Monday, February 19, 2018

Karen Lesson: "I'm Just So Happy"

Dark barn aisle photo.
Although it has felt like Annie has been gone for a million years, I have realized just as quickly that her month-long training stint is coming to an end in the very near future! Part of me is excited to be bringing the monsters back home, but another part of me is... not as excited for the preparations that are required (*cough* snow removal *cough*).

This month in particular has been exceptionally taxing - emotionally and physically. Crappy Adult Things are happening and although I am trying to roll with the punches and make it out the other side, there are some Things that require Decisions. Not Fun Decisions. 

And as much as I wanted to cancel my lesson for Sunday, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I kind of needed the distraction, and welcomed the opportunity to finally sleep in and get some well deserved R&R at the same time.

Sunday morning the Boyfriend and I headed out to the barn - Annie was peacefully munching on some left-over morning hay and wandered to meet me at the gate of her paddock. I haltered her up, brought her into the barn, and left her tied for a bit while I organized my things and got ready.

She's a good bean!
She was quiet to tie, even with a young gelding trying to nibble her butt from the stall behind her. I practiced picking up her feet and doing the "farrier" work - she didn't care, didn't pull away, and didn't resist at all. Happy with that, I tacked her up and got a few other things ready and headed to the arena.

Another rider was lunging the aforementioned young gelding who did his best display of aerial dressage - it didn't seem to phase Annie so I hopped on from the mounting block and wandered the arena to warm up. At first, she felt very resistant to bend tracking left - she wanted to look out and curve her inside gut against my leg. I just pushed her forwards and did some trotting exercises as well. She hopped into a half-hearted canter going across the diagonal, but I figure it was her reacting to the spurs I had on vs excitement.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous riding her! Not that I thought she would do anything bad, but it was a mixture of excitement/nervousness as to how she'd react with me (old habits die hard?) and because our last lesson ended in colic. So... I was wary.

Trainer K popped out of the lounge and we got into it. Some key points of the lesson were as follows (not in any particular order):

  • Let go of your inside rein - she needs more outside rein support, especially for her left lead canter.
  • Don't just think about pushing her haunches in at the canter when she bulges her haunches out; think shoulder in to realign her entire body.
  • 10m circles are your preparation for shoulder-in. Do 1 10m circle and as you start your second one, go into shoulder in.
  • Half halt the canter - she likes to get speedy and flat. Use your outside leg and rein to bring her back and keep her balanced.
  • It's OK if she gets the wrong lead once or twice, when she continually gets it wrong for no reason, give her a poke with the spur to tell her you are unhappy.
  • In relation to the previous point, make sure to pet her and praise her when she does something right.
  • She likes to get buried in the front (overflexed) when she is nervous/anxious and/or doing lateral movements. Push her out and encourage her to seek the reins herself.
  • ACTIVE down transitions.
  • Ride off the rail during all three gaits to improve straightness.
  • When leg yielding at the canter, if she starts to go more diagonal vs straight, remember to "block" with the outside rein and inside leg. It's also OK to re-straighten and ask again vs going crooked.
  • Lots of inside and outside bend, as well as manipulating the shoulders will help with the overall maneuverability.
  • Always re-straighten before you hit the corner of the arena and prepare for the turn.
  • Turn your shoulders slightly when turning, it'll help her maneuver herself vs motorbiking.
  • Stand her shoulder up before the turns - utilize your outside rein more.
  • Don't worry about where her head is in the canter, you want to get more rhythm and reliability before the "headset".

There are a few more tidbits I'm sure I'm missing, but it was a good lesson. We did a lot of work on flexion, balance, and rider organization. We still had missed leads, but the cross-firing is almost completely non-existent (she did it once the entire ride) and the missed leads were less of a "tantrum" and more like "Oh oops I forgot which one I'm supposed to get this time!"

One of my favorite exercises we did was turning up centerline and when reaching x, you turn back towards the wall. So, half-circles. We also did this exercise fully - going up 1/4 line and centerline all the way to C and turning (like you would in a Dressage test of sorts). Having to keep the mare straight as well as prepared for the turns was really eye-opening into how much we as riders rely on the outside track.

Another favorite was the leg yielding at canter - it helped her feel so much more maneuverable. 

The tail swishing is still evident, but is much less frantic/frenzied/anxious - it feels more like a thinking swish if that makes sense? Previously, I could literally hear her tail snapping behind her, but now I barely notice/hear it. It looks... awful, but it's certainly gotten less and less.

She is a lot more rhythmic in her work as well, especially the walk and trot. In the canter, she likes to get flat and a bit strung out, but that'll come. Ironically enough, she switched her "bad" lead for the day and had a more difficult time obtaining her right lead than her left, haha. The transitions into all except a handful of the canters felt so easy and effortless, even the ones that were wrong.

A very, very good pony.

Trainer K and I discussed a lot of the hang ups Annie and I have, and it boils down to rider competency. There were some things I didn't know how to "push" or ideas I weren't sure I should be pushing. The mare just simply needed more consistency and a rider who could come up with a game plan that suited her - I didn't have that knowledge and was floundering trying to find it. 

I can see 100s of things "wrong" in the pictures and videos, but finally feel like we are on the right track. Mare is coming out to play more and I feel like more of an effective rider now that I know how to ride my horse (hilarious that I've owned her a year and finally feel like I can *kinda* ride her... maybe? sorta?).

Regardless, I'm pleased with the progress Annie has made. We were able to find that "Magic Canter" for most of our lesson and one particular 20m circle left me grinning and laughing so much that I heavily botched the down transition to trot. When Trainer K asked me what happened to that transition, I just simply said, "I'm just so happy."


  1. wow she really does look so much stronger in the canter! sounds like trainer K's program is working really well for both of you! lots of good takeaways too. that centerline exercise sounds useful. my dressage trainer also has me spend a lot of time off the rail with charlie bc yea... it becomes such a crutch haha

    1. Thank you!! I think she looks great too!

      Trainer K is really fabulous :)

  2. All those bullet points on the canter could have come from my lesson on Friday!

  3. She looks really great in the video! You should be super proud and I hope you guys are able to continue utilizing Trainer K she seems like a great fit :D

    1. Thanks L!! And yes, we’ll continue to work with Trsiner K so long as she’ll have us :P

  4. I am so glad the month training was worth doing! Sorry on the snow removal you have to do to get them home again!

    Annie looks great and so do you!

    1. Any thoughts of guilt or fear I had about it are gone now!!

      And yes. The snow is terrible. Ugh

  5. Looks like you and Annie had a great lesson! Everything is really coming together for both of you. Congratulations!

  6. her trot looks so fun and comfy! ditto the canter. I think I started reading when you were already relegated to mostly walking down the street because weather, so to have this after a month would be impressive to me! Unrelated, my barn is set up the same as this one (stalls around the indoor), but it used to be a saddleseat stable back in the day. Feel like I don't see it very often and just had to make a note of it haha.

    1. Well I’m glad I am able to give you guys more tangible media vs just road riding lol. Thanks for your kind comments - I’m lpretty pleased with her! And ya the stable is pretty neat - I’ll get more pics next time I go to share

  7. She's really building up muscle. I think that sending her for training was a great idea. I looked at the tail swishing and it looks more like a result of her working hard then protesting. As she gets stronger and more from behind it should diminish.

    1. She seems so much stronger now!! Mentally and physically.

      I think so too

  8. So happy for you! I'm glad everything with Annie is going so well.

  9. The program sounds like it's really doing wonders for Annie! Feeling happy riding your horse is the best feeling. I'm so glad you're feeling in the groove and on the right track!