Val’s Thoughts on “Dressage”

Before I begin, it was a close race, but sparkle butt breeches won out by just a few votes. So I’m ordering those today, and once I’ve received them and worn them a few times, I’ll definitely have a review. Maybe I’ll even compare the three different brands I have?

Val is generally pretty good at all of the flat work we do, but he also has an ego, and this week he had Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off. For Val, that is a lot of days in a row. So Saturday was a bit more of a struggle bus than normal, just because he was tense and a little anxious. I say “dressage” because it is our best impression, but I am well aware that we would not score well in the sand box. We’ve got some pieces really good, but we’re still working on carriage and letting me have contact without getting worried/excited or turning into a giraffe. These pictures were actually quite helpful to me; as you’ll soon see, though I feel like I am always good at riding inside leg to outside hand, often my outside hand is low, sometimes lower than my inside hand. I am also terrible about riding with too long reins, which is also quite evident. I’m also not sure why my body still insists on collapsing to the right at the canter; I’m either stepping too hard in my left stirrup, or I over correct and fold. Something to discuss with my trainer I suppose.

First we warmed up with lots of walking and lateral movements at the walk to get soft and supple throughout his body. He used to really struggle with leg yielding, but he’s recently had a break through and its getting so much better. Turns out pushing the inside hind leg over as he’s picking it up and pulsing rather than a steady inside leg through the whole movement makes more more sense to the horse. Duh.

 

"Look how I leg yield! I leg yield the best."

“Look how I leg yield! I leg yield the best.”

Then we started trotting around, and tried to do some trot poles. Those were such an utter failure they aren’t even making an appearance today. They were set a little long to encourage him to really stretch to get through, which we’ve been doing EVERYTIME we do trot poles lately, but Val was too tense and despite having gotten really good at them, completely forgot how to do trot poles; each time through he found somewhere to add a step. When we shortened them his response was to trot through like a sewing machine. Since this exercise was definitely not working, we moved on. Sitting trot it is!

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“I fancy prance for you. We are dressaging now?”

A little bending left, a little bending right, a little shoulder in right, and then the dreaded left shoulder in. This horse’s whole left side has always been stiff (I guess that’s what racing until they’re 8 will do) and shoulder in to the left is no exception. After one attempt in which the whole horse moved off the rail, a second in which he started to do the same thing, so I gave him a tiny pop with my hand (didn’t have a crop) and he spazzed because “OHMIGOSH MOMMY PUNISHED ME,” we finally had a decent attempt at a shoulder in.

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“Shoulder in hard. Do not like. And why your reins so long lady?”

Of course after doing a shoulder in and having to get after him for ignoring my inside leg, pony was tense all over again. Out came the angry toe flick. (When Val is tense or frustrated, or mad at his rider for making him package and listen, he flicks his little front feet out like so even while carrying himself like a U).

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“I hates dressage. I hates it. I flick my toe at you dressage!”

I finally got my horse listening and nice again, so it was time to canter. Cantering this horse is an interesting experience. His back is so sensitive (hence the Ogilvy) that when I sit, I have to make sure not to sit too deep at first, or he gets more upside down, and it’s a lot of work to push him up into the bridle. But he’s finally getting to the point where once he’s pushed up into the bridle, he stays there fairly well on his own without much help. He also canters kind of like Pepe le Piu sometimes, with an almost four beat gate. This does not make sitting his canter any easier.

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“I love cantering! But it is much harder when you make me do it dressage way.”

As you can see, he wasn’t terrible, but he also wasn’t soft or round. So we did some halt transitions on a figure eight to get him tucking his hind end under him and pushing from behind. It was hard at first, but once he figured it out, I could feel him setting himself up out of the turn, and I was able to push through the halt.

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“Why are you pulling on my poor tender mouth?? I am like Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron: I run freeeee!”

Remember when I said everything about his left side is harder? That often includes our left lead canter. If I start on it, he’s often much better, because he isn’t anticipating, but I like to change things up frequently and not get into any habits so that he never knows what to expect. So our left lead started out rough.

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“Nope. No more fancy prancing today. I iz done.”

The them of this weekend also seemed to be “What outside leg?” For all the great rides we’ve had, I suppose we were due for one of these. Turning down the center of our figure eight from the right was pretty nice, but turning from the left was pretty rough the first few times. At least he’s stepping up nicely behind?

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“Haha!! This what happens when you forget to use outside hand to support. Weeeeee!”

But eventually, we got a nicer canter, and the halts got really nice. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was softer, more round, and not tense or fighting. Once we had managed that, we practiced moving forward and coming back, all while maintaining a light contact, rather than throwing him away to get the forward. This has been better, but it was not terrible, and he came back pretty well even if it was a little messy.

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“Uphill canter very hard. Butt muscles tired.”

Finally we ended on Val’s favorite part of every ride: Stretchy trot. He can do this really well when he really takes a deep breath, and will sometimes trot with his nose all the way to the ground.

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“I loves the stretchy trot! Why can’t we always stretchy trot?”

This works so well for getting him relaxed actually, that I often incorporate into our ride when he is getting really tense, because he has learned that when I ask for stretchy trot, that means we are relaxing, and I’m not going to fuss. So he takes a big breath, stretches out his topline, and really swings his shoulder. From here he’s much happier to package up again and maintain his momentum. This is actually a tool I try to put on every horse I ride, because sometimes it’s really helpful (such as at a show where horses are often tense and worried) to be able to tell the horse, “Look. This is no big deal. We’re doing long and low, which means relax time.” It definitely helps Val down shift when he’s nervous at shows or in a lesson.

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“Dis my happy place.”

After a solid 40 minutes or so of flatting around and frying my pony’s brain, he got pats and a leisurely stroll power walk around the property to cool out. Pony has no idea how to “leisurely stroll.” He always has someplace to be. But look at that shoulder swinging walk? I mean who can really complain?

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“I fancy pranced the best for you.”

4 thoughts on “Val’s Thoughts on “Dressage”

  1. Must have been a full moon or something, because my pony was also all a twitter about actually having to work. Guess we were due for a meltdown

    I am also guilty of long reins – I’ve pretty much flipped the bird to my equitation days. Whoops.

    1. I definitely used to have better eq. I’m more of the Function over Form mentality now, but sometimes they do go hand in hand. Especially where rein length is concerned. 😉

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