Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Start At The Beginning –The Lesson of Literal Enlightenment

One of the most exciting things about moving to our new paddocks, and this is what I’ve most been looking forwards to (besides the giant indoor arena) is the fact that there are great instructors that come in to teach at the facilities on a regular basis.

A month ago, we had our first lesson with a classical dressage trainer, and ohmygoodnessitwasthebesteverandnowIamsoexcitedit’scrazy!!

*deep breath*

IMG_7503- Waiting around for our lesson to start, we were both suffering from extreme attacks of the needle… He’s spooky and I just feel plain old sick… But as it turns out, we needn’t have worried!  -

I should try not to get ahead of myself, but it really was such a good lesson…. As I remarked to MG (Mighty Guy – Classical Dressage Instructor Extraordinaire!) after the lesson, it was difference between groping around in the dark at a book, unable to read it because it is closed shut and you can’t see. You are struggling to take the next step towards that elusive feeling, and then someone just - *ping!* - turns on the light, opens the book right in front of your eyes, and explains exactly what it means, in great detail - right then and there to you.

It. Was. The. Best. Ever.

We learnt a ton, but we didn’t do much: Halt, flex, walk, counter shoulder in. That was it. Only walking for the whole hour, and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face!

Right from the start, I was told quite simply that Copper doesn’t know any of the basic building blocks of carrying a rider – how to give to the aids. I didn’t know how to teach him that, and we’d never been taught any better. Copper showed how little he knew by marching around with his “race track” walk, which is super fast and not at all a clear, four beat pace, just a churning of the legs!

He needed to slow down and learn to give… And we so were taught how to do that.

What did we learn?

  • Copper needs to learn to give to the aids, not react to the aids. He is not soft, and that’s why he is always so twitchy and fast.
  • He doesn’t know how to give to the rein aid/and my hand. He holds his tension in his jaw, poll, neck and shoulders. (Haha, tell me something I don’t know!  : P )
  • We were taught four flexion exercises for releasing the ligaments under the jaw and neck – all are preformed at the halt, and involved lifting his head and asking him to soften, chew and swallow. The fourth one then asked him to soften over his topline and bring his nose down again without locking up.
  • These flexions where done in stages: first one was done at the halt on the ground, then repeated under saddle. Then we had to walk around and halt and ask again for the flexion any time he started to fall downwards towards the forehand, or stiffens his jaw.
  • The second and third are pretty much the same one – flexing to the left and right from the poll
  • The fourth is asking him to round over his topline all the way along his back and neck.
  • We built up through these flexions with a lot of walking around a 20x40 arena space, including changing the rein across the diagonal and asking him to stretch out over his topline. He actually strode out with a clear 1-2-3-4 beat and a nice stretch without falling into his chest! A baby walk-lengthening!! 
  • We did the first exercise on both reins and when he was soft, did two and three, one on the left rein first, then the other on the right.
  • Then we moved to learning counter shoulder-in. Which was totally confusing for a directionally-challenged body such as myself.
    • The counter shoulder-in started with a walk down the long side, a six meter half-volte at the end, in the corner, which brings you back to face the long side you just walked down.

      Then, facing the wall asking for the bend towards the direction you just came from –i.e., back towards the corner – you ask with the inside leg, (which is the one your horse is bending around) for the horse to move in the direction OPPOSITE to your bend; back down the long side.

      You should feel the outside shoulder step into your rein and the inside hind crossing underneath as the horse steps over one foot at a time.

      The slowing down, but lifting at the front, is crucial to this exercise. Where it can go wrong: the horse rushes through it and looses the true bend from nose to tail, or alternatively, the horse dives down and falls into the bend, leaving his tail trailing off every which way.

      When done correctly, you can feel each footstep as the horse moves across, and the shoulders fill both reins.

We were swinging along with the exercise, and then tried a counter-shoulder in along the imaginary fence down the middle of our half of the arena. Yeah, I couldn’t get it AT all… We got hopelessly muddled and I know it was my fault! Even with MG helpfully directing the rein on one side, I still couldn’t get it, so we gave up on that and just worked along the wall.

All too soon the lesson was over, but I was giddy with excitement. I hadn’t stopped grinning like a fool the whole lesson, and I kept giggling, because riding Copper through out this lesson was like riding on a champagne bubble - and just as intoxicating!

He. Felt. Brilliant.

It was the very best I have ever gotten from him, or from any other horse I’ve ever sat on for that matter….

Yes, it was a month ago, but I still remember that pure joy that came from finally understanding how to achieve what I have been chasing these last few years - if not, my entire riding career.

I can NOT wait to do it again….

Even if I did just walk for an hour!

See ya,



  1. Sounds like you came away with a lot!

    1. I sure did L. - it was a whole new world! And it only serves to reaffirm my belief that a good instructor is worth their weight in gold. ;)


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