This is a canter we can work with!

Finally! We’re developing roundness at the canter. Yay!

I’ve really been busting my hump lately, and tonight we took another couple steps forward.  I was able to replicate the fleeting roundness at the canter I felt over the weekend, and I even held it together.   A round canter feels ENTIRELY different.  It is dreamy!  So that’s what the fuss is all about.  I get it! 🙂  And I was thrilled when Christy said “Now this is a canter we can work with,” and then started talking about getting out at Training.  This year.


Much remains to be done.  Everything needs to be smoother, more balanced, and more consistent. But there were a few other high points this evening.

Round downward canter-trot transition

Starting the transition downward

Two strides later – no upflung head!  We stay round, steady, forward and quiet.

Starting to push the working trot out:

Oh! And stretchy trot. Forgot to mention we did that too! Woot!

So, this was an awesome ride. One of my best ever. And there was a secret ingredient.  Forward.  The horses were in all day today, and Derbs was fresh.  Having ready access to forward gears made everything work better.  I have to continue developing (and riding and encouraging and reinforcing and rewarding) forward thinking behavior from the Derbster.

Here’s a look at some video from late in the ride.  I was really running out of gas and it shows.  However, we still got some nice moments.  It’s a definite improvement.


About six months ago, after riding Derby for me while I was away, Christy commented to me that he “felt just like Jag.”   We train our horses every time we ride, and it stands to reason that they quickly reflect how they’re ridden in how they go.  In this case, Christy was saying (among other things) that Derby wasn’t terribly responsive to aids, because I wasn’t requiring immediate, crisp responses.

I’ve ridden enough different horses to know what she’s talking about.  Generally speaking, horses that Christy has trained (like Liam and Maddie) are unbelievably fun to ride – they are so light and so responsive that that it almost feels like they’re reading your mind.  They respond immediately to the the most gentle of aids.

On the other end of the spectrum are wily lesson horses and horses ridden by beginners.  These horses are good at defending themselves against inconsistent riding, unsteady hands and other rider errors that are uncomfortable for the horse.  They aren’t terribly fun horses to ride.  You have to really work hard to get them to relax and work correctly. In my case, I dulled Derby’s responsiveness and dialed back his forwardness.  I’ve been working on improving my riding – and what upping my expectations of him.

Today we had a fun ride.  Christy and I met at the barn in the morning, to ride before going to Lamplight to watch the freestyles.   It wasn’t terribly hot, so we took advantage of the weather and rode outside.   Keeping my lessons in mind, I focused on keeping Derby on the bit, and holding the contact in order to define clearly where I wanted him to go.  Over all, he made me work here and there but it was a pretty decent ride.  We rode pieces of patterns and transitions, and I was getting nice work and good responses.  We also had some good canter work, doing 20 M circles and then laps.  And during one of those canters, I decided to apply what I’ve been doing in the trot – closing my fingers and closing my legs to hold the contact and encourage the horse forward.  And for a moment – a fleeting moment, he rounded and his back came up.  And that fleeting moment, felt great.   I’ve not been working much at all on the canter, and it was neat to influence the gait.

We cooled out a bit, and then I took Derbs in to untack.  I bent down to remove my spurs before taking him to the wash rack … and found that I’d forgotten to put them on!   His responsiveness is absolutely improving.  That was a nice ride, especially without the added emphasis of spurs.

Christy is going to get the chance to get on Derby again in September.  I hope she can feel an improvement in him this time around!

Separately, the show was interesting.  We watched a number of rides, from First through Fourth, and then a couple FEI freestyles.   As is always the case with a rated show, everywhere you look you see serious equine eye candy.  But only a scant handful of rides showed real connection and throughness.  We saw a lot of leg movers, gaping mouths, tense backs and lateral walks (a serious fault.)  Sure, when you’re watching, you have no idea of the extenuating circumstances the riders are dealing with when they go down the centerline.  I get it – a lot of horses (Derby included) are far different at shows then they are at home.  Still, we saw a lot of upper level and pro rides, and we could see the problems that stem from not really having the horse through.  Tempis didn’t have jump, extensions didn’t have reach and thrust.  Obviously, I’m light years from riding these movements, and I’m not saying this to impugn the riders I saw today.   But I did come away from the show with a new appreciation for how important connection and throughness are for a good ride.

You get what you ask for…and what you accept

We worked on bend tonight, and made some progress.

I’m finally getting my strength back to the point where I can start worrying about other things than not banging the saddle when I post or steadying my hands.  Gait quality has been better of late, but I’m still allowing Derby to go around with his nose poked out like a little hunter.  So staying round, through, bending and forward are very much on my mind these days.

