Monday, February 22, 2016

Lesson 2/20 with Dressage Trainer

A pretty weekend at the farm.

I had a lesson Saturday with the other trainer that comes to winter barn. I'll call her DT (for Dressage Trainer), since my regular trainer I call Trainer on here.

I explained to her that I was having trouble with Penn jumping on and off the contact, and that I have trouble getting his poll to stay up- he tends to dive. We went over what Penn knows how to do (shoulder in, haunches in, leg yield), and where he's going (ready to go recognized first level by mid May).

She had me start by going down the quarterline and asking for leg yield to the wall.

In the first few minutes she gave me the following observations/directions:

  • Do a lot of work in shoulder fore- Penn's hind end shifts in, especially to the right.
  • Do less wiggling and moving on the inside rein - quiet it down because his head gets wagging and his nose twirling.
  • Too much inside hand is causing Penn to tilt his head in, and his whole head is shifting in.
  • Open the inside hand if I need a bit of inside flexion (he was a bit distracted because it was the first time the arena doors have been open and he could see out 3 sides of the indoor).
  • Do less for Penn! He has to carry himself.
  • Follow the nod in walk with my elbows.
  • Make sure I don't lock up while turning.

Then more specifically in regard to the leg yields:

  • Do a lot of straight lines on the quarter line and center line- he seems to try to guess what we're doing and just doesn't know what to do.
  • Turn a little sooner to get on quarterline and centerline.
  • Get on the quarterline, and stay straight for several strides. He hits the straight line and is already over his outside shoulder moving out.
  • Turning into the quarterline going left: be very careful with my left shoulder it tends to drop back in the turn and stay there. Hence the already shoving him out feeling.
  • Work up to leg yield on the straight lines- go down quarterline and stay straight. Go down the next one and leg yield towards centerline for just a few steps to make him think about not going out, then leg yield out to the wall.
  • In the leg yield, Penn's hind end is leading. I tend to put my leg way back to move over, which then shoves his hind end into leading, so keep the leg initiating the leg yield closer to the girth. We reset my feel of what the leg yield should feel like- to me it felt like I was dragging his hind end behind me, but she said nope, it's right where it should be. Soften outside rein (the one we were moving towards), but half halt with it when needed to help the shoulders stay a little ahead by slowing everything down.

A lot of those bullets are condensed from the time we spent walking and addressing the leg yield, and then trotting and repeating. I had some really, really nice leg yields left that just flowed and were wonderful.

In the trot:

  • Focus on keeping the poll up - it takes much more inside leg than I think is required. That means I also need to regulate the tempo more often by half halting the outside rein and core every few steps to reset him. I'll half halt, he'll slow and steady himself, and stretch to the bit without lowering his poll for about two steps, then he falls forward and down. Half halt again, repeat. Make sure I find a release in the half halt.
  • Keep an even feel on each rein with less pounds in each hand. Use and release!
  • Relax the outside hand on circles, just a little. I'm smothering him again.
  • When tracking to the right, the half halts need to be more from the core, because adding the outside rein (like how the left needs it) is way too much and he half steps into walk. The right rein seems to be where he needs the help in both directions (heavy on the left).
  • Hands up and even and together (omg, they've crept down!) and beware of the outside hand getting higher.
  • I posted the trot in the beginning, then switched to sit trot. It was the best sitting work I've had - easy to stay with and ride, even when the motion was big.
  • Lots of trot-walk-trot and trot-halt-trot transitions.

In the canter:

  • The diagonal pair in canter is unclear- they don't step the same. I believe she said the front hoof of the pair lands first (it's really what makes the most sense in an unclear pairing that's bad).
  • Our first canter was to the right and on a circle, and her first response was "MORE!" then "Do something! Medium!" So then I was like, "ohhhhh" and kicked him into gear.
  • Let him go large around the arena- rebalance on circles as needed, but he tends to drop the poll even more on them, so for now, avoid them and think about getting him rolling.
  • Kick on with the inside leg to lift his poll, outside rein half halt. Think medium canter. As soon as his poll comes up, his neck gets out of the way so his shoulders free up and his animation is quite nice and the diagonal pair clears up.
  • More canter needs to come from the seat, not just the leg.

