Sunday, January 30, 2011

Video Time

It has been a long time since I've had a video taken of Louie (I think almost a year!).  With four dressage lessons under our belt and the great improvement I've noticed in his canter (slower, more controlled and balanced, and getting both leads like a champ!), I thought it was time to get an updated video. 

This was not our best performance ever, I could feel Louie backing off of the bit, which he rarely does anymore, and he was fussy and seemed more agitated than normal (that could have been performance anxiety from me or it could have been residual excitement from watching the bobcat move the round bales through the arena when our ride started- scary!).  At any rate, he was decent, but definitely held his head higher and more backed off of the bit than usual, and as you can see, this smart horse is anticipating the canter on more than one occasion.  Time to change up the routine again- we can get one or two rides at best of asking for similar type (in this case trot-canter) transitions in any semi-consistent place (lately it's been at X, A, or C) before he catches on and I have to throw him a curve ball again.

I had a heck of a time getting this video into a saved format on the computer (had to use a different movie maker program on my computer to first change the video from a .vob to an .avi file, then it removed the audio, so I found a pleasant song on You Tube audio swap- ay ay ay. . .).  But alas, here it is!  Enjoy!

(hint- if you click the box in the lower right corner to "Watch on You tube," you can enlarge the video and click the X boxes to remove the ads at the bottom)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hula Leah, Hula! And on your inside seat bone!

You'll never guess what Marlene had to say tonight in our fourth lesson.  She said we are doing great with our shoulder and haunches in, but I need to Hula my hips more because I am locking them up.  How funny is that?!  I knew I was doing that, but to hear her use those exact words was just priceless as that's what I was thinking after we had our twisting revelation a couple weeks ago.  Ha! 

Well we didn't really work on much new tonight, but uncovered an error in my haunches in training.  Our shoulder in is really quite nice and Marlene is really happy with it, but I have to remember not to take too much bend as I am wanting to over-bend to the inside with the neck.  She wants the neck straight and the body bent, my head focusing on traveling straight while my hips are turned toward the middle.  And of course hula-ing to keep my seat moving and not lock up and give a conflicting message to Louie. 

For haunches in, I was putting more weight on my outside hip bone to get Louie to move his haunches away.  Well I guess this is incorrect.  I should still turn my hips like I have been, but I need to keep more weight (not all, just more) on my inside seat bone- ALWAYS.  The seat is used to keep the bend, so when doing haunches in, he still needs to be bent toward the inside, and I still need to keep more weight on the inside seat bone, applying leg pressure behind the girth on the outside leg, and a knee/calf at the girth on the inside to leg yield to the wall.  All of that while not locking my hips.  Whew!  Well that's going to take some work, probably with my eyes closed or something. 

We worked on a drill to help me keep my weight correct, and that was to aim down one straight away doing shoulders in, then transition to haunches in, then back to shoulder in.  This should help me keep the momentum going forward with my seat, and also keep the pressure consistent on my inside seat bone through the whole straight away.  Through all of it, I need to keep kindof playing the bridle a little bit to keep Louie reassured and not raising his neck/head up in confusion. 

Sandy came to watch our lesson today too, and it was nice having her there.  She got to see what kind of "college education" I was getting and she really liked Marlene as an instructor and liked watching our lesson.  After the lesson, Sandy even hopped on Louie and took him for a spin in my new saddle, which she thought was great.  It was good to see her get back on a horse again and though Louie was rather confused, he did a nice job toting her around in a couple of circles

Overall, we had a very nice lesson, learned a lot, and have a lot to work on for next time. Marlene was genuinely very impressed that we'd made this much progress in four rides though, with all of the cold weather we've had. That made me happy, but of course I'm fairly motivated to make the most of these lessons. They're great for both Louie and for me and I can't wait to see what kind of progress we will make in the next few months!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mister Mohawk

I don't dare clip Louie too much when it's 20 below outside, so he's grown quite a nice mohawk in the past month or so.  Eventually it will warm up a little bit and we'll go back to the clean shaven look, but for now, I think it's kinda cute! 

Thanks Laura for the photo, I tried taking several of his mohawk on Friday but none of them turned out.  :) 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cold Snap

It is cold here in Minnesota.  The low tonight is supposed to be -17 and the high tomorrow is predicted at 1 above.  Needless to say Louie is enjoying some time off until it warms up a bit. 

This is the time of year we all dread, but at least the days are getting longer (noticeably) and we know spring will be right around the corner.  Well, until then, I hope the weather warms up so that we're able to resume our dressage homework, of which we've worked on twice in 2 weeks.  Ah!  Come on spring!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Those Hula Lessons Paid Off!

I'm just kidding, I've never had Hula lessons.  But I felt like I had tonight. 

Louie and I had a great ride tonight, though I don't think he really noticed, but it really was a breakthrough. 

It was our first ride since our lesson where we worked on shoulders in, haunches in, leg yielding, and learned that my inside leg must never be behind my outside leg.  Ah! 

So we started with our usual warm-up activities, did a little short bit of trotting and cantering, then proceeded through the levels of what we have learned, up to the leg yielding to the wall from the quarter line.  As we were doing this, I recalled what Marlene had requested in my last lesson- to almost try to have the haunches reach the wall before the forehand.  To do this, I turned my hips slightly, rotating toward the inside, and Louie's haunches did reach the wall just before his forehand, even without sliding my inside leg back.  Alright, so we've got that over-correction down!

