Thursday, June 8, 2017

5/15/2017 Lesson with MF

MF is a GP rider from several hours away. I've only heard glowing reviews of her when she comes to Dressage Trainer's barn, so when I was finally invited to come ride with her, I said "Ok!" and waited for lesson day to come.

Someone refused to eat his breakfast before we left. I hand grazed him for the half hour I had scheduled for him to eat breakfast instead.

She liked Penn A LOT. Nice neck, good shoulders, nice intelligent head. She noted his back slightly dipped, so to get it truly up, he has to stretch down a bit.

Unfortunately, while I have video of lesson, there's no audio because MF used a headset to speak to an earpiece in my ear from the middle of the ring. I usually post videos from my lessons with GP Trainer, but that's so all can partake in the audio instruction too. I don't have her exact instruction in this, so I'm just going to do a bunch of gifs (and a little video at the end).

She watched us warm up, and immediately said he should be stepping more out with his front legs at the walk. He reaches under with his hind legs nicely, and he has a wonderful angle to his shoulder, so there should be no reason he can't reach with his front legs. He has an 8 walk, don't let him go around at a 6. To make that happen, I had to ride it more forward, but more up too in my own body so he would raise his shoulder and lift the leg more (I also filed this away for his mediums).

She started what became a common theme for our lesson: Good scores come from riding on the edge of control, and judges want to see nice moving horses really MOVE. Average moving horses move as best they can and they're rewarded for moving at their best, but nice moving horses better really move because then the judge will be disappointed in what's brought to the ring. I never really thought about that- Mikey was a good mover in eventing, but a average/good mover in the dressage ring. I always oogled the fancy horses and how I couldn't hope to best them so I had to be super accurate. Apparently now I have a fancy horse who I'll be punished for not riding on the edge!

We moved to trot. She wanted more trot too. I did my usual figure 8 and serpentines to warm up (sorry, not making gifs of those, lol).

She had us leg yield from centerline, but had me counter flex (flex him into) the leg yield as a start for half pass. He got steadier in the leg yield when I did that.

She then had me go down centerline and then go left for a few steps, and then right for a few, then left, then right, etc. Pushing him back and forth makes him steady his shoulders himself. She noted that it takes me a long time to get the leg yield left going from the centerline.

Go left. Go right. GO LEFT. GO RIGHT!

Next she asked me to show her his turn on the forehand... which I had to admit that I barely do with him. She was like, "Oh really? You should do it every ride!" I asked him for turn on the forehand, and he promptly turned, but inverted a bit. I guess it never really occurred to me to have him be round too. So that's where we started.

Well that was bad.

She identified where he holds his tension in his jaw and cheek and did some manual flexing of him. She showed me where she wanted him to stay, and then it was my turn... and she promptly took him back from me when I did my rein jiggling thing. The second thing she stressed this lesson was "rein on or relaxed hand." No jiggling, put the rein on by closing your hand and using your elbow or relax the hand. Hands like side reins yo.

"Stop wagging his head you schmuck."
Ok, she didn't actually say that last bit, lol.

Note for riding Penn: Going left, relax left hand and really hold the right rein with my right elbow. This keeps control of the right shoulder. Going right, he needs the bending right suppleness and less left rein.

The problem in my haunches in, half pass, and turn on the haunches (aka why they aren't happening) is throughness and flexion in the jaw. She said don't be afraid to manually put him there- obviously this isn't the final stage but you have to make it clear that's where he's to be.

Yea, I needed a lot of help. Horse gets a pat though.

So that's where we started- keeping roundness at the halt and through a single step of turn on the forehand. She had to help me keep the flexion and get the over because Penn was looking for any way out except the door I was holding open. He also had to STOP after one step. He wanted to rush through it (the Thoroughbred in him, haha). It got better, and we moved on to a square with quarter turn on the forehand corners.

Ok, that was a little more than a quarter turn.

Then we moved on to turn on the haunches. Penn didn't want to bend and move to the right and it took a lot of reminding him about where to be in order for him to do it. Turn on the haunches should have the hind legs crossing over (walk pirouette does not have the cross over). We finally got some good turn on the haunch right, much better than anything I've been able to produce.

One to the left.
Even with the stutter, it's still better than anything I had produced to date for the TOH right.

