Friday, June 19, 2015

From Pigpen to Piaffe

In an attempt to blog more consistently, I've decided to start summing up my lessons. Theoretically, this will also help me remember them, which should help my trainer do less face palming and screaming in my lessons. Theoretically....

Yesterday's lesson started like all my lessons, with a random text from my trainer that he'd be there in 20 minutes. He likes to keep me on my toes.

We'd been having rain storms all day, and my horse looked like this when I brought him in from the pasture:

It's like he had a premonition....

Luckily, the 20 minute warning was in Trainer Standard Time and not Real Time, so I had an additional 15 minutes to get most of the mud off my horse.

*Side note: I never trust a Trainer, Farrier or Veterinarian who always shows up on time. The very nature of their business makes it difficult for a good one to adhere to a strict timetable. A consistently punctual Trainer, Farrier or Veterinarian is one that has nothing else to do and that means they either don't have any other clients, or they are half-assing their job. It's not a good sign.

Back to the lesson: It started well, in that he was pleased with my warm-up process and didn't find anything to yell at me about with it. (This is not usually the case, I am a notoriously bad warmer-upper. My usual warm up is done outside of the arena and consists of a quick trail ride and then a gallop through the neighbor's hay fields. That's an awesome warm-up process, but not really feasible at dressage shows or anywhere outside of my farm, which is why I enlist the help of my trainer in my lesson warm up. I'm trying to develop a better warm up strategy for shows and clinics and stuff.)

From the warm up we moved into collected work. I wish I could say that this involved half passes and tempis and Very Fancy Dressage Things, but the reality of training the upper levels is that you're basically doing the same circles you were doing at the lower levels, but with shorter reins and more sweating and cursing.

So we did a lot of 20, 15 and 10 meter circles while my trainer shouted at me to flex him, counter-flex him, put his haunches in, put his haunches out, and shake him all about. Basically, what he's trying to tell me is to never stop riding the horse.  This is another bad habit of mine... I swear the Dressage Brochure I read before taking up this sport said that I was supposed to be able to just sit there and look pretty while the horse did all the work. They lied! Turns out the higher you train your horse, the harder you have to ride. So much for the indolent Dressage Queen image....

And then my trainer introduced a new exercise: he asked me to leg yield at walk with my horse's haunches in. Not gonna lie, it took me a couple tries to get this one right. Leg yields are usually done with the horse straight, and wrapping my head around keeping his haunches in took some concentration. Once I had it down in both directions, he asked us to do zig-zags up and down the arena. It got Spider working into the outside rein nicely and really reaching under with his inside hind, as well as getting my brain working (always a plus). I'll be using it frequently from now on.

From there, we went back to our circles. Endless circles of flexing and half halting and remembering to ride every step........ until my trainer randomly shouted, "Now piaffe steps".

*Record scratch*

Spider does not know piaffe steps. I mean, he's offered them up accidentally, but this is not something he's trained to do. But, when your trainer says "Now piaffe steps", you piaffe steps! It took us about two rounds on a 20 meter circle to figure it out, with my trainer yelling encouragement in the form of, "Ride him like a Grand Prix horse" and "No, too much hand", "More leg", "Too tense", "Relax!!!". And then we got it! It wasn't good, it was only just the very beginning of beginning steps, but to ride it, when asked for, on a horse that I have trained myself was better than any time I have ridden it on a Grand Prix horse.

I could have ended the lesson there and died happy, but instead we went on to some more canter work. Not gonna lie, it was a blur because I was still thinking about my little baby half piaffe steps. So friggin' cool. Maybe those damned circles aren't so bad after all.


  1. I loved this post. I think your typical warm up is perfect (I believe that Klimke suggests it too but if not him some other BNT).
    Sounds like a great lesson to me and congratulations on the baby piaffe. Maybe I'll get there someday....

  2. Lol being as I ride with a HJ trainer that believes in all sorts of haunches/fore torture exercises, I have lots of empathy. Sounds fun, I'm starting to appreciate dressage-y work

  3. um yea that actually sounds pretty awesome - congrats on the piaffe steps!!

  4. I rode with and older classical master trainer who felt galloping a dressage horse was an essential, so nothing wrong with your warmup. Getting those piaffe steps is a real "high," Good for you and good for Spider. FEI, here you come.

  5. Hmmmm you are making me question my desire to be kickass at dressage. I thought it got fun eventually?

  6. I like to "coast" a little bit during my hunter rounds at strategic intervals like right after the fence and around the corners. Makes my life easier... but doesn't make it easier for my horse or make for a very pretty round -le sigh-

  7. Wait...I did not know it was possible for there to be MORE cursing?! But then I don't do straight dressage, that being one reason, ROFL -- but I HAVE perfected the art of making sure the judge's car windows are rolled up or we're at the opposite end of the arena when I my horse in a test.

    Ok, fine, I did yell, "WHOA, GODDAMMIT!!" that ONE TIME, right before C when the judge had her window wide open. Hey, at least she got a giggle out of it (I know because I heard her, it's a good thing I have no pride left at all, LOL).


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