Monday, November 29, 2010

Still Scary, but Better

I rode Louie again tonight.  It was the first time I had ridden or even worked him since last Tuesday when he was so deathly afraid of one end of the arena.  He was still scared of the barrels, poles, and jump standards at the end of the arena, but I called his bluff when he suddenly became more scared half-way through the ride.  We worked through it, confronted our fears, and while he was never really relaxed on the scary end of the arena, he survived. 

We continued to work on our dressage homework- leg yielding and shifting the ribcage, which is becoming easier for us.  Louie is responding to my leg pressure nicely, and I'm using it intermittently, which is really helpful for both of us.  Once in a while, as we were riding a circle, I would look down at him to see the angle of his body- haunches following along the circle, neck and head bent to the middle, a nice curve going through his back.  I'm sure Marlene will have criticism for us, but I was pretty pleased with some moments of our ride.  Even when I worked figure-8's in two point, Louie responded perfectly by bending his body around my leg immediately when we would change inflection on the figure-8. 

We worked on just a little bit of canter.  Louie took his canter leads and departures really well!  I attempted to do the same basic exercise at the canter, but I had too hard a time staying in the saddle to do that.  We were just about to be done for the night, we were cantering around the "good" side of the arena and I had planned to stop at the far end and proceed with our cool down, but Louie spooked at something from the "good" end, tried to bolt, then broke, then picked up the wrong lead when I asked for the canter again.  Argh.  I brought him back down to the walk and we worked on changing gears from super excited to "settled" for several minutes.  Then we tried again- Louie departed beautifully onto the right lead from the center of the ring- no wall to aid him in getting his lead.  I was happy. 

I definately think our lessons in dressage will help with our canter work as Louie becomes stronger and learns that he must bear weight on the hind legs properly, reaching underneath himself and supporting his body on a circle.  I almost felt like our canter transitions had improved already, but I think that must be wishful thinking, as we've really only been working on some very basic concepts for a few rides and this was the first time we had cantered since our lesson.  But if I believe it, I'll be motivated to continue, which will be good for both Louie and me. 

Lastly, Louie is now going to have a small vacation from ridden work- we have our National Field Trial to attend next week, so "mean Auntie Sandy" will be helping Louie overcome his fear of the scary arena with some lunging to keep him in shape and desensitized while I'm gone.  We'll have our next dressage lesson soon after I return, so I want Louie to be rarin' to go and ready to focus on dressage when she comes for our lesson! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Louie Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This was tonight's theme.  Perhaps it was the 17 degree temperature outside, but Louie, along with most every other horse attempting to be worked tonight, was practically mistakable for a very large wild rabbit on a leash tonight. 

There were a few terrifying items in the arena tonight- some new jump standards, in their vertical torturous forms (the wand).  A tarp which wiggled and shook like the veil of a death eater (the cloak).  And some big blue barrels that not only were imposing in their sheer size, but also produced a hollow, eerie sound when touched (the stone).  Gathered together in the "scary" end of the arena, these items made half of the arena nearly impassable. 

After a few passes in the saddle, it was clear that there was no chance we were going to accomplish much of anything productive tonight, so we did a little lunging in the scary part of the arena- complete with leaping, bounding, bucking, kicking, galloping, and that wild eyed look of sheer terror in Louie's face- every time he passed the scary new items. 

He settled down after about 20-30 minutes and some in depth investigation where I searched the suspect items to try to identify the horse-eating monster lurking between them.  No such monster was found.  Louie was so incredibly relieved that he relaxed just a bit, but not even close enough to accomplish anything productive in our lesson tonight.  We did accomplish one thing though.  By the end of the evening, we were able to walk past the deathly hallows with only a slightly increased briskness in our step and one eye turned quite intently, searching for the evil lurking within. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shift the Ribcage

Tonight we practiced some of the skills we learned at our dressage lesson.  I tried to put on spurs, but soon discovered that the spur straps that I had were not long enough to fit around my tennis shoes.  So I grabbed a whip instead.  This definitely woke Louie up and he respected my leg much much more knowing that my whip might bite him if he didn't listen to my leg. 

It took a fair bit of warming up before he would settle in and work, but by the end of the lesson we seemed to have gotten the walking in a circle drill down fairly well.  With an inside bend, with more pressure on the outside rein, better balanced pressure with my legs (and intermittent, not constant), and keeping the hind end in, without me falling off of my saddle.  So that was a very good thing!  I made sure to praise Louie frequently when he was doing the right thing.  I do think a) having the whip, and b) not having a person standing in the center of our circle that Louie wanted to visit made a big difference.  But what made a really big difference was a comment from one of the other riders at my barn saying that she thinks of it this way:  if you push the ribcage to the outside, then the horse should naturally be bent slightly toward the inside.  If you keep your reins the same as they were when you were going straight, there will be less pressure on the inside rein as the horse is bending away from the outside, taking up contact on that rein and lessening the distance on the inside rein.  Aha!  This was a light bulb moment for me!

