Monday, December 27, 2010

Finally Ditched the Fashion Faux Paux

Another boarder and jump/dressage rider at my barn has been teasing me about my riding in tennis shoes and half chaps for months. . . It's really comfortable. . .

Well, when I realized I needed spurs on Louie, I then realized that spurs and tennis shoes just aren't compatible.  So I broke down and got a pair of paddock boots.  These are really comfy, great for my wide and hard to fit feet, and work great with both spurs and half chaps.  I've used them about 3 times so far and. . . okay. . . I love them!  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Second Dressage Lesson

Well tonight was another good lesson for Louie and me with our new dressage instructor Marlene.  It had been a month since our last lesson, and between working so hard on the scary end of the arena and having a two-week break that seemed to have put us way behind, we actually made some noticeable progress on our homework!  Our bending around our circles has definitely come along, and I was able to hold Louie out on the circles much easier this time.  Of course the addition of spurs really makes that a lot easier. 

So tonight we continued to work on our bending, noticing that Louie, unlike most horses, actually bends to the right much easier than he does to the left.  When circling to the left, he wants to just bend closer to the poll, but not from the base of the neck, so that is something we need to work on.  He also wants to go just a little bit more rushed at the trot to the left than he does to the right, which Marlene thinks is probably a function of discomfort in bending in that direction.

We think we may have discovered a key to getting Louie to downward transition without pulling his head and neck up- and that is to hold him into an exaggerated inside bend while slowly relaxing into the transition.  What Louie wants to do is to snap his neck straight and raise up, but not allowing him to straighten, he doesn't take the opportunity to lift either. 

We showed Marlene our canter for the first time tonight, and while it wasn't Louie's best work- throwing his neck in the air and loading his inside front leg, losing his balance and dragging himself around the circle in the canter.  She said it wasn't a bad canter but I've definitely felt him do better.  We talked a little bit about his reluctance to use his right lead and Marlene recommended I try transitioning him with his haunches shifted to the outside of the circle.  We tried it once and low and behold, it worked!  He took his right lead and was much more balanced that way in the first few strides, whereas usually he takes several strides to put himself together.  So we will keep trying this. 

Another thing that Marlene wanted me to work on is where my hands are.  I have a really bad habit from my earliest learning's of western pleasure, and that is to cross one hand over the mid-line of the neck, in attempt to neck rein.  I have been scolded for this before in my saddle seat lessons, but old habits die hard, especially when they are left alone to their own devices for many years while not taking regular lessons.  One thing that she wanted me to think about was keeping my hands equidistant from Louie's neck, and if anything, keeping the inside hand farther away, toward the middle, like a leading rein.  This is difficult for me to do and will require a lot of work, but we're pretty determined. 

I'm looking forward to our next lesson, in the new year.  But for now, we'll work on our new homework and of course take a few days now to celebrate the holidays.  Merry Christmas! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

He's a People Person

Today Sandy and I worked on Louie's fear of the far end of the arena.  Sandy stood at the far end of the arena and coached us around the corners, and with a few exceptions like him spooking at a few steamy turds he had left the lap before, Louie did fabulously- almost like there was nothing scary on that end at all.  We walked, trotted, and cantered and felt almost like we were making progress again- almost up to where we left off 3 weeks ago. 

Then Sandy left, and I wanted to work on just a little bit more trotting with Louie.  Within 2 passes after Sandy left, Louie was back to his same usual BS- looking, stiffening, shying, scooting, etc.  I thought about it a bit and it occurred to me that the difference between that time and 5 minutes before was the lack of a human at that end and the talking that was occurring back and forth between Sandy and I.  It was eerily quiet in the barn and you could hear the snow shifting on the roof and the melting drops of water falling from the roof.  So, I started chatting to Louie (I almost never talk when riding unless it is to somebody on the ground) and it seemed to help for a pass or two.  Then the third time, a small piece of snow fell down from the arena ceiling.  Louie planted down on his hind end, did a 180 and took off at a moderate paced canter.  This is his same bolt that he's done with me in the past once or twice, and while disturbing, it doesn't really seem so sincere as he stops quickly after just a few steps. 

I got him stopped and was so filled with rage and frustration, I couldn't help but take out some anger with a swift hand to the neck.  I screamed, then cried.  We sat there and pouted for a while as I tried to think of what to do next.  After I had finished my mental breakdown, we headed back to the same place again at a walk or a trot, I can't remember, and scooted by that end again a few more times making half-circles on that end of the arena.  Another boarder walked in and I still had tears in my eyes, but I hadn't seen her for a few weeks, so naturally we chatted for a little bit while I rode.  Strangely enough, Louie shaped right up, still looked and stiffened a little bit going by that end of the arena, but he felt so much more at ease having another person on that end of the arena.  I get it!  He feels that he needs the reassurance of having a human on the ground by him in this situation (he is just fine when leading him or lunging him on that end)- two conversing humans is even better!  Huh!  How about that? 

Well obviously the scary obstacles at the end of the arena are something he needs to get over, but it has been taking an excessively long amount of time and is honestly starting to wear on my nerves and my confidence.  We are not really making progress on our dressage homework and our next lesson is scheduled for Thursday.  While I am hesitent to stop working on it under saddle for a while for fear of making it a bigger issue than it really is and build my own anticipation more, I really think that we could probably benefit from some more work in long lines for a while. . . While I would love to be driving him right now, there's not a chance in heck that I'm going to hook him to the cart with this kind of behavior.  When we ride, we will probably end up doing most of our dressage work at the "safe" end of the arena so that we can focus and try to progress, and for those trips around the other end, I will probably set up some obstacles like jumps/poles, or barrels on the insides of the corners on the "scary" end to keep his mind occupied and focused away from the wall, and maybe turn on the radio in the arena.  If I have the chance, I may even try to ride him outside a time or two through the snow. 

What do you usually do to help your horse overcome his/her fears?

Friday, December 17, 2010

2 Steps Forward, 10 Steps Back

Ugh.  After coming back from a 2 week hiatus while we were at the Weimaraner National Field Trial with our dogs and our two Walking Horses, Louie seems like he's taken 10 steps backwards in our dressage lessons.  And, he's still pretending to be scared of the far end of the arena. 

I lunged him earlier this week on the scary end of the arena and he hardly blinked going by the scary stuff.  When I rode him last night, he was back to his full "flight mode."  Argh.  This is definitely testing my patience, so Sandy and I plan to do a little working on it this weekend.  There were moments when Louie appeared to have forgotten how to do the simplest things like "go" and "turn."  By the end of a short ride, we were able to make a little bit of progress, pass the scary end without *that* much trouble.  But we still have a very long way to go to catch up to where we left off 2 weeks ago. . .