Friday, November 22, 2013

Dressage Visuals: Wheelbarrows and Cowboys

Everyone learns a bit differently.  Some like specific directions -- "drop your heels one inch and pull them in towards your horse two inches".  Some like general directions that let you figure it out -- "if you want your horse to push from his hind engine, what do you think your body should be doing?"  Others, like myself, like visuals.   Even when my instructor gives me specific instructions (which I like too), I tend to go home and mull over those directions until I come up with a visual that matches the instructions.

I've come up with three visuals that I have been using to get more forward energy from Golly and they seem to be working well.

Cowboy Legs
Visualize your legs opening up as if you were a bow legged cowboy.  I have a tendency to lock my knees and upper thighs on his sides, essentially shutting down his forward motion.   I visualize my legs looking more like the legs on the right with open knees and upper thighs.  My ankles and lower calf muscles are also relaxed and draped, only coming in contact with Golly's sides when I need more energy.  Even when I use the lower leg to tap him, the leg from knee up remains relaxed and open.
Now of course, if you have normal muscular structure, this posture is actually impossible so its not that you are REALLY making your legs look like this.  Its more that you are visualizing the feeling and the end result is that you have a lighter upper leg.

This visual applies to both you and your horse.  For the horse, I visualize the power coming from the "large" engine in the back funneling the power to a smaller area in the front.  You have to add the visual of the person pushing the cart so you get the feeling of the pushing power coming from the rear. second way I use this visual is how to hold my reins, especially when I am starting my ride.  Of course, the "ideal" is to hold your hands at the wither, close together.  However, with horses new in their dressage education (and with horses like Golly), it usually works better to separate your hands similar to this wheelbarrow diagram.   It allows you to have steadier contact for one as you can move your hands in and out as needed to shorten the reins (faster than moving your hands up and down the rein).  Plus, for reasons I haven't quite yet figured out, they just like it better and respond with a softer neck and give to the bit.   Sometimes the why isn't needed... I know it works and will continue to do it and figure out the why later!

Body Position
The last one is something I am working on and still not good at yet. ...  having my body behind the vertical position.  I was riding at an upright or slightly forward position, with equal weight on all three points (pubic bone and seat bones).   If you read many dressage magazines and books, they will tell you that you should have equal weight on all three.   However, the ideal is not always what works for your horse and you have to be flexible to his needs.   With a sluggish horse like Golly it works better to have less weight on the pubic bone and more on the seat bones.   Its not that I am dragging the seat bones into him, but more than I am lightening the pubic bone.   Granted.. that sounds like a grey difference but there is a difference.

Putting all three together I am getting a lighter horse that is more willing to go forward.   I'm still working on figuring it out and hope to finesse this approach.   And like most things on this blog....  I may find that some of it isn't quite right later.... its a journey folks!  (By the way, I'd love to hear your approaches to get a sluggish horse to be lighter and move with more forward energy.)

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Giving Up

I had been having some health issues that were causing some substantial fatigue so my trainer was riding my horse for half of my lessons and I would ride for the second half.   Thankfully the health issues are easing up but I have to say I've enjoyed watching her ride Golly.

For one she is such a fabulous rider.  Its fun to see how good a dressage horse he can be under a great rider.   She pulls the potential from each horse that she rides. Its also been fun to watch her find the fun in Golly.   I will always think of him as a bulldozer doing ballet but he is good honest guy who tries hard and you have to love him for the effort he puts out.  She has found good things in him too that I didn't appreciate -- like that his back is loosy goosy and he offers it to you without fighting.   That he loves the sitting trot when its done correctly. 

Because I've had the chance to see and appreciate how well he does at the walk and trot work and how much he actually enjoys it, its made me question why I am continuing to push him to canter.  Why can't I just appreciate him for who he is and what he does well?  At what point do you realize that your horse has gone as far as he can on the scale?  It happens to every horse at some point -- whether its at Second Level or Prix St. Georges -- their rider will eventually decide they have reached their potential and to push them past it is not a good idea.  They may be able to go just a bit further but at what expense?  Will it damage them physically?  Will the mental stress make them unwilling and grumpy mounts?

