Tough Lessons with Dante & Coach Sue Byrne

I find it nearly impossible to focus when I am riding alone especially when I don’t have a plan in place. A different set of eyes on the ground is a great plus to have, as they see things you may not notice or feel when you are in the saddle. Simple fixes to your riding or to your position can make such massive improvements to the way your horse moves.

Sue Byrne has tried to give me a 6 month challenge, she wants me to set out plans & goals for me to focus on & too improve on with regular lessons hopefully every week or every two weeks, depending on our schedules.

While I am still yet to figure out my exact plans for the next 6 months, A good starting point is using the image on the right as the holy grail to my riding. I have decided to focus more on myself & fixing my position in the saddle, focusing on making Dante work and use himself properly, in turn hoping this will all contribute to a well rounded horse! 

Keep reading below to see what we tackled in our action packed lesson!


Flatwork

It always feels good when you begin warming up your horse & your instructor is shocked by how well your horse is working forward & freely and working up into the contact without hesitation. I have been focusing a lot on flatwork recently as you all may know, and the results are starting to pour in!

At the beginning of our lesson we focused on my position in the saddle. To be honest I don’t sit up straight & I am forever slouching, this is now beginning to take its toll with my riding. We started with some circle work in trot. Sue stood in the middle directing me to ride Dante around her in a 20 meter circle. Whilst doing this she had me looking directly at her opening out my inside rein towards her and away from Dante’s neck. Automatically this moved my body especially my shoulders to where they should be, I struggled to keep my shoulders back for the entire time, I kept getting shouted at by Sue to sit up, without realising I was dropping or slouching my shoulders, Sue was certainly working me hard!!

We then moved on to making the circle larger, then smaller, using my inside leg to push Dante in and out. It was tough work keeping him moving forward! The positives were that he was using himself properly & working up into the contact whilst doing this exercise. As we began to move up into canter, this exercise became a bit more challenging, Dante was running in through his shoulder and it was quite hard to get him to listen to my leg, when I was trying to push him out he kept dropping in. After a while of trying he eventually stopped and threw a little strop taking off in the opposite direction. Don’t get me wrong Dante is normally the king of tantrums, but in this case we seemed to notice he was struggling to bend indicating that he had some sore spots,. Instead of pushing him we brought it back to basics and finished this exercise on a large canter circle around the arena.

Flatwork Exercises to work on for next time:

  • Start doing Dressage Tests
  • Position In the Saddle
  • Not Folding My Body!
  • Book Dante in for a session with his chiropractor!

My Bad Habits

Bad Habit 1

We all have our bad habits, but sometimes you dont realise your bad habit has an effect on the way you ride! Slouching forward is one that I have a problem letting go. Its just dreadful, it looks shocking it feels shocking but it is one that I struggle with the most.

During our lesson, we noticed that I do this mainly in my canter work, on my upward transitions is were it is most obvious. Sue had me cantering around the arena, transitioning up and down to canter. She explained that canter is an upward transition, that I should be lifting my body upwards when I am asking Dante to transition up instead of folding my body and hoping for the best. It improved as the lesson went on, but it will take some time!

Bad Habit 2

Kicking Dante forward instead of squeezing him on. I must remind myself that I am not in pony club, and kicking is not the way to get your horse moving forward. This is a habit I never knew I had until Sue kept pointing it out. Dante can be quite dead to the leg at times, and well he is massive and I am quite small, but this is not an adequate excuse to use!

So when transitioning upwards, squeezing him forward is the answer and if he doesn’t respond my schooling whip then comes in to play. He shall soon learn that he must move forward or he will get flicks of the schooling whip instead. So far it is working good, but dear lord my calf muscles are in complete shock!!

Jumping

We all know Dante can jump, he has scope for days, But he gets these ideas every know & then that he just knows best and when this happens it can be quite lethal! I wanted to work on my position a bit more, his straightness & getting his legs lifting in our lesson, and it didn’t disappoint!

As we started jumping, we focused on my position. We focused on it so much so that Sue made me jump without reins to show me how I naturally move my body in tune with Dante when he jumps. Holding onto the reins seems to put my body out of its natural way of moving with Dante when he is jumping. To be fair I think for me it is a fear mechanism with the way he used to jump back in his early days he used to jump fences as if they were 10ft high! I need to forget about this and focus more on the now, while he is still scopey he is way more careful.

As we moved on in our lesson Sue had set up a 3 jump grid, with one stride between each fence. She had a canter pole into the first fence along with V poles. We struggled to meet the canter pole before the first fence a number of times which in turn put us in trouble to the second and third fence. We had to pull out of the grid 2/3 times as I didn’t want to floor myself & end up with a mouthful of sand.

Eventually I came into the grid & instead of trying to control Dante and hold him in or anticipate how he was to jump I left him alone. We jumped through perfectly. While he knocked the last fence as he got in a little deep, Sue purposely left it short so that he would learn to lift his legs getting them out of the way.

It was quite an eye opener, he is hands down one of the most honest horses I have ever come across, he would jump anything I put him into no matter how badly I do so. I need to have more trust in my horse, I need to let him do his job!

What To Work on With Dante’s Jumping

  • My Position in the saddle, heels down hands forward
  • Not Interrupting Dante when he is approaching a fence
  • Stop counting 3,2,1 into fences! Let the fence come to you instead of you bringing Dante to the fence.

And there you have it, my lesson round up with Sue Byrne! Dont you just love when you start to see progress in your riding, let alone how your horse is moving.

We have a lot of homework to focus on for next time, so watch this space & be sure to keep an eye out for our next lesson update! While I did notice Dante was struggling with some things we tackled in our lesson I have booked him in to see his chiropractor to sort out any of those tight spots he may have!

Be sure to give Sue a follow over on her Instagram page, for any lesson enquirers be sure to drop her a DM!

As always, thanks for reading!

Darielle

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