General comments:

  • Trot to the right is better, canter to the left is better, which surprised her. It doesn't surprise me - Penn has always been quieter to the right, so he maintains the tempo in trot better, but the canter ends up underpowered. Going left has always been a bit zoomier, so the left trot needs more regulating and the the left canter has more oomph and is clearer in rhythm.
  • Penn's hind end is slow off the ground, so I need to think about slowing down the front end (keeping it on the ground for longer) and speeding up the hind end.
  • DT provided an excellent eye for me when it comes to "how much connection and throughness is enough." I really need more eyes correcting me so I nail down the feeling, because right now it feels like above the bit. She also nailed me every time his poll dropped down a fraction of an inch. I appreciate that!
  • She recommended finding long gentle hills to canter up to help build his butt and back. I agreed and said it was already on my spring list.

To clear up what we did as a progression since I summed everything up: walk with leg yields, trot circles and leg yields, walk rest for a lap, canter large right, trot stretchy circle, walk rest to change directions, canter large left, trot stretchy circle.

The canter - this was the best canter work I've gotten from Penn. Hands down. I think this was what Trainer was getting at, but DT explained in a way that made it click in my head as to what's right and what's wrong.

The trot after the first canter was incredible - popping shoulder and lift and suspension. Then he got carried away and dropped his poll. She made me halt and he promptly dragged me into a wall, rubbing my leg (my boots!!!) against the kick boards. I yelled at him out loud, "you son of a bitch!" and pulled his head to the wall and she laughed so hard while I apologized for my outburst. Redo please!  More outside leg into the halt. We played with trot-halt-trot after coming down from canter to the left- keeping the poll up in the halt. When moving into trot, I need to keep my hands soft, but in my effort to stay soft, make sure I don't get left behind. I had to think about leaning forward into the trot so I didn't drop back.

After each canter we did a stretchy trot, and he did his wonderful thing of reaching down (my "peanut roller dressage horse" we joked), and the second trot stretch was so good, she was like, "if that's not a 9, I don't know what is!" And I said he usually is a 6.5 to 7 for them, only because of tempo. She agreed there were some small tempo issues (his recent stretchy circles have been a ton better than what we did at the show), and recommended I play with them and practice keeping the tempo with my seat. Quite obvious to me that's where the tempo control has to come from, but it is something to spend some time working on. I'm pretty sure the lack of control comes from my difficulty maintaining the tempo in posting trot. I never had that problem on Mikey, but Penn is a very different horse! I need to make sure that when Penn comes up from the stretchy trot, I do a lot of reset half halts to bring the poll back up all the way. No cheating and only bring it up partway.

Some of her comments as we worked: "I hope I don't have to compete against you." "He's going to have a lovely medium trot." and "His changes will be very expressive!" I particularly like the competing one, only because: she has a number of fancy imported warmbloods to show, she's a score short of her silver medal, and she's been to Finals.

We didn't have any contact issues until the end, and we both agreed it was Penn getting tired more than anything. He never curled in lesson, and she helped me find the poll up and face on the vertical to slightly ahead feeling. I tried my best to memorize it! He spent the ride truly stretching out to the bit.

All of the half halts come from a very upright shoulder in my part - even more so in canter. Without that very up shoulder, I would never have gotten his poll up. I keep the "pushing back a recliner with the space between your shoulder blades" thinking - and that's exactly what I needed to get the lift. It was a large reason I went to sitting trot- I find it hard to maintain that level of up in my shoulders while posting.

I'm actually quite keen to have another lesson with DT, which surprises me. I think she was saying the same things Trainer says and this is a logical step forward from Trainer's directions before she left - "ride lower and quietly until the end of January and then push him up - you'll be impressed with what you get." I'm very happy that we clicked better this time around - the last time I rode with her was in 2007 and I was working training level (barely) and she hadn't gotten her Bronze yet. We're both much more educated now- especially her since she's a PSG score away from her Silver and she's a certified instructor through 4th.

