November 6, 2017

Lesson Wrap Up: Accountability, Self-Carriage and Leg

I had a lesson with NK a couple of weeks ago that I'm still struggling with.  It's a good struggle, because things are going to get hard and messy before we progress, but it's a struggle.

It turns out she's been going soft on me all these months, not wanting to interfere with my show season.  Really, I wish she had.  She's been holding out on me!  "I'm getting on him today," she said, matter-of-factly, as she came in while I was finishing my warmup.

All photos in this post by Paul Wood Photography from IDS Championships

She identified two major things:
1. He felt so heavy to her and was not in self-carriage/does not have the muscles to hold his shoulders up.  

That surprised me at first, and then as I thought about it, didn't surprise me at all.  He's SO much lighter now than he used to be, so it feels fine to me.  But I think I'm still micromanaging his body, manufacturing position instead of asking him to do it himself.  And it makes sense that he doesn't have the muscles to get his shoulders up, since shoulder freedom has been a problem for forever.

"He needs to be responsible for holding up his own head, okay?  You're allowed to give him as much rein as you want in the free walk, but when you pick the reins up, he needs to be ready to come with you."

2. He doesn't react when I put my leg on.

She really got after him about this.  "I scare him, okay, you don't scare him.  You put your leg on and he does nothing and you don't get after him, I get after him.  I'm fair to him, but I expect him to react."

After she got off of him, we worked on both.  For the self-carriage, she made sure not a step went by that he wasn't carrying his own head, getting after me to put my leg on and make an upward half-halt if he so much as thought about letting me carry him.

For the leg, she had me go on a circle, put my leg on and specifically make sure my knee was on him, ask for a lot of flexion with the inside rein (more than I'm used to for sure), and make sure he felt like he was moving out into my outside rein.  When he was doing it right, it felt like he got the weight off the left shoulder (going right).

Perfect example of what she's talking about, actually.

I understood what needs to happen and thought I understood how to make it happen in that lesson, but it's not translating under saddle for me.  We need more engagement, and more accountability for Connor, but in practice that's not easy without reverting to my bad old position and habits.  Also not helping was two straight weeks of travel with a third coming up this coming week.

But regardless, I have to admit I don't have the feel developed to really understand what needs to happen.  I can see it all day long, but I can't feel it.  What I really need are more lessons with her to help me understand these concepts better, but that's not going to happen for a while unfortunately. 


  1. Jane Savoie's book Dressage 101 has a section I find very helpful on keeping our equine friends hot off the leg. I had about two working sessions dedicated to this a little over a month ago. It's been super helpful, but I can feel us both slipping again. Good luck on your new goals!

  2. This stuff is HARD, especially with the pulling breeds. It's so easy for them to truck around with you carrying their head and neck, and it's easy to get suckered into that game. It took me a lot of time (and honestly riding another horse) to really understand how much we were holding each other up. You'll get it though, it just doesn't happen overnight. :(

  3. Dressage is so tough and I'm struggling with the increasing expectations as well. It's especially tough to push through when/if you feel like you've recently made a bunch of improvements like I do :) I feel like it makes it that much tougher to struggle again.

  4. Re: React when you put your leg on...story of my life! Hang in there friend. Dressage is not easy!

  5. Not helping the head hold is hard! I'm working on that right now a lot with Dante.

  6. Come ride Hampton! He is same way (over the shoulder, heavy), but with the right riding he will lift his shoulders and become rather light! Plus, you can piaffe him. :)

  7. Thank you for the photo credits! I get what you are saying - I feel so confident the first ride or two after a lesson and then it all starts to slide without me even realizing it.

    1. You're very welcome, thank YOU both for the photos! I get that feeling too. I also feel like I have to re-figure it out on my own and it does start to improve eventually though.