Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Keep It Simple, Stupid.

This is my new mantra. My local dressage instructor asked me after my lesson last night if I had any questions.

"Yeah, how am I supposed to go from riding this advanced horse to my guy who's barely at training level?"

You see, I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what I should be expecting my boy to be capable of right now. I'm having a hard time figuring out what exercises I can do that will make him work without trying to push him too far out of his capabilities. I'm feeling like I need a therapist instead of an instructor.

Fortunately for me, I have a multitude of riches when it comes to dressage instructors. You may know that in addition to my local trainer, I also do video lessons with Katie. This is an incredible service that she offers to people like me that don't have a horse trailer and live far, far away from her. So far she's been the only "eyes on the ground" to help me with Coriander's training.

I asked her about the exercise I wrote about in my last post- the walking shortening and extensions- and she instantly nixed the shortening, saying the risk of ruining his walk was too high, but that it was safe to try the extensions. Well, they haven't been going that well and I've been getting worried/frustrated.  He doesn't understand the concept of extension, he just trots when I add leg (my local instructor thought that was great because it shows that he's responsive to my aids- she also reminded me that it takes a year to teach a horse to use his back correctly). So now I'm concerned that I'm just confusing the hell out of my horse. In other words, I've been freaking out.

What I normally do when I'm freaking out about horse related stuff is turn to Google, so I went looking for proper exercises for training level horses and I found this:
This image gave me a face-palm moment- of course we need to focus on rhythm, why am I trying to skip rhythm and relaxation to go straight to connection?

Oh yeah, because I'm learning about impulsion with the friesian right now. It made me realized that there's a huge gap in my education, Katie is busy trying to teach me about rhythm while the local instructor put me on a horse that's four steps up. I'm missing the bits about relaxation and connection. And thus my confusion.

This is good, that knowledge makes me feel a bit better about myself, but it doesn't really help me with where to go with Coriander. And then I remember (another face-palm moment) that Katie already told me exactly what to do, I just had to open up her last lesson and refresh my memory:
  • use cavaletti to encourage Coriander to stretch over his topline
  • ask from prompter departs and transitions, focusing on rhythm and not letting him peter out
  • fine tune the box exercise focusing on turn on the forehand in motion and keeping him straight between the corners
  • use circles to get him to pick up the correct canter lead
  • use gentle jaw flexions to get him to relax when I feel him brace his neck
  • take up stronger contact to help him balance
  • work on leg yield at the trot
 Beautiful, sweet clarity. This is a plan I can stick to without fear, confusion begone!


  1. See, no need to worry, you had the answers all along. You've got help when you need it so just ask and you shall receive. The main thing is to just take one step at a time and when Coriander is comfortable doing one movement go on to the next. Then go back and reinforce what he already knows.

    Seriously, I think it's great you're taking lessons on an advanced horse. You will know when to ask Coriander for this stuff and you will know what it feels like and how to get it. Don't over think everything and don't freak out about his training is about the only advice I can give since I'm not a trainer.

    1. Alexandra Kurland has a saying that most people don't give any given exercise enough time to see all the good that can come out of it. Every time she says that I think "Yup, that's totally me." I just can't stand going slow but I know I need to learn to love it. The problem is going slow gives me more time to over think everything.

  2. Video lessons! That is a great idea!

    I used to ride dressage in the dim and distant past, and I still go by the scales of training, except that I would be inclined to put straightness a lot lower on the pyramide, because connection and impulsion can be very difficult if the horse is very crooked or one-sided.

    My old dressage trainer had two things he told us were even more important with young horses, and I still go by those too: the first one is "the walk is the hardest gait to improve but the easiest to ruin" and the second one is "give each gait time: don't trot until your horse is working well in walk, don't canter until your horse is working well at the trot."

    1. Katie said exactly the same thing about the walk. I like the second quote except that I don't know enough to judge when each gait is good enough to move up to the next.

  3. I think Sandra's advice about giving each gait time is very wise.

    Even though you can't practice the movements you're doing with the friesian on Coriander just yet, the improvements in your seat and aids will surely help when you're riding him.

    I would love to find out more about your video lessons - my trainer moved to NY last week. I'm trying to locate someone who teaches classical, and the closest so far is six hours away. Frankly - that's out of my budget with the price of fuel... not to mention that I'm without saddle / saddle shopping. :)

    1. Katie's site is here: http://www.fielddayllc.com/index.html. Or you can look at her blog "Reflections on Riding." Katie has told me more than once that she's a Baucherist at heart so I think you'll probably like her too.

  4. You're doing great work. For me, lengthenings come from the seat and the degree of my relaxation/give in my back, not from leg - leg is more for cueing. I lengthen by allowing movement and shorten by restricting movement, if that makes any sense - no hand or leg invovled.

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback :)

      I'll remember your tip about the seat, that makes a lot of sense to me. I've actually been questioning both of my instructors about how best to cue for extensions to make it totally different from the cue to transition up. It just seems like it could confuse the heck out of your horse to just use your leg for both.

  5. I think that I would let the extensions go for now. That is pretty difficult stuff. I like your trainer's recommendations. I would probably do leg yield at the walk, but then use the trot to establish rhythm and tempo. It will be easier for you to address his straightness and suppleness when he relaxes in a steady tempo. Before you know it, he will start to feel like the advanced horse you are riding. :)

    1. Yup, I totally agree and actually decided this morning that I wasn't going to worry about that at all. We'll work on that later when he's ready :)

  6. It sounds like you're doing great to be at a point where you can self-correct like this. It's hard to know what to do with a completely green horse. I was watching Chris Cameron on RFD last night (taped episode) and he was working a green mare. He wanted her to slow down and relax, so worked on getting her to have a nice relaxed walk, nice slow relaxed trot, nice, slow relaxed lope. I suppose this is the "tempo" portion?

  7. All the referrals from your blog led me to pop over...and now I see why there were so many! You have a wonderfully supportive community of readers.

    I love our "virtual lessons." I think one of the best things about them is that they provide a record -- video and notes that can help you with schooling plans and track your progress.
    You're on the right track, Shannon!

    The "Pyramid of Training" is an especially good guide for making sure that you aren't overlooking the basics, but it's more fluid than it looks in the chart and it can be taken too literally. For example, no matter how relaxed your horse is at the canter and walk, when you begin schooling canter-walk, some amount of tension will naturally develop. The key is to reward the try, return to relaxation, but understand that you won't have 100% relaxation when you teach your horse new things.

    Philippe Karl has an interesting discussion of the Pyramid in his book, "Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage." Among other things, he points out that "rhythm can only result from work that sets up relaxation and flexibility (suppleness) in forwards movement." I wholly agree.

    As you work on your lengthenings (extensions will only come later), it can help to maintain the rhythm but think about freedom in the shoulders rather than thinking of moving all four legs. The lengthened gait should maintain the purity of the trot rhythm as well as the tempo (the rate of repetition of the rhythm) but should cover more ground.

    Keep up the good work!