Intro to dressage (or, TDG says yield and Jitter giggles)

The filly and I have spent about 3 weeks discussing sidereins. I think of this as more of a discussion than instruction. I’ve used them before, but in the Hunter Land I come from, there hadn’t been much cause to use them quite as much as I am now.

This is actually at the recommendation of our vet, who I called to diagnose a phantom hind end lameness that turned out to be non-pathologic lameness and completely inefficient motion. Obviously I’m more ok with that than a chip, but it certainly sounds damning.

We started out simple–on the third hole on a set of sidereins with elastic ends. The vet came for a check-up, and promptly cranked them up about 18 inches. This sounds kind of…insane but as it turns out, she’s perfectly capable of resisting the bit even with them that short, so I don’t feel I’m forcing her into anything much.

She understands what they are for, and gives me beautiful, beautiful movement when she decides she wants to listen. However, as a greenie she gets bored/mad/tired/lazy/hormonal/angsty/whatever some days and spends about 30 min. fighting them before bringing her head to the little perpendicular line I’m supposed to imagine coming from the ground. Other days, it’s an instantaneous head drop, and I keep the sessions short on those days as reinforcement.

Mind you–I don’t know much about dressage. Probably best to describe my feelings toward it as similar to those toward brussels sprouts: a necessary pain that everyone will lecture you about the benefits of. I’m trying to keep an open mind, but the more frustrating the learning process, the harder that’s becoming.

Current struggle: Correctly reinforcing a yield under tack.

Apparently, I’m tending to catch her in the mouth when she yields. I don’t mean to be doing this, and I try to soften my hands as soon as she gives, but I’m either too late, or too enthusiastic, and I drop her mouth altogether. There doesn’t seem to be a problem when I keep my reins longer but in contact, since I can keep my hands soft to start with. When we first start out though, this doesn’t work so well, and the pretty merry-go-round pony sticks her head straight up and sets off like a Standardbred.

Particularly distressing: I am told that this is a Formative Stage In Our Training (like, what isn’t?) and if I don’t get this right soon, I’m going to frustrate her out of yielding, which is way harder to fix. Any dressage newbies out there got a suggestion?


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