reprogramming rider, continued (in perpetuity)

I mentioned to Alexis during our warm-up chat that I wanted to get to the canter-trot transitions in particular if we had time and it fit the shape of the lesson. Since our lesson turned out to be all about transitions and aids, we absolutely had time and it definitely fit the shape of the lesson.

The trot work was the hardest walk-trot lesson I’ve ever had. As I trotted around Alexis kept reminding me to bear down, and encouraged me to smooth out my posts. One of Mary Wanless’s images is that the rider’s hips move like an “m” in the trot. In the sitting trot this is super easy to visualize — as the horse’s back moves up + forward + down + forward, the hips should move with it, making a long lower-case, cursive m (or w, if you’re a curly w-er). In the rising trot I’d always struggled to visualize this, because the up-down motion of the rider threw me off. So to make it easier on myself, I decided to map it out on an image using the frame-by-frame captures from my video (thanks Peony!!!).

I took a screenshot every other trot frame, and then used landmarks on my horse to line the saddle up correctly. Then I put a red dot on my hip in each image. You can see that I rise in a peaked, lop-sided, v-type shape.

Alexis wanted me to smooth out my “m”s. Instead of being curved up and down, she said that I posted like stock market peaks and crashes. Accurate. I use/succumb to the motion of the horse to throw myself out of the saddle, and don’t spend much time at the top of the peak. You can also see from that image that I take less time (frames) to rise than I do to come back down (I count 5 to rise and 7 to sit). This tracks with the idea that I throw myself up (stock market peak), and then slide back down. What I should be doing is getting to the top more slowly, and possibly (will need to check) spending more time at the top and bottom of each post. This will help my horse take bigger and more powerful steps, and spend more energy pushing into the ground with each step.

For the canter work, Alexis first asked me to describe my canter aids to her. This is a neat test of the 1st toolkit, I think, and pushed my understanding of aids. Unfortunately, this was a hard question for me to answer. Right now I rise through the canter. I swing my outside leg back one stride before I ask, then I tap with the heel, then I sit into the canter. (This is not what I told Alexis, btw. However, in my rides since then, I’ve realized that this is what I do.) However, I want to sit through the canter aid. Murray does not like sitting through the canter aid. Sometimes he bounces me out of the tack, then we get into a “what was that aid” / “why didn’t you do what I told you to do” / “well you didn’t ask right” / “I don’t care, you need to stop being a dick” kind of fight.


I need to actually sit in this beat of the canter, instead of hovering.
And stack my cereal box up so that my shoulders are properly over my hips and I’m not flailing my upper torso about.

Alexis has her own way of aiding the canter, but suggested that instead of keeping the canter aid on and pressing it in stronger when it doesn’t happen, I reset and start again. The idea being that you want the aid for the canter to be a light press of the outside heel back from the girth. Not “a light or slightly stronger or really firm press of the heel back from the girth.” So the same idea held in the canter transitions: light aid. If response, yay. If no response after “one potato”, light aid + whip tap.

Often by the time we get to the canter, Murray is pretty warmed up and relatively responsive to the aids. This day was no exception. He popped right into the canter, which meant we could focus on the canter mechanic (a tiny bit) and the down transition. Alexis reminded me to exaggerate the up-swing of the canter, which meant pulling my hips up and back with more enthusiasm than I expected. The goal is to get the canter more uphill and make the down transition easier…. because the canter is uphill.

When it was time to work on the down transition, Alexis asked me to do one “normally” first. We did a pretty average down transitions for us, and a pretty below-average down transition for what I want. And then she ripped it all apart, which was great.

RBF set me up with her solo shot one day and it is SOOO COOOL! hhere is my horse looking particularly nice.

My main problem with down transitions (in general, but this shows up particularly in the down transition to the trot) is that Murray does them on his forehand and tends to fall all over himself during and after them. It takes a lot of managing to get the trot back together after them, or to get a down transition that isn’t a hot mess. And through all of this managing over many rides, I’ve never seen significant improvement in the balance of the down transition. So just imagine that: I ask for a down transition, Murray does it but on the forehand, his back drops out from under him, and he whizzes off at the trot with his legs flying all kinds of directions.

