That thing I couldn’t get

I’ve owned Joy, the pony, since 2015.   If you want to read about when I got her, go to I bought a…

Anyway… I FINALLY got her to do haunches in at a canter!!! Woo Hoo!! And it was pretty darn decent too!

Seriously, I have been working on this for YEARS. Granted, we’ve had a lot of time off over the years, but I wouldn’t have thought it’d be that hard to get this. I never had half the issues getting haunches in at a canter with any other horse.

This one.. whew.  Struggle bus.

Anyway, I was so thrilled.

Now I can start working on counter canter! Yay! lol!

Crossing Hurdles

We’re on the cusp of June, and I still don’t have Joy hauling yet. I’m disappointed in myself and my lack of progress. It’s my fault. I’m scared/nervous to take that next step (actually haul her). Joy’s ready, I just need to make that leap.

So disappointed in myself.


New goal… take Joy on trailer ride around the block this weekend.

I’m already anxiety riddled!!


This next part is probably not interesting, but I wanted to write it down for my own benefit.


I’ve been riding Joy rather consistently, but I’m not sure how to recap it.  I had hubby take video the end of April, and video a week or two into May, and I realized I had turned Joy into a nervous ball of tension by focusing on canter and canter departs so much. So I backed off on that. I’m working on bending and trying to get her equally bearing weight on all 4 legs (instead of loading the left more than the right). A lot of leg yield to the right with oomphf to get her to evenly distribute the weight. But mainly bending. I’m having a heck of a time with the bending. I don’t know if it’s because she’s so compact, or so crooked in her body, or her rider suckers (probably that one), but wow.. it’s a long, slow slog, Every Single Ride, to get her to loosen up and bend through that short little back of hers.

Because of this, I reintegrated Shoulder-In and Haunches-In to the program. Still at the walk. These seem to really help her overall. Not only does it make her think about what she’s doing (she’s got an active mind), but it also seems to relax her while focusing her.

I also introduced Shoulder-In to Renver at the walk. And by golly, she got it after the third attempt. I thought it would blow her mind, but nope… she handled it like a pro. That one seemed to really help her suppleness through her body. Her walk afterward was much bigger and more swingy.

I’ve just started introducing SI/HI in trot again the last two rides. I played with it a bit last year, and earlier this spring, but it was not good. Last ride though, she gave me a few nice strides both directions. It felt like it was easier for her, like she could hold the bend and the forward better. It wasn’t as stilted. Nothing I’d want to show anyone yet, but it’s getting better.

I did notice that in Haunches-In to the right she was tilting her head (both walk and trot) quite dramatically at times. She doesn’t seem to do this going left. After trying everything I could think of to fix it, I finally stumbled on counter flexing her just slightly, and that seemed to help. Then we went back to true flexion and her head stayed fairly straight. I’m not sure if it was a symptom of losing her outside shoulder some, or if she just needed to release her poll a bit, or maybe counter flexing caused me to release the death grip I had on the inside rein. Not sure…

The other thing I tried with some success was when going to the right, I was circling Joy in every corner and her left shoulder kept escaping (sometimes a lot, sometimes a little). So I tried a fellow bloggers idea of holding that outside rein a bit stronger, really steady, and then really pushing her into the left rein with the inside leg. We struggled with that for a few corners, I was about to junk the idea and move on when suddenly it worked. She bent! The shoulder stayed under her, she quieted her chomping, and she navigated the circle smoothly. We moved on to something else after that, but I’m hoping I can duplicate the results again next ride. I’m worried about using this technique again though because I’m not entirely sure I understand the why of it. I’ll have to research it some more. I can get too strong, and this technique could totally play into my need to death grip the reins.

All of this bending work helps Joy’s trot. We start off pretty pathetic, but towards the end her trot feels a lot nicer. A bit more impulsion, she’s not rushing, she feels more balanced and like she’s finding it easier to carry me. Oh, and she’s able to respond quicker to the seat/leg aids. Which, duh! but, sometimes I have to crawl my way to the answers…

Having said all of that… I still really need to get that canter tuned up, refined. Heck, I’d settle for sort of balanced half the time. I keep hoping that the stronger and more supple I can make her, the easier that canter will get for her. But the other half of me is like “Canter will only get better if you canter!!”. Yet, cantering really gets Joy nervous. I don’t blame her. The arena is up/down and on a slope, she’s not balanced, we’ve no room to go straight at any point in the arena… it’s really hard for her. I may have to bite the bullet and take her out back to the field to canter on a straight line. The main issue is that *I* get nervous out there, by ourselves, cantering next to the woods where the deer like to crash through the brush and send Joy skittering in the opposite direction.

Oh, I almost forgot… we’ve also been playing with walk pirouette. Sometimes we get a few steps that are nice. Most of the time I bungle it. She gets the idea of it, but we lose momentum because she’s not really in front of my aids yet. I was happy that she understood the idea of what I was asking for. She tried, and she didn’t get frustrated or upset about it. So that was good. I can’t find a good happy point of being “in front of the aids” and relaxed. We’re either FORWARD to the max and super tense, or no go button but relaxed.