MF surprised me by having me canter out of the turn on the haunches right. In my haste to comply, I dropped all reminders for Penn to be round and let him invert into the canter and hurried him so he picked up the wrong lead.

Rider error FTW

We schooled the walk/canter and trot/canter both directions with the same idea- he must connect and not invert. Same thing as the turn on the forehand- we have to fill in this hole too. As I got better at maintaining the roundness (something I will have to do until he will hold it himself as the new normal), his back started really coming up into the transition. If I dropped the ball AT ALL, he'd revert back to his old self and not lift his back through the transition.

Coming from canter to trot, I had to make sure to collect, collect, and shoulder in into the trot. He stopped falling on his forehand and made some nice transitions.

I'm pretty sure she was yelling "Shoulder in!!" into my ear.

She had me do a change of direction through a trot change. The downward was OK, and then she said "don't hurry the new lead, wait for him to soften and come through!" It took a while to establish the new bend, but we got it and the new lead. She had me make the next change with a flying change, which ended up late behind and a bit tense. Baby changes though.


She also had me work on the stretchy canter. Say whaattt?

This is all the stretch I got, but he's not running off, so win?

She wants him to be able to go forward, come back, stretch down, and lift up. As he stretched down, he wanted to run off. We spent some time working on down without running off- she had me think about moving against his left hind to prevent him from running off on the right lead while encouraging him to stretch down. She said it'll be the work of weeks or months until he can actually give a good stretch without running, so no worries. She had me collect him and then volte into a walk at A... where he inverted through the downward. She said he needs to be stronger, and right now it's good enough but it's flat and not great like it could be. Effective, but not expressive and great.

Effective, not expressive.
I feel like she's standing there saying, "Impress me." lol

We finished by working with the bamboo pole. She asked if he has started half steps, I said no, so we started from the beginning. All we worked on was getting him comfortable working around the pole- it has to be a very low key, low stress thing so he doesn't get worked up over it. To be honest, I'm not sure what she did besides tap legs and make sure he was OK with the pole (my job was keeping him round and/or moving), but he started sitting more in the walk which was pretty cool. I'm not going to do a gif of the work- It's interesting so I'll share the whole video of that part.

And if you're interested, here's the video of all the gif clips (including some that didn't make it to the blog).

Overall, I was really happy with the lesson and MF's ideas. She certainly identified weaknesses I need to address, and Penn was better at the end than when we started.

Since this ride, I've oscillated on how I feel- I don't like the amount of hand I used (my right arm hurt for a couple days). I do like how regular the canter got. I don't like how he started getting BTV. I do like how the transitions changed for the better. I've mixed her work into my warm up- she said she always starts from the bottom of the pyramid, no matter what horse she's sitting on (green or FEI), and she works on the first part of the pyramid that trips up the horse during that ride.

I do my serpentines that mix in Cowboy Dressage Trainer's bending exercises, but then I also get my elbows into the work faster and I check my throughness with turn on the fore and turn on the haunches. The elbow reminder came in handy at the show this past weekend and keeping Penn's attention.

There were a few days that Penn flipped me the bird over moving off my left leg (in both TOF and TOH). He kept threatening to rear, so I thought, "How did MF help me get him moving off this leg?" Well she poked him. I can't poke him since I already am with my spur, but I could tap him with my whip behind my leg. It only took one or two taps before he complied, albeit unhappily. Now I generally do only a handful of turns because he keeps the roundness. I sometimes have to remind him on the left, but there's much less fuss now.

Overall, I think it was a worthwhile lesson. If I'm invited the next time, I'll sign up again!


  1. You two look absolutely amazing.

    1. Thank you! I'm really pleased with how he's doing.

  2. Sounds like a productive lessons with some useful takeaways!

  3. I give you full permission to yell "stop wagging his head you schmuck!" at me. In fact, I'm going to beg you to do so.

    1. Haha, you're on! Just yell at me back for everything else.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm so excited about the things to come!

  5. I love when a new trainer can give us all these new ways of thinking about a thing, or different perspectives and whatnot. Penn looks great!

    1. I definitely can appreciate her perspective! I liked her ideas, and they have helped a ton.

  6. Wow! What a great lesson. Sounds like you got many great takeaways.