Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Notes from February 27th Lesson

Some thoughts from today's lesson...

You wont' get a loose back until you get flexiblity and length in the neck

The walk you are looking for is an amble with impulsion (loose and flowing but with energy)

Lengthen the neck by opening the rein on the outside (some connection and a little jiggle help sometimes)

You don't need the inside rein to get bend once you have the neck working for you.   Your inside leg and the lengthened neck on the outside will get the bend on the inside.
Switch it up -- counter flexion, flexion, straight, repeat.
If you aren't getting enough impulsion, make sure your legs are open to allow the movement and if that doesn't work then use the whip.
Make sure when he does move forward that you move forward with him.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Happy Girl on a Happy Pony

What a nice week for riding this has been.  I got on  my horse three times which hasn't happened for a LONG time!  Today a friend's daughter came over and rode Pony while I rode Golly.  The pony (and yes we just call her Pony) has not been ridden since early last fall but she is such a sweet little mount that I knew it would be fine.   I love to share my horses and see how happy they make people.

For the most part the pony's job is to just keep our horses company and she does a fine job at that.  Every once in awhile though someone comes out to play with her and I think she enjoys the occasional attention.   She has had heaves the entire time I have owned her but they are not bad at all during the winter months so its the best time to ride her.  In the summer she struggles to catch her breath with any exercise.    Luckily with daily treatments of albuterol they are kept at a reasonable level for her in the summer and in the winter you wouldn't know she had them at all.

So... a short post today... just want to share a picture of a happy girl on a happy pony.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dressage Pyramid is for Riders Too.

Rode again yesterday and it went much better than Monday.   Monday I was feeling quite a bit of anxiety about getting back into the saddle after my surgery.  I ran every bad scenario through my head and the nerves worked their way right down to my horse.  He started out loose and relaxed and within fifteen minutes was a bundle of nerves.

Before I rode yesterday I thought about what would make the rider better than the last.  I thought about what we would work on during the session.   I came back to the dressage pyramid.

The dressage pyramid outlines the progression of training for the dressage horse    It is primarily thought of as an outline for the horses lifetime of training but it can also be used as an outline for each and every ride.

For example, if your horse is at the point where you are beginning connection in your training, you still need to have rhythm and relaxation before you begin to ask for connection in each and every training session.

So... back to my ride yesterday....  while the dressage pyramid concerns the training of the dressage horse, it could equally apply to the progression of training for the dressage rider.

The reason my last ride went so poorly was because I forgot I needed to have relaxation in both the rider and the horse before we tried anything else.    Sounds easy but relaxation sometimes takes practice too!

So for this ride I decided the entire "theme" of the ride was going to be relaxation of the rider with the thought that if I was relaxed then my horse would be too.

We spent the entire ride with our reins on the buckle.   We worked hard on quick responses to the leg (that I worked hard on keeping loose and relaxed) and getting bend in the body ... but kept the reins loose and relaxed.    Even if he shot out a bit faster than I anticipated from leg aids I still stayed on the buckle.  The point of the ride was to remember that I trusted my horse and I was relaxed and so he should be as well.

It worked!

At the very end of the ride we were coming down the centerline with the intention of halting at x.  As we turned the corner, the mare in the neighboring paddock began cantering down the fenceline.   My first reaction was to pull him up because I thought he may decide to join her antics.  Then I remembered my "theme" and stuck with my relaxed rein and leg and my horse followed my lead... he stayed relaxed and flowing too.

So its something to remember -- the dressage pyramid goes both ways.  You aren't going to get rhythm and relaxation unless you are as well.  And there are two sides to connection.  And well the rest of the pyramid... well I'm not that far yet in my training!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why am I Afraid to Ride?

Finally got the chance to get on my horse today.  And I wasn't looking forward to it.

The entire time I was tacking up I was making silly excuses in my head about why we shouldn't do much today.  The ring was going to be muddy.  I should probably get home to finish the laundry.  I had spent enough time at the barn already with the farrier appointment.  I should certainly lunge him first.  If he was nuts then maybe that was all we would do.

