I wish I had a more elegant title to this post, but this is basically where I am at. Saturday ended up being a decent day weather wise. Sure, it was damp and in the 40s, but it wasn’t actively raining. So I was able to ride in the outdoor. All good things. My plan was to put in a Dressage ride with a focus on connection and bending since May was coming off of back to back jump lessons. (by back to back, I mean lessons on Tuesday and Thursday but no flat ride in between)
The ride started out well. I carried a crop, just in case I needed to reinforce the leg aid, but she was in front of my leg and even a bit spicy. No big deal. We did a lot of walk/halt/walk transitions before stepping into the trot. When we moved into the trot, she threw her right shoulder into my right leg to come off the connection and fling her head up in the transition. UGH.
I brought her back to the walk and tried again. Same result. I halted and asked her to move her right shoulder around in a turn on the haunches. Nope. Nope. Nope. She did not need to do these things, she is a JUMP HORSE now. NOT a DRESSAGE horse. (These pics disagree)
MMMmmmmk. Let’s break it down further. Walk on a small circle and bend her neck around the circle. NOPE. She flung her head up and threw her whole body to the outside, stumbling sideways and flinging her tongue out of her mouth.
Alright, I am thinking… maybe this is physical. Maybe she is pretty sore and stiff from the jump lessons and bending her neck hurts. (Anyone else immediately fall down this rabbit hole?) Then, she saw a horse being ridden over across the field from the other barn. And She Lost Her Mind.
Suddenly, she could bend all the way around to the right, while cantering, to try and see the horse behind her. Any kind of half halt was met with head flinging and tongue wagging. It was 45 minutes of me just trying to get SOME kind of response from her so that I could end on a good note. I ended up just riding her super straight and doing some collected/extended transitions in the trot (where to be honest, she had some moments of actual suspension).
Unfortunately, I still got off feeling frustrated and annoyed. I gave May a proper cool down, put some thrush stuff in her feet (standing in the mud at the hay bale for hours on end is a great recipe for thrush), and used from probios cookies to do some stretches JUST IN CASE.
However, it is one thing to have a really bad ride and have to go back to basics consistently with a horse that has talent. It is another to do it with a horse that is basically a BN horse AND has been a BN horse for 3 years.
I know other people have worse rides. Rides that are genuinely dangerous. This ride wasn’t dangerous. It was just like… (trying to find a not super crude thing to write here)…. it was like writing a post where every time you finished a paragraph, it totally disappears on you.
I think May got Sunday off, so today will be the follow up ride to Saturday. Then, my half leaser is out of town for the holidays, so I have her to myself for a while… and some extra time to actually ride. Maybe the weather will hold out, and we can go on a hack. BUT as Michele knows… it will probably rain.
Anyone else just want to turn their horse out into a field for the rest of winter and hope that Spring is better? (Also, gave up on the new WP editor and went back to the classic. Best decision EVER)
I have a confession to make. A lot of reviews don’t “do it” for me. I love seeing how everyone feels about how a product performs, feels, fits, etc., but I often have the nagging sensation in the back of my head saying, “well, how is it going to look after YEARS of abuse?” Because, when it comes to where I am investing my very limited budget of horse stuff, that is where I want to put my dollars. In the things that last.
SO – here is a review of a couple of bridles that I have now owned for YEARS.
Dover Figure Eight Bridle
Seriously, I bought a bridle from Dover… at least 5 years ago. I was looking for a sub $200 bridle with a figure eight and a mono crown. I had a nunn-finer bridle that I really liked, but it wasn’t a figure eight, and it really as a reddish-brown color. I wanted CHOCOLATE.
This bridle fit the bill. My original impressions included the sheepskin on the middle of the figure 8 being WAY TOO FLUFFY. I always had plans to trim it, but to be honest, I was too afraid of making it look worse. When I dabbled in some hunter/eq classes, I ended up buying the matching fancy stitched browband and crank noseband for this bridle. It definitely wasn’t the same price as the bridle when I bought it… Link here
So how is it 5+ years later?
Clearly, I still really like it. It is in everyday rotation at the barn, and it gets polished up and brought along for SJ and XC at horse trials. Is the leather as buttery soft as the Vespucci bridles I remember from 20 years ago? Nope. It has held up really well, but instead of softening, a lot of the leather has kind of wrinkled into position.
While it hasn’t started cracking or anything like that, I do feel the leather just might be, after all this time, and all the use, coming towards the end of its useful life.
Harwich Padded Dressage Bridle by SmartPak
I guess they don’t really make the same bridle anymore, so this might just be commentary on quality and all that. This bridle was a pretty serious impulse buy. I had bought a Dressage saddle, and I wanted a bridle that would match. (It was also part of the same order as a girth and leathers… neither of which I use anymore.)
