This Week in Dressage: Walk to Canter

Trot-canter and walk-canter transitions have long been weak points for us. Mostly because I never developed the canter quality early on, and never prepared or rode the transitions in balance and self-carriage right at the start. I learned to see a canter lead on this horse, and to get the one I wanted – which usually involved a lot of flailing about with my upper body and leaning forward while looking down to try and see the lead.

Poor old Arwen.

derpy dragon

This movement consistently scores low for us, with comment “hollow”. I was originally taught to throw my weight to the inside, to encourage the horse to pick up the inside lead. Top tip: this don’t work. With me fooling about, and the trot lacking power, and the canter lacking engagement, Arwen learned to throw up her head and lunge into canter from the front.
The good about our walk-canter:

  • It’s obedient as they come; I can get it the first time, every time, without trot steps.
  • I can get the correct lead 99% of the time (whether it’s canter or counter canter), even on the middle of the long side or wherever.

The bad:

  • Arwen anticipates the transition and starts to get tense and jogging in walk.
  • I still want to throw my weight to the inside and curl up, especially in a simple change.
  • Arwen gets really hollow and makes a laboured sort of bounce into the canter.

So we set to work on this with riding it “in context”, pretty much as it would be in most tests, trying to figure out where it was going wrong:

  • Medium walk up the short side F-A.
  • Change rein across the long diagonal in extended walk.
  • Transition to canter at C.

The problem started as we transitioned back to medium walk at M. In the double bridle I tried adding a tiny bit of curb during the transition down, but that only made her more tense and caused her to jog and hollow instead of jog and lean. Her anticipating made me tense, too, so my seat was kind of all over the place. It was a hot mess. Sorry, Arwen.

I found this exercise on the Internet, and during our next session we started trying it out.

  • A turn up the centerline.
  • L leg-yield to the track.
  • Track straighten, then transition to canter.
  • Canter to M, transition to walk.
  • C turn up centerline and repeat.

Right off the bat this started to work better for Arwen. Her walk leg-yields are supple and I can get them very steep (L-B for instance) so whenever she’d start rushing, instead of getting in her face, I’d increase the steepness of the leg-yield so that she had to focus on that instead of on getting all dragonish. With her flexed to the inside, I also didn’t worry as much about the lead, so that mitigated my flailing a bit. As we returned to the track she could start anticipating but then I’d put her in slight shoulder-fore for a few steps and then ask for the canter.

This exercise took my mind off the anticipating and made me concentrate on the preparation – actively ending the leg-yield, keeping my upper body in line, going into shoulder-fore, half-halt, outside leg back, inside shoulder up, canter on. Arwen was rounder going up but added some trot steps. In the third session, I carried the dressage whip and gave her a touch as I asked the first few times just to make it clear we needed to canter on without kicking.

By the end of this I had a much more powerful transition, using the hindlegs to spring up to canter. I do have to half halt on the curb rein to prevent the head from flying up. Old habits die hard. But the more connected I can keep her, the more engaged the transition, the more engaged the resulting canter.

We went back to the medium-extended-medium walk and then canter exercise just once or twice and the difference was substantial. It’s still not going to be her best movement, but it’s an improvement. It’s not going to be brilliant until I can discipline my own body better in all the canter transitions and the canter itself, to stay tall (well, as tall as 5′ 4″ gets) and strong through my core instead of crumpling.

Dancing with this dragon was exactly what I needed this week. How great is the God Who turns our worship of Him into His healing of us?

Glory to the King.

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Marching On

After the emotional and spiritual high of last week, this one has left me a little flat. Make no mistake, we had good progress this week, including a lot of good rides and lessons and wonderful preparation for Finals tomorrow (these kids are amazing!), but I think we all felt a little rough around the edges after putting everything into pony camp.

I will give absolutely everything tomorrow, too, because my kids and ponies have been doing exactly that. Vastrap and his kid were so amazing on Tuesday that yesterday I just took them on a hack. They are so more than ready for whatever Finals will throw at them.

And after a bit of an unpromising lesson on Tuesday, Liana’s indomitable kid showed up to work on Thursday and gave it everything she had. Liana is hot and not always easy to keep rhythmic throughout a test but this kid absolutely nailed it. She’s going to ride her heart out at Finals because she always does.

Purple gloves make me happy, and so does Savanna. She is such a sweet, nonviolent, willing soul. She is desperately uneducated though, and it shows, but already after two or three weeks of work she’s starting to understand that there is no need to rush fences or cut corners. We still have a long way to go in terms of developing self-carriage and any form of technique, but obedience is already improving. From next week she’s in full training and competing with me, so that’ll be fun.

Champagne has been out of work for the above reason. Ah pony. Why? Six stitches and a week later and it’s almost healed, but it’s a pity we’ve lost that training time.

Magic is better at teenage girl selfies than I am.

He’s just better at selfies generally, really.

Skye has a nicer winter coat than anyone. She is really contented at the moment. Looking after Lady Erin seems to be all the stimulation she really needs; the old girl is happy to stand in a peaceful field and come in to do the Scripture reading before shows and get stuffed full of cookies. Especially the cookies, if we’re honest. She doesn’t crave people, although that’s not to say we don’t both enjoy grooming (and cookie-feeding).

Magic, on the other hand, is by no means ready for retirement. I had been toying with the idea a little. Riding has been either anxious or boring of late; I don’t want to push him with the flatwork, I can’t cope with the jumping, and he can’t cope with hacks. We lunge but that’s just exercise. We both really need a conversation; we need to spend quality time and not just be together, but talk and interact and learn things.

So, because he really enjoys groundwork, we’re playing with liberty. I know – I rolled my eyes reading the websites, too. (Ignore bad behaviour? So what do you do if it charges/bites/kicks/rears/pushes you around?) But it’s what Magic needs. He never gets stroppy. He never gets domineering. He needs something where there’s no pressure and lots of affirmation and this seems like fun. So here goes nothing, I guess.

I’m just gonna leave this right here because it makes me so happy seeing them regain their shine here.

Pretty Ash has been doing so well with L. Sound for 15 minutes’ trotting for several weeks now, we’ve added in some canter. It’s rather more canter than L is used to but Ash takes care of her. She is such a classy, attractive pony – I kind of wish we’d had her when she was younger and sounder and ready to take on the world.

I bought the dragon a nametag. Try not to laugh.

Speaking of dragons, we have been dressaging. More to come later. I’m using the double on her most of the time now. She does go better and yes, she should be able to do it in a snaffle, but the horse didn’t get a good foundation and right now we’re just muddling along trying to find what works for where we are now. Dressage coach S might come see us next month, then we can ask her opinion.

Nugget is incredibly content living with Magic. She’s in a better condition than ever before and even runs around the field playing with him – something I’ve never seen her do before. Unfortunately, after my week off and then pony camp, we’ve taken a bunch of steps back in handling. I haven’t gotten a halter back on her again. We’re making progress back there every day (I can rub her neck and shoulder now), so we’ll regain the lost ground quickly. I’m trying to make a point not to be upset about it, because there’s just no way I would have coped without the week off. And if I don’t cope there’s no yard and if there’s no yard there’s no safe haven for Nuggets.

On the jumping front, this was our exercise of the week; canter pole, couple of bounces, one stride, vertical. I added V-poles to the vertical later on. It was very challenging, especially for the kids, because they had to really ride the ponies up into their hands and get them to use themselves instead of just point and go. But it was confidence building for the horses and helped sharpen reflexes and round jumps nicely.

I found it confidence building too – so much so that the last vertical ended up at about a metre. My first in years, and Jamaica’s first under me. He just loped right on over and didn’t take it seriously enough to give it much scope, so it’s comforting to know he can do it and with such quietness.

He is such a blessing. If I had unlimited funds I would have bought him long ago. As it is, if I do pass Module 5, it’ll in large part be due to what God is doing for me with this funny-looking little horse.

Arwen has a jumping day each month, and she charged through it as well,

as did Destiny, Savanna (a simplified version), Thunder, and Lancelot. Lancey particularly impressed me because carefulness has been something we’ve long struggled with and he didn’t knock a single pole, except for rubbing the last vertical so that the V-poles fell off. He was kind of dorkward about it but he did the thing and I’m so so proud of the little chap.

I also started playing with an automatic release. My crest release is really good when it’s good, but disappears as soon as I’m nervous. I feel like I have to keep my hands back to keep my weight back in case the horse stops. It isn’t true, but it’s how it feels. The automatic is harder so it makes me concentrate on my lower leg and hip so that I can pull it off, but psychologically it’s significantly easier to follow the mouth slightly rather than toss my hands up the neck. I kinda like the result but I’m not dead sure yet.

And I’m throwing this in here too – G wasn’t able to exercise Pennie much last week, so I got to borrow her for a day and have some fun. Love this pony. She’s epic. Pictured: reason why I must learn a better release.

Eagle is going much better. He can be tricky to train for his novice owners; he’s never naughty, but he is responsive and forward-thinking by nature, so when you’re a novice trotting along and you panic and grab with your legs he’s probably going to go faster. We spent a lot of time installing some very sharp brakes and a relaxed halt, and he’s doing great.

They harvested the maize last week. The world suddenly looks bigger; and there’s not as much to spook at. I borrowed Dusty from the kids for a hack and remembered why I trust this little pony like nobody else.

This is Troy, who is my current favourite schoolie from Winstead. He is large and round and lazy but also jumps anything if you get him to go fast enough, so he’s my type. We were jumping over 80cm in fairly tricky exercises last lesson and he gives me a lot of courage. Thank you Troy (and coach K of course).

This cheeky adorable Faithy thing has been getting ideas above her station and picking fights with herd members, so now she has one kick on each hock. One more kick and I’ll move her out, but I suspect she’s doing something to provoke getting bullied. Bratty 2yo thinks she can rule the roost down there.

We have been having more conversations about the horsebox. She doesn’t walk right in yet, but if you show her you have cookies she’ll go in. She’s still learning about the world and I’m still learning about her, but I love her so much. Also she will do anything for cookies.

This is Meatlug (after the dragon – a greatly inappropriate name) and I think she’s beautiful. Those eyes…


Destiny has his ups and downs. Our personality clash makes for a difficult relationship, but we have been making really good progress. He’s so good on hacks now, jumped the difficult gymnastic, and is learning to move laterally off my leg.

Blizzard is trotting laps in the (amazing, new) ring now. Slanted poles are amazing, by the way – I haven’t had my knees smacked even once. He was scared of me posting at first, but his reaction to being scared is to stop dead, so that’s quite OK for a novice horse. We have some confidence building to do in trot but it won’t be long before we canter.

Lullaby has been a bit flat lately. I’ve tried the usual tricks – decreased workload, time off, a fun jumping session with a big kid – to no avail. She doesn’t seem unsound or in any physical trouble beyond the usual stiffness that we’re controlling with joint supplements, but there’s just a lack of her usual sparkle. I really hope her age and many years in the riding school aren’t catching up to her. I need her – we need her. But I’m her advocate. So we’ll try hacks and different food and so on until my stalwart little colleague is herself again. She has served so well for so long at such a thankless task.
My job is easy by comparison. It’s the least I can do to be as faithful as my good little ponies.

Glory to the King.

all ready for tomorrow

Posted in Arwen, Ash, Blizzard, Champagne, Confidence, Destiny, Eagle, faith, Jamaica, Lancelot, Lessons, Liana, Lullaby, Magic, Nugget, Pennie, Savanna, Skye, Stardust, Thunder, Vastrap | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

So There Was This Training Show…

… and I kinda forgot to write about it. Two Sundays ago, a little spur-of-the-moment, we threw Vastrap and Jamaica into VT’s kid’s dad’s horsebox and went to Fourways. VT’s kid wanted practice for Finals, and I had to be there anyway so I figured I may as well ride.

Jamaica had had the whole week off, so I sort of centered him around on the Friday and then popped through a simple gymnastic line that happened to be up on Saturday and off we went. He was so good about everything, too. Good to box, got out and looked around and sort of shrugged indifferently, and when I threw him in a paddock and abandoned him, he merely smelt some poo and then ate hay. How cool is it to have a really easy, ordinary, uncomplicated horse? It’s a new experience for me and rather refreshing.


Then VT and his kid promptly had a brilliant, blistering round in the 60cm, winning by streets.

They got a bit flustered and had a pole in the 70cm, but it didn’t bother either of them much, so it didn’t bother me either. It was their first 70 this year and they’re only doing 60 at finals.
Jamaica just totally showed up to work that day. He was calm, relaxed, focused and absolutely point-and-shoot. We went faster than usual, too, and cut all the turns in the 70cm speed for 5th in a class of 26.

The 80cm didn’t even look big. He was careful and clear in the first round. In the jump-off he overjumped an oxer that really was rather big for the class and I took a second to get my act together on landing so we lost a few seconds making a squiggle to the next fence, but it was still good enough for 3rd out of 18. And I didn’t even hold the neck strap.


God is way too good to me. Glory to the King.

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Small Victories

This week was… incredible.

It was pony camp, which I always love because I get more than that single golden half-hour once a week with each child. I get a chance to listen. I get a chance to learn.

We had many kids, for us (12? 13? I’m honestly not sure) and I can confidently say they all impressed me this week. For sure some of them got told off rather sternly but they are all lights in the world. They all have their futures thrown wide before them and the knowledge that I had a whole week with them – a week that God could use to influence their lives – was a tremendous thing. Terrifying at times, but tremendous.

Bible study was something else. The first three days felt like they weren’t really going anywhere – I was preaching the Gospel, and they were listening (most of the time) like good little children. But such is Bible study, I’m finding. It takes a while to build the trust that makes it a conversation. On the last day, we ended up running 45 minutes long because the kids weren’t running out of questions. We sat together and had an open, candid, non-judgmental, honest and sincere discussion about God. Jesus was there and the Holy Spirit was working! It was a day that reminded me of what I’m here for.

Of course, much was learned about horses, too. We rode bareback (a first for most of the kids) and played that game where you give each child a coin under each lower thigh and the kid who manages to keep their coins the longest wins. This was to much hilarity, but regrettably, we lost almost all of the coins in the arena sand.

We also learned how to turn out a pony, to varied success. This was less of a hit with some of the boys, but for the most part they pulled together and did some rather stellar work. Trooper especially looked more dashing than I expected.

We also learned about the points of the horse, parts of the saddle and bridle, and colours and markings. The ponies were as usual entirely accepting of having stickers stuck all over them.

They also did an awesome job painting and decorating all our jumps,

and Kindness Rocks, which are now littered all over the yard. Some have rather imaginative spelling (and others are teetering precariously on top of poles, on the brink of falling upon somebody’s head like a bolt of divine inspiration) but they make me smile.

We jumped some jumps (pictured: head groom L winning at this) and limbo’d under others (not pictured: head groom L falling on her head trying to win at this).

There were no falls or serious injuries at all this pony camp, to my great relief. One kid did cut his finger on the fence, whereupon it bled magnificently, but it was nothing that making a big fuss, pulling on my blue gloves and sticking a Star Wars plaster couldn’t fix. I also got kicked halfway across the arena (walked behind a sleeping pony and touched its bum like an idiot) but luckily I went flying and skidded several metres so that seems to have taken the worst of the impact out of it. Young muscles do have their advantages.

The week culminated in today’s training show, our first ever. It was an outrageous success – by the grace of God. Literally. He was so with us. And I have no pictures. Sorry.

We opened with Scripture reading, a la Lipizzaners, by bringing in old Skye and reading Job 39:19-25. Not gonna lie, standing next to my brave old friend and facing the crowd (more than 80 people – it was quite the crowd) and the powerful words straight from my God’s mouth rolling over us, I got a little teary-eyed.

The POG class was enormous and consisted of basically everyone whether they could jump or not. But I only had two on the lead rein and everyone else remembered their track perfectly, even if they walked the whole thing. Lulu, Trooper (yes – the 3yo; ridden off lead by a 6yo kiddie. He was good except once he walked into an upright and it fell over), Stardust, Midas, Sunè, Renè, and Thunder all packed their kids around without putting a toe wrong. Starlight had a spook and cantered off causing a little panic, but the kid got her back and she was fine after that.

Lisna and E also trotted around the POG and 20cm effortlessly. Lisna didn’t look at a thing and E handled first-show nerves brilliantly.

Most notably, David and his person went around the POG in hand. A mighty feat considering all the fears that horse had to conquer to get there. I gave him a show name and it says everything about him: Facing the Giants. He has faced some incredible Goliaths.

The 20cm was more of the same, with the addition of Savanna and her teenager. Savanna has been SO naughty of late (used to following other ponies over jumps + now feeling rather too good = naughty) but she was super and her teenager rode her really, really well for clear rounds.

Rain and Arwen also popped around the 20cm and 30cm, to general applause. Arwen also packed another rider who she’s never seen before in her life around the 60cm and 70cm, kicking all of our bums in the process. That’s the dragonbeast for you. I love that about my dance partners – they can dance with me one day and carry random people around the next.

In the 40cm, Destiny got his first jumping win under his mom. Sunè and her kid also popped around beautifully and Starlight came second with a kid that will hopefully become her kid eventually.

In the 50cm, Liana and her kid charged around brilliantly for second place. Midas and his new little rider had their first show together and came third, and Pennie’s mom G jumped her young horse, Saartjie, for first place. When G got Saartjie about a year ago the pony had never seen a fence before in its life and I’ve never been on her so I am VERY chuffed with both. K and Renè also had a great clear round.

It was more of the same in the 60cm, with Arwen first, Saartjie second and Lancelot third – albeit having a rather gawky round because I was in the dressage saddle (the others were all taken) and mainly focused on not losing my stirrups. Lancey was amazing for the whole thing, jumping all clear rounds. We were all expecting Vastrap to win because he is awesome but he got a bit wild and threw in a stop – luckily for his child because I don’t think she could have sat the only distance available to him at that pace. He won the 70cm, with Lancey second and Arwen third.

The 80cm was only Pennie and G and Jamaica and I, and Maicy totally showed me again why I lease him. I was exhausted by this point and just sort of hung on and pointed him at the jumps. The distances were ugly, the rhythm was off, and we’d had one minute to warm up – but Jamaica just took me over each fence despite my mistakes. Good boy. He won it despite a rail down because Pennie got somewhat overexcited and crashed through a bunch of jumps.

The last class was called the 85cm but only because I didn’t want to say out loud that Jamaica and I were jumping a 90cm track. I needn’t have worried, though. Jamaica was superb. Both G and I had a pole down but Pennie was like 15 seconds faster so they won.

I am so happy with it – all of it. I feel so honoured to be among this group of horses and riders and to feel the buzz that was at this stableyard today. It’s more than just a good atmosphere brought about by mutual goodwill. It’s in me but not of me. It’s the Holy Spirit at work.

This evening I had one last job – herding the members of field A (Arwen’s group) back to their field, which was being used as a warmup. It was a short way along the corridor so I elected to just shepherd them along rather than catching each one. I whistled them up and Arwen led the charge, snorting fire. Magic caught on and started bucking in the neighbouring field and then suddenly they were all running – thirty-one shining, happy horses – each a thunder-clothed collection of graceful curves bursting with life and exuberance, the sky and earth trembling with the power of them. I was caught breathless in the whirlwind of it, and I understood what the psalmist meant when he said: Let everything that has breath praise the name of the Lord.

No eye has seen what He has prepared for us, but perhaps sometimes we catch the edge of Heaven’s melody, curling on the cusp of hearing.

Thank You Father. Glory to the King.

Posted in Arwen, David, Destiny, Jamaica, Lancelot, Lessons, Liana, Lisna, Lullaby, Midas, Pennie, Renè, Savanna, Skye, Stardust, Sunè, Thunder, Trooper, Vastrap | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Week of Doing Nothing

I closed the yard for this week to give all of us a little break.

schoolies too


I did debate whether this was a good idea two weeks before SANESA finals, but the kids and horses are ready for it. I, on the other hand, was most certainly not. I would probably have strangled somebody and then run screaming across the Bob Charter. Such is burnout, friends (don’t do it).

Four days in to the longest break I’ve had since September 2015, I’m back on track and ready to give the kids and horses what they deserve next week – the absolute very best of everything I have. And no matter how much my heart and soul wants to do that, this is still Earth, I’m still stuck in a mortal body, and it still needs down time in order for that to happen.

any excuse to use this photo


So this has been the week of doing nothing. Well, I suppose that isn’t strictly true.

Fergie was born on Monday, and instead of just cooing from a distance as I swoop by, I could actually help to care for the cow (our 2015 champion and my personal favourite, Merida) and feed the little monster and so on. I’d forgotten how cute they are.

This is Garfield. He is quite sick of me by now.

And this is a rather sucky selfie of me riding in an ambulance car for the first time (well, the second time – the first time was lights and sirens and wearing gloves). I have better photos but, you know, patient confidentiality and stuff.

I have loved working at events, but dreamed of riding in the real nee-naw, and obviously God decided to drop the opportunity in my lap at exactly the time when I could actually take it. So two of the real medics were stuck with me for two days while we charged around doing epic stuff. I learned many things, including:

  • People blood even in copious amounts is not that different from horse blood and does not ick me out. (Rather a relief to discover on scene of a car crash, I can tell you).
  • “S— magnet” is a compliment when you’re trying to make a target in a sleepy little rural town.
  • Put on the gloves en route.
  • After day one, I wear my hair in a bun. Unless I actually want to dunk the end of my braid in somebody’s bodily fluids.
  • Driving on lights and sirens = BEST. THING. EVER.
  • I will always be uncool because I can’t drink more than two cups of coffee a day.
  • God absolutely sent me to do this and gives me exactly the strength I need in the moment that I need it. And I am totally doing it again! 😀

There have also been large amounts of doing nothing. Which has also suited me juuuuust fine.

Resting in the Lord’s embrace. Glory to the King.

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This Week in Dressage: Halt Through Walk

So we all know that Thunder’s tests at the last show were both pretty good. The first one was somewhat tense, and I rode conservatively because I was waiting for a spook, so we had a modest 65.91%. The second one was actually kind of brilliant – the horse relaxed and I rode him forward and asked for the beauty I know he has inside him, and by the end of it the judge was ready to fold him up, stick him in her boot and take him home, awarding him 72.5%.

cannot stop looking at his lifted back

So obviously we had mostly 7s. The judge could have been a little generous, but she hammered Arwen for her mistakes, so I doubt it. We also had three big beautiful 8s – free walk and both canter-trot transitions. (Finally winning at a downward! Whoop!)

There were two movements that were consistently 6s and could be 7s, though:

  • Halt through walk
  • Stretchy trot circle
  • Lengthening (not in those tests, but I know it’s not our best).

    but working trot? #nailedit

    All three of them carry over into Novice (although the halt is from trot) so we’d best get to perfecting them.

    We started with the halt through walk. It begins in Prelim 1 and 2 as a walk starting at least 12m before the halt. By Prelim 3 it’s a proper halt through the walk (“between L and I”) and by Prelim 4 it’s an accurate one at X.

    Thunder’s is really not horrible. Comments are usually “steady and straight, but not square”. He is relaxed and will stand even on a loose rein for as long as I want. He halts the moment I ask, so the obedience is there. He maintains a rhythm and straightness. The legs just go everywhere in an unflattering heap. Not exactly the way to begin and end a 70% test, Thunder.

    blurry video screenshot picturing: not square

    We started to play with it last week and I particularly noticed that halt from trot was dead square almost every time, while halt through walk was a consistent mess. We did my favourite centrelines exercise to figure this out:

    • Down the long side, halt at B. Proceed to A and turn down centreline. Halt at X. At C turn left. Halt again at E. A down centerline. Halt at X. C turn right. Repeat. If the horse loses impulsion and starts to anticipate the halt or get behind the leg, replace some of the halts with little trot lengthenings. The halts on the long side help to keep the horse straight.

    We repeated this exercise a few times and his halts just stayed the same – obedient and steady and straight and not square.

    Back to my old friend Google. I eventually found out that square halts are linked to activity and impulsion, and that made perfect sense. Thunder is not exactly the world’s most forward-going beast and he was halting square from trot. So we played with an exercise we found on the Internet:

    • Going on the track, ask for four steps of a smaller trot at A, B, C and E. Focus on prompt transitions up and down. We did almost collected trot, but I wasn’t pushing for it, just keeping him in front of my leg in the smaller steps.
    • After a lap of this, do four lengthened steps at A, B, C and E. Thunder struggled with this, but it improved as we went on and he began to anticipate a little.
    • Then start randomly throwing in a halt through walk, combining the forward from the lengthenings and the half-halts from the shortenings. As long as I kept driving him in the walk, and kept as few walk steps as possible (3 or 4), we suddenly and magically had a square halt.

    activity and engagement and tail ftw

    After that we just did a bunch of halts on the centerline and while the exercise hadn’t taught him to halt square, it definitely taught me how to ride him correctly for the square halt. He really does have a brilliant walk (an 8 on the collectives) so I can get it as long as I hit the right buttons and really ask him to maintain the activity all the way down into halt.

    Mission accomplished. Glory to the King.

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    This Week in Dressage: Shoulder-in Left

    It’s no secret that our Elementary needs work – our Elementary everything, basically. My first impressions from our last show was pretty much that everything sucked and would suck forever, but this time I have been able to be a little more objective (numbers don’t have so much bearing on a dance, you see) and pick out the things we really, truly have trouble with.

    wp-1499104280227.png

    I came up with six. One for each working  week between now and our next show. The beauty of schooling a movement is also that you don’t just improve the movement; in order to improve the movement you dig up a crookedness or a lack of impulsion or whatever it was that was causing the trouble in the first place, and so we improve.

    This week’s movement was shoulder-in left. We had a 7 for shoulder-in right and a 5 for shoulder-in left on the same test. Ouch. I used the following exercises to work on this:

    • Warmup with leg-yields in medium or even free walk, usually on the long diagonal. Transition to long easy leg-yields in working trot, then more difficult (usually just F-X-M) in collected trot. This got her off my inside leg and started to warm up whatever muscles make the leggies cross.
    • Elementary 5 shoulder-in set in reverse: M-B shoulder-in right, B turn right, E turn left, E-K shoulder-in left. This one was to give me a feel for what was going on in the test itself and where we were going wrong. She felt very dull to my inside leg, so I headed for my next exercise, a favourite to get her off my inside leg.
    • Circle 20m in working trot. Spiral down to 15m, then to 10m in collected trot. Complete the circle, then leg-yield out to 20m circle and immediately go to working trot (if her medium trot was any good we’d use that instead). I love this exercise because the horse really wants to get off the tiny circle, so there’s motivation to leg-yield. The upward transition on the bigger circle also creates some anticipation, increasing the energy in the leg-yield itself.
    • Then we did the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins again. They were better, but still not super.

    Arwen had felt SUPER responsive to my inside leg in shoulder-in right, the spiralling exercise, and the leg-yields, so I knew it wasn’t that that was causing our shoulder-in left problems. Back to the drawing board. Time for Googling and reading all those long dull classical descriptions of what the shoulder-in really is, and then the little light bulb went “bing” in my head when I was reading troubleshooting somewhere (EuroDressage, I think).

    Now I know I have the seat crookedness issue, but I always underestimate how often it comes back to bite my bum. The descriptions mentioned that failure to sit DOWN on the inside seat bone could cause quite a bit of difficulty for the horse. BING! My left seat bone used to strenuously resist being sat upon. Lots of stretching has finally worked it so that it’s not sore anymore, but the old habit remains and my muscles are still trying to protect it. So I can sit on it, but it takes focus.

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    pictured: focus… on carrots

    I went back and did the Elementary 5 shoulder-in work at the next session, this time really, really sitting on that inside seat bone (while maintaining the straightness across my shoulders and evenness of the distance between hips and elbows). Lo and behold, she slipped sideways like water. She established the shoulder-in well, but we had some trouble maintaining the position all the way along, so we started to play with some more difficult exercises.

    • Shoulder-in down the long side. As soon as the quality of the position deteriorates, ride a 10m circle in slight shoulder-fore, re-establish shoulder-in and continue down the long side. We were popping 10m circles twice or three times in a long side at the start, but as she figured out that it was actually possible now that she no longer had to scramble to try and stay under me, and things got a lot better.
    • M-F shoulder-in right; A turn down centreline; A-X shoulder-in right; X change the bend; X-C shoulder-in left; C turn left; H-K shoulder-in left. This is a SUPER difficult and challenging exercise and I didn’t get after her too much if we ended up in shoulder-fore somewhere along the way as long as she stayed rhythmic, but you can’t beat it for getting the horse off your leg and correctly positioned without using the wall. The quick little change of bend really helped to get her listening, not unlike the B-X half circle left X-E half circle right thing.
    • Back to the Elementary 5 shoulder-ins and voila! We have ourselves an equal shoulder-in left.

    Forgive my nerd splurge. I was so excited to figure it all out, and Arwen felt pretty awesome by the end of it.

    Dancing with dragons. Glory to the King.

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