NK Lesson, Part 1: Fixing My Leg Aids

I was very curious what my monthly lesson with NK would look like, after she replied to the short video clip I sent her of my new seat and she said, "That's HUGE improvement!  NOW we can get to work!"

"...what is this "work"...?"

Turns out, it means completely fix my leg yields, further refine my position, change how I see shoulder in and change the way I apply my leg aids.  Holy cow.

Leg aids first.

In our last lesson, she told me if I feel like I have to hang on the inside rein, Connor is "smokescreening" me away from seeing the real problem which is that the inside hind (usually left) is not engaged.

Also, he's so sensitive, he almost trains me not to get after him enough with my aids, because he overreacts to aids.  At the last lesson, he had me pony kick him on the inside when he wasn't listening to my request to move the inside hind, almost as much to get his attention as to get his butt to move.

One issue that arose from doing that on my own in the last month is that he has started shooting out from under me when I use the inside leg even a little.  And still barreling through my outside aids.  This led to that unfortunate ride when I actually got off and did turn on the forehands in hand because I knew I was the problem, but I didn't know what I was doing.

I had the Pixio, but didn't have a tripod due to an unfortunate communication error, so I set the camera on the rail and for the most part only got to see my ride in the funhouse mirror.

NK figured it out.

She pointed out his shooting away from me when I use the inside leg on the left is for two reasons: one, my elbow and hip are not "joined" to each other on the outside (not touching, more of a powerline concept).  Two, and more importantly, I am using my leg wrong which is why he's shooting away from me.  I'm clamping down with my inside thigh when I use my leg, even if I'm not clamping all the time anymore, so he runs (where have we heard this before...)

What I should be doing is using a light leg with a free thigh.  Still a "bump bump", and it can still be aggressive if it needs to be, but it can't also contain a tight thigh.

The marker for this is tension in the back of the knee.  If the back of the knee is soft and free, my thighs are not clamping.  If the back of the knee is tight, I'm clamping.

The blurriest of the blurry screenshots!  But dat tail.

It was a complete change in the way I use my legs.  I always do more than I have to.  I was a runner before I was anything else, and the more we fight and the harder we work, the faster the race ends.  On horses, I tend to "make" things happen with my body - like using an excessive amount of leg and thigh to ask for something.

Turns out, it's much more effective to tap him ever so gently with my leg.  And I got to feel the stride by stride difference between making him and asking him, with making him being totally ineffective and asking him, with NK's guidance, being totally effective.

With that change made, we really were able to get to work.

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Doing the Impossible

I've always appreciated bloggers who tell it like it is and don't sugar coat things.  And I have to think all of the abject positivity from this blog this summer has to be a little annoying.

I promise I will always tell it like it is, and I am.  Things are just good.


We are doing things that were impossible six months ago.  Repeating exercises that made me cry last winter like they are no big deal.

Like last night.  When he was good and on my aids, we did 3 strides counter canter, 1 stride trot, 3 strides canter, 1 stride trot, 3 strides counter canter, 1 stride trot, rinse and repeat all the way down the quarter line - entirely with my seat.  No pulling on the reins at all, just a nice consistent contact.

We were so close to figuring things out at Pony Cup, but still missing a few pieces.

Last winter my trainer had me do something similar, and I cried.  I didn't know that I wasn't able to bring my horse down from the canter because I couldn't get the "stop" message across to him when I was clamping down on him with my thighs, inadvertently sending him forward into my hands, and thinking he was  "running through me."  Now I know - he never was running through me.  Or if it felt like he was, he never wanted to be.

August of 2013.

You couldn't have explained that to me before this summer.  I would have listened, but I couldn't have understood, because riding felt one way to me and I didn't know anything different.

This blog has been up since 2009.  Way before I got Connor, way after I started riding, and there's been a whole lot of telling it like it is, brutal honesty, struggles, thinking I knew what was wrong, not being right, being right but forgetting the answer two rides later, and trying things before we were ready.

