Second Lesson with Rosalind Kinstler – Part B

In my lesson Saturday, we also worked on some counter canter. The main thing I took away is to stop trying to over bend Ava to the inside lead. I was actually making it harder for her, poor horse.

What I was doing was basically death gripping her face to the inside and then wondering why she wouldn’t turn the opposite direction.

Instead, Roz had me give with the inside rein, but sponge it to keep the poll flexed to the inside lead. I then subtly used my outside rein to lead the horse in the direction I wanted her to go in, while asking the haunches to move away from the direction I wanted her to go.

Here’s where I had problems though. No matter how hard I tried to get the haunches around, they just weren’t moving. So we worked on haunches in on the long side and then counter canter. Roz also had me transition to walk, move the haunches over, then pick up the canter again. All of these steps helped Ava figure out what I was asking for while keeping things drama free.

It took us several tries each direction before Ava and I really got it, but the last one each side was really easy to ride, balanced, and smooth.

The last major point I took away from the lesson is the idea of capturing the energy created. This concept has so many levels to it, and I have a zillion neat ways to really screw it up quickly. 🙂 In the clinic with Pam back in June, she had me focus on really getting the horse powerfully forward with big energy. When she asked me to capture that energy for collection I had no idea how to do that. In the lesson with Roz I had Ava moving forward with good energy, but couldn’t package her up. Roz pointed out that all the energy I had created was spilling out the front because my reins were too long. I shorted my reins a couple of inches while focusing on keeping the energy, I included a few half-halts to ask Ava to slow the front end slightly, and suddenly I had a big, bounding trot under me. Now, I lost it almost immediately, but after that I was able to get it back fairly quickly and for longer periods of time. When I tried working on this at home this week, I couldn’t reproduce it. I believe it’s because I didn’t have Ava adequately forward in balance (I think she was too on the forehand). I’m going to try smaller circles with better forward energy next time and see if that fixes it. I’ll keep you updated.

Til then, have fun riding!!

Second Lesson with Roz Kinstler – Part A

I had my second lesson with Roz Kinstler last Saturday.  I’d been having a mini-panic attacks the whole week leading up to it because I felt like we hadn’t made any progress. That and I was so uncoordinated all week. I was really worried I’d get up there and not be able to do what Roz asked.

The trip up was uneventful. Ava loaded with minimal fuss and rode well. She was very patient when we stopped for a bathroom break at a rest area (it’s a two hour haul one way). When I unloaded her she was excited and antsy, which I was thrilled with because I figured it meant she’d have more pep in the lesson. I let her take a good look around, offered her some water, and started tacking up.

I warmed up Ava briefly before the lesson started with some basic trot and canter.  I don’t have the issue with the heaviness on the right side like I used to (not since the Goodrich clinic), and she’s much more honest over her back since the last lesson with Roz. Ava felt pretty good, pretty straight, but still a little behind my leg. I didn’t want to push the issue though because I was concerned about using up a bunch of Ava’s energy during the warmup. In hindsight, I probably should’ve addressed it right then. It would’ve reduced some of the issues in the canter that I had. It also showed me that we’re not where we need to be in terms of being honestly forward. But it’s still better then it was.


We started off the lesson with working on haunches-in at the canter (since I said I was having issues with it). A few things off the top of my head:

1. Pick up the canter and immediately take my legs off so that there’s a clearer distinction between leg back for canter depart and leg back for haunches-in. Signal to her that something else is expected from her.

2. Rhythmic squeezes of leg on outside in time to the canter. Again, not just on with non-stop squeeze that will be ignored. Nudge, release, nudge, release. (I am still not remembering to do this, and when I do I get the timing all wrong, or my seat freezes up, or my arms freeze up. I need a lot more work).

3. Reward with walk breaks when she gets it right. Then try again. Reward frequently, but can continue to work on it during the same session. I forget this, and tend to drill it. Then Ava gets frustrated and quits trying. I need to keep this in the back of my mind at all times when working Ava.

From that exercise we worked on something that resembled a reverse rubber band exercise. Instead of lengthen to working canter, we did super collected to working canter.

The main points Roz was trying to convey were how to help enhance the gait through my seat aids. Roz spent some time explaining how to use my seat and thighs to help Ava understand that her shoulders need to elevate, and it also lightened my seat enough to allow Ava to use her back to bring her hind legs further under.

I’ll try to paraphrase her main points:

1. Lift your rib cage briefly like you’re trying to untuck your shirt from your waist band.
2. More weight in your stirrups.
3. Briefly grab the saddle with your thighs and lift it up.
4. Feel like there’s a piece of tape stuck to the middle of the saddle (on the seat). Don’t slide across it. Instead, lift your seat over it. (To give the feeling of lifting).

Do all this in time with the canter beats while also doing everything else you need to do to ride the horse. (She didn’t say that… but gosh darn this is hard to coordinate!)

I marginally accomplished a few strides of very collected, very soft canter. Then promptly lost it. It’s easy when done right, but hard to coordinate everything.



Not quite right, but definitely more collected.

