We both really enjoyed our first lesson with Christa Dillion from Blackhill Eventing, so much so that we got her out for a second! Lessons where you get pushed and challenged to the best of your ability are definitely the kind of lessons that we need at the minute. We both feel we need something or someone to push us forward.
Have a read below about what we tackled in our lesson along with a short Q&A with Christa herself.
The 3 Exercises We Tackled
Exercise #1 – Related Distance Canter Poles
Our first exercise was a basic set of 2 canter poles with a distance of four strides in between. Trying to maintain a steady forward rhythm & focus on a good approach to the first pole was key in hitting this exercise correctly.
Exercise #2 – Bounce Poles
To begin with, this exercise was set up with 5 bounce/canter poles. As we progressed through (after a lot of time spent putting poles back in place by Christa!) the 5 canter poles became 4 with a cross pole jump put in place of the 5th pole at the end. Talk about challenging!
Exercise #3 – Double with Trot Poles and Bounce Poles
Finishing up the lesson Christa set up a small grid. This consisted of an approach of 3 trot poles into a cross pole, two bounce ground poles then into an upright, which then progressed into a spread. Both horses surprisingly rode this exercise spot on each time. I think all the pole work above definitely helped set them up for it.
How Did Coco & Dante Get On?
Orla & Coco
My focus for this lesson was getting Coco to stop tanking me into fences. She has started rushing into fences and then dropping at the last second causing her to jump like a donkey. So the exercises Christa set out were perfect!
My first issue however was Coco’s irritating spooking in her least favourite corner of the arena. Trying to get her to concentrate was difficult but after a while I decided I just needed to ignore it and try to get on with things.
After a quick warm up we started over the related distance canter poles. Well..you’d swear I had put a 1.20 spread in front of her the way she bombed at it. When she did this my focus had to be on correcting her but not letting the correction kill all of her impulsion. That is something I need to find the balance with. Coco’s a very eager jumper who tends to do a few leaps before jumps so I sometimes struggle to control that energy without killing it and having to build it back up again. The way to do this was to compress the canter by half halting while also applying leg to keep your impulsion. Needless to say I was quite nackered by the end of this lesson!
Funnily enough she took to the other two exercises extremely well. She was quite consistent with the bounce poles and our only issue with the grid was that she kept trying to pop into canter over the trot poles so I needed to contain her energy and not let it explode too soon. At the end of the grid was the scary corner so we had a few silly moments down there when we put all three exercises together but thankfully it wasn’t anything that stopped her from jumping (which has been the case before)!
All in all I was delighted with how well Coco did. I feel like our confidence is improving so the plan is to gradually start increasing the height of fences at home and getting ourselves out to do some schooling in new environments.
Darielle & Dante
For this lesson I went in not really expecting much from Dante. I have found in the past that if I do it all tends to flip & go backwards.
Working on Dante accepting the contact more from my leg up into my hand is still a major issue we are tackling, some days he’s fantastic, soft & subtle then some days hes a stubborn mule. He is a horse that likes to be in control of his own self, and when I step in and interfere or try get him to listen to me he kicks up a fuss… this at times is frustrating, but it is something I am dealing with & learning to correct myself, all whilst still trying to ignore his ratty behaviour.
As we progressed into the lesson, Getting Dante to listen to my leg aids became quite difficult that in turn with trying to half halt him, he blatantly just ignored me & continued to try do what he wanted to do, blasting forward at times or not wanting to move forward at all. This sounds dreadful, but picture an octopus trying to run… this is Dante…but he is a massive horse that still doesn’t know how much body he actually has, and to be fair to him he has come a very long way with managing it to the best of his ability & mine!
The most beneficial exercise to us were the canter poles into the cross pole. There were a few moments where I had to pull him out of his approach as he’d cock the jaw and try run off with control, there were moments that I had to circle to get a good balanced canter on our approach. There were some good moments in there too, dont get me wrong but most of our work consisted of compressing his canter & keeping a firm leg on him all whilst trying to keep a flowing moving canter.
It was god dam difficult let me tell you, but we got there in the end!
We had some great positive moments in our lesson too, his approach to fences was a lot more relaxed, he waited and listened to me more than he did in our previous lesson, so over all great progress is being made & I am quite content with that & delighted!
