As mentioned in my last post, I have been working with a local dressage trainer here, and it has actually been really fun. Grayson, despite being the world’s laziest thoroughbred, really does like to work, and it makes it really fun on the flat. (versus May who… for all her wonderful qualities was just NOT a fan of being asked to do something differently then how she was doing it JUST FINE ALREADY.) However, after many, many months of not taking a lesson, getting myself back into a program was not totally smooth sailing.
Our first lesson was, quite honestly, a little bit of a dumpster fire. In true SC fashion, it was about a thousand degrees and about a thousand percent humidity. And in true Emily fashion, I couldn’t just show up and not feel 100% prepared. This meant, of course, that I did the wildly irrational thing of getting on EARLY and warming up BEFORE my lesson in the heat.
Overall, this just created a situation where we were both hot and a little tired before the lesson even started. This of course, was coupled on top of the fact that most of our rides since he moved to SC (in May) were trail rides and hacks around the field and arena. So when our trainer gave us the instruction I think every Dressage trainer gives to absolutely everyone who has ever had a break, “shorten your reins…. more”, both Grayson and I were in SHOCK.
This was CRUELTY. We couldn’t POSSIBLY need to be in this tight of a frame at our level. Seriously, I was in so much denial. Grayson, of course, was convinced this much work was impossible, and he started getting crooked and jigging at the walk. Overall, the lesson was good for reminding me of what actual Dressage should look like, especially for a horse who is neither particularly young or green, but I walked away still feeling doubt. In hindsight, I think a lot of this doubt came from the fact that A – I have only worked with 1 pure Dressage trainer and B – I have never ridden with a trainer I haven’t seen teach first (other than as a kid).
So what does one do when you’re wondering, “Is this the right approach for me and my horse?” You go to the video replay. Another mistake was definitely not videoing my first lesson, but I pulled out my pivo FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, and I set it up next to the arena for my next ride. I rode for a while how it “felt good”, and then I rode to recreate the feeling I had in my lesson. And you know what? I was totally wrong. What “felt good” to me, was Grayson merrily bopping around on his forehand with his pole below his wither.
Obviously, I immediately started working on all the homework she had given us, and I booked a lesson the next time she came to the farm.
This lesson happened in an actual Dressage court, which I think helped. Other helpful things: it was a functional temperature out, I didn’t warm up at all and left that in her hands, and I actually set up my pivo. Also, I think a first lesson is always a bit hit or miss, as the trainer gets to know you and you get to know them. (And you come to the amazing realization that you need to STOP DOING whatever I am doing in the above picture….)
This lesson consisted of:
- A lot of lateral work to open his shoulders
- A lot of me shortening my reins
- Learning that slowing down the walk is how you get rid of the jigging. “Walk as slowly as you need to to get a clear 4 beat walk”
- A complete struggle to get Grayson to consistently bend right to the right… like any bend. The horse really wants to look left…
- A solid 3 minute meltdown about my instance that he bend right.
BUT these were all things we needed. And by the end of the lesson, I had a much more consistent and connected horse.
Of course, I watched the ENTIRE lesson back again, and it was so helpful to see the moments where we really *got* it and the moments where we were still floundering around. It was also helpful to review Grayson’s meltdown. It really was just a situation where we got our wires crossed, but it was a great moment to have in a lesson. Having help on the ground is so incredibly helpful. Let’s be honest, the below photo is LIGHTYEARS better than the above one… and it’s not even the best work we got the entire lesson.
Lesson Three… A Pro Ride
Naturally, I missed the next time she came to our barn, which was a huge bummer because I learned that she’s happy to do training rides. However, it gave me a lot of time to apply our homework and really establish that right bend, which honestly, became a ton more reliably after our meltdown in lesson 2. At this point, Grayson hasn’t had a pro ride in… a while. And obviously, I had let his training go quite a bit.
But I figured it would be a good way for her to get a sense for him and feel a bit more of what I feel in the saddle. Let’s be honest though, the best part is just seeing a pro make your horse look REALLY fancy. (even as she rides with my horse decked out in open front boots, a brown bridle, and rubber reins). The amount I love this horse is a little absurd. He’s such a good boy.
It was also great because she would stop periodically and talk through what she’s feeling/doing. Overall, our homework came down to a few pieces:
- Strengthen the left hind to help the right direction be stronger, big recommendation for counter canter to the right.
- Lots of transitions to help keep him in the contact vs. his habit of just kind of faking it
- Continue to be disciplined about the right bend and contact
So that’s mostly what we have been doing! … with the occasional jumps thrown in. Overall, it’s been really fun polishing up Grayson’s Dressage work, and I would love to take him into the sandbox for some judge feedback.