Either way, this bridle has been in and out of rotation since February of 2015, so I think I have used it enough to have some thoughts.
1 – The reins are HORRIFIC. I mean HORRIFIC. I ended up putting the Micklem rains on this bridle after getting that bridle.
2 – The leather quality is crap too. Sorry. Not Sorry. They must have rubbed this thing in motor oil in the photo on the website, because it does not clean up like that.
3 – I still kind of use it. This bridle is… somewhere. It makes it into the rotation when I need a third bridle for some reason. (i.e. I want to put a happy mouth in May’s mouth when the temp dips super low, but I don’t feel like changing out my main bridles). I should probably sell it, but it doesn’t seem worth the effort for the $50 it might be worth.
This bridle was a gift, and I have had it two years. That also makes it the newest bridle in my rotation. It is also the most expensive.
The most hilarious part of this bridle is not the amazing, awesomeness that is the anatomical benefits to the horse. Honestly, I am not sure how much May really cares. I might be able to convince myself that she’s a touch more steady in this bridle vs. the figure 8 or traditional bridle with a flash. However, I do not think it is a $200 difference, so to me, that’s mostly irrelevant.
The reason I really like this bridle? It sits in such a different place on her face that it is perfect when she gets any rubs from her muzzle. There it is. Right there. The best part of this is that it keeps me from worrying about the bridle rubbing in the same place as her muzzle.
As for quality, it is a nice bridle that looks nice and, I think, flatters May’s face pretty well. As mentioned above, I did upgrade the reins, and I actually use thinline reins on it now. Would I buy it again? Not sure. I am happy with it, but there are places that I wish it fit just a SMIDGE better, and it isn’t that adjustable. There are so many options on the market now for anatomical bridles, and I bet there is something out there that would fit better.
What about you? Any bridles that you have had a long time and are still in love with?
THeSe REVIEWs are NOT SPONSORED, AND THE ITEMS DISCUSSED IN THIS REVIEW WERE PURCHASED BY ME or a FAMILY member WITH our OWN MONEY.
It has been… quite a while since my last dressage lesson. Quite a while as in, I am pretty sure I was complaining that it was REALLY HOT at the last one. When I have these kind of gaps in lessons, the first question is always, inevitably, “Is there anything specific you want to work on today?”
My first inclination was to say, “nope.” I think I actually did say, “nope”. Luckily, my trainer knows me better than that and gave me an extra 10 seconds to actually think about my rides lately.
“Actually, I think we could use some work on transitions.” Doubly-Luckily, my trainer also knows what I mean by this. Yes, I can get May to halt/walk/trot/canter etc on cute, fairly promptly. HOWEVER, I wanted to work on keeping the connection and balance before, during, and after each transition. I know. Riveting stuff.
Let’s not forget this halt to trot transition at our last horse trial… where May drifted about 5′ left for no particular reason.
The majority of the lesson was spent on a 20 meter circle. We started with walk/trot/walk transitions. You know, the most basic of the basic. Positives? May stayed in front of my leg. Negatives? She enjoyed being in front of my leg and falling on her forehand. Solution? Change walk to halt.
Our first trot/halt transition was met with her just dissolving onto her forehand. She practically took the last step in the stumble. It was super majestic and graceful. So NT had us back up a couple of steps and try again.
The next time? May pulled a typical May move. Instead of falling on her forehand, she rocked back and halted… and then immediately backed up, away from the contact. How do you fix that? Rinse and repeat. Forward, halt, forward, halt. Eventually, we got the halt/trot/halt transitions so tuned in that I could do 90% of the movement with my seat, with barely any additional input from my hands and leg.
Adding this to my goals this winter – get all transitions tuned into the seat.
We moved onto the canter, but we changed up the rhythm of the transitions. We did a lot of trot, canter, trot, halt, trot, canter, trot, canter etc etc type of work. May started off running a bit into the canter, and I played into that by making my aids BIG and UNNECESSARY.
We do not canter with our shoulders.
However, by the end, I could just swing by seat, close my outside leg, and get a nice connected canter. Funny how that works.
The lesson finished off with transitions on the quarter line. I had to work VERY hard to be clear with my aids and keep her straight and connected. I thought my brain was going to melt with how much mental capacity this exercise takes up. Is it weird that I can’t wait to try it again on my own?
There ended up being a ton of nuances to this lesson, that I am still really digesting, but it filled up my tool box (and my motivation chest) with a lot to help us move forward this weekend!
When I made the decision to partially lease May out, I also made the decision to soften some of May’s buttons. I didn’t want someone else to get on her and have to deal with accidentally pushing buttons they didn’t mean to push. All that could do is end up frustrating both the new rider and May.
