On March 4th, HJU aired the 9th episode of the “HorseJunkiementary” series. This one featured Brittany Fraser’s lesson with four-time Canadian Dressage Olympian Ashley Holzer (find the episode here). To even just be allowed to be the “fly on the wall” during this lesson was exciting; little did I know how much I would take away from this episode. This was Grand Prix level stuff, I mean; they were working on the canter pirouette. As a newbie rider, who competed once in Intro level, what would there be for me? Turns out, quite a lot!

Ashley Holzer teaching Brittany Fraser on All In

Ashley Holzer teaching Brittany Fraser on All In

The lesson starts at 7:20, but don’t miss out on watching Countess show off her rider in the beginning. I have taken the liberty to transcribe the sections that struck a chord with me, lit the light bulb and made me excited:

“When you are collecting, what I am looking for is a little bit more jump behind. So if you put a little bit too much weight in his hind legs, he is actually going to get a little bit stiff in his back. So instead of putting too much weight on his hind legs, try to drop his neck a little bit, shorten his canter. There is a difference between shortening his canter, and making their canter sit. So make him shorten, not sit too much, and make him go forward again. Now, as you go forward make sure he forward by your legs telling him to go forward. If you open up your hands and soften, he should stay where he is. He shouldn’t necessarily get any faster.”

Now, I am still working on slowing Pippi to a decent canter, as we fly around our small arena like her tail is on fire. Collection will come down the road a bit. That being said, the reminder that Pippi should stay the same even if I soften hands, and go from my legs, was welcome. Does my Trainer say that? Of course she does. Will she have to drill that some more? Well, yeah, but hearing it at from that level of riders reminds me of how foundational that is.

“When you are half-halting, you are thinking of the weight coming to the outside hind leg. Which is the leg that bears a lot of weight in the canter.”  What? I knew that. Outside hind, simultaneous inside hind and outside fore, and then the inside fore, suspension, and then it starts again. I knew all of that, but I had not put it together. If a horses haunches falls in on a canter circle it’s because weight was shifted from the outside hind to the inside, which of course means the diagonal pair. Even on the circle it should stay on the outside hind. Keeping that in mind will help me help Pippi, or at least not get in her way.

“If you are cantering and you are feeling this motion (rocks upper body back and forth) so much, try not to play into that motion with your shoulders. Try to let your waist down move with that motion, but don’t bring it up into your shoulders and your neck. Because the more it travels up your body, the harder it is for them to balance……”

My Trainer reminds me of this every ride. “Still your shoulders.” “Quiet your shoulders.” “Move your hips with the horse.” So, watching Ashley Holzer show that motion and then explain the effect of that rocking motion should not have set off a light bulb at all. Seriously, how many times do I need to hear that? And how many ways? The answer is “at least one more time” to both questions.

Malin and Pippi

I couldn’t wait to get in the saddle to not rock the boat, and it was awesome.

I couldn’t wait to get in the saddle to not rock the boat, and it was awesome. I even had the Trainer’s husband watch, I was so excited. And being a lovely man, he gave me lots of compliments and said he totally saw the difference when I showed him the before and after. Pippi can slow down the canter when her rider is not throwing her back and forth. She can keep her engine in the rear, when her rider is not constantly throwing her on the forehand. And I can still myself, and will improve that ability as we practice more. Okay, as I practice more.

“When I say bring the haunch in a lot, how many inches do you think I am talking about?” Brittany answers “a couple of inches.” “Exactly, couple of inches, so not a lot. When you horse is this narrow (gestures about 8-10 inches) and you bring him this much (widens hands 2-3inches), it’s a lot for them right?”

 This one made me stop, and think for a minute. What was she talking about? On the ground the horses steps uses a width of like what, 12 inches, so asking for three inches of deviation is 25% of the total. And yes, that is a lot. I will keep that in mind when working on the turns on the forehand, of which we are quite good, and turns on the haunches, of which Pippi does like a champ on her own, but I cannot communicate well at all so far.

Ashley Holzer is back in episode 11, which has already aired (find it here). That episode is just as great, so please check it out. In it there is a moment where she discusses how important the relationship between horse and rider is. And she puts it in a way that just makes you see how much she respects the horse and is gifts to us.

The series is truly a gift to all riders from HJU, and no matter the discipline or level there are so many things to learn from each one. The more you know about how horses move, think and learn, the better you do with them. So no matter the discipline I am willing to watch, listen and learn. And Ashley Holzer, you just gained a huge fan.