Lesson – Nov 22, 2011

I had a lesson last Tuesday, and during the lesson, my instructor (Bernadette Radke) had me canter Ava down the quarter line. Guess what happened?  Yeah… Ava can’t hold the canter without the wall holding her up. Doh. I feel so dumb. Here I thought we were doing wonderfully, and BAM… this glaring hole has been revealed.

Thank my lucky stars I have such an amazingly, knowledgeable trainer.

The lesson started off with Bern pointing out that Ava has me completely suckered into not keeping contact with the bit. Then, after I gave her plenty of room to wiggly and contort, Ava drags her body around with her inside shoulder. Not a good thing.

We started off with just connecting her back end at the walk. Then moved on to the trot. Ava has been giving me fits about one end of the arena, and of course she had to throw that into high gear during our lesson. Bern had me settle in, bend her poll slightly to the inside, and ride as though I’m riding a shoulder-fore. Then I had to just sit there (which is hard for me since I LOVE to fiddle).  So I sat, and the first time through the corner Ava gave me a bit of attitude, and I deepened my inside seat bone and re-asked for the slight bend. Second time through the corner, was better. And third time through, Ava didn’t even care at that point.

The main point was that as long as I stayed consistent with the contact, and kept my hands in one place without moving (other than to follow), then Ava settled right down to business. It was more a matter of saying to Ava, “I am not going away, deal with it”. It didn’t take any force, no pulling or anything even remotely negative. Just simply stay with her, and don’t move my hands all over the place. As soon as I did that, Ava became consistent.

Another thing that Bern brought to my attention was the stiffness in Ava’s poll. She locks her poll to compensate for not having the strength to push with her inside hind. If she can brace on that inside shoulder and down through her neck, then she’s able to power through corners. So my homework this week is to gently flex Ava’s poll to remind her to release her tension. The idea is to flex her to the outside for a few steps, then ask for straightness in her poll for several steps, and repeat the process. Going to the right, I have to do the opposite. Ask her to flex to the inside for a few strides, then straight.

Okay, that was the was the broad overview of the lesson.

Here’s a bit of video from the week prior to my lesson. We’ll have to do a comparison of this one to next week and see if the canter is more balanced. 🙂 Until then, enjoy.

Work & Riding

My day: 
5:30 AM – Wake up. Slam coffee.
6:30 AM – Auto-pilot to work.
7:00 AM – Get to work, breath a sigh of relief that I made it safely, sit down at cubicle and stare at the screen for 20 minutes w/no brain function.
4:15 PM – Answer the question “can you do this 1 quick thing before you leave” while I’m putting my coat on.
4:30 PM – That “one quick thing” is going to take 3 hours, but boss makes that ‘noise’ when he see’s me start to pack up.
5:00 PM – run screaming from cubicle and peel out of parking lot, laughing manically.
5:30 PM – Get to Barn (heaven) and sit in car for 10 minutes while trying to regain sanity.
5:15 PM – Slowly relax as I groom Ava… .
6:00 PM – ride Ava.
7:30 PM – Realize how late it is, panic… put Ava up. Delay at stall.. pet Ava. delay. One last pat. delay, refill her already full water bucket. delay. 
8:00 PM – sit outside house for 10 minutes while reliving every detail of the ride. Silly grin plastered on face.
9:30 PM -Fall into bed and snore.


I first learned about e-TRAK a few months ago, and honestly… I scoffed at it a bit. Not that I think it’s a bad idea, but I figured it’d be the same as every other dressage oriented content where all articles focuse on either the super, baby-green horse, or how to improve the one-tempi changes.  I’m not even close to worrying about Piaffe/Passage, and I may never be at that point. I have more pressing concerns about dressage training on my mind. Like how the heck am I supposed to get a clean canter depart from a walk. While clean canter departs are still a monumental achievement for me, then I can safely say that Piaffe/Passage, flying changes, etc, are still out of my realm of immediate concern.

So I scoffed, dismissed, and wasted time surfing the web on my own. Until this weekend… OMG they have some great PDF’s and videos! And a ton of them are for those of us who need more than just the absolute basics, yet aren’t ready for the upper levels. It’s fantastic! Numerous video’s with well known Olympic medalists teaching concepts like correct leg yields, half-halts, lateral supplying exercises, etc. They have in-depth articles, quick studies, etc. etc. etc. I could literally sit for day’s sifting through their content and be utterly happy. 🙂

First things first… You must be a member of USDF in order to access the content.

Here’s the link to e-TRAK:  http://www.usdf.org/e-trak/index.asp

Anyway, I was very impressed with their content and (once I got used to it) the ease of accessing articles/videos. It is definitely on my top ten lists of favorite resources for dressage!

Shoulder-In Exercise

Varying the length of the steps to develop collection.

