Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lesson Notes

Excellent, really difficult lesson yesterday. Tris and I were both quite tired at the end of it.

Once again, we focused on getting him supple behind the saddle, and keeping his shoulders from leading too much in leg yields. I was zipping through them too quickly, and S. encouraged me to slow down and pause on moments of straightness in them. The goal was then not just quality steps but also where his feet were and on what tracks everything was on.

We also doubled down on getting him forward through long sides and then progressed to keeping him forward through the short ends. He is small and compact enough not to need extra consideration on the short ends of the indoor; he can perfectly well keep himself balanced and going really forward through them, no matter what he tries to tell me.

In all, some huge improvements in his way of going and his self-carriage. I'm asking for more and he's giving me more. We had some stretches of trot that I would happily take into a dressage ring anywhere at Training/Beginner Novice. We had some gorgeous downward transitions in to an elastic, forward walk.

On the other hand, our canter was an unmitigated disaster. Well - to be accurate, there was some mitigation, in that there was a LOT to work through and it was good we did so in a lesson.

In short, we are still working to get him straight and pushing through in the canter. And it feels like no matter how gorgeous a trot we start from, the canter blows up in the first stride. The theory is that some of that quality trot will carry over, right? Not so much.

Right canter was ok, not great, but it went. Left canter was - well. It started getting ugly, and when he broke to a trot I pulled him up and had a talk-through with S. about my tendency to hang on to my left (inside) rein. It doesn't happen nearly as much tracking right, and when I really cling to it I might as well be hanging on to a brick wall. There is no give, no softness, and my whole arm gets sore.

She asked what would happen if I let go. I told her he'd counter-bend and possibly slam into the wall. I think she thought I was exaggerating. I so wasn't. Tristan has shown himself perfectly willing to slam into walls in the past. He goes where he's pointed. It's an asset on cross-country; not always in dressage.

So we worked back through the trot and she had me physically pushing my left hand forward. That got some beautiful stuff! Then we translate it into the canter. I obediently pushed my left hand forward. WHAM SCRAPE WHAM went his right shoulder and my right leg. Ok. Ow. Tried again; I only avoided the same fate, again and again, when I pulled my leg up practically on his back to avoid the wall.

Eventually, we were avoiding the wall, but our 20m circle was bulging out badly into the middle of the ring. Tristan spied a pole on the centerline (outside the bounds of the circle) and made a beeline for it. He jumped it very prettily and neatly in stride and cracked everyone watching up, and after that he aimed for it each time, having learned that performing antics over it would save him from working hard for another circle.

So S. brought in cavaletti blocks and made a bounds of a smaller, about 18m, circle on the open end, and said that I was a) not to hang on to my inside rein and b) not to go outside them.

Yeah. So after 3-4 circles of Tristan crashing through the blocks and then breaking into trot, me getting progressively more frustrated, my outside rein 2-3 inches to the inside of his withers as I full-on pony-kicked with my spur him as hard as I could with my outside leg to keep him on the circle...we called a truce for a few minutes, and trotted around the ring.

We worked on it some more. I wish I could say we had a magic circle where he stayed on my outside rein and was adjustable and did not try to trip over the blocks, but that was not to be. I did get my aids more coordinated, and our turns were a bit better, and we made miniscule adjustments that resulted in us missing the blocks more often. But we were both getting tired, and we finished with a huge forward trot on the bit and a soft downward transition.

I'm still stumped by his canter. I don't know if it will just take more hard work by me - or if I'm just not the right person to crack it. I don't think I can afford training rides on him, or maybe I can save up until the main trainer gets back from Florida. I keep hoping that he'll make a breakthrough but I can't ride it well enough or long enough to get there. At least in the trot I could school that for long enough to really get through to him. I never feel like I have enough time in the canter.

Anyway. Even with the discouraging canter work, it was a good lesson, and I'm looking forward to keeping up the work with him.


  1. I've learned a variety of exercises to help soften that inside rein (I feel your pain!) You might give some of these a try.

    1. Plant your inside hand (grab mane, grab your saddle pad, dig your knuckles into his crest) OR your outside hand. When one hand is fixed, the other can ask for inside flexion, or for the horse to slow down. It helps you by not having to work both reins at the same time.

    2. A canter exercise I do is to put my horse in a regular bend to a counter bend to a regular bend to a counter bend and so on. It takes a lot of outside leg, but it helps him to let go through his neck. I'll do a 1-2 count to his stride: 1-2 (regular bend), 1-2 (straighten his neck), 1-2 (counter bend), 1-2 (straighten his neck), 1-2 (regular bend).

    3. Make your circles really small (10 to 15-meters) and really work your outside leg.

    4. Take your inside hand and raise it up toward your outside shoulder and add inside leg. This "forces" him to keep an inside bend while moving out away from your leg. Once he's moving out onto your outside rein, bring your inside hand back to normal.

    These are not things you would do duing a test, but they can help when your horse is STUCK!.

    Good luck!

    1. Thank you! We've done some variations on these before. I think the one I've found that helps us both the most is the bend/straighten/counterbend and back exercise. It's tough to maintain for more than one or two cycles, as he quits when I counterbend - he finds it extremely difficult. (Which is part of the diagnosis right there.) I'm never sure if I'm just not supporting him with enough leg, or his tendency to quit and go behind the leg is coming into play.

      I should try grabbing mane and planting my inside hand and really not letting myself use it. I'll have to try that when the ring is empty, though, as I suspect we will go a little bit of everywhere. We've both gotten too dependent on me over-using it!

  2. I can relate... Sug's canter has been a work in progress for YEARS!

    1. I am sort of ashamed to admit that I have been riding and training this horse for eight years now and he has never, not once, not one single time, softened and gone on the bit in the canter. Surely I should be able to fix that, right? Because I mean there's one thing to want to always improve the quality of the gait...and we're there in the trot...and it's another thing entirely to just not ever, ever, ever soften and go on the bit. :(

  3. Ohhhh, Tristan! I'm glad the trot work is doing so well, though. Does trainer have any insight into what's up with the canter, or still in the getting-to-know-you phase?

    1. There are a couple things playing into it. I have developed bad habits in reaction to his flailings: dropping and holding my inside hand, tipping forward, flailing a bit with my legs through the transition. The two biggest are not being straight (generally overbent, and as a result throwing his shoulders to the outside) and a lack of hind end impulsion and strength. The latter we are fixing slowly but surely; the former is still proving really difficult. It's those shoulders that really get us into trouble. As was explained, he already has a tendency to fling his shoulders around, and in the canter, when I get him overbent, all the energy that should be going through him goes through the shoulders and out and to the right. When I ask him for even the tiniest bit of counterflexion, his canter just falls out from underneath me. He doesn't want to/can't handle it/isn't used to having his body straight in the canter.

      I still don't have a good longterm feeling about it; I still feel constantly stuck and/or running in place. If we are still in this place after a winter of more dressage lessons, I'm thinking of asking R.'s assistant trainer to sit on him for a few canter-specific short rides. I love the way she rides and she certainly has the right combination of strength and tact to get him through it. I can't help but feel if he could just break through whatever this is the canter is in there somewhere. The contrast between his lovely trot and his disastrous canter is too stark.

    2. Just a thought, but what about also YOU taking a lesson or 2 on a horse with a solid canter, just to get the feel again?


Thanks for commenting! It's great to hear from you.