So I trained May to go forward and straight, on the contact. That’s pretty much it. Did it mean that the issue of her not connecting properly to the outside rein going right came back? Yup. Did it also mean that her shoulders mostly stayed in line and she was easy to steer? Yup.
With the half leaser taking her first Dressage lesson tonight with my trainer, I decided to throw those buttons back on and tune them back up. It took about two rides haha.
Last night, I rode May under the lights of the outdoor for the first time. (Thanks Daylight Savings… more like daylight wasting) She was really good, and I was able to move her body parts all independently. We had a very brief and not at all dramatic discussion about her moving off of my right rein and leg and into my left rein and leg, and that was it.
I sat the trot and got some decent shoulder in and leg yield work. We stepped into the canter. The first canter transition in both directions was fairly lackluster with her definitely leading with her inside shoulder instead of stepping under with the outside hind to push into the canter. I did a quick downward transition, reestablished connection, pushed her shoulder out, asked again, and had a much better transition.
We played with the circle of death set up at one end of the ring, but after about 20 minutes of work, I realized that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. So I hopped off and gave her some cookies. In May’s world, it was a pretty good day!
What about you? Have you ever “untuned” your horse for one reason or another?
It gets pretty easy to forget that May is a “mare”. She is totally cool with other horses getting in her personal space, I have never seen her swish her tail and pin her ears at anyone, and 90% the time, she just wants to get on with the thing. Whatever the thing is (eating, turnout, going back to her stall, riding, jumping, etc etc etc)
In fact, May apparently took some kind of small adventure on Sunday. The barn was out at a small show. When they left, May was tucked into her stall. When they came back, May was somehow in a stall on the other side of the barn. NT went over to her normal side of the barn to see what was up, and then she heard hoof beats behind her. May had re-escaped from stall #2 and was sheepishly making her way back to “her stall”.
My theory? May ducked under her stall guard, wandered around the barn to see if there was any grain dropped on the floor. Spotted some food in stall #2, and decided to spend the rest of the day there. I think she is going to be relegated back to having the bottom half of her stall door closed when the barn is empty, especially now that the weather has cooled off a bit.
So how does May remind us that she is, indeed, a mare? She has OPINIONS.
Last week, I decided it was time to put May back into real work. She is sound now barefoot, and seemed perfectly happy to drag me around again. So it was time to reintroduce some real work. I threw on my Dressage saddle and grabbed my Dressage whip. The ride was planned to be fairly easy – reestablishing contact and bend.
Our warm up went fine. She was a bit stiff off both legs, so I returned those with the help of the whip. She got a bit tense while I was schooling the whole “one leg means move over” thing, but she quickly relaxed once we had a few successes. Great. I picked up the canter to the left and had a nice easy bend and lope in that direction.
Then, we went right. If you remember, bending right has been our issue lately. So, when she went to lean through her right shoulder, I lifted my inside hand and added my inside leg more firmly. As a result, she MELTED DOWN.
I mean, full on temper tantrum. Throwing her head around, stumbling over herself, shooting forward, sucking back, etc etc. For maybe a solid 2 minutes. What was I doing? Keeping my right hand up and my right leg on while cursing quite loudly. Here’s the thing with May. No matter how much she escalates, I can’t give in or escalate with her. I have to be firm, clear, and consistent.
After her meltdown, she gave me a big huff and bent nicely around my right leg. I put my whip and cell phone down, since I didn’t want to really use either if she decided to have another meltdown, and we went back to work. She picked herself up through that shoulder, quickened the inside hind to compensate for the new balance, and moved better going over her back.
At this moment, NT came to the ring and complimented me on how well she was working to the right. I think I and both the other riders in the ring with me (both advanced riders thankfully) had a good laugh as we informed her about May’s mini drama series.
She may be a REALLY good mare, but she is still a mare. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. What about you? Does your horse sometimes hit you with overly dramatic opinions?
Can I start by saying that a horse trial held in mid-August should not be called a “Fall” mini trial? Until the weather is cool and breezy and leaves start to depart from trees, it is summer in my book, and the sweaty horses this weekend is a testament to that.
Let’s back up though. My day actually started closer to 6AM (before the heat but right within prime fog time in KY). The sun wasn’t up yet, but there was a slight glow to the sky that let you know it was trying. What was I doing at this time? I was climbing through some overgrown and wet weeds in May’s field, trying to make sure I didn’t fall on my face while trying to find her. Luckily, she was hanging out by the shelter and let me catch her. She had even stayed mostly clean from the night before. Good mare!