  1. Keeping the shoulder-in the entire time, trot down the long side and ask for the shoulder in at F. P, make a full transition to walk. At B, resume trot while in shoulder-in. Every other letter make a transition. At M, straighten the horse and trot normal through the corner.
  2. While in shoulder-in, trot down the long side and ask for the shoulder-in at F. At B, shorten the stride for a few steps.There should be more steps because of the shorter stride. Do not go slower, there should be more steps with the shorter stride, but the tempo/rhythm should stay the same. Shorten the strides at every second letter. Then trot on through the corner. Looking for relaxed short steps. If the horse isn’t listening to the half halt’s, go back to doing the full transitions down the rail. If you’re asking for the shortened steps and you feel as though your horse is going to walk, then go back to the normal trot.
  3. After the above two exercises are smooth, ask for longer steps in the shoulder-in.


A change or passing from one gait to another or from one pace to another pace within a gait or from a gait to a halt.

Ava is getting more fit, so I’ve been asking her to collect/engage more each ride. Today, I forgot to grab my whip (which I normally ride with). At first, Ava was very unwilling to move forward. In fact, I had to two-leg boot her to get her to walk forward from a halt. I’m not a big fan of doing that. It was good though, it made me think more about how to motivate her without that false sense of power the whip gives me. I’m thinking I might set aside the whip altogether.

I’ve been stuck on the general concept of transitions. You know… you walk, you halt, you walk. Or you trot, halt, trot, etc.  Ava’s smart though, and I’m predictable, so the more I do those, the heavier Ava gets (and less responsive).  Today it felt like a little light bulb finally went off in my head. You know what? There are other gaits and variations within the gate! Why am I so narrowly focused on just 2 of those?  Doh.

I started her off with a bit of trot on big circles and lots of crisscrossing the arena and then immediately asked for the canter to get her thinking forward. And from there, we crossed the diagonal, asked for a trot, back into canter, back to trot, a lengthen down the long side, back to working trot, a few steps of energized walk to trot, canter, walk, trot, lengthen, etc. Within 5 minutes, Ava was attentive, forward, and very responsive to my seat.

Training for Second

Now that Ava’s leg is all better, I am so excited to start planning for the upcoming show season. I did find out that one of my goals for 2012 will need to be pushed back to 2013 (or later). I found out that the IFSHA world championships will be in California in 2012, and I can’t afford that kind of trip (yet). Hopefully, the following years will be closer to home.

I am looking forward to competing at some USDF ranked shows. Not that I don’t enjoy the glass-Ed shows here, but I get so discouraged when I go on the USDF website and I have NO scores associated with my name. Not even the ones I earned as a kid show up. I’d like to change that! So this year, we’re going to some rated shows and get our name to show on the dang website, at least once! Ha.

I have to say though… I’m really intimidated by the quality of the riders competing today. As a kid, the adult amateur classes were, hmmm… how do I say this politely… Well, they weren’t hard to win. And the JR/YG classes were tougher than the Open classes. But today, wow, the AA’s are kicking butt and taking names! They scare me! I’d almost rather compete against the Open riders because at least you have the chance that they’re riding a youngster. These AA’s today have quality horses that they’ve been working with for years, they have quality instructors, and they have money!

Luckily, I have an ace up my sleeve (Bern!).

I remember doing very well as a kid, and I’m worried that as an adult who had a 20 year layoff from horses, that the best I can hope for is to not thoroughly embarrass myself. However, I want to show to the world, okay just my little section of the world, how great Ava is! So we’re going for it!

Saturday Off

I didn’t feel well Saturday. For the past month, if I haven’t felt well, I’ve sucked it up and gone to the barn anyway. Ava needed the additional attention at that point. But yesterday… It was so nice to just relax and know that Ava was fine. Absolutely wonderful.

Today, I can’t wait to get to the barn and ride! 🙂

Barn Move

Yesterday I moved Ava to a new barn, for (hopefully) the last time in a long time.

I have to say… I’m not sure how many of you have attempted to move a horse who’s dinner had been delayed for 3 hours, but that was not fun. She was massively cranky. However, she loaded up well. And in fact, stepped out of the trailer beautifully without the ramp attached. That was a nice bonus.

After settling Ava in, I hung around the barn. I was impressed with how many people were there. And from talking to another boarder I learned that nearly every horse boarded there gets ridden consistently throughout the week.

I was also excited to learn that a few of the boarders are interested in dressage and showed at the local dressage shows this year.

Also, the barn includes several amenities that will be very helpful to a person who works long hours. Not only do they fly spray in the summer, but they’ll put on/off fly masks, fly sheets, etc. They blanket and unblanket, will apply ointments, give medicine, wrap/unwrap legs if bandages need changing, etc.

Mostly, I’m just geeked that other people ride! I can now go to the barn, ride, and not worry about what will happen after I fall off (I’m deathly afraid I’ll fall off and no one will find me til morning chores).