Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Unexpected Lessons

I managed to finagle some lessons from an unexpected source- Megan! She was in town the first week of October so I was like, "Hey, I'm royally sucking at riding, want to come yell at me?"

I described a dead air feeling in the bridle- he wasn't leaning on my hands, but he also didn't feel connected to the bridle, but he also wasn't consistently on or off the forehand, and it felt like a fake connection. The left lead had suddenly turned to scrambled eggs again too.

Megan basically told me, he might be lighter in your hand (not leaning on the bit) but he's leaning on his shoulders instead. That's why he feels on and off the forehand. Oh.

Ok guys, Megan is incredible. She outputs a lot of information at once (I really need audio recorded so I can just play it back during my schooling sessions. Or while I sleep. Either or.), but she is more than happy to reiterate all the things as many times as you need. I was a bit on overload (think computer with not enough RAM for what you're trying to do), but she made everything so much better!

Penn's OMG face is appropriate for what we're learning.

Walk/Halt/Walk/Halt/Walk/Trot/Walk/Halt/Walk/Trot Hell

Or as we'll call it, "Penn's life for the next 3 months".

Megan did something similar with Rico, but it basically amounts to being extremely scrupulous about the hind end engagement and every single transition and every single step. If it's not improving the horse, go back and redo everything.

She talked a lot about changing the rhythm of the horse (ie, walk/trot/canter) without changing the speed of the horse. She had me keep the walk and trot very slow, but active. He could not disengage his hind end for any reason. He could not lean on my hand (something I did an ok job starting before our lessons!). He could not surge forward in upward transitions. He wouldn't flop down in downward transitions. He couldn't flip his head. He had to maintain his engagement (ie, keep bending those hocks dude). I had my own list of things to do: continuously test the connection- brief releases of the reins to make sure he's going to maintain the current rhythm/speed, no hanging on the rein, every cue must come from the seat. Thigh with slightly raised seat to collect, release the thigh to allow forward. The desired result is that I ask for a transition and release into it and he puts himself even more into the connection.

The biggest thing I took away was in Penn's collected/medium/collected trot transitions. He could collect, medium, then somewhere in the medium he'd lose his balance. When I recollected, he would plop on the forehand. Megan stressed making the medium steps not as many (quality over quantity), and trying a pattern of 4 steps medium/4 steps collected. I really found his balance point is not strong enough to maintain a medium trot, simply because he can't come back from a medium trot and be ready to go again (see 4-1's first diagonal). I have to fix the collected trot first, then we can go again. That isn't how it should be done.

She said he's holding his tension at the base of the neck, so everything we do has to be to make that stretch without him leaning on me or his shoulders. She also said this whole exercise is much more difficult on the rider than the horse when the horse is like Penn- they're a bit downhill already, we want to help them, and it's easy to get talked into helping them again.

Bend those hocks!

I need to remember all of the following: (I hope I am remembering these correctly)
  • Think about giving my hands forward in the downward transitions. It must come from the seat.
  • Give my hands forward in the gait briefly to check that Penn will stay at the same rhythm/speed/connection.
  • I can use my hands to remind him he can't put his head in the air, and that he can't lean on the bit (I give the rein a wiggle). But I can't hang.
  • Any resistance in the upward, go back and repeat (resistance = head flip, rushing the first step, diving down to pull himself up, disengaging a single hind leg, anything that isn't stepping semi-politely into the new rhythm at the same speed).
  • Any time he disengages, go back to the previous rhythm (med trot to collected, collected trot to collected walk, walk to halt).
  • Anything that does not improve the horse, go back to prior rhythm and find the hind end again.
  • Transitions, transitions, transitions!
Partway through the walk/trot/walk/halt hell in our first lesson, a switch flipped in Penn's head. He suddenly went from quiet resistance to outright tantrums. I asked for a halt/walk and he reacted by hopping his front end and flipping his head (no real danger of rearing). Megan said he's just testing out new ways out, and to keep going like I was. He tried surging through the first step of the transition to disengage his hocks. He tried being "zoomie." He tried growing roots through his hooves into the sand. Every time, we just asked again. In the second lesson, we added rein back to the halt. Not flying backwards, a very controlled, one step at a time rein back. He had to bend the hocks and not drop his shoulders to use them to push himself backwards. This helped when he would halt and disengage. I could re-engage and then he wouldn't drop out from under me.