It turns out that I kick my horse right after the down transition, which probably makes it really hard for him to organize his trot. And I don’t really have a connection with or communication to the bit, so that’s not great. And I don’t get him uphill enough before the transition, which means the transition can’t really be uphill either.

That’s what we worked on. Alexis had me pick up the canter again (she called me on a double-kick/bounced canter aid, even though the transition itself was nice) and then she told me to 1) keep my bear down, 2) take “a feel” of the bit in my hands, 3) tighten my thighs, 4) bear down dammit Nicole, 5) ask for trot and be prepared to post BIG AND SLOW right away.

We only did a handful of the canter-trot transitions — we ran up against the end of our lesson and Murray getting tired. They were medium successful. I didn’t get run away with, but they weren’t as smooth as I imagined they could be.


super disorganized to organized-ish in a couple of steps. not toooo bad.

There was a lot to digest in this lesson. And since it’s taken me so long to get it all written up, I’ve been implementing the changes for almost two weeks now. It was infuriating to spend 3-ish rides doing nothing but walk-halt and walk-trot transitions off of the lightest leg aid. But the upside is that it is working. Within rides and between rides Murray has become more responsive to the leg, and less absurdly pissed off when I actually apply it. The down transitions have been iffy, but they certainly won’t get fixed in a day.

It’s exciting to see progress, but simultaneously frustrating to have such a detailed understanding of the mistakes I’ve been making up until now. I mean, I guess that’s what learning is, and I want to learn, so I guess I’ll be embracing this feeling (the suck, as Lauren Sprieser puts it). But that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

 

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what i wish i’d known

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known,
When I was young and dreamed of glory.

Olivia started me thinking about this all the way back in April. April! And it’s taken me until now to put it together. A lot of the things I were thinking of were aspects of riding that I thought I understood, but which turned out to be nothing like I expected.

I was pretty green when I started with Murray. Greener than I would recommend. Greener than I would be if I had a do-over. But ego is a thing, and at least Murray is a funny and good-natured guy who, antics though he has, doesn’t really want to kill anyone. That greenness meant that I’ve realized and learned a lot of things over the years.

happy babies! but omg my elbows

There will be no short-cuts with this creature

There are some horses where you can teach them something once and it quickly generalizes across a variety of situations. Or horses where you can just try something out and it goes well the first time. Hell, I’ve done it! I clipped Sookie in November without the slightest idea what she’d do in response, and with little concern that it would go anything other than well. That’s just the type of horse she is.

That horse? That horse is not my horse. Murray needs every single lesson — sometimes he needs each one 4 or 6 or ten times. Murray needs every step explained to him. Murray needs every good behavior rewarded and every bad one ignored. Murray needs consistency. Murray needs refreshers and primers when you come back to a lesson after a while off (ahem, clipping).

I thought we’d just do a few things right and skip along and blip bloop beep! There we’d be, jumping around training level courses and killing the spectators with our incredible good looks and shockingly low price point.

Spoiler alert: we’re not.

This is obviously not on Murray. But now I know: there will be no skipped steps. No short-cuts. We will do everything.

You never stop riding your butt off

I had this idea that once we go more trained and less green, I’d just be able to sit up there and look good (maybe wave at my adoring fans as we galloped by?) while Murray did all the work. Sure, I’d read the course maps and do the general directing, and pick a distance here or there. But my horse would be so well trained, I wouldn’t need to ride as hard as I did when training my horse to jump!

Wrong, wrong, wrong. So much wrong.

The first time I rode around the Novice XC at Camelot, I did almost nothing. Because I had a sprained knee. The next time I rode around the XC at Camelot? I had to ride my ass off. I rode my ass off up to every fence that Murray was like “err, there’s something near that I’m not sure about.” I rode my ass off to fences where Murray was like “oh, that’s where we’re going?” I rode my ass off to fences that Murray ate for breakfast.