Because of a vacation last week, it had been a little over 2 weeks since our last ride.   After tacking up we headed to the ring.   I hooked on the lunge line and asked him to move out.   He ambled away in a circle.  After a minute or two I asked for a trot verbally.  Nothing.  I swung the lunge line at him.   An ear flick.  I THREW the lunge line at him.  Ah... there is the trot.   I needed the lunge whip but figured he'd wake up and didn't feel like going to gather it.    A few more minutes into the lunging I realized that he was VERY quiet today.   Okay... maybe close to asleep.    I obviously did not need to lunge him to get the friskies out!

So I used my extra tall mounting block and got on.   He was stiff but relaxed.  We spent about ten minutes getting some more flexibility by counter bending, flexing and doing lots of circles and turns.  Nice work.

Then he started getting anxious.   Alternating between jigging and nearly stopping so he could look around.   I wasn't sure what the issue was but figured I better stick with the walking because surely the trotting would lead to something nutty.   I did a few trot circles ... but not many.  What was wrong with him?

My friend was coming to ride the second half for me as my leg is still not all that strong and was I glad she came.  When she got on, she realized he was stuck and moved him out.  Really asked for an engaged and moving trot.  Didn't worry about collection until she got him moving.  He even offered a few really nice canter transitions.

Watching her ride I realized there was not a thing wrong with my horse.   It was me.  I was shutting him down because of fear.  Each time he offered a flowing moving horse, I shut him down.  I was afraid and it made no sense whatsoever.  He was relaxed and happy.  He was a good horse.  He trusted me.  

Since I started riding again after my surgery I have been afraid.  Its similar to the feeling you get after a fall.  You get back on but in the back of your head you are imaging all the worst case scenarios.  What if he takes off?  What if my leg gets stuck in the stirrup and he moves off while mounting.  What if he slips in the mud?  What if.. what if...

I'm not sure why I am doing this but I am grateful to my friend for reminding me that its okay (and for coming out and riding my horse).   Today was the first day I've ridden at home without someone there when I mounted.  It was the first day I've ridden in 2 weeks.  Its the first day that I've ridden there since a new horse arrived at the barn and disrupted the day to day living of Golly's routine.   I had left my pony and the new horse in the stalls and the pony was yelling for her buddy.   There was an airplane buzzing the ring during our ride.  A cow mooing in the neighbors yard.  They are all reasons to be a bit afraid.   BUT.. all this existed for my friend as well and all went well as soon as she told him that she trusted him to move out and forward.

Best I can figure it that I am afraid both because of the still healing leg (I had my knee replaced recently for those readers who are just joining our journey) and because I haven't ridden much lately.  Like most things. .... practice practice practice.... I just need to be in the saddle more and the old feeling of eager anticipation of the next ride will come back.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Finding Time to Ride and Riding Alone

I haven't ridden since the clinic I attended almost two weeks ago.  I know its a common problem with my fellow riders -- finding the time to ride.  

I have great intentions each week.  I want to ride three times each week and each week I start the week thinking its really going to happen. Then work, kids, volunteering, barn chores, family obligations, laundry, travel, the dishes that I swear multiply as fast as the single socks from the dryer vanish .....   well..... then the riding just doesn't happen.

I do a great job of making sure that my horses are taken care of well.  They have good hay, fresh water, the most appropriate feed, and any medications they need.  They are fed twice a day and have access to a nice pasture and shelter.    The part that doesn't happen in their care is the regular riding.   And that keeps us from moving along in our training.

I like riding.  Shoot.... really lets be honest.... I LOVE riding.  So why don't I do it more often?  I should be out there everyday riding.

Probably it comes down to the reason why every mother doesn't do the things they want to do.   We are last on the list of priorities.  Our family and community come first and if there is an extra minute in the day, that belongs to us.  And there is rarely an extra minute.

One commitment I have to my family is that I try not to get hurt when riding.   Riding can be dangerous and I accept that but I do what I can to limit the danger.  For that reason I try not to ride alone which limits even more the amount that I can ride since its rare someone is at the barn.   For years I never rode alone but eventually I realized that wasn't feasible if I wanted to ride even occasionally.   

