Monday, July 3, 2017

6/17/2017 - The Unexpected Lesson

I meant to get this posted in June, but GP Trainer came to the farm for a clinic on July 1/2, and stayed at my house instead of a hotel (save money on those lessons yo!), so I was obnoxiously cleaning the house, inside and out, during the week I wanted to get this posted.

Since the last horse show, I set two pseudo-goals: get the changes more confirmed (aka get at least a late change every time) and make our medium gaits better. This was in anticipation of... riding 3-1 at a schooling show July 16, and a recognized show July 22-23. Finally finish that bronze, you know?

So I've been cracking away at it. Working on straightness to build engagement. Keeping the changes low key. Things had been going ok. Until they weren't.

Foamy mouth with gross bit sucking noises = good

I had been working on the changes, and he was giving me something every time I asked on the short diagonal (the way it is in 3-1), so I was happy. Until he started hopping through the right to left change. NBD I thought, he's a green horse. Green horses sometimes hop. Check the connection, move on. He hopped half the time, changed the other half. Until he started outright bucking. Then the bucking got bigger. I was not about to pop him with the whip over it- I could tell his response would be to retaliate, not to take his spanking and move on. I knew something was wrong training-wise, I didn't know what (am I setting him up wrong? trapping him? holding him back? is he just fucking sassy? what combo of all of the above?), and I knew if I wanted to meet my goal of trying 3-1, I needed to work it out ASAP. I needed HELP.

So I took stock of who I had available to me: GP Trainer wasn't an option, she's too far away to help without video, of which I had none (and she doesn't exactly approve of me working on the changes right now, which is pretty valid considering Penn is a barely-second level horse, but we might be getting closer!). Cowboy Dressage Trainer was actually one of my top choices, but I didn't think she would approve of working on it either. She'd sidetrack into something else we needed to work on (which I know wouldn't be all bad to do either). I didn't want to ask Event Trainer since I haven't really talked to her in ages. BO's daughter mentioned Dressage Trainer was going to be out the next morning, and had a lot of experience with teaching flying changes since her PSG horse put her through the flying change ringer (he did not take to flying changes well at all), and she's brought a bunch of horses through successfully to 3rd and 4th. I decided to give Dressage Trainer a whirl: she has a lot of experience and I could get help immediately.

Apparently I made Dressage Trainer's day when BO texted her to ask if she'd shuffle her schedule a small bit so I could have a lesson. She said that's fine, and was thrilled to teach me. Well that's exciting! I know she has a bunch of lower level students (First and below), and I know trainers get excited to work with students who know, and can do, more.

4 white standards = markers to count strides between on long sides and diagonals, in trot and canter.
Trying to get a handle on the mediums! I crunched some interesting numbers to go with these, I might make that into a post.
This work on Friday was MUCH more acceptable than his flying change work.

I told her up front when we started that my end goal for the moment was to squeak out two 60s in 3-1 in July and finally finish my bronze... that it has been on hold now for 3 years and I'd really like to finish it because we are SO CLOSE. She laughed and said ok. I told her the trot work is all good, except the mediums need to be bigger, but I'm working on it and they're getting better. I was also working on the flying changes, and usually getting something when I asked, but he's started bucking through the one change, and it's getting worse.

She said alright, let's warm up the trot, and go straight to the changes. She said the changes are a change in bend behind the saddle (which ensures the hind end keeps up in the change), so our warm up work focused on lateral work to get that part of his back moving. She also didn't want to work the changes on the diagonal- she thought that might not be a good way to approach them right now.

She had me mess around a bit with going forward and coming back on a 25ish-m circle- short bouts of medium trot, then collect, do another medium, collect, change directions, medium, collect. It was really good- his medium trot got better immediately and within a couple go/collect rounds, DT was pleased with the medium he was offering and said that's plenty of reach. Wahoo, we'll keep working on those so maybe I can have a medium and a medium + 1 (aka not an extended but hey look, this medium is a hair bigger!)

She then had me work SI and haunches in (HI). She had me do both on the 20m circle, but then when I'd go "straight" on the circle, ask for a short bit of medium trot. Repeat. Then we took it down the wall. SI down the wall. Make the trot bigger in SI. Smaller again. Bigger again. Smaller again. Straight. Turn to the short side, medium trot. Collect, turn the corner, SI again. Repeat. Then we did the same with the HI. All the while, she wanted a more uphill trot. It was super interesting work, and it helped me cement the new feeling of core activity/seat engagement that I found I needed at the last show to get a better uphill trot.

Something she continually reminded me of in the SI was to keep my outside hand down, especially tracking left because Penn wants to tilt his head in that direction. Keeping my outside hand down really helped with fighting the tilt, and steadied him a lot better. I imagine that's because it helped me keep him connected to my elbows, instead of breaking the connection at the wrist.

All of the go forward/come back within straight and the lateral work was to show me the elasticity and suppleness Penn needed in that kind of work. How he needs to be that adjustable, all the time, no matter where I put him. It was super cool, I really wish I had video of it (of course there was no one on hand to take video for me!). I'm super excited to give it a whirl on my own though.

New fly clothes. This is a 72", BTW. Penn's regular clothes? 75-78".
He was hulking out of his fly sheet from last year, and basically ripped the shoulders out of it.
I may have picked this one because its color was "Illusion Blue" and well, Penn is Illuczion.

We took a break, then moved on to the canter right. The very first thing she said was make the canter much more uphill. He can't buck through the changes if his poll is up. She phrased it as, "Sit on his hind end." I don't know why, but that clicked for me. I know I've heard it before. I think it goes hand in hand with MF telling me to sit against his outside hind while I stretched him down to prevent him from speeding up. It was super easy for me to engage my seat in a way that encouraged him to be more uphill and collect, but without closing any of the front doors.