It’s not the same riding or effort. Taking Murray around his first real XC course was a battle of wills to just keep him moving forward and underneath me. Now I have to do that a lot less — like, 10% of the time probably. The rest of the time I don’t get to just sit there and look pretty. I work hard to keep him put together, set him up well for each fence, and make the ride as good as it can be.

I’m not trying to say I thought that XC would be easy as I moved up the levels. I just thought I wouldn’t have to focus on the riding part so much. Or maybe that my horse would be so trained and consistent that I’d half halt him with one iota of energy ten strides out from a fence for a perfect spot every time. I don’t know. But we ride every fence, and we ride every movement, and we’re better for it.

this magnificent nearly-tracking-up-stride not brought to you  by “sitting there looking pretty”

Consistency is key

I don’t know when I realized this. I think it really came on over the last couple of years, as I’ve worked with younger (human) students. I always knew that in training animals, being consistent is essential to clear communication. But one day I just realized that so many of the problems we have are due to a lack of consistency. And I’m not just talking about me and Murray.

How far would we be now if only I’d been consistent from the very beginning? If I hadn’t done hundreds, maybe even thousands, of transitions where I kicked Murray into a trot, then pulled on his face to get him to walk and try again because I thought the transition didn’t meet the standard? If I hadn’t made refusing a fence a crime that earned sympathy sometimes and a wildly out-of-control response at others? If I hadn’t just kicked bigger and moar and harder for a little bit of forward?

This one bites both ways. When I’m not consistent, I muddle over Murray’s incorrect responses more than I probably need to. Did I put that aid on clearly? Was that response within the acceptable range? Did I wobble through the transition and unintentionally cause that? All of that questioning of myself makes the training less clear and precise too.

I’m not a robot, so I don’t expect I’m going to come out the same every day. But if there is any skill I’m working hardest on honing right now, it’s greater consistency.

little miss smarty pants

Another day, another ride on MBM that just blows me away.  This mare is seriously the Goldilocks of project rides for me.  She’s sensitive, but not so sensitive that I feel out-horsed or like I’m not sure what to do with her.  And she’s just so dang smart that things stick really well, and I can really feel the progress from week to week. It’s shocking that just a month (and less than 15 rides) ago I was cow-kicking her around in a circle smack in the center of the arena because we couldn’t work anywhere else without getting glued to the wall. She is a rare “baby” horse who makes me feel like I’m a pretty okay rider.

classic MBM — one ear always listening

MBM has continued to struggle with her left lead canter.  She seemed a bit mentally blocked about it under saddle, since she could pick it up pretty much every time on the lunge line.  But I’ve also been predominantly working her right side, and encouraging her to get her right shoulder under her, so maybe that had something to do with it. Her problem is also a bit two-fold: when you ask for the canter she wants to TROTROTROTROTROTROTROT instead, and then her inclination is to jump into the right lead.  So it’s not the easiest transition to manage.

On Tuesday I took her for a quick spin on the lunge line to get us both thinking about canter transitions before hopping on for a quick ride.  MBM got them every time on the line again, so I resolved to just keep kissing until she picked up the left lead.  Of course my first kiss attempt led MBM to leap into the right lead canter, so I transitioned back to trot and slowed us down to get organized for the transition.  Somehow in the process of getting us organized I sat for a beat and let my left hip swoop forward and BOOM — awesome left canter transition.

i mean, not every horse can be blessed with these magical canter transitions

I popped up in the stirrups and gave the mare lots of praise, then down transitioned and tried it again. Boom.  Another awesome canter transition.  I seriously didn’t even have to move my outside leg back, just the light sweeping of my seat into the motion of canter set her going.  Same thing to the right.  Sit for a beat, sweep the right hip forward and MAJIK.  To the right it was even more magical because it helped me and MBM keep her shoulder underneath her and the right canter was gorgeous and balanced.

