Thursday, September 3, 2015

Be Bold! (aka my horse is a saint)

Ok. Coming down from the high of winning at Olde Hope, I've got another lesson to recap. And this one is tagged in the fail category, oops.... But only bc my media is limited to us... er... struggling a bit. I swear it got better... but Kaitlyn (thanks for the video!) was called back to the barn before we could redeem ourselves. So you just get to see the mess we started with. Enjoy!

this mare is a very good mare. #definitionofamateurfriendly 
(yes she jumped it)
But let's back up. The lesson didn't start messy at all. It was actually awesome in every dimension. Isabel was crisp and in front of my leg right off the bat - a stark contrast to Olde Hope. And Dan had a freshly inspired approach to our flat work from recently watching a Michael Jung ride (not sure of the circumstances, and presumably it was video bc isn't Michael Jung at Burghley right now? anyway, doesn't matter. an inspired coach is a good coach.)

His biggest impression from watching the ride was on the *simplicity* of it all. Michael wasn't doing a ton of crazy or sophisticated lateral work. He wasn't out zig-zagging around on all these different patterns. The focus was just: be straight and be correct.

I was all prepared to build on last week's lesson of turns on the forehand on a circle and outside rein connection, and we DID work on that. But it looked very different this time. And I gotta say, this was maybe the BEST flat work lesson I've ever had with Dan.

Usually it feels like he's teaching at a very high level - he wants to see the pro ride. And usually that's a bit beyond my skill set and I end up toning it down for schooling bc I am an amateur and I make mistakes. But this lesson was super accessible and super simple and produced great results. Results I would be proud to show off to our dressage trainer C.

lack of media means you get more pics of isabel snoozing at the trailer
Essentially he had us use the full perimeter of the ring, rather than circling, to let the rail help with straightness. I was to continue thinking about the whole 'letting go of the inside rein' thing - but it wasn't quite as exaggerated. We also did lots of small circles in the corners - again using outside rein and inside leg rather than inside rein.

Dan observed that Isabel's problem is specifically with the LEFT rein. So while traveling up the long sides when tracking right, he had me pretend the left rein was the inside rein (even tho technically it was on the outside). He said to use the left rein for a little counter bend but then let go and keep traveling straight. And meanwhile my left leg was doing the job of the inside leg.

The whole 'counter bend then let go and be straight' thing was really interesting, and fairly quickly started producing nice results in Isabel. We had some REALLY nice trotting. Very balanced and VERY straight. (Tho it was imperative that I maintained a steady pace, using my seat and posting rhythm, otherwise Isabel would try to run)

For canter we maintained use of the true outside rein regardless of direction. He says that you must always use outside rein while cantering, not inside. The canter was pretty nice too.

goofy mare
Then on to jumping!! We warmed up by circling over a small oxer set on a diagonal. Isabel was on.point. Right away. We did the whole 'nice walk, to nice trot, to nice canter' thing and she was just perfect, and our canter really felt amazing. Like I could feel the lift in her shoulders and her balance through the turns. 

And we nailed the oxer in both directions from a variety of distances. It felt REALLY good. Which was nice bc the next exercise produced very different results haha. 

the little oxer in the foreground? yep we can do that. that deer-leaping blur in the background?? yea idk haha
Dan set up a simple grid: one stride to a two stride, verticals on the ends and oxer in the middle. Nothing crazy, right? The only complication was that it was set at full competition distances - not the easiest thing on a short strided horse like Izzy. We needed to be FORWARD coming out of the corner (it was kinda a short approach from the right lead). 

This really exposed my defensiveness. In order to make it work, I had to really push my hands forward and down and commit to a bold distance. And... well... I may or may not have commitment issues haha. 

evidence of not committing (note the stutter steps and half strides)
Like seriously, committing to going forward with the horse is HARD for me. But it was critical if we wanted to make it through the exercise correctly. Sure, we snuck in some extra strides a couple times, but as the jumps got progressively bigger that became less and less ok.

Dan encouraged me to bury my hands in Isabel's neck (or even grab the martingale strap) and think more about my crest release. He wanted to see more of a show jumping position, vs. the defensive xc position I reverted to.

He continued to talk about lifting the shoulders in the canter on approach - but pointed out that this should be done *without* using the reins. Per usual, I was directed to use my entire leg to put Isabel together and lift her shoulders. Tho he added in the idea of thinking about the 'angle of my knee' - how that angle can open and close.