Other than that… we’ve been a few trail rides. Joy surprised me one particular day by throwing a mini-tantrum when I asked her to leave the other horses (to go home). She literally jumped straight up into the air with all four feet. The neighbor who saw this said we got about a foot off the ground. I figure if the pony can toss herself and my fat ass into the air that high, then she might make a decent dressage pony yet. Of course, after that we couldn’t just go home and quit, so I took her back out to the field behind the neighbors house and worked on a big forward trot with connection (which surprisingly she gave me), then I took her home and worked her a bit more in the arena trying to find that sweet spot of long and low yet connected (still super iffy on this. Not going so well). Our following trail ride was a very calm experience, and Joy had no issues leaving her buddies once it was time to head home.

Last thought…  Joy is deathly afraid of the big, black muddy puddle on the edge of the neighbors property. Not that I blame her, but it’s not like I asked her to walk through it.. I just wanted to walk PAST it. Instead, she threw herself backwards at light speed and we almost crashed down the embankment behind us. I think she’s afraid of the water. I already know she hates black earth, but combine black earth with water and Joy loses her shit. So yesterday, we had a dark, water logged, muddy puddle in the yard and I made Joy walk through it several times. It took me jumping around in it like an idiot for a few minutes before Joy joined me, but she finally did. Not sure Eventing Pony is in Joy’s future….maybe… we’ll see.



Finally had a Lesson. Woo Hoo!

I can’t remember now, but I think this is my fourth lesson with Roz Kinstler. I hadn’t had a lesson since September of last year and was expecting a lot of criticism about my position. Other than adjusting the bend in my elbows, and a couple of reminders to sit back during the canter, she said my position was pretty good. (Yay!)  I didn’t capture it on the video below, but when I was warming up I had my hands too far out in front of me which left very little bend in my elbows. Once I added more bend, Ava seemed so much happier about connection.

One disclaimer: I couldn’t get Ava to load to get to the lesson. I lunged her for an hour until she grudgingly decided she’d get on. By that point she was blowing hard and sweat was dripping down her legs (it was 47 degrees out). Then she had a two hour haul to the lesson, and because it took so long to load we only had about 15 minutes before the lesson started. I know that’s not very fair to Ava, but I can’t cancel a lesson a couple hours prior without paying out the nose. Anyway, to say she was tired by the time we started the lesson is an understatement, but she gave her all when I asked for it. This is the most infuriating and yet awe inspiring horse I’ve ever owned.

Overview of Lesson:

The canter work was sub-par. We do a lot better in our daily riding. Whenever she’s tired that left lead canter just goes to shot. I could barely keep her in it, and she kept breaking whenever I had the tiniest imbalance in my seat. The right lead canter was better, but I’ve seen her go much better than this on a normal day.

Our shoulder-in’s started out rough. I’m not good at them. Shoulder-in to the left has always been hit or miss, mostly miss. We did a few of them, and then Roz told me to touch my thumbs together as that would help me use the outside rein more effectively. It was like light and day with how well Ava performed the shoulder-in. You can see it at 5:43 in the video. As soon as I touched my thumbs together it was like Ava went “Thank GOD, lady!”  At 5:40ish in the video she’s kind of flat, 5:43-5:44 I touch my thumbs together and suddenly she was bouncy with oomphf. It was really neat to feel.

Then at 6:30 you can see Ava finally can use herself correctly in the shoulder-in and her gait and movement really got fancy at that point.

Let me say though… for some reason the thumbs together is really hard for me. Maybe because I actually have to ride with my seat at that point. Haha.

At one point in the lesson Roz calls out to use my right knee to turn. “I have a right knee?” Low and behold, Ava turned better once I started using it.

Oh, also, I think the thumbs together and right knee will help with the left lead canter too. In hindsight, I think part of the problem I was having with her during the left lead canter was that I wasn’t supporting her enough with the outside aids and she has a tendency to blow through the right shoulder anyway.

At 6:46 in the video Roz had me try shoulder-in to Renver, which is part of the Second Level Test 3 movements. I thought I understood what that was, but I’m glad she thought to go over it with me. She had to explain it to me like three times AND have the other girl riding demonstrate it for me (after which I was still confused). My original idea was that it was shoulder-in, and then you shove the butt over. Which caused all kinds of issues. Reality (in hindsight this is really simple) was I just changed bend to the opposite direction without touching the butt. I’m pretty sure I can over think this until I mess it up.

My best attempt was at 7:05 (shoulder-in), and then 7:14 Renver, and back to shoulder-in (7:18). I was trying to take 4-5 steps between each to set her up and allow her to make the change in bend.

Other side: 8:07 shoulder-in and then 8:13 renver. You can see the bend better from this angle.

The great thing about this exercise is it really made Ava more conscious of the outside aids. Turning the outside aids into the inside aids, and then back really helped Ava understand how to use her body better to stay balanced and between both aids. I think this is really going to be a great exercise for Ava this year. Normally when I do shoulder in she tends to knuckle down on the outside shoulder. This exercise is a good way to get her off it while still getting the benefits of the shoulder-in.

