Stretching Daylight

It’s getting darker earlier. Sunday, when the sun should’ve been at it’s highest point, the quality of the light had an early evening feel to it. The leaves are turning colors and falling. Winter is coming. Eeeeekkk!

I may almost be ready for winter this year. I have insulated bib overalls, a heated hoodie with adjustable heat settings, a big winter coat, and nice thick socks. I’ll probably still freeze, but hopefully not the second I walk out the door. Then again, I probably won’t be able to walk out the door with all that stuff on. I’ll have to roll down to the barn.

The Good:

I’ve been surprised by Joy’s progress the last week or so. She’s no longer actively fighting the contact (usually). The only time she really resists the rein is when she’s too busy looking for ghosts to spoke at.

The occasions where she’ll reach for the bit are getting more frequent.  Twice this past week I was able to get almost half a circle of some stretchy-like trot with a cadenced rhythm. It seemed like one day I got on and she she was like “I’ve got this!”.  And suddenly she’d reach for the bit when I let the reins out. Of course yesterday we reverted back to not knowing how. I had to pull out every trick in my book to get a tiny bit of reach from her, and she’d only hold it for a few strides.

The pictures are from yesterday:

This is one of the rare moments she really reached for the bit. I’m leaning forward too much, which was probably why she wasn’t able to stretch down much.


I like this picture. She looks more front-to-back balanced then the one above (I’m still leaning forward).


Not stretching, but I like that she’s more open through the throat latch, and her neck appears to be arching from the withers rather than having that dip right there that she normally has. Plus her hind leg is actively stepping forward into it.



The Bad:

It seems like I vacillate daily between feeling like I’m doing an okay job of teaching Joy the basics, and feeling like I’m completely ruining her.  Today, I’m convinced I’m ruining her. One day I think I’m not asking enough of her, the next day I’m convinced I’m asking for too much. She’s not going forward enough, she’s too forward and racing. She’s not bending enough, she’s over bent. She always has her head too high, she’s rooting the reins out.


Dressage is a masochistic discipline.

The Canter:

I’m not sure how much cantering under saddle Joy did before I purchased her. Part of me secretly thinks she was 100% solid in the canter, and I’m just being a big baby about cantering her.  Or, worse, I’ve regressed her training by 10 fold (<– probably that).

I remember the prior owner saying something about her being a “drunken sailor”, but I’ve got video of him cantering her, and I cantered her a bit when I test rode her, so she’s at least been cantering some before I bought her. However, she still canters like a drunken sailor. And sometimes I’m a bit concerned we’re not going to be able to turn.

Plus, the “arena” I ride in is on a slope. Going uphill isn’t too bad, but coming back down makes me grit my teeth and want to close my eyes.



I secretly blame every problem I have on the slope. If the slope ever disappears then I’m screwed. I’ll have to admit I suck.

Joy got overly ambitious about the canter depart here. 🙂


I think, next ride I may focus on prompt response to leg aids. She’s too lazy off the leg to get her to push into the contact. It’s really odd to me that she’s not more forward thinking. I know she can be, but she’d much rather whoa than go. I thought the Morgan/Welsh breeds were a bit more energetic. More like an Arab than a QH. Yet, Joy is a conserver of energy.  Her happiest riding moments are when we’re standing still.

Anyway, long story short… some good and some bad the past week. I learned I should never quit my day job to become a horse trainer, and if I ever need to show Joy in an arena with a slope then we are so going to nail that test.


Connection & Stretching

George Williams
Teaching How to Develop a Steady Contact:

Catherine Haddad
Teaching proper contact and riding basics of young horse:

Adrienne Lyle
How To Fix Busy Hands:

Nicholas Fyffe
Straightness & Connection:

Nicholas Fyffe
Working on Reaching for the Bit:

Sally Amsterdamer
Stretching the Top Line to Develop Strength and Suppleness

Dr. Ulf Moller
Stretching For The Four Year Old:

Dr. Ulf Moller
Training the Three Year Old, Getting Contact and Bend:

Pam Goodrich Clinic – What I Learned Watching Other Riders

There is so much packed into two days that it’s hard to know where to start. I tried to take notes for the rides I watched, but it was so hard to keep up with all the information and watch the riders at the same time.  Here are a few of the tidbits I took home. Hopefully these make sense to you too.

On lengthening the trot: When you come back to working trot, stand in the stirrups one stride before sitting. Push the horse’s butt under first while staying out of the tack so that the horse’s back can lift while he brings his hind legs under. 20130908_091948Then the rider can sit the trot. Do this instead of just slamming the horse down into working trot which causes the horse to fall on it’s forehand. This is especially important for a horse just beginning to learn lengthen. Mainly, don’t interfere with the horse by thinking you have to stay in the tack when beginning to train lengthens.  Also, don’t accept mediocre. If the horse doesn’t come through with his hind legs in the downward transition from lengthen to working, then go forward again. Or try this in trot/walk transitions. Keep out of the tack one stride in the downward. If the horse doesn’t step up and under in the downward,then immediately go back to trot (establish your trot again), then ask for the walk (keep your butt off the saddle a stride). Do this until you get the transition where the horse is stepping up under the rider. Don’t accept less.

