Dressage Videos

Firstly, I want to thank Tracy for setting up a fund so we can show some support for Lauren, who is bravely going through one of the hardest things imaginable. Though I haven’t seen Lauren in person since before she was married, those events have been weighing on my heart all week and it’s good to know how to help.

Secondly, I just want to say that I had every good intention of blasting you guys with videos of the majority of the lesson, but thanks to an almost kaput computer, you’ll have to settle for the highlights- Half-pass and Canter Work.

Hoping you all have a good weekend! Get ready for more lesson recaps next week ūüôā

Dressage Lesson Recap: Half-Pass, Baby Piaffe, and Canter-Walk

Phew- are you guys sick of recaps yet? Well if so- you’ll get a brief respite until next week, when you’ll find out just how hard I got my butt kicked by BC.

Monday’s lesson was much a review of the lesson before, except that I felt like I had figured out a couple key concepts regarding the half-pass and Foster had a bit better concept of the piaffe cue. The main difference was introducing canter-walk transitions and bonus- videos!! I’ll post a couple videos tomorrow, for today screenshots and gifs will have to do.

Working on the half-pass left

Working on the half-pass left.. and do I need taller tall boots?

After warming up in shoulder-in and haunches-in, we started the lesson by revisiting half-pass, first at the walk and then at the trot.

Haunches in animated gif

Haunches-in for the win.. also I think I do need taller boots..

When¬†talking about the half-pass at the clinic this weekend, I really had a lightbulb moment but only had half a schooling to try out what I had learned. ¬†What I had been struggling with previously was having the haunches lead, when really it’s the shoulders that should be leading. Foster has picked up on the concept quite readily, but I need some finessing in my position to really be more effective- as in stop collapsing my rib cage, open my shoulders and body in the direction where I want to go, and keep that inside leg soft and bending the horse as he moves in that direction.

walk half pass animated gif

Walk Half-pass right

Following the half-pass, we went back to review baby piaffe and collected canter work. We are teaching the piaffe as a way to teach Foster to sit and have activity in his hind legs without necessarily going forward, which translates into the collected canter. Foster tries really hard to figure out the piaffe cue (a touch with the whip- no Fosters were harmed in the production of these gifs), but sometimes just doesn’t know what to do with the extra energy…


and other times he starts to figure it out…


Bounce baby bounce!

When he is starting to think up and under with his hind legs, we then move into the walk-canter depart, and I try to maintain the came level of electricity in his hind end. It’s tough, because Foster can be so laid back that he settles really quickly, and in this instance I want him to be amped.


Since it was getting a bit late at this point, rather than hammer the collected canter we proceeded to start on those canter to walk transitions. These are brand-spanking-new to Foster, and it’s been about 12 years since I schooled them with Merry, so it was no shock that we didn’t achieve one right out of the gate.


Still, for his first attempts, I’m pretty pleased with how quickly he was able to sit and balance himself to walk, even if it took a step and a half of trot to get there. The tricky part of riding the canter to walk transition is to ride forward into it. For now, I am over-emphasizing my half halt in order to stop the motion of the canter, and purposefully thinking “halt”, which is what I almost got in my first attempts. Eventually my aids will become lighter, and I will be able to think about landing in a forward and balanced walk. But that’s probably some time away while we both figure things out.

Hind end: Engaged!

Hind end: Engaged!

As per usual, some quick notes regarding the lesson:


  • for now, might need to use more¬†hand, but eventually this will lighten as he learns
  • Try using half halt at two different times- when I am deepest in the seat (when he is sitting) and when he is landing (stiff horses sometimes prefer the latter)


  • Keep my weight left for left half pass
  • Do no let my left elbow become a chicken wing/collapse my left rib cage
  • Start with less angle to the haunches, I can always add more but taking away from the angle is hard to do quickly
  • Establish bend first then add the haunches (Half-pass and haunches-in)

Positioning Myself:

  • to the left think about allowing my left side to sink down
  • Tuck my tailbone under when sitting the canter so I “complete the circle” with my hips (rather than stop the motion slightly with my concave path)

Overall, the lesson was great in showing me the potential that Foster has, but like our last jumping lesson, that he needs to put on his big boy pants to accomplish some of these tougher exercises. On the same note, it’s become so much more important with these new movements that I am as effective and correct as I possibly can be, which is a struggle as I learn new things, or practice dressage that I haven’t done in over a decade.

