Lesson Progression


Saturday was lesson day! I was so excited to show our instructor just how much we have progressed while she was gone, but at the same time I was nervous that Fiction would be a butt instead.

Well, warm-up didn't exactly go as planned, but I1 was content to watch and see how we were doing. I picked up the canter to the left in warm-up and she immediately pulled us in to a circle around her to start the lesson from there. We then proceeded to have one of the most amazing lessons I've ever experienced.

I'm not going to lie - I'm not a good rider. Sometimes I read the blogs of those who are far more advanced than I and when they explain the aids they use and the techniques they employ, I can grasp the concepts but lack real-world knowledge to accompany them. So, I am unable to replicate any of it and I am often left feeling relatively down about myself.

For example - the use of the thigh. I've never been taught to use my thigh. I've tried, but never fully understood how to use it and when. Well, the first thing I1 instructed me to do once I was on the circle was to apply my outside thigh & leg and shove Fiction's haunches inwards to make him utilize his outside hind. Again, concepts I've heard but have never experienced in practice. Canter to me was canter, bend around the inside leg, and go.

So, anyways, the entire lesson revolved around getting Fiction to utilize his outside hind at the canter and at the trot. This took an insane amount of leg. But, when we accomplished what we were setting out to do, Fiction's poll raised, I felt a lift in his front end, and he filled up the outside rein. He felt compact and powerful. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. And, for once, I finally felt like I was riding my horse. I could feel the individual parts of my body. I could adjust my legs/seatbones/hands accordingly. I finally understood some of what everyone else in dressage blogging land seems to understand: feel.

Some pointers from the lesson:

    • Liberally apply outside leg & thigh at the canter to move the haunches in. Fiction may throw his nose to the outside to compensate, so move inside rein to bring his nose back into the correct bend - even if it has to be more mechanical than beneficial at this time.
    • Weight outside seatbone but be sure to keep contact with inside seatbone.
    • Do not twist wrists - keep them up and steady.
    • Follow horse with hips but steady shoulders.
    • When he gets to where we want him, reward by lightening outside aides and straightening a bit. If he loses it, return to haunches in for a few steps.
    • At the trot, post on the wrong diagonal. This somewhat forces his outside hind to engage more than usual.
    • The moment he relents to the aids, push him forward. If he loses it, move him back into haunches in.
    • Don't let his poll drop too far.
    • Tickle his stifle with the whip if need be, to encourage haunches to move over.

I felt so amazingly secure and effective in my saddle during this lesson. All of my riding insecurities pretty much melted away. It also helped when I1 turned to me and said "You are the right person to ride this horse." As in, he's so incredibly fussy & hates hard work, but I manage to ignore him and persevere, asking calmly and consistently until he gives me what I want. She also complimented his weight and muscle and said it was obvious that we have been going in the right direction just by how he has developed over the last three months.

This was my third lesson with this instructor and already I am learning concepts I have never experienced in my many, many years of riding. It has given me renewed hope in my partnership with Fiction.


Leaping Lizards


We jumped on Wednesday.

I mean, we legit jump schooled. In a dressage saddle. Over fences 2' and under.

And it was marvelous.

Fiction wasn't feeling flat work when I got on him, and, to be honest, neither was I. I love dressage, I really do, but right now, without adequate guidance, I feel like we just flounder around and do the same things over and over again. So jumping offered both of us some mental relief.

The jumps/poles were already set up. I started with some walk-trot flat work and then moved to trot him over a raised pole. He jumped it and then cantered off silky smooth. That was when I paused for a second and then made the decision to continue jumping.

So, around and around we went, throwing in a raised pole here, a cross rail there. And Fiction was simply amazing. Calm, collected, level-headed....a far cry from the rabid, bolting animal I had to work with before.

With my confidence rising, I aimed him over a line of two 2' verticals - I think three strides apart. The first time through I just jumped him over the first jump. Unfortunately, I gave him a bad approach and we flailed on landing.

The second time wasn't much better - I didn't give him the best directions and we almost had a run-out at the second fence. 100% my fault - I haven't jumped seriously in nearly a year!

But, even with the mishaps, Fiction remained calm, came back to me, and relaxed after the jumps. I gave him a short break and then tried the line one more time. That was when a little bit of the older Fiction started to show through and he got a bit rushy in the middle of the line. Nevertheless, we ended on a great note and I gave him lots of love followed by a short trail ride through the woods with J.

