Connection

I find that understanding “connection” in dressage is the hardest part. Like, I know that we should have communication with the horse through the reins, that the horse should seek the contact, that the horse should happily follow wherever i want to put the bit…

But that doesn’t really encompass what connection means. That’s just a small part of the mechanics of it.

You also have to be straight. But that means supple enough that you can get the horse honestly straight, and that’s hard.

And then you need forward, but not TOO forward. It has to be balanced, sharp off a light aid (but not too sharp), and listening to your seat.

Calm, yet loaded with energy.

And the horse needs to be strong enough to stay straight and forward consistently, which always seems to take a while.

And once you have all those pieces in place, then you can somehow mix it all together to get varying degrees of connection.

The “connection” I mean right now is the one where the horse is powered up and forward, balanced, supple, straight, and you can *feel* the power and balance in your hands and your core. It’s spring loaded and yet easy to wait. You can go any direction, at any speed, or halt, with just a thought.

This is the second horse I’ve gotten to this level of “connection” with any type of consistency. And yet, here I am, struggling to teach it to a 3rd horse. It always feels like dumb luck that anything remotely correct happens.

Update on Training

Levi

Levi’s steering has greatly improved. He’s beginning to understand the outside rein/leg aid. Now he’s finding new ways to evade being straight. lol

I started teaching Levi shoulder-in and haunches-in about a month and a half ago. At the walk, I can get about half the arena length of SI both ways. To the right is more difficult. He has more difficulty with HI to the left. I assume right hind is weaker. Which jives with what I see when he’s loose in the pasture. His left hind tends to be center mass.

Levi’s leg yields are coming along, but going from right side of arena to the left is still crooked. He wants to lead with his shoulder’s and I struggle to get him straight. I’ve been working on a few strides of leg yield as straight as possible, and then forward, to try to get him more straight. Seems to be working, but it’s a slow slog of progress.

Yesterday, I tried our first SI in trot. I was able to get a few strides of shoulder-fore to the right. Yay! Considering I couldn’t even turn 6 months ago, I’m pretty happy with this.

We’re struggling currently with bend in trot. Either I have a miscommunication about canter aids, or cantering crooked is easier than trotting with body bend, but he keeps popping into canter every time I ask for bend at trot. I felt like the shoulder-fore at trot for a few strides was a huge win yesterday.

Levi’s still hit or miss on canter leads. If i set him up absolutely perfectly I can usually catch the correct lead on the first strike off. If i miss that correct lead on strike off, i have to go back and set him up perfectly again. He gets anxious and tense if I try to force the correct lead. Since the issue is balance and strength, I don’t mind the issue right now. It’ll correct itself over time as long as I make sure my aids are clear and he understands them.

He’s also beginning to slowly accept the bit and contact. I can now get brief moments at the trot where he starts to lower his head and neck and seems happy with my hand. Brief moments. Walk is better and he’ll allow me to follow him down and pick him up without over reaction.

Thought this was a pretty pic

Joy

Joy’s lateral work is coming along. Our half-pass trot is getting easier and can hold it for longer. She feels more even under me as we half-pass and I can adjust the trot more.

Our canter is not great. Same issues. Either barreling around on forehand, or too collected and we stall out. I really think I need to just take her to the field and gallop her around for a few weeks until she’s really thinking forward, then work on collection again.

I’m also struggling right now with Joy, because I can feel she’s not quite straight, but I’m not sure why. I’m not sure if it’s a left or right issue. I feel like she’s not weighting the right shoulder as much as the left, but when i push her over on to it, she pops it slightly and I can’t seem to recapture it.

We need a lot more work on counter canter and a better quality canter. And I want to start half-pass canter soon. We also need a TON more work on medium trot and canter. There’s a LOT of work to do before 2nd/3rd, and all of it requires the rider be fit and precise… and lately, i just want to be a sloth that slouches around. *sigh*

Camel Horse

This is my… seventh? horse I’ve tried training. Varying degrees of prior training on those horses, but majority were either unstarted or very green broke.

Why is it that suddenly I have no idea how to teach Levi anything?

I’ve resorted to youtube videos.

How do you teach contact on a 10 year old horse that is dang sure the bit means pain? I’ve never dealt with this before, not to this degree.

I think I’ll have the vet out to do a thorough check of his mouth. His prior owner, my friend, had his teeth done a few months ago… but maybe something was missed? He’s not having any issues eating. The beefcake has put on about 200lbs since he got here. Never drops a lick of food. Chews fine.

