Pick Apart

Pick Apart

This is one of those posts that aren’t super exciting, but are written for me to have in the anthology that is Simon’s training.  At least there are pretty pictures for y’all?

After about a week off from the September Austin monsoon, I was able to head to the barn Sunday morning to hack my lively horse.  Fresh Simon is never really a bad thing.  He’s not one to be naughty and buck after time off, but lively Simon is a bit expressive.


Combine that with trying a new bridle (with flash attachment) and he was perhaps a bit more expressive than usual.

Here we are trying to do laterals, where he tells me his opinion of such work.  To be honest, I can’t blame him because a big flaw in my hunter princess flatwork is asking for lateral work correctly.  I’m certainly showing some flaws here… lean much?




Our concentration faces are rather epic.

Really though, he was a good boy and settled down into work rather quickly.



It’s not like we are getting anywhere near the self carriage I would like, but for a horse with a naturally high head set and desire to go around like a giraffe… I’m really happy with how we’ve progressed.  I can set my hands with some medium contact, and so long as I reinforce with my inside leg and ride leg to hand he will happily come down for me.


Even though our trot work was a bit unsettled at times, I was happy with how he’s stepping under himself in these photos.  During our entire ride today he really felt like he was pushing evenly and staying engaged with moving forward.


At the canter, I really don’t ask him to “go in a frame” because I don’t think we’re strong enough for it yet.  Maybe a better rider than me?  I just try to keep him dropping his shoulder in to cut corners, and when we’re hacking only I try to keep the canter slow and cadenced.  On courses, I have a tendency to half seat/two point the entire time… so sitting the canter isn’t something I’m super great at.  These pictures show I still need some work.



From looking at this set of pictures (thanks barn friend who took them, you know who you are!) I feel like we’re doing a lot better at keeping the engagement with the hind end.  Negatives are mostly with me.  My hands are often too low, and my elbows have this natural tendency to stick out instead of at my side.  Also, even though I thought I was really sitting up today, I need to sit up more and open up my shoulders.  Still, all in all I am pretty happy!


Maybe we’ll be able to get our act together for a dressage show this year?

I’d be curious what all you way smarter at dressage than me people think.  Want to help me nitpick?


37 thoughts on “Pick Apart

  1. I tend to struggle with lateral work in a shorter stirrup- a longer leg would allow you to use the entirety of your inner thigh and calf against his barrel to ask for the aid. Just a thought! In general though, he looks like he has some really nice moments of relaxing into the contact. The second to last trot photo is lovely! 😀

    1. That makes sense. These stirrups are on the longer side for me, but I could totally stand to drop them a hole for a “dressage” day. That second to last photo I believe I am sitting the trot which is the instant soother of all things Simon ha.

      1. You are correct to keep the shorter stirrups if you are working in a cc saddle. They are not designed for long stirrups and it will throw your position off if you have them too long. I would keep them on a longer than normal but still short hole – like where you have them.

  2. I don’t have a lot more to add, but I will say that that in the last two pictures, take a look at his hind legs. Its not perfect, but you’ve got a nice reach and a good angle. Great job. 🙂

    1. Thanks! His canter is probably his strongest gait, minus those pesky lead changes. I can’t take credit for that, when he’s feeling good there’s a lot of reach with those back legs.

  3. Yay, this is fun! Brings me back to my lesson teaching days. 🙂 Overall, not bad for a hunter princess! You’ve seen a lot of things to tweak already. I love how Simon is working over his back in the majority of the photos! With the lateral work… I’m assuming you’re just going for a leg yield there? Square your shoulders, sit straight, and think about pushing Simon’s ribcage over with your hips – like you were closing a drawer using your hip. Time your lateral leg aid with his inside hind – squeeze as you feel him pick up that leg. Resist the urge to do anything with your upper body, and bounce him into your outside rein. Other things… your hands can come up a touch higher, but I like that your wrists are generally pretty straight! SIT THE CANTER. Just sit. You must learn to sit. Once you learn to really sit, you’ll be able to lift his back and control his cadence with your seat at the canter. Keeping your abs tight is KEY for sitting the canter! Great job overall though, it’s awesome to see a hunter rider making the effort to do good flatwork! 🙂

    1. Omg I know about the sitting! Why can’t I sit? I really am working on it, but the pictures don’t lie 🙂 I will also try to remember to square my shoulders before the leg yield.

      I think most good (good as in hard working not as in naturally talented bc I am SO not naturally talented) hunter riders realize how important flatwork is. Regardless of discipline, if you aren’t trying to improve your flatwork there is a problem!

  4. Loving his hind end engagement! One thing that I work on myself and when I teach is carrying the hands. Don’t make the horses neck carry them, when dressageing you want that straight line from bit to elbow or your hands just slightly above that line. Overall though you guys are really looking great!

