What's Been Working
|A pictorial journey through our warmup, thanks to Pivo.|
As Dino and I really started to dig into the Second Level work and things got tougher, I found I needed to adjust how I approached training and managing him so as not to over-work his brain and body. I LOVE to work on dressage, and it's so so easy for me to ride way too hard for way too long, so it's been a challenge for me to stay cognizant of how Dino is feeling as I continue to develop our dressage skills.
Here's what's working:
When we first went to a barn schedule during lockdown in the spring, I only had an hour and a half at the barn, so my rides tended to last for 30-40 minutes, vs. the hour + that was the norm for me at the time. I found that even with only working four days a week for a short period of time, Dino still made HUGE progress, built a ton of muscle, and stayed fit enough to do what I was asking. While there is certainly a place for longer, fitness-based rides and longer lessons, I've found that for my elder statesman, 30-40 minutes is the sweet spot for regular training sessions. It's enough to get him warmed up, work on a few focused skills, and cool down without making him sore or sour. I am THE WORST at asking for "just one more" and then having to stay on the horse for another half an hour to fix the problem I created by asking when Dino was too tired. Shorter rides have also hugely improved my discipline to end on a good note and GET OFF THE PONY when he puts in fantastic work. As a result, Dino feels mentally and physically ready to rock and roll most days.
One Thing At A Time
This goes a bit hand in hand with riding for shorter periods of time, but choosing just one thing to focus on has helped us make more progress than trying to hit every movement in a single ride. Whether it's lateral work, connection, transitions, or straightness, I try to choose one thing to work on during each ride and get the best quality work I can. When I go in without a plan and just school random movements for an hour, the work usually isn't as good and correct as when I focus on a handful of things! I don't always get this one right, but I'm making the effort.
Go With The Flow
Dino is 22, and some days he comes out of the field ready to go Grand Prix, and other days his body is just a little creakier than usual. In the past year, I've learned I need to go with the flow and adjust my ride to how he feels in the moment. Some days he needs some gentle pushing to move his body and stretch to feel better, other days he needs to just toodle around bridleless, and yet other days we can have focused, intense training sessions. Sometimes, I need to throw out my plan for the day and just do what Dino needs in that moment.
I'm not sure whether it's a hold over from hunter/jumper flat classes (make that transition and make it NOW!) or what, but so many times I rush into a transition or movement without first making sure it's correct. If, for example, I'm trying to ride a walk-canter transition and the walk is strung out, hollow, and behind the leg, the canter will also be strung out, hollow, and behind the leg. Focusing on the quality of everything I ask for instead of just doing it to get it done is going to do a whole lot more for us than just doing a thousand crappy transitions just to do them.
Slow Down and Explain
So this is just... good horse training. I'm trying really hard not to get frustrated when Dino doesn't respond the way I want him to, and instead make sure my aids are correct (uhhhh sometimes they're not...) and that he understands what I want. If that means stopping and doing six thousand turns on the forehand to explain what I want in haunches-in instead of just doing a sloppy haunches-in, then that's what we have to do. It's boring, but it works.
It's hard to stick to all of these concepts every ride, but when I do, it works. Cumulatively, it works. By doing my best to hold to these ideals each time I ride, I help Dino to be a stronger, happier, more willing partner, and that is totally worth the effort.