Nilla the Anti-Dressage Mule

Two weeks ago I had a dressage lesson with Nilla where she basically went unhinged. She’s been getting progressively worse about going on the contact. Or rather, she’s always been bad about it, but her reactions are getting worse.

At our May 3rd lesson, her reaction was to Giraffe and swish her tail. She was also doing a lot of barging through the reins and ignoring me.

It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t that bad. Typical Nilla behavior really. And we had our good moments:
Well two weeks ago she was past that. She started off the lesson pissed off. She was either trying to bolt and completely smashing through the reins or throwing her head up like a brat. When that didn’t get her out of work, she tried rearing.


Which is utterly unacceptable. I was pissed. The trainer was pissed. Nilla was pissed. It was no fun. We tried bending to get her on the bit. No go.
We tried circling and transitions and just asking at the halt. We tried everything and her objections remained. As a rider, I can handle the antics, but my back can’t. Every rear and buck was like a stab through my spine. At one point we were just standing and you can see how drenched in sweat she is and just how much I’m hurting, hunched over, resting on my hands.


This was the conversation I had with my trainer at this point:
Trainer: next week I’m going to bring something to help you with this.
Me: What, draw reins?
Trainer: Yes, how’d you guess?
Me: I have them.
So I had my husband go down and get the draw reins. I know, I know, they’re a hack and a gadget and don’t belong in dressage and blah, blah, blah. You wanna ride her? You can do it without the draw reins.

The draw reins definitely got some respect.

But she was still pulling shit:

When she finally went around like a non asshole, she got pet and was done. It was a long lesson. And it wasn’t any fun. For any of us. I called the chiropractor the next morning. He came out the next week so we didn’t have a lesson that week. This Tuesday was our first lesson since the chiropractor. She’s been really good since, but we haven’t done any hard dressage. And she did pull out the rearing trick at the xc clinic, so she’s certainly not reformed. Though, to be fair, that’s not a new trick.

This week, we had another lesson: our first since the chiropractor. She also had dental the day before so no excuses. This time we started off with the draw reins.

And she felt really good. Like amazingly good. And I don’t think it was because of the draw reins. She was lit from the moment I got on her. She marched up the driveway to the arena like she was on a mission. And she felt really smooth and not like her usual stiff self. I don’t know what did it, but I have to imagine the chiro helped.

Our trainer was ecstatic. She kept saying how if we could take the draw reins off, we could go to a show tomorrow and win. And she was a little giddy at the thought of beating fancy warmbloods with a mule. She really wants me to show. But I think the whole, “if we can remove the draw reins” thing is a major if.
She was really stepping up under herself and looking and feeling great though.
She was being so good, we even did some leg yield work.

But we were not done with the temper tantrums. Once we went to the canter, the attitude returned.

Like major attitude.

Despite how dramatic this looks, that was the end of it. She decided to canter like a nice mule after that and we even managed some nice transitions.

She was so good she even got ear scratches from our trainer.

I’m hoping we can remove the draw reins and have the same success next time.

28 thoughts on “Nilla the Anti-Dressage Mule

  1. TeresaA

    Wow girl- you can sit! Some times you just have to say 'this is it, deal'
    Draw reins have a purpose and this is it. Nilla just needs to figure out that there are boundaries and the world will not end. You could try lunging her in them as well so she can figure it out without you having to endure the shenanigans.

    to get rid of them I would gradually loosen them before taking them off or else she will go back to where she was before.

  2. Horseyhabit

    I agree, draw reins can be a very helpful tool. If anyone tries to tell you how horrible they are, well.. I don't want to say what you should tell them to do. Starts with an F, ends with an F. πŸ˜‰

  3. Nicole Sharpe

    :O NILLA!!! That is some SASS right there. And it's very clear you're not abusing the draw reins since she clearly still CAN move her head and neck around if she wants to. My goodness, I thought my horse was opinionated…

  4. Stephanie

    Jeez, you are a pro at riding those hops!! Draw reins are a tool and I doubt you are the type of person to abuse them; I hope they help resolve Nilla's issues!

  5. Olivia

    We have been doing some lunging with them. She's very good about that. The real issue is when I'm riding her, she knows if she rears, I'll push my hands forward and she gets a release. Under lunge there's no release, so she doesn't do it.

  6. Checkmark115

    Damn, sassy mule! I can relate. Bacardi is 100% asshole in the winter and this is all our rides consist of.

    I will say I was VERY anti draw reins simply because every.single.person I know who uses them, us them every ride, every time and their horse is over bent in behind the vertical.

    Then one day I was having a very rough time with my own horse, grabbed a pair and ten minutes later took them off an he was great. Sometimes they are magical. But I hate seeing people use them as a crutch.'

    Just keep swimming with the dressage mule! She will work out of it. Chiro probably help a lot!

  7. Liz Stout

    "You wanna ride her? You can do it without the draw reins." Bahahaha. I totally understand the need for gadgetry in times like this. I did the same with Griffin when he decided that he hated pressure on the bit for awhile. I'd lunge him with all the gadgetry I could so he had to deal with it without me on him while he threw his grand fits. He's great now. We used the gadgetry to learn a lesson and create new habits, and then dropped them from our use.

    Your seat through those shenanigans is very impressive! Awesome that you can sit through it…though the learning process to get to be that kickass at riding broncing behavior probably wasn't the easiest. Meep! And I've gotta say, when Nilla listens…hot damn is she fucking gorgeous. I'm right there with your trainer being giddy about the idea of beating fancy warmbloods!

  8. Olivia

    She's just keeps teasing us with the good to keep us from selling her for the bad. When I was a teenager I was that kid who could ride a buck with one hand and smack the horses ass with the other. I'm not that kid anymore. I'm actually surprised I stay on as well as I do.

  9. Kaisa

    OMG πŸ˜€ I just found your blog and I LOVE IT! I Love your style of writing and your mule! I just bought my first mule and your posts are giving me a lots of hope!

  10. Olivia

    I'm glad you like the blog, but I'm concerned that this behavior gives you hope. Your mule is very cute, I hope he comes around for you.

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