We loaded up the horses around 7AM, since our first rider had an 8:17AM ride time… My ride time was 11AM, but it was well worth getting up early to be a part of a big team again. I forgot how much of what I love about showing is about the people I show with.
Anyway, May got off the trailer more relaxed then she has ever been off property, and this is saying something. Husband of the year decade lifetime held May while she cocked a foot and took a nap. Cool. I tacked up, swapped into my white pants, and hopped on for a quick warm-up before Dressage.
Now, Dressage immediately had a couple of challenges for us. The warm up area was right next to the start box for XC, and it was on the other side of the property from our actual show ring. Also, the show ring was in the facility’s indoor arena. We have never done Dressage indoors, AND it is one of those indoors with an entrance on the side to the barn and stalls partially open to the indoor (with horses in them).
May was awesome in our warm-up, but she was a bit amazed by the indoor thing. Our minute inside to warm-up got most of the tension out, but it took away my ability to really push her into positive tension and any kind of self carriage. Great. I resigned myself to riding an accurate test and keep a higher emphasis on balance and rhythm then really anything else. After all – this is Intro C we are talking about…
So there it is. There is a lot I can say about it, but I’ll give you all the scores and judges comments, then my own.
1. Enter Working Trot Rising. Halt through Medium Walk. Salute – Proceed Working Trot Rising.
Judge: Forward and Square. A little crooked after.
Me: A little? We practically made it to the quarter line before correcting. The first trot after the halt on centerline was pretty bad. Granted, we have never halted at the beginning of a Dressage test before, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised that May was a bit sticky off my leg and chose to go left ins
tead of forward.
2. Track Right, Working Trot Rising
Judge: Could Show More Bend.
Me: Could show more of a a lot of things. She kind of fell through her inside
shoulder through the turn, and I should’ve taken the opportunity in the corner to really lift her and shove her over.
3. Circle Right 20 Meter
Judge: Steady Tempo
Me: Ok. Yes. The tempo was steady, but she was so far away from my outside rein that it was a bit like driving a tractor trailer with the steering wheel on the floor.
4. Circle right 20 meters developing working canter in first quarter of circle, right lead. Before A – Working trot rising.
Judge: Fairly Balanced
Me: This is a hard movement for me to review because the transitions get their own score. Also weird. No thoughts. It was fine but not nearly as good as I know she can be.
5. Transitions in and out of canter.
Judge: 1st could be more responsive. 2nd – Smooth.
Me: Totally agree. The downward transition wasn’t WONDERFUL, but we got the tempo back within the confines of that movement. (i.e. before A).
6. Change Rein, Working Trot Rising
Judge: Forward. Clear Bend.
Me: I like straight lines like this. I can open her up a bit and show her off. She was really good here, and we could show off a working trot.
7. Circle Left 20 Meters
Judge: Forward. Clear Bend.
Me: Yup. Not as steady in the contact as I would like, but the rhythm and relaxation were there. Again, that became the aim after we decided that the indoor was not our happy place.
8. Circle left 20 meters developing working canter in first quarter of circle, left lead. Before A – Working trot rising.
Judge: Fairly Balanced
Me: Look familiar? Same score and comment as the other canter direction. I thought this one was better, but I’ll take a seven. (Can we also discuss how the judge must have been staring right at the right entryway of the indoor?)
9. Transitions in and out of canter.
Judge: 1st Smooth. 2nd could be more prepped.
Me: I am pretty meh about both transitions. I would’ve given me a 6 because I really needed a half halt before both.
10. Medium Walk
Judge: Smooth transition. Could be more active.
Me: I agree. Unfortunately, this was one of those tension trade offs. We were right near the scary side entrance and the stalls of horses. I could either push for more activity and get tension and jigging, or just deal with the flat walk. Flat walk won. (Rewatching… I actually don’t think her walk was that flat. What do you think?)
I have seen, many many times, that trainers have associated Dressage with weightlifting. They talk about the strength building, the potential for muscle soreness, and the overall change in how a horse carries itself.
For May and me though, Dressage is more Yoga than Weightlifting. Strength is, as always, an important component of Dressage. As she gets stronger, things get easier for her. Movements go from ok to good. However, how do we get from good to great?
We need flexibility to get there. If you have ever done yoga, you know the balance between flexibility and strength, and you know how the movements build upon one another. Dressage with May is a LOT like that. Take our warmup routine lately, for example.
We start on a loose rein, and I ask her to simply come over her back, while we did big 20 M circles and oversized loops through the arena. The back needs to loosen up from her earns all the way to the top of her tail. Because naturally, with no human interaction, this horse runs around like Pepe Le Pew (tail and nose in the air).
The bending continues to be a focus point when we move into serpentines. Straight, then bent, then straight, over and over again. The shoulders start to come up at this point and the hind end is asked to track up more so that it doesn’t slip out during the change of directions.