We also worked on enhancing the quality of the trot. I’m really amazed by how much gait Ava can bring out when she wants to. I still feel like it’s like a hope and pray she does it type of thing, rather than and ask and receive type of thing. Mostly, that’s due to Ava’s strength. I’m sure it’ll get better and better the strong Ava gets.

Again, same concept as in collecting the canter. Lighten the seat, use the seat and thighs to momentarily lift the shoulders. Forward and energy comes from the calves (NOT the seat).

Trot1 Trot2 Trot4



I’ll write more later.

Update on Ava’s Training

I haven’t been very motivated to blog lately. Work has been killing me. Very stressful lately, and I’m so exhausted.

Recap of training:

Last month I had a lesson with Rosalind Kinstler to work on different exercises to get Ava more honest over her back and to increase engagment. This was about a month after my clinic with Pam Goodrich, so we had more forward at the trot by this point. The canter started out lacking forward and any time I took my leg off Ava dropped out of it. Roz quickly had it corrected and we were able to work on some different things that will build Ava’s canter up.

Roz had me do 10 meter circles at the trot in the corners, and as we came out of the 10m circle to push her haunches out (towards the wall). Think leg yield, but mainly just the haunches. This allowed Ava to really bring her inside hind up under her body. We had several periods of big, floaty trot coming out of the 10 meter circles. It felt really cool.

The canter work was not good, so Roz suggested we work on lots of supplying and engaging exercises. Roz talked me through what to look for in the haunches-in and shoulder-in and tips and techniques for aids while riding each. The main thing I took from that is to be less stagnant as a rider. Lightly pulse the leg aid in time with the stride to help the horse keep rhythm and so the horse doesn’t tune you out. Use my half-halts in time with the canter footfalls (I think it was when the front leg was on the ground but just picking up). I could feel when, but I’m still not great on where exactly the legs are.

After we got home from the clinic I had a week where I wasn’t able to ride very much (Ava had owies where the saddle goes). Then another week where I was able to ride, but every exercise I tried went horrendously. I couldn’t even get the 10m trot circle anymore. By the third week I was starting to get some progression in engagement and supplyness in trot and canter.

Last week I moved Ava to the new barn, and we were able to get in a few good rides. I’ve been focusing on the canter exercises to try to build more “jump” in the canter.


At new barn

Two Saturday’s from now we go back to Roz’s for another lesson. Last week i was having a really difficult time getting any kind of bend in the haunches-in left at the canter. And then on Friday Ava’s left rear leg swelled up substantially.  She wasn’t lame on it, no heat that I could detect. She seemed fine…. except with a swollen leg. I’m concerned because I believe it’s connected with the reason why the haunches in left is so difficult to attain. On Sunday her leg was just the tiniest bit puffy, and still no signs of lamness that I could detect. I’ll check her again after work today and possibly work her if I feel it’s safe to do so.

I wanted to make some massive progress this month in the canter work and I just don’t feel I’ve been able to. I’m kind of dissappointed. Roz is only here for summers so my time is limited with her. I wanted to capitalize on her expertise as much as possible while I could. We’ll see though… I know this stuff takes time, and I’d rather decrease the difficulty for Ava if it means she’s healthy and happy. Any other goals are secondary to Ava’s well being.

Advancement or Stagnation

What I really want to discuss is the idea of advancement in dressage. I don’t know a single upper level rider that I knew as a lower level rider. Do you?

Maybe I don’t know enough people…

What I see are people consistently training up through First or Second and then having to start all over again, and again, and again, and again.

I’m not saying a person couldn’t be content training different horses through the lower levels, but I feel as if I’m missing out by not having experienced a true upper level ride. All those basics that are so vital converging into a perfect unity of horse and rider…. or maybe it’s nothing like that… how would I know. I’ve never been there.

Dressage has become almost a love/hate relationship for me. The ultimate bad boy that draws you in with an elusive enticement of power and control. Or maybe it’s the group of high school, super popular girls that give you a brief moment of their attention only to tell you your clothes, hair, face aren’t good enough to hang with them. Except clothes, hair, face mean horse, rider, trainer.  Because regardless of how much you try, without all three of those components (horse, rider, trainer) you’re capped at Second eternally.

I know that a lot of times reality gets in the way of dreams, and heck, a lot of dreams once acquired are a let down. But I know a lot of people, and i should know at least one person who actually achieved the upper level dream, right? Who the heck is achieving upper levels?

Then again, maybe my income bracket isn’t level with those people… Maybe that’s the issue? Or maybe my crappy state chased all the advancing riders out by making this white crap fall from the sky for 6 months straight. I’m just saying… I don’t know the reaons. 

I guess what I’m saying is I’m scared. I’m scared that five years from now I’ll be exactly where I am right now.

Except poorer.

And more achy.

… and with a piss poor 401k because I blew it all on dressage lessons.

Eating canned cat food I pried open with a knife because I can’t afford tuna AND dressage lessons.

All while still poorly riding Second level, on a spiffy warmblood I couldn’t afford.

I may be a tad bitter today….