Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dressage is Such a Slog

Does anyone else feel that way? I mean, I love dressage. It fits my type A personality really well, but I lived on my stupid circle for 3 weeks straight (I believe it's actually called, "a stupid fucking circle." Just doing endless transitions. Shaking him off the bit. Feeling like a failure. Keep going anyway. Being type A is probably WHY I can keep going.

I haven’t written anything lately because honestly, there’s nothing to write about. I ordered Penn’s new double, but I’m having some sizing issues so it’s not ready to be blog fodder yet. Other than that, I haven’t been doing anything with him except schooling him and putting hours in the saddle working on our homework from the lessons in my last post.

Maybe there's some self carriage out there?

I’ve been diligently working on Penn’s self-carriage. Walk/trot/walk/trot etc until the end of time. I’m sure we spend a lot of time walking… but it’s so damn hard! I am also applying more leg than I ever have before. Makes sense, I need to generate the energy for him to convert into shoulder lift. When he doesn’t listen to one leg, I keep digging in with it (or pony club kick it), and put a seatbone into it until he decides he’d rather leg yield away from it. But it never, ever goes away until he responds.

I remember to apply my leg first. Double what I think I actually need. I vibrate my hands. I make sure he stays on the bit. I vibrate my hands some more. I check him for self-carriage by giving a hand away, then giving the other away. I check for the topline of his neck to be blown up like a balloon. I check that my shoulders are up and back and I’m sitting on my tailbone.

Earning my bronze medal. Because at some point in my past, I didn't feel incompetent.

On the bit. Hold yourself. On the bit. Hold yourself. Repeat for eternity.

I am battling his ever shifting balance. Leg on. Put him back on the bit. Leg on, sit on my tailbone, and vibrate the hands because he fell on his shoulder and plowed down. Put him back on the bit.

The right lead canter broke almost immediately upon our return home from lessons. Like, it was completely gone. It was alarming, but the ability to trot to the right without flailing nonsense also disappeared at the same time, sooooo… tracking right was just screwed?

I’d ask for the right lead and for him to sit and carry himself. He’d take two or three strides and then do an awkward trot skip change to the left lead. Back to walk, ask again. I eventually got fed up with that nonsense and double leg pony club kicked him forward on the right lead. You can’t trot and change if you’re hand galloping! That seemed to help a lot- it made my leg a bit more meaningful.

This was super fun. Why can't working on self carriage be this fun?

It is such a SLOG. It isn’t fun for either of us. I feel like I’m going to the gym every day and lifting the same 10 pound weight for a half hour. No switching it up, just keep lifting it while waiting for it to get easier.

On the bright side, before I started all of this, I was panicking because I couldn’t do the 10m half circle to 10m half circle in 2-2 and 3-3 without him falling on his face or bulging or running off (or some combination of those). I have slowly started adding that back, and he’s much much better about it and has stopped flailing through it.

As much as I say this was a slog to get through, about 2 weeks into it, things starting looking up and we had more good in our rides than bad. By the end of week 3 (when it was time to go back for another round of lessons), I was actually happy and was having good rides that lasted about 20-25 minutes. Penn was rising to the occasion and trying so very hard. He's not always right or perfect, but he's giving 150% in every ride in the canter. I can feel the trot is going in the right direction to actually allow a good medium trot to develop.

Maybe we'll get a few more of these tri-color ribbons this year?
We did OK at second and third last year without much self carriage.
Managed to get a champion at each level at some point at recognized shows we went to!

In our last ride before lessons he was holding himself so well in the canter that I started mixing changes back in. The final set of changes I did went like this: tracking right on the circle, canter on the left lead. Flying change to the right lead (which he landed in a balanced canter!). Finish the circle, then go across the K-B diagonal and ask for the right to left change. Get that balanced and be straight on the next long wall, then for shits and giggles ask for the left to right change (which would change to the counter canter). He gave the 3rd change! He lasted a few strides before ending up in a heap when we hit the corner on his weaker lead in counter canter. But he got all the pats and love and we quit for the night. He tried so hard, gave zero sass, and had boring changes!

Next up, more lessons! Because that has become a goal, get down to visit GP Trainer more. I need more help these days since we're in new territory!


  1. I'm with you. It's a fun slog, but it's a slog. That's the point, you're either slogging or you're advancing up the levels too fast, I guess?

    1. I guess that's one way of looking at it! I know we're laying down basics that we'll need for future levels, and I know we're correcting things that need to be. It's just draining to do those things!

  2. Not that I'm anywhere near where you are, but I feel you on the dressage being a slog. Which is why I frequently go off on tangents of trail riding or other random things, but I always come back... (That's also probably why our progress is so glacially slow haha).

    1. Hahaha! I WISH we could go off on a tangent right now! Just for a day. He's well overdo for a trail ride, but between the wet/rain/snow/ice and darkness before the time change, it hasn't been feasible to go. His last trail ride was 3 months ago, when I was hell bent on riding in fresh snow right before Christmas. With the time change, and hopefully spring showing up instead of this winter crap, I'll be back to weekly trail rides in no time!

  3. Replies
    1. I think so many people do, and I thought it was important to share that no matter what level you're at, the slog will be there in some fashion. Lay it all down, brick by brick. Even if you're making those bricks yourself in a puddle in cloudy cold winter.

  4. I think it's important to remember where you started in times like this - there will always be things to work on (with Dressage especially)!

    1. Definitely! I recently went back and looked at our "awesome" tests from 2016. He has come so far.

  5. Ugh yes and I don't even ride Dressage - just doing that diligent flatwork is so boring and unglamorous and you fix one thing and the wheel falls off another part. Solidarity!

    1. Hahaha, I'm pretty sure "fixing one thing just to have the wheels fall off somewhere else" is the definition of horse training. I slog through because well, I want to do the cool shit like pirouettes, tempi changes, piaffe, and passage. The crap I'm slogging through right now is the start to all of those- without self carriage and an ability to sit, none of those will be possible.