Friday, January 23, 2015

First Lesson of 2015!

My last dressage lesson was 4ish months ago, so I wasn't really sure what to expect out of Maggie on Tuesday. But we actually had an awesome time and did really well! Sorry for the severe lacks of pics, but I was a little busy riding...Maybe I can convince husband to come to the barn this weekend to take some video...

We picked right back up with working on straightness on the circle. First though, I had to get enough energy out of Maggie for her to really carry herself at all. What I thought was initially a nice quiet trot rhythm was actually much too pokey for her to really engage according to my trainer. There was lots of uncoordinated kicking at first just to get her to wake up, but then my trainer had me focus more on the timing of those aids - mainly I need inside leg when I rise, in order to encourage the inside hind to step forward and under more. It also helped posting on the incorrect diagonal  while tracking left so that way I could kick when I sat. Much easier to squeeze with your leg when you're in the saddle instead of out of it. Now I know why sitting trot is useful...

Now back to straightness. Here's what Maggie's issue is: Her shoulders aren't straight and she likes to hold her left one back, and her right one more forward, and then she drifts out from the right shoulder. When she does this, her left hind gets stopped short and doesn't track up - therefore she can't truly engage. Sometimes it even tracks diagonally over to the right. When she doesn't track up enough, that's when she throws her head up and pops out of the contact. To correct this, I have to hold steady on the outside rein and lighten the contact of the inside rein, but definitely not throw the contact on the inside twin away. In order to keep contact when she pops her head up I need to widen my hands, increase the contact, and then softens when she gives. Plus I've got to keep her energy up so that she can actually balance the way I'm asking her to. It also helps when I turn my body a little to the right and thereby bring my left hip bone forward and my right hip bone a little back - like I'm showing her what to do with her shoulders with my hips.

Ok, got all that? Dressage is hard guys (but you already knew that.) 

It took me a good amount of time to figure out how to coordinate all these aids and for Maggie to settle into them, but after a bit she got really steady in the trot and it felt awesome - a lot steadier than she's ever been before actually. My trainer was impressed at how steady at the trot she was, in fact. I like to think that even if haven't been working her completely correctly all winter, we have made some progress and perhaps she's at least a little stronger.

My trainer thinks that Maggie is pretty honest in her imbalances - meaning that she's at least consistent and it's lot like first she's imbalanced one way and then the next minute it's a different problem. And it's the same imbalance in both directions; no matter which way we're tracking it's the left shoulder and hind that's lagging and the right shoulder that's popping. It's just more exaggerated when we're tracking left.

Straightness, is really just about balance at this point. And while straightness on a circle seems contradictory, balance on a circle is not. Maggie has not been balanced on a circle lately. In both directions she likes to pop her right shoulder out and drift. To a novice like me, this feels like bending...but she's basically just faking it. She needs to be straight and balanced first and THEN I can ask for bend.

After she got really balanced in the trot (about half and hour into the lesson) we did a little canter work. She was tired enough at this point though that she wasn't super responsive to my signal to canter. I had some trouble with her running into the canter at first, so we worked on getting her to canter out of the nice steady trot, which required some good timing and really strong aids. She also was wanting to fall out of the canter at this point. Poor pony really was getting tired, and me too at this point. I was sweating despite the 25 degree weather. So we didn't end up doing too much cantering, but she does have the same imbalance problem at the canter that she does at the trot. I need to use the same aids and my trainer noted that I also need to give more and follow her with my right elbow. Apparently I was locking up. We called it a night after about 40 minutes total, because frankly that was more work than either of us had done with her under saddle in a while!

I gave her Wednesday off and then hopped on her again last night (Thursday.) It took a fair amount of time again, but after a while of insisting that she have more energy and that she can indeed do what I'm asking of her (which is just to be balanced) we got that same (or at least similar) nice steady trot to the left that we had during the lesson. Changing directions I think I kind of forgot what exactly I needed to be doing because she wanted to pop her head up more to the right. Oh well. Baby steps. I was still quite pleased that I was able to get to at least a similar place on my own!

Tired, but still hungry for cookies...
Looking forward to another lesson the week after next (hopefully)! I love lessons.


  1. sounds like an awesome lesson - and definitely super relevant to where i am with my pony too... that 'straightness before bend' thing... 'tis tricky, and i'm not nearly coordinated enough to figure it out on my own lol.

    re: the difficulties getting into canter, i've felt the same thing (and it shocks me bc my mare LOVES to run), and my impression is that when the horses actually work correctly and are engaged at trot, they naturally try to continue this in canter and it's SO different from how they normally canter that it turns into kind of a cluster... idk tho.. food for thought!

    1. I was very much struggling with the coordination of everything! Practice practice I guess...

      About the canter, Maggie has a crazy speed-trot; she can be following a cantering horse down a trail and she'll just be trotting and keeping up. It's ridiculous. But she certainly likes to canter around like a dummy on her own too and yes, I think it's very different than the way I'm trying to ask her to canter under saddle!