Dressage Lesson Recap: Half-pass, Piaffe and Collected Canter

A friend recently told me that she could see me switching over to pure dressage sooner rather than later. I scoffed and got a bit offended that in her eyes I seemingly didn’t fit in with the eventer crowd, even though I could see where she was coming from. As much as I love eventing, I also¬†love dressage, I do, and lessons like the one this week just make the little DQ heart in me go pitter patter. (But don’t expect me to give up eventing –quite- yet)

With it being almost 20* colder than it has been all week, and with Foster stuck inside for 36 hours, I wondered how spastic the creature would be for our lesson. Warming up I got a couple expected spooks from a bird flying up and car passing by, but otherwise homeboy felt nicely forward and attentive, and Eliza commented on how even he looked behind. After all the ups and downs of slight offness, hock injections, etc, this is feedback I really appreciate hearing, and such a relief to see my horse as being 100%.

No new media- here's gifs that are almost a year old instead :)

No new media- here’s gifs that are almost a year old instead ūüôā

I told her about my half pass attempts from the night before, and so we started out with taking a look at them. Moving from shoulder-fore to haunches-in in each direction, we then found space for a fairly steep diagonal (equivalent of a short ring diagonal MXK/HXF) to try it at a walk. We were getting plenty of angle, and if anything I was asking the haunches to lead too much, which was a misunderstanding on my part. We would throw in a walk pirouette at X to re-establish bend and continue on the half pass track.


Posting lateral work from over the winter


Then we proceeded to try the half-pass at the trot, on a less steep angle. Before I begin the half-pass, I change my diagonal to the ‘incorrect’ side so that I can use my weight in the seat at the proper moments. Again I tended to overcompensate with the haunches and need to let the shoulders lead.¬†Keeping the left bend is tricky because I tend to let my left leg get very stiff as my outside leg pushes the haunches right, which in turn pops my left seat bone out of the saddle and pushes my weight onto the right seat bone, also incorrect. In order to correct this I should ride the bend as if we were doing a 10 meter circle, and if he starts getting stiff or I begin leaning outside, start a 10 meter circle into the mix to realign ourselves.

We then moved onto some canter work from the walk, and I found that the quality of the canter was not as light as it had been the night before. Discussing the activity of the hind legs brought up piaffe, which we had started on the ground some months before, but hadn’t touched since.

Starting piaffe in hand July 2014

Starting piaffe in hand July 2014

So as I continued to sit in the saddle, Eliza followed us down the long sides reviewing the whip cue (a whisper touch to the leg), which Foster remembered without any real reminders. Then it was my job to keep him super straight and as round as possible (very difficult as it turns out, since horses want to throw the energy to either side rather than sit), while she gave him the cue while moving. Any sitting and under movement was immediately rewarded by stuffing his face with clover. It was such a feeling to have him bounce underneath me, and to feel the power through his haunches when he sat.

Way way more than this canter

Way way more than this canter

Once the active hind legs were established from baby piaffe, we were told to move off immediately to canter after the whip cue. The energy that I felt in that post-piaffe canter was nothing like I have ever sat on my horse, and it felt like riding a destrier into battle. It was eye-opening to hear that that canter¬†is what I should be striving for in my tests, and couldn’t believe it when the word “pirouette” was even mentioned.

In Summary (notes for myself):

  • For the Half-pass…
    • Ride inside leg like as in a 10 meter circle)
    • Weight inside seat-stiff leg also pushes me onto outside seat
    • Throw in 10 meter circles when there is stiffness or we lose the bend
    • Allow the shoulders to lead, shoulders leaning is more acceptable to judge than haunches leading
    • In trot, post on wrong diagonal in the half-pass
  • Canter-Walk Transitions
    • Walk-canter transitions: think Canter-Halt and keep strong into walk steps, otherwise piddle into trot
    • Needs consistently active collected canter to get a great canter walk transition
    • Canter walk not a transition that tends to feel good

Overall the lesson was eye-opening as to feeling the energy that I’ll need for progressing up the levels, and what Foster is capable of doing. It was showed me my own weaknesses, such as an uncoordinated left leg and weakness in my core. However, there were plenty of highlights and I am durn excited to try it all again.

Have a happy weekend!


Weekend Wrap Up: Dressage Lesson

The following day after our showjumping lesson, we squeezed in a dressage lesson with Eliza. Since it had been a month before that we had our last lesson, it was good to check in and visit some of what we have been working on.

We started with free walk to working walk transitions, and then halt to walk transitions without using his neck, then the same at the trot. It was quite windy and at first it felt like his neck was a short steel bar, but after lots of transitions within and between the gaits, followed by inside to outside bend on a circle, he eventually loosened up a bit.


Many of the things we worked on we have done before. Shoulder-in and renvers, and inserting 10 meter circles whenever he gets stiff. These 10 meter circles have been somewhat tricky for us, so mentally (and sometimes physically) I need to ride them as two halves, even it that means riding half a circle, going straight until he’s soft, then riding the second half of the circle. The renvers are still hard for me as I work on my coordination with weighted inside seat, shoulders and leg placement, but it was easier than the first time we did it so I’m counting that as a win.