Christy really zeroed in on a couple key issues tonight when it comes to bending and staying round and on the aids.  I’m either not asking for the response I want, or I’m accepting a “meh” response from the horse.   In other words (and this sure sounds familiar) I need to “fix it now.” Some key takeaways from tonight that I must remember:

  • Use the inside rein.  If he doesn’t respond to a softening of the inside rein, and continues to hang, get busy with the inside leg while insisting with the inside rein (e.g. a direct rein).  My desire to not hang on the inside rein has gone a bit too far.  I am allowed to use it.
  • When Derby feels “stuck” and braced against me, I need to mix it up.  Flex him, do serpentines and leg yields – anything to get that neck unbraced and softer.
  • Do as little as you can do but as much as you need to do to get the response you want – but be mindful.  If the horse doesn’t respond when I ask nicely, I have to next ask not-so-nicely.  Accepting no response results in a dull horse that’s dead to the aids.

This video from my lesson captures some of Christy’s advice to me.  By the end of the lesson I was getting much better and faster responses from Derby, and we really started to get it together.  This clip is still chock full of the uglies but I love it because it captures Christy’s advice, and shows that when I follow it, I get the responses that I want from the horse. Until, at least, I stop riding in the last seconds and collapse …

I had to work my butt off but by the end of the ride we managed to get ourselves together more consistently.  Overall, I’m happy with the progress recently, especially with the improvement in the horse’s gaits.  We had a really nice canter tonight that felt fresh and forward, and the trot work across the board has also improved.  I’m putting myself into almost-full training and am excited about my ride tomorrow.  Progress is so motivating. 🙂



Fix it — NOW

As you may imagine, I’m pretty happy that Derbs didn’t need surgery after all.  While I would never hesitate to put the horse first, nonetheless, I’m really glad that we’re not heading into weeks of stall rest – especially as others are prepping for a schooling show at Silverwood in early May!

I really dialed things back pre-surgery, figuring that if he was going to be stallbound for a while, it would be better to not ramp up his fitness levels immediately prior to the time off.  So we did easy rides.  Now, however, it’s officially go time.  We need to balance getting to work with not over-doing things.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, and I took the afternoon off to deal with the logistics of returning Derby to Silver Fern, and to hang out and enjoy the day.  I watched Christy take Remy for a spin while Derby had some turn out time, then I brought him in and tacked up.   I decided to try using my Perfect Balance saddle pad with the new, thinner inserts I had purchased recently, but after about 15 minutes of really crappy work with no forward, I hopped off and put my old fleece pad on, and took Derby outside.

Things improved but by that time we were full on into feeding time – the other horses were being brought in, everyone was calling to everyone, and the parking lot was filling up.  It turned into a good test of my ability to deal with a distracted horse.

In my lessons, whenever Derby catches me out and pops his nose up, inverts or lets a shoulder bulge, Christy is on my case, insisting that I “Fix that! Fix it now!”  I practiced “fixing it” with Derby, getting busy with my inside leg, and really concentrating on not restricting him with unyielding hands.  It took some doing but eventually I had a much more pliant horse, and got some decent trot going both directions.

Tonight I had lesson, and things went pretty well as we warmed up.  As we got going. Christy started to ask me to “fix” certain things.  Get a decent trot. Make him rounder.  Add more bend in the corners.  Get those back legs going!   I knew I had to up the ante on the quality, so I went back to a key lesson from the Dover clinic last year.  Every corner is an opportunity to half halt and rebalance.

Going into the short side, I half-halted, applied inside leg, softening the inside rein while making sure not to throw the outside rein away.  “Better, that’s better…” the boss commented, as I held a smaller trot gait down the short side, half halting again before the corner, then adding bend.  “That looks good!” was the ensuing comment.

Derby started to run out of gas as we did some circles, so Christy asked for a canter to see if it would wake him up.  I sat, and asked, and happily, the canter quality was decent, my lower leg stayed still and when we transitioned downward, we had some nice trot.  A few minutes later, we did it again, then switched directions. I was really happy that we got the right lead correctly both times (that had been a little sticky for us) and that over all, my position was decent.  I’m glad that’s not fallen apart in the time off!

We’re doing another lesson tomorrow, and I’m going to try to get out to the barn early on Friday morning for a ride, before taking the next two days off.  I’m just so glad be riding, versus nursing a bored, ouchy, stall-bound pony!




Quality begets quality

It took some work but we got a canter with some energy. But it shouldn't take so much work.

I scampered out to the barn tonight, eager to ride.  Derbs seemed to be ready to go too, abandoning his hay and standing by his stall door as I fetched his tack and set out his boots and brushes.

We started as we always do, walking, and he came onto the bit nicely and was moving easily off my seat bones.  I moved him into a trot, and rode in two point practicing some of my new skills from last night while he cleared his pipes.  Once we were ready to go, I asked him to move out as we were tracking left, and I loved the response I got when I closed my calves on his barrel and increased the elevation of my post.  He surged forward at first asking.  After a couple laps I asked for the canter and he again responded promptly, but then dropped to a trot before I asked for the downward transition.  We reorganized and cantered again.  This time I paid attention to my postion, keeping my hips open and swinging.   This time Derby held the canter until I asked for the downward transition.

