Dressage lesson with Ian Woodhead: ride him like you're an advanced rider

So once again a great lesson! I truly am incredibly lucky to have such a great horse as well as super amazing parents who are willing to support me and let me stay at a great yard with lots of fantastic trainers. Thank you mum and dad
Kisses from Vallu
You know it's been a fabulous lesson when you feel your muscles aching already in the evening Like Henri always says, you haven't ridden properly if you don't sweat. So - this is the truly glamorous side of dressage ;) - a lot of sweating ensued from both Vallu and myself.
Tired pony ;)
I liked how even though during Wednesday's lesson we were focusing on Vallu’s problems e.g. spooking, Ian was able to keep feeding me snippets of critique on my position so that throughout the lesson, I was able to try to fix my position whilst still training and focussing more on Vallu. Most often I've found it's one or the other, where the trainer focusses on me or then on Vallu, but I really enjoyed it. Fixing my position throughout the lesson made sure that I really felt the effects of improving my seat and hands.

Main pointers: keep my shoulders loose especially after horse has spooked and definitely keep breathing! Always revert back to soft hands quickly. One of the things Ian mentioned was to keep my upper leg closer to saddle, and my lower leg more away from the side, so that it is ready to be used - but since it is slightly further away, then it is easier to keep away from Vallu's side so that I am not (unintentionally and sporadically) nagging him. This is why I believe in having eyes on the ground - good trainers pick up on even the smallest bad habits that you didn't even know existed.
Dressage rider's idea of hell today ;) riding in an arena full of show jumps
So onto creating a plan of action for me to deal with one spooky pony. 

Like Ian said, Vallu is too big to  not be in control and to be spooking constantly. Rule #1 when dealing with a spooky horse, make sure that your contact is not too loose and definitely do not allow it to go empty. This 'fake lightness' will just give you more difficulties in the future. An empty contact with a spooky horse means that you've got no chance of controlling the spooks. But on the other hand, don't have a heavy contact - is dressage difficult? No not at all! Since Vallu is a very big horse and you don't want to be pulling on the reins to keep him all together, he can do it himself and it's nicer for him if I'm not pulling against his mouth (quelle surprise...)

Rule #2. Always activate hindlegs, do not let them stay asleep back in the stable! Easier said than done. I seem to ask for some activity and but then never properly finish it through so that Vallu actually properly has to push under. If he doesn't have active hind legs, his front legs go up = a big front leg action and no hind leg pushing the horse forwards = no connection through the horse. No connection means that Vallu has time to think about other stuff e.g spooking.

1. Lots of shoulder in: focus on the outside rein keeping Vallu in pace, so that the trot doesn’t become rushed, and inside leg asks for Vallu's inside hind leg to be active and push across. Remember, the rein is not there for pulling.

2. Canter half pass in, leg yield out - never tried this before, but it is so good even though it makes my brain hurt. From the long side, 4 steps of half pass in towards the center line, then 4 steps of leg yield out back towards the long side of the arena, 4 steps half pass in, 4 steps leg yield back out. Everything happens so quickly that once I can ride this exercise I'm pretty sure that I can do anything with Vallu.

3. Walk - waheeyyy my most difficult thing to improve. Even though Vallu has started to get an ok(ish) walk, I still have to be able to make the walk good even when Vallu is tense and doesn’t want to do his best walk. (Again, dressage difficult? Noo..) I've got to keep riding his 'bad' tense walk in order to make it a good walk - alternating leg aids + into the contact.

So the main lesson learnt was for me to ride according to the rules, and to ride Vallu like as if I'm an advanced level rider! Easy, right? ;)

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