On Wednesday I hopped on her again to do the same thing.  While the hip-swoop is an awesome, quiet canter transition cue, it’s not really a cue that most people are familiar with, so I want to get MBM used to the idea that someone might put their leg back (and not ask for her haunches to move over) as well.  She was a little more annoyed and swishy because we went into the arena with two other horses, and it is deeply offensive to see other horses nearby but not be allowed to talk to them or spend time with them.  But once again, the canter was right there.

There was a little more durm und strang in this ride, as I decided to work on transitions on a circle (canter 3/4 circle, trot 1/4, canter 3/4, &c.) and that was not appreciated very much.  It seems that MBM didn’t like the amount of direction she was getting from me — she can still be a bit broodmare-y sometimes and doesn’t think that little pipsqueaks such as myself get to have opinions.  And that’s okay.  I kept at it, and we did the things, even if the circles were ever-increasing in size and egg-shaped.  And sometimes you just have to push a little bit.

You know what we didn’t have to fight or discuss at all this week?  Keeping her right shoulder underneath her, or walking on the rail, or changing directions between circles.  Those things were a big deal last week, and now they’re just things MBM can do.


another mom-bod who is feeling much happier after unloading 9 sucking parasites

We’ll need to start thinking seriously about rhythm within gaits next.  MBM tends to speed up or slow down as her whims direct, especially around the transitions.  Pretty much every training challenge we’ve come across has been so different from Murray — he had two clear canter leads when I got to him, his canter was one of his stronger gaits, and he’s always been pretty rhythmic, if lazy — so it’s a learning experience for both of us!

baby horse perspectives

Riding has been a bit off and on lately.  The smoke from the Napa fires sometimes gets pushed south into the Bay Area, and we have great air — so riding is on the table.  Sometimes it creeps over the hills and fills the valley, and to help preserve everyone’s lungs I cancel my rides.  I don’t think anyone minds the schedule.  Especially since there’s newborn puppies to stare at in my barn manager’s house!

Mug shots 🐾

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I also took Tuesday off and volunteered at Napa Valley Horsemen’s Arena.  It was one of the evacuation centers for livestock during the fires, and they are happily starting to empty stalls.  Stalls West must have hustled up and dropped stalls off really quickly, because I recognized stickers from Camelot on their temporary barns.  The operation ran really smoothly.  As one might expect, the morning was the very busiest, as we took temperatures on every horse (with some not-totally-reliable ten second thermometers) and mucked and fed.  There was a big lull around 1 when we were done with all the urgent stuff, and so the veterinarian directed us to turn a couple of big mares (who had been stuck for a few weeks in mare motels) out into a free arena.  The girls trotted around a bit, rolled about ten times, and were not unhappy to come back in.  We considered turning out other horses, but as some were very hard to catch even in a mare motel, and I had no idea about the soundness or restrictions on any of them, without direct vet supervision I was uncomfortable with that plan.

We also helped load up a bunch of horses and a couple of pet steers to go back home, which was awesome for them.  Lots of people have been released to go home, and while a shocking number of structures were lost, because of the shape and size of the fires, many who were evacuated were spared.  The facility is switching over now to keep their sights on long-term care of the animals who won’t be able to go home — for perhaps months or years, as the infrastructure (wooden bridges or electrical/gas conduit) is rebuilt.  It’s going to be a long haul for some people, and I’m so glad that the community stepped up to help.  I’m really glad that we’re seeing the end of these fires too.

Lip shimmer game on point

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On Wednesday I got back at it, and had a lesson on the mom-bod mare (now MBM) with B, as I’ve not been able to get her to canter left for… a week or so.  Oddly enough, B told me that she had never gotten MBM to canter left, only right.  So I’d somehow unlocked something in there in previous rides, only to lose it.