He was pretty sweaty afterwards. I'm sure he used a lot of muscles he wasn't used to using anymore. Still, he has a happy camper and I made sure to stuff his face with treats.


Roy & Moss


I recently got reminded by Bel Joeor of the old blog hop comparing horses to fictional TV characters. I didn't participate because I honestly couldn't think of a fictional character to compare Fiction to.

Then it finally dawned on me.

Our relationship can best be summed up by Moss and Roy from The IT Crowd - with Fiction as Moss and myself as Roy.

He is delightfully clueless and takes all instructions 100% literally.

He's incredibly sensitive and falls to pieces when I correct him - especially if a whip is involved!

He genuinely doesn't know how to act out/be naughty. He's way too sweet!

He prefers to avoid situations when they get too difficult.

And we both are incapable of faking enthusiasm for things that disinterest us.

He likes to pretend to be a bad-ass in the field, but we both know he's not fooling anyone.

He has a tendency to freeze up in unusual/stressful situations.

We both can be quite awkward - under/in a saddle and on the ground.

And I often have to remind him to be a little more confident in his own abilities!

He's pretty much my only friend because, well....

So I make sure to take super good care of him.



Pole Work


Before my new Instructor wandered off down south to do her thing for the winter, she advised me to get Fiction comfortable with poles. Unfortunately, we haven't exactly been focusing on this homework in lieu of simple flatwork & practice for shows.

On Thursday I wanted to set up the circle of doom in poles for him to work through, but the poles had all been relocated outside and one of the girls riding was going to use them to jump. So I scratched the idea and rode inside, where I had the indoor arena to myself.

Fiction was great for the beginning of the ride, if not a bit lazy. We ran through the paces and then I gave him a small break while I watched a boarder jump outside. When we attempted to return to work, Fiction decided he was completely done, and it took a good thirty minutes or so to get his brain back.

J and I decided that Friday we would work on poles together. We set up a long line, which is actually quite nice for Fiction as it keeps him from rushing. He still gets that high head-ears perked kind of look on his face when we approach the poles, but he isn't out of control.

He's still not great through the poles, but he is a lot better. I have to remember to half halt him going in, but not too much, otherwise he botches the first few poles or so. If we get the formula down correctly, Fiction prances over the poles without touching them. He's even started to relax down through them.

On Sunday, despite the freezing cold and blowing winds, I pulled him outside for another round of poles, since they were still set up. He was acting a bit unusual - shaking his head, rooting, and pinning his ears. He seemed to quiet down a bit as we warmed up, so I believe it had more to do with the sudden cold front (it went from 70* to 35*) than any actual physical discomfort. Still, to be on the safe side, I made our schooling short.

Before pushing the poles, I did push him a bit down the long sides at the trot and canter. This is a bit harder outside because as we approach the far sides of the arena, he always wants to snap his head up to look at something. Still, he is improving, and we will never get anywhere if I don't keep pushing him to go straight. And, honestly, I'm tired of circles haha.

Then through the poles we went - three times each side. He was pretty great. We had a few instances of rushing at the beginning, but I just gave him a strong half-halt and then pushed him through the poles as he has a tendency to back off when in the process of traversing them. While he's still not relaxed through them, he is now relaxing immediately after the last pole.

I gave him lots of love after, put him up to enjoy breakfast, and then cleaned all of my tack. We have a lesson with I1 on the 26th, and I'm hoping to talk to her about putting a few training rides into him.


Asking For More


Our ride on Thursday wasn't bad. There were some poles set up in the center of the arena, so I made sure to incorporate them into our work. That being said, we didn't do too much, but I did ask for Fiction to give me more of an effort.

Fiction isn't an easy horse. He gets easily upset when asked to do something outside of his comfort zone. If it isn't his idea, then he wont be happy doing it. Repetition is key with this horse, but at the same time, repetition can and will fry his brain. I never know what kind of ride I am going to get with him. Some days I can sit the trot and he will be fine. Other days sitting trot is not at all an option. Sometimes I can ask him to trot down the long side nicely, and other days we are forced to stay on a circle just to keep his brain focused.

It gets to be exhausting and frustrating and I cannot tell you how many times I have just wanted to throw the reins at him and give up.