We also worked on this at the trot, which was pretty decent, but needs more work as Louie seems to still think that one leg at the girth means go faster.  We'll get it, he just needs reminders and me doing it more often. 

We worked on our not-so-good downward transitions.  I found tonight that the going slower slower slower, and if he raises his head up- push him forward method was not working as well as I had hoped.  Louie was actually becoming confused and then just stopped transitioning- he'd just continue at a jog trot with me sitting in the saddle until I pulled him up- at which time he would raise his head.  Ugh. . . I recall Louie used to lift his neck to help him transition into the trot from the walk.  He rarely does this anymore, because I had to work with him to get him to not do it- by gently sea-sawing my reins before asking for the transition, and continuing it as he was changing gaits.  Then re-doing it if he lifted his neck, until he realized he could make the transition without the extra "balancing."  I tried this with the trot-walk transition a few times and it seems to be working fairly well- better than the slow down method.  The only problem is that I think the downward transition cue gets lost in the rein wiggling, so I might have to add some extra cue for a while here- a sigh or something usually works.  So, I think I might try to fix this issue this way instead, and hopefully I can make some progress in the next few weeks, then hopefully we just won't have to worry about it regularly, just like we were able to do with the upward transitions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Start of a New Journey- Our First Dressage Lesson

Tonight Louie and I took our first lesson with a new dressage instructor- Marlene Schneider.  Marlene is an accomplished USDF judge and rider/trainer, and as it turns out, an excellent instructor.  We are pretty lucky to have the opportunity to take lessons with such a great instructor, and I'm very excited to start on this journey!  Louie, on the other hand, I think saw tonight's lesson as more work, and being the smart horse he is, is already contemplating how to get out of doing more work and get back to his food. 

Introductory lessons are always rather slow, but being that this was my first lesson, I feel like we really left with some good ideas to chew on and a lot to work on in the next few weeks.  We plan on taking lessons every other week or so, but due to holidays/travel, our next lesson will be a month away.  But that is alright, it will give Louie and me plenty of time to work on what we learned tonight. 

One thing we learned tonight is that Marlene has an interesting, and effective way of viewing the amount of pressure used with the seat, leg, and the hands-she grades it on a scale from 1-10 and frequently asks me what number I'm at with each hand or leg, etc.  We then use these numbers as she instructs me to put more weight in my inside seat bone, etc. 

Another analogy that I really liked was one about holding both ends of a whip and pushing them together to make the center of a whip raise up.  This is like using the legs and the hands to bring both ends of the horse together and raise up in the middle- lift the back.  If you let go of your hands or seat, the whip goes flat, as does the horse's back. 

Tonight we worked most on walking in a circle, staying bent to the middle, but with more pressure on the outside rein than the inside, and my inside leg and seat pushing him into the outside rein.  This was very challenging to do, especially with a horse who is new to the concept and a rider who hasn't asked her body to work in this particular way before.  We then worked on this briefly at the trot, which was actually easier as Louie seemed to be more responsive to my legs at the trot.  The moral of the story of tonight's lesson though, I think, is that I need some spurs or my legs are going to break.  Owww, I know I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

There were glimmers of hope and understanding, and moments of frustration and total transparency of my deficits in Louie's training tonight, but Marlene has a really good eye and was able to help me to see these strengths and weaknesses in my own self.  She is also excellent at reading body language and could tell every time Louie gave her the stink eye or told her or me how he felt about his new expectations.  There was actually a moment of laughter and frustration mixed into one as she asked us to trot and Louie, totally dead to my legs squeezing with all my might, plowed right through my right leg into the middle of the circle and would NOT trot.  He walked in a circle to the right, tighter and tighter, going through my right leg as I was shoving it into him with all the strength I had.  Ugh!  I kicked, bounced, did everything I could and he would NOT GO faster.  Finally I walked him back to the rail, caught him off guard, then was finally able to pick up a trot and complete the exercise. 

Marlene also had some good advice for me on my downward transitions.  Currently, Louie feels the need to lift his neck up when we transition from trot to walk.  So, we're going to work on slowing down and lightly working the bit in his mouth to keep him active and on it, and continue to go slower and slower, while maintaining the head position, until we break into a walk.  If he tries to raise his neck up, he has to trot more.  I think this could work.  I've got a few weeks to try it, so I'm hoping that it will work because we really need to work on our downward transitions in a bad bad way. 

Overall, I thought the lesson was great, and I really feel that Marlene is going to be able to help us- not only to learn dressage, but balance and improve our riding, and strengthen and develop the proper muscling for both horse and rider.  Louie and I have much to gain from Marlene's expertise, and I think she is going to be a good fit for us.  I love that she is not critical of the fact that I ride a Saddlebred, or the fact that I really want to work him as a hunter (right now, though that could change at any time) and use the dressage as more of a cross training exercise.  I think she understands the utility in which I'd like to learn dressage, and I love how open minded she is.  Plus she really stays on top of me and pays attention to what I'm doing and how Louie is responding- something that not all trainers seem to have a knack for. 