MBM was a little up and not listening to my seat as much as she usually does, but it was fine.  B had me slow my post way down and I half  halted through my thighs, and we got back in tune.  She is definitely one of those horses who gets tense, braces, and rushes when she’s confused or off-balance.  Thinking about tempo and getting her comfortable with moving her body in different ways is going to be key here.  But I was very pleased to feel that her steering was vastly improved from my last ride, where we fought about turning left at the wall for a solid ten minutes.

throwback to when Murray couldn’t turn left either

We tried a couple of canter transitions and I only managed to get the right lead, so B suggested pushing MBM’s haunches in a little.  That was the trick, and we got the left lead on the first try.  The super neat thing here is that I’m now experienced and subtle enough that I could push her haunches over just a little, even with the mare feeling a little bracey and rushed, and not over-do it or get weird about it.  MBM immediately locked herself into “race mode canter” and whizzed around the arena while I tried to get her back underneath me and listening.  I could feel myself bracing in my heels and letting them get ahead of me while I tried to half halt with my hands and actively fought that position, but it’s hard when letting the reins loosen and getting your leg back under you just results in feeling like you’re going too fast and have no hands on the wheel.

The trick was turning MBM into a 20 meter circle so she didn’t have the long sides to use as an excuse.  B had me half halt hard with the outside rein and keep my legs on, then soften with both reins.  We actually managed a full circle in a pretty quality canter, which was awesome.  So the next step here is going to be transitioning from this freight-train canter into a controlled canter more quickly.  This is the place where sometimes her former brood-mare-y-ness bugs me: I feel like MBM is bossing me around, like “I’m the mom, I tell you what to do.”  And I’m like “no, I’M THE MO– I mean, I’m the leader, I tell you what to do!”


murray antics for everyone’s appreciation

Right canter was a similar struggled, but I was once again really happy to feel that MBM had taken some of our previous fights to heart and was getting off my inside leg much more promptly.  B cautioned me not to let her bait me into pulling the right rein.  She pops her head and neck to the left in a counter-flex, so in response I flex her back right.  But once we flex to the right, she falls in to the right, and does so hard (like, in a few of our previous rides I thought we were going to crash into a jump standard).  So I had to slow the tempo down, flex right, then keep her off my right leg, and weight my left stirrup a little so she didn’t feel quite so inclined to just motorcycle to the inside.

It was a great lesson to confirm my instincts and feel the progress we are making.  Along with MBM’s slimming down and muscling up, B said she can see her gaits improving and extending, and that the mare’s canter has gone from pace-y to more three-beat.  Which is fantastic!

After my lesson, I tried to hand walk Murray for an hour and gave up around 40 minutes. HAND WALKING IS SO BORING OMG.  But I’m trying to get him out a bit more to help push some of the interstitial fluid out from around the leg hole.  He’s becoming more and more of a pill about bandage changes, so my goal is to tire him out a bit with hand walking (which he finds both tiring and boring) before I change it today, and see if he can’t be more reasonable for it.  The hole is healing it’s just doing so at it’s own absurdly slow pace.

But my vet and all my vet and tech friends assure me that it will heal. As they always seem to do.  Even if it does take forever.

want to get back to this please

 

shaping energy

Way back before the one-day, and even before Camelot, Murray and I were having some pretty badass dressage rides.  Murray was exceptionally willing and stretchy, and I got some new perspective and ideas from finally cracking open — and then plowing through — When Two Spines Align.  I’ll do a proper book review soon, but wanted to get down one of the neat/important concepts that really worked for Murray and I.

When reading about dressage I’ve encountered the phrase or idea that you need to “shape the energy” to what you want it to be.  Which is a great idea.  Only I have no idea what the fuck it means or how to do it.  Like, are we talking Dragon Ball Z style or Street Fighter or what?

Image result for dragon ball zImage result for street fighter hadouken

Fortunately, Beth Baumert takes some time to actually explain this concept in a few different places.  One of which has to do with using your inside aids to create the bend and suppleness that you want from your horse (my words, not hers), and then use your outside aids to maintain the steering on the circle.  This is just one piece of what she talks about in the book, but for the moment it’s the most relevant piece.