Then, we start stretching laterally. Leg yields open up May from left to right, so that the back to front flexibility and strength gets better. Think about stretching your arms straight in front of you before stretching straight up. Same concept. May is still not SUPER flexible laterally, so this is hard for her. She wants to move slower and kind of lean into the movement to make it easier. All the while, I have to make sure that right shoulder is staying where it should instead of moving outside the “box”.
Once those help loosen her up, we have introduced should ins to May’s routine. Now, we are asking for bend AND lateral movement. This is still super hard. Kind of like a new yoga move that you can only hold for a few seconds, May can only hold this movement for a few strides. Then, I give her a break.
As we straighten out, I find myself with this trot. Although, with less tension. (and what are my hands doing?!)
This trot translates to a more connected canter AND a more connected walk. It might not be fast progress, and it might not be fancy stuff. However, it is building the right muscles and the right flexibility to create a better Dressage horse in the future.
What about you? Do you think Dressage is more like yoga or weightlifting? (or wrestling!?)
Ok or like… all the time hahaha. Recently, I have been having a real issue getting May off of my inside leg and into my outside rein going right. (So right leg to left hand) This isn’t a new issue, and it was definitely something that was exasperated by the wolf tooth on the left side of May’s mouth. I have even, apparently, gotten REALLY good at hiding it. However, I knew it wasn’t correct, and I was really struggling with how to fix it. I also wasn’t sure if it was a ME problem, since I am right side dominant, or a May problem. So I texted NT, and I asked if, instead of a lesson, she could ride May, and I could watch.
I got there in time to help her tack up, and we chatted a bit about the issue. Then, she hopped on up. And May did what May likes to do when someone new gets on. She turned into a drunken sailor. This is… not normal for draft crosses, in my experience. Most of them want to be straight and board like and heavy. May? She wants to move every part of her body in a new direction and see if you can put her back together again.
NT had no problem with it… She warmed her up similar to how I do it, encouraging May to move over her back and into the contact. NT immediately picked up on what I had been feeling, and she was surprised at how well I had been hiding it. At this point, I realized that this was the first pro ride May had gotten since… early 2016? I think that has to be right. NT gave me a compliment on how well I have done with her… if only she really knew where we had started.
Pretty quickly, NT realized that the problem wasn’t so much her willingness to move off my right leg, but in her desire for me to hold up the right ride of her face. She would move off the right leg by swinging her haunches out, while pushing her shoulder forward and in. So instead of a pretty curve through her body, we were getting a horse whose front end and back end weren’t really following the same line. I need to show her that I won’t hold her up on the right side, while also using my outside leg to keep the haunches following the front end.
At the canter, thing’s got even worse. I mentioned that, when I did get her off the inside shoulder, she would then fall apart to the outside. NT immediately identified that her canter to the right made me want to sit to the outside, instead of the inside, of the horse. When I sat on the outside, pushed her off my inside leg, and struggled to get her on the left rein, it is no surprise that she fell of the outside. Well… duh…
She also demonstrated spiraling in to a smaller circle before asking for the downward transition. On a larger circle, May was able to really throw her weight through her inside shoulder in the transition and do the transition off the outside aids. On a smaller circle, the rider can really set her back on that outside hind through the transition. Good stuff!
The final exercise was cleaning up the canter transitions. NT did this through a leg yield towards the rail, picking up the canter, and immediately turning. This got her off the inside front leg before the transition, through the transition, and then immediately turning kept her from falling on it once she was in the gait. It was really cool to watch as, by the third attempt, May had really figured out how to use her body better and lift through her shoulders through the transition, instead of throwing her head up and barreling through the aids.
We chatted a bit about the difference between training a draft cross vs. a thoroughbred as they cooled out. And then NT gave me some homework:
Serpentines – Make sure the haunches are really following the shoulders in all right turns, square off left turns a bit, and keep her right shoulder up and light on the right rein all the time.
Lots of transitions – Transitions will make her stronger in this new way of holding herself, but she might need smaller circles to do them both relaxed and correctly.
Random leg yields – leg yields are important, but she is anticipating where they start and stop. She needs to really understand that the outside rein helps moderate the leg yield, so I need to put them into weird places in the ring. Some leg yields at the canter too.
Sit with the bend ALWAYS – I cannot give up my seat because of where she is trying to throw me. Using my seat will reinforce the leg and hand aids.
There’s probably more. I am sure there is more. I had a serious case of barn blindness through the whole ride. Like how did the horse that I bought go from this:
To This (and honestly, she looked even better with a pro up):
Can’t wait to see what she looks like once I figure out how to really get her on that left rein! Are you an AA that occasionally throws a pro up? Or are you 100% DIY? Or as a pro, do you think it’s helpful to get on your clients’ horses every now and then?
