Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Schooling Show

I completely forgot to update the blog for about a month... sorry! 

Louie and I had a schooling show at the end of March that went much better than expected!  3 blue ribbons!  Our judge was a fellow Sunborn instructor/rider, and she was as tough a judge as she is a rider.  We scored about 63% on each of our three First Level tests. 

Louie was a stinker the day before the show, but as usual, he pulled through for the show.  A small spring hurricane passed through the barn just before our classes, with raging wind and rains, but cleared up luckily just before our tests. 

Here are our videos, worth more than 1,000 words...

Test 1:
Test 2:

Test 3:

I was so pleased with my boy for cooperating like a good citizen.  Julie was pleased with our work as well, which makes me feel that all our hard work is worthwhile.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Six Pack

Yes, I am talking about beer.  Today's lesson focused on an exercise that resembles a six pack of beer. 

We divided the arena into six 10 meter circles, resembling that iconic packaging that used to so often contain our favorite beverages.  We worked at a sitting trot for the most part, and while trotting each circle, focusing on sitting DOWN, keeping the heels light and the thighs open.  Also, Julie reminded me the importance of sitting back in a confident position to help keep the horse in front of the leg.

As we worked each circle (whether 3 of the same circle or just a half before moving on to the next circle), we practiced all the different kinds of bends- bend in, bend out, shoulder in, renvers, reverse shoulder in (shoulder out, counter bend- like a leg yield basically), etc. This was a great exercise for Louie because it kept him guessing as to where I was going to put him (good for his spookiness of late) and also kept him really loose and helped keep him relaxed as he turned and changed.  We worked on changing the bend within and between the circles in a rather random order, using the inside bends to help with softness and enlarging the circle (and when we found something scary) and the outside bends as a bit of a restricting rein to limit the size of the circle. 

We also worked a little bit of canter on the circles- maybe doing some revers, then changing the bed, half halt and cantering a few strides at a time. 

Once we worked a few circles, we would change it up and go up the center line then leg yield, down the long end in shoulder end, or across the diagonal in an extension (all things that I want to work toward as our goal for this year is to show 1st level).  In the future we could probably start to work toward a little bit of counter canter as well with this exercise.

This six pack exercise was great for Louie- got him working his hind legs more, and got him relaxed and paying attention.  Some things to keep in mind while doing it were to keep the trot moving, keep both of us really relaxed and loose, keep the reins light- use some wide leading rein, then loosen frequently, and to sit down and keep the knees and thighs open. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Plug in the Seat Bones and Keep the Hind Feet Quick

It had been a while since I had a lesson on Louie.  In the past several rides I had been really working toward getting sharp and responsive transitions- both up and down.  While I accomplished that goal, even doing halt-canter-halt transitions, it was at the cost of relaxation, harmony, and a connection on the reins.  I realized this after 2 very scrunched up rides, so the following 2 rides were spent going back to relaxation, but when asking for a transition, I would scold him if it wasn't prompt, then go back to relaxation again.  This seemed to work well.

Well today we had a great lesson.  Beforehand, I refreshed Louie's body clip (partial low trace clip since it had grown back in).  The lesson started out with a little course in yielding to the lateral aids.  Louie didn't want to bend, and move away from my inside leg at the walk.  He wanted to trot instead, so we had to really over bend him, sit WAY to the right, and basically kick until he would move out.  I'm not sure why, but he seemed particularly stiff for some reason today.

After we got that straightened out we had a really great ride.  We worked on getting the walk to be forward marching and round.  The walk seems to be the hardest gait for me since I have so little insight into my wrongdoings that I really don't notice it's not good until Julie points it out.  So some of the key things we worked on in the walk (that also applied in the other gaits) were forward marching, rhythmic, quick feet, and round.  The other thing that really stuck with me was having my seat bones "plugged in" and not protecting (meaning, not tightening up and blocking with my abs when Louie feels like he might want to break to the trot- just fix it when it happens, but don't try to cover up naughtiness).

We had a little trouble with roundness at first, but eventually got it.  It took a little "Ninja Turtle-ing," very subtle, followed by shoulder in to get suppleness and moving away from the inside aids, followed by renvers to fill up the bridle.  One technique that worked really well for getting Louie just right in the bridle was working a variety of shoulder in and renvers at the walk- and at the trot too actually.  We would go down the long side once or twice in shoulder in, then switch to renvers after a few strides, then back to shoulder in.

