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30-Day tune-up, is there such a thing in dressage?

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  • 30-Day tune-up, is there such a thing in dressage?

    My mare and I have been struggling with the same thing for about a year now: her inclination to do "motorcycle" turns at the canter. Now that we are in the indoor, it is a particularly scary feeling to have her leaning hard to the inside in a smaller space. She also tends to want to throw her front end up in order to depart into the canter. I have been working with my instructor on these issues, but we have made close to zero progress. I have been the only one doing her riding, other than a couple of rides from my jump instructor, and one ride from my dressage instructor for the last several years now...and I think it is time to get professional help.

    Ideally, I would only want to send my mare off for 30 days. Both for the cost, and also because the barn that I am at would only hold my stall for 30 days. Beyond that I risk them getting full. It is very important to me that I be able to return to my current barn once the training is over.

    My first choice of trainers to do this says that she doesn't do any less than 3 months, and prefers 6 of training. While I understood her reasoning, I can't swing the cost of that long in training, I would risk losing my stall at my current barn, and a 2 hour round trip drive for many months in a row is not appealing.

    I guess my question is, does a 30 day dressage tune-up exist? And how do I go about finding a qualified trainer in my area that can do that?

    I should add that my jump instructor and I talked about it a bit last night, and she would be willing to do it come spring. But she rides horses in a hunter frame, and her idea of forward and dressage's idea of forward are two totally different things. Not sure if that would be a determent to our overall goals or not.
    RH Queen O Anywhere "Sydney"
    2009 Sugarbush Draft mare
    Western Dressage
    Draft Mare blog

  • #2
    You need to read this:

    "The problem with horse training is that society is set up to believe that you can buy a service and have things the way you want in a certain time frame. People... look at horse training as if they're spending their money on a product. And yet even the best horse trainers will tell you the horse takes its own time, and no one can guarantee a horse will be doing what you want from it when you want from it. The other problem is that even if your trainer can get done with your horse, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will be able to. Getting a horse right takes an amount of commitment on the owners part to develop the same type of relationship that the trainer has, otherwise how can you expect from your horse for yourself what your trainer gets, when it's they who have put in the hours, the sweat, the patience and the desire to get along with that horse? You aren't spending money on a tune up for your car that you can take home and drive.

    The fact that money is involved leads people to believe they deserve something for what they paid, and they do, but it happens in the animal's time, not the human's. I think any good trainer would say they would do this for free if they could, just to help horses and people. And yet, we all have to eat."

    Not saying you have unrealistic expectations, OP, but...you kind of do.

    The 30-day "tune-up", as far as I'm concerned, is a fallacy in any discipline. I've gotten calls from people who don't want horses in training with me long-term but ask if I'll take a horse for 30 or 60 days to solve XYZ problem. I rarely take those people and if I do, it's because they're OK accepting that that may not get what they want in that set amount of time. It's entirely dependent on the horse.

    I've also sent horses back to people fully compliant with what they were hoping for...and in a few weeks or couple months get a call (or hear through the grapevine) that the owner is struggling with the same thing again. I've been blamed a few times for not doing a thorough enough job. It's par for the course - the people who lay blame on me are expecting horses to work like cars. They have no idea what kind of animal a horse is.

    If your horse banks like an airplane around turns and horks her front end up to get into it, that's almost guaranteed to be some kind of fitness issue. That's not something that 30 days can fix easily: that's something that requires hundreds of correct upward transitions (not just to canter, but ALL upward transitions) and getting firm with a horse that they may not, under any circumstances, lean on your inside leg through a turn (which is what your horse is doing: a horse that dives/banks like that is getting diagonal in their movement, which is natural for them...they are leaning and working on a diagonal when you want them to be working on an arc).

    You'd be better off finding someone who can help you fix this, or getting really solid on figuring out what YOU need to do to get it fixed.

    And please dismiss the idea that a hunter rider training your horse is going to disrupt your goals or mess up your horse somehow. More horses would be so much better off if their riders didn't subscribe to the idea that any one discipline is any more correct, better or beneficial to their horse and their particular goals. One of the most incredible transformations I've seen came from a "dressage horse" whose owner had had it with their lack of progress. I suggested she go find someone with some cows that she could go work with the horse. She told me I was nuts, but a year later sent me an emailed me and said she'd gotten desperate enough to follow my advice and couldn't believe what a change she'd experienced in her horse's mindset.
    Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you have now was once among the many things that you only hoped for.