So now if I am riding alone I call or text a friend with this great message, "I'm getting on now.  If I don't call you back in 45 minutes, send an ambulance."    I have a group of friends I do this with and we all feel safer that we have a safety net .. just in case.  Its not a perfect plan but it does help us get on our horses more often.

So how do you make time for riding?  Help this overworked, under-riding Mom out with some ideas.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cavalletti Clinic with Judy Whyte

Attended a cavaletti clinic today with Judy Whyte.  Luckily it was held in a local indoor as it snowed the entire day.  And it was COLD!!  The forecast said it would be in the mid 40's but it never broke 33 and with the snow it stayed cloudy too.

I was the last rider at 1:15 pm but came around 9:30 to watch some of the other riders and learn from their lessons.  It was a good group of riders ....  a range of riders from Intro to schooling second level and mounts that ranged from OTTBs to even a mule that my friend is training in dressage.
Walking Poles

For my lesson we started with walking the "walking poles" to help loosen their back and get them used to covering poles.   For some of the horses this was a bit of change for them and they had to give the poles a quick sniff before they traversed them.   Golly didn't think much of them but didn't give me much impulsion over them either.   More of an amble.

Elevator Poles
We then spent some time trotting and walking without poles.   Golly was pushing his inside shoulder in as usual but Judy was encouraging me to not use too much rein and to keep me legs loose.   I was a bit confused on how to fix it if my legs had to be loose and my hands had to be free as well. I stopped to ask and the answer was that I needed to send him forward into the rein.  My arms were too tight and restricting him.  My knees were also restricting him so I wasn't getting the freedom of movement.  Basically it came down to the dressage pyramid.  Get the freedom of movement first and then it would be easier to control where the shoulders were.

Next we went over what she called the "elevator poles" at the walk - two poles with a raised pole in the middle.    Golly hit the middle pole so hard the first time I thought he knocked it clear but it stayed put.   Judy  reassured me that he wasn't the only horse to give it a good knock today.   The second time around he seemed to understand and picked his feet up a bit more.

After a bit, Judy asked us to trot the "trotting poles" that were approximately 4 1/2 feet apart.   She instructed us to make sure the horse was straight coming into the poles -- head in front of chest, straight down the middle of the poles.   As we turned toward the poles, Golly knew he was going over them and I could feel the tempo increase.   It felt very similar to how he feels when he is heading toward a jump -- like there is a strong magnet pulling him to the other side.   As we approached, I tightened my reins thinking he may try to jump them rather than trot them.  He briskly moved across them (without jumping) -- lots of impulsion and lift from below.   I didn't do the same and got a bit left behind.   As I finished, myself and the auditors all laughed because as Judy exclaimed, "you didn't trust your horse!"  She was right.  

He did everything he was supposed to do over cavaletti -- create impulsion and lift from behind. I had to trust that he would do it right and be there for him.
Trotting Poles

The second time he had a little less impulsion, probably because he didn't trust that I would go with him.  The third time around we were a team and both of us sailed over with lightness and the feel of a sailboat skimming over a lake.  Yeah!

Over subsequent poles, I started to nag him over the poles.  Judy reminded me that I needed to open my knees and allow him to go over.  If he was already doing it well, it wasn't my job to tell him to give me more. It was my job to keep up with him and stay out of his way.

Near the end of the clinic, Judy raised the first, middle and last pole a few inches to get the horses to lift even more.  It worked.  Really got the feeling of lightness, push and movement.  Now to translate that feeling to the times when we aren't trotting poles.

Overall a great clinic.   We had a great group of riders and auditors so even when I wasn't riding I had a nice group of people to talk with.   Judy is a very engaged instructor and even though she was teaching two of us at once, we kept busy the entire time.   She is going to be giving another clinic in a month on Getting Back to the Basics -- looking forward to it!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Why I Dont Ride Horses with Blue Eyes

I know its irrational and against my common sense, no superstition approach to life... but I will NOT get on a horse with blue eyes EVER again.  Can't convince me otherwise...

