Tuesday, November 20, 2018

long overdue dressage lessons

As has been the case since I started taking lessons with dressage trainer C back in early 2015, every single lesson recap must apparently begin with expressing sadness that "it's been too long!" And then recount exactly how long it has been. This post will be no exception haha. Ahem.

So yea. It's been a while. For how much trainer C revolutionized my riding, I somehow am terrible about making time to ride with her. Last lesson was way back in May. No real excuse for the long dry spell either.

I mean, ok, I have excuses --- moving house this summer was a major kick in the financial teeth and required serious adjustments in my budget. When push came to shove, I guess I wanted to spend my limited dollars on events. Considering Charlie continued to progress on the flat despite not having purposeful dressage lessons, it seemed like an ok, if not ideal, sacrifice.

But I do love these lessons. And this farm. And the ring. And the footing. Basically all of it. And so, apparently, does Charlie.

finally back to this gorgeous nearby farm for our..... twice (??) annual pilgrimage?? 
Since moving to his current boarding barn last summer, we haven't done much solo traveling. There's never much of a need - there's almost always someone at our farm who wants in on whatever fun activity we're doing. So there's only ever just the occasional quick solo trip here and there, with the big exception of the hauls to and from New Bolton for Charlie's surgery. Which.... were not happy trips for Charlie, let me tell you.

So somehow I've developed a little bit of a complex, worrying about Charlie coping with being all by his sad lonesome self in the trailer! Poor long suffering soul!!! I shouldn't worry tho. Lol. He's fine. Totally 100% fine. Just like he always is.

Which, let's be real, that's always a very welcome and reassuring reminder!

charlie thinks the views are fine and whatnot, but would much rather focus on the hay plz!
So anyway we packed on over to TM for our first dressage lesson in absolute ages, and it was a good one. I got trainer C up to speed with what Charlie's been doing since May (#slaying), and told her what I told you guys last week: That Charlie seems ready to tackle first level.

And?? After putting us through our paces and through the components from 1-1, she agreed! Much excitement haha.

So. Details. My overall impression from this ride is that we didn't necessarily touch on anything new for me or Charlie. We covered all the ground I work on by myself (with the exception of counter canter - we saved that for another day since Charlie was too tired, poor pone pone).

By and large, trainer C didn't have any major corrections or changes to what we were doing, but instead was able to help with refinements and reaffirm that we're on the right track.

this counts as a riding shot, right?!
First up: my position. This is the most at-risk aspect of my riding when going so long without lessons. Like, I can make changes based on videos from shows (look no further than the difference in rein length from Jenny Camp to our final event of the season!). But.... it's not the same. And bad habits are HARD to correct once committed to muscle memory.

Particularly, trainer C noted that I consistently collapse my torso to the inside. It's something I know about, and try to fix when I notice it.... but having someone prodding me helps immensely. Overall, I need more symmetry and evenness on both sides of the horse. From my legs through my seat and hips up to my shoulders and down my arms as well.

And yes, trainer C wants my reins shorter too haha. Always. Charlie is extremely light in the bridle right now, and while it isn't exactly C's style, she's ok with it. But esp in a show setting, she says that my too-long reins and too-far-back hands can create the appearance of no connection. So she wants me carrying my hands more forward, maintaining a forward feeling in them, even if the weight in the reins doesn't change.

love his fuzzy ears and fluffy mane tho <3
Moving on to the horse, let's start with her thoughts on the trot. Generally speaking, trainer C wants us more forward in trot. Which echoes much of what I've heard from judges this year. It also echoes how we got Charlie started: forward forward forward, and everything else later.

It's a strategy that has worked well for Charlie, but in recent months I've kinda gone a little bit in the opposite direction with more of the Dan approach: slow slow slower, very round, very balanced. Developing the strength in this slower pushing tempo so that you can then carry the balance more forward. And, ya know, that approach has worked extremely well for Charlie too.

So I think I just need to be thoughtful in applying each approach. I like the "purposeful, slow" way of going bc that's part of what's made Charlie so much more rideable. He can be a very strong horse and sometimes hard to steer. But he *is* becoming capable of holding himself together even in that more forward pace. So I just need to go both ways, I think, but carefully so that I don't confuse Charlie or make him feel like the goal posts keep moving.

actual picture of charlie by the end of the lesson
Once in trot, we worked on leg yields, the 10m tear drop turns, and lengthenings. Trainer C is happy with how our leg yields are going. I just need to remember to be more even in my own position, and find those moments of straightness before and after the movement.

