Lesson – Steering The Withers

One week ago, finally an opportunity to work with my trainer.

When there’s not going to be a lot of instruction opportunities, you know you better hang on to every word!  (And thank you Alexis for driving all the way out to us!)

The October show was great.  Still don’ feel I have “unlocked” the possibilities with this horse.  She moves tight, and takes every opportunity to lock up, resist, slow down, wiggle the shoulders, tilt her head.  Or all of the above.

Goal for this month:  work, every ride, on riding her in a new way.  Getting the basics down, all over again, with her moving more free, preferably without much influence of the hand at all.  Starting almost from scratch all over again 🙂

Forget about fiddling with a better leg yield or small voltes for now.  Writing it here will help make me accountable.  Fingers crossed I can do this!!  So far so good…

trying to ride more forward
Today’s pics from back in July at the breeding and training farm. Better than this now..?

We spent a full hour on simply being more in tune of the leg, balancing the bit quietly in front of her, offering opportunity to lengthen the neck with the hand softening forward more often.  (Now, a week later after the session, it’s getting more difficult…)

And steering the withers.

The last one ended up being the key.

steering the withers in dressage
Check out tall Banana Man there behind, he’s catching up to big brother.

It’s tempting to want to soften her body, and bend her around the inside leg.  You do that too?  With her, just overdoing it an inch makes her outside shoulder pop out on the circle and she’ll instantly lose all forward.

So, she has to be really on the outside aids, leg and rein.  Steering just for them.  Like a bus.  Because the sort of horse she is, and because that’s where she’s at in the training again right now…

Positioning the poll to the inside more an afterthought, later, when she stays reliably in the tempo.  This is hard, because through the ride, she gets more excited, and wants to curl just one inch, letting go of the bit.  And then we wiggle, feeling lost, and it starts to feel like I can’t even ride her straight.

New mantra, steer like a bus.

Sure, this has come up before.  Of course.

But that’s how it works with dressage –  riders can’t take in the instruction until they’re actually ready.  Or, until they’re convinced  there’s absolutely no way they can continue what they’re doing now.  And that lightbulb went on for me at the last show Ω

Fingers crossed we hold on to this type of riding all on our own until next month!

dressage lesson
If you’ve got a tweak you’re working on – feel free to share it! We can’t be the only ones…?

14 thoughts on “Lesson – Steering The Withers

  1. I applaud your taking total responsibility rather than finding fault with your horse; you set a great example. And while I am not in the midst of tweaking my riding, I am in the midst of tweaking a novel and it strikes me that there are similarities between the two. Getting back to basics with a more informed perspective, for instance. And hoping to hang onto the insights learned along the way.

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    1. It’s the only way to go for me. Realizing I’m not going to have all that many opportunities to just “trade in”m my horse whenever I can’t get her to be something, which she probably isn’t even capable of just yet, forces me to truly Ride What I have. And only blame myself for not doing it better! 🙂
      Some great insight there 😉

      And Jan, oh, writing is SO hard when there’s too much thought put in to it sometimes, right?…


  2. I won’t be tweaking (or even twerking) anything for the next 2 1/2 months or so. Just had my shoulder repaired. But my last lesson before the surgery my trainer decided we should just have some fun, so we tried out asking Sassypants to go from a sitting-on-her-haunches halt directly to canter, with the only aids coming from my seat. Bless her little curmudgeon heart, she did it over and over again, on both leads. Too bad there’s no call for this movement in First Level–we could for sure be getting 9’s!

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    1. Well Hey, definitely no twerking haha! But Alli, I’m so sorry you really ended up with surgery. I know you complained about having pains. Hopefully this is a super sweet, short ended story where you heal up just perfectly and get back to doing all the things you love!
      I’m full of awe and envy of your halt to canter move from the seat. Absolutely fabulous and how lovely!!! She tries for you!!! 2nd level waiting… You know, simple change on a serpentine. You could just come to an almost halt there through walk, shoot off your little aid, and off you go!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you on that Teresa.
      Sometimes I have a really hard time keeping track of whether it’s something “new” I’ve discovered we can’t do, a problem of sorts. Or, if it’s something that was there all along but I had no clue. Frustrating, but SO satisfactory when we get it right :0
      Loved your clinic with Carmen! What a great opportunity for both. She’s growing up!


  3. Great summary: Steering the withers! I’m going to hold on to that thought in my next few rides. Especially to the left (I hang on the left rein, and Star does, too – we are codependent), Star wants to pop her right shoulder, hang on the left (and I’ll help her!), overbend the neck, etc., etc. My trainer has been saying, straighten her, think less bend. Steering like a bus is a great image! I think that would help us and I’m going to try and think about it. Riding the withers is something I have thought about before (but forgotten) so it’s a wonderful reminder. It really does help you think with a forward hand and think “withers UP” (and horse coming under from behind). Oh, dressage is a never ending struggle…that’s why we do it, weirdos that we are. Good job making progress!

