I am all for taking lessons with various people and keeping an open mind. I think there’s something to be learned from lots of disciplines. A past jumping trainer of mine has an excellent sense of body awareness and getting me to put myself in the right place – actually, I’m way overdue for a lesson with her! – and there’s a local dressage trainer who’s been great about addressing whatever issues I’ve had, giving me something to work on, and sending me off for a few months. They know where my goals lie and they’re happy to work within that to help me achieve them.
I went into the lesson/clinic/thing on Sunday with the hope that it would be a similar experience. I want to improve Fetti’s walk. I have a zillion trots, two canters – though whether I can choose between a big forwards canter and a prim and proper little one is totally irrelevant here! – and generally a pitiful little walk with no impulsion whatsoever and no motivation to improve it regardless of what I may do to ask it of her. I’ve tried nagging with alternate heels. I’ve tried pushing with my seat. I’ve tried getting off and leading. I can accept that she may never do a big flying walk downhill, and that walk has improved somewhat since I started her on Cosequin ASU, but goodness! It wouldn’t kill the pony to give me a better walk. I know she’s capable, because she’ll do it from time to time, but I absolutely cannot get it on request.
We walked around the arena to warm up. Fine. I asked for a little trot. Hissy fit and mild explosion – she wanted to bolt and buck and run and make it very clear that she did not want to do this. I was not asking for a frame. I was not asking for a bigger walk. I just wanted a trot. I yelled at her, held her, brought her back to a walk. Trainer stated that she’s mad because I won’t let her go forwards. Um.. okay? I know this horse. I’m not letting her go forwards because she wants to bolt and buck. She won’t buck when she’s cantering, you say? She’s bucked me off when cantering before. In hindsight, that’s the only time she’s bucked me off.
Unfortunately, while I read the pony-tude as meaning “I don’t want to work in the arena right now, and I certainly don’t want to do it before I finish my breakfast!”, the trainer took this as showing a bigger problem. Not only does Fetti not like arena work, but she’s not moving off my leg. She’s resisting the bit! There must be something in her past – maybe her most recent rides in the arena? – where she had bad arena experiences.
Here’s the catch. When Confetti and I head on the trail, we have an initial discussion where she says she doesn’t want to go; then she gets over it, and after that, a verbal cue is often sufficient to ask for a trot. Sometimes I’ll ask with a light leg cue, and occasionally I’ll get louder if I am convinced that I’m right in that she should be going faster/a gait up and I’m making a point to overrule her refusal.
Actually, as I’m typing this out, I’m realizing I probably over-cue in the arena.. but I’m not sure if that’s out of necessity, habit, or what. Hm.
And her most recent real arena work? That was in dressage lessons with an experienced college student who’s likely to do lessons with her again this fall. Pony was absolutely fine and has no problems with her. She and I don’t do well together in the arena asking for Real Work. I won’t deny that.
Trainer phrased it as me avoiding the problem, though. I take her on the trail because I don’t want to work her in the arena, or at least that was the implication. We do trail because we LIKE trails. I don’t feel obligated to make my horse want to enjoy arena work when it’s not something I particularly enjoy at this point. Circles? Meh. Can we do it? Yes. We’ll meander in the arena, I’ll work in there when other folks are in there on occasion. I don’t feel like I can never go in the arena. We’re just happier out on the trail. It was simultaneously frustrating and entertaining to have her trying to talk me into doing more arena work. I know she’s looking for more clients, but ugh! I thought I made my goals pretty clear here…
There is value in arena work. Evenings where it’s too late to go on the trail, or winter days where it’s too muddy or whatever, or some summer days.. we’ve done some arena work, we’ll keep doing more, and Fetti will get herself weekly dressage rides this fall. Neither of us particularly desires to do a ton of it, and I’m OK with that. There’s a vast difference in gait quality and responsiveness between our arena work and our trail rides. While our trails are still good and viable, I’d rather work her primarily on the trails and focus on those goals. This winter, when that’s not an option, we’ll work in the arena and we’ll do more finesse and who knows, maybe throw some flying changes at her if we’ve fixed my canter issues enough by then.
Back to the goals, though. I wanted a better walk. The only improvement on my walk she was willing to make was to ask her to go on the bit and to improve the rhythm. Speed should come last, she said. I’m not sure if she understands that I have no impulsion as well, but frankly by that point it didn’t matter. She thought Haflingers were gaited, so my confidence in her as a trainer was pretty well shattered. It’s not like there are no Haflingers in dressage, or that she had no warning of the breed or whatever. I was just generally so unimpressed.
On a more positive note: I had a very limited ride time on Tuesday, so we headed out just for the initial flat section. The way our trails go, it’s about a mile and a half of flat trails, then nearly all hill work but varying options from there on out. We rode about 2.5 miles in total. Average overall speed: 6.4mph. We did a Big Trot nearly the whole time, pony broke a bit of a sweat.. that’s a ride we can aim to repeat once a week or so. I am very, very pleased.