For me, the highlight of the lesson was again the walk-canter transitions, which continue to improve. I do need to sit deep and down into the transition to help him with the first strides, and be quicker in my aids to the left so we don’t get a jump into a trot transition instead of canter.¬†Keeping my upper body strong, shoulders back and swinging my seat with the movement will allow him to establish balance on his hind end and a true three-beat gait.

My new dressage anthem(?):


As per usual, a few added tidbits to remember:

  • Try wearing gloves, supposedly they will help me keep my wrists soft and hands closed (ugh, but I don’t wanna!)
    • On the note of closed hands- this article popped into my news feed on the ‘dressage fist’
  • Keep my upper arms vertical, feel the edge of my shirt, let elbows hang (dammit. have got to work on this)
  • Move those hips!

Foster will now be getting a few days off after getting his hocks injected. After all these exciting videos (thanks J and A) it might be a boring couple of days ahead!

Things to Celebrate

A few¬†things to celebrate this week! The first is Foster’s new bonnet he’ll be getting thanks to Amanda from the $900 Facebook Pony, who chose our logo as a runner up in her logo contest!

Runner up logo design

Runner up logo design

Secondly, the USEF reversed the helmet cam ban! Although event organizers can still prohibit the cameras, I’m hopeful that the majority will allow us to record our rides for learning and sharing with others.

And lastly.. Jurassic Park IV. It comes out on. my. birthday. I got velociraptor induced hysterics when I saw the trailer. So scared, and SO excited.

Also on the good news front, Foster was a stellar boy last night. I¬†finally set up some canter poles in an attempt to get us started with cavaletti, and he was golden through them, even though they were a bit further apart than the 9′ I meant to make them, and he had to reach a bit in the canter. Continuing work on the walk-canter transitions as well, which we’re getting about 50% of the time. After watching back the videos (thanks Ali) I need to keep working on my elbows- it’s definitely the thing that goes to hell in a handbasket whenever things get hard. It’s always something though!

blurry, but the canter is definitely improving!

blurry, but the canter is definitely improving!

It’s about to get frigid cold here tomorrow, so I am desperately hoping to get a mini jump school in tonight before everything freezes over. We shall see!

Dressage Lesson Recap: Shoulder-In and Walk-Canter

Let’s just say, if you’re Foster, the last 6 weeks have been kind of cruddy from his¬†point of view.¬†Being left for 5 days, then lame 1, then returning to riding, only to get a chiropractic session and be back sore for 6 days, followed by another slow return to work, then left again for 4 days. Poor Fosterpants.

So it’s no wonder that he’s a little out of shape as a result of that mess. But I was determined to squeeze a Doug lesson in before he heads to the winter eventing mecca that is Aiken. After a casual jump school showed me just how not-in-jumping-shape he was, I decided to try a dressage lesson at his farm.

Hustle, son.

Hustle, son.

After telling¬†Foster he was not going to be a lazy sod, we had a pretty bright warmup before moving into lateral work. Specifically, we worked on the quality of the shoulder-in. Immediately we were called out for getting a little shorter in his neck and in his step. Instead of constantly holding with my hands through the movement, I need to focus on keeping him soft (to inhibit neck-shortening) and think about lengthening throughout so we get more of a ‘swimming’ motion up front, and subsequent follow-through with the hind end. Another consequence of holding with my hands is that he¬†will tend to lean into them, instead of carrying himself (self carriage) like the big-boy dressage horse he can be.

Asking for a bigger trot, then increasing the angle

Asking for a bigger trot, then increasing the angle

A few more notes about the shoulder-in work:

  • Start posting to allow for bigger trot (and less bracing), then start alternating, 4 steps posting-4 steps sitting
  • Put weight over outside hip- think about bringing the whole upper body over the hip, and not letting myself get crooked
  • Keep the inside leg at the girth, should not wander back
  • In a test, one shallow post is a good way to re-incorporate the idea of posting for reach/freedom
shifting weight over the outside hip

Shifting weight over the outside hip

After a brief break where we watched some theatrics from the farm’s residents, we moved on to walk-canter transitions. While we’ve been doing these in a jumping arena for some time, dressage quality transitions are still relatively new to Foster, and so a work in progress. This part of the lesson was somewhat simpler in theory, though just as hard (if not harder!) to execute. The main idea- straightness. We used¬†counter-bend to bring his withers in line with the rest of his body (in the case of him falling to one side), then getting the inside bend before asking for the canter transition. It takes a bit of putting the pieces together before we get a clear transition, but with time and repetition, this is one that I hope will improve quickly. Also, it’s pretty fun to school. Bonus points for fun dressage.


Voila, canter.


Overall, the lesson was beneficial in keeping tabs on the quality of the work we are doing. I learned (er, was reminded) of many of the rider habits that I have that I can improve on, and have new visuals and techniques for improving Foster’s balance and suppleness through these more difficult exercises. Now, practice practice practice.

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!