Yesterday I had a dressage lesson with Knots. Knots has been really good lately. We have few moments of actual crap, and he’s usually giving at least 85% effort. Take a break… and he gives about 75%, but that’s easy enough to work with.
We have stopped fighting about the contact, and he mostly listens to my legs. We can usually respond to more than one aid at a time. It’s crazy, especially considering where we were. The only problem is that now I’m not sure what we should be working on. Twenty meter circles we can do. He doesn’t come round very often, but he is consistently bent around my leg and accepting contact, especially circle right.
All this to say, I’ve been getting bored. We just ride 20 m circles. I wasn’t really sure what the next step was, since I’ve never worked with a horse in this way. This is why lessons are so important. I asked S what we could be working on while we’re developing consistent acceptance and the beginnings of roundness. I’m not always a master of words, which led to the initial response about riding consistently, oops.
After our chat though, she gave us some different things to work on, namely transferring the feel on the 20 m circle to other movements, including the leg yield and shorter time to change the bend. She suggested some modified figure eights, with a tear drop shape or along the rail doing a circle and changing directions, but smaller and harder for Knots to work on.
On some level I feel a little dumb that I had to ask these questions, but I was feeling unsure of how to continue progressing. It’s harder to polish than to start, that’s for sure. For now though, I’m feeling reinvigorated and excited for some flat work!
So this wild thing has been happening as I have started working at TBS. I actually ride on a schedule, almost every day. Its crazy. In the last two weeks, I have ridden Vinny four times and Knots six times. Wild. I actually ride more than I have time to write about riding…
I’ve been having one jump school each week for each horse and then flatting the other rides. We have worked on courses the last two weeks, I have a hard time thinking during the courses. Practicing having my brain engaged through the entire process is key. Practicing over all the jumps in the courses is also great for focusing on my position. I still need to sink further in my heels over the jumps and relax a bit. I still look tense in the air.
Knots is sooooooo much more relaxed. While he has a lot of impulsion, he isn’t rushing to the base of the fences, he’s waiting for them to come to him. I can actually half-halt, and I’m just using the snaffle at home. He is much more confident over height, and as we keep working, he is starting to jump a bit rounder.
No pictures of flat work unfortunately. Its apparently too boring for people to watch or take pictures of :(.
On the flat, Knots and I have moved back into side reins and we are trying to build up a bit of strength in the canter. Oh and keep trying not to be tense. And actually maintaining contact on the outside rein. I suppose the first point is what I want to be working on, but the second and third points are what I end up doing.
Vinny and I have been working on the right lead canter departs and building enough strength to hold the canter in the dressage arena. The Intro C test requires less than three quarters of a 20 m canter circle, but one has to actually pick up the canter and hold the correct lead. Preferably without pulling my arms out of the sockets.
The campers helped set up the dressage arena last week, so I’m hoping to move the flat rides into the arena and work on some of the test movements.
As a bonus, last weekend we were able to do some conditioning out at Indian Spirit Springs. Knots and I trotted a lot, up and down some hills, and then we cantered up a couple of hills. His breathing was really good, and (as usual) he still has lots of energy up until the end. This makes me feel better about BN in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be terribly hot.
After the show, I’m looking forward to fitting in rides on Gracie and Jellybean. #goals
Yep. Title doesn’t lie. We now own three magical money pits. Who’s the new third horse? Knots! Maggie and I worked out a deal, and now he’s mine-all-mine!
With that awesome news out of the way, we had a dressage lesson this morning. The sky was pretty ominous, but we went for it. Then S texted us when we were halfway there saying that we shouldn’t come if we aren’t already on the way. That’s always a good sign.
Anyways, we got there and it hadn’t started raining yet. I tacked Knots up and we got right to work, no slow-mo bs when the rains are coming. Warm-up was walk/trot transitions and working on keeping the outside rein connection. I’ve been dropping him as soon as he tries to take up the contact, and that silliness needs to stop. He warmed up really quietly. No tossing of the head and limited stumbles. Just ambling along at the same pace.
We went to the canter and mostly the same thing: balanced, even pace and accepting contact. And me not throwing away the outside rein. We cantered in the other direction and then took a mini-break while Maggie worked with Bear.
Then crazy things happened! S suggested we work on leg yields. Apparently I’ve been thinking about the leg yield wrong this entire time… we needed to be straight, not bent around the inside leg. Knots has no problem moving off the leg, but he wants to be bent. Moving off the right leg was better. To the left I wasn’t giving enough outside aids to make him stay straight, and so he was just bending and then moving. Not a leg yield. We did some circles to re-establish that he had to listen to my outside rein and that helped a lot.