This is going to be a very text-heavy, Dressage focused post. I could have broken this up into 3 posts, but I didn’t want to torture you all with that. Apologies in advance for what is interesting content to me and probably no one else!
Last week, I texted NT and literally asked her, “Can I get on the schedule for a Dressage lesson? I have forgotten how to fancy prance.” Luckily, she understands my humor (or is just good at faking it), and put me on the schedule for Monday.
On Sunday, I showed up to the barn to a horse missing a shoe. This wasn’t totally unexpected. During the transition period of May to the new barn, she spent a couple of days out during the day, and she spent a good amount of that time stomping at flies on the REALLY hard ground right now. I had already put an SOS out to the farrier, and he was scheduled to come out on Monday afternoon.
So on Monday, May’s feet were cleaned and trimmed up (and a hoof supplement was added to her smartpaks), and we were headed into our first Dressage lesson with NT after May basically got 4 days off. Whoops.
Given the heat and humidity, we decided to do the lesson in the indoor arena. I have to say that the shade of the covered arena combines with the breeze through the open sides REALLY made a difference in the comfort level of both May and me. NT gave us a simple directive, “just go ahead and warm up, and I will watch.”
Ummmmm ok. I can do that. I have been riding for 22 years. I can warm up a horse on the flat. Hah… hahahahah. Now, before I get into how our warm-up went, it is probably worth noting that I made a pretty significant change in our equipment lately. I have caught myself riding almost primarily off my spurs and in a way that had May completely behind my leg. As a result, I have switched to a Dressage whip and no spurs. The Dressage whip used to make May incredibly tense, but a lot of hacking out while carrying one has made it a mostly non-issue.
Our warm-up was… mostly terrible. I got her in front my leg, but she was definitely dull to any bending aids, and as usual, she wanted to continuously pop off the connection of my outside rein when tracking right. (i.e. the left rein) I did some loops and worked on moving her shoulders around to try and loosen up the middle part of her body, but she mostly just continued to shuffle along like a board. We did a bit of canter, with a turn on the haunches in between, and then I looked at NT for instruction.
“You need serpentines” was the summation of the explanation that followed. Basically, I was losing either May’s shoulder or her haunches around basically every turn.
“I do a lot of 20M circle exercises…” I tried to explain, but NT explained how, on a 20M circle, you can remain mostly straight and stay on the circle. She wanted us to really make TURNS that forced us to really BEND. 10 meter circles are really beyond us right now, but we could do serpentines with 10-15 meter half circles at each end, so that is what she had us do. She told me not to worry about getting the exact size of the half circles, as long as I got the correct bend and shape through May’s body. Cool! Our first attempt looked something like this:
Basically, I just kind of threw May around the ring and tried to shove her around corners without ensuring I had the right balance first. I realized how badly it was going, and tried to sit the trot for the last loop. It seemed to help a bit, as I was able to better time my aids. Either way, by the end of that experiment, NT learned she needed to be SUPER literal with me. “I know I said you could do whatever size circle you wanted, but they need to be consistent. You still need to ride super accurately.”
During my second attempt, I sat the trot and implemented a solid half halt anytime I felt her balance slip. I rode my lines, and focused on really pushing her into the corner and my outside rein with my inside leg. It ended up looking more like this:
By the end of the exercise, I had a horse that was much more connected in both directions, AND she was moving across her back and lifting through her withers. There will definitely be a lot more of THESE in our future. Now that we had (finally) established a real connection, something I had been struggling with for weeks, we wanted to add in some lateral work. We had a great connection, but the idea of moving off my inside leg was still a bit of a struggle.
The directive was simple, come down the quarter line and ask May to leg yield to the wall. Baby stuff! We started in the better direction, the left, and it was a total fail. Without my spurs, I was basically incapable of convincing May to move over. The closest I got to a “leg yield” was the shoulders sliding towards the wall and the head bent back to the left. I wasn’t even pulling on the left rein, but that is where the head was. “Do you want to try asking for that a different way?” My head snapped up at NT’s words. Do I need to reiterate that I have been riding for more than TWENTY years? Even the H/J did a lot of leg yielding.
None of this left my mouth; instead, I just meeked out a “yeah.” NT came into the middle of the ring and pretended she was on a horse. First words out of her mouth are, you don’t move your aids because you aren’t changing your bend. Wait… what? I kept watching, quietly, while she positioned her inside leg “at the girth” and moved her outside leg back to keep the hind end underneath her. She took a step to the right in the “leg yield” and then half halted by squeezing her thighs. (I really hope the cambox picked up all of this. I will have to check tonight.) She took another step, explaining how she was scooping the horse up with her inside leg and moving them into the outside rein and outside leg, which were allowed the horse’s body to move into them. WHEW!
