I had a dressage lesson with our fantastatrainer Tina on Wednesday, and it was aaaaaah-mazing! I mentioned last week that we are right in the place where I need a lesson to start to get the next set of tools, and I can always count on Tina to help us problem solve. (Alas, no relevant media exist. Maybe next week I will get some new video.)
Murray started out feeling pretty honest, though I promptly forgot everything I’ve learned in the last year about keeping my reins an appropriate length, which was unfortunate. I told Tina that I had been working on being straight and forward and encouraging Murray to take on bigger and more expressive (and correct) gaits, but also keeping him balanced. Tina honed in on one of my bad habits immediately, nagging Murray with my seat and legs at the walk. I recently decided to stop babying Murray about walking — he will never get better at walking with contact if we never do it, right? This was a fight several days in a row until the Tina lesson, and Murray had just started to accept going forward+connection. So of course I was nagging him every single step to get more forward. Tina had me give him a kick and then sit quietly when he responded correctly.
chubby dressage pony
The problem with this (for me) is that I feel like the response to a kick is an inverted spazzy revolt. But after a few yucky, sticky, gross responses, Murray figured out that kick = forward. This was the first lesson in the lesson — reward for the right response. Even if it isn’t the exact response I want at this moment, we want to keep Murray thinking in the right direction. We can finess later (I hope!!).
We moved on to the trot work and Tina encouraged me to get Murray working a little more over his back by getting his neck a little lower. I have been trying to avoid letting Murray get his neck tooooo low lately, because he can get really on the forehand and downhill. But his balance actually felt pretty good during the lesson, and it unlocked a bigger and freer trot. Tina had me encourage the bigger trot on the diagonals, so that Murray can learn the cue for more/forward/bigger where there is more space (than a circle) and then bring it to other work. She encouraged me to really get him to fly on the diagonals.
Tracking left we got a couple of good extensions on the diagonal (for him – obviously not real extended work), but tracking right I got almost nothing. Tina told me to really boot him on that right-ways diagonal, and Murray responded by breaking into the canter – but not, as I later found out, an acceptable canter. The next time around he did the same thing, so Tina had me kick him into a more forward canter. Murray bucked twice and suddenly on the next right diagonal, he could move forward!
Tina’s assessment was thus: Murray doesn’t want to trot the big trot. The big trot is hard. The small canter is easier – and it’s more forward! But it isn’t really thinking forward – it’s thinking just forward enough to not actually have to do real work.
All of the following diagonals got bigger and better trots, and Murray was really willing and compliant. Tina continued to encourage me to get Murray lower, and every time we did his trot got better and involved more of his body. We were both breathing quite hard after this.
Next, Tina had me add a little engagement in the trot by starting in a shoulder-in and then shooting across the diagonal from that. I actually didn’t expect this to work, because Murray loves to use lateral work as a way to waste energy. Maybe the diagonals earlier in the lesson helped us, because once I got him straightened out he shot right across the diagonal with more hind end engagement. We only did this twice each way, Murray got it and it worked so well.
In the canter we did similar work. We started with some shoulder in down the long side – making sure not to drift off the rail tracking right – and an extension down the next long side. Tina helped me with another thing I have struggled with lately, which is Murray getting tense and inverted when I push him to be straight down the long side. He’s not quiiiite ready to be really straight cantering just yet, but if I got him to lower his head more he could take MUCH bigger and loftier steps. Tracking right I got a few more steps of the floating canter, which was awesome. Left was a bit harder, since we were both so tired. We ended both of our extended canter stints with a little circle — almost 10 meters — where Tina told me to think about pausing in the upswing of the canter (like Megan did!) to get Murray to sit and hold himself up a little more. It felt great, almost like the canter-in-place that my MIL had me doing the other day (a coming post).
As I expected, it was an excellent lesson. Tina gave us a few more exercises to practice and Murray stood up to the pressure really well. Tina agreed with my assessment that Murray is mentally ready to take a little more pressure now, so I need to take advantage of this time to impress some important lessons upon his moldable mind. And I got a solid plan to move forward with – keep encouraging Murray to move forward, but don’t let him get away with not using his body properly.
I was a little worried that my lack of strength and balance was holding us back in the bigger gaits, but Tina said I shouldn’t fret too much. I wasn’t unbalanced in the extensions we did in the lesson, and only got unseated when Murray went from cross cantering into a really fast, tense trot. There is, apparently, time for us to grow in strength in the bigger gaits together.