Our sitting trot work was excellent.  Julie was really pleased.  Some of the things that we really focused on was getting a quick tempo (I just kept envisioning quick back feet), using a fair amount of abs, hands a little bit intermittent (saying- don't hang, but I won't pull) with periodic "gives" to see if he'd relax into it a bit.  We'd get a nice sitting trot then work on the shoulder in-renvers exercise as well as some leg yielding.

We still had good half halts and downward transitions, so Julie was pleased with that.  We then worked on the canter just a bit.  We did a sitting trot- shoulder in-renvers-half halt-canter transition, and had pretty nice canter work too.  We worked on really sitting SUPER still especially with my back, "vibrating" the legs to say, in essence, "keep going, back up, stay round, hind legs quick."  I also continued to work on not grabbing with my knees, keeping my seat bones plugged in, keeping my toes down and my thighs turned out just the tiniest bit.  In the end- I still had a great canter-trot-walk transition.

It turned out to be a really nice ride, so I'm hopeful our next few rides will go as well!  Tomorrow... another lesson with Navello!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Lessons on Navello

Welcome to 2015!

I have been forgetting to share a recent development in our riding journey.  Recently, I've had the opportunity to ride an FEI-level (Intermediare) horse at our barn, Navello.  I've had 2 lessons (one of which was 2 weeks ago, the other was today). 

Navello is a really cool horse- very smart, but very kind and forgiving with a lot of skills.  He's got fun gaits too- his trot is so much more lofty than Louie's, but his canter, is just rocking and nice!  Both of our rides were similar, but it seems to me as though the first was better- he was more responsive and perhaps I was just riding better a couple weeks ago.  Anyhow, we've been working mostly on transitions- halt-trot-halt, and some walk-canter-walk transitions, with a few rein backs mixed in.

Some interesting things that I'm learning in riding him are that I have difficulty using my seat bones or really sitting down because I want to ride in my knees too much.  We worked on a little bit of no stirrups, really focusing on using the lower abdomen to lift the knees up and keep my seat bones engaged.  Doing this we were actually able to get some really nice upward transitions.  The downward transitions were a challenge all together on Navello (actually, they've historically been a challenge on Louie too, but not as much), but they seemed harder without stirrups.  It seems as though I must be changing my position once I get into the gait- probably letting my core relax and losing my tuck under, which then puts me in a position to not be able to use the seat bones to get the transition to be felt.  So I really felt that my lower abdomen and my upper-mid thighs (the part in contact with the saddle) got a good work out by the end of the ride.

I think Navello also taught me that I need to just be more confident, more demanding, and use my whip(s) instead of just carrying a whip for decoration.  Today there were MANY moments where our transitions were not as prompt or quality as we know he is capable of doing.  This seems like it was better 2 weeks ago, so it may be a function of having other riders on him or maybe being stiff from work, but after a little "wake up" I started to ride much more confident and just insist that he do things promptly and correctly.  It was also nice because he's helping teach me that it's okay to use the whip, and not to be afraid of the consequences if I use it.  With Louie, if I accidentally tap hip with the whip, he is so sensitive he jumps, or often kicks out or bucks at it, so I think he just needs desensitization.  The point is not to use it for discipline, but as an extension of my aids to be able to reach behind my leg and communicate what I want.  Louie clearly doesn't see it this way, I think because he's just got me trained so well not to use it because of his reactions.  He just needs to get over it.

Now today, after the lesson on Navello, I rode Louie.  When I first got on, I did a great job at keeping him straight (I could really feel if he was swinging his haunches out or drifting, or just not going exactly where I wanted him to) and also I got his hind end engaged right from the beginning.  It was amazing how much I could feel a difference if I just tucked my seat under a bit and just lightly set the whips (I used 2 on him today for the first time- which is actually great because I can catch his evasions to the side more easily) on him, he tucked his hind end and the whole feel of the gait changed.  We worked on a little bit of no stirrups at the end too, which, surprisingly, was great.  His trot is much easier to sit without stirrups than Navello's, and his canter has gotten so much better that as long as he's using his hind legs, that is a breeze without stirrups too!  That's my homework, so it shall continue!  However, I noticed, on both Navello and Louie, that the downward transitions for some reason are harder without stirrups.  Though I think the reason is loss of core as I eluded to earlier.