      1. Agreed! Canter hands should be much higher than they are. This is something I have oodles of trouble with. Also, engaging your belly button towards your spine and rotating your pelvis to point the front more up, if you get what i’m saying, will help with your sitting the canter. My trainer is always yelling at me to “put your hips where your hands want to be” which is probably applicable here. I probably wouldn’t drop stirrups anymore though, you’ll be completely off the knee roll and throwing your balance off which is one more thing you’ll have to fight with.
        I would recommend you do lots of double posting (up-up-down) and also no stirrups, but not the hunter kind where you death grip. It’s more of a balance act (borrowing a dressage saddle would be ideal) and you do “frog legs” at the walk and build up to a nice slow sitting trot, where every few strides you actually pull your legs off the sides and rest on your seatbones for a second, then let your legs really go down and wrap around maintaining that balance of sitting on the seatbones. Pulling the toes up obviously, heels down as if you had your stirrups. If you are sore the next day as you would be with no stirrup hunter death grip, you’re doing it wrong 😀 This is an excellent lunge line exercise, if you have someone to lunge you and he won’t act like an idiot on the line!

      2. Yes trot hands are better but could even be higher. Sometimes rolling your shoulders back for a bit of that ‘stick up the spine’ feel will lift your arms. By carrying your arms/hands it will help him to find more self carriage. As you get more comfortable sitting the canter you should totally try a schooling dressage show, Simon is a fancy pants!

  5. Love the pictures! It’s so odd to hear about people with horses who have higher headsets vs. lower because Red’s goes *so low* naturally, I’m having to work on bringing it up a tad. I’m not a dressage person obviously but I think y’all are looking great!

  6. Lol I agree withKalin it’s weird when you have a low carriage horse hearing about giraffe neck issues, but that can be equally troublesome. Some of the photos he looks pretty rocking and definitely stepping under well. I prefer half seat at canter too. I KNOW to sit but darn it my back/ butt gets tired my girl has a big stride.

  7. A good way to introduce leg yield is to come down centerline, then almost turn like you are going across the diagonal, then ask the horse to straighten out but keep the front end on the line of the diagonal. Remember the outside rein – or the rein in the opposite direction of what you are moving is the support rein. There should be no pulling on the inside rein whatsoever. Straightness is key…no rushing. I can’t see much from the pics but that is just some advice!

    As for contact – work on a circle, spiraling in and out, asking for bend through the rib cage while keeping the contact firm but having soft elbows. Lots of figure eights and change of direction.

    I would add some raised poles into your workout too…on the corner is a great one to encourage engagement.

  8. You guys look great! Simon’s really engaged in some of those pics, working over his topline and pushing from behind. Nice work!

    As others have said, dropping your stirrups a hole will allow you to use your leg and calf more effectively, and allow you to sit a little deeper. Or you can just borrow my dressage saddle! 😉 Sitting down and back will also help him balance back on his butt and engage even more.

  9. I think it is always easy to nitpick, but it seems like you know most of your faults (like most people do) but sometimes you just need to ride your best, have fun, and see what the judges say! I think you should try a dressage show, you know it helps your jump work too 😉

  10. This is 100% not a dig or negative comment so please don’t take it badly. Is your saddle the right size for you? It looks a little short in some of the shots. I’ve been riding in a borrowed saddle that’s too small for me (fits the mule) and it really effects my form.

  11. You and Simon both look great! I find that when Hemie is learning something new or tough (ahem, lateral work), I need to have very loud aids or else he gets frustrated trying to figure out what I want. Then I slowly make them more and more subtle.

  12. I don’t think you guys look bad at all!
    To me, you are tipped forward in canter – this has been my number one vice for years. The cure is to imagine you’re behind the movement…. that gets me straight.
    But you’re balanced and Simon is happy…. it’s a nice picture.

  13. Lots of good things already said, so I’ll add my two cents and apologize if someone already covered it 🙂

    To help myself sit up, I remind myself to “pull my breast bone to my chin.” The key here is bringing your breast bone up, not bringing your chin down. For whatever reason that makes a zillion times more sense to me than “sit up”. To each their own though.

    Secondly, in lateral work so many people (myself included) lean towards the side they want to move away from, because they’re using SO MUCH leg to try and push their horse over. The problem is, you really want the opposite. I once had a trainer tell me to “stretch the side of my body I want the horse to move to”. For example if I’m leg yielding off my right leg, to the left, I would stretch the entire left side of my body, really stepping down into my left stirrup. If you are using your leg in the right spot you shouldn’t need nearly as much as one would thing. It’s hard to tell in these photos because they’re head on, but I think you’re probably moving your leg too far back. Keeping your leg more forward than you’d think, imagine pushing him over right behind his shoulder, essentially where his shoulder and ribcage meet.