The 10m half circle tear drop turn thingys were actually better than expected. I practice them often (plus practice a metric fuck ton of square turns in general), but considering I usually ride in a 30m wide arena, I wasn't sure my turns were small enough. But they're actually pretty ok!

Turning left is easier than turning right, so I need to be extra prepared (ya know, by like, simple things like putting my left ass cheek in the saddle....#details). But it's nbd. Trainer C suggested making the turn a little bit more oval - like going a little further than 10m up the quarter line before finishing the turn back to X and then cutting back to the rail. This seemed to work well for Charlie and kinda broke the movement up into three distinct but smooth pieces.

Lengthenings were also better than expected! We hadn't practiced them since coming back into work, but Charlie remembers. We worked on these across the diagonals and down the long sides. Trainer C was cool with the little jolt-y steps that were almost breaks to canter bc Charlie is still figuring this out, but is definitely activating his "push" -- which is what we want.

She told me to just keep posting as clearly as possible with no discernible change in my rhythm, and to avoid telling him that push is wrong. She also wanted me to keep asking for more down the line. With Isabel, her lengthenings were so naturally just like, right there, that I would make the turn, half halt, cue for lengthening, and then just..... sit there and enjoy it haha. But with Charlie I'l need to be more proactive, continuing asking him to keep it up.

steaming in the heated wash stall!!
For the canter.... Well. Yea trainer C still LOVES Charlie's canter haha. He's such a good boy <3 But, ya know, she still also does *not* love how I sit it lol. Bc I still suck at sitting the canter. Still. Ugh. Blargh. WTF Emma.

I need to get my seat bones more down and under me, but not digging. And simultaneously a softer back and taller upper body. But ugh.... it's like I can do one of these things at a time, ya know? Like I can get the feeling in my seat, but then I'm slouching. Or I can be up and tall, but perching in my seat. I think a big part of the issue is that I hold everything in my back instead of my core. Like I'm somehow reversed lol. It's a tough thing to change....

In terms of work we did in canter, we did a few simple changes of lead through trot at X. These were fine - Charlie's been doing them since we started cantering. But I need to clean up the downwards. Especially right now when he's a little out of shape, we kinda "free fall" into them.

We also worked on lengthenings at canter. Which is not something I've actually practiced bc.... Honestly I haven't felt like we've needed it. Might sound weird but I kinda just figured the stride length would be there when we need it in the test (it's always right there when we jump!), and that it was more important to focus on the transition from lengthened to working by practicing moments of compression and collection.

Trainer C agreed with this approach, but wanted to practice anyway haha. So we worked on opening Charlie's stride down the long side. C wanted a slight feeling of shoulder fore in the lengthen. At first I struggled with this, not fully understanding and doing too much with my inside rein. She then said the feeling was about getting more "lift" in that inside shoulder, which helped me better understand and fix my positioning.

There was a clear difference in the feel of Charlie's alignment for the steps we got it, so that will be what I aim for when working on this at home.

"scuse me but can i just stay here forever tho???"
Charlie, for his part, was an absolute rockstar for everything. Extremely rideable, very much on the aids. Quickly reflecting each small adjustment I made. Like quick little bumps with the inside leg at canter (which reminded me of what Dan said about working more on leg yielding on a circle at canter) to help him pick himself more up - and he always responded.

He was very very tired by the end tho lol. Like I'm actually about 85% positive that trainer C thought we'd go through one last little work set before finishing.... But I called it for poor Charlie's sake haha. He's an extremely communicative and expressive horse - you never really need to guess how he feels. And at this moment, he was standing there with all four feet kinda parked under and head hanging lowwwww.

Homeboy was done lol. And that was totally cool. He had been so good, so so so good. Said yes to everything. Kept trying, kept pushing. Did not lose any quality of his work so that I hadn't even realized how tired he was until we took that break and he went into immediate pitiful "can we plz be done?!" mode lol. And so we were done.

mmmmmm heat lamps
Which meant Charlie got part 2 of the day: the spa treatment in the fancy schmancy heated wash stalls with - *gasp* - WARM water! And HEAT LAMPS!! I figured this was my last chance to give him a bath before he gets clipped without him actually wanting to murder me dead in the cold outdoor wash stall at our own barn so.... Yea. We capitalized haha. And damn but did he love every single second of it lol.

