Excerpts from lesson

This is from the lesson last weekend. We almost look decent at points… then it goes straight downhill at the canter. HAhaha


The shoulder-in’s were not very good.

Actually, the canter has improved quite a bit. We’re not flying around the arena. I could steer. We got the lead I asked for all but once (my fault, she was bent wrong). I didn’t have to whack her to go into the canter (well, I tapped her once), and she was picking it up from a leg aid/seat cue (no kissing cue).


Another two years and we might be ready for Training Level! HA hahaha

While summer speeds by

Seems like everyone I know is showing this weekend and doing fabulous,  and I’m…  well,  I’m not.  

At least I’m finally getting lessons again.  That’s at least a step forward. 

This past Saturday was our second lesson.  I had to do some remedial trailer training with Joy last week to prepare for this.  She seemed to think she had a choice in staying on the trailer or not,  so i made my choice the easier one for her to choose.  

Joy occasionally proves she’s a chestnut mare.  😂 

Anyway, the lesson went well.  Joy was once again a rock star.  She still has about 10 minutes of jitters,  but settled down quickly.  We rode this time.  

The instructor had me slow Joy’s tempo at the trot down quite a bit.  I had a difficult time with this because Joy kept trying to die out on me.  I’d nudge her to keep trotting,  and then we were too fast.   I’d slow her down and her engine would sputter and stall.  It took us several laps to figure it out.  Once we got it though,  Joy felt more balanced.  

I still couldn’t get that neck out though. At least she didn’t curl under… 

The instructor had us do shoulder-in.  My first time showing this to someone knowledgeable and in person.  I was nervous.  

I never have anywhere with straight lines to do these on,  and I found out we “wander” quite a bit.  In hindsight I probably needed a good half-half and more rider preparation each time we started…  I wasn’t understanding the issue at the time.  

I also can’t seem to keep a consistent bend.  We were all over the place.  

Our canter sucked.  As usual.  

Joy doesn’t want to bring the inside hind up under her body.  I had really hoped that having a bigger,  flat area to canter in would magically fix it.  I thought it was balance issues from cantering on a slop in a small area.  And maybe it was to start,  but it’s not going away.  I’m worried about this… 

I have some more tricks up my sleeve though.  And the instructor gave me an exercise to also try.  We’ll see where that gets us in another couple of months.

Fingers crossed! 

To be honest,  I was most proud of Joy for passing the ballons without a second glance.  And then for loading in the trailer like a pro AND standing in there quietly while I went to use the restroom.  

Joy never spooked at anything, never hesitated, gave her all when i asked,  and did it without complaint.  I couldn’t ask for a better pony! Very proud of her! 

Not what I expected

I’m going to be honest with you… I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into when I decided to take lessons with the new instructor.

The new-to-me instructor is a USDF Bronze Medalist, an “L” graduate, and a graduated of the “Train the Trainers” Western Dressage program. She’s also super nice, and so far everyone I’ve talked to has loved her training style.

My first lesson was last Saturday.

Everything went well until I unloaded Joy at the trainers barn. After that, Joy was a spit-fire.  Couldn’t hold still, screaming her head off, dragging me around…


The pic above pretty much captures the situation in a nutshell.

The trainer suggested we work on ground work first, and attempt to get Joy’s brain involved before doing anything else.  I was relieved. I think Joy would’ve been okay to ride, but heck… she wouldn’t even hold still long enough to get her tacked up.

When the trainer said ground work, what I didn’t anticipate was that the trainer meant….

I don’t like to be closed minded about any type of training, but most of the people I’ve met who follow Parelli are utter kooks.

Total kooks.

So, I was skeptical…

The trainer started me off with the basics. And wouldn’t you know it… within minutes Joy was the quiet, calm pony I know and love at home!

We did a few of the “games” with varying levels of success. Apparently the only one I can master is the “friendly” game (you rub the carrot stick on them). I nailed that one!

This pic is showing Joy ground tying within 15 minutes of actually starting the lesson.


I may not be a total convert, but… holy smokes it helped Joy.


I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to ride, because I really need help with my position. However, the bigger reason for taking lessons on Joy was to get Joy comfortable with hauling to new places by herself. I think these experiences will help her gain the confidence she needs to do that.

So, to recap… it wasn’t what I wanted the lesson to be, but I think it was the lesson Joy and I needed.

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: http://youtu.be/efTXA_GnJLo

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.

Tuesday Lesson

Latest update. Our lesson On Tuesday went well. I rode in the outdoor arena, and Ava hates it out there. I’m guessing on this, but I think it’s because the horses in the pastures look like disembodied heads from inside the outdoor arena. Who knows? She hates it. So to add an element of challenge… one of the horses was flying around it’s paddock like a banshee on fire. This is exactly the point where I’m supposed to work on canter zigzags. Haha. I can’t say those were very successful. I felt like I was riding a thousand pounds of GO! Full steam ahead and all luggage better hold on for dear life!

Okay, it wasn’t THAT bad. But the brakes weren’t good, and the half halts had zero effect.

Here’s the gist of the lesson….


It’s really difficult to not brace when you constantly feel like you’re being bounced out of the saddle. I flop worse than a two legged toad.

It’s human nature to tighten up and grip, I realize that, but loosening my death grip loosened Ava right up.

What I’d like to know is how do I fall into these totally moronic ways of riding. Things I KNOW don’t work, cause problems, etc. yet I inevitably get stuck in one until Bern can come smack me upside the head (gotta jar me loose sometimes).

Oh well, for now, at least, we’re back on the right track. 😉

Stay loose!