About that time, the weather took a nasty turn. It started raining steadily about the time we started cantering. When we were finishing up the leg yields, the sky started throwing down lightning bolts. We got off at that point and finished up.
All in all, it was a nice morning to reflect on how far we have come. I’ve been riding Knots for three just over three years, and taking dressage lessons for two. We have learned so much, and I had a horse that was immediately relaxed and trying to figure out what I wanted, instead of our initial bracing and running. Good things ahead 🙂
I’m sure it was said more eloquently. My brain mostly remembers emotions, less so the words. But that was the response to our dressage lesson this morning. With the monsooning, I haven’t really gotten to ride much lately, and I wasn’t really expecting Knots to be a rockstar.
Especially when I gave him some bonus breakfast (he doesn’t get grain because he is F-A-T) and he cantered off to the dressage field and ran away from me! He didn’t really want to get on the trailer either. Although, lets face it, his resistance was trying to walk over to the grass. He has always loaded right onto any trailer I pointed him towards.
We actually showed up on time, and managed to be on, in the arena, before Sarah walked out. That folks, is a miracle in itself.
The focus of today’s lesson was outside rein connection, for Knots and Bear. With Knots, it seems I’ve been softening too much when he actually takes a good contact. Practically dropping him in dramatic dressage terms. So today we worked first on square turns at the walk. Turning with the outside aids. Then we took that thought to the trot and kept trying to turn on the outside aids at every touch point of the 20m circle.
It was really interesting. And Knots was a little heavy in my hand. But that’s because right now he still needs my help to balance. The lightness will come as he gets stronger. Sarah was really pleased with our work. She did utter words to the effect of this is the best I’ve ever seen him, and we all reflected to where we were a year ago.
In other news, trailer situation pending, we’re going to Pine Hill July 4th weekend and running beginner novice. Maybe… just maybe, we might score less than a 48.
A week late, but better late than never, right?
Last week was an exciting week for Gracie. Her normal schedule consists of being ridden by a college student (Kayla) 1-3 times per week, and an occasional hack by Robert. Oh, and she’s SUPER fat. We’re currently contemplating moving her to another pasture so she can stop eating everyone else’s food.
Monday she got to go to the dressage lesson. I don’t think Sarah has ever seen me ride Gracie (although lets be real, we still haven’t broken 30 rides ever…), and she hasn’t seen Gracie go (with Maggie piloting) since last year this time. So the potential for a big difference.
The dressage lesson was really thought-provoking. With Knots, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching him to move off my leg and trying to bend him around my inside leg. Gracie doesn’t have a problem running away from my leg, bending is impossible, but put a little leg on and SHOOOSH! Sideways.
One of the major benefits to the college student riding Gracie is the focus on slow, relaxed, and balanced flatwork. Gracie is a big mover, and she never really learned how to contain her majesty. She’s improved in HUGE ways with the riding Kayla’s done with her.
Back to the dressage lesson, we were able to improve on that work and start thinking about the next steps in her progress towards dressage pony (eventer, lets be real). Namely, holding herself up without freaking out. So, basically the same thing as slowing down, but on 20m figures and especially at the canter. All while accepting contact. Kayla is working with very light contact currently, but I was working with Gracie to accept a bit more. Especially because that’s how I can help her at the canter.
Our trot work wasn’t bad, I just needed to work on keeping the contact consistent (I see some loose side reins in our future.) She was having trouble falling in circle left and running out circle right. This is where the light bulb turned on with me a bit. Knots really requires a lot of inside aids to do anything. Gracie needs the outside aids to support her ridiculous, all-over-the-place movements. Quite different to think about in the moment.
We really worked in the canter to help her hold herself upright and without running either in or out of the circle, which, surprise, makes her feel more unbalanced and then makes her run, starting the loop of doom. This was especially challenging circle right, she had a lot of trouble holding the canter. I worked hard on keeping my outside aids consistent and allowing her to move out without falling on her forehand. Whew. This was a great core workout, and I have to get stronger as we keep examining this.
Dressage lesson was great, gave me lots to think about. And then I got to be at the barn when Kayla started over some jumps.