We did the same thing: medium canter on the 20m circle for no more than a quarter of the circle, collect, medium, collect, medium, collect. I had warned her before we cantered that we struggled with the HI at the canter last time I tried it, he would try and simply couldn't hold it very long. After we worked medium/collect, she had me work SI, straight and medium, collect and SI, straight and medium, collect and HI (holding the HI as long we we could, but no more than a quarter circle), straight and medium. Holding the laterals on the circle for no more than a quarter was enough to give Penn something to do, but release him before he got flustered. As we progressed, the medium canter found that awesome shoulder pop-and-reach motion, and it was effortless. Combining the "sit on his hind end" feeling into asking for the transition med-col worked really well too- no more squeezing him to death with him thighs (which didn't work well, let's face it). Just sit against him and he has to collect. Durrrrrrrrr. It works for both working to collected AND medium to working? Who knew?!

Anyway, down the long wall: Go to SI for half of it, medium out of it. Collect and turn the corner and get a little more forward and uphill going again. SI down the first half of the long wall, medium out, collect, turn, find uphill again. She had me change one of the SI to a renvers-like change and seemed pleased that it was relatively easy for him. Next was substituting HI for SI, being careful not to trap him in it (aka medium out).

Then she had me tear drop back around to the other direction, but maintain the counter canter. We balanced the counter canter- it mostly involved me continuing to remind him to stay uphill and compressed and to keep his balance. Then she had me turn down a quarterline and leg yield out to the wall- left leg with every stride, then hit the wall and right leg, flying change. He did a quiet and clean flying change. Walk, make a big fuss over him.

Due to the recent heatwave, Penn has finally learned fans are his friend.

We did the same to the left after a good rest- he could hold the HI!!! I was amazed. He clearly didn't have the same endurance to the left as the right (we also started with the easier change), but she rather liked his left lead better than his right. I rode it much better because I had to, which might be part of it. She got after me to keep after his hind legs, especially the right hind. She said something similar to what GP Trainer has said- his hind end gets slow this direction (GP Trainer has phrased it as he gets scrambly). I need to keep after his hind legs and make them keep up and slow the front end down (something else GP Trainer has told me).

Partway through the left lead work (while we were still tracking left), she had me introduce the concept of half steps to him- when I was putting him together to walk-canter, he just was not engaging his hind end. She had me half halt and basically jazz him up, tapping a couple times with the whip. I got a, "Finally! He's bending his hocks!" Haha. He absolutely leapt off the ground into the canter, which was pretty cool. It was uphill from the start. Gotta figure out how to channel that better.

The left was really hard for him (and me). It took a couple tries through the quarterline to wall leg yield to get the first left to right change. She had me really get after his right hind in the leg yield and then apply the same pressure with the new outside leg for the change cue. This was super hard for me- I didn't want to over cue him, and I was letting him expand his frame in the last few strides before the change. We got a couple that way- then she had me set it up with a 20m circle, compress, straight, cue new lead onto the adjoining 20m circle. She said the left to right wasn't late, per se. It was late to be sure, but he would change the front and change the hinds a half stride late- like a funny hitch.

One of the times he broke in counter canter while on the left lead, I tried picking up the counter canter directly, like I normally do. We hit the straight away as I cued, he picked up the left lead, went two strides, and did a perfect flying change to the inside right lead. DT laughed, I laughed, I pulled him up and gave him a rest and a pat while we giggled. Sneaky horse. He looked super proud of himself too for being so clever. One might even say, smug. Lol

Picture courtesy of BO- he took a nap Saturday afternoon after that lesson!

She said overall he wants to expand his frame and pull his poll down through the flying changes (which then lets him buck), and I need to keep him up and compressed. That's why she doesn't want him doing them off of long approaches like diagonals right now- it's too much time for him to lengthen his frame and drag me forward out of my seat.

This lesson stressed being able to make him laterally supple and elastic (get that back bending for the changes), and making him longitudinally supple and elastic (so I can keep him compressed and up through the changes). DT apologized for making the lateral work so mentally taxing and quick-coming, but she said she's trying to cover a lot of ground in a short time. I told her, "No problem- I brought you a long list!" In fact it was great the way she structured it. I'm super excited to try this all on my own. I won't hit the changes every time, but I can work those lateral moves a bunch.

We'll see how the next few weeks shake out, but I might try to ride with DT again before our July debut. I'm a bit nervous about riding 3rd- the last time we tried 3-1 it was not good (53%), and I feel like I'm rushing Penn like I did Mikey (Great, we got recognized scores at second! Move on to third!). But I think Penn's quality of work and connection is much better than Mikey's, and Mikey averaged 55% at third. I think of 3-1 as 'second level with flying changes' because it's SI, trot half pass, medium/extended trots, medium/extended canters, flying changes. I donno, we'll see. It'll be an interesting experiment.


  1. I always love taking a lesson with someone different (as long as they aren't too different) than my instructor. Sometimes the way that someone says something just a little different makes a bigger impact on me :)

    1. I was very happy with this lesson! New perspectives are good!

  2. oh man this lesson sounds intensely awesome! in some ways kinda like a stephen lesson where it's all just rapid fire 'now do this!' over and over again. i gotta say - i REALLY miss being able to ride a horse that COULD do some of that work (albeit at a lower level, obvi). Penn sounds like he did super well too - exciting how much progress he's making!

    1. It was definitely rapid fire- I like lessons like that for sure! And Charlie will get there, he just needs time! Penn was super on task for this lesson- he was also super sweaty and gross when we were done, lol