Dressage Lesson Recap: Collected Canter, Walk Transitions and Lateral Work

Saturday I as finally able to get a jump school in, our first since the cross country schooling over 3 weeks ago. I waffled for a bit over how high I wanted to jump before deciding to set them up between 2’10” and 3’1″, essentially schooling Novice height. I worked on really planning our takeoff spot well in advance, and riding to that spot, which ended up being really helpful in getting our distances. We also got to school a one stride gymnastic which started out exuberant but ended on a really happy note for the both of us.

One stride (second element in an oxer) and a couple other 3' verticals

One stride (second element in an oxer) and a couple other 3′ verticals

Then Sunday I had my long awaited dressage lesson. We’ve been working hard on the collected canter work and walk-canter transitions, and I was eager to get some feedback on our progress. Ali was super kind in videoing the lesson, so I could actually see what it looked like.

One of the themes of the lessons were transitions from the halt to walk and trot. As basic as it sounds, this ended up being a really hard thing for us. By keeping Foster very round and flexed to the inside, I was taking away his use of underneck and asking him to step forward from behind. Many times though, my cues were misunderstood or muddy (especially because I tend to take my leg off in the halt, so when I reapply it he starts to think lateral movement rather than forward) and instead of going forward we would skew sideways, or even backwards, as he tried to understand what I was asking. We started pairing this exercise with the idea of a mental ‘reset’: whenever Foster starts to lean or pull, I halt. Then, depending on how soft he is in my hands, I flip his nucal ligament (the ligament the runs along the crest) from left to right by changing flexion. Then off we go again, with the idea that this is a more relaxed, mentally fresh horse.

Flipping the Nucal Ligament from side to side

Otherwise, we continued to check in with lateral work throughout the lesson- leg yields, lots of shoulder-in to keep thinking about lifting his shoulders, haunches-in (which is super easy for him, and only needs to be practiced sporadically), and shoulder-fore. Many of these movements are becoming more confirmed, and so we discussed keeping him flexible through the movement- as in not just putting him in position and keeping him there, but using parts of the movement/position to keep him adjustable as we work on other things. All about getting more finesse and control for a greater dressage picture.

Lastly, before this gets too long, we revisited collected canter. Eliza commented on our improvement, and Foster is definitely starting to understand the concept of compressing and sitting down, though he still can’t hold it for a long time. For myself, I need to really sit back in order to help him in the movement and put his weight in his hindquarters. We discussed practicing the movement going forward- there are two ways I should approach this in a schooling. The first is practicing the transition from walk to collected canter- focusing on the transition and only staying in collected canter briefly so he learns the idea, but I can repeat this 8-10 times in one session. Or, I focus on the canter itself, getting the transition then staying in collected canter for a couple quality circles before coming back to walk or trot. Gradually he will gain strength and be able to put it all together for longer periods of time, but for now, the game plan is to break it down.

Since as usual, my lesson recaps get a little lengthy, here’s my bullet points of things to remember!

  • Leg yield right- think about flexing right in order to control the shoulder (so he doesn’t fall to the right too quickly)
  • Turn my shoulders with the shoulder-in right
  • Flex my elbows, keep them by my side (this drives me nuts watching the videos!)
  • Keep leg on into halt (why haven’t I learned this by now…sheesh)
  • Sit back in collected canter but don’t let go with body

Foster gets to see a chiropractor tonight (lucky boy), which I’m guessing will be followed by a couple days off if the pattern follows. It will be interesting to hear her thoughts on his pelvis and crookedness in general. Post Wednesday with the results!

Frozen Dressage

Last night we had one of those rare amazing rides where it feels too good to be true. After a kind of crappy walk warm-up (mostly due to me stopping to let him look at people walking in the dark, since I hadn’t unthawed enough to sit a spook if it happened), we had a beautiful trot warm-up, light in the bridle and nicely forward.

stall photos to break up text

stall photos to break up text

I decided to work on our [dressage quality] walk-canter transitions, starting with the right lead as his departs tend to be better in that direction. A couple times he tried to pull himself into the canter with his neck, but was quickly rewarded when he learned to stay soft into the transition. We were able to replicate our success several times, then repeat the process to the left.

From there I was easily able to transition into collected canter work, which was surprisingly satisfactory. So satisfactory that I wondered if maybe forward was becoming an issue, so we played with lengthenings- which while not huge, were still there even in the small arena.

Hopefully actual riding photos coming soon

Hopefully actual riding photos coming soon

I couldn’t put my finger on why he just ‘got it’ last night, especially since it was so gosh-forsaken cold and we should have been icicles instead of pretend dressage superstars. Maybe because I was more deliberate in my cues? Quicker with praise? In any case, Foster will be getting the evening off tonight while I get whisked away to the husband’s holiday work party (not really, I’m the DD), and then Sunday we will hopefully have a dressage lesson and validate whether we’ve been doing it wrong the whole time!