I switched direction, starting again with trot work, and paying attention to bend, as we were now going right, and I’m continuing to have some issues this direction.  To try to get through this rough patch, I’m really trying to be as deliberate – and correct – as possible going right.   We did some big trot/ little trot, and then I asked Derbs to move out, and got another nice response.  However, when I moved into doing some serpentines, my energy started to peter out.

At that point I noticed that Christy was wrapping up her lesson, and her next one was running a bit late.  I asked her if she could give me a few minutes coaching, and she said sure, since my lesson last night had been been a bit short.

We started on a 20 meter circle, and Christy started to fix our trot, insisting first on better quality.  At this point, we were really lacking energy, and I’ve been struggling with maintaining forward gears when we’re doing something other than blasting down the long side.

She reminded me to hold my outside rein, get busy with my inside leg, and soften the inside rein to encourage bend, while also insisting on more, more, more forward.  She had us spiral in and leg yield out.  We finally put it together, and then I heard “Sit sit ask.”  I did as she she commanded, and while the transition was ugly, at least I got the right lead, and we found some solid energy.    We transitioned down, and did it all again.

I was pretty happy with the canter quality – with Christy’s coaching, I was able to really engage Derby’s inside hind.

It was a great ride and the fifteen minutes of torture coaching was invaluable.

There’s always something

A nice moment. We're working a small stretch, he's staying uphill, and that inside hind is engaged.

Christy and I had an interesting moment tonight, as I was working on developing and keeping Derby really engaged on a circle.  She started talking about softening my aids, specifically my spur.  Huh?  I wasn’t spurring and said so.

Diplomatic silence from the middle of the ring, accompanied by a raised eyebrow.


Well, God love her for having a high enough opinion of my riding to assume that I am in full control of my extremities.  Sorry to disappoint, Christy.  I’m not.   We stopped what we were doing and zeroed in on my leg.  It turns out that I’ve been egging Derbs on with my spur almost constantly, when I was happily under the illusion that I was keeping my aids quiet and deliberate.

Um. Awesome.

Looking at the videos, I cringe. I’ve got my spurs in Derby’s side more often than not.   Sure, they’re rounded, but they still don’t feel good.   The last thing I want to do is make him dead to my aids, and it sure looks like I’m on my way to desensitizing him to my spur. Yikes.  I’m putting the Tom Thumbs back on.  Developing a steady leg capable of delivering ONLY deliberate aids is now job one.

The posting-with-too-much-weight-on-my-foot problem still persists, and it’s contributing significantly to the unsteadiness in my lower leg.  It’s not reasonable for me to think that this issue would have been fixed a scant week since I started tipping my butt up into two point, letting my stirrups rattle on my feet as I hold my weight with my thighs, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

My review of tonight’s ride did reveal a couple bright spots.  For the most part, my posture has really improved.  I’m keeping my hip angles open, and doing so is now coming more easily.  I don’t need to constantly catch and correct myself, at least, not to the degree I did even a week ago.  That’s a step forward.

This sort of moment gives me hope, He's really moving, he's uphill, I'm sitting straight and am keeping it together.

In other good news, Derbs is over the muscle soreness.  He was moving out well and evenly tonight.  We cantered on a circle both ways,  and the quality of the canter was good – he held the leads and was stepping under himself – so clearly, the soreness is abating.  Canter transitions on the circle are at the top of our homework list – they’re great work for his hind end, and require me to get our collective ducks in a row – forward, contact, bend, sit sit ask – and give me the time I still need to organize everything.

So, overall, a good night.  Problems persist, but that is no surprise.  There will always be something to work on!

Putting a few pieces together

Derby looks smashing in bright red, but I think we may be over-doing it a bit with this ensemble.

Riding bits and pieces of tests – a little stretchy trot here,  free walk there, etc. – is far different that putting a whole test together.I’m just barely starting to string together movements with deliberation.  Tonight we had a couple important firsts.

The big news was that I actually rode a canter transition.   I had Derby in a really nicely balanced canter – he was on the bit and it felt great.  As we rounded one end of the arena, I closed my fingers, half halted, engaged my core and kept it together as Derby transitioned to a trot.  I kept the trot going, and it wasn’t a bad trot – he was still on the bit, in fact, the contact was really good.  Still trotting, I decided to test my contact.  I fed him a little rein, and a little more, and still more.  Stretchy trot! Legit stretchy trot with contact! I rode half a lap like that, then picked him back up, and then invited him to stretch again.  Wow.  That was a great moment!

I also watched some video Liz shot a couple days ago.  She quietly got about three minutes of trot work that I didn’t know she was shooting.  We had a few nice moments but watching that video, I can clearly see that I”m still closing my hip angle.  I have to sit up and engage my core if I want that horse to move!

So, a nice win tonight, but much remains to do.