Louie and I worked on transitions for the past 3 rides, and while they've become quite prompt, and amazingly, we've had some wonderful downward transitions (canter to halt in almost not steps)- which tells me he must have his hind end engaged in order to do it- this has come at the price of loss of relaxation, harmony, and connection on the reins.  He just gets really snarled up quickly, even if I don't use any hand- which I worked really hard not to!  So then I have to go back to lateral work and posting trot to get him to relax, and we lose some of the promptness.  So thus, our everlasting challenge- trying to get him round and hind end engaged while relaxing and stretching the neck out and into the contact.  Clearly Louie is a very smart horse, but I think this balance might just be beyond me as I can never really manage to get exactly what we're looking for and keep it for more than a couple seconds.  Perhaps Julie can, but I truly think it's just not quite clicking in my head to have the insight to recognize which problem is occurring at the moment and then the knowledge for how to fix it- then the knowledge of how to fix the next evasion, which is likely to happen quite quickly.  In short, Louie keeps me on my toes- and I think he might be faster than I am!  Ugh, the challenge of horses.  Well I've at least got a lot of good goals to work on for 2015!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lesson on Ninja Turtles

I had a lesson this week that was a little different progress than what we've been working on lately.  The weather took a major turn in the past week, from nice fall days in the 50's to 20's and snow.  Needless to say, Louie has been a bit "disconnected" in return.

We started our lesson working on the walk as usual, with a discussion about how much the horse's head should move in the walk.  Julie's opinion is that if the horse is working the hind end, the head should not move significantly so that you need to give with the hands to follow the horse's mouth.  Since I've alwyas followed the horse's mouth with my hands in the walk, this is a challenge for me, but to Julie, the problem was simply that Louie's hind end was trailing, not driving.  So to correct this, we assumed "Ninja Turtle" posture- creating angles in my body to create a similar angle in Louie's body.  So a Ninja Turtle is basically a curled back (shell) with knees and hips flexed to almost 90 degrees and arms straight out front from the shoulders.  In addition, during this, you lay your whip and slow the horse down.  When the hind end comes up under the horse, you can assume normal riding position.

With this, we worked on the walk, then into the trot- we worked on the transition.  While Julie kept saying, "don't let him piaffe!" I really don't know how to not let him do it, lol!  The answer is go a little more sideways.  Though, on a side note- she really liked his piaffe and suggested maybe he ought to work more on it!  But the basic goal is to have him engaged in the hind end in the walk so that he can basically piaffe into the trot.  Now this is a tricky balance since he tends to teeter totter between over-relaxed (heavy on the forehand, good reach with the neck, sluggish, and no transitions) and over excited (often over-collected, sometimes no contact, antsy, practically rearing, but engaged!)    So I probably have to use the Ninja Turtle briefly just for a transition to avoid excessive frustration.

We also worked a lot on trotting and half halts, and using the wall as an aid when the half halt doesn't go through.  Now this is kind of nice for teaching it, but it's not my favorite exercise as I don't always have a wall available when I need to half halt or stop without my hands.  But I nearly always have 1 rein and space to turn on the forehand or go sideways.  So, I can use any of the above methods to make my half halt go through.  One note on that though, is that Julie doesn't want me to overdo the correction, so I don't always need a big turn on the forehand if Louie won't yield, just a little sideways may be an ample correction a lot of the time.  Seems reasonable to me.

One of the biggest themes we worked on throughout the entire lesson was my hands- or basically lessening the use of them.  They need to always be pushing forward into the neck, and rarely pulling back- and when they do need to pull back for something, just do it briefly, then go right back to pushing forward into the neck.  No cheating!  Half halts, everything, should be hands free.  So this, I think is really important, because I do tend to be very busy with my hands, not necessarily hard, but just frequent little pulls or wiggles to get Louie's attention or encourage him to stretch, or whatever.  And while this might be fine to cover things up in the show ring, it does nothing beneficial for our training, so I'm always kind of temporizing a bigger problem by making it "look" like Louie is doing everything right.  Sometimes he actually is, but sometimes I'm helping.  The bigger problem with it is that all that backward motion with my hands translates to backward movement in the horse, and breaks the delicate connection that develops due to trust in my hands.  So... I've got some homework to do!

My homework is lots of transitions, Ninja Turtle to get the hind end engaged, and then piaffe into the trot, and NO hand wiggling- plant them on the neck and push them forward!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Catch up: a couple good lessons and a hunters pace!

