Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monday Lesson

**Edit on my last post: Sometimes I'm a little dyslexic and transpose numbers. The Stubben is the 1894 model, not 1984.

Google brings up some strange things when you are lacking media and google "dressage horse".

I had arranged to have a lesson Monday night before all the saddle shopping took place because I needed some help with Penn's left lead canter. I wasn't sure where I was going wrong. I knew it was crookedness though.

We never got to the canter, which is fine. I tacked Penn up in the Stubben that I have on trial, and set off to lesson.

Trainer was immediately impressed. I had talked to her about trying a couple Stubbens and she basically said she didn't like their design or comfort or really anything about them. I told her the rep told me that they had redesigned things a bit in the last couple years, and she looked at me like, "I'll believe it when I see it."

When I got to the outdoor, I got Penn going in walk nicely and she glanced over from the lesson she was finishing up and said, "What a good baby horse!" And I was like, "I brought a new toy to lesson, that's why!" and she looked at me like, what? And I said, "New saddle!"

She asked what it was, and was impressed by it looking very little like the Stubbens she used to know. She liked where it put my leg.

She got after me about letting Penn get his poll too low. And letting him lay on me. And letting him get away with a lot. She basically said that he's been here long enough, he's got some topline and more weight, his feet are fixed, and he's in better shape. He needs to come to the arena and work like a grown up horse. Not every day, he certainly still needs his walks, but when he comes down to the arena to work, there are no excuses. Oops. Maybe I should stop calling him baby horse because I am an enabler. She did say that she's not happy with how the muscle is laying down on him. She pointed to some area behind me that I couldn't tell where and said he's laying down muscle here, but not evenly throughout his topline. Bad rider.

The first thing she did was have me put him on a 17ish meter circle and do at least 3 halts on the circle from trot. Well the first few he dragged my arms out of their sockets laying on my hand when I used my thigh to say halt. She had me pop him with the left rein (he drags harder with that side) while popping him with my spurs too. Unacceptable behavior. She then had me add just one step of rein back after the halt to get his hocks back under him, then immediately trot off, being extremely soft with my left hand. He only needed to be corrected a few times before he was halting reliably off my seat, holding himself up. She then had me add a few more steps of rein back to the halt, immediately trotting off again. Giraffe was ok in the rein back, the point was to set him back on his hocks again.

In the trot portions of this, she got after me about my left hand. It can be super heavy and in general carries more contact than the right. When I stopped smothering him, he very happily carried a nice elastic connection. Something else I did was sit the trot. The Stubben let me sit, but I didn't feel like I was smothering him like I did in the Jaguar. He was happy to truck along, sitting or not. I was able to keep myself in a better position to encourage engagement and self carriage and a slower tempo in the sit trot, so sitting it was.

Eventually she had me go out on a bigger circle, approx 25-30m, and start posting again sporatically on the circle, halting and rein backing at least twice on the circle. If started to get heavy, leg to pick him up again. At this point, he started his stumbling crap. He's been on a ton of trail rides, hacking in the hay fields, and a hunter pace through the woods and a XC course. Stumbling in the arena is not ok anymore. He is responsible for his own feet. Leg on with some spur when he stumbles.

He was awesome. He got the idea of carrying himself immediately, and keeping a steady contact without curling or dropping his poll, and the tempo problems went away. We had wonderful, elastic contact. I was able to post the trot for the entire circle by this point. Trainer had me "get greedy" and ask for a bit more trot within the tempo, and he positively floated. For like 4 steps before he couldn't hold it anymore, but it's there!

She had me sit the trot again, move to a 12-15m circle and "collect" him with my seat. It took me a few tries to get it right (I shortened his neck/back/step/killed the tempo and forward first), but eventually I could sit, relax my hand (I had to actively think about giving it so I didn't take with it), pull my shoulders up and squeeze my abs (like you're pushing a hard to recline recliner back with your shoulder blades only), and he'd respond by collecting and engaging more within his current ability. I got a single half step when I got overzealous and made a "COLLECT NOW!!!!!" demand on him (like I would to get Mikey to engage). I know that's completely not what we're going for, but he offered it right up. And I'm thrilled.

She had me take my 12-15m circle right, and go straight for more steps than should be allowed (since he is a green bean), then really engage the new inside leg and ask for a 12-15m circle left. Repeat the left. Then swap back and forth in the more collected work between right and left 12-15m circles. The goal being to make the change slowly, but from my seat and leg with quiet hand. Penn answered right away and became quite supple to both changes. The quieter I was with my hand, the better and better he got. I would remind him of his self carriage with the "recliner half halt" and he'd reset nicely.

Trainer then had me post the trot and ask him to go back to the 25-30m circle, asking for more trot within the tempo, and then asking him to stretch. He answered beautifully without falling on his face or the forehand. We did several long changes to the left and right on a circular figure 8, allowing him 3-5 straight steps between circles. We collected back to the 13m figure 8, then back to the 28m figure 8. He had some excellent stretch work on the final figure 8, and when I asked for walk from that stretch, he held himself up and didn't fall on the forehand or use my hand for downward transition support.

For the next few weeks, I'm to put him to work, no excuses, a couple times a week, and go for long walks in the woods a couple times a week. Or until November does away with my weekday riding.

I can't get over how easy the work is for Penn in comparison to Mikey. Penn is super agreeable and seems to have fewer opinions than Mikey did, but Mikey had opinions because the work was hard. I know Penn is 75% TB and 25% Dutch Warmblood (from my research even though he's officially a TB x Oldenburg), but it really seems that low percent of warmblood really makes a huge difference in dressage ability when compared to the straight thoroughbred (doh, just look at the full warmbloods out there doing dressage). Not to trash the OTTBs or bred-for-sport TBs. Mikey was an invaluable learning experience in how to find a million ways to do things and to be precise and correct in your aids. And strong. I had to be correct and strong. Maybe that's why Penn just goes along with it; there isn't another option!

Dressage was not easy for Mikey. As shown here in a "flying fail".
(Of course there's more wrong here than just it's difficult for Mikey)

Trainer loved the Stubben 1894 on Penn (and for me), so I called the tack shop this morning to have them order me an 18" B tree Stubben 1894. Hopefully her rep happens to have one in VA and I don't have to wait for one to be made!


  1. My old OTTB guy was NOT made for dressage, and it was very, very hard for both of us. The new-ish guy is much better put together and it is SO EASY. I toy with the idea of a warmblood as my next horse for dressage reasons, but my first horse was a warmblood and there were a lot of things I didn't care for/don't want to do again. Hopefully, it's not an issue for a very long time.

    1. I hope it isn't an issue for you for a very long time! I went back and read a little bit about your mare... I really liked her from the couple posts I read about her haha. But that said, there is a reason we call warmbloods "dumbbloods" at my barn. I like the TB try, but the WB fancy. I like Penn's mix of it for now... I want to get to the top of dressage. While a TB would be fun and I like them, it was very difficult for Mikey once he hit 3rd and we were schooling some 4th level. He had no problem and cruised through Training and First, and we got Second sorted out quickly, but 3rd required a level of collection that he just recently found. And to keep moving up he would have to have found even more. I'm taking the "easy" way out and looking for warmbloods for the foreseeable future.

  2. Hooray for a saddle that fits!