Dressage lesson with Andrew Fletcher: preparation

Vallu says HIIIIIII to all the readers! :D
Oh my god, can I just spend the first few moments of this blog post just loving my horse, and loving how nice Andrew is. Had a super, super, super lesson with him on Monday, and I am so incredibly proud of my horse, I don't think that I will even be able to articulate it properly on here. Gone is my spooky, untrusting and hot horse, and now I have a happy, relaxed little superstar who trusts me! Life is good ♥︎
I wanted to get Andrew's advice about starting competing, and when I suggested starting at medium Andrew just shook his head and said why would you do that because Vallu has really good flying changes, and so we spent the lesson Andrew proving to me that we could (after some polishing) easily do an Advanced medium test, so we practised AM98. Andrew even muttered that we should aim for PSG (*horror*) for next summer/autumn!! :D
After warming up, we started working on doing a canter half 10m circle and then ride back to the track (so a teardrop) followed by a flying change after a bit of counter canter. This was a very useful 'warm up' exercise, it gets Vallu to wait for my aids, instead of doing flying changes where he wants to, and by using the wall we get very straight flying changes!

We then moved onto doing full length diagonal half pass, followed by a short bit of counter canter, and then a flying change. The right half pass was a lot more difficult, because Vallu doesn't bend as well through his body to the right and doesn't cross as well behind. To help this, we did travers along the long sides for a bit. Andrew explained that during training, he needs to be ridden more on a 4 track than the 3 track you'd do in a test just to push Vallu's body to become more flexible and try to get him to cross over behind better. After a successful long side of travers, we did right half pass again and it was much more fluent, and just lovely. This one went right at the top of my homework list!

Canter travers along the track to help the half pass
In the AM98, there is a serpentine with a flying change every time you cross the centre line. I have ridden canter figures of eight with a flying change in the middle before, but never a four looped serpentine in canter. But it went okay! The flying changes weren't exactly right on the centreline, one change was bad, but for a first time it was surprisingly good. Vallu is just so clever, he saves my ass so often, and is so kind. He'll just do it even when I'm not riding the best or when I don't even really know what we're doing. This is another of our homework exercises, and we need to get it good before going to do the test!

We used trot as a break from the canter work, focussing on different types of trot (basically we did transitions within trot) But this time we did it in rising trot, and not sitting trot. Shocking! You're only allowed to use upper body and core, and no use of hands to try and get Vallu to slow down. Never done this before, we've always done this with half halts and in sitting trot so it was a very interesting experience. Vallu responded incredibly well to it, so once again I got thoroughly reminded that you don't need to use your hands to half-halt or slow down your horse! Going from working trot to collected trot to medium trot and this repeated a lot really helped me to get Vallu to listen to me. 
Another little trick that helps with improving Vallu's walk and trot, was to do rein back for 10 steps. This helps him release his back better, and is good for improving his halts too! Right now, we're good with 5-6 steps of rein back, but after that we struggled with either keeping Vallu straight, or the rhythm. Although you only need 5-6 steps for the tests, it's good to be secure for 10 steps so then 5-6 steps feels easy! 

The final exercise of the lesson was meant to be the most simple one... A diagonal of extended canter, with a flying change at the end. Sounds rather simple, but Vallu then decided to spice things up by doing flying changes wayyyyyy before the end. All the flying changes are good both directions,  but why on earth can't Vallu wait for the end in the left canter?!? Andrew reminded me to keep my right leg back and don't lose the outside rein contact, which would give him the space to do a flying change, but this didn't fully fix it. We also tried starting the diagonal with shoulder in so that his shoulders are a bit more to the left than straight so that he wouldn't change... In the end we'd improved from having a flying change over X to nearly at the track, so just going to try keep working on it in order to improve it.
I'd forgotten how good of a trainer and general horseman Andrew is, we ended up having a lot of breaks the moment that Vallu looked like he was puffing too much or looked a bit tired. Andrew again emphasised how much more patting and rewarding I should do. Since I'm so focused on riding and thinking about everything I tend to just  say good boy, but don't pat/reward Vallu in any other way, until the end of the riding session where I then obviously pat him alot. More patting is needed, and more frequently during riding.

Next lesson is on 3rd November, and I can't wait! Lots of homework to do and things to focus on, but it was lovely to note that nearly everything we have to work on is just learning these movements that are in the tests, and less working on how Vallu moves or how I ride. The only thing for me is to sit straighter (more backwards) when things get difficult! My automatic reaction is to hunch forwards when we're struggling with something, and it doesn't help the situation at all. I didn't even realise it until looking at the photos, so a big thank you to Hannah for coming with me and taking lots of photos and videos!

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