Seriously. I'm all for a challenge, but Fiction is a special sort of challenge, and many people will agree with me.

You can't get on Fiction and expect him to want to work. You have to get on him and expect a 20 minute warm up followed by potentially a nice ride, but more likely a struggle to just get the basics to an acceptable level before ultimately quitting after his brain goes. Progress is mind boggling slow with this horse. It certainly doesn't help that we spent three years essentially working backwards.

The problem I am now facing is how hard to push him. Push him too hard and he shuts down. Don't push him hard enough and you go nowhere. Luckily, I know him well enough that I'm getting pretty good at navigating this obstacle.

So, on to our problems to the left. On Thursday and Saturday I stepped up my game and started asking for bend in a more aggressive manner. No pulling on the mouth, no kicking, no whip usage - just aggressive, constantly applied aids. The moment he yielded I would lighten my aids. Of course, for Fiction this always translates to OMG SHE'S NOT SUPPORTING ME ANYMORE WHAT DO?

Cue repeat.

It gets boring very quickly. I try to liven it up by varying our circles (straight lines are practically impossible for him at this point), changing direction, throwing in a pole or so, etc.

Thursday was a pretty mediocre ride, save for our canter to the right. It was pretty rad. We even managed to keep it together down the long side. On Saturday we had a lot of success to the left. Still nowhere near to what we can handle to the right, but a step up for sure. I'm really getting good at lengthening my inside leg and applying my seat bones - skills I have not previously been able to utilize. It definitely does help.

I take solace in the little things - his vastly improved medium walk, his nice downwards transitions, the fact that he no longer feels like he is going to fall over to the left from all of his leaning. But sometimes I honestly crave a horse I don't have to constantly micromanage (seriously - this horse loses his brain the moment you give him an inch of slack).

Maybe some day we'll get there.


3/6 Schooling Show


Sunday was our first show of the season and our first show in about a year and a half.

I went in with very low expectations. I know my horse. He doesn't have enough show experience to be solid in the dressage arena yet. I completely expected to bomb the test and come in last.

However, I am happy to report that we eluded last place - huzzah!

Fiction was mediocre in warm-up. There was a lot of activity and his brain simply can't handle a lot of activity in a short amount of time. I needed a longer warm-up but unfortunately I didn't have that luxury.

I managed to walk him around in the dressage arena a few times before the start of the test. His walk was beautiful - round, bent around my leg, responsive....it perked my hopes up a bit before the test but I was sure to squash them down again to mediate expectations.

The test (T-1) played out almost exactly as I imagined it. The moment we started down center line, Fiction's nose went through the roof and stayed there. No amount of leg/half-halting/aids could get his attention back on me. His brain was gone. And that was OK.

Here is a brief summary of the bad:

    • Hollow - best giraffe imitation to date.
    • Very bent to the outside, as he is prone to do himself, especially to the left when he falls in with his shoulder and bulges his neck inwards.
    • Two gait breaking issues - broke early from the canter to the trot at the circle at A, and attempted to break into the trot in medium walk after the free-walk...because he's a smart little guy and knew that A is where we pick up the trot again.
I watched him on video - halt was perfect, but off center. Not sure why we got an OK - he couldn't have done much better o.O
And here is a brief summary of the good:
    • TWO SQUARE HALTS. PERFECTLY SQUARE. This is a big deal. Seriously. He halted, round, all four feet square, no rooting, no shuffling, nothing. It was beautiful. This has never happened.
    • AMAZING CANTER DEPARTURES! No tail swishing, no kicking, no running into the canter, no balking, no ear pinning, no delay in reaction. He picked up the canter where I wanted it, when I asked, with no sass.
    • All transitions were responded to promptly, with no hissy fits.
    • Absolutely beautiful free walk. The judge disagreed, but I couldn't be happier. He stretched down, didn't attempt to trot off or pin his ears when I picked the reins back up, and was generally happy. I saw the free walk on video and it was the best we have ever done, but one of our lowest (freewalk) scores. Go figure.
    • CALM. HE WAS SO CALM. Despite his nose to the air and his attention on everything but me, he wasn't tense. He was alert. The judge mistook this as being tense, and I completely understand, but the horse I was riding was a far cry from the tense creature I normally have to work with. Fiction was alert and definitely not willing to play dressage horse, but he maintained his gaits and responded well to all of my transition signals.
    • And, true to the pact I made with him on Saturday, I went into the test relaxed and stayed relaxed. When he doesn't listen to me at a show I have a tendency to try and force him to listen, which instead creates a fight and results in a very tense horse. This time I erred a bit too far on the soft side, but the result was a far more relaxed horse.
The judge scored horses with a very low headset well, which is obviously what she was looking for based on her notes here (and what we are very well capable of - just not in an arena yet haha). I agree with all of her comments for the most part.
We actually exceeded my expectations for this test. Fiction was calm and agreeable, despite being looky. He executed all movements in a timely manner without acting out. It certainly wasn't our best test ever, but it most definitely wasn't our worst (like our first dressage test ever, where he decided halting was beneath him).