I’m really struggling with teaching him that contact is not something he needs to fear.

I almost asked for ideas on FB, but I’m so frustrated by the “Did you have his anus waxed first?” type of unhelpful comments that I didn’t.

Old owner did it all. Chiro, massage, teeth, etc. and he was doing the same thing for her as he does for me.

For the last 2.5 months I’ve stayed on the path of letting him sort out his head and neck while trying to shape his body into the correct form (or as correct as I can get). He holds his head as HIGH as he can, in what appears to be the most uncomfortable position possible, and he doesn’t deviate from it no matter what.

I tried a new idea recently, thinking I’d just tell him where to put his head. Push him up into the bit and limit his forward. I was thinking if I made too high uncomfortable, and rewarded for lower/normal height, he’d realize that was his happy place. He simply ducked behind the bit. A nice false frame lacking any actual connection.

I immediately quit that.

He dropped right into a false frame, like he’d been trained for it. I don’t want to encourage that.

So now I’m back to forgetting the head/neck and working the body. I’m not sure what else to do. It’s always worked for me before. The fact that it isn’t with him is driving me nuts.

Usually by this point I can at least get a few strides of softer going here and there.

Not Levi. *sigh*

I’m stuck at this point in our training. Our leg yields are progressing okay, he’s getting better about moving off aa light aid (not great, but better), he’s getting more comfortable about moving shoulders and hips around while I’m on him, and he’s starting to understand the outside rein…. But, I’m limited when he refuses to accept contact.

He has improved some at the walk wth contact. I assume it’s because he tires himself out from the camel position at trot. He’s starting to touch the bit on his own at walk, and relax down.

Maybe he just needs more time.

Luckily, we’ve got plenty of time.

October Lesson

The October lesson was supposed to be the “Big” lesson. The lesson where I finally, after decades of hard work and heartache, learn how to do a &^%$#@! flying lead change.

My truck broke.

crazy laugh

In a desperate attempt to not throw away $60 for nothing, I raced to the barn and asked if I could borrow a horse for the lesson.

Luckily, they had one I could use. A lovely Second Level mare.

Even with the horse snafu, it was a good lesson. The mare highlighted every bad habit, incorrect riding habit, I had.

Actuallly, the mare tattled on me like mad. It was embarrassing.

In my defense, the saddle was too big, the stirrups too long, the mare unknown. But the fact remains, I have some really illogical, unhelpful, habits that are holding me back. *sigh*

Like, why does my right hand have to pull back when my right leg goes on? I’m going to duct tape my hand to the pommel. Grrr

We had some good moments, but no matter how positive a spin my trainer put on the lesson, I felt like a bright light had been shined on my deficiencies… and suddenly I realized HOW MANY of them there were.

I left feeling… sub-standard.

Leave it to dressage people to say a lesson was good because all our flaws were exposed. God, we’re a sadistic bunch, aren’t we?

Everything’s Fine. Eek

How have things been going since the last installment, you ask?

Everything’s fine.

I now have the most collected canter possible on Joy.

In fact, I can’t seem to get her unstuck.

We’re walk, trot, and bounce in place (then sputter out and fall to pieces).

I have completely lost the left lead.

I have no idea what I’m doing and have no business training a horse.

I have a lesson this coming Saturday, and the plan was to introduce flying changes to Joy. This has been my dream for decades… to learn how to teach a correct flying change. I’m on the cusp of learning… and I have ruined my horse’s canter 5 days before the lesson. Aaaarrrgghh!

Also, this lesson is the last lesson I can have this year. If we can’t work on flying changes this lesson, then I have to wait 7 months for my next lesson (and hope like hell the trainer still wants to train me and is still willing to come to our area).

Either way… I went from low 60’s to high 60’s at First Level this year with only 4 lessons from this trainer. Pretty darn impressive.

Back to the Slog

Levi was on the back burner until I finished the last show with Joy.

He had a couple weeks off.

Pulled him out, tacked him up. Didn’t lunge. Hopped on.

Meh, he was fine. A bit more balky at the start, but nothing terrible.

Now that he’s back in work he’s progressing quickly.

I broke down the idea of outside aids to him before the “vacation”. He kind of gets the general idea.

This week I introduced the concept of moving the shoulders and haunches independently of each other with baby Turn on Haunch and Turn on Forehand.