And try to stay cool.

The Seat

When I was a kid I rode dressage for a few years (very intensely). Anyway, starting again as an adult has really opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn’t grasp back then. Like the seat aids. I knew it was vital, I got the concept for the most part, but I completely failed with the subtleties of it. I thought the “seat” was the thighs and seat bones.
To turn -> thighs and one seat bone;
To stop -> thighs;
To collect -> thighs and calves and reins;

I had thighs of steel.

At my last lesson I was struggling with controlling Ava’s forward momentum at the canter. I tried bouncing the reins, and it half-heartedly worked, but I had to really bounce to get a response (which I’m not a fan of doing). So I whined to my trainer, who gave me a “you should know this” look, then set about explaining how to influence Ava’s momentum with my hips, abs, shoulder’s, and calves (I’m sure she’s explained this all before, but I frequently forget EVERYTHING). She then sent me back out on a 20 meter circle to play with it.

So we pop into the canter and while I’m mentally imagining my head being pulled up to the ceiling by a string, I tighten my abdominal muscles and stiffen my core. This causes Ava to drop into a very lovely trot, but I wanted more collection in the canter, not a trot. So Bern sends me back out with the advice to remember to activate the hind end. Off we go. I try it again, and if I tighten my core just enough to inhibit Ava’s motion when all four feet are off the ground, and add in just a touch of calf, she lands on the inner hind more underneath her (while still cantering).

Except, it felt like this –

Actually, it was really fun. I didn’t have to touch Ava’s mouth at all to go from a very forward canter to a much more engaged, slower canter. I was amazed, shocked, and very fascinated by this. I could have  gone around the ring a billion times just playing the “what happens if I tighten THIS” game. What I found is that I my abs and lower back play a huge part in regulating Ava’s forward momentum. That the easiest way to half halt her is using my core, not my thighs/seat and reins like I originally thought it was.

Either way… This is the coolest thing ever. It also works fantastic for the walk pirouette.

Lesson Time

It’s lesson night! Yay! I love lesson night. I’m not sure Ava is as convinced it’s all that fun. She doesn’t get away with falling on her inside shoulder, or flinging her head around, or the spooking at the door at the end of the arena.

I’m excited! I’ll try to get some pic’s and post them this weekend.

Envision It

I found an interesting article that kind of addresses some of the problems I’ve been having lately. Maybe it’ll be helpful to some of you also.

Riders Learn to Envision What They Want and Make it Happen; Robert Dover

I liked the rubber band exercise he describes. I’m going to have to try that with Ava this weekend.

On the second page, Robert Dover say’s, “Be certain of what it is that you’re asking for, clear with your aids, and envision the expected result in your mind. See the movie of your most grand vision of yourself—if you envision less than that, that’s all you’ll get,”

The article caught my eye because my trainer pointed out (several times) how I was blocking Ava during the walk/canter depart. I was expecting her to not respond. This is one of those instances where blind faith in your trainer is required in order to get past a training obstacle (my obstacle, not Ava’s). Bern said Ava will canter off a light seat aid, then by golly, Ava will! And you know what… she did. Sometimes the only way we can let go of our hang-ups is to allow someone else’s belief in you to override your self-doubt.

On a slightly different note… Bern had me try a different exercise last night in order to work on Ava’s degree of collection. The concept was to put the horse on a 20 meter circle, and ask for haunches in but with more bend then you would normally want. Do this for approx. a quarter of the circle, then ask for leg yield for a few steps (straighten the horse first), then ask for the haunches in again with the exaggerated bend. Repeat for a full circle.

We tried this first at the walk so I could learn where to put my weight and aids, and get coordinated. ha. Then we progressed to the trot. The first couple of times were… uh… yeah, not so good. But after a couple of tries (with lots of big “atta girls” to Ava for trying), we smoothly transitioned from haunches in, to leg yield, back to haunches in again.  And when we straightened and trotted off down the long side.. OMG, it was the best feeling trot EVER. I felt like those riders you see in the Grand Prix levels.  The power was intense, and it was super springy, yet soft at the same time. It was really easy to sit, but at the same time I think that was the most intense Ab work out I’ve ever gotten in my life.  My butt felt glued to the saddle, and my upper body just stayed there all upright and nice. It was an awesome feeling.

I want to mention one last thing that I’m beginning to really understand about dressage (or any discipline)… even though your trainer gives you an exercise to work on during a lesson, do not just keep doing that exercise as it was. Improve on it, break it down and incorporate different parts into other exercises, think about what makes that exercise work, what it’s intended purpose is, and extrapolate on it. With Ava, she’s incredibly smart, so after doing something twice she is quick to give you the same answer the third time. But by this point, she’s also found seven different way’s to evade actually using her inside hind while doing the exercise. When you have a horse like this, you have to be creative (and judicious) in applying an exercise that either teaches the horse how to carry herself correctly, or works to build up her strength to carry herself correctly.

Disclaimer: when I say “smoothly transitioned”, I mean smooth for us at our level of training. It wasn’t even close to flawless. 🙂 But it was a definite improvement!

Ava looking for treats after a job well done!!

I was also utterly impressed with Ava last night. She was very grumpy when I tore her away from her food. She’d been cooped up in a stall all day because of the nasty weather and it was past our normally ride time. Plus, she’s in heat. So she was Miss Grumpster!  And yet, that mare gave me her all last night. Even though what I was asking her to do was extremely hard for her, and made her use herself in way’s she wasn’t used to…. She still tried her hardest even when she didn’t understand what I was asking for!  I am so lucky to have Ava!  

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.