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    1. You and me both, overly reliant on the left rein! What irks me the most is that we’re still not quite there with steering more from the hips and weight aids. Seriously, she’ll completely Ignore the aids sometimes. Um, and then the left hand… Other times, just a swivel with the hips down the long side, and she’ll go shoulder in for a few steps, which we haven’t even confirmed yet! Yeah, it’s a struggle 😉

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  4. Hi Elinor,

    A fast, fast note. Leaving early Sunday morning for Las Vegas with Nationals beginning on Tuesday. Whether it’s dressage or show jumping, it is always about the basics. And, whether you’re a beginner or the current No. 1 rider in the world, it is always minding the basics. Set aside the expectations of where you think you should be. Set aside your thoughts about where you’re at now. Trust yourself, trust Valiosa and you’ll be alright.

    Will chat with you after Nationals.

    Ride well,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Little bit of holding my breath for you tomorrow! 🙂 Hope you all got there safe – I can’t help but admire how much you travel with your horses, very fun, but I know it must be absolutely exhaustive by the end of each season. All my best wishes at Nationals!!

      Your note is extremely timely. Tomorrow, we’re taking a big step, I’ll have to post on it later when I have time. I’ll definitely have to put aside ALL thoughts about expectations and imagined pressure of “where we should be”. We will both be the forever underdogs where we’re going… Hopefully a very good decision!


      1. Hello from Las Vegas!

        Today was an off-day, mainly to relax the horses and doing a light, afternoon workout. The pace picks up tomorrow morning (Wed) with the FEI veterinary check-in, with the first event coming at mid-afternoon and followed by a mandatory FEI riders meeting. They’ll ride again Thursday night (World Cup GP qualifier), Friday night. And, hopefully on Saturday night (World Cup GP). After the World Cup GP on Saturday night, it’ll be an FEI mixer. Sunday is a half day schedule, no events scheduled but another FEI rider event. The girls are thinking of riding the WC show in Guadalajara (Mexico) in mid-January.

        My girls, they’re longshots here with every event they’re riding beginning with FEI. They don’t mind. Being an underdog has its advantages … makes for a better story when they make that breakthrough. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Love it!
          You’ve raised some tough girls for sure! I know they’ll give it their very best down there.

          Whether they ride tonight at the World Cup GP or not, theyr’e still superstars 😉 Heading down to Mexico sounds like a super opportunity too.
          Playing in the FEI league takes some guts! As long as they keep viewing it as “play” 😉 Which is hard of course, when so much is at stake!


  5. I had a little ah-ha moment in my lesson this past weekend and thought I’d share it because it sounds like Valiosa is similar to Clay in some regards.

    I don’t get to be “seen” by my trainer very frequently–she travels from over 3 hrs away–so when she does come, there is always some bad habit we’ve fallen into in her absence. She gets right to work ironing it out. This time is was that my legs were tense and I was WAY over-using them, and as a result, Clay had become pretty shut-down to my leg/not hot off the aids anymore.

    I was feeling this happen slowly but surely (it was set off by our shows this summer…I was riding tensely at them, and he tends to be VERY quiet and a little shut down at shows as well), but my response was all wrong…I used my legs even MORE, with little result. So, right away my trainer had me collect and then lengthen our walk, over and over, with just my seat and core and the tiniest bit of leg aid if needed (reinforced by the whip) while really focusing on keeping my legs “at peace”.

    Sure enough, Clay would cut the engine whenever he would feel me relax and unclench. Hah. Yep, I had trained my horse to only keep going when I am working waaaay too hard. We did this collect and then lengthen, collect and then lengthen, over and over until he could keep the same forward energy without any nagging or tensing up on my part, and the occasional reminder from the whip to not shut down or push into my right leg (his favorite evasion).

    Next we did it at the trot. Then at the canter. Nature keeps the horse going, not the leg. A good, meaningful reminder with the whip, then back to peaceful. After a bit of that, WOW, was he ever hot off the aids and I had some of the best lengthening steps and steps of true collection we’ve had in a long while. A quick tap of the leg, and he’d suck his little booty under himself!

    Now, I teach riding lessons (mostly hunter/jumper, but dressage influences a LOT about how I teach), and I am always telling student not to nag with their legs or hold them clenched against their horse, but here I am tooling around on my pony, more or less oblivious to the fact that I was doing exactly that…Funny how we fall into little habits here and there that can have a HUGE impact on everything else! I was really thankful for that lesson and what came out of it.

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    1. This is the best Tonia!!
      Yep, I struggle with the same here. It is very easy to do, falling into the trap of using the leg every other stride when riding a less than forward horse. It becomes an unconscious habit, and is very tough to break without the right instruction.

      I love it that we’re sort of in the same boat with this. Especially now, since I ride fairly rarely for my trainer. (Argh! I MISS her!)
      I had a few sessions where I did something similar like this (only that she almost doesn’t care that much about the whip, mostly gets annoyed with it, or kicks out, at which my instructor will have me continue tapping with it of course. Point being that getting the right “effect” from the whip is not always straight forward with her.)

      Anyways, I noticed a “huge” difference with my mare. She even came out one day really anticipating me getting after her, so the first aid to trot had her bolt out instead. (hey, that was sort of welcome.) And first canter transition she was ON.

      Your comment made me realize we’re already “slipping back.” I stopped demanding her being so reactive to the leg, because really, it was too much. And now, her we are some 6 rides on, and she’s already duck-trotting-waddling around!
      Time for some change!

      I LOVE it when I get eye opening help like this. Thank you 🙂


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