Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lesson 1: Hold the Gouda

Tonight was our first lesson at Sunborn Stables with Julie Penshorn.  It was great, but I feel as though the thoughts in my head right now are similar to the little white dots on your TV screen when it goes snowy- swimming around in no particular order.  So, I'm still trying to organize all of the things I learned/worked on into a meaningful formed memory.  Our Saddlebred buddy Lisa also came out to watch us tonight, so she was there to help me recall some of what we learned.  We're both looking forward to taking some more lessons!

So we'll start at the beginning- the saddle.  I rode in my all purpose saddle, but Julie thinks it's too low in front (probably is wider than necessary right now with Louie's body shape) so we added a front riser.  Much to my surprise, the front riser did not make me feel like I was sitting up hill, it still felt balanced. 

I got on and walked for a few minutes and told Julie all about Louie, his training so far, what his bad habits are, his evasions, and how he's generally a very nice, laid back horse.  Julie wanted to feel what I was feeling, so she hopped on Louie for a few minutes and got him walking with much more "motor"- his hind legs and core more activated, using a whip behind her leg to help reinforce what she was asking with her leg, as she quickly learned that Louie is rather dull sided.  She got a super nice active walk and working trot out of him- his neck was relaxed down, he was really using his inside hind leg well (not continuously, but getting the hang of what she was asking him for), and he actually looked like he had impulsion- not lazy, but not "crazy" either- he was still relaxed through his neck and back but was really using himself nicely, much better than I feel that I usually get him to go. 

Then Julie got off and I got on.  We completely changed my posture.  She first had me stretch up through the torso, lift my rib cage, then slowly drop my shoulders down.  Then she had me pull my knees up out of the stirrups and rest them, bent, on his withers.  I was to maintain my pelvis in that position while lowering my legs down to his sides.  My thighs needed to be turned in, but not squeezing with the knees.  So, heels out, but knees loose.  The final posture change of this stage was the ankles- she wants my heels almost "up," and almost no weight in my stirrups so that I'm not bracing my legs down into the stirrup irons.  By raising the heels up, she was asking me to bend my knee, as if I were holding a tennis ball or a piece of Gouda in the back of my knee- hence the title of this post.  Mmmm I like Gouda.

Then we set out into a 10 meter circle at the walk.  She wants me to shift my whole seat to the inside of the circle, and face my head at Louie's outside ear.  She doesn't want me to squeeze with my legs, but rather bump, and actually kindof pester him with my inside calf until he moves away from it.  One thing that I must avoid, however, is begging.  I have to mean it when I bump his side, and if he doesn't move over, I use my whip.  I am to keep a very light rein and not worry too much about him taking a lot of contact, but rewarding him when he seeks it, by backing off my pressure.  She said I need very little backward pressure with this horse since his mouth is like butter.  As for my legs, I should use my outside leg to hold the outside of him in place while I "push the pie crust into the pie tin" with my inside leg (the outside leg is the pie tin).  We got some nice active walking as well, with some help from the whip.  By the way, I took my spurs off of my boots as Julie doesn't really want me using them as it affects the position of the leg (I agree, though I also think the holding a whip affects the position of the hands).  Anyhow, he's become so dull sided that I've become dependent upon the spurs, and I agree, I'm using them way too much when I could enforce my leg perhaps more effectively with the whip. 

After we had a nice active walk going, Julie pointed out that I am pushing much too much with my seat, and that I need to save that for the bedroom (LOL!), and keep my seat more still.  So, while I was no longer working so hard to get Louie to move forward, I was working really hard to keep my seat still, since it's much easier to just follow his stride.  She pointed out that my pushing with my seat is actually just pushing Louie's back down, and it's better to sit quietly "like a little clothes pin that kicks its legs once in a while."

Toward the end of the lesson, we started working on our downward transitions to a slower walk or halt, which need a LOT of work.  The goal is to get Louie to step under himself with his hind legs to stop, instead of just falling out of the gait on the forehand.  Louie still has the tendency to raise his neck up with our downward transitions, so it's going to take some work to get that to stop.  I need to keep him active in the walk with light pressure from both legs, imagining my body is like a soup can that is dented in on the sides (holding all of my guts in firmly), then blow off a little steam and "stop the saddle from moving."  All the while, I need to keep Louie bent, and push slightly more with my inside leg, pushing the pie crust into the tin as I stop the saddle from moving. 

Whew!  That is a LOT to take in for a first lesson. . . at the conclusion Julie said that my homework is to work on getting more forward out of him, so I'll really work on getting this good active walk (like I saw one of the other horses do a few days ago when Julie got on for a training ride as I was finishing working Louie- it's a good thing when the product of your trainer's work is good!).  It seems like she does like Louie as a prospect and thinks we're going to do well.  I'm glad that she is positive because I see no light at the end of the tunnel with all of this snow fuzz in my way. 

Overall I really learned a lot, and learned that I have a LOT to work on- more on me than on Louie at this point.  I like Julie's teaching style, and I really like how much work she puts into teaching, she's not only good at teaching, but she's very passionate about it and motivated/energetic and involved.  I feel that I'm not grasping the whole big picture quite yet, but I'm sure I'll get there. 

In other news, Louie has moved up in the totem pole!  He's in the paddock now with 3 other horses and apparently he's above one other horse there.  What a relief for him to finally not be rock bottom.  He seems to be settling in well and is not looking beat up at all, is enjoying the round bale, and got his light winter blankie tonight (it's brr cold outside!). 

We're looking forward to our next lesson, but have a lot to work on in the mean time! 


  1. I just stumbled on your page today. I also ride Saddlebreds and have a hunter, whom I would love to try Dressage. By the looks of it, you not only have a beautiful horse, but also one that is very talented! Your trainer sounds very talented as well. One of the best feelings is to leave a lesson feeling like you have learned a lot, have something to work on, and that nothing was overwhelming.

    Good luck as you continue your lessons. I took dressage lessons while away at school, just for fun, and have NEVER been that sore in my life. All the "leg bumping" and engaging your hips that was required to keep that pony moving, was insane! It was also very difficult to adjust from all those years of saddle seat equitation!

  2. Hi Evanne, thank you very much and welcome! It's great to have another Saddlebred hunter! I agree, dressage is very challenging, especially coming from saddle seat equitation. I'm going to try to ask Julie this week whether she thinks it is easier to transform a rider with habits from other disciplines (and if so, which are the most challenging to reform) or start with a fresh piece of clay and mold it from the beginning. I personally think the latter may be easier. But what fun would it be to only do one thing all the time. . .