Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dressage Schooling the Grey Guy

As much as Griffin and I both adore and love jumping, it's on the back burner for awhile, taking second place to dressage work.

Austen asked me a few weeks ago if I'd be interested in riding with Stephen again in December. I checked the weekend, checked my schedule, checked the resort opening date (it is opening weekend, but I can probably take Saturday off), begged the weather gods to cooperate with me, and gave her a tentative "yes" - heavily dependent upon the weather cooperating.

I don't know if they'll let us into the clinic like this. Austen, I'mma need to borrow a wash stall for an hour.
Dirt aside, I see definite improvement in his muscling.

I didn't dream I'd be lessoning again until spring, so given this chance, I decided I had to take it. Having homework to work on through the winter would be a-ma-zing.

Key homework points from my August lesson with Stephen were:
  • Get Grif to accept the contact more 
  • Get him working through his back more
  • Strengthen his body
  • Ride him forward and get him more accepting/reactive to my leg
  • More bend
  • Keep my hands steady and use my abs more
  • Grif needs to understand what my seat is asking
I have been practicing each of these points, and more.

I now have a horse that:
  • Accepts contact more readily and keeps it for nearly our whole riding session (with ample stretching breaks).
  • Swings through his back in the most lovely, comfortable-to-ride way for half or more of our rides.
  • Is obviously stronger and carrying himself better.
  • Moves off my leg into the trot and canter with less asking than ever before on most days (and it is only fair to note that on the day of the clinic it was stupid humid, stupid hot, and Griffin was very uncharacteristically sluggish for him; at home, he's a very eager beaver). On most days, we have a stellar (for us) halt to canter transition and walk to canter transition. Canter is our best gait.
  • BENDS. It isn't perfect all the time, but Houston, we've got bend! We did NOT have this prior. Unfortunately, Griffin sometimes uses his newfound skill to evade, but we'll work through that with time. New issues mean we're making progress.
  • I would like to say that I think this is better, but eyes on the ground are the only thing that will determine for certain, and I'm almost always riding alone. (Though, in the photos below - which I selected solely for how Griffin was performing and not myself - my hands are in about the same position for every hopefully this is the case for my next lesson!)
  • Griffin is more reactive to my seat than before. I have spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks really focusing on the biomechanics of my seat. The absolute best rides I get from Griffin are when I'm bareback, so I've been paying mind to how I'm using myself differently bareback than in my [treeless] saddle. I have definitely pinpointed things and our saddle work is improving as a result!
I'm having a lot of fun, though I do wish I could have eyes on the ground more often and/or the opportunity to have lessons closer at hand. I can't even video myself any more because it's too dark too soon. I don't mind riding in the lack of light, but as far as videoing goes, it sucks.

Griffin Dressage-4
Watching the dogs

At Austen's recommendation, Griffin and I have even begun working through training level tests. The first day, things went SUPER well and Griffin even offered some of the best free walk he's ever offered. He was also riding into the corners nicely at each gait, responding nicely to my leg asking him to bend through them. Our geometry definitely needs some work with our circles though!

Lauren was out one day when I schooled Griffin, and so I had her take some photos for me. She definitely isn't as jazzed about watching me school dressage as she is watching me jump (don't blame her), but she did get some media for which I am grateful. Unfortunately, the Universe being as it is, I had one of the worst rides I'd had on Griffin in weeks the day that the camera was present. To his credit/defense, it was the first week of gun season and we're slam-bam in the middle of a very active hunting area with guns going off pretty constantly.

Griffin Dressage-6
I am intently focusing on my seat and breathing here, hoping Griffin will get with the program.

Griffin Dressage-10
Looking down and talking to Griffin under my breath, begging him to let go of his issues for 10 minutes.

As discussed with Austen, throwing my weight too much to gain this movement, but at
least he's capable of it. I feel confident we'll get it in the correct manner in the near future.
We've definitely done better on other days! But it's important to me to share our baseline -
no matter how abysmal it is!

The above are quite representative of most of our ride. Griffin. Was. Not. Having. It. He braced nearly the entire time, was tense, and generally didn't give a flying fuck about what I wanted from him. Even our tried-and-true rapid-fire transitions involving walk-canter-halt-canter and halt-rein back-canter-walk-canter couldn't garner his attention to me for more than a few brief moments. He still braced and twisted his body to evade.

Despite this though, we did have a few nice moments.

Griffin Dressage-11
Happy horse loves to canter. In other news, I haven't a notion about what my right hand is doing.

Griffin Dressage-3
Another cantering moment. He wishes that the canter was always the correct answer.

Griffin Dressage
Look! Some semblance of BEND. Didn't have this 3 months ago.

Griffin Dressage-12
His ears tell the story here. Great concern about gun shots and dog movements and general monsters.

I'm sad that we couldn't have one of our more typical (for us) rides while I had the chance to get media, but I can't say I'm all too surprised we had a bad day the first time the camera was present in a long while. However, as I noted above, it is important to me to be able to share the bad times so that our progress means more in the future. Additionally, the issues we are having now are new issues which means PROGRESS is happening!


  1. Yay for hopefully getting some winter homework! That muddy photo made me giggle, haha. I hope Cinna never learns to love mud so much! I like the riding photos too -- somw nice moments, and they'll be fun to look back on in a year or so to see how far he's come!

  2. oh man, it's always when the cameras come out that suddenly things go a little sideways (unintentionally lol), which is part of why i'm such a junkie for always trying to record rides - to make it less and less of a "thing" (even if i think i feel fine haha).

    all the same tho Griffin definitely looks like he's thinking and like he's building some muscle in new places!! i seriously hope you can make it out for the clinic bc i'd love to watch your lesson and see how things are going!!!!

    1. You're the media queen for sure! I wish I had access to so many people who wanted to watch/take photos/video. Do a Clear Roads Dance for the clinic weekend! I don't care if snow is on the ground as long as the roads are clear and safe.

  3. Oh dear I always have awful rides when someone is there to take pictures, too!! But your good moments are looking really good and it sounds like you're making great progress!

    1. Funny how presence of media capturing does that...

  4. I love that you are pursuing dressage seriously with G. You guys both look much improved already! I love these photos, and I almost didn't recognize either one of you on your Instagram post! Can't wait for the lesson recap. Also, look how WHITE he's getting. Wow!

    1. White when he's not mud-colored! lol And yes, I am diving head first into dressage because when I bring Q back she's going to NEED to be better balanced to ever have a hope with her endurance career resuming. Endurance is driving me to dressage...funny how that happens! I definitely have come to appreciate riding a well-balanced horse though and can't imagine continuing endurance with anything but. I really enjoy a horse who listens closely to the aids and understands them - the few endurance horses I've ridden that didn't understand weren't the nicest of rides.

    2. Agreed! Dressage is SO important in endurance.

  5. New issues are awesome!! Good luck in your clinic. :D

    1. Three cheers for new problems haha - I wish I could see other aspects of my life like this.

  6. I'm so excited to see what you guys get out of this next clinic! You've clearly been working hard with him, can't wait to hear what Stephen says and what new homework you come home with :)

  7. I laughed at the caption 'Looking down and talking to Griffin under my breath, begging him to let go of his issues for 10 minutes.' It wasn't a derisive laugh more of a semi-hysterical 'I know, right?' laugh.....
    He's coming along very nicely but ye gods he's dirty in that first one....

    1. Haha, yep, I bet you know better than most! And yeah... He's disgusting. Can't wait to be at the fancy barn with hot water!

  8. He looks like he's trying to be good despite the monsters. Good luck with the clinic.

    1. He was mostly behaved - a safe ride, but a distracted one!