Dressage Rollercoaster

I wrote this on Saturday, after a really great lesson.

I'm etching this into the blog for posterity, because it's where we are, despite knowing how it sounds.  And I'd love some constructive criticism (or maybe a kick in the butt) especially from those who have moved up the Dressage levels (paging Karen and Megan).

In my lesson today, I confessed to my trainer that I'm struggling more than ever in my rides on my own right now, despite my lessons being amazing. I mean, that's something she needs to know.  If you just looked at my lessons right now, you'd think we were moving through the Dressage pyramid at light speed.

(And you may notice that I have definitely had trouble writing about the rides on my own lately.  There's not much to say about them, they're just not good.)


I told her, "Riding has never been harder than it is at this stage.  I have developed enough feel to know when things are going wrong, when he's crooked, but without you calling me out on exactly what's going wrong,  I often can't fix it.  My rides on my own are consistently mediocre, despite my lessons being incredible.  I try everything you have recently told us, but it's often not the right answer in that moment."

Right now, I know he's capable of moving like I've never felt a horse move before, and I get that in every single lesson without exception (and that kind of consistency is a huge achievement for us), but his best moments in my rides on my own are only about 25% as good as they are in lessons, and sometimes I can't even get that far.

Regardless of how often I get the "high" rides, the whole program right now is doing amazing things for Connor's topline and overall muscling.  Girl look at that body.

On Saturday, she watched our warmup (we warm up on our own, while the previous lesson is wrapping up), which was mediocre despite my best efforts, and within minutes she had us going amazingly well, by having me focus on my stillness.

She pointed out that in my efforts to get him straight/through/etc in my warmup, I was moving too much and trying too much and doing too much.  Shortly after I stayed still and supportive and also didn't fall into the holes he created, he straightened up, came on my aids (and therefore stopped creating holes), and got light and consistent in the bridle.  Game time.

I don't have pictures of this, but he TROTTED OVER TO THE FENCE to greet me when he saw me pull up on Saturday. Awwwww!

She said (paraphrased), "YOU have to be the solid one.  YOU have to be the quiet one. YOU have to not fall for it when he tries to drop you off to the left.  YOU have to be patient."

The hardest thing is that there are times (often) that the right answer is to be patient and do nothing (besides sit still, straight and evenly and ask for the bend), and usually I need to do that at times when I feel like he's going terribly.  That's so counterintuitive.  He can feel like a bus with a flat tire, and the right thing to do is ask for the bend and then wait, as quietly as possible, sometimes for what feels like an eternity, until he bends and softens.  Without my trainer there to tell me 'everything is going to be okay, sit quietly and wait, this is the right thing to do', it's really hard for my brain to accept that that is the right move, or even consider it sometimes.

I took my quarter sheet home to wash it, and the barn cat was really grateful when I brought it back.  It lives on top of my tack locker in the main barn aisle, making it an ideal cat perch.

To tell you the truth, (and I know this sounds terrible and I know there are bloggers who would kill to have these "problems", which is why it's hard to share and I've rewritten this post like six times) while I am really enjoying where we are right now and how far we've come, I also can't wait to be past this stage in his training and my education.  I don't know exactly what it is that I'm waiting for, because I've never been father than this before - for him to be confirmed in being on my aids?

Swinging wildly from the most amazing moments I've ever had on horseback to being unable to duplicate that from ride to ride is such an emotional rollercoaster, because I know what we're capable of now.  My standards are higher than they've ever been.  (And horse's happiness comes first of course - Connor seems to be thriving on the work and the routine, so no issues there.)

The answer to everything, physically and mentally, is patience.

25 comments:

  1. Yep. That stage will happen. You're developing a toolbox and feel for your particular horse. I won't say those rides won't happen again (all the time. ha!), but they will become less emotionally draining and awful. You'll start to realize when things go off the rails that you know how to fix them and will become confident enough in yourself to pull out multiple tools to see what works. Just keep at it.

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  2. Being patient, still, and adding more inside leg is basically the hardest thing ever. I'm there with you!

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    1. Whew, I figured you were somewhere close to where I am. It's hard.

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  3. I have been through this stage multiple ... MULTIPLE times. In general I have found it means you are the verge of a breakthrough. It's going to click. Don't be afraid to experiment when riding on your own. You won't undo a lesson, or ruin your awesome pony. Keep at girl!

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  4. Totally a normal, and reoccurring, stage. Welcome! It sucks ;) But once you get to the other side of it you will be so happy. Then right when you get to the other side of this one you will start all over again with even harder stuff!

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    1. Haha, thanks for the vote of confidence! Yeah, I do get the feeling that this just keeps happening with different pieces on the way up the levels.

