Lessons learned from Tom Poulin

Sunday morning I was privileged to be able to audit an awesome dressage clinic, given by Tom Poulin. One of the doctors I work with was riding her semi-recently acquired dressage horse, and I went to watch her ride.

It was so nice to be out at a legitimate horse event, centered around learning and better riding, and I felt like I learned (and re-learned) a lot of stuff. The most important lessons I took away from the clinic, even as an observer, were:

  • Use walk breaks as time to work on improving your horse’s walk. This is especially good for a young horse like mine, who needs lots of breaks due to her short attention span. When you take a walk break, keep your horse marching and keep a connection. Move them through medium walk, collected walk and free walk so that you develop the gaits you want, even while you’re “resting.” As he said, the walk is a break for the horse, not you!
  • Shoulder-in is one of the best exercises you can do for improving straightness, in horses of any age and skill level. If I didn’t believe this before the clinic, I’m definitely a believer now. Shoulder-in works because it encourages the inside leg to outside rein connection, which is fundamental to straightness and bend. Another good quote from the weekend, “If you control the shoulders, you control the horse!”
  • To improve impulsion and suspension in a gait, practice riding lateral movements into a medium gait. I don’t know how many times Tom had a rider do a leg-yield into a medium trot or a canter half-pass into a medium canter. It always improved the extended movements later on in the lesson.

I went home from the clinic immediately wanting to try all of the exercises with my baby horse. I have to tell you, I didn’t know if they would work. I didn’t even know if we would be able to manage the tiniest shoulder-in. (Some days it’s really hard to make a circle. Straight lines are also challenging.) She blew me away. This is going to sound really silly now, but I had been avoiding a lot of lateral movements with her because I thought she wasn’t ready, and I thought if we couldn’t circle or go straight, why should we try to go sideways??? Man was I ever wrong. As soon as I even thought about doing a shoulder-in with her, and all it really takes is a thought because she’s quite sensitive, her body instantly straightened up and I stopped contorting myself trying to correct her. It was seriously like magic. We went from being unable to hold a canter for more than a half circle because we were so unbalanced, to being able to canter multiple circles and even trying some straight lines. And the whole time she was holding contact on the outside rein and was softly bent to the inside. Amazing.


Have you ever had that feeling when suddenly you just click with a horse? In an instant we went from being frenemies, fighting over every tiny movement, to being a cohesive team working towards the same goal. I’m sure we’ll still have our issues, but I feel like we’ve made miles of progress in the course of a couple days.

Okay, that’s all I have to say about horses for now.

I lied, I also wanted to tell you about my older horse, Teddy. I separated him from my mare when we moved, because they had become way too attached to each other. I’ve been very worried about him because he has been so upset that he has been running the fence line, which keeps him from eating as much of this nutritious Kentucky grass as he could be. As a result he has lost even more weight, and is really looking very unthrifty. These last few days though, I have noticed that he has buddied up with a little white pony that is part of the large group he is turned out with. He and the pony have been grazing right next to each other, keeping each other company, and I hope that they will continue to be friends and he will start to gain some weight! Okay, now that is all :)

Today I had my first day of orientation with the surgery interns. I only had to attend the general safety meetings that apply to the entire hospital, which I have to say were not very thrilling. I was at the hospital from about 10 to 2, listening to lectures on hazardous chemicals, radiation safety, and horse safety to name a few. I did get to order some clothing with the hospital’s logo on it, which was probably the most exciting part of the day. The hospital pays for $75-worth of clothing, and then we can pay for as much more as we want. The only requirements are that we stick to the hospital color scheme (i.e. clothing can be any shade of red or blue, black, beige or white) and we can’t order casual clothing (t-shirts or sweatshirts) with the hospital logo on them. I ordered two polos, maroon and navy, and a slate gray puffy vest. I also wanted to order a quarter-zip fleece pullover, but I wanted it in the rose pink color and unfortunately that doesn’t fall into the color scheme :(

After work I went to the barn and rode my baby horse, and then I headed home. My fiance had the day off so I convinced him we should go to the YMCA to work out. We did the day 2 weight training routine, which was pretty tough now that I’m sore from the first week. After we were finished we headed to the grocery store to shop for the next couple of weeks. I stuck to the clean eating grocery list that I have been working on, but my fiance added a lot of random snack-type items that quickly filled up our shopping cart. Unfortunately the total for our items was crazy high, so we’re definitely going to have to work something else out in the future.

Thanks to the new groceries, I cooked a healthy dinner for the two of us, consisting of lemon pepper salmon, salad and roasted veggies.


It was pretty tasty.

Now we’re all snuggling on the couch, getting ready to go to bed, and I’ll be heading to orientation day 2 in the morning!


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