She explained how I was losing the shoulder because I wasn’t half halting, and that made it impossible for May to move her body over effectively. Oh, and sit with the bend. Yup, sit with the bend. I have ALWAYS sat on the outside of my saddle. In a leg yield, I will practically throw myself off the outside of the saddle in an attempt to get my horse to move with me in the direction. No one had ever told me I should be sitting on the inside (or with the bend).
Part of me was shrugging my shoulder at this. Part of me was tempted to ask if I could just go get my spurs. It didn’t even seem like this new set of aids could work, but what I was doing right now wasn’t working. I figured I would at least try it. We started tracking left and came down the quarter-line. I shifted my weight SLIGHTLY in my left seat bone, I kept my left leg at the girth, and I moved my right leg back. I half halted with my thighs, and then, I thought of scooping up May’s body with the entirety of my left leg and moving her one step to the right… and it worked. I half halted and asked again, and it worked again. Pretty soon, we were cruising right along from left to right. May was straight, there was no fighting with her head, and we ended the leg yield with an EVEN BETTER connection. Magic. (Below – old footage of me asking the “old” way, outside of a lesson, and thinking I was doing amazing)
The right was definitely the more difficult direction, so May lost a lot of power through the leg yield. However, they remained straight and correct. NT explained that strength and flexibility in that leg yield will come with time. Sounds good to me. We walked for a bit so that May and I could recoup, given the heat. Then, NT asked me how our shoulder-ins were. I almost laughed, but I gave her a pretty diminutive, “not good.” She nodded and explained the movement to me again.
Again, the concept didn’t change. The inside leg stayed at the girth to keep the bend, the outside leg stayed back to steady the hind end, and my weight stayed on the side with the bend. Cool. This time, I would look to move as if we were going to make a 10 meter circle, and I would ask her to hold that shape while going straight. It was pretty rough. I REALLY wanted to swing my inside (left) leg back and the outside (right) leg forward to try and push the haunches towards the wall and the shoulders against the wall. Shockingly to no one, that didn’t work. May’s left shoulder popped on the inside, and the loss of bend and balance meant she was basically running away with me (albeit incredibly slowly).
NT reminded me to fight the urge to give up on the inside leg to outside rein, and she reminded me to half halt. Half halt? We are barely moving. Again though, I suspended my disbelief and tried it. I kept my inside leg on, my outside leg back, sat to the inside, and then, I turned her shoulder just to the inside and half halted. She took two steps of great shoulder-in before coming off the rail a bit. I half halted again, and we got three good steps. And then, I got another nugget of wisdom from NT, “the moment you feel her wanted to come off the rail, that is when you need to half halt.” However, we didn’t want to drill the exercise, so we took a walk break before going in the other direction.
To the right, things were a bit more difficult. Granted, this is May’s more difficult direction, so I wasn’t sure we would be able to do it at all. We would get straight, I would ask for the shoulder in, and May would throw her head around. I was told just to do a 10M circle and try again. I tried again, and I got the same response. “STOP PULLING ON YOUR INSIDE REIN!” I heard from the other end of the arena. From more than 100 feet away, NT had seen something I hadn’t even noticed I was doing. I shoved my inside rein forward, and we suddenly had a small, but correct, shoulder in. We did one more line with me riding like someone who has done this before, and then, we gave her another break.
“She really tells on you when you’re pulling on that rein,” NT joked. Then she asked if there was anything at the canter I wanted to work on specifically, since we didn’t want to do much of it in the heat.
“My transitions suck.” I explained how, in my last real Dressage lesson, May had been completely incapable of picking up the right lead, and that, since then, I have basically settled for letting her throw her head up and then just shuffle her way into the canter. NT made a comment about seeing that in our warmup, and she told me to pretend that I was asking the stifle for the canter.
“Take a deep breath, let it out, swing your outside leg really far back, and ask for the canter.” No… there is no way that is going to work. Hah… hahahahaha.
I picked up the trot to the left, got the connection, started sitting, took a deep breath, let it out, and swung my right leg back. And good Lord, that mare just threw that right hind leg under the body, rocked back, and picked up a canter. It was uphill, it was connected, and it was prompt. I looked up at NT with a MASSIVE grin on my face. We did it one more time, and decided to switch to the right. To the bad direction.
