June 24, 2019

Lesson Wrap Up: In Which a Whole Lotta Things Come Together

My lessons with my regular trainer have been fairly sporadic lately.  Mainly this is my fault, it seems like even when I'm only traveling one day a week, it's always on Tuesdays. 

But when we do get to lesson, she's been making it count.  Case in point: at my last lesson three weeks ago, she helped me finally crack the half halt code.  And a whole bunch of things started to make sense.

I can't remember exactly what she said, it was weeks ago at this point, but I remember what she did.  Connor hadn't been going particularly well for me that night, so she got on.  Pretty quickly, he started looking tons better.  It was clear he wasn't having a bad day, that I was just riding poorly.

First, she said something to the effect of "He's not just going to come on your aids, you have to make it happen".  It's not that I think that way, but I do ride that way, like he has to feel a certain way before I'll ask him for anything, when in reality I should be asking him for things in order to make him feel that way.

All this media is from the night she taught me this, so before I put any of it into practice.  And with the old bit.

Then she seriously broke down a half halt farther than anyone has with me before - visually, verbally, physically, slowly.  She showed me how with a moment of resistance in her core and arms, and a simultaneous slight movement in her pelvis (she called it forward, I called it backward, but we both meant the same thing!) his balance shifted and he came onto her aids.  It was SUCH an effective teaching moment.

The final piece fell into place when I got back on after watching that.  She asked me to move with him more, and to let the motion of his head pass all the way through to my shoulder blades.

I won't say I totally got it in that moment, but in the rides after that, as I worked on it, a whole bunch of things from the last six months started to make sense.  Megan telling me to use my lats more.  Mary telling me why I won't stop pulling until I learn to bear down and use my core.  A Chronicle of the Horse post about the differences between the mechanics of Western collection and Dressage collection.  Nancy telling me I need to let him pull on himself instead of me pulling on him.

After my Megan and Kate lessons last winter I was riding in a slick jacket so I could hear it when my arms stopped moving, because I knew that meant I was pulling.  I didn't really understand WHY I was doing that though, besides pulling = bad.  But now I get it.

There's a good tension that is necessary for collection.  Without it, the energy just splats out the front end and does nothing useful. 

There's also bad tension - pulling.  But I think subconsciously, I could not separate pulling and good tension, because good tension requires core engagement in order to happen, which I did not understand before riding with Mary Wanless, and it requires my whole arm get involved in the following motion from his mouth to my shoulder blades, which I did not understand, fully, until this lesson.  If my whole arm isn't involved, if the energy stops at my elbow, I am pulling, 100% of the time - which is why the slick jacket thing was an effective cue.

Oh also, this isn't my saddle, and it's like 1.5" too big for me, can you tell?  Haha

I can feel it.  When I'm doing it right, it's like I make a wall that I can gently push him into from behind.  Instead of going splat, he goes up. 

And he can feel it.  You should see the way he reacts to me having good tension in the canter for the first time ever!  When I started riding like that, he kept stopping in the canter, like "Wha...what...why?  Why would you do that?  Why would you ride like that?  This is hard!"  And guys, this is NOT a horse that stops in the canter, ever!  He's just so used to leaning on me and rolling around on his forehand like a bowling ball, it was a serious paradigm shift for him when my body position wasn't allowing him to do his favorite things anymore.

The proof that something is changing?  We're starting to get canter-walk transitions! 


  1. This is so cool to read about!! I’m still struggling with having the appropriate amount of connection at the canter but I do think that’s partially Katai’s strength and the fact that I just don’t spend enough time at the canter. Definitely some really good things for me to think about here!

  2. I've learned a shocking number of things about pulling and holding (and how to both do it and not do it) since the Mary clinic and riding in the last few months. And every time I peel back a layer it's so exciting!!!

  3. Oh I like the concept of good tension vs pulling! It's kind of what I'm trying to work through also. And also, the whole stopping the energy at the elbow thing. I'm pretty good about not doing that when flatting, but as soon as I start jumping, that's exactly where the energy stops. I know this. I've been told this. But your description is really helpful to me, because those words just seem to make more sense to me. So thanks!

  4. What an amazing breakthrough, I love when stuff like this happens!

  5. Fantastic! And, sorry, Connor, but the time to work harder has arrived!