    Hope that helps! He looks great though.

  14. I’m certainly no expert, but I see that you have an excellent foundation. You have quiet hands and have great control of your body. Hunter riders and dressage riders are very different. It is very difficult to switch between the two. Hunter riders tend to perch and hover – which allows their horses to get that great bascule over the fences. Dressage riders should be anchored into that saddle. Elbows and hocks are directly related. So bend your elbows, put your thumbs on top and sit down in the saddle like you mean it. A great exercise was already mentioned above – lift your knees off the saddle and hold them there. Then drop them back down but don’t change your seat. This exercise is what changed me from a saddleseat/hunter hybrid rider, to a rider who can sort of do dressage. haha. 🙂 You should be able to eventually hold this position at the walk, trot and canter. Your abs will burn. It sucks.
    I think you are a lovely rider who does not give herself enough credit!
    Oh, the leg yield thing – riders will lean because the horse is not obedient to the lateral leg aids so the rider tries to compensate for that. Rider will also pull too much on the inside rein for the same reason. Turns on the forehand, turns on the haunches and shoulder-in will help this and teach the horse more obedience to the leg. Ok sorry for the novel! You guys look super!

  15. Simon looks really lovely. I think his canter looks quite nice even though you were not trying to put him together. He must have natural talent.

  16. you guys look great! and i’m right there with you on the expressive, high-headed horse lol. oh, and not being able to sit the canter… sigh. i’ve heard ppl say ‘squeeze your belly button’ as a way to engage your core. it sounds kinda silly, but is maybe working for me?

    regarding arms / hands / rein contact – my dressage trainer wants me to ‘weight’ my elbows and really feel them hanging from my shoulders. then stabilize them at my side and keep a straight line from them to the bit. my hands and wrists and biceps etc are passive. if i notice myself doing weird things with my hands or wrists, my reins are probably too long.

    anyways, you two look wonderful – the good moments are definitely happening 🙂

  17. you guys look great!!!! Plus I LOVE that you don’t have millions of strapy leather pieces on his face to pull it down and in- I LOTHE draw reins and such b/c I think they tend to be overused and used incorrectly by the majority of people out there (plus my guy Chimi was ridden in them to much and I’m having to teach him to seek the bit instead of curl under…grrrrr)

    Keep up the good work! It will make Simon so much stronger and better in the long run 🙂

    1. I’ve actually never used draw reins on Simon. When he starts to dial in, he is very giving with his nose (the real key is relaxing his neck) so I didn’t think they would help much!

  18. Don’t be too hard on yourself, there is some lovely lift in Simons back in lots of those pictures and what I like more is how happy he looks, no stiff grumpy pony here. Relaxation is the key to suppleness which allows impulsion. When you start to teach lateral movements do it first as a ground work exercise, then have a helper on the ground to set Simon up for success. Remember that leg yield is a lateral movement where the horse is bent away from the direction of the movement, this tends to make up collapse our torso to the outside and can be confusing as in leg yield your leg on the girth is asking the hindlimb to step under more. Usually sideways is asked with the leg behind the girth. If you bring your inside leg back to ask for leg yield you will end with bend to the outside, a natural thing to do is to then use more inside rein which is the opposite of what is needed. In leg yield keep riding inside leg on the girth to outside hand to slow the forward. First at a walk then a trot. Re leg position , if you can’t ride in a dressage saddle you can try in the walk dropping your stirrups, let your lg relax down and long ( no grip ) and ask for the sideways there. It will help you both get the feel for it. Nice work!

  19. Looking lovely! You are doing very well and I love Simon’s “I don’t wana…okay FINE!” expressions lol. Some of mine do that as well haha.
    As for position, you noticed your hands yourself well done 🙂 I had a major education in that about 1.5 years ago and it totally changed my riding – just brought everything I had been trying to get together. Your hands are the finishing touch on a good strong position. They should be slightly higher. Always hold your own hands – this is a hard concept to write, but don’t let your hands rely on the reins. The reins should always “hang” from your hand, instead of your hand hanging from the rein. This creates a soft contact when Simon is where you want him to be, a hard contact when he is giraffing, and if he sucks back, you can push him back into your soft contact.

    For sitting up, think of sitting in a chair (bear with me haha) with your back straight against the chair back. Then lift just your bra clip away from the chair. This will open your shoulders, lift your chest and engage your core while leaving your bum and lower back soft and allowing.

    Last one – for lateral work, a concept that helped me enormously: think about opening a space on the side you are going toward for the horse to move into. So if you are leg yielding to the right, apply your normal leg yield aids, then think about opening a space with your right thigh for Simon to move into. When you complete the yield, just close the space, but keep him on the aids for a moment more, and he will maintain the bend beautifully.

    Hope this helps!

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