I'm really excited to begin working on tonight's lessons, and though I'm sure Louie is going to protest, I think these lessons are going to be such a huge benefit to our riding.  We will see how the next few weeks go practicing on our own- I'm sure they're be fraught with frustration, but in the end I know it will be worth it. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whip Anticipation

Driving in an open bridle is a wonderful thing- with one exception.  Without blinders, a horse can see, and anticipate, the use of your whip as you use it as an aid to turn, move over, or change directions.  The past few drives Louie has definitely been picking up on this and I have to be very careful that he doesn't move away too much.  I do my best to try to keep my whip neutral and work on patterns to keep him responsive, but it's one indication to me that we should start re-introducing the blinders. 

Tonight I long lined Louie and for the first time in many months, added the blinders after a brief warm-up.  We will need to carefully introduce driving with the blinders, but he did great with them on, picked it up again like riding a bike, and it really helped with negating anticipation of my cues. 

After I warmed Louie up in the lines and blinders, he played the role as a "lesson horse" to teach another boarder who wants to learn to long line, and eventually drive her riding horse.  Louie did great as a teacher and was very patient with her for the most part. 

It was interesting as I don't teach regularly and don't really think about how I integrate my body and brain in order to smoothly long line, but breaking it down and thinking about what I do subconsciously was actually rather revealing.  However, I wasn't even able to realize what I do with my body until I was able to see the gaps in communication between Mary and Louie, then I could see what she did compared to what I did and figure out how to help her.  One of the most tricky things was doing circles and keeping Louie appropriately "in" and "out" on the circle and with even tension on the lines.  Mary figured it out after I eventually realised what I was doing with my own hands so that I could put it in words to show her.  Another thing that was a little tricky, but quickly solved was changing directions and changing sides behind the horse, and flipping the reins from one side to the other- just at the right moment. 

Overall, it was a nice lesson- a good re-introduction to the blind bridle and a very nice introductory lesson for a new driver.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Big Weekend

Well, I've been out sick the past 2 days and not really in the best mind to update Louie's blog.  He had a couple of big days last weekend, and we're waiting for a few pictures to post about our happenings.  On Saturday a friend from work brought her 5-year-old daughter out to the barn to ride Louie.  Laney is horse crazy but has never gotten to ride, and Louie did really well giving her a pony ride around the arenas. 

On Sunday, we had the opportunity to go on a trail ride with a few other people from the barn (6 of us all together).  It was hunting season, so we made sure to cover ourselves in blaze orange.  We rode in a regional park where hunting is not allowed, but the park is surrounded by farm land, and people can be stupid, so I wasn't going to take any chances.  Besides, Louie looks a little bit like a big deer with his brown coat and white at either end.  If he had antlers. . . well, here we are all decked out in more blaze orange/bright colors than we thought was possible!  It was fun getting him all dressed up- almost like being on parade! 
In case you can't tell, he had orange yarn in his tail, a few big pieces of fabric that I had left over from a sewing project- I draped one over his hindquarters like a quarter sheet, and tied another around his neck like a scarf.  I don't think there was any chance of missing us in this get up!  He was a really good boy on the ride- and led the way fearlessly.  He was definately happiest and most relaxed in the front of the group, but did well in the back or middle too.  He's probably just used to having to walk so quickly to keep up with Jackson and his walking horse gaits! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Few Show Photos To Share

I am so very pleased.  I just received these jpegs from the photographer of both of our shows this summer/fall- Courtney Church. We have an 8x10 of the Octoberfest one (bottom) on the way and the other two are already framed in the house.

The first one was from one of the classes at Washington County.  Louie was afraid of the announcer stand that we were approaching, and scooted past it all day.  Here you can see him getting into his "Saddlebred" gear as we were about to approach the stand.  I look terrible as I'm telling him "whup! easy!" and he is not exactly in a hunter frame here ;) but I think she really caputred his beauty and expression well. 

Of course this one is from our victory lap in the ASB Hunter Country Pleasure class at Washington County back in August.  Not a huge accomplishment to beat one horse in the mud- as my husband says, but it was our first ASB show and it is a great photo. 

Lastly, our photo from Octoberfest in the ASB Hunter Country Pleasure Stake class.  We had 4 classes worth of photos to choose from, but this was my favorite.  She caught him in the right part of the stride and me sitting.  Unfortunately for the sake of my show photos, I always post on the correct diagonal in the show ring so the photos always either catch me on the "up" part of the post or with the wrong front leg forward.  The difference is slight, the chest looks better when it is more open with the outside front leg forward in the photo, but it's okay, this is still a good photo- Louie and I both look like we're doing our jobs well.  This was a really good ride too, so I'm glad to have a photo to remember it! 
No recent riding or training updates.  Today was tack cleaning day and that is a lengthy process!