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.
lesson notes · Uncategorized

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.

lesson notes

Lesson Recap

One of my 2017 goals was to take more lessons, and when my trainer was in town for a few days and did a clinic, I jumped on board.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I took a lesson. Summer, maybe. In another life, old me took lessons weekly, and sometimes twice a week. If something came up that made me miss one, I’d handwave it away with a laugh and say, oh, I’ll make it up later, I have plenty of credits! Old me was an asshole.

So: lesson. I’m going to take down a few bullet points as things I need to work on, and have been working on since.

1. Get my goddamn hands out of my goddamn lap. Shorter reins, more over his withers. In order to encourage him to come up and lift through his withers and the base of his neck, in order to create that space between hips and hands to hold collection, THERE HAS TO BE ACTUAL SPACE THERE.

In order to really work on this, I need to let go of the part of my brain that feels like I’m tipping over, leaning forward, not following with my arms enough, because what I need to do is follow WAY more, because it is one thing to follow with long reins and your hands in your lap and another entirely to follow with a careful regular contact and short rein.

2. Stop providing resistance for him to meet. This is one of my old, favorite traps: Tristan is hard-headed and uses his under neck muscle to grind out his frustration, and hoo boy do I take that bait. I’ve risen to that bait for a decade now. We’re like an old married couple except instead of arguing about the dishes we argue about him softening his mouth for, like, one half second, asshole. The thing is: he knows better, I know better, and miracle of miracles, when I refuse to hold up my end of that pattern everything falls apart…and comes back together much better.


4. Canter transitions! These were something I’d specifically asked to work on. So, we spent a lot of time breaking down the idea of transitioning on a half-halt, first picking moments and then creating moments in which he was surging up through his back to ask for a canter transition, so that we went forward into the canter with a bouncing, bounding energy. Keeping that in the canter, more half-halts, more encouraging him to lift and carry, then keeping it back down through into the trot.

5. Part and parcel of everything: setting the bridle out in front of me and then sending him forward into it. Elementary, and yet: sigh. Still working on it.

Sometimes, honestly, I despair that I have been riding this horse for ten years and I still more or less suck at it, but other times I think of everything else I’ve learned and – it’s probably even.

lesson notes

What do you bring when you fall off?

It happens to the best of us. You’re approaching a jump – riding a fresh horse – asking for a little too much spice in an upward transition, and then boom, you’re on the ground.

If you’re riding by yourself, you dust yourself off and get back on. (Hopefully, anyway.)

If you’re in a lesson, what happens next? Once you’re deemed to be ok, of course.

Does your lesson barn or trainer have an imposed penalty for falling off?

When I took lessons in France, if you fell off, the rule was that you had to bring a chocolate cake to the next lesson.

These were group lessons, basically cattle calls, with 8-10 people per lesson, riding in a circle. I’ve never been in a lesson format like it since. I maintain today that the French system of riding is founded on not dying. The people who make it out are damn good riders.

We had chocolate cake every week. If no one had fallen off at the 45 minute mark, we dropped stirrups. Then we sat the trot. Then we worked on canter transitions. If all else failed, out came the crossrail. Keep in mind, 8-10 people, riding in a big circle in a situation that sometimes felt an awful lot like a warmup ring from hell. Sometimes we were only riding in half of an indoor arena – a very big indoor, to be sure, way oversized, with second story bleachers for watching horseball. But still, now we’re talking 16-20 horses, in two big circles at either end. Yeah.

So: cake every week. One week it was me. Some weeks we had multiple cakes.

I’ve heard other variations on this. A bottle of wine, for the adults. What brought this to mind was a blogger recently mentioning that she had to bring doughnuts to her next lesson for falling off.

I don’t know what the current barn’s policy is, as I haven’t fallen off in a lesson (thankfully).

Do you have to bring anything to your trainer or the barn when you fall off in a lesson?

lesson notes · road hacking

In Just-spring

when the world is mudlicious
and puddlewonderful

says e.e. cummings, to continue the poetry kick.

Two very good rides. Long road hack on Sunday, with some short bits of trot interspersed. We stopped at a big puddle of runoff to see if he would want to take a drink (he loves his puddles), and he took a long drink, then splashed and splashed with his nose, curling his lip in disgust every other splash when water went up his nose. I forgot to turn on the GPS app, but I would estimate we were out for about 60 minutes.

Monday, a lesson. We focused on hind end action: both in flexibility and in push. WT put out poles, and wanted me to capture the feeling of that push and that activity in going all the way around the ring. When I was losing it, and falling into nagging, I was to go back over the polls. It worked really well. He was really motoring around, and sitting back, and lifting through his back.

In between, the focus was on really.going.straight. Lining everything up and not letting him trick me into overbending instead of really stepping through in the shoulder-in and haunches-in.

In all, I felt really good about where I had him. I felt less good about the consistency of it: keeping him there. And I felt not so good about my own position, which was sloppy at times. In particular, heels! I’ve usually been pretty good about them, but I am doing far too much pointing with my toes and pushing off the balls of my feet.

After the lesson, the barn manager gave Tris his first Pentosan injection. It was a lot – 6ccs – in the muscle, and I had bought a slightly larger gauge of needle than is usual (20). So he definitely felt it, but was very good. I think we’ll have to get further into the loading dose before he shows any results, but I’m optimistic.

Rest of the week:
Tuesday, rest
Wednesday, longeing (maybe? work event that might keep me late)
Thursday, hack
Friday, dressage school
Saturday, rest