When working on my transitions and trying to make them actually count (another concept that  Beth and absolutely every other dressage coach I’ve ever encountered seems to espouse), I ran into my same old same old problem of Murray falling away from my inside leg and inverting/popping up through the transitions.  This is not something that repetition and time has just “solved” for us (um, does it actually solve anything other than open wounds?), despite the fact that I only ever pat/reward/praise Murray for round transitions and we frequently end up re-doing inverted ones.

fairly representative of most of our transitions: if not actually inverted, then braced against the hand

I used my inside aids to get Murray’s bend and attention back, which I often do.  Then, as I felt him falling out on the circle (as he often does), I had the bright idea of using my outside aids to actually steer.  I didn’t clamp down on him with my outside leg or pull on the outside rein, I just firmed up those aids so they were present, but not overbearing.  I also stopped looking down and looked around the circle, which was probably helpful.  In response, Murray softened and stayed round and on a circle.  It was like magic!

I definitely had to continue using this strategy though, it wasn’t quite a “set it and forget it” aid.  We’d drift off of the circle or lose some bend or lose a little forward, so I’d push for a little more forward, then shape that forward energy into roundness and bend again.

This actually paid off even more during the transitions.  Before the transition I would do the same thing: shape Murray with my inside aids, steer and capture the energy with the outside aids (see, now even I’m using meaningless aphorisms to describe riding!), and then ask for the upward transition within a stride or two while we were straight and VOILA!!! Magnificent transitions.  It was pretty cool.

So that was a neat little revelation that has been pretty useful to my riding.  And I do finally understand the idea of shaping and capturing energy.  By pushing Murray into my outside rein with my inside leg, I’m adding sideways energy.  But for Murray, the easiest response to that is to let that sideways energy peter out by actually going sideways.  So instead of letting that energy just “escape” sideways, I capture it with my outside leg and hand, and recycle it in the direction I want — which is forward.  So I really am shaping it from my inside leg to my outside hand.  So I’m basically a dragon ball z master now.

HADOUKEN!!!

the spot

The first week I moved into the dorms my freshman year of college, a new friend recommended a book to me.  I can’t remember the name of book or author any more, but it was a kindof philosophical exploration into taking mind-altering drugs in ceremonies reminiscent of Native American rituals and the mental, physical, and spiritual results of these endeavours.  I only got partway through the book, so I don’t know the extent of what the author discovered or wrote about.  But one thing that did stand out to me in the first third of the text was the idea that (even while not high on peyote) one could sense the energy of an empty space and find places in that space that were more or less “welcoming” to the spirit.  The author described slowly crawling around a mostly empty room in the dark, and finding that he was constantly repelled from a certain area of the room by feelings of cold and hostility that crept over him while he was there.  In one specific place, he was overcome with warmth and tranquility whenever he sat there.

So of course my new friend and I took it upon ourselves to find “our spots” in her dorm room.  We asked her roommate if she could please give us an hour of privacy, as we were going to be exploring spiritually and finding “our spots”.  Peyote-less, we turned out the lights, crawled around in the dark, bumped in to things, and proclaimed that we felt positive or negative energy in certain areas.  I don’t remember if I really did ever find a space in the room that felt peaceful and welcoming — probably not, we do have a raging skepticorn over here — but I do know that it never amounted to much, since it wasn’t my room anyway.  Upon emerging with dirty hands and knees, when asked by other people on the floor what we were doing, we exuberantly exclaimed “finding our spots!”

They were thinking of totally different spots.

Not unlike this mystical experience, though, I found a pretty magical spot in my saddle earlier this week.  Murray and I were working on walk-trot transitions while I listened to the Dressage Radio Show.  The guest on at the time was talking about being able t control the placement of the hind feet, and really being able to sense the placement of the hind feet as they move through space.  The idea  being that you can only influence the foot if you know where it is in space, so you can time the correction appropriately, and exactly where it is and where you need to move it.