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  5. Oh boy. Now I know what to look forward to. :-p

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    1. Oh yes. It's fun, but it's also incredibly maddening and really hard. But mostly fun.

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  6. I'm in a similar situation. I have issues with it not being perfect and my trainer (also my mother) tells me to stop being a pessimist and just ride! Hang in there!

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    1. How cool that your mom is your trainer! My dad was my XC coach in middle school, and it was a really fun thing to share with him (and he definitely improved my running). Thanks for the commiseration, much appreciated!

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  7. Waiting/Patience is one of the hardest things ever, but man your guys' progress sounds amazing, even with the pitfalls.

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    1. Thanks. Just trying to tell it like it is, since my last few blog poss have all been about good lessons, and that's only half the enchilada lately.

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  8. As others said, totally normal and patience is key. But I think this is why a lot of riders give up on dressage, or at least get stuck at the lower levels. There comes a point where you have to do it on your own, without your trainer co-piloting. It takes just as much mental fortitude as it does physical ability! A lot of riders I've run into just want riding to be fun and easy all the time. Fine, but then don't complain to me about how your horse won't do this or that! Whoa, sorry for the diatribe. I've been thinking about this topic a lot recently. :)

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    1. Thanks, Erin, that's really helpful. I don't expect it to be easy, it's just the swing between the two is hard. Definitely time to get more independent.

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  9. Thanks for this - I think I've needed just this talk for my last couple rides on Gav.
    You guys are doing awesome!

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  10. ugh i relate so hard to this - esp as i'm finally feeling for the first time ever that we could actually be moderately competent in the dressage ring. that is, while my trainer is treating me like a puppet and riding vicariously through me. on my own? ehhhhhhh it's really not the same feeling at all.

    my trainer says the same thing tho - just ride the horse where i want her to be, and wait for her to get there. so hard...

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    1. Totally understand, it is THE hardest thing. It's fun to be going farther in Dressage, but it's anything but easy.

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  11. I've definitely been through this, especially with trainers who give a constant stream of information. I LOVE those kinds of trainers, but I struggle more to ride on my own when I ride with them on a regular basis. I'm so used to that information and everything goes so well, that I get on my own and I'm a bit crippled.


    A few things that helped me, maybe you're already doing these:

    Constantly repeat what she says in your own words during breaks. It's hard to keep someone else's words in your head, it's easier to keep your own. By repeating it back to her, she also might realize that you don't quite get a concept the way she wants you to, and rephrase it to you. Do this both for theory and for what you need to do physically with your body.

    Ask her to sit and watch you for a second without commentary every now and then. Like let's say you were doing a transition on your own and you struggled. Go to the lesson and say "can I show you my walk to canter transition?" and set it up and do it on your own the first time with no help. Because what might be happening is that she is preventing you from making mistakes when she coaches you. Then you get on your own, you make one mistake and a whole bunch of others follow in response- if she kept you from doing that one mistake, she may never see the others that you are making after the fact. Essentially, you both need to know how to ride him when he's being so good, but also how to dig yourself out of a hole you may have accidentally ventured down on your own.

    Ask for specific homework. I'm sure you do this already. If the exercise she gives you is too tough or you think you won't succeed, maybe ask for exercises that lead up to that. If you're getting enough lessons, you could also do other sorts of things outside of lessons for now. Hill work, work without stirrups, etc. But I'm of the belief that there's no way for you to really truly undo anything by experimentation.


    It's a tough place to be, and like you said, it just takes a lot of patience. With a horse who requires a lot of patience like he does, it's hard to know when you just need to hold your aid for x number of seconds longer and then it will be good OR if you're just sitting there waiting for nothing. I'd ask her how she can tell or what you can look for to differentiate- but sometimes it's just feel. But for now, err on the side of waiting too long. Either way, he's looking REALLY great :)

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  12. One thing that might help in your rides on your own is to focus on yourself, your position reminders, your straightness, breathing and etc.. THEN start thinking about correcting him and/or changing up the exercises. Sometimes we get so focussed on improving the horse we forget to think about our own position and when that position is more correct there is less to "fix" in the horse. Just my own personal experience...

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  13. I am RIGHT HERE with you right now. Seriously. My lessons (dressage at least) all go great, and everything is great, and then I ride on my own and am like "how do I get to great again?" I am also majorly into trying to fix too much. If I can just remember to go back to (quiet) basics, then sometimes it comes right. SUCH a hard line to walk.

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  14. I understand how you feel. Right now I can't even get my horse to stretch into the trot and I feel like a moron

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  15. I can entirely empathize - those eyes on the ground are so important at this stage. Connor looks fantastic!

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