    • #3
      You say you have a dressage trainer. How frequently do you take lessons and will the trainer get on your horse?

      When I hit a training plateau last year, I upped my lessons to two or three times a week and put my trainer on for the first half of every lesson. We did this for a month and it made a big difference in what we could achieve. Having the trainer get on first and then to get on after her and feel what we were supposed to be doing was a huge help, because then I could learn to reproduce it.

      The frequency of the lessons helped re-inforce things, as I didn't have the time in between to let things back-slide, even though I did have time for at least one ride on my own between times to dink around and practice what I had learned.

      It was a lot less stressful for all concerned than shipping the horse off somewhere else, and I learned what I needed to be doing in order to consistently achieve the result intended for the long term. (We both got a lot fitter as well )


      • #4
        A trainer is allowed to set whatever parameters they think are reasonable for clients. However, I do think that plenty of trainers offer 30 days with parameters about expectations. In 30 days I do not think it is reasonable to expect a trainer to completely resolve this issue, teach you how to ride through it, and have it never been an issue again. For example, I know someone who sent away a horse for 30 days to "get changes put on". The horse had several other issues at play that were causing changes to be such a challenge. The trainer felt intensive pressure to train a trick despite knowing the horse was not strong enough to correctly and willingly offer the change. Both parties came away very disappointed and angry.

        The "motorcycling" is likely a combination of several factors that each need to be addressed. I do think that a good trainer can make progress in 30 days. Sending a horse away for 30 days to work on solidifying the foundation and helping you grow your toolbox should be a more rewarding experience.

        Is the issue better with your in house trainer in the tack? Could you pay them to do in house training rides?


        • Original Poster

          I am not really expecting the canter to be magically fixed in 30 days, what I am hoping that somebody with a stronger set of tools in their tool box might be able to help with a break through, and give me some feedback on what I need to do to continue to fix the issues going forward. This horse is my first "real dressage horse," and also the first horse that I have brought along from just being broke out to now. I would really like to do some USDF shows next year, so I am really wanting to "stop just muddling along" and really get some of these issues fixed that have been going on for a while now.

          I only get to a couple of dressage lessons a month. Getting a lesson from her is basically an all-day affair due to travel times, so I can only commit to that many a month without really disrupting my other responsibilities on the weekends.

          Oh! And we do actually do a lot of different things. We are going to our fist ranch sorting this weekend, and up until the weather turned a couple of weeks ago we would play with cattle on a weekly basis. We also do a weekly jump lesson, and I hope to get out to a couple of fox hunts this fall too.
          RH Queen O Anywhere "Sydney"
          2009 Sugarbush Draft mare
          Western Dressage
          Draft Mare blog


          • #6
            Originally posted by Abbie.S View Post
            You'd be better off finding someone who can help you fix this, or getting really solid on figuring out what YOU need to do to get it fixed.
            I think this is sound advice. I have some exercises in my tool box that I use to fix this issue, as it's a pretty standard green horse issue, but without knowing your capabilities as a rider it's difficult to say if it would help. A knowledgeable trainer could probably correct it fairly quickly, but it may take longer to teach you the tools and timing to maintain it.

            How does she do cantering on a circle? On a straight line? I'm not terribly familiar with your posts to know where this horse is at in it's training, so I would first ask about that. I think if you have been working with an instructor for an entire year and have made zero progress on these issues, it might be time to try a different trainer, or at least have a serious discussion with yours about these issues and stress that they NEED to be fixed.


            • #7
              Thanks for the clarification, OP. I encourage my students to do what you are doing with their horses and get variety in their life. BUT - if you do all these things, then surely you must realize that variety can only be of benefit to you, so it shouldn't matter too much that the trainer who has offered to work with your horse this spring is a hunt seat trainer.

              I agree with atr though, you will get more bang for your buck with increasing your dressage lessons than you likely will trying to find someone to take the horse for 30 days of training. It's equally if not more important that YOU learn how to fix the issue, not just someone putting the skills on the horse and then sending her back to you.