While thinking about hind feet in the transitions, I also started to think about the transitions themselves.  I always want Murray to move up into a more forward trot, but what that sometimes results in is him pulling himself into a messy, downhill trot that I then have to work to correct.  Instead of letting him dump forward in the transition, I kept the contact there and asked Murray to come up right after each transition if he ran down through them (um, I think? I don’t totally remember).

equitatin’ so gud

I was also focusing on my leg position throughout the ride.  My left leg has been hurting after riding lately, and I noticed that I weight it differently in the stirrup, putting more weight on the toe of my left foot.  This stretches out the tendon (or whatever) on the outside of my leg, and makes it difficult in general to use my lower leg.  So I was working hard to keep the weight even on the ball of my foot and bring my toes in.

At some point in all of this I brought both of my legs back a touch to help turn my toes in, and suddenly my position felt perfect.  My whole leg could be on Murray without gripping or squeezing or flailing, but if I needed to, I could pressure my calf or my thigh independently or together.  I was balanced through my thigh and knee, but I still felt like my heel was sinking down.  I felt like I was sitting in the deepest possible place in the saddle, and felt connected to Murray’s back more thoroughly than I ever have before.

IT WAS SO. FREAKING. COOL.


throwback to feeling cool on my horse for like the first time ever

Murray maybe liked it too, or at least had gotten to the point of the ride where he was willing to just acquiesce to my requests, because we had some fantastic trot transitions in both directions.  Toward the end I decided to throw in a canter transition too, and he just rose up under my seat like Poseidon out of the sea and stepped right into a killer, uphill canter.  I wasn’t even thinking about keeping him ahead of my leg, and there he was — right on the aids.

only, think of him as a benevolent poseidon

I’m not exactly sure how I did it, or how to make it happen again.  I tried a bit in my jump saddle and couldn’t quite achieve the same level of zen.  But now I have a new feeling to chase!

dressage lesson: all the feels

Murray and I had a fantastically productive dressage lesson with Tina last week.  It wasn’t so much that we worked on new or exciting exercises or revolutionized how the horse went, but it confirmed that we are doing correct work, how to take that work to the next level, and that my feel for what is right is developing and becoming more accurate.  The lesson also gave me some good data on a little experiment I was running last week, but more on that later.


no relevant media from the actual lesson,
but I did the same exercises the next day with only slightly less success

We started out by addressing my (wildest) hope that I am finally able to actually feel when Murray is bending through his ribcage, and not just falling all over himself laterally.  Tina had me put the beast on a large circle, then shrink the circle in and increase the bend in his body as appropriate.  I evidently can feel true bend now (HOORAY!) because I managed to keep Murray bent on a 15m circle, even though we were tracking right (harder direction) and it was our first circle post warm-up.  Tina encouraged me to bring the circle in a little more and push for even more bend.  She wanted me to ride the edge of Murray’s ability to bend without falling apart, in order to enter that zone of maximum learning and skill building (my words! totally my weirdo words).  We got to about a 12m circle before Murray’s haunches started to lose it around the circle, and so I slowly let him back out to the 15m-ish circle before carefully and slowly leg yielding back out.

Before we switched directions I told Tina that one thing I was struggling with in this part of our education is understanding, and obviously helping Murray understand, the difference between an inside leg that asks for bend and an inside leg that asks him to move over.  She told me to think of the inside leg that asks for bend as more of a toned or firmed leg, and the leg that asks for lateral movement to actually push.  This exercise, she pointed out, would help Murray to develop that understanding of submission to the inside leg for bend vs. movement.

i only tracked left in this ride, but just pretend my work to the right was equally neato

When we changed directions to the left Murray was much more competent at the exercise, and we managed to get down to about a 10m circle with a fair bit of effort on both of our parts.  Because Murray struggles more to the right, we went back that direction once more.  Tina reminded me to keep Murray’s haunches in with my outside leg — though I probably did not need to swing it quite so far back, as the first time I tried that he promptly cantered.  But after one attempt left, he was also more capable to the right.