Moving forward a LOT more work is needed in his canter, within the different paces pushing him forward and out of his comfort zone, getting him moving rather than letting him stick to the same consistant pace, but hey, perfection takes time!!
Q&A with Christa Dillon of Blackhill Eventing
How did you get into coaching, tell us about yourself?
Answer: I am a 37 year old farmer’s wife and mother of one small, flame haired and feral four year old boy. I am a professional lorry driver in my spare time, and I am staunchly proud of my Artic license! I competed in eventing until 2012, when a lack of horses forced a change of direction into producing youngsters. I adore showjumping, especially the training-we are so lucky in Ireland to be able to learn with some truly exceptional riders and coaches, enabling us to produce confident, well educated young horses capable of good success in any sport. During the winter, I gave a friend a hand with her horse. To my great surprise, my advice actually worked. I generally always know what to do when I’m in the saddle, but watching from the ground is a whole other ball game. My friend is extremely persuasive, and she encouraged/demanded that I took out insurance to teach. The same friend then twice over arranged training clinics for me, and thanks to her I now have a good client base. I really enjoy helping others, and I’m very grateful to those who have helped to make coaching a reality.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Answer: ‘Hot horses are always lazy’, from Paul O’Shea. It can be taken literally, but it’s more to make you remember that if a horse is throwing a ton of attitude at you to avoid actually working, there is pretty well always a reason. It’s up to you to figure the reason out! Also, ‘The best place for four year old horses is often the field’, from Trevor Breen. This has proven to be true a million times over for me
What’s your favourite part about producing horses?
Answer: Oh everything! Learning about who they are, how they need to be ridden, what they find easy and difficult. It’s so satisfying when they suddenly understand something, or make a big jump forward in their training. To quote Piggy French, ‘I’m just addicted to working with horses’.
Do Coco or Dante remind you of any horses you’ve owned or worked with in the past?
Answer: Coco reminds me a lot of my own 4 yr old mare-both very willing and absolute workaholics, supremely intelligent and genuine, but both with their own boundaries of acceptance-find the key, and you have the horse of a lifetime. Dante reminds me-in looks at least-of a very cool KWPN gelding I had a few years ago called Vector M2S. He went on to jump 1m40 in Ireland, before being sold to Italy. I am in contact with his owner which makes me so happy as I adored the horse. He is stabled at Luca Maria Moneta’s yard, near Lake Como.
What tips would you give to anyone producing a young horse to keep their confidence levels up?
Answer: Be patient. Find the most experienced person you can, and learn as much as you can. A young horse needs a wide foundation of education to maintain confidence throughout his training, so work hard to put that in place. Never rush or overface a young horse, praise him always-especially if he’s struggling with something-and never be afraid to take a step back or take a break. Avoid the pressure of age classes and the ‘your horse should be doing X Y Z at 4,5,6’ brigade. Train each horse as an individual, at a pace that best suits him.
Finally, in your opinion what types of exercises should we be doing with both horses to keep progressing forward?
Dante: Dante has made huge progress since I saw him a month ago. He’s a difficult horse who ultimately needs to learn to compress his frame and listen to his rider. He currently alternates between listening almost too much, or not listening at all when Darielle asks him to come to work, but I would take this as a huge positive as it shows that he’s trying so hard to work it out and very close to a more permanent and consistent way of going. Lots of canter poles so that horse and rider can work on a more consistent stride pattern. Rows of bounces can be helpful, as can gridwork with ground poles. Anything to get Dante to look at what he’s doing, and begin to learn to balance himself in a more ‘together’ canter. He’s a fabulous horse and this is a very nice, progressive partnership.
Coco: Coco is the coolest. She’s so willing and interested in work. She’s quite consistent now in her way of going, and like Dante I see a huge improvement on how she was going a month ago. With a horse like her, I would use loads of poles in trot and canter to keep her thinking. I would give her enough to do, without pushing her too hard. I imagine that variety would suit her, so I would encourage plenty of hacking, shows, trips away schooling, a spin up the gallops, lunging etc. Make every day fun for her. Coco and Orla look like best friends hanging out together, having the craic.
Well there you have it, our lesson with Christa. We are having another lesson tomorrow so hopefully we will see even more progress with both horses and continue to grow and move forward.
If you do want to try out the exercises we did in our lesson above, head over to our Instagram page to have a look at how we got on & how they were set up!
Darielle & Orla