              For what it's worth, when I get a horse that leans like this, and I see plenty of them, my go to is this: put a leather curb strap on your snaffle if you're using one. Go about your ride as usual. The moment the horse goes to lean on your inside leg to get through a turn instead of moving their ribcage over, shorten up your inside rein and bring their head right around. At the same time, put your inside leg on your horse hard and keep them short on that inside rein until they yield off the inside leg and you feel them "get straight". Immediately drop the inside rein and let them carry on forward in whatever direction you're now facing. Repeat as necessary. For me, it rarely takes more than a handful of times doing this before a horse figures out it is WAY more work to lean on me. However, timing of your release is everything, so YMMV.
              Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you have now was once among the many things that you only hoped for.


              • Original Poster

                Here is where our canter is right now: https://youtu.be/r0TB85ENZvs
                RH Queen O Anywhere "Sydney"
                2009 Sugarbush Draft mare
                Western Dressage
                Draft Mare blog


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Draftmare View Post
                  Here is where our canter is right now: https://youtu.be/r0TB85ENZvs
                  After watching that video I am not certain your mare is sound. When you have her going undertempo she almost "looks even" but once you ask for a real trot with actual impulsion you can see she falls apart behind. I *think* it is her RH but I have been wrong before and she does stride shorter on the LH most of the time. I believe that is your answer about why she is weak behind. I think @ 5:10 it's the most obvious when you ask her to come down from a canter, she is kind of hopping behind. Obvious again @ 7:48 again coming down from the canter.

                  Once you switch direction I think it's easier to detect, she definitely to me looks lame behind. I'm sorry I know it isn't what you want to hear but maybe she is weak behind because she doesn't want to use her hind end because something hurts, which is why she is dragging her hind feet so much and not stepping under or cantering round.
                  "i'm a slow learner, it's true."


                  • #10
                    I didn't have time to watch the whole video end to end, but popped in and out of it.

                    I would say that you are having the same set of problems at the trot as at the canter, it probably just doesn't feel as unbalanced at the trot.

                    The horse is under tempo and counterbent to the outside at the trot and then also at the canter. I didn't see a proper working trot even, just a Western slow jog. The horse is not taking contact softly and is fighting and pushing up against the bit at moments.

                    And yes, there were places where that right hind leg looked definitely going short.

                    I don't think the problem is limited to just canter. I think you need to get the horse going more forward, on contact, able to do both counter bend and true bend, and to "follow her nose" around the corner. To get there, you need lots of lateral work at the walk to start, spiraling in and out, shoulder in, leg yield, etc., maybe starting in hand and then in the saddle. The horse needs to be accepting and asking for contact, and able to balance around a corner at a walk and trot before you are going to get it at the canter.

                    You also need a lot more impulsion at all gaits to get the hind end working.

                    But first you need to address if she is off in the hind end, and if so is it intermittent, a stiffness she works out of, or is it something that gets worse with work.

                    Basically I see a stiff, uncomfortable horse with very little evident dressage schooling in terms of how she moves. She may have more training on her than is evident here, but in this video she is not moving like she has schooling.


                    • #11
                      When I've felt stuck in the past, I've had good luck scheduling mini clinics with my trainer, generally where I trailer in on Friday and leave Sunday, with two rides/lessons a day (one on my horse, and one on a school horse to feel what I should be aiming for on my horse).

                      I find this easier on my other commitments than trying to get to a lesson every single weekend, since half my weekend would have been spent trailering/riding anyway.

                      Even if you can only trailer out Saturday/trailer back Sunday, if you can get the extra ride on your horse + a lesson each day on a school horse, that's three extra lessons in one weekend.

                      It's not going to solve everything, but I find it gives me enough of a sense of what I need to do (and how) that I can make more significant progress between lessons for a while. It's not a perfect solution, but it can be a useful alternative.
                      She Gets Lost


                      • #12
                        I don't get why your hunter/jumper trainer wouldn't ask for the same canter depart a dressage trainer would, especially for the lower dressage levels.

                        Even in hunterland, horses are expected to have organized, soft canter departs and use their corners well.

                        Look at any youtube video of a jumper round and usually the initial canter depart is softly from the walk or even the halt.
                        The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                        Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                        The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                        • #13
                          I'll admit I only watch the first couple minutes of the video, but mare is obviously not sound at the trot. She is just ambling along, but it is quite clear she is off or sore or....
                          Savor those rides where you feel like a million bucks, because there will be those where you feel like a cheap date...