I should do a post on all the strange things I've catch ridden while visiting Austen over the years...
(The first riding photo of me on this blog, Bella the Wonder Pony, January 2010).

We are never going to stop struggling, I will certainly think I'm right and actually be wrong in the future, and I will always be a slow learner, but for the first time I feel like the doors are open to future progress and I'm leaving the barn with a giant smile on my face every. single. ride.

And most importantly, my horse is happier than he's ever been, and annoyingly positive or not, that's what matters.


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Last Two Months of the Season

It's weird to be able to see the end of this year's show season.  I went into this one with no plan and no expectations (unlike last year, when I was very much points chasing).

And that worked out pretty well.

This year, I am so much more obsessed with how much Connor and I have learned/changed than I could ever be over points or year end awards, I didn't think about or check points once this whole show season.

Like, uh, this was two years ago this month.


So I still kinda can't believe this is a picture of me.

But, turns out I did qualify for my GMO's championships somehow, so I'll be riding 1-3 again on September 30 for that.  And then it logically follows that I'd use the last rated show of the year to practice 1-3, so I'm doing 1-3 both days for that show in mid-August.

I really hate 1-3.
I think we both do...

But.

I hate it because it's hard for us, and I hate it because it always seems to kick our butts, and those are not valid reasons to avoid it; really, they are reasons to attack it.  We're going to spend all of this month and next month schooling like we're chasing 2nd level, but practicing the first level movements.

I won't say it's the last time we'll show First Level (because there's no way we'll be championship show-caliber ready at 2-3 by National Dressage Pony Cup 2018), but I'm going to ride those tests as if it is and school 2nd over the winter like we're done with First.

Done with First, and more importantly, done with rides that look like this 

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WW: KHP Things

My mom caught this shot early in the morning at the KHP during NDPC.  I want that job!


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My Name is Connor and I'm So Glad My Rider is Finally Learning How to Ride

Connor and I had a pretty terrible ride on Saturday, by this summer's standards.  I could not get the inside left hind engaged for the life of me.

I knew it wasn't engaged because my instinct was to use too much inside rein, which my Dressage trainer NK calls Connor's "smoke screen" for not wanting to engage the left hind.

Ugh, lady, get your sh*t together

I also knew that he wasn't just being stubborn or stiff or "not wanting" to bend left.  It was probably something in my body that was blocking him.  I actually got off and worked it in hand before calling it a day - we were both pretty frazzled at the end.

SO much less fat than my last confo shot

On Sunday, I aimed for a nice, relaxed ride just to get his body moving.  I tried for softness in my body, in my hands - and what do you know, the left bend came so easily, I didn't even have to work at it.  100% change from the day before.


Since I had my Franklin ball epiphany, my rides have been fantastic, but it still was taking longer than I thought it should to get him warmed up and on my aids.  I knew there was something else missing, and had noticed that he would soften and come on my aids when I "stopped trying" partway through a ride.  But what happened when I stopped trying...

After Sunday's ride, and then especially last night's ride, I'm sure it's in my elbows.  I have made a lot of progress with my hard hands, but I still tend to ride with reins too long and a tendency to hold back in my elbows rather than giving forward.  (My favorite visual is that the reins are sticks that I have to push them forward rather than hold back.)

When I came out on Monday focusing on that (which also requires tight shoulder blades, an upright core and my "Franklin ball" seat), he softened over his back and came onto my aids faster than ever before.

BO's put a bottle of wine with a helium balloon attached outside one of the boarders stalls and Connor actually half turned around in the crossties to keep  an eye on the evil floating demon.

I wanted to write this post to remind myself that it's almost never that the Connor is stubborn, or "doesn't wanna play", or isn't interested in bending left, or "just takes a long time to warm up."  It's all these almost imperceptible things that I do with my body that tell him to do the opposite of what I want him to do (which is what happened on Saturday.)

I'm never more clued in to that stuff than I am right now, but it still takes constant vigilance and a "look at yourself before you look at the horse" mentality to stay on top of it.

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