One of the boarders I've known for ages said it was the most fluid work she's ever seen from Penn. I have to agree, everything felt fantastic. I wish I had video from lesson so I could compare it to video from the shows. Penn's movement at shows looks a little mechanical to me. This work just flowed and he floated- I want to see it! I'm hoping to keep this train going for the next two weeks so the next show has some big improvements! If we can replicate this, I should get an extra 1/2 point to point on each movement, which is an extra 5-10% at the end of a test!

Looking cute before I put his clothes back on and put him out in the field to get muddy on Sunday.

I rode him again Sunday, but outside where we've been having some major connection issues (I wanted to repeat lesson to cement it in my head, but the sun was calling to me!). Things worked out better in walk, but it kind of went to hell in trot. I finally got a decent leg yield and kicked him into canter after it- and promptly said "Up! And more! Medium! Collect and Up! More!" We did several laps of the big outdoor and when I brought him back to trot, he was like "ahhh, ok, I can do this now!" And we had some nice trot work. So apparently, cantering nice and big unlocks him and wears down his nerves (for now until he gets fitter!) Funny though, the bigger that canter is, the easier it was to bring him down to a better trot, and a better stretchy trot. He was more willing to keep his tempo.

We went for a little hack through the woods after with BO's daughter to finish out a great weekend of riding!


  1. That sounds like an amazing lesson! I laughed when I read your reaction about your boot although that sucks (and thankfully the people in my office are used to me being weird). Penn sounds like such an amazing little horse and I'm living vicariously through you (because you get to canter and show). :)

    1. The boot only suffered minor scrapes. I swear, the horses must know to destroy this pair because I can't get them anymore- I bought the closeout pair from a local tack shop that went out of business a few months later! That was at the end of my boot search debacle- I needed a 10.5 boot in an extra wide calf. I was looking at custom made after that. Anyway, Mikey dug his hoof into the one boot and almost broke my toes, both boots have scrapes on the toe and now one has rubs near the top. Argh!

      Penn is really coming into his own- I'm very excited for show season this year and it should be quite an exciting season if we can maintain this level of work. I really wish someone was around to video!

  2. Love this! So much good stuff to digest.

    I wonder if the bigger canter helping to unlock his nerves is less getting worn out and more finding his rhythm and getting comfortable in the balance it gives? That would make sense as to why you get better work afterwards. Maybe that funky canter is really just still young horse stuff, trying different things to avoid being off balance, but really just needing to be shown to get it by going forward (opposite of that thoroughbred issue, where they are usually super balanced forward and often need to find it by slowing the f down.)

    1. It took me a while to get all the little tidbits down- there was so much good stuff to remember!

      Could be. I know when I got him, he was a zooming leaning disaster in canter- we worked on slowing it down because he motorcycled like crazy. Now we're speeding it back up to find the proper balance? He just felt so stuck before cantering.

      I can't wait for you to meet him in May!

  3. Glad you had a great lesson! Sometimes different eyes make a huge difference. :-)

    1. Different eyes helps a lot! With Trainer away enjoying the south, at this point I just need eyes, haha!

  4. so exciting to click well with a new trainer - sounds like Penn really liked the lesson too! it's cool seeing how quickly he's picking up on a lot of these concepts too

    1. He is so smart and picks up on things so quickly- I have to make sure I keep things simple and not throw too much new stuff at him at a time!

  5. I LOOOVE the feeling of my horse's nice, open, whole-body trot after a canter, so I can only imagine it feels SO MUCH MORE AWESOME on Penn! What a super lesson.

    1. It is a super awesome feeling!! First time I've gotten to feel it on Penn!

  6. New follower, SUPER lesson! Definitely going to have to reread to digest it all.
    Rebecca (