                          • #14
                            Hmm well I guess I have a different experience. I HAVE put my horse in training for 30 days...but it wasn't really to fix anything specific per se. Having taken regular lessons (weekly) with my trainer, if I am going on a business trip or something that puts me out of the saddle for an extended period of time, I'll ask if she has room to add him into the lineup. The difference being is that when I've done this I've been at the trainers barn, just in a student/lesson capacity and not a horse-in-training capacity. I haven't had to risk moving or losing a boarding spot or anything like that.

                            What ends up happening is that trainer gets horse for 30 days, rides 3-4 days a week, and I get back a fit, soft, responsive pony. And that is SO much better than letting horsey sit for 30 days (hell more than 1 day goes by and he breaks out the celebratory balloons and streamers for landing a permanent retirement spot). Are miracles performed? No. Having a pro ride for 30 days not only helps her coach me during lessons, but really helps the horse with whatever we're struggling with. I get feedback on how he felt and what she had to work on - (surprise- usually forward, in front of leg). And always always always the basics are honed in on.

                            My trainer can give me feedback on all sorts of things, what works best, which exercises are helpful - etc. I've also gotten her perspective on other things - like if she thinks that maybe his saddle needs an adjustment, or if she thinks its time to have a vet re-look at hocks, etc. A second opinion is invaluable, and sometimes it takes direct involvement and her feeling it to give really good advice and set a pathway forward.

                            I've never once handed over my horse and have been disappointed.
                            My blog: Change of Pace - Retraining a standardbred via dressage


                            • Original Poster

                              In this clinic, the clinician had me slow her down to this "crawl" in order to work on her not letting her front end run away from her hind end. I questioned it to my instructor who watched my first day ride, and she justified that it made sense and that it was to work on balance. It did feel like a western pleasure crawl while I was riding it.

                              This video was taken from day 2, and I think Sydney was a bit tired (that was our fourth day in a row of riding, and typically I ride every other day), but I don't believe she is unsound. Nobody at the clinic said anything to me about soundness, I took a jump lesson a couple days before the clinic and a couple days after the clinic and there was no comment on unsoundness from my jump instructor, and she also gets regularly looked at by a chiropractor who is also a lameness vet and has never mentioned unsoundness.

                              During the colder months she does get a bit stiffer due to having a metabolic issue. She lives out in her BoT turnout to help with that. However, she isn't riding any different lately than she has been all year.
                              RH Queen O Anywhere "Sydney"
                              2009 Sugarbush Draft mare
                              Western Dressage
                              Draft Mare blog


                              • #16
                                Thanks for the video. I wasn't clear on what you mean by "motorcycling" around the turns. First comment: your horse is NOT going forward. She therefore cannot give you a clean canter depart - it's why her head comes up, she's unbalanced. Second, as I surmised from your original post, you have an imperfect understanding of bend. She's leaning around the turns because she is unbalanced in the canter, she lacks impulsion, and her rider is not assisting with either of those things.

                                Not wanting to sound harsh, but you have some homework to do before you worry about your horse needing more training. She looks like a good hearted soul to me. I agree with some of the others above, no reason your H/J trainer can't fix the canter - but I would add, there is no reason you can't improve it yourself without a "30 day tuneup" by taking more lessons and learning how to fix the root cause of the "motorcycling" and throwing up of the head. Good luck! Let us know how you fare.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Draftmare View Post
                                  In this clinic, the clinician had me slow her down to this "crawl" in order to work on her not letting her front end run away from her hind end. I questioned it to my instructor who watched my first day ride, and she justified that it made sense and that it was to work on balance. It did feel like a western pleasure crawl while I was riding it.

                                  This video was taken from day 2, and I think Sydney was a bit tired (that was our fourth day in a row of riding, and typically I ride every other day), but I don't believe she is unsound. Nobody at the clinic said anything to me about soundness, I took a jump lesson a couple days before the clinic and a couple days after the clinic and there was no comment on unsoundness from my jump instructor, and she also gets regularly looked at by a chiropractor who is also a lameness vet and has never mentioned unsoundness.

                                  During the colder months she does get a bit stiffer due to having a metabolic issue. She lives out in her BoT turnout to help with that. However, she isn't riding any different lately than she has been all year.
                                  I think she is unsound.. most clinicians and trainers won't question an owner's judgment.. though I wish they would. Not because of anything nefarious but because often the owner knows best and clinicians/trainers are there to help train the horse, not evaluate it for soundness issues..