When a horse starts anticipating the next movement of an exercise: In this instance the rider was attempting to do simple change of leads across the diagonal. Pam drove home the point that you want a trot that is yours. By that she meant, a trot that you can dictate speed/tempo/rhythm without the horse rushing or anxious because he knows what comes next. In this case, the horse was sort of skipping his hind legs in anticipation of picking up the left lead. When the horse starts to anticipate, then change the plan. Canter across the diagonal and do a 10-15 meter circle at X. Or canter across the diagonal to X, trot, and do a leg yield from X to the wall. Or canter across the diagonal to X, trot, and do a shoulder in down the center line. But whatever you do, OWN it.  You want a canter that is yours, a trot that is yours. You want the horse to think “What does she want?” instead of I know what she wants. The rider should think “I can do anything  at any time” and the gait your in is YOUR gait, not the gait your horse chose. Change the plan, mix it up, and most of all make sure it is exactly what you want, when you want it.

Simple change across the diagonal: Once you have your horse’s attention and he is listening to your aids, to improve the canter/trot/canter transition you can do a canter to X while thinking about making the downward transition to trot while IN a shoulder-in toward the current lead (so canter on right lead you would think shoulder-fore/shoulder-in right). You land the trot transition in shoulder-in toward the lead you had, then straighten for a stride or two, move the horse to shoulder-in in the opposite direction and ask for canter depart. Eventually, you would get this so that you just slightly think shoulder-fore on the downward, one stride to straighten, think shoulder-fore other direction and clean canter depart.


The horse I was watching had started off very rough on the canter/trot/canter across the diagonal, and by the end… that was the best canter/trot/canter changes I had seen in a long time. Very smooth, balanced, and responsive. This horse had started off barreling through the rider aids, unbalanced, and picking up the canter before the rider had asked for it. It took the rider several minutes of mixing up exercises before the rider truly had the horse listening to her aids. But then it was the shoulder-in’s during the transitions that helped really clean up the transitions and make them appear almost effortless for both horse and rider.  It allows the rider to keep control of the shoulders during the entire exercise, helped set the horse up for a balanced depart, and it regulated the speed of the horse through the transitions. Definitely an exercise I’m going to use in my riding from now on.

The horse that is throwing his shoulder to one side: When the horse throws his shoulder to the right, the rider instinctively wants to pull more on the right rein. Instead of creating more flexion to the right, the rider needs to move the reins to the left and steer the shoulders. Don’t over bend. Don’t use more right rein to pull the nose around. Use the reins toward the left to move the shoulders left. If the horse appears to have a kink in it’s neck during this, you have to get the shoulders of the horse straight in front of the horse before the horse’s neck can stretch out in front of it. The kink is a result of the shoulders and you can’t fix the neck by riding the neck.

This was the best example I’ve seen for the exact problem I have had for ages. And I know I’m not the only one. I see other riders doing the same thing I’ve done. We all pull the nose around while knowing the horse has fallen on one shoulder, but unable to “fix it”. And it never matters which way we flex the horse, the horse is still barreling around on that one shoulder. It’s a very frustrating problem (at least for me it was). If you ever have this problem (let’s assume it’s the right shoulder, and your horse feels like he’s heavy on the right rein, or kind of stiff to the right and heavy on the rein), then take your right hand with rein and move it all the way to where your left hand should be, and your left hand further left. Do a box pattern going left by moving your reins left like that. Put your hands back over the withers when straight. That should give you a feel for moving your horse’s shoulders.  Now when you’re going right, in corners move both hands left to move the shoulders left, then put your hands back over the withers when the shoulders are back under you again. Repeat as often as needed to keep the shoulders in front of you. There are other exercises to help rebuild the horse so it’s traveling more evenly on both shoulders.  I wrote more about it in my post about the first Pam Goodrich clinic here. Or just ask and I’ll do my best to either answer, or find articles that explain it better then I can.

Flexion is not direction: Direction is from the shoulders. Repeat after me, Flexion is not direction.  You steer with the shoulders, not the head.

Stretching the horse at trot: You can only stretch the horse as far down as they can go while still over their back and balanced (and on contact). The point is not to put the head down, the point is to have the horse stretch over it’s back while engaged. The horse I was watching at the time actually widened it’s front legs some to allow it’s head to come down, it’s hind end started trailing behind it. It’s head was low, but the exercise was no longer stretching the muscles in the horse’s back. She equated it to us trying to touch our toes even if we’re not flexible enough to touch our toes. If we can only touch our toes by widening our stance, then we’ve lost the benefit of the stretch. And we shouldn’t force ourselves to touch our toes if we can’t because we could hurt ourselves. So we go to the point where we can reach down, ask for the tiniest bit more, but no more than that. Keep the balance, keep the engagement, keep the contact, keep the roundness over the back. If the horse’s neck flattens then you’ve lost any benefit of the exercise.

Some pictures of other riders at the clinic: