Lesson Recap: Dressage Lesson Numero Dos

October is officially a big month for Smitty, and last night was the first of several lessons planned before his first show. Sorry in advance for no new media, and for this being a brain dump so I can remember all the things next time.

We rode out in the outdoor ring, which I have been avoiding since my confidence took a hit last month and I’ve been sticking to the more enclosed covered arena. But I want to power through some of my anxieties, and for me that means having an instructor there to get me out of my head and focusing on the saddle. Speaking of saddles by the way, the Amerigo Vega monoflap is officially the winner of the trial period, and though it was odd to have a dressage lesson in jump tack, I’m grateful to finally have a saddle that fits my gangly boy.

Winner winner chicken dinner!

Winner winner chicken dinner!

We started our lesson by warming up with a forward walk, and getting me to focus on staying relaxed until I trusted that I could really lengthen my reins to a semi-free walk length and allow him to telescope his neck out- a main focus for the next hour. Once I was able to do so without crabbing up, we introduced transitions between medium walk and free walk. I haven’t yet attempted medium walk, as we were focusing on the forward motion of the walk primarily, but it was a relief to see that he seemed to understand the concept fairly readily. For now though, we don’t want to keep him in medium walk for more than a few strides, since it’s hard for him to hold at this stage.

Just trying to break up walls of text here...

Just trying to break up walls of text here…

Moving into the trot, again the focus was on transitions. We started asking that the walk to trot transition be from back-to-front, meaning that the push was coming from behind. Again because of the baby status, that meant that it was a small effort, a few small steps before moving into the proper forward, working trot. I now realize that I have been holding my reins too short, and I need to focus on keeping them long enough that he can reach out with his neck at all times. If he comes up in the poll or above the bit, I am allowed to widen my hands to keep the contact with his mouth, but not allowed to shorten the reins in response. Then when he lowers his neck and stretches out again I can slowly bring my hands back together. And if Smitty were to become resistant, or attempt to dive down into the contact and drag me along, it is my job to ride with a strong core and back and lower leg. Then I don’t run the risk as much of being pulled over the handlebars and I can trust in myself to stay balanced should anything happen. Similarly, I need to stay strong and balanced into the downward transitions and keep him marching, instead of going splat into the walk or trot like he wants to do.

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Probably our my biggest challenge during the lesson was keeping myself loose and pushing him through any distractions. The outdoor ring is horrible for this, being surrounded on two sides by a trailer park, a third side by a neighborhood under construction, and the last side by a spooky hay barn. I feel like I am constantly watching to see if dogs are going to pop out, or cars, or trailers, or deer… you get the picture. So when one of the neighborhood residents closest to the arena started up his Harley Davidson, and preceded to let it warm up for 5 minutes just out of sight, I nearly lost my shit. Riding can be so much of a mental game, and truthfully, last night I had some fail moments. While Smitty handled it quite beautifully for a youngster, I was a tense mess until the motorcycle left the area and confined us to the furthest end of the arena, clutching my neck strap for dear life. Now looking back on it, I realize that I really need to push through and find some trust in Smitty, or fate, or what have you, and not lose my game face any time the atmosphere becomes challenging. Because as Eliza reminded me, you can’t control the weather, or the atmosphere, or even the footing sometimes, but you can always control or focus on your line, or your tempo, or your bend when those things become annoyances, and that it’s best to just keep riding through.

We found a really good note to end things on, cantering in both directions, and Eliza praised us for our progress with the quality of our canter departs and for the overall picture. It was a good lesson for reminding me of the positives and for getting an outside perspective on myself and my abilities as well as how Smitty actually is a very good baby and that it’s going to take time for us to develop a partnership. Tonight, we squeeze in a jump lesson with a new-to-me trainer. Hopefully I can build on some of this retrospective mental mojo and get some good points to boot!

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6 thoughts on “Lesson Recap: Dressage Lesson Numero Dos

  1. Ugh I hear you on the irrational freakouts!! So frustrating, especially when you are on a horse that is generally chill about everything, and YOU are the one spooking! Hope you can keep the positive momentum going!

  2. That can be so hard to trust a baby horse, especially one you are still getting to know! One thing that has helped me with Drifter a lot is to focus on my shoulders. (I know it sounds weird.) But when he gets spooky or tense, I automatically tense up too, which I carry in my shoulders – and I get very grabby with the reins, so that tension carries right on down from my shoulders through my elbows and wrists and just tells him to get MORE worked up. If I specifically think about sending relaxed, calming vibes from my shoulders down the rein to his mouth, he quickly calms and stretches into the contact as we pass by the spooky corner (or hay barn in your case!). I don’t know if that’s helpful at all, but for me it’s almost 100% foolproof so far! It also helps ease my own mental tension.

  3. considering i’ve been riding so many different horses the past two months, you’d think i’d have figured out the ‘how to trust a new horse’ thing… but no. it just takes time. and repeated good experiences. probably the next time that harley starts up you’ll feel better about it just knowing that you did, in fact, survive the first time!

    getting to know new horses is hard enough. baby horses are even harder bc they themselves aren’t even necessarily the same every time. it all works out tho (and usually sooner than we think), and it sounds like a fab lesson for figuring it out! also i’m right there with ya in the ‘heels down, strong core!’ to avoid getting pulled over the handlebars haha…. the struggle is real!

  4. Great job on the newbie 🙂 I find that keeping my eyes in the arena at all times has made a huge difference in my green mare’s ability to stay focused and less spooky – plus I am staying more relaxed by not looking for potential monsters!

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