lesson notes · Uncategorized

Lesson Notes: Hopping Over

Trying slowly to get back into the swing of things, here.

I have been lessoning pretty regularly, for sanity and chipping slowly away at that idea of trying out a First Level test in the fall.

Yesterday, we had a really terrific, really tough lesson. A trainer once told me years ago that as you progress further and further along in training, the balance shifts from you working hard and the horse not so much, to the horse working hard and you less and less.

I feel like our lesson moved us further down that road, or maybe I’ve been getting stronger because I’ve been riding so much lately, but boy, Tristan was TIRED at the end of it.

We worked on a lot of things, but the one I want to record had to do with straightness & bend on turns – circles, corners, and diagonals. In particular, Tristan falls haunches in going left. He’s stronger and less crooked and more supple going right, but he still needs support.

So we worked on loading the inside hind by “hopping” him over, especially going left. Basically, as I asked for a slight bend, use my inside leg behind the girth to really target and activate his hind end and get it moving over, independent of his front end. As we approach the corner, I kept steady in the outside rein and then used my inside leg to give a quick, sharp aid and really aim for crossover with his hind end.

To the left, we really made this a true HOP – we wanted him to really jump and respond, because he was so crooked to start. The hardest part for me was anticipating and keeping the outside rein steady while I did that – I tended to drop it, and then he moved his whole body over or even got more crooked. To the right, I still had to get some of that feel, but not make it a real jump.

We started with it on a circle, and then (as a huge thunderstorm blew through the area) went down to the indoor and started long diagonal serpentines. Short side straightness, set him up for the corner with a good strong “hop”, then continue that feel around the turn to the diagonal, set him up straight on the diagonal, and open him up for a more extended trot. Then approaching the far corner, take him back, get the other bend, “hop” him into the corner, straight down the short side, and repeat.

I LOVED this exercise. The extension down the diagonal jazzed him up, and the precision of aiming for the diagonal each time really forced me to be clear and quick with my aids. We started to develop – not a true extended trot, but a new trot with more in it. Loading the inside hind also helped him sit more and gave him more lift in the front end as we went across that diagonal.

At the end of it, he was TIRED but after starting off very cranky (and having one spectacular buck/bolt that I grimly hung on through and turned into a VERY deep trot 10m circle; S. said “it’s a good thing you’re really ballsy about riding those”) he was game and willing right through, which was important for me to see because it felt like he was really understanding what we asked of him and he was feeling like he’d succeeded.

Did I mention TIRED?


lesson notes · Uncategorized

Lesson Notes

I am LOVING having two lessons a month. It’s the perfect rhythm for me, and we’re really making substantial progress. It also lets me stack good lessons. When I had weekly lessons, inevitably I’d hit one that just stunk. We hadn’t prepared, or we were burned out, or things just went sideways. That hasn’t happened yet with the two-a-month. We’re excited and ready.

So, this week, notes.

  • I need to be better about getting him sharp off my transition aids, both up and down. Up, he gets one chance before I reiterate STRONGLY. Down, I need to communicate more clearly through my seat and then carry the energy forward into the next gait.
  • My inside hand was a holy terror. It was possessed. Something horrible was going wrong, and I just could not freaking let it go. Almost physically. It was not pretty. I was convinced that if I gave at all on my inside rein Tris would spin off like a top and we’d slam into the fence. Which he does sometimes! So my concern was not entirely unwarranted, generally. Just in this specific situation.
  • We worked a bit on my challenge of asking for forward, getting canter, and needing to work back into a trot. So really a lot of maintaining crispness in gaits regardless of what they were, and of transitioning back to what I originally wanted. Then we talked a bit about good resistance and bad resistance, and how holding him in a trot using my core can be a good kind of resistance.
  • I need to work on my elbows: keeping then down and close to me, and also not allowing them to translate tension from my upper body and then into my forearm. I had a tendency to get locked up, starting with my shoulders and then progressing down.
  • My inside leg is too far forward in the canter, and putting it where she wanted it to go felt WEIRD and then I got off and my hip flexors were so angry at me I just had to stand and whimper for a moment before I could walk. Note to self: stretching.
  • But! Overall, it was really good. Really good. Long stretches in a punchy, collected, reaching, through-his-back, energized trot. And the ability to go in and out of it, and tinker with it a little bit. At its very best, it was a proper First Level trot. Now, we just need to sustain it, and then translate it into the walk and the canter.
  • Barn manager also confirms that when Tristan really puts himself together he is the VERY MOST CUTEST. I really need to get media to show you all.
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Lesson Notes

I’ve adjusted my budget (squeezed some parts, shifted some things) to do two lessons a month for at least this summer. Ideally, from now on – but we’ll see. Probably the next line I should increase is my retirement savings, but ugh.

My first in this new plan, and the first in May, was on Monday. It had some really good things and some things to work on.

