Tuesday, March 13, 2018

2/17-18/2018 Lessons - You Have a Self Carriage Problem (And GP Trainer takes Penn for a spin)

It's been a while since these two lessons, but I don't want to skip over them because they were really good and set me up for the last 3-4 weeks of work.

It started snowing as soon as we arrived. Penn was thrilled to stand out in it.
I was glad I brought some of his waterproof clothes just in case he got a stall with a run!

I made my way back to VA several weekends ago for lessons while GP Trainer was home for a weekend. I was super excited, the counter canter work was going really well and Penn was so much more balanced in the counter canter, and then the regular canter by default.

My first lesson of the weekend ended up being a bit of a drag. Literally. This horse found a new avoidance- dragging me around the ring. I couldn’t keep up with the cues he needed or stop him.

GP Trainer really liked how his work was coming along, everything was stronger looking. As we warmed up, she pushed me to make my simple changes better- ask for FEI response simple changes, not second level response simple changes (something I need to school in all of our work).

I love how smooth the transition to renvers is!
Ok, so this isn't good work, it's just a funny reaction to the half halt.
I love love LOVE the start of this counter canter. So upright! He struggled to keep it but we finished strong!

Things went well, so she had me start adding back the flying changes. We asked for the changes out of CC on a circle, and he was giving me late changes. The left to right change was better than the right to left (as it has been for the last few months).

Tiny and a bit clustered, but clean with no leaping!

We started picking apart the bad change a little bit by putting his haunches in while still counter cantering. He wants to step out with his right hind in the change (the outside hind since we’re CC on the right lead while tracking left), so we need to encourage him to load it and keep it under him without swinging his haunches around.

Late with a disengaged right hind.

Well, Penn disagreed most vigorously. The horse hasn’t “run away” with me before, but he dragged me around the ring in this lesson. I needed to be faster in giving and releasing my aids, and I just wasn’t fast enough. I needed to catch him before he ran off, but I just couldn’t. Running off in changes is a huge no-no for GP Trainer. It makes multiple changes difficult because you know… the horse is running off instead of preparing for the next change.

This was an unexpected response and the only amusing one. GP Trainer let him have that one, If only because he didn’t drop his front end.
None of what happened here was my idea. He just took over.

We struggled to pick up the counter canter after that. It was just depressing and I felt defeated.  As I worked on the change, he started giving this awkward trot skip change (which I know another horse who does it and her rider wasn’t able to break the habit). We ended up quitting on a change that was late, but quiet.

But wait! All hope was not lost. I had another lesson the next day. So I asked, “Do you want to ride him tomorrow?”

She agreed to!

As I was untacking him, I noticed some blood on his hoof... he just seems hell bent on destroying his feet. During one of his nonsense porpoise jumps, he must have overreached and stepped on the outside heel bulb of his front left hoof.

Please stop damaging your legs. All 4 now have various marks and ailments, some of which are permanent.
(this picture was taken under the red heat lamps in the wash stall)

I always travel with a trunk of stuff for wraps- cotton, no bows, vet wrap, duct tape, diapers etc. You probably noticed the blue vet wrap in the first picture on this post- I wrapped up his foot for the night to keep it clean and give it some cushion to keep it from getting sore overnight. The wrap did a good job- it sealed the flap of skin nice and tight to where it should be and he came out nice and sound.


I got him all tacked up the next day (with a new gauze pad + vet wrap + bell boots), and a little sad that I had copped out on riding him myself. But in reality, he has had a trainer on him… 4 times? Event trainer rode him once for fun when he came home, twice when he was ignoring me or acting naughty, and Megan rode him once last summer. Everything else has been me. He’s had a few other riders on him because swapping horses is fun, but not many. I was looking forward to seeing him with GP Trainer!

The first thing she did was put leg on and not take it off. The next thing she did was not let him lean on her hand. No pressure on her hands at all. He had to carry himself.

He did not like that. He pulled the same stopping and backing up that he pulls with me. Her words were, “If you’re having anger management issues over the walk, you’re in for a rough 45 minutes.” As they moved on to trot and canter, he would voice his displeasure over the amount of leg she was applying by trying to kick her leg.