Kayla has been working on the flat for several months and getting Gracie to slow down and calm down. They have been working over poles, and keeping the same attitude: its not a big deal. Gracie still gets very excited about poles. (I swear we’ve been doing poles and crossrails the entire time we’ve owned her…) Either way, this was the first time Kayla was jumping Gracie, and the first time shes been jumped since Maggie rode her after she dumped Rob at the show last fall. Hopefully you followed that. Anyways. Video evidence of her going over jumps without freaking out too much:
Sorry for the sideways video, it was in the moment. Definitely some solid work here, she’s doing really well. Hopefully some more solid work with Gracie and Robert will have a bit more time and they can start plotting their next outing. There is potential in there, we just have to make the time to dig it out.
Warning: long thoughtful post
I’ve ridden lots of green horses. I like to think I’ve made most of them into better equine citizens. But I’ve probably made a few worse. I’ve spent a lot of time jumping green horses over small jumps (<2’3″). I haven’t spent as much time working out the progression from baby crossrails up to somewhat sizeable fences.
Isn’t that the most fun way to learn? (sarcasm folks, we all dream of the million dollar push button pony we can just be perfect on.) To be fair, most of my riding of green horses was for the purpose of making passable lesson horses. Example: Here’s random new horse, lets see if he can do intermediate riding lessons. Amanda, you ride him. Ok, flat work good enough, lets move onto jumping.
While I learned a lot riding as a teenager and college student, the rate of learning has exploded since I got involved with TBS. I bought a baby horse, starting riding a [big] project, and eventually bought and sold a couple of horses. And lots of lessons with high quality instructors, jumping and dressage. Lots of lessons learned, but lets focus on the training process with green horses, and the speed of progression.
I’ve been riding Knots for three years now (crazy huh?). In that time we have worked hard to communicate; sometimes its his fault and sometimes its mine.
With jumping, I was getting over some childhood fear/drama about larger fences, and we moved really slow. Probably did 2’3″ for at least a year, and barely tried jumping higher. I made the notably stupid statement (for me, in retrospect) that my life goal was beginner novice for fun. While that’s nice and all, I want to achieve more than that. I just couldn’t see it from where I was starting. Three years later, I feel like we could jump a 2’9″ course with a little legging up, and we’ve successfully completed a beginner novice round, in addition to some random bigger jumps 😉
With dressage, we had an entire host of other issues, beginning with a lack of acceptance of the aids. Luckily, we’ve moved beyond that, and we now struggle with self-carriage, balance, and pace. Still, three years. Sorry for no newer pictures, apparently no one takes pictures of me riding on the flat.
Her flatwork is coming along really well. Without the backwards training Knots came with, Jellybean is able to learn a lot quicker. She’s also not expecting me to kill her at any moment. Its the small things folks.
But after working through the process of learning to jump with Knots, I have to admit I’ve gotten a little impatient. And something about social media blah professionals blah baby horses blah novice courses blah. So I’ve been pushing the envelope with Jellybean a bit. Oh, you jumped this X without drama, onto a vertical! Woo! Lets do the 2’3″ XC jumps!
You see where this is going. We managed to only have a little confidence issue at home with XC fences, I didn’t get ambitious when we went off site. We shelved the issue for another day. Back to the arena, and again, crossrail, crossrail, vertical, why not a square oxer? Obviously I’m summarizing a bit for the blog, but the theme here is rushing. And when you’re helping a baby horse learn, you need to be supportive, not looking at the jump. And so the square oxer ended with me taking a roll over Jelly’s head into the sand. Just what you want the baby horse to experience: some idiot flying over their head and smashing their nose into the dirt.
Literally one of my most disappointing riding moments…ever. Rob tried to counsel me a bit. Something about teaching students to move on, and why don’t I take my own advice. Well, I never told a student they couldn’t be upset, as long as they get the job done.
So I got up and trotted her over the jumps on the ground, crossrails and verticals. Then I remounted and jumped the vertical, and the day was over.
All this rambling to say that I’m still learning all kinds of interesting things about training horses. Especially how fast is too fast. I’m a fan of the process, and part of the process is sucking. This long introspection is mostly here as a record; a reminder of the ways we progress and then fall backwards. I think if you aren’t experiencing setbacks, you aren’t trying to move forward. Just sometimes the backwards is hard, whether physically, emotionally, or just a blow to the ego.
Moving forward, I’m going to set a time line. We won’t be jumping anything over two feet tall until the end of the summer. We may or may not go green as grass in one of the late summer/fall horse trials. But still, not jumping over two feet. We need time to mature and get solid over baby jumps. Because Jellybean is still a baby, even if some days I see the hint of the brilliance to come.