After 8:28 is just video of me trying to sit the trot and showing how much Ava tosses me around. This is why I wanted to buy that thinline pad for her. As much air as I catch between strides… it was really making me feel guilty about how her back was feeling.

It’s the Right Leg, Dummy

I had a weird thing happen tonight while riding Ava. Let me back up… at the Goodrich clinic, Pam kept yelling at me for leaning left over Ava’s left shoulder, so I was concentrating on keeping my shoulders parallel with Ava’s shoulders. I couldn’t figure out why I was having an issue with that. I mean, it’s stupid. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Which frustrates me, because how can you fix what you can’t feel?!?

Anyway, I’m concentrating very hard on keeping my shoulders directly over Ava’s, I’m concentrating on her right ear like Pam told me, and I’m checking that my seat bones are even and stirrups are evenly weighted…. all while Ava’s got her head and neck canted so far to the left that she looks like a U from the top. So I boot her with my right leg to get her ribs under me. Ava gives me the ear flip (that’s the equine version of the finger), and I bop her again with my heel on the right side. At that point Ava responds and suddenly I actually feel her stand up straight. Why could I not feel that before?!

Apparently my left lean is a combination of counter balancing Ava’s weird contortion act that she’s got going on and an attempt to force her to turn left when she won’t turn (which she can’t because she’s all contorted).

Did I mention I ride mostly by hoping and praying something works?

We did some trot work in a longer frame to start with and every time I felt her bulge against my right leg I bopped her. While we were doing that, the whole part were Pam was talking about with me leaning and Ava not straight, etc, etc, really became much clearer. Ava is unloading her left hind at all times to some degree, but it took Ava being REALLY badly crooked before it was bad enough I could figure out how to fix it.

The point being… sometimes things just have to get to the point where the problem is so freaking obvious (if you’re obtuse like me) that the fix becomes a no brainer.

After I fixed it, I could steer Ava from my hips again. She was under me and a heck of a lot straighter. I’d say I wasn’t leaning, but I can’t tell when I’m doing it so I have no idea if that’s a lie or not. All I know is that I felt connected to Ava’s shoulders again and I know I lose that feeling when I’m leaning.

Once that was sorted we worked on shoulder-in and haunches in — with power. Every time she slowed down I would circle her and ask for more forward during the circle and then power on through into the haunches-in. The first few times weren’t all that good, but Ava figured it out pretty fast and the last attempt each direction went great. We still have a ton of work to do with that, but mainly I’m using as a strength building exercise until she gets strong enough to hold a big forward trot all the way down the long side (it’s a very short arena so not that far to go). My ab’s were really hurting from trying to sit the bigger trot. That’s hard work!

We ended with some really nice, lofty trot that was very forward. I still had good half-halt responses from Ava so I felt like the big trot was very balanced and engaged. Ironically, Ava seemed to really enjoy herself once she realized I wasn’t going to slow her down, or clamp my thighs on.  Now I have to get in better shape so I can actually sit that bigger trot without losing my balance.


Up’ing the Stakes

My last lesson with Roz, and also in my last lesson with Pam, I was told repeatedly to increase the level of difficulty on Ava — greatly. That we need to be working at a much higher level than we are. So lately I’ve been trying to abide by that. It’s hard. I get stuck in ruts, or I can feel Ava is crooked but can’t fix it and end up stuck on 20m circles the entire ride. I know that isn’t the answer, but sometimes I just get sucked back into the same pattern I’ve been stuck in for the past couple of years.

This week I have a new focus on changing up the exercises, working at a higher level, and focusing on keeping the horse energetically forward through the movements. Monday, after the warm-up, I worked on haunches in and shoulder in down the long side.   They were setting up jumps in the arena, so I used those as points for 10m circles. And on the last quarter, or half, of each 10m circle I made sure I asked for more forward into the haunches-in or shoulder-in.

After I had good forward on those exercises, I worked on half-pass across a short diagonal (trying to avoid jumps). I’m not sure if I had quite the bend I needed for those. During my lessons both Roz and Pam said I didn’t have enough bend in the half-pass. It felt okay to me, but I’m not sure if it was correct or not. The problem I did have is that I should’ve used more half-halt on the outside to help her stand up better. We had some balance issues and I think that would’ve helped. I didn’t think of that at the time though.

They weren’t the best half-passes I’d ever done, but I was happy they were pretty forward. At least they were much more forward then the one’s I had been getting previously. And from everything I’m learning, the entire exercise has to incorporate enough forward in order for the gymnastic benefits to really be seen.

Also during the last lesson with Roz, she had me focus on the quality of our canter/walk transitions. Right now they are on the forehand and floppy. We’re focusing on encouraging more engagement in the downward transition. She also had me ask Ava to back up  until I felt her hips tuck and back lift. I’ve had to be careful about it so Ava doesn’t associate it with some kind of punishment, but I think it’s helping. We had two really good canter/walk transitions, but also her trot started out more engaged after the few back-ups we did.

Ava’s really been improving drastically since June. The middle of this summer we couldn’t even do a few steps of half-pass at anything close to a working trot. We snail crawled across the arena.

I have my last lesson with Roz November 1st, and then she won’t be back in Michigan until sometime in spring. So I better make the most of October as I can.