A Fine Line: Lesson Recap

Someone FINALLY got to wear his new DSB's!
It had been quite a while since our last lesson due to scheduling conflicts, and as I looked forward to riding with my trainer this past weekend I also held some anxiety in my heart. My most recent lesson memories were laced with fear and panic, and so even though I knew that my trainer would take care of me by working on things we could be successful at, I was nervous.

The day was almost miraculously sunny and above-freezing, so the plan was to warm up inside and then head out to do most of our work in the big outdoor arena. Dino was feeling a little sticky that day, so we focused on just trotting FORWARD and getting prompt transitions from forward walk into forward trot without any shuffle-steps in between. We loosened up with our lateral-shoulder-unlocking move at the walk and trot, and then headed out into the sunshine.

Dino had never been in the big outdoor at this farm before, and there was a lot for him to take in! His little head popped up like a periscope and his ears pinged forward in curiosity as he swiveled his neck around looking at all the horses in turnout, spooking at log jumps, and snorting at puddles. As always, he never offered to buck or bolt or explode in any way, but he was definitely very tense.

And so, of course, instead of inviting him back to relaxation and focus, I tensed up my entire body, took a death grip on the reins, locked out my elbows, and took my leg off. Because that's helpful.

"Seven years with this woman and she STILL can't ride. Oy."
My trainer suggested that maybe, possibly, this was not the best way to encourage Dino to relax, put his head down, and get back to work. She showed me how much tension I had in the reins (which was a lot) and then sent us back out on a big circle at the trot, instructing me to keep breathing through my elbows to keep them bouncy and floaty, and to put my leg on each time Dino got tense or distracted.

You know, like, actually riding instead of clinging onto my pony's back like a frightened toad. Mind-blowing.

Riding Dino leg-to-hand with soft, floating elbows and a strong, supporting leg and outside rein resulted in him connecting nicely into the bridle, pushing forward off his butt, and generally going around like the stellar dressage pony he is instead of a stretched-tight bungee cord with furry orange ears. Go figure.

Once I remembered how to ride, we started incorporating a line of three ground poles into our trot circle, spaced about two trot strides apart. The key here was to keep supporting Dino through the poles (i.e. don't take your leg off and float the reins at him. They are poles. No one will die if you miss.) and to maintain the impulsion and connection all the way up to the first pole no matter what the distance was. No worrying about the right 'spot' for a trot pole, just keeping the pony in front of the leg.

It soon became very clear when Dino dropped just a teeeeeny bit behind the leg. The second his impulsion dropped just a touch under where it should have been, suddenly he had to reach and scramble through the poles, and we exited the line in a disorganized heap on the other side. When Dino was sufficiently forward and in front of the leg, he was able to adjust himself and float through the poles with ease, no matter what the 'distance' was to the first one. The line between 'in front of the leg' and 'behind the leg' for him is so very, very fine, but this was a great exercise for me to learn to identify where, exactly, that line is for him, and to help his little senior-citizen self get to the optimal place of impulsion to make his job as easy as possible.

A topline that is, shockingly, not wasted away after a winter of doing mostly nothing. 
We also worked on the transitions from free walk to medium walk and stretchy trot to working trot, with the goal of earning better scores on these movements where the transition out of a stretch is included. Dino's stretching movements are easily a solid 8, but the transition back into a working frame always dings our score. We got a few transitions in each gait that were fairly smooth, but this is definitely something to keep working on this season.

When it came time to canter, I was nervous. Dino was working well and was nicely forward in the walk and trot work, but in my left-over anxiety I was anticipating a negative reaction to my canter aid. So, naturally, the first couple times I asked for the canter Dino did not, in fact, canter.

No one is surprised.

But eventually I held it together and sat down and asked for the canter with some kind of positive mental commitment and lo and behold, the pony cantered! The right lead was harder for Dino that day and took some more support on my part, which was tough given the body soreness I was experiencing after running a 5k the day prior. But, we did the thing, and worked on cantering through the 3 poles with the same intent as we did in the trot: keep the pony in front of the leg, over the fine line of enough impulsion, and let the poles come up as they will. Again, when Dino was over that line the poles were easy. When he was a touch behind the leg, he had to reach and scramble and often broke to the trot in the poles. The left lead ended up being much easier for us, and Dino offered me a lovely, light, forward, uphill canter that was an absolute blast to ride, and the poles were cake going left!

We ended the lesson by riding some mini "courses" that included the ramp and small bank that are built into the outdoor arena. It's set up for hunter derbies, so you can ride in and out of the ring via the bank (a wee mini bank or a big-ass N/T size monster with a big log jump) or a steep ramp that link together with a grassy pathway in a "U" shape. We cantered through the poles, up the bank, down the ramp, and over a small 18" rolltop in both directions.

Once Dino figured out what the bank and ramp were all about, he had SO MUCH FUN with these elements! It really spiced up the ring work for him, and he was taking the bit in a good way and really carrying me to the bank each time. I was being a nervous weirdo about the tiny rolltop and wanted to trot it each time, but I was making Dino's job harder by holding him back and so we had several awkward jumps over it until I just boss-mare'd-up about it and let him canter. We ended the lesson on a great, fun, note and I left feeling like we'd had just the sort of fun, confidence-building session we needed. Here's hoping I can get my act together for some more productive jumping next time!



  1. What a great lesson! I love that you got so much confidence building in, as well as specific notes to work on.

  2. Great come back! It's so hard when the fear starts to creep back in, but the more you go out and have fun like this the less it will show up :)

  3. I'm glad that was such a confidence boosting lesson!

  4. I'm so glad you had a good ride and a positive lesson :)

  5. ooooh those hunter derby arena elements sound ahhmazing! and i bet Dino ate that all up like candy!!! glad it was a good lesson and that you were able to work so much on that feel for where Dino's in the zone vs not. i hate that "behind the leg" feeling but almost always realize it too late... sigh.

  6. Sounds like your confidence is working it's way back to the surface! You and Dino will be right back where you left off before in no time!

  7. so glad you had a nice lesson before all this damn snow AGAIN :( he looks great on his topline and i am so happy to hear you got to do some jumpies too! YAY! great job (And yes once we remember to breathe and ride, how much better it gets LOL)...


  8. What a great lesson!! Sounds like Dino was enjoing it too!

  9. I always try to think of it as being ok for my elbows to kind bounce a little with the movement and that always keeps me from locking up (Well when I remember) I think you a Dino should take a stab at some hunter derbies :)

  10. How much FUN! It sounds like the perfect lesson. Y'all will find your mojo again in no time =)


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