By the end of this work in the first lesson, he was much much better in the contact/connection at the trot, and I had my hands further forward than I usually do, but it wasn't a struggle for me to keep them there. He was light in my hand, had a real elastic connection, was stretching his neck forward, and I had contact again. It was great!

In lesson 2's halt/walk/trot hell, we attacked a bit of his tension to the right- he sometimes comes out one direction bending like a 2x4. I respond by digging into his rib cage and shoving his haunches in (because he's pressing his rib cage against my inside leg and the haunches trail out). That usually results in haunches in or the inside hind crossing the outside. Megan had me keep the outside leg on to only stop the outside hind from leaving our circle (Penn uses lateral moves to evade sometimes), but then the inside leg asked the inside hind to keep stepping up very actively. In order for the inside hind to keep moving up, the stifle needs to keep moving, and Penn will be forced to shift his rib cage out to make room for the stifle to keep coming forward. It was extremely tricky, but worked extremely well. She said to focus on keeping his hind legs close together since he uses the lateral moves to evade, so it might seem a lot like bouncing his hind end from leg to leg while he figures out the walls.

Playing in water is so much more fun than training.


I described the canter as being irregular again. I wasn't sure how to fix it, it was just bad. The first thing we had to do was get him working again after our little break. I went back to walk/trot/walk/halt hell, and in the first halt, he voiced his displeasure by halting with his head up and parking out. We got that sorted, and off to the canter.

It wasn't nearly as irregular as it has been, but it was irregular. She said the mechanic of the canter has a downward step and no matter what, the horse is going to be downhill. Instead of trying to lift him in that step, lift him even more in the uphill portion of the canter. It's a very fast half halt in the uphill portion, and a quick give in the downhill. Then once the uphill/engagement has been properly established, add energy slowly to improve suspension. Bam, no more irregular canter. I had a canter I could do something out of. He wants to be earth bound in canter because it's easier than bending his hocks. Earth bound = irregular.

Penn was most displeased by these findings- he gave me all the warnings before finally bucking to disengage his hocks. We started over from the walk/halt/walk, and he grumbled about cantering, but we started having much better trot/canter transitions. He pinned his ears very threateningly for the transition, but each time I did less and less fixing the canter immediately after the transition (re-engaging the hocks) before moving on to timing the half halts. By the end I had a canter I would have been happy to try changes or half pass out of. It still needs to be much better though. We talked about how the lack of suspension is why he's hopping so much in the changes. He consistently hops first, so he's trying to create the suspension that allows him to do a clean change.

In our second lesson, he did not want to be on the bit as much as he should be- Megan said this is ok. He can't keep the uphill balance and be fully on the bit. Give him some time.

Excessive hopping to create suspension to get the changes done.

Megan warned me it will get worse before it gets better. The first couple rides are great- he's working out what I want. Then he starts to realize this is hard and he's sore, so he starts looking at ways out. That's when the rides start to go downhill. GP Trainer told me the SAME THING. She likes having horses in for training for 3 days or 3 weeks- the time in between sucks, is frustrating, is difficult, and everything looks pretty bad. I am glad I got to ride once between our two lessons- Megan got to help me through some of the suck that is to come.

Suffice it to say, we've got a seat far away from the door on the struggle bus. Penn has decided being on the bit is terrible. He also oscillates between zero activity and running away. I have to be so much clearer with my seat with what I want- any little drop back sends him gushing forward. We hit a 12/10 on the frustration scale the other night.

So... one week down, 2 to go? And then another month or more? I'm looking forward to the horse I'll have on the other side!


  1. I’m so jealous that you got a lesson with Megan!! Sounds like you guys worked on some really cool things and I can’t wait to hear how he continues to adjust to it.

    1. I love my Megan lessons! I wish I could see her more often, I am developing some new bad habits I think and I need to be corrected, hahahaha! She just knows SO MUCH.

  2. Can you please sent Megan to Austin in between the 3 days? That would be super :)

    1. Hahaha! I'm so glad I was able to get two lessons!

  3. I did an entire summer of those transitions and it paid off in waves. Sounds like lots of good stuff in that lesson!

    1. It's definitely paying off- I see glimmers of future Penn. Except he's buried in 2 tons of shit I need to scrape off first, haha.