I really thought he’d struggle with the concepts a lot more than he did. Especially the moving the shoulders part. His understanding of outside aids is still really rudimentary, so I wasn’t sure if he was ready or not. He got it though. I was shocked. Haha

We’re still working on leg yield idea. We’re progressing. He’s not the most naturally gifted athlete. Stiff, crooked, unbalanced. In walk, we can now leg yield from center line to rail either direction, LY on a diagonal line, and I started the LY to decrease/increase size of circle (spiral in/out).

It’s all baby level type work with bobbles and issues. But I was really happy with how willing he is.

What else.. he still hates the mounting block. He’ll acquiesce with bribes, but he’s still pretty sure it’s “The Place Where Beatings Occur”. If i get too aggressive about making him line up and stand, he becomes a nervous wreck.

He’s not terrible about it. It’s just annoying that I can’t walk him straight up and mount. I have to guide him up into place, assure him he’s fine, allow him to assess the situation, and then I can mount. Once I’m on though, he won’t move. I have to boot him, or drag him off balance to move away. Which completely baffles me.

He’s got this really funny behavior in the pasture. I have run-in stalls and full access to pasture currently. Joy wanders out to the pasture first. Levi stands in his stall and yells at Joy to come back.

He can walk out to her. 🤦‍♀️

Recap of Lesson

I should’ve written this right away, while it was all fresh… but here goes.

Joy’s first time in an arena with mirrors! It didn’t occur to me that this would be an issue. I’ve never had a horse react very much to mirrors.

It took a good 15 minutes of airs above the grounds before she settled enough to listen to me again. Didn’t stop the constant nickering to her reflection, but at least her feet were closer to the ground.

I wish I’d gotten some pics of it. She was quite the sight. Prancing and preening to herself in the mirror.

I put her back in her stall while we waited for our lesson and she screamed her fool head off. I assure you, this pony has a good set of lungs on her.

Oh.. i bought some splint/dressage boots, all white with the fluffy fake wool, for the lesson. I figured if we couldn’t awe them with our riding skills, then we could dazzle them with fashy stuff, right?

For some reason, it was really important for me to convince them she was a nice dressage pony. I guess because I’ve invested so much effort into her training, and have done it all myself… it wasn’t really about the pony.

Anyway, they looked sharp on her.

We start the lesson, and of course new trainer is feeling us out and I’m not riding all that sophisticated.. but she’s offering good suggestions and I’m seeing where I need to improve.

All good stuff.

Then she gets on the pony (I asked her too).

My God! She made Joy look like a million bucks! Like those fancy horses you see that are light years out of your budget. Just beautiful. Fluid, and soft, and powerful.

Trainer on Joy

Look at that hind leg!

She even got Joy to do a really nice lengthen on the first try. A lengthen I have never come anywhere near creating. It was so awesome!!!

What was really nice to hear:

She said Joy had a great walk and trot. Great shoulder in. Great lateral work. Was one of the few ponies she’s ridden that you could ride with your core. That she thought Joy would do Piaffe easily (once there). And that if I decide to sell her, to let her know. 😁

But her canter sucks.

Which I knew. No shocker there.(she didn’t really say it sucked, she was far too nice to put it that way).

And then I got back on…

I tried to replicate the lengthen and failed miserable. She said my hips were too tight. Which embarresed me, because I don’t want to be one of those old people with tight hips, but apparently I am (will work on this).

I did get great suggestions on improving the stretchy circle, leg yields, lengthens, and the trot overall.

And she gave me homework for the canter.

When I rode Joy again, after the lesson, I tried applying the homework she gave me for the canter and found i could duplicate a good canter at home. I think spending more time focusing on the canter overall will help a great deal over time.

Anyway, what I liked most was that this instructor was able to make quite significant changes and effect change within the first 15 minutes of my lesson, that she saw Joy as a pony with potential, and that she was excited to work with us.

I’m really digging the new trainer!

We go back again July 6th. Hopefully I’ll have everything we covered this lesson addressed and we can start working towards bigger goals!

Also, I have vid, but my video editing software is a pain and I’m lazy, so you’ll get it later…

Dressage Lesson!

I have a dressage lesson Saturday!

I’ve been really struggling to find a dressage instructor near me who has ridden at a level higher than me, can teach it effectively, and I can access them without requiring a four hour haul.

Oh, and that aren’t over $100 per 45 minute lesson.

I learned about this trainer after attending one of the GMO hosted clinics in my area. I’d never heard of her before, so I was really delighted with how effective she was as an instructor with some really run-of-the-mill type horses.

Then I had the opportunity to see her teach again at an eventing barn.

I’m extremely hopeful that she’ll be able to help Joy and I fill in the holes in our training.

