Yesterday the pony and I participated in a dressage clinic with Joy Congdon. Joy helped me with Blue some when I was bringing him along, and I really liked her.
Not being born into a shadbelly and white gloves, I sometimes find straight dressage trainers to be a little bit scary. Joy is very down-to-earth and accessible, on top of being a smart and gifted rider, and a very talented teacher with a wonderful eye (and a ready smile, which is maybe my favorite part).
So when I heard a boarder of Vicki’s was organizing a day with her, I hurried to sign up! I figured that a whole bunch of flat exercises to take us into the winter would be just the right thing at the right time.
Our lesson was scheduled for 4:15 p.m., but the day was running behind. We had the option of trekking up to Vicki’s neighbor’s indoor, but we decided it would save us time to just get going, and maybe the light would hold. I was Joy’s last lesson of the day, and it was getting quite chilly as the sun set, so I didn’t want to be more cause than necessary of keeping her late or freezing her half to death.
I gave the uber short version of pony 411 and got on with trotting. We did a lot of trot and walk work, and a little canter. Joy’s take on the troublesome up transition to canter was that the right is getting there because he’s sort of starting to come into the outside rein in that direction. The left not so much, but she thinks improving the connection in the trot work will be the key to improving this piece.
We did lots and lots of spiraling and lots of changes of direction. She really wants me to focus on his suppleness so that his whole body can loosen up rather than addressing the work over his back more directly.
She had me play with the connection in the reins a lot—ask for inside bend with an opening rein (to the left, I have to widen the outside rein also, just to get some feel in it) while keeping the forward tempo. This required much application of tap, tap as pony says, “Bend and forward? Isn’t that like rubbing my head and scratching my belly at the same time? I.e., HARD??” Then keep testing him with a soften to see if he will hold the bend himself.
Little pieces to teach him the beginnings of self-carriage. He seldom stayed put when I softened, but the good news is that he definitely knows how to stretch down into the contact. Joy said this shows a good attitude and the installation of good basics. Yay! (Remember the head flipping pony from seven months ago?)
She said it will be fun to watch his gaits change with continued good work—that they will open up a lot and get quite fancy for a little pony. This is one of the things I like about her—she enjoyed what there is to enjoy about him—he’s not a 17-hand warmblood bred for floaty gaits, but he still has his own special points worth making the most of, and nothing to apologize for.
Oh, and we got compliments on our transitions down from and up to trot!
So my homework is:
- Develop better responsiveness to my leg such that I can apply it more and more lightly and get the answer I want (exactly what Eric said). A lot of this comes down to discipline on my part—he has to learn that he can and should carry himself forward in any gait (she gave me an image of swinging shoulders that helped), which means I have to be committed to showing him. Every time.
She kept reminding me to lengthen my leg by putting my heel down (kind of different for a D instructor, but she explained that since I have to ride short in this saddle, this is how to make the most of it). The whip should be my constant companion. She liked my feel—one of her instructorisms when you do something she likes at the right time without her cue is, “That’s correct.” It is kind of nice to trot around (tapping and bending and softening and kicking and trying to time it all) and hear a chorus of “That’s corrects! I will pay for that kind of encouragement…lol 🙂
- Spirals, spirals, spirals and changes of direction to bend and bend and bend and switch and bend and bend and bend.
- Get in the habit of riding precise figures (maybe get some cones for the ring) so I can be more aware and more corrective of his various leans and drifts. We actually drifted out of the ring on one change of direction. I had to laugh because I really do struggle with this all the time, and I can just hear the pony saying, “But see, Mom, it’s MUCH easier to turn THAT way if I just take a few steps THIS way first…you don’t get it, let me show you….”
- Ride in some dressage saddles and see if they make things easier. I actually asked about this—she didn’t come right out and demand to know what kind of event-rider hick would dare to show up to a dressage clinic in a jumping saddle. 🙂 (See, these are the things that intimidate me. I worry!) Luck of luck, Vicki is selling hers because she wants a new size. We plunked it on him, and it actually appeared to be a decent fit on first glance, so I’ll play with this a bit.
Maybe best of all, last night the pony demonstrated that he really has gotten in touch with the good head on his shoulders. We arrived, it was cold, I tacked up and walked him around, found out we’d be riding later, audited for a bit sitting on the mounting block with him standing quietly next to me, got cold, went in the barn, was still cold and had to pee, threw him back on the trailer in his bridle and stuffed a halter over it in the dusk, jumped in the truck to get warm, jumped back out, got him back off the trailer, took his too-big cooler off in the wind, rode until it got dark, then rode IN the dark laughing along with Joy that it’s a good thing his white makes him glow, then rode in the strobe of the motion-sensor lights on the end of the barn.
I finished, took him into the barn, stood him in the aisle (I wouldn’t exactly call it a ground tie…but it was pretty good), threw off his tack, threw on Vicki’s saddle, chatted…then finally self-loaded him in the pitch black because I can’t remember where the inside light is on my trailer. He was 100 percent agreeable about everything. What a good pony. Everybody needs one.
Shannon Molloy blogs regularly about her riding experiences at shannonmolloy.wordpress.com