So here are some things I was happy with:

  • My prep for the lesson; okay, that seems really petty and small to list, but after a month in which I struggled constantly to find time for things, I left with plenty of time, groomed him to the nines, put on all his Back on Track stuff, and got a great warmup walk in before the lesson even started.
  • I actually did better on not staring at his neck! I mean, I did a lot of it. But I definitely did better. I think part of what helped me was working hard on the idea the he has to be responsible for his half of the ride, and I shouldn’t micromanage or nitpick.
  • I said thoughtful things and asked good questions about the things that were in my head! I don’t know how lessons work for some of you, but I tend to internalize and the only words that come out are clever quips, not actually useful conversations. But this time I was able to verbalizes the things in my head, like “I understand that we’re praising for a jump off a driving aid, even if that means an upward transition, but I’m a little worried about reprogramming his transition aids?” and then talk through that.

Here are some things I need to work on:

  • I took my spurs off. I’ve been wearing big swan neck spurs for a while now, because Tristan is one of the laziest horses in the barn, any barns, all the barns. But I got over-reliant on them, and got called out for desensitizing him to them. Spurs can’t be the default, and shame on me for that.
  • I need to be more sensitive to the moment just before he backs off being forward, and catch him in that moment. To do that, I need to stay on top of two things: first, stay quiet when I’m not asking for more forward, so that there is empty space that he’s required to fill and I can have a clearer sense of his gait instead of just asking all the time, and second, I need to keep my standards high, so a nice forward trot isn’t just “gee, he’s trying really hard, and he’s more forward than he usually is” but is actually forward.
  • He needs to be waaaaaaaaaaaaay more sensitive to driving aids writ large. That’s something I’ve always known, but now we’re officially in boot camp. And with another lesson lined up for two weeks from now, I have homework and a defined due date, huzzah!
  • Less falling for his fake-outs. He’s so good at it. I can’t bend, how about I put myself on the vertical? I can’t possibly use my inside hind, what if I overbend at the neck instead? If I fling my head all around, that’s the same thing as going more forward and sitting more in the hind end, right? Endless, endless fake-outs.

And the less-than-great:

  • I’m feeling a bit crappy that the horse I’ve been riding and training for 13 years now is still in this place. I can justify things all I want – he was a literal wild horse who couldn’t be touched when I started, grad school + extremely demanding job have taken up 8 years of that, he’s a really difficult ride – but yeah. Still.
lesson notes · Uncategorized

Lesson Notes: Hands Up, Leg On, Good Pony

If anyone was wondering if I still rode my own horse, the answer is yes! Mostly. Sort of. Winter sucks.

Anyway, in keeping with my 2018 goals, I had a lesson on Monday afternoon. I was nervous about it beforehand, because I did not have the best prep. I haven’t been able to ride consistently because the weather and the day job are conspiring against me. Then I was away for a week. Then he came up juuuuuust a touch off in his RF – you know, THAT FOOT.  Overall, I did pretty well in riding it out, texting the farrier a bit, going through the logic checklist of things it might be, waiting and re-checking, and so on. It paid off because on Sunday he was pretty much better and then for the lesson on Monday he was great.

In addition to being the world’s greatest barn manager, our BM does a great lesson. She gets that I do what I can, when I can, and strikes a nice balance between pushing and understanding. The barn owner is herself a Grand Prix rider and trainer and she’s amazing, but I just don’t have the funds or the time to ride with her regularly; I use her for aspiration lessons and the BM for the grind through the winter.

I’m just going to list a few takeaways, because overall it was a really terrific lesson.

  • Still need to keep my hands up. Way up. And I need to think harder about the mechanisms I use to ask for bend: up and toward my outside hip, not blocking him down too low. Then to release, release forward instead of out.
  • I need to work on the cycle of ask-release right off the bat in the walk, testing out the horse I have that day and getting him reaching down and supple through his back right off the bat.
  • His canter transitions have been stuttering in part because of my hands, as above. I need to stay up and not give in to the temptation when going up, or he’s blocked, and then I need to not drop my hands because that’s cuing him to break.
  • In the canter, keeping my shoulders open and back and loose lets me follow much more and ride through my seat more effectively.
  • Overall, she’s like to see me working much more through my seat. Both because it’s good dressage and also because it will help hold him together through his lazier moments.
  • We had one awesome/hilarious bit in the canter when his hind end was totally underneath him and pushing up, but he was also soft in the mouth and through the poll, and it was like it fried his brain because everything in between those two points was total flaily tossed salad. I just stayed in the middle of it and laughed really hard and praised him. It was a fun moment to feel, though, because I could see through it to what a better canter would be and it’s always cool, even after riding the same horse for over a decade, to feel when something totally new is taking shape.

Onward and upward! Hopefully I’ll get more consistent riding time in February, and then another lesson in March.

lesson notes

May Lesson Notes

Lesson notes almost didn’t happen for this month because the lesson almost didn’t happen because I am a fucking idiot and wrote down the wrong time. Thankfully, my barn manager texts AND I live less than ten minutes from the barn. I was on and warming up only 30 minutes after my planned start time. Sigh.

