Ashley Madison Clinic #3: Swish and Flick

A crummy screen shot! But bette than nothing! 
(That post title is for you, all my follow Harry Potter fans)

Wow... it took me a solid month to get this post done, but here it is for your learning and enjoyment.

Ashley clinic day is quickly becoming my favorite day of the month! We did A LOT OF STUFF in this most recent lesson, and this blog post is going to be a doozy, if just for my own benefit. I have a ton of homework to practice over the next month, and I'm sure I'm going to need to reference this post and the videos frequently.

Going into the lesson, I'd managed to rebuild the forward a little bit so we were in a better place than we were the week or two prior. Dino still wasn't back to consistently blasting off with the lightest whisper of a leg aid, but there had been a definite improvement, and it was hopefully enough for Ashley to work with and not have to repeat our first "leg means go" lesson.

She started us off by having me warm myself up with Franklin Balls. If you've never heard of Franklin Balls, they look like this:

Basically a dog toy?
They're squishy, hollow plastic balls that look and feel like toys, and Ashley had me place one under each seat bone between me and the saddle. Just walking on a loose rein, it felt ok. The balls are VERY destabilizing, and my abs were working overtime to keep me centered from the start, but it was doable. Once I picked Dino up and put him on the bit and his back came up, I became even LESS stable and further from the saddle, which was a bit disconcerting! The balls were a great body awareness tool though - the moment I became off balance or weighted one seatbone more than the other, the balls would shift and I'd notice right away. Then Ashley had me pick up the sitting trot. And then the canter.

It was a SERIOUS core workout, and the balls forced my legs to stretch down very long from the hips. They also gave me a really deep, "plugged in" feeling to my seat, and forced me to engage my own body in ways that I usually don't. Thankfully for my poor abs, the torture didn't last long, but I really enjoyed using the Franklin Balls and may pick up a set for myself, if only to use them while sitting at my desk chair all day.

After that fun little experiment, we moved on to the leg yields, which continue to be my most difficult-to-perfect movement. The turn on the forehand has gotten FANTASTIC, and I can ask Dino to take alternating single steps with his hind end in each direction now, but applying that response while also maintaining impulsion at the trot is really tricky. It seems I can get either sideways or forward, but not both at the same time.

So Ashley had me do a very challenging exercise to inject more forward into our leg yields. I was to come out of the corner and head down the long diagonal in a medium trot, then about a quarter of the way across swing the haunches over for several steps of leg yield, then back to medium, back to leg yield, then ending in medium into the corner. I spent a lot of time floundering around in this exercise, and only really got it right once or twice, but I understood it well enough to feel how it's supposed to work.

It was really difficult for me to switch from ALL SYSTEMS GO in medium trot to getting the haunches to swing over enough to move into a leg yield, especially off the left leg. I was tempted to slow the trot way down before asking for the lateral movement, but the whole point of the exercise was to keep that impulsion through the shift sideways, so I tried my best to just swing Dino's haunches around while still moving very forward! It was tough, but in our practice a few days later I finally understood it and totally nailed this exercise.

I (obviously) did not have time to make GIF's for y'all.. so if you feel like poring over the videos I'll link to them here!

To help with really getting a snappy forward response, Ashley taught me the "whip swish". She had me hold the whip pointing towards Dino's head, and when I didn't get the response I wanted from the leg, she had me swish the whip back and forth so it made a lot of noise. This was a GREAT tool, let me tell you! It was different enough from all of my other forward aids that it really made Dino pay attention, and the startling noise caused him to tuck his butt and scoot forward, putting him in a better, more uphill balance with a lowered croup. Ashley said it's an aid she uses often for teaching piaffe and passage to get the horses to sit more, and I can definitely see where that would be helpful!

After the tough mental and physical work of the medium-leg yield exercise, we moved right into canter work with shallow counter-canter loops. Our baseline on this exercise was pretty good, but in the video it's really clear how much BETTER it gets when I ride Dino firmly into the outside rein and keep his neck straight in the counter-canter. He's able to use his body a lot more effectively that way, and I don't have to do quite so much work to keep him balanced when I'm using that stabilizing rein appropriately.

Ashley didn't let up on the canter work from there, either, and incorporated changes of direction across the diagonal with lead changes through the trot after X, really getting on my case about going all the way into the corners so I pick up the canter again exactly at the letter. We topped it off with a bit of lengthened canter and a 10m canter circle, and after that I was ready for a break! Dino was working SO hard, but it was very cool to be accomplishing such intense exercises with a modicum of skill.

We finished the lesson with work on walk-canter-walk transitions. I told Ashely that button wasn't quite installed yet - Dino WILL go from walk to canter, but it's often not round or balanced, and we definitely, absolutely don't have a canter-walk transition aside from that one time we did one by accident. Ashley, however, was confident that Dino would be GREAT at it.

And, honestly, he was. Of course.

We started by working on the canter-walk. Ashley wanted me to ride Dino's chest up, up, up in the last three strides before asking for walk and "dropping him down like a sack of bricks" into the transition. The first couple times I wasn't really understanding how to get enough collection, but after a few tries I was able to consistently get a balanced down transition with only a couple trot strides, which was a big improvement! We never got directly from canter to walk, but the quality of what we were doing improved a ton over the course of the work. Soon we started practicing going from walk to canter to walk, and Dino honestly nailed the upward transition. He was round, he was balanced, he was correct, and it felt awesome! I was really able to feel that the movement was absolutely in there somewhere, and when Ashley said, "Second Level here he comes!" after a particularly good walk-canter, I squealed inwardly with pride.

We quit there, and came away with a TON of homework to practice, although admittedly since the clinic we haven't been doing a whole lot of practicing, mostly due to my own busy schedule and Dino acquiring a huge, nasty hoof abscess that resulted in him getting over a week off. (he's all better now, don't worry!)

Things to work on include:

  • Work on my seat and balance using Franklin Balls (I have yet to make this purchase, but it's on the list!) 
  • Continue working on Dino's response to my lateral aids in the leg yield, and inject more impulsion into that movement using medium trot
  • Use different aids like the swishy whip to reinforce the forward response and keep Dino sharp to the leg
  • Remember to keep Dino's neck straight and use the outside rein to balance in counter-canter
  • Don't be lazy - go all the way into the corners!
  • Practice walk-canter-walk, focusing on riding Dino's chest up and collecting the canter before dropping down into walk
Ashley is back for another lesson next week -we have a ton of work to do! 


  1. LOL Love the title! I am so jealous you are having so much lessons with Ashley! Lucky girl (Dino might not think so lucky HA) Franklin balls made me laugh. Also glad Dino is over his abcess!! those things are so horrid!

  2. My inner HP-nerd is very pleased by your title. I'm also completely fascinated by the Franklin Balls! Never have I heard of such things.


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