We proceeded to work on shoulders in and haunches in.  I used my seat and my hips to help cue Louie without moving my lower legs back to make the cue.  I tried to apply more thigh/knee pressure where I wanted the forehand to move away, and more lower leg pressure to control the main movement/haunches.  He caught onto the hips/seat rotation really quickly.  We were able to switch back and forth between shoulder in and haunches in quite simply, with minimal body contortion and funny faces (from contracting my leg muscles so tightly) from me, and mostly using my seat to shift Louie's body.  So I decided to test the theory and pointed Louie straight down the center of the arena.  We focused our gaze straight at the far wall, and I twisted my hips.  Like a rudder, Louie's body rotated with me.  We straightened.  I twisted the other way, Louie shifted.  Wow!  So cool!  I petted Louie a whole bunch, and told him how good he was for listening to my seat so nicely.  I'm not sure he understood what all the hubbub was about, but I think he understands what I'm asking him for.

I'm super impressed that Louie picked up on this hip rotation so quickly.  This is going to make these two exercises much easier for us, as I won't need to kill myself with my legs if Louie continues to listen to my seat so nicely. 

Of course right now, some of our cues feel a little rough and un-polished, but Louie is responsive, and it should improve from here.  I'm thrilled!  Now I need to work on not locking my hips when I turn them, as I have a tendency to stop following the movement with my seat when I use any of my abdominal or thigh muscles. 

So we'll continue to work on these maneuvers at the walk, on and off of the rail, for the next three weeks until our next lesson.  I'd like to start some preliminary trot work with these if all goes well, at least the leg yielding from the quarter line, as I think Louie can handle that. 

Of course we'll continue to mix the canter in with our new lessons.  I figure, since Louie thinks the canter is such a big deal right now, one good way to get it to not be a big deal would be to continue to work it in as part of the routine as we learn new things, that way the canter will become one of those "easy," previously mastered skills, and not the newest and most challenging thing.  Already since we've been working on our dressage, the canter has improved.  It has become considerably more controlled, slow, balanced, and our departures and leads are improving, and we've hardly worked on it.  Awesome.  This dressage stuff is so good for us, and I'm so grateful for having found such a fabulous instructor to learn from.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Revelation on Legs

Tonight was our 3rd lesson with Marlene and we really learned a lot.  She was impressed with our progress and our work ethic as I think she can tell how hard we work to get things down from one lesson to the next. 

By this time Louie and I are comfortable with walking and trotting circles and keeping a proper bend, with proper pressure on the reins, seat, and legs.  Our downward transitions have really improved, and I think the gentle bit sliding left-right-left-right is going to be the key to remedy that situation.  We can both tell though, that a light bulb went off between the last lesson and this one in respect to Louie's downward transition head/neck position.

Tonight Marlene wanted to start on leg yielding.  She asked me to walk the quarter line, then leg yield Louie back to the rail, keeping his body very straight, and if anything, a tiny inward bend at the poll only.  She was pretty impressed the first time we did this at how well Louie respected my leg and moved toward the rail.  I think she was expecting that he knew nothing more than how to go forward.  He didn't do it perfectly, nor did I, but he did move toward the rail very willingly, and kept his body mostly straight.  We have some room for improvement here as I need to get him to move over without having to move my inside leg back. 

We then progressed to shoulder in, which is supposed to be easier than haunches in.  Ha!  Marlene was shocked when we did okay with the shoulders in, but actually did better with haunches in.  Well, we figured out why, and that is because of the "different" way I trained Louie to shift his haunches and forehand to begin with.  When I teach any horse, I put one leg behind the girth to get them to shift their haunches away from the pressure.  Well, when you are trying to ask your horse to do shoulders in, doing it that way results in having your outside leg ahead of your inside leg, as the inside leg slides back to drive the haunches out.  Oops!  We found out tonight that is a big no-no, and that the outside leg should NEVER be ahead of the inside leg.  The reason for this is because if you need to do this to ask for shoulder in at the canter, it would confuse the horse into thinking that you want to switch leads. 

So now how do we do shoulders in without moving that inside leg back??  Well it's going to come down to shifting the weight/turning my seat and probably using my upper leg to try to hold the shoulder in with the outside thigh/knee, and push the body out with my inside calf. 

Naturally haunches in is easier based on the way Louie and I learned, I'll be able to hold him in with the inside knee, and use that outside calf, which is allowed to be back farther, to drive the haunches in.  So, we'll have to REALLY work on this in the next few weeks before our next lesson and straighten out our system of aids to make this happen. 

One way that Marlene recommended we try, is use the haunches in, which comes easier to us, to help teach shoulders in, which really is the same basic maneuver, just with a wall on one side or the other.  She recommended we walk down a rail, do a few strides of haunches in, then straighten and proceed to shoulders in.  She said most horses are better at haunches in one way and shoulders in one way, usually opposite directions, and she can't figure out the reasoning behind that as they are essentially the same maneuver, just with a wall in a different spot.  Anyhow, haunches in is easier for us to the left, and shoulders in is easier to the right. 

Well, our next lesson is 3 weeks away and we've sure got our work cut out for us before then!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Better Rides

Last night and tonight we had two pretty nice rides, and we've made some progress on our "scary" arena problem.  The common denominators were that we rode by ourselves and had the radio on pretty loudly.  I think the radio made a big difference because in the quiet, every little sound on that end of the arena was noticeable.  The other aids that we've been using are an over-exaggerated bend on that end of the arena and keeping busy with lots of circles and constantly working and thinking.  We've also been free lunging Louie more lately, and he goes down to check out the "scary end" regularly on his own, which probably helps to build his confidence there too. 

Last night we worked on our downward transitions.  I have discovered that I tend to completely let go of everything when changing gaits- sometimes even in upward transitions!  I tried doing the downward transition with holding the exaggerated inside bend, but Louie soon learned that he should slow down, and walk in a tight circle instead of stopping.  Argh.  So I basically went back to what I did with the upward transitions- seasawing the bit in his mouth, left-right-left-right as I asked for the transition.  This is slightly more challenging in