I had a bit more trouble reestablishing the connection on this side after our walk break. She really wanted to throw her shoulders to the right, but I got it. Then I sat, then I took a deep breath, I let it out, I swung my left leg back, and she gave me the best canter transition I have ever gotten. On any horse. We came back down to the trot, I let her stretch, and NT said we should just be done on that. It was a 9 transition, and there was no point to trying to “train” a tired horse to do something it already did great.
Today, I am sore. My abs hurt from all the sitting trot. My inner thighs hurt from all the half halts, and my back muscles hurt from making sure I was sitting as tall and balanced as possible. However, I feel like we are fancy prancing better than ever before!
As for the cambox, the instructions are in French, so I am fumbling my way through learning how to use it. Also, I am learning how to use my Mac at the same time… anyone know how to get a video from iMovie to my iPhone, so that I can put it on instagram??
Let me start my saying, my horse is a magnet for attention. More than once, I found myself surrounded by multiple girls, as they asked questions, petted May, and even gave her kisses. The horse, who is usually so aloof, really loves all this at shows. Go figure.
Our day got off to a bit of a rough start, as a scheduling conflict at the barn meant that we couldn’t get on the road until 9AM, vs. the 8:30AM I had been planning on. Luckily, the show venue was maybe 10 minutes down the road, so we weren’t in danger of missing my 10:06 ride time. I did, however, change into my boots, my hairnet, and my helmet while we drove.
As soon as we got to the venue, I sent my husband off the office to get my number and whatever information he could glean from the staff there. This was the same place we had went to for XC schooling the prior week, but I wasn’t sure where everything was set up for the actual competition. While he was gone, I pulled May off the trailer myself. For some reason, she isn’t a fan of my trainer’s 2+1 trailer, but she was patient as I worked out how to get her off of it myself.
The husband arrived back in time to help me finish tacking up, and then May decided to be a total beast to get on. Now, my husband is not a small man, and May full body shoved him out of the way as I was swinging a leg over… I guess It’s truly time to get serious about the standing at the mounting block thing at home.
I then wandered aimlessly around where SJ and XC were, trying to figure out how one gets to the Dressage arena on the other side of the pond. I finally found someone to ask, and it turns out you had to go down what looked like a private driveway, take a right onto a dirt path past a hot walker, walk up into a random field and around the fence line to the dressage arena. I am not going to lie, being lost like that and on a bit of a time crunch really stressed me out.
Whew! When we finally found the Dressage warm-up, it was broken into two areas: a big grassy field that was mostly flat, and an actual dressage court. I rode around in the field for a while before the Dressage court emptied. Then, I moved to the court. Of course, as soon as I got in there, someone else, let’s call her Competition Crazy (CC), decided she needed to run through her WHOLE test in that little court multiple times in a row. Maybe I am naive, but I feel like there is no scrubbing a test right before you go in. Practice the movements to get your horse as connected and tuned in as possible, and then go into the ring. (more on CC later too)
With a couple of riders left to go, I just let her walk around in the shade for a bit, hoping that would help relieve her of some of our combined tenseness. As I was watching the last rider go before me, a couple of girls came up to pet May. It’s amazing how just talking to people about my pony helps keep my nerves at bay. The rider before me wasn’t ready, so I happily agreed to go a bit early.
I wandered down to the arena and gave the judge and scribe my number. ANNNND they couldn’t find me. They asked for my name, and I gave it. They said my number didn’t match my name… cool. Then I gave them my horse’s name, and they were like “OOOHHHH. We thought YOU were May”. I may be a bit short, a bit round, and quite pale, but I am definitely not May.
We got it sorted out, and I got to trot a bit around the arena before they honked the horn, and we headed down centerline for the first time in 2 years. Below is how it went.
(a copy of the test can be found here, I am just going to give the scores and comments for each movement below)
8.0 – No Comment
8.0 – Nice Energy
7.5 – Slight Head Tossing
7.0 – Could Have More Balance
7.0 – Slight Loss of Bend
6.5 – Could Have More march
8.0 – 2-3 jiggy steps, but very nice stretch (This was VERY generous)
6.0 – Could March More. Slight Tension
8.0 – No Comment
7.0 – Could Have Been Cleaner
6.5 – Losing Bend. Slight Loss of Balance
7.0 – No Comment
8.0 – No Comment
9.0 – No Comment
Overall Comments: Well Matched Pair. Lovely Test. Work on Canter transitions and tension.
Final Score: 24.1
So my thoughts? The scoring was CLEARLY generous, but it was equally generous for everyone. I was happy with how May stayed connected and engaged throughout the trot work, and I thought the canter work was a lot less scrambly then the last time we competed. However, the tension in the walk is definitely something we need to work on, as it comes up at home too.
The score was good enough to put us in 4th place out of 19, so that was very encouraging. Either way, we had about 2 hours to cool off. Then it was going to be time for jumping!