A March Lesson, the write up

In the aftermath of Nancy's visit last weekend and the high probability of Guinness coming back into the work this week, I thought it was high time to review my March lesson!

As always, Nancy gave me so much information that I'm still working on it. I'll try to break down what we worked on here, and then do another post detailing how working on the information on my own brings up different responses and understanding.

The first part of the session started with the trot. Nancy had us run through some shoulder in, and discovered that Guinness wasn't really on my right outside rein. Instead of moving his shoulder, I've actually been doing a haunches out. Whoops! Since the shoulder in off the left outside rein is actually pretty solid, and I have a lot of problems with hollowness to the right, we decided to put Guinness in boot camp. Right side boot camp.

Standing 6 feet from the rail, Nancy asked me to make a small circle in front of her at the walk. She had me focus on turning the shoulders with the outside rein, maintaining suppleness and bend with the inside rein, and asking for the inside hind to stay active with the inside leg. Unfortunately, Guinness threw all sorts of "pig fits" at injustice of being forced to use his right side properly. Nancy asked me to shift my right seatbone so that I was "sitting on that shoulder", and that seemed to be the key. We probably did 20 tiny circles just like that. By the end we were completing circles nearly completely off the outside rein.

Then we trotted the same exercise in an 8 meter circle. That's when it all fell apart. It was back to the beginning with fits from Pig and me having to "sit on his shoulder". This was super hard, and I actually was pretty frustrated with the whole process. Why couldn't he just GET it? It's so easy the other way.

I think Nancy could tell I was frustrated, and she mentioned that "this is hard for him, and that's okay.' She reminded me that it's okay for something to be hard for him, and for him to tell me it's hard. It's not okay to get mad or frustrated with him just because something is difficult. At the same time, I have to stay tough and make him do it. So, little Pig-fits need to be met with something more like a laugh, a "that's okay" and a re-affirming aid. We did eventually get the circle, and the rest of the lesson I could feel how this exercise had really loosened his whole right side. He traveled much straighter for the rest of the day. I'll be throwing these in during every ride for a while.

Finally, we moved on to the counter canter. I'm sure you guys remember how much we've been struggling with this movement and how stressed out Pig gets when I don't let him change. Armed with the "it's okay for it it be hard" attitude, I felt a little more ready to tackle this without getting too overwhelmed.

Nancy watched us attempt the counter canter squiggle from 1st 3, and fail pretty miserably. She immediately picked up on some things, and we went right back to working on picking up the canter correctly off the seat. I've been working on this, but felt like something wasn't quite right - apparently that was true. She worked on making sure that my seat bone was actually light on the inside, which was key to moving on to the counter canter. When our canter transitions were marginally better, we moved on.

When working on the counter canter, I'd been doing all sorts of contortions to try to convince Pig to stick to the correct lead. Nancy immediately nixed that, having me sit up straight and look right at the path between Pig's ears. Then, she reminded me that the canter should be ridden light on the inside seat bone (think about scooping up the canter) and that the outside seatbone keeps that outside leg on the ground. At the counter canter, the inside seatbone becomes the movement leader. It becomes the "pointer". So, I "point" with the inside seatbone, and turn with the outside shoulder. The outside seatbone keeps the lead. I have to stay upright and not collapse my abs or shoulders or I'll lose it.

Got all that?

It was a lot of instruction, but we actually started to get it. When we had a couple of good squiggles, we ended for the day.

Take aways?
- Ensure sure the outside rein is actually controlling the outside shoulder. If not, take the time to reestablish before trying to continue.
- Remember to "point" with the inside seatbone at the canter, and sit with the outside. Don't tip or fall down with the upper body.
- Practice being light on the inside seat bone to pick up the canter.
- Make sure that one side of my body isn't giving aids that are much stronger than the other. For example, my right leg tends to clamp on all the time. Try taking it all the way off if it seems nothing is working.

Guinness watches the lesson after ours at Irus.
Now, for some other learning links!

Thoroughbred training expert and Chronicle of the Horse blogger Paige Cade reminds us all to check your emotional baggage at the ... um ... mounting block. This is something I struggle with. I know that when I can clear my mind before getting on, my rides are much better.

Anyone who get's to go to the Thoroughbreds For All event in Lexington next week is super lucky, and I'm probably viciously jealous of them. You should all go. Seriously. Check it out here.

A couple of months ago, Practical Horseman ran an article titled "Retraining Thoroughbreds for Dressage". While geared mostly for OTTBs, the article has some great advice for any horse and rider combo. It's absolutely worth a study. Find it here!


  1. Counter canter ... something we're still working on. And it only gets worse! :0)

  2. I'm sure! It takes so much strength, but it's such a good tool.


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