Lesson Wrap-Up: Got Our Groove Back!!

Twenty minutes into my lesson last night, the last several weeks of frustration finally bubbled out of me.  We were doing a series of 12m circles at the walk, still trying to get past our warmup phase like 25 minutes after I got on.

"He feels like a total trainwreck!" I exclaimed.

I have a hard time putting these things into Dressage terms, but I haven't been able to get him to lift his back, seek the bit, lift his withers and shift his weight back ("collection?") in several weeks now.  Even that video from the show was probably a 7/10 if a 10 is his best work at this point in time.

That's not a shadow and Connor is not a bay.  That's solid mud from above the knee to the hoof, because he gets down on one knee to reach under the fence to eat grass all the time.  I didn't even try to clean that before we rode, just hoped his body heat would dry it so I could scrape it off after.  Spoiler alert: it was still mud after.

After my little explosion, my trainer had me do our old standby for getting Connor "switched on": four track shoulder-in in a short walk to canter across the diagonal, change direction, repeat.  And...

It worked.

He felt AMAZING.  Miles better quality work than in that video.  Once he was "switched on" like that, we spent the rest of the lesson going back and forth from collected walk shoulder in to trot shoulder in AND IT WAS AWESOME.

These are the rides and the feelings that make me fall in love with Dressage all over again, because it feels just so damn cool.  I have to be able to get that consistently!


In the middle of the lesson, he was getting a bit low in the withers, and when that happened I noticed my shoulders had slumped and my abs were no longer engaged.  I would correct that without being told, and he would stutter step and almost stop in the trot.  My trainer asked what was happening, and I told her.  She pointed out he was REALLY on my aids, and I just need to make that position a habit so I don't have to correct it all the time, cause that feels really dramatic to him.

That booty tho.  Also, daylight at 6:30pm!  Two more weeks til outdoor lessons!

The other interesting thing to note is that he stayed completely relaxed through the whole thing while giving us this amazing level of work.  Normally when we push him that far, he shakes his head and gets tense, but he stayed relaxed and so consistent in the contact.

You want to know how I know that was great work?  He was SO TIRED after that.  He's normally an alert, reactive sort of guy, but you could have set a bomb off under him after that lesson and he wouldn't have noticed.  I'm sure he slept well.


I am interested to hear a couple of things from the DQ's in the audience if you have time to comment: 1) Theories on why that exercise is the key to getting him going.  Lack of inside hind engagement?  Lack of lateral balance through the back? (That much I know is true)  2) Similar exercises I can use to achieve the same thing?

Thanks in advance!

15 comments:

  1. Haha definitely no advice from me, but love virtually riding along for your journey. :-)

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  2. My theory? Sounds like his back is tight when you start out. That four track sort of leg-yield-down-the-wall thing is great for stretching out the stifles/hips and getting that lower back limber and MOVING. I use it A LOT for Pig when he's tense or tight. It's amazing. It could also be related to inside hind engagement, or lack of stifle engagement. But both of those things effect the back.

    You may also have luck with leg yield zig zags (exaggerating the bend, but not losing the shoulder), or turns on the haunches/forehand to get sitting/hind legs unlocked.

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    1. I don't know what that would feel like, but there's waaaaaay too much movement in his back in the beginning, so I am inclined to think it's not that. When his back becomes stable and he stops pitching me from side to side so much, collection becomes possible.

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  3. A shoulder in seems to help engage the inside hind, and also canter helps them loosen their backs. Plus if you're doing w/c transitions, they have to rock back (and you do too!) to make it work. So I'm guessing that your exercise is both loosening his back and engaging his hind end.

    If it's working, why not do this early on in every ride? Might save you 25 minutes of frustration. I feel like half the battle with many horses is finding the warmup that works for them. But when you do, go with it and don't ask too many questions, lol!

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    1. Makes sense! I can't do it every ride because he tends to check out if I repeat lateral exercises a lot. He's like "Oh, this again, I got this."

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  4. no idea why that particular exercise works - but i think it's super awesome that you have such a clear and effective 'on switch' for him! kinda wanna try it myself lol

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    1. It's a good one. If you do it I'll give you one piece of advice: you really have to be careful of quality with it because it's totally possible to do it and get nothing out of it (see also my ride last Sunday).

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  5. Reading this reminded me of how important position is- I feel like I've kind of let mine go lately!

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    1. Totally. When I do that type of position correction when he's not on my aids it's like he doesn't notice so it's easy to forget how big of an impact something so minor has on them. I get a big reminder of how important it is when he is on my aids. She actually thought I was giving him a big half halt when I did that - nope, just fixing my crap position.

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  6. From what you are describing, I think it is more of a "self-carriage" issue than a "collection" issue. Once the self-carriage is better, the collection comes easier and is more fluid. You now are asking him for a higher level of self-carriage right from the beginning of each ride. Take heart, many horses/riders struggle with this! You guys are doing great!

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    1. Yes, you are definitely correct in using that term. We did last night, I just forgot to include it in the post. He was definitely more in self-carriage last night than he has been in weeks. Thanks for your comment and the reminder!

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  7. No advice, but glad you guys got your groove back! As always I love reading along with your journey, I'm so envious of the connection you are building with Connor. :-)

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  8. Dressage = 90% wants to make you pull out your hair but that 10% of amazing keeps us all going :)

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  9. Definitely not a DQ but I'm glad that you had such an awesome ride :)

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