She said she was applying the same aids that I was, just harder and more often. She also said he’s 70% on the bit and 70% straight. He needs to be 100% in both, but he’s talked me into 70%. His self carriage needs a lot of help.

She went back to the counter canter and attacked the changes. He gave her a clean left to right change, and then she started picking at the right to left. He started giving her the same issues I had- not picking up the counter canter, not maintaining it, trying to bolt through her. She got him stopped before he even took the first step into his bolts. It only took one or two attempts and her stopping him to make him stop trying that option. I was secretly happy that she didn’t immediately get clean changes, but she did finish with one clean right to left change.

GP Trainer riding the sticky right to left change.

Then she said, “Go get your helmet and boots!”


I had to run back to the barn to get my stuff on, and before I hopped up, she had me grab the reins by the bit and pull on her hand- she then did this weird vibrating motion with her hands. It is impossible to describe, all I can say is it’s very fast tiny motions through to the elbow that prevent him from finding a spot to lean on the bit… forcing him to carry himself.

It was AMAZING riding after her. He listened to my leg! He was light in my hand! It felt like he could keep cantering on as he was for forever! I asked for a single flying change, left to right, and she said he changed the hind, then two strides later changed the front. A perfectly acceptable mistake.

We did some canter to the right, and while he still swapped leads out on me, he wasn’t bolty anymore, and we got some great “mistakes” as he tried to change leads and sit and got stuck.

He sits so hard when he gets stuck!

She commented that he wasn’t easy, and that he felt very very similar to her last grand prix horse (who was the most successful of the 5 or so she’s brought up). They both have big powerful hindquarters, are built fairly level, and neither want to be completely straight or on the bit. I told her, being compared to that horse isn’t a bad thing!

A few things she noted:

  • In 6 months or so, we can talk about stepping the canter more forward again and letting him float a bit within the canter. He will FINALLY be strong enough in the near to mid future to balance himself and carry more forward.
  • His issues are self carriage issues, not flying change issues. If I don't touch the changes for a month, and only focus on improving his self carriage, his flying changes will still improve because his self carriage will have improved. Even if I don't canter much and spend my time struggling in the walk, I will STILL be improving his changes.
  • All of this work is going to be SO HARD for him. He is going to be exhausted. Rides are going to be short because he's going to run out of gas in the tank.

I'm sharing the whole video of me riding after her- there's so much good stuff about letting him make mistakes, how what we're doing is so hard, and how I need to judge his responses against both of those things. He's going to make honest to goodness mistakes and he's also going to tell me to go pound salt. I have to be smart about deciding which response he's giving me.

I am SO GLAD I had GP Trainer ride him at the start of my second lesson. She got to feel everything, and fix things, and I got to have a great ride!! I ENJOYED my horse again. I asked her if she would be willing to sit on him at the start of our next visit, for as long as she feels she needs to (15-20 min like this, or the whole 45 min), and she said sure (I mean, it’s not like she’d say no I think lol). But this way, she can evaluate him and work on the right to left change, and then I can have a better learning experience because she’s schooled him. We’re to a point that is beyond anything Mikey and I did, so the extra help is awesome!

She gave us homework to keep working on his self carriage. He's not to touch my hand, and if he's leaning on me at all, no doing changes. I don't have a flying change problem, I have a self carriage problem! Simple homework right? Ha!


  1. What a great experience to get to watch her ride him, feel things out, and THEN get to ride him after. And DAMN does he sit when he's stuck. Holy...

    1. It's awesome! I'm going to have her ride him first for the next few visits... All of his tantrums and mistakes involve so much sitting... I hope that means he has a bright future!

  2. I love these lesson posts so much. So many cool things to think about and take away!

    1. Writing about them helps cement them for me, and I always hope other people can get something out of them too!

  3. Glad you had a wonderful experience with the GP trainer and were able to come out with some good info!!

    1. Yes, it was so helpful for her to ride him. I'll be continuing that for a few more visits!

  4. It can be so hard to tell if they are really giving us 100%. Glad that having the trainer ride was able to help clear a path forward!

    1. I can usually tell the difference, but I don't always get out of them the best way- I tend to keep trying to push him out of it instead of stopping and regrouping when he's honest to goodness trying and getting stuck.

  5. Oh I think he looks great!! Stick with it - it will get better!