And apparently it was rejuvenating enough that he was happy to go galloping back out to his friends in the pasture when we got home. So..... maybe he wasn't so tired after all haha, considering he almost always just walks up the hill lol. Tricksy beast...

Anyway I know I always say this, but I really do love these lessons and hope to increase their frequency.... Even if it's just like, one a month. A girl can dream, right?


  1. Horses are so good at that. Both Gem and now H'Appy will act half dead while riding and then the moment I slip the halter off they go helter skelter galloping up the hill in the pasture and I think "ok horse...you just earned 15 more minutes next ride" HA!

    1. Lol right?!? Charlie was basically born waving the white flag of surrender. If he were an actual child he would be the type to constantly whine “are we there yet?!” Even on the 15min drive to the grocery store lol... he will always take the earliest opportunity to go back to the barn, goofy pony

  2. A Charliesaur canter lengthening takes like what, three or four strides before you're at the end of the arena? 😉

    1. Omg right ?? Honestly I’m a little reluctant to really push him out and see how big the stride can be bc.... idk if I’ll be able to stop or even turn him after that!! Let alone not jump out of a show ring.... lol so right now I’m being pretty conservative and just trying to “show a difference”. Maybe one day I’ll be more brave haha!

  3. Sneaky beasty. Pig always galloped out when he got home from traveling. Every. Time. Such a silly kid. Love the connection between inside leg and lifting the shoulder. That's so vital and a hard connection to make/teach!

    1. ha yea it's like charlie gets home and is like "wow i never thought i'd see this place again! better check to make sure all my friends are right where i left them!!!" lol....

  4. Juggling multiple trainers is sooo hard. I was in the same boat before finally making Trainer B help me with all the things. When you figure out the secret to coordinating aids/position, pleeeease let me know. Like you, I can do ONE thing at a time :)

    1. oh man, i'm the exact opposite - i LOVE riding with multiple trainers and have been really really happy with the main three that i've used over the last 2-4 years. the trick, i think, is to have trainers who all kinda want to see the same thing and have similar methods for getting there, so that you're not confusing the horse or switching things around too much when riding with one trainer vs another. actually, if you're interested, i wrote a full post on these particular trainers and why i ride with them and how it all works together a couple years ago, but it all basically still holds true:


    2. I meant it’s hard juggling multiple trainers time-wise 😉 I was riding with a dressage trainer long before I started with my jump trainer, and found the dressage lessons were getting few and far between.

    3. Oh gotcha - definitely so so so hard to find the time for everything! And the money lol. Sometimes I wish I could just quit my job and play ponies full time lol.....

  5. i will take 10 min in the heated wash stall after a ride, kthnx!!

    that's so great that you guys are ready to attack (in a very demure, dressagy way) first level.

    1. omg that wash stall was so so so so nice. that's really probably the biggest thing i miss from our last farm: indoor wash stall with hot water..... i think charlie would have spent all day in there, but i was really eager to get him home so he could get at least a little more turnout with his buddies....

  6. I think I've only used heat lamps once but they were pretty cool! Very exciting your Dressage trainer agrees that Charlie is ready for 1st level! :D

    1. the heat lamps are so ridiculously luxe, we loooooved them lol! i'm pretty sure charlie would agree to be a grand prix dressage horse if it meant being allowed to lounge under those lamps every day!

  7. Carmen is clever, she keeps up the tired act until I disappear into the house. lol. I like the slow push too. ONce that is there then the forward is so much more balanced. I like you approach of balancing the too. And, OMG, months since your last dressage lesson? How? :D :D

    1. yea the slow push to then ride forward has really really worked for Charlie, so i'm definitely not gonna abandon that approach. but.... it's a good reminder that i *do* need to occasionally push it out for more forward too just to make sure everything is working!! and yea, the lesson drought was pretty bad but hopefully won't be repeated!!!! luckily by writing out all my thoughts and takeaways from each lesson, it's at least easier to keep working on the stuff, even without trainer input...

  8. I feel you on the canter sitting. Glad you had an awesome lesson.

    1. it's like the actual hardest thing, apparently!!! sigh...

  9. I'm with you on the wishing I had more dressage lessons...and also the sitting the canter thing and somehow holding in my lower back (which actually makes mine quite sore after a lesson focusing on canter!)

  10. I am totally jealous of those heat lamps lol. I'm glad the lesson was so good tho!


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