The judge was exceptionally harsh. A bit too harsh, I feel, as we scored only three points higher than a horse who freaked out in the arena when asked to canter and then refused to halt both times. Fiction may have had his head in outer space, but he was very obedient.

We ended up with the worst dressage score we have ever gotten - 46.6%. This put us in 11th place out of 16 (if I remember properly). Again, I expected to come in last, so no biggie here - the show was only for the experience!

Picture taken by J's awesome husband who was a great help!
After the test I schooled him some more in the practice arena and he was simply beautiful. He relaxed even further, listened to me, and we had the most beautiful work we have ever had at a show (and even better than some of our work at home!). He was round, connected, bending properly (to the left even!), and completely in tune with me. Had we done a second test, we probably would have aced it.

Our new game plan for the next show is as follows: longer warm-up, ride T-1, back to schooling ring to continue to school, then ride T-2. I requested 2-3 rides be placed between my T-1 and T-2 tests so that I will have time to get his brain aligned.

All in all I am very pleased with how the show turned out. Not so much the test (disposable, really), but the general way that he acted. I put a lot of emphasis on calm and it really panned out. I have much higher expectations for the next show and I've completely gained back my confidence!




I took the day off Thursday and went for an hour long trail ride with Fiction. It was a bit cold and windy but Fiction was an absolute rock star. The ride was calm and relaxing. We had a great time traversing the hills for some essential butt workouts!

After the ride I finished clipping Fiction for the show on Sunday. I decided not to clip half of his face and instead just trimmed it to make it presentable. I also trimmed up his legs, bridle path, and whiskers.

After his mini-spa, it was his turn to get patched with AcuLife Equine pain patches. This is something I have never done before, and I was a bit skeptical, but figured I would give it a shot. Basically, it is acupuncture without needles. The patcher essentially ran her hands along Fiction's body until she found spots that elicited reactions from him (sometimes as little as a nose twitch), and then placed a patch on a few of those spots. Six patches on each side.

These patches claim to:
    • Re-align the skeleton (chiropractic)
    • Eliminate stiffness and inflammation of muscles and joints
    • Reduce recovery time
    • Promote faster wound & injury healing
    • All around wellness
I did notice Fiction get sleepy, droop his head, and lick/chew excessively within minutes of being patched. However, this correlation could be mere coincidence.

We experimented with button braiding for our Sunday show - first time braiding with yarn too!
The patches stay on for a few days. I took them off the night before the show. He had lost a few along the way, so they aren't as sticky as one might home. I noticed a few things:
    • The patches that were placed on his shaved sections lost their 'coloring' (the center dot changed from brown to white).
    • The patches placed on hairy parts of his body either fell off or did not change coloring, leading me to believe they were complete ineffective.

The first time I rode him after the patches was at the show, so not the best place to figure out if they did any good. I will say that he was definitely moving better to the left that he has in the past few weeks, but that is it.

Will I do it again? I'm not sure. It's a bit too....hokey(?) for me, and I'm not sure how effective it was, and since I'm currently on a tight budget, I would rather put my cash towards chiropractic work than patch work. But, I can definitely say that it was an interesting experiment!




In preparation for the show on Sunday, I decided to update Fiction's clip. The original plan was for a blanket clip...but, well, we got a little carried away.

I still have to do his face. I won't be able to fully clip it since he hates his ears being touched, but I will be half clipping it and touching up his legs a little bit too.

Many thanks to J for the help, especially when my clippers decided they had enough!