When progress feels glacial

"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out"

"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out"It doesn’t feel as if Moe and I have been doing very much for the last couple of months. I’m sticking to my plan of all dressage, all the time, and let me tell you- it is not exciting.

We’ve been spending a lot of time at the walk. It’s easily our worst gait. Moe crawls along, sometimes flipping or shaking his head or chomping on the bit. We lose points on dressage tests because Moe lacks impulsion and submission; on Novice Test A, the medium walk is scored twice, while on Novice Test B the free walk to medium walk transition has a coefficient of 2. That’s a lot of points I’m leaving on the table!

I’ve been diligently working on encouraging a more forward walk, by which I mean I’ve been wearing my nubby spurs every ride. I’m applying the advice I got from Aaron Wilson a couple of months ago: don’t squash the horse between hand and leg. I give Moe a squeeze or a nudge with my spurs, but I don’t touch the reins. When he’s walking briskly, I take up more contact and gently ask him to come down and accept the contact. For the most part, this method works very well. He’s seeking the bit more often, and I can feel him stretching over his back and stepping under himself. We’ve also been doing a lot of lateral work at the walk. Our warm up now includes spiraling in and out on a circle and leg yielding to and away from the rail.

"I am best at dressage!"
“I am best at dressage!”

Last month, I limited our trot work to about 5 minutes in each direction. I use the same methods at the trot as I do at the walk; fortunately, Moe is very willing to trot at a reasonable pace. It always takes a minute to find just the right amount of contact- too much and he inverts and ignores me, too little and he zooms off with his head in the air. Once I find the sweet spot, we’ll trot along in what feels like a beautiful frame with a floating trot and a soft connection. (We probably look like a gorilla riding a llama; I’m kind of glad the arena doesn’t have mirrors?) I’ve been slowly increasing the amount of time spent at the trot, and Moe is starting to feel great more often than he feels terrible.

This week, I reintroduced the canter. Our transitions are hideous, but I’m starting to feel like it’s more of a strength issue and less of an understanding issue. Once we’re in the gait, it’s solidly okay- Moe has moments of lightness interrupted by occasional flailing. But I feel pretty confident he now knows what he’s supposed to be doing.

I have to admit that day to day the progress feels absolutely glacial. Moe wasn’t drastically different today than he was on Tuesday, or last week, or on New Year’s Days. When I rode this morning, I worked on the same things I’ve been working on. Increase impulsion. Create bend. Move laterally. Stretch my spine up. Bring back that demon right hand.

Even so, I had a small epiphany this morning. I realized that while Moe isn’t necessarily better than he was yesterday, he is better than he was a month ago. He’s steadier in the bridle, he’s more relaxed, and his walk will probably now score a 6 instead of a 5. That was literally my thought after our ride this morning: that we’d score at least a 6 on every movement in a Novice dressage test.


Slow progress is still progress.

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

19 thoughts on “When progress feels glacial”

    1. Thanks- it’s kind of easy to fall into this spiral of “OMG WTF 21 YEAR OLD HORSE, WHY AREN’T YOU BETTER AT THIS BY NOW?” followed by “OMG WTF STEPHANIE YOU’VE BEEN RIDING FOR LIKE 25 YEARS WHY AREN’T YOU BETTER AT THIS BY NOW?” but I then I remind myself that “oh yeah, 16 year old Stephanie and 9 year old Moe never worked on dressage and only jumped ridiculous shit”

      Then the baby steps seem much more monumental!

  1. that cute face deserves a 10 tho, every time no exceptions!!! lol seriously tho i totally relate to the struggles in not seeing day-to-day progress on those small details that seem particularly hard for our horses. for us, it’s definitely the canter depart too. evvvvvery now and then we’ll get one that’s unexpectedly smooth. but generally, the progress is almost so incremental that it feels almost invisible. ah well.

  2. My progress feels backwards at the moment – Congrats, even a little bit of forward progress in the middle of winter is a very big accomplishment!

    1. Thank you! I’ve definitely struggled with what feels like backward progress, especially with Gina. Stay positive- you’ll be going forward in no time. 🙂

  3. I feel like flatwork progress just kind of sneaks up on you and then hits you like a truck. It really does get better every ride, but its sooo hard to see it when you are right in the muck of it.

  4. I rode my dressage horse today for the first time in a whiiiile. I rode bareback because, she’s so fat I’m pretty sure the girth will not fit. So, you are light years ahead of me!!!

  5. Yay for progress no matter hos small or slow. I had similar issues with getting forward rhythm at the walk. Then it was pointed out to me that I was locking through the hips and inhibiting his motion. Duh!

  6. When you ride day in and day out, it’s hard to see the progress because it happens slowly, bit by bit. That’s one of the things I love about taking video — it reminds me where I cam from, and what I’ve accomplished since then!!

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