I've been neglectful of this blog of late. So here are a few of the recent highlights:

1.  Long Lake Hounds hunters pace- we took Louie and Jackson and had a blast!! We rode fast, completed it in 1 hour 8 minutes, and beat the goal time by about 12 minutes.  We cut an hour off of Louie's last effort!  We will be sure to be back, my husband wants to win next year!

2. Great lesson 2 weeks ago on haunches in- with work on the turn on the haunches and half pass. It's coming along nicely, and connecting to the square exercise by doing the half halt with the inside leg, then catching the horses hind end with the outside leg so they don't actually turn on the forehand. The next step is releasing into more energy and stretch...

3. ... And that's where we picked up today with another great lesson! Exercises to build up impulsion and motor, with half halts then releasing into extensions. First exercise was spiral in, sit to the inside, use the outside aids and not too much inside bend. When you get a nice impulsive trot, spiral out, then shoulder in along the long side.  Next exercise is trotting 10 m circles or half circles, making effortless changes to the next half circle, then after 3 or 4 of them, shoulder in a few steps down the long side and then extend the trot for a few strides across the half diagonal. Can be done sitting trot or posting, need "half half and go's" throughout the circles and whip during the shoulder in and extension- don't overdo the shoulder in.  Julie notes we will probably also get better trot extensions sometimes after working on a powerful canter.  Next exercise- trot spiral in, when you get a nice trot, spiral out and canter. Half halts in the canter focusing on arms up, whip, tuck, and toes/stand, and after a circle or two, extend canter down the long side, a few strides, and before the horse falls on his face in extension, collect back up and canter a circle. Rinse, repeat, but not too much.

Today's lesson was in the outdoor arena- on October 30th, yes!! And it was great! Louie was awesome and Julie has been very happy with our riding so clearly we are doing something right!!  We had a great lesson and have been learning a lot, making strides toward advancement, and doing really well!! Too bad it's fall, no shows for many months...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Breakthrough the Dreaded Square Exercise

 I had a breakthrough of sorts this weekend when I rode Louie. I had had a lesson 3 days prior, and I really focused on what we worked on that day- controlling every step, half halting in the corners and turning on the forehand if he didn't respond.  All the while, working on this square exercise that's perplexed me for 2 years, I think I worked it out for myself during this ride.

As a reminder, the square exercise, according to my original understanding, was an exercise performed at any gait, where you basically ride in a square, asking for a half halt followed by a turn on the forehand at each corner.  Some how this is supposed to make the horse half halt and use their hind end with each corner. 

So here is my basic interpretation/concepts that help me to understand how to use it during my ride... the square exercise is basically the preliminary step to install a "half halt button" on the horse.  when you ask for a half halt, if you don't get an immediate answer, you briefly apply your inside aids (whip, leg, rein) as a correction to say, "hey, wake up, I said half halt/slow down, and you just blew through my aids."  It has to be a quick/abrupt correction, not just pulling the horse in a circle, but getting their front end to stop abruptly while any bit of their remaining momentum is carried out by the hind legs until they come to a near-halt, then you can proceed forward and relax the aids and carry on. 

If you do it frequently- like 4 times in every circle, they come to expect that they could be asked to stop at any moment and they start moving about under much more control.  After a few corrections, they start to feel those inside aids when you start to ask for your half halt (core becoming still, inside leg (well both legs, but more inside), inside rein) and they start to automatically half halt because they know the correction is coming if they don't slow down, rebalance, and stay with you.  Eventually, you can go around and use a more subtle core contraction/stilling of the seat with a little bit of leg (seems that applying more inside leg gets the desired response) and closing the inside hand just slightly and they offer the half halt with much less drama.  So basically, the correction (quick turn on the forehand) results from an exaggerated form of the cue for the half halt.

I worked on this at the walk for a long time, then the trot for a while until he seemed really responsive on both sides, then I tried it at the canter (only half halting about 3 times per circle instead of my usual 4- it's just tough to do it every other stride for starters) and we had some really great half halts!  Especially at the canter, he felt the inside leg and just rebalanced and slowed down beautifully.  I then used it to do my downward transition, and while it wasn't great, it was a lot less rushy/trotting/falling down than normal. 

So, I'm not sure if I've got the right interpretation of the exercise, but after 2 years I think I finally understand it.  The square exercise installs the "half halt button" by showing them a very mild form of the same aids (inside leg, core, inside rein) that would be used to quickly stop their front end in the turn on the forehand. 

not sure if it's right, but worked well for us!  Success!