I'd hate to think that Golly has reached his potential at just the Intro Level but after watching my instructor and him doing their trot and walk work with so much joy and ability and in previous lessons watching him struggle so hard with the canter both mentally and physically, maybe he has.  I just wonder if its fair to him to expect more than his bulldozer body can give, especially since he is so willing and tries so hard. 

So I've been sort of contemplating this and thinking that perhaps we need to focus on making the walk and trot the very best it can be (there is ALWAYS more to perfect there).  And perhaps trying out some other activities with him.....  perhaps jousting?!  (Wow... that would be an interesting activity.)   Just loving and appreciating him for who he is and what he can offer.    If I want to work on the canter, there are other horses I can ride to get that training and experience.

And then.....   there was tonight.   I got home from work a little early and with just about an hour of sunlight, I hurried to the barn to feed and squeeze in a ride before the sun set.  He was a little stiff to start but quickly offered his loosey goosey back and eased into the connection.  He felt nice and even had a bit of energy and lightness under me. 

I couldn't help it.  After just fifteen minutes of riding I asked for the canter and not only did he swing into it lightly but offered to continue it without my typical begging.  It was light and easy and wasn't any big deal.  It felt like he cantered all the time with ease.   We tried the other side and he not only caught the lead (its the side he rarely catches the correct lead) but it was light and easy again.

Maybe its not time to give up.  This dressage thing is hard on the emotions!

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

White Breeches... The Curse of doing Dressage?

At my show this past weekend I made a promise to myself I will NEVER put on those stupid white breeches again.   Really...  who came up with such a silly idea anyway?  Let me recount the ways I hate them and why they make no sense whatsoever.

I have googled like a mad woman trying to find WHY we wear these silly pants and can't find any logical explanation except that its tradition.  I think its time we start a new tradition of common sense.

I am not sure if you noticed but we are competing in a sport that involves lots of dirt.  We deal with animals with fuzzy coats that are essentially mud and dirt collectors.  It is our job to get all that mud and dirt out and chances are much of that is going to get on our clothes.  Even after we have our mounts looking as clean as possible, all it takes is a good hearty pat on the neck to show that there truly is no way to get ALL the dirt out.  So chances are we are going to get some of that dirt on our immaculate white pants.

And its not just dirt from the horse.   Black marks from the saddle are common.   Plus we are riding a 1200 pound animal with large hooves in a dirt ring.  Chances are that dust is going to puff up and hit those cursed pants.  And that's on a good day... shows are run in rain or shine.  Check out this picture of Golly and I at a show with heavy rain -- look carefully and you can see the big blobs of mud shooting up, aiming towards my clean pants.

When I was a child I remember my parents preparing to purchase a new truck.  This was a big deal for them as money was not the most plentiful resource in our house and it was the only time I can remember them purchasing a new car during my childhood.  In fact, the truck they purchased is still in operation almost forty years later.

One thing my Mom said during that preparation stuck with me.  She remarked, "We need to be sure to get a color that matches the dirt on our road so it looks clean even when its not."  Common sense -- my mother's trademark.  We need to do the same with our expensive show breeches -- purchase a pair that matches most ring colors!

Looking Good
Now let's be honest.   Does anyone look good in a white pair of breeches?  Even skinny people don't look their best in them and fluffier people look even worse.   They show every single flaw in your body shape.    Bubbly fat?  Don't worry... everyone will know.     Belly pouch left over from multiple pregnancies?   It declares itself in glory with sharp contrast to your black jacket.  

And let's discuss panty lines.    Most breeches do a decent job of covering the evidence but white breeches... well those you have be very careful of your underwear choices.  Colors and prints are definite no nos.    Thongs are the choice for many under white pants but the thought of a thong while straddling a horse ... well... if you do that you either are looking for a cheap thrill or you hate your private parts.   However, since your chance of panty lines showing while wearing the cursed white pants is high, I'm not sure I want the world to know that I wear granny panties.   Flesh colored moderate cut underwear seems to work the best but seriously... should we have to put this much thought into our underwear?   Shouldn't we be spending more time thinking of how to get more fluid movement from our horse?

So that's it for me... I'm done with white breeches.   I'm going with common sense and finding a nice pair of dirt colored breeches to put under my nice blazer and white shirt -- which of course also makes perfect sense to wear while riding a horse!

Anyone want some white breeches?