We moved on to the next big challenge I see: developing sit/collection at the canter.  I really struggle with this because it’s something we need for both jumping and dressage.  I also feel like Murray used to be able to sit and shrink his stride at the canter really easily when jumping, usually while  maintaining an uphill  balance.  But lately it seems that his smaller strides have been very downhill and inverted — maybe they have always been that way, but I’ve only just developed a good enough feel to tell the difference.  I also don’t know how much collection I should be aiming for — Murray obviously wants me to think that I’m being too mean/it’s too hard. But progress is hard, kiddo.


i read something about thinking of your elbows as “weighted” and tried to envision it in these rides to stop them from floating off into outer space. instead i way overcorrected and put my hands in my lap. moderation is needed. Murray looks cute though!

We cantered on the big circle, then slowed it down and brought Murray into as small and collected of a canter circle as I could navigate — probably around 10 meters.  The first time we did it was incredible, because Murray was listening really well, but wasn’t anticipating the smaller circle.  So he just sat as much as he was able and we managed a pretty good little circle.  Tina said that I should try to make the next circle even smaller and slow Murray down even more, shortening the sweep of my seat to keep the strides quick and small.  It took me a couple of repetitions to get this down, but on our third try I felt some really uphill and controlled strides from Murray on that little circle that made me very happy.

We struggled more tracking right once again, especially because Murray lost all the bend on our first small/slow circle and dropped his back.  Even though I’m trying not to hang on the right/inside rein, I can’t let Murray lose the bend through these exercises.  For the lesson Tina had me go back to our old way of overbending the neck using more inside rein, but I imagine that as we practice I will be able to transition to a lighter inside rein again.


heading in to the tiny circle. i made my transitions from 20m to tiny circle too abrupt when i repeated this exercise, and the quality suffered for it. so i know for future practice to give murray a little more spiral-down time to get into the small circle.

We ended with a couple of counter canter loops which were seriously our best to date.  They were shallow-ish as there is a big pile of poles and standards stacked in a teepee right at X, and I didn’t want to tackle going past/around X for the first time when Murray was tired and had a bunch of stuff to potentially spook at.  But for the first time our shallow loops in both directions were controlled and balanced, and we kept the tempo.  HUGE progress for us, since I’ve been struggling with downhill running through the counter canter for basically two years (also known as, I suck at counter canter and probably started it too early).

Another huge win for us: not once during this lesson did Tina have to remind me not to nag with my seat. FOR ONCE!

in love with how good Murray  looks in this pic

It was such a great lesson in terms of confirming my feel (for bend and collection) and to do exercises where I can replicate the feeling later on.  Obviously, because the pics came from there, I did these exercises again the next day with not too much degradation of quality — though of course I did make some all new mistakes to learn from.

A few other notes from the lesson and subsequent ride:

  • keep riding seat to hands/don’t get pulled forward and down in canter (especially when trying to collect)
  • ride the extended transition in the canter in the exercise also to develop more elasticity
  • hands and elbows more forward (not so bad in the lesson, but they were a bit too far back the next day)
  • likewise, shorten the reins a little for steadier contact
  • a touch of haunches in is ok for now, while developing better bend
  • still need crispness/clarity/lack of static in the canter transitions – but they are better
  • I need to work on quieting the forward-backward movement of my leg when giving different cues
  • try to develop a more uphill half halt in the canter collection
  • eventually, the goal is to get the canter collection from seat alone — but that is for a year from now! for now, develop strength and suppleness in this work with lots of support from me.
  • work the weak side more, but with lots of breaks — both walk breaks, and breaks where you work the stronger side
  • who cares about sugar-induced navicular if lifesavers keep Murray happy and compliant?!