                                  That and many pros don't want to push an owner or upset them for fear of losing their client base.. trainers don't make money on lame horses.. so they're more likely to have a lesson with you because it's no skin off their hide that you're working a lame horse..

                                  The other thing is, it's very possible that the people in your sphere are not able to detect subtle lamenesses. They can be hard to detect... and when it's a horse's way of going people tend to not be as oriented to the subtle lameness because they become desensitized/barn blind to them. Myself included, I am guilty of that on an older horse who I had just become accustomed to his way of going.. but that was his way of going because he had arthritic complaints.

                                  Sound while being lead from the paddock is very different than sound undersaddle.

                                  I do think she is at minimum a 2/5 behind when you ask for a working trot. I know that if it was my horse my vet would be called for a work-up.
                                  "i'm a slow learner, it's true."


                                  • #18
                                    I think one of the issues you're having is you are way, way too inconsistent on the outside rein. Reins too long, bouncing and wagging the nose.

                                    I'm not sure you need to worry about the front end getting away from the back end if the back end is also going out behind her.

                                    More than that, though, I would discourage you from sitting that much trot on this horse. The head is coming up quite a bit because you're not giving her anywhere to go. You have her boxed in between a tight rein, a crossed over inside hand, a heavy seat, and a backwards pressure. Thus, the only thing she can do is drop her back and bring her head up to find somewhere to go. She's not on the contact even in the walk so having it in the canter is a long way away. She immediately got quieter in the mouth and head when you moved to a more forward rising trot.

                                    In general, she is not prompt off the leg laterally or forward and you'll have to fix that long before you can fix any "motorcycling" that is taking place.

                                    I do also see the lameness that others are seeing in the more forward gaits and in the moments before the canter transition.
                                    Originally posted by PeanutButterPony
                                    you can shackle your pony to a lawn chair at the show...so long as its in a conservative color.


                                    • #19
                                      First off, I think you guys make a nice pair and I expected to see much more leaning based on what you were describing.

                                      I'm just an AA, but I think that the canter is going to be a problem based on how behind the leg the horse is at the trot. And I say this because I tend to happily have my horses behind the leg because I'm more confident there. And then "stunner" my canter departs tend to be problematic from time to time. It's happened often enough over the years that I am clear that the issue lies with me.

                                      If you've been struggling with the same issue for a year, you have to have an honest conversation about the three of you: your horse, you and your trainer. I've done this several times throughout my riding career and the answer varies - sometimes it's me, sometimes it's the trainer, sometimes it's the horse. Mostly it's the combination that needs to get adjusted.

                                      I would be hesitant to send a horse off to training if you can't be there to ride. Because (assuming a horse is basically trained and safe) the most beneficial part of having a trainer working with the horse that is an AA horse, is having them ride some days and give you lessons some days, or have the trainer put the horse together, then you get on and feel it. Sending the horse off, only getting on a few times during that period and then having the horse returned to you might work but it also might make it worse. The key is to work through it together.

                                      I will say that the horse looks short on the RH. I'm not one to jump up and down about every little thing, but the horse is irregular behind. I wouldn't say lame but it's quite clear on the video, so I would definitely be looking into how that's impacting the whole situation.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        So I've been texting my jump instructor, who also is the BO, and she doesn't think she is lame either. And yes, she would say something/stop the lesson if she was. She has no qualms with doing that. She does think she lacks impulsion and drags her toes. In our last lesson she noticed the crooked, and thinks she needs schooling and maybe another check from the chiro the next time he is out.

                                        We are going to try switching her off of SmartCalm and back to straight magnesium and see what happens with her overall willingness to give me more energy. She doesn't need the calming stuff in SmartCalm, just the magnesium for her PSSM. Stinker suddenly stopped eating the straight magnesium she was getting, so I switched her to the pelleted SmartCalm.

                                        I will ask my dressage instructor what she thinks, she hasn't seen us ride since the first day of the clinic though. I know she would have mentioned if she thought Sydney looked unsound as well.
                                        RH Queen O Anywhere "Sydney"
                                        2009 Sugarbush Draft mare
                                        Western Dressage
                                        Draft Mare blog