So that’s my big news this week.

I already signed up for second lesson with her the beginning of July.

I’m a little nervous about it.  Every instructor is unique in how they approach things. Sometimes their approach conflicts with the ways I was taught previously.  This isn’t usually an issue if the instructor is knowledgeable enough to convey why the change is needed, or what it will improve, but I find I’m resistant to change if the “why” for why it should change isn’t clear.

I have a hard time blindly trusting people the way you need to trust your trainer.

But I’m hopeful about this trainer/instructor. She seems to know her stuff, she’s ridden through PSG, her scores match up with what she’s claimed, and it appears she’s taken horses from training level up through PSG.

So, I’m hopeful. And it feels really good to be “hopeful” again.

Joy’s First Dressage Show

Our first dressage show is completed!

We survived!!

Joy loaded and hauled like a champ. <- That was actually my main concern for the show.

She hopped right on and I latched her in with ease. She hauled quietly and without issues. Whew!

Once we got to the show, she was a million times better than I expected her to be. She was hyped, but easily controllable. She listened to me. I bet a few more shows and she’ll be completely unfazed by it all.

The only thing that wigged her out the entire show was when a horse unloaded from a trailer next to her. She wigged out… as in, all four feet left the ground, she started bucking and leaping around. I was walking next to her, so I just ignored it and kept walking. She was back to normal a moment later, but I didn’t stand her near unloading trailers after that. 😮😁

The actual test scores weren’t very good. The rides, while riding them, felt awesome! Not perfect, but the stretchy trot felt balanced and as if she had massive stretch. The lengthens felt like she lengthened well (for her and where she’s at right now). It felt… Good.

The scores and video show it was was not good. It was crap. Rushing, braced, unbalanced… not good at all.

That disconnect between how it felt and how it scored/looked, really had me bummed.

Final Scores:

  • First Level Test 1 – 60.172%
    • 4th place out of 5
  • First Level Test 2 – 63.286%
    • 2nd place out of 4
  • First Level Test 3 – 62.22%
    • 3rd place out of 4

We somehow eeked out a Reserve Champion High Point tie with the girl that womped our butts in test 2 and 3. Don’t ask me how.

The overall theme in the comments on each test was: Tension, bracing, lack of suppleness, lack of balance, lack of bend.
That pretty much describes all three tests in a nut-shell.

First Level Test 1 Video Link: https://youtu.be/1P4VtMRlWUI

First Level Test 1 Score Sheet:

First Level Test 1 Collective Marks

 

First Level Test 2 Video Link:  https://youtu.be/fzAVGxnhHP0

First Level Test 2 Score Sheet:

First Level Test 2 Collective Marks

 

First Level Test 3 Video Link: https://youtu.be/haGVdILY98Q

First Level Test 3 Score Sheet:

First Level Test 3 Collective Marks

 

My friend takes beautiful photographs!

The joy of being an AA

Work has been killing me. 50 to 70 hour weeks for over a month. I am exhausted. Burnt out.

I also don’t get anything for all this overtime. No overtime pay, no extra time off..

I can’t even reap extra money for all this hard work. *sigh* No new brushing boots for Joy again this year.

My first show is a week away. I’m not sure what to expect.

I’m still struggling every ride with either making her too hot and tense, yet better balanced, or supple and relaxed, yet horribly on her forehand. I can’t seem to get balanced, supple, forward, and relaxed all in one ride.

We have some fabulous moments though.

Our lengthen canter (aka go fast) elludes me, but we have a very nice downward transition. She engages well under herself. It’s quite neat to feel. There’s not much length of back on a pony so you really feel the back coil and the haunches come under.

Our lengthen trot has gotten a wee bit better. More lengthen in the stride. However, we can’t hold it long. Not long enough even for a short diagonal.

You know what’s really improved? We can do simple transistions down the quarter line like nobody’s business. Not exactly a staple of dressage tests though. Super fun to ride though! Weeee!!!

Anyway, I just don’t know how this whole show will go. We’re not really ready for First Level Test 3. We’ve got the canter loops and leg yields, but no real lengthens. I can’t get a stretchy trot at all if she gets tense. It’s so easy to accidentally make her tense, and so hard to relax her again.

Since this will be her first time off property in 2 years, and only the second show she’s ever been to, I’m not expecting it to go all that well…

But… I’m hoping to take her to a few more shows this year, and I think she’ll get used to it pretty fast. She’s always had a really fantastic brain on her. Adapts well. Maybe the second show we can show off our training a bit better, or the third. We’ll see.