What we worked on:

1. Forward. Always. Forever. In this lesson we focused hard on quickness and getting his feet hustling, accomplished at least partly by me posting much more quickly, which frustrated him enough to want to match it.

2. Bending through his whole body. He was actually pretty responsive to softening in his jaw right off the bat, but took longer to convince to yield his ribcage and step through with his inside hind, particularly to the left.

3. Lateral work. In particular, we worked hard on sharpening up my aids for the shoulder in: when I was asking for too much bend, when I wasn’t signalling clearly enough with my leg aids to keep his hind end moving. It still wasn’t bright and quick but it was a damn sight more through than I’ve ever had him in the shoulder in. We also dabbled in haunches in, even getting a few creditable steps at a time.

4. Canter. For once, we didn’t actually school the canter too much because it was pretty darn good! But I finally got the idea hammered into me that I am breaking too much at the wrists in the canter.

lesson notes

March Lesson Notes

Super behind, but I DID have a lesson in March!

We worked more on getting him truly forward, and then on working out how much weight he takes in the reins right now.

I always worry about this line: when do I take too much weight back, too much of a pull, and I’m backing him off or being hard on his mouth?

The answer we worked out in this lesson was: way more than I had been using (I’d been using an extremely light touch with the reins to keep encouraging him to fill them up) BUT the key was that he had to be going forward.

Forward is always the key; I should be able to remember that by now, right? Ha. But: when he is forward, I can take much more weight than I can otherwise, because I’m not sucking him back, or stalling him out. I’m using the weight to encourage him to lighten.

Primarily, I was using very strong inside aids to a firm holding outside rein as a very hard half halt. Strong aids is not a new thing for Tristan, but I struggle with getting in & getting out again, and often fall into the trap of simply increasing the strength of the aid over and over again.

That’s actually been the story with my leg aids for a long time now, and I’ve been working hard on leg aid means GO and then taking them off in the meantime.

This may sound really stupid, and I feel kind of embarrassed for putting it out there, but Tristan has typically required constant, strong, nagging leg aids to maintain forward momentum. It’s a training problem, and it’s entirely my fault. I’m working hard on fixing it right now, with the result that we’re getting long minutes at a stretch of a springy, forward trot with only occasional leg aids to ask him to come strongly out of a corner.

By the end of the lesson, I’d reached a new equilibrium with my rein aids and he was giving me a lovely strong uphill feel through the base of the neck and into the bridle.

In the two weeks since, he’s been going really well, like we’ve unlocked something in him, to the degree that I’ve been schooling transitions in that uphill frame, and working on lightening him in the bit in the trot. Canter still weighs a ton and is not wildly maneuverable, but I can feel how much lighter it is already, and I’m excited!

lesson notes

February Lesson Recap

I could sum up this entire lesson pretty easily:


But this is a blog, so I will elaborate.

Overall, this went really well. I’m really happy with how responsive Tris was, and we were both tired but energized by the end.

Things I need to remember:
– Especially in the warmup & early on, establish my baseline for my aids. I have a bad habit of asking ten times to get one response in leg aids. It’s not like I don’t know to ask once, get an answer or bring the thunder. It’s that bad habit stuff. I need to be more conscious of this.
– Keep my hands forward and a loop in the reins early on to not let him for a second think there’s resistance to him going forward. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing with his face. Just GO.
– Strong into the corners, strong out of them.
– Use diagonals but don’t let that energy jam into the corner. Flow through them!
– Be thoughtful, deliberate, and firm about the use of bending and counterflexion, in two different ways.
— First, in corners: bend into the corner, straighten out of it, almost to the point of counterflexion. Particularly useful for short sides: bend, straighten/counterflex, bend, then GO down the long side. Also useful in shorter cycles on a 20m circle; bend on the curves of the circle, counterflex on the points (where the circle touches the wall).
— Second, in half-halts. BEND, almost over-bend, strong bend, but ask and then done. Keep inside leg asking to access his inside hind at the same time. Keep contact with the outside rein and keep that inside leg active: bend and step up INTO the outside rein.

In particular, we got one wonderful canter: found a whole new gear and he LEAPT forward, sitting down, up and charging with real impulsion right up through his back down a whole long side. It was not unlike the compressed canter approaching a jump, and my body for a second wanted to get ready to two-point so I didn’t follow nearly as well in my seat as I should have. But I know the canter is there and mostly how to get it again, and I am happy with how it felt.

I was not able to replicate this quite as well in my schooling rides later that week. I erred too much on go go GO and not enough with finesse so there were some really ugly moments in the middle. But I was able to pick him back up and finish well, so I will count those as learning moments.

I really wish I could even manage every two weeks, but that’s not going to happen, so that’s it until March.