino landed further out than I had planned or expected, but instead of bailing out I sat up, made it happen, added another step and got there in five.

I was THRILLED with my life choices!

Coming to the line going towards the gate, I made a bit too big of a half-halt in anticipation of Dino getting even stronger going towards 'home', and we ended up trotting out. My trainer had us come around and jump the line again in that direction, and it was 100% perfect. We ended there.

And that, my friends, marked the very first coursework lesson in which we had ABSOLUTELY NO REFUSALS! Granted, everything was well within our comfort zone with a maximum height of around 2'6", but we had done some very tough turns and adjustability exercises, jumped an oxer off a very long approach, and succeeded in ALL OF IT without one single stop! To say I am excited about that would be an understatement! At the end of the lesson my trainer said that while she didn't feel like we should put the jumps up that day, that next time we can absolutely start making them a bit bigger, and that Dino and I will be just as successful. I agreed - our canter, confidence, and communication were such that I felt that no matter what I asked, Dino would be right there for me with a "YES MA'AM!"

These two are not sure of each other. 
In this lesson I got to see my trainer's master plan for us, and exactly how all of these long months of slowly building confidence and getting comfortable with going forward and letting go of my need to see a distance have made it possible for me to now use that skill for seeing a spot in a productive, positive way that benefits our jumping. Because of the hard, slow work we've put in, Dino and I have the confidence and the forward, balanced canter we need to be able to make good decisions and adjustments on course, and I can't even tell you how good that feels.

TL;DR Notes and Important Points:

  • Warm up with the pony's head UP and short reins - this lets him look around, see where he is going, keeps his front end elevated, and avoids putting him on the forehand by letting him 'stretch' down instead.
  • Remember to also warm up in a light seat now that it's cold - give his back a chance to get working before you sit deeply. 
  • The pony should feel like he is taking you somewhere - imagine how he feels out in the field when you ride in an arena and ride for that feeling.
  • Keep reins short enough to be able to push the bit forward and maintain a quality connection. 
  • Having enough impulsion makes adjustments possible in the canter - a self-propelled pony can be re-balanced and sent forward or brought back with minimal effort. 
  • When making tricky turns, stay committed to the track and ride forward - no weird hand motions or over-riding needed!
  • You are now allowed to make adjustments to make a distance happen - as long as the canter has enough energy, you can work it out and make changes to get the distance. No pulling needed!
  • Adjustments don't take a lot - a hug with the lower leg, engaging the core is all it takes. 
  • Our first ride in a new indoor was forward, confident, and positive. This bodes well for future endeavors! 



  1. YASSSSS for you guys! That was so enjoyable to read I was to run out and jump something 😁 and that indoor... Wow.

    Mad props to you and the EuroPony!

  2. That indoor is incredibly gorgeous!! I'm so glad you had an amazing lesson!

  3. We're seriously long lost twins with the same pony :) Loving that you had a fantastic ride, also I lol'd at Dino actually cantering immediately when asked in a new place...that's one of B's quirks too and the bane of my existence in dressage shows.

    1. We are! I love it! He's usually a bit 'up' (for him) in new places, so that generally helps us, but he HATES indoors, so getting him to go well inside is always a huge accomplishment. Outside he feels like he has somewhere to go, but 4 solid walls cramp his style. :-P

  4. That indoor is beautiful and the footing looks incredible. I loved reading this lesson- following these blogs is making me think about jumping again...

  5. YES BEST POST EVARRRR!!! So happy for you guys!

  6. Oh man that ring is so fanceh!!!!! Sounds like dino loves it too - awesome lesson!!


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