This was reeeeeeally interesting to me - and immediately upon gaining awareness of that knee angle, I could feel my calf come into better contact with the horse, and my toes point more forward instead of winging out. I could also feel a difference in my seat - I could *sit* without necessarily driving or being rigid. So yea, kinda a bit of a breakthrough moment - made more so by a fleeting feeling of actually achieving that lift in Isabel's shoulders.

if only i could ride the horse as effectively as i ride the struggle bus lol
Meanwhile the jumps continued to grow (and the oxer in the middle got wider and wider) and we turned the exercise around to approach on the left lead going from the two stride to the one stride. We had a longer approach in this direction and Dan insisted that I really commit to the forward ride from fairly early on. 

He said to just keep coming forward to the fence, even when I didn't see a distance - just keep moving forward and trust that the distance will be there. 

We never quite got it as well in this direction as we did tracking right, but by the end we were managing to make it cleanly through even from iffier distances. He said that was only possible bc of the forward ride and appropriate canter and the fact that I committed to it (mostly), so we called it a win and left it at that. 

terrible quality picture of the final one stride that i tried to snap undetected on our way out of the ring... 
Tough lesson but I got a lot of good takeaways from it. I'm maybe a little closer to better understanding how to ride the last few strides to the fence. And it's also very clear that in an exercise like this, I am 100% of the problem. Isabel CAN march down the line and get the striding. But I must allow her and go with her.

Dan also talked a bit more about the collecting/half halting/lifting shoulders idea - and said that the very best riders (the William Fox Pitts and the Andrew Nicholsons) can do this purely from their seats and legs. You don't see their hands moving around during the ride. That should be the ultimate objective. Somehow, I think paying closer to my knee angle, along with all the other leg angles - will really help here.

And, on a slightly unrelated note, he encouraged me to enter Fair Hill next week at novice. I had already kinda accepted that maybe the timing wasn't quite right (plus we're already past the closing date) and there are other opportunities later so idk... I probably won't. BUT. It was seriously reassuring to get that vote of confidence. 


  1. I think our trainers are somehow communicating... I had the same "lift the shoulders with the seat" (though not those exact words) circle-over-an-oxer lesson last week!

  2. I have similar issues with Tuckers short stride and my commitment or lack thereof. It's a struggle! This lift the shoulder with leg is interesting. I've always been told to raise my hands to raise his poll.

    1. struggle is definitely the right word haha! i think dan wanted my hands down for this bc even tho i was thinking 'up' and not 'back' i was still pulling. and we just couldn't make it through with me pulling, so he told me to put my hands DOWN haha. that said tho, isabel can travel with her poll up and shoulders still dropped down all day long - lifting my hands will NOT lift her shoulders, but that's what we need to get the forward pace i guess

  3. Super interesting about the knee angle - how did you change it without changing your stirrup length?

    I've always wondered about competition striding for short-strided horses (such as my pony!) Though I haven't really had to deal with it yet because at elementary/BN there are barely ever any combinations not to mention the jumps are still low enough that if we fudge it its not a huge issue. But with competition distances they're not gonna change it based on if it a horse or pony in the ring so I guess you just have to find how to make it work!

    1. next time you're in the saddle just start feeling for it. the angle opens and closes as you sit into or get out of the saddle. so if i'm 'closing' the angle of my knee, i'm sitting deeper into the saddle. really technically it's probably about hip angles, the thinking about it this way helped me better understand.

      also yea... the striding issues are very real ... not insurmountable tho!!

  4. Ooo good lesson! Nice exercises. Wish I could practice those and Bacon is also a bit short strided.

    1. that surprises me with how leggy Ms Bacon is! but yea it's definitely good practice - tho i think i'll stick to ground poles outside the lessons haha

  5. Sounds like a interesting and informative lesson! I'm glad you are improving!

    1. it's always a fun lesson when the coach is excited about a new idea

  6. Nice! I am seriously missing my jumping lessons.... I think I need some. Actually I'm going to text my trainer right now.

    1. yesssss!! they really are the best, and i actually very rarely jump outside of lessons these days

  7. Saint horses are the best, love that you have one :)

    1. haha you and me both - definitely easier to learn on, that's for sure!


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