I started developing my irrational fear of blue eyed horses years ago at a weekend trail ride.  The ride had over 200 horses and riders who rode for four hours each day over some tough terrain.  That's a lot of minutes on horseback.   Out of all those minutes though there was only one serious injury and that involved a helicopter ride to shock trauma for a woman injured while riding a blue eyed horse.
Now I know it was probably coincidental but the only time I ever saw someone airlifted out for a horse injury involved a blue eyed horse... so I was leery.

Fast forward a few years later to when I was on my search for my current steed, Golly.

My mare, Darla, was nearly 30 and it was time to let her enjoy some retirement so I was on the search for a new horse.  I had been looking for almost two years and was starting to realize I was looking for something that didn't exist.  I wasn't even sure what I was looking for except that I wanted that same good feeling I got when I was with Darla.  I had ridden countless horses and even taken two horses home on trial and just couldn't find the right one.

In a last ditch effort to get it done, I did a thorough search of all the online ads for horses, culled them down to a decent number, called and emailed about each one and set up appointments with the four best.   Even though the locations would require over 300 miles of driving, I was convinced I could see all four in the same day.

Things went well at first.   I had a great ride on fun little palomino who took me on a fun trail ride.  Great horse but very down hill so I knew long term he wouldn't work out.  Next horse was a nice looking quarter horse.   I can't put my finger on what was wrong with him but at the trot he just felt odd.  Moving on.

Third horse was near the Pennsylvania border.  He was advertised as bomb proof, great trail horse, had been to reenactments and camped.  Even good with gunfire.  When I got there the woman greeted me driving a gator with a full leg cast.  Said she had fallen while feeding and broken her leg.  (Note to self...  owner with broken leg COULD be a problem.)  She drove me over to the barn to introduce me to a sturdy looking paint draft cross.... with a blue eye.  I made note of his blue eye but scolded myself that it was a silly superstition and to get over it.   (Note to self again.... trust your instincts.... this is not going to work out well.)

Because she obviously couldn't get the horse ready or ride him for me, she showed me the tack and I got to work.  He was a little difficult to bridle but nothing terrible.   I mounted up and rode him in their small indoor arena.  Walk.  Trot.  He seemed decent enough.  She suggested I ride him in their outdoor arena which was at the other end of the pasture at the bottom of a hill.  She said he was great on the trail so I decided to ride him over to the arena which to get there I had to ride him amongst his herd mates in the pasture.  He balked a little passing his friends but with a little coaxing we eventually made it to the ring.

Walk. Trot.  All was going well.  He seemed a little green but willing and with some cleaning up he would look fantastic.  Maybe he was the one!  I can't believe I was finally finding my new guy.

Let's try some canter.   First few strides a little unbalanced but not bad.  Hey... that's a little beyond the speed I was looking for.    .....  Wait a minute dude... that is WAY too fast.

Okay.. I could deal with this.  We will just use the wall to slow him down.   As I turn his head slightly to the outside, he decides that is NOT going to work for him and not only doesn't slow down any, starts throwing in massive bucks.   Sit the first.  Sit the second.  Woah.. out of the saddle on that one.  Oh sh**, I'm coming off.   Is that his ears I just saw going by?  I am flying!!!!!

I hit the ground hard.  Hard enough that the wind was knocked out of me and my helmet cracked.  (BTW, glad I had that helmet on.)

Of course I was stupid enough to get back on and at least show him I could walk and trot him again. Thank goodness, I wasn't dumb enough to try the canter again.

As I handed the horse back to the owner, she notified me that I had ridden him far better than anyone else that had come out to try him.   Most people hadn't even been able to get him to the ring.  Wow... that would have been good to know before I got on.  Thanks.

Later that day I found my current friend and mount - Golly -- so the day didn't turn out all that bad.  I was planning on writing about finding Golly in this post but its gotten a bit long so maybe we'll save that for another day.

The result of that fall was some major bruising and a slight concussion.   So I know its superstitious and not logical at all but I'm following my gut on this one.  That is the last blue eyed horse I will ride.