Coco’s First Private Lesson ~ Lessons with Coco

Where we were before the lesson

Before my first private lesson Coco had developed a bit of a head tossing issue. I’ll go into more details about this in a Head Tossing post but essentially what started out as a problem with teeth turned into a habit to avoid doing work. So this was something that I really wanted to get a professionals help on as the last thing I want is a heady horse unwilling to accept the contact. Coco also has a small napping issue when she first gets into the arena. It doesn’t happen all the time but if she’s in that mood it can be very irritating to push her out of. She also has a bit of a problem with picking up the correct canter lead on the right rein and tends to get excited by polework. This is just what I can think of right now but as you can see, we have a lot to work on but that’s why you get lessons right? Enter my new instructor, Sue Byrne, who came highly recommended by Darielle and some other friends. She absolutely didn’t disappoint.


The Start Getting the baby out of the way

I arrived into my lesson, excited and rearing to go as I couldn’t wait to have a lesson that was solely dedicated to me, my youngster and our problems. I mounted up and wondered if today might be the day that Coco would behave herself. This was wishful thinking as Coco proceeded to nap towards the gate and start her bunny hopping in protest of the work she was about to be asked to do. At the advice of my instructor I pushed her out of it in a light contact until she started moving forward. This was something I had been doing to stop the napping so I was glad to know that at least I was doing something right. After that Coco decided she didn’t want to just walk and she didn’t want to trot, she wanted to go fast. So with the go ahead from Sue I set off for 3 laps of the arena in canter (which unintentionally accelerated into a full on gallop down the longside) with a light seat. Once I felt her tire, I put her on a large 20 metre circle until she was ready to stop. And from there my horse was ready to work.


Exercise 1: Walking on a circle 

Probably the most simple and basic exercise you can do but one that’s never to be underestimated. I walked Coco on a circle while keeping her on the contact. Any time she tried to toss her head, she got a quick chug on the inside rein to remind her to listen and keep her head still. When she relaxed into the contact I would give with the inside rein to tell her that yes, that’s what I was asking for. From there it was all about getting her to stretch down. 


Exercise 2: Trotting Poles

Next we tried some trotting poles. Something I had done with Coco numerous times before but definitely needing more practice. Sue set up two sets of 3 trot poles on the diagonal, either side of the arena. We did a figure of eight from one set to the other trying to keep a rhythm…trying being the operative word. When Coco got to the first set of purple poles, she would pop into canter. No matter how relaxed and steady she was going in, as soon as she hit that first pole she would break into canter. When it came to the other set of yellow poles on the other side of the arena she was much better. 


Exercise 3: Canterwork 

Coco’s canterwork needs a fair bit of, well, work. At the moment she has trouble picking up the correct canter lead on the right rein, she’s also very bunny-hoppy and she tosses her head quite a bit so with all that, we decided that what we wanted from today was to get her into a nice flowing canter. To do this we started a series of transitions from trot to canter and back down to trot again. I asked for canter out of one corner and then brought her back to trot at the next corner, then asked for canter again in the following corner. When doing this on the right rein we didn’t worry about what canter lead she picked up as the focus was on getting her to stop bunny-hopping and to keep her moving forward. Once she relaxed into the exercise she gave me exactly what I was asking for and she started picking up the correct lead too! 


Exercise 4: Canter Poles

Next we moved onto some canter poles. Sue set up a simple exercise. Two poles, one stride apart. The first few times we did the exercise Coco got quite fast and bolted over the poles. After doing it a few times she gradually calmed down and started coming back to me.


Exercise 5: Jumping

Before this lesson I hadn’t done much jumping with Coco, just the odd small cross pole here or there so I was really excited about doing some proper jumping. We started off with a small upright with a placing pole one stride out. The first time we jumped it, she met the placing pole ok but was a bit flat so she knocked the pole forward and when she got to the actual jump, she kind of didn’t even realise it was a jump. She treated it more like a canter pole so barely lifted her legs and cantered through it. We did it a few more times and got in or around the same result each time. I really struggled to place her correctly to the jump, it’s always been something that I’ve had problems with. We tried it on the other rein a few times and finally we started getting somewhere. I was able to read the stride better and Coco got a grasp on the fact that we were jumping and not just going over canter poles. Her last jump she jumped perfectly so we left her at that.

3 Things to Work on for next time:
  • Getting Coco to stretch her neck out long and low in the walk to help her relax
  • Sue advised that to help stop Coco’s head tossing, I should give a quick little chug on the inside rein every time she went to throw her head. Once she drops her head I then need to give with the inside rein. 
  • For Coco’s canterwork, I need to not worry too much about making sure she’s on the correct canter lead, but more of achieving a flowing canter with no bunny-hopping.

All in all, I really enjoyed my first private on Coco. It was exactly what we needed to get our arses in gear.

Keep an eye out for my blogpost on my second private lesson. Coming Soon!



4 thoughts on “Coco’s First Private Lesson ~ Lessons with Coco

  1. My mare had the exact same head tossing problem stemming from teeth and progressing to evasion of contact, i dont think chugging/pulling on the inside rein is productive as it breaks the contact and may produce more head tossing in the future as it still re enforces the idea that head tossing=no contact. Plus it hurts which also says contact=pain which she learned from the teeth. I fixed my head tossing from the leg just push push push into that contact and reward her moments with a stretch she’ll soon get the idea! (From a nervous Bhsii with a similar youngster)
    good luck shes absolutely gorgeous!!!
    Love the blog girls

    1. Thanks so much for the comment and feedback..friendly advice is always appreciated!! To be honest, before Coco I would have absolutely agreed with you. I had group lessons with a grand prix dressage instructor a few months ago who went through 3 different methods (including what you have suggested) to help stop the head tossing and none of them worked. I would never have tried the light chug before as I felt it was a bit too rough…however I cant fault the results as Coco has now stopped her head tossing. After one week of giving a little chug every time Coco tossed her head, she had stopped in the walk and trot. Four weeks on and it has completely stopped in all her gaits. She now works forward and comfortably into a light contact. I completely understand your points and I don’t think this would work on every horse but when all else has failed it is worth a go. Also, I ride Coco in a rubber snaffle so she feels the absolute minimum amount of pain, if any at all. Ill be doing a post on the different methods I tried to fix Coco’s head tossing so keep an eye out, would be great to get your feedback on that one!

  2. Thank you for the response!! To be honest if you’ve tried everything else and this is what works go for it!! Maybe the correction in the moment works better then repetition of an exercise, very interesting and a head tossing blog post would be mint 😁💛

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