Thursday, December 8, 2016

Lessons with a Grand Prix trainer

Last weekend, I was invited to bring Taran up to a clinic with a local-to-Texas Grand Prix dressage trainer. Since the weather was nasty and I wasn't going to be able to ride at home, I figured I might as well go somewhere with an indoor and take lessons from someone new. And I'm really glad I did!

There are a million couple problems that are keeping us from progressing with 2nd level. We're working hard on these at home, so I was up front about things with GP trainer. Might as well air all your dirty laundry right off, you know?

  • I love to pull with my left hand (this is a theme)
  • Taran tends not to be even on his right shoulder, and as a result, he's not really in my right rein and therefore not really straight. I'm constantly trying to manage this and not doing a very good job of it, but it's our biggest problem right now because not being straight and even makes everything else 2x harder. 
After watching me WTC, GP trainer asked to hop up on T to see how he rode. I'm all for this, because sometimes what you feel from the saddle is very different from what you see on the ground. She was super complimentary of T, said he was trained very correctly and that she could feel what I was talking about. However, she felt that the issue with his right shoulder was more that he carries BOTH shoulders to the outside when tracking right. I could easily see what she meant in the videos, and when we addressed that issue, suddenly he filled up my right rein and everything felt more even. She also stressed how important it is to ride T with his poll at the highest point, so that his shoulders free up and he doesn't dig himself into a trench. 

First up, trot work. She wanted him to go with his shoulders to the inside and a little leg yield on the circle, but my problem with this is often that he tends to throw his haunches out and that's not correct. She wanted me to manage his steps so that he didn't have the chance to throw his body around, and we did a LOT of asking him to slow the trot from my seat. You can see in the video how he gets a little quick and on his forehand and then I sit and he comes back, back and forth, because I'm not so great at managing that slower, more collected trot yet (why hello, abs, it's so nice to meet you owwww).

Slow that waaaaay downnnnnn...

You'll also hear her talking about "moving the bit", and by that she means just a tiny flex of my ring finger. I get really stuck and stiff with my left arm (pulling, anyone?) and Taran responds by setting his jaw and poll on the left side. Simply flexing that one finger reminded me to stay loose in my left arm and as a result, he stayed much more supple. At 1:00 you can see me try to do a 10 m circle right, but it took me forever to get him off the track to do it because he was so stuck on the left rein. In my next 10 m circle at 1:45, my left rein/arm is softer and we're able to execute the circle much more easily.

She also refers to "fluffing up his shoulders," which is kind of like fluffing sheets when you make the bed. I bring him back with my seat, keep my hands up and light (NO PULLING), and add inside leg to encourage him to step under (explanation is at 2:10).  

For the canter, I uh, learned that I've been asking for the canter wrong for my entire life. Did anyone else not know that you cue with your inside leg when the inside hind is reaching forward? Bueller? Right. So uh, need to fix this so that my canter transitions don't suck. 

Note angry ears and mane shake, because cueing correctly means he has to sit down and do the transition correctly too. And that's HARRRRD.

His canter, y'all. It was SO NICE at times. He felt so balanced and steady. Annnnd then he would get tired and/or I wouldn't "refresh" the canter enough and we'd lose it. Or I'd forget to turn his shoulders, or he'd get quick, or something. He's really trying with this new canter, but it's super hard for both of us. Basically I need to constantly ask him for a baby leg yield to keep the inside hind working, but then wait with my seat (AND DON'T PULL) so I don't let the canter get bigger.

If you want to see a great example of shoulders falling to the outside, check out the canter depart at 1:03. Or here's the handy still sequence, where you can see juuuuust how much his shoulders aren't in line with his haunches:

Finally, we did a little work on medium trot (well, we also worked on shoulder in, haunches in, and half pass, but that that's not on video). To set up, we did a lot of forward/back with "small steps" - again, no pulling, but all off my seat and keeping his poll up. 

Although our mediums mostly sucked, there were a few steps here and there, at the very beginning of some of the lines, where you could see his shoulders really lift up and out (1:26, 1:58). That's totally new for him - normally his mediums feel like he's plowing a trench. But the combination of keeping his poll UP and having him take shorter steps off my seat made for some sort of magic where he could actually use his shoulders. GP trainer made the comment that he's not quite sure what to do with himself, but if we keep asking for a few steps here and there, he'll get stronger and understand that he can use his body better.

I really enjoyed my lessons and got a TON out of them, and I'm hoping to attend clinics with her regularly in the new year. She's about 2.5 hours from me but sometimes teaches closer. Her methods are very complimentary to my current trainer, and I think that learning from both of them would really allow us to progress even more quickly. Plus, she's hilarious (sadly not caught on film), which adds an extra element of awesome to any ride. 

Poor Taran. Life as a pasture ornament was so much easier than that of an aspiring 2nd level horse!


  1. I'm a little confused about the canter transition description if you want to explain further in another post!

  2. I have the same question as Micaylah because now I'm also afraid I've been asking for the canter yet wrong my entire life..... 😂

  3. Uhhhh me too, have I been asking for canter wrong my whole life?

  4. I think the canter transition comment is interesting. I've heard trainers tell someone to lift the inside seat bone during the transition, which would probably functionally include the inside leg. My trainer does a distinct inside leg cue, but I was under the impression it was a personal choice. Very interested to hear more!

  5. This is great! This lesson sounds really productive. I also use the "fluff" method with Hampton - especially right before a medium. Trot into the corner, point on diagonal - fluff fluff and GO.

  6. I love his hints of medium trot lofty!!! I kind of thought the canter transition was a personal choice- I've seen it taught/done both ways.

  7. So awesome to have a higher-level complimentary trainer within striking distance.

  8. I've been getting really locked in my left arm too, I am totally going to try the ring finger exercise today in my lesson and see how it goes lol

  9. Sounds like a cool clinic. I'm really sorry though, but I can't think of anything other than the urban dictionary version of fluffing when I hear that word. I will also add to the list of people who would like more information on this whole inside leg to ask for canter thing.

  10. I love reading these clinic recaps -- they're getting me so pumped up for my first one tomorrow!

  11. I was taught the same as the trainer is describing. However, for me I had to really concentrate to get the timing right so that I was asking when the inside hind leg was on the ground. Probably the reason I had so much trouble with canter transitions. lol
    T looks SO good!

  12. I just love working with higher level dressage clinicians that can add to the work we're already doing with my regular trainer. Love the "fluffy" shoulders bit too, esp as I often feel like my guy is plowing a trench too haha

  13. Canter transitions are so fascinating. In my one dressage lesson months back, there was actually a brief discussion about how many different approaches there are to canter transitions. Some say haunches in, some say shoulder in, some say inside leg, others say outside leg, etc. I do think that asking as the inside hind is up and about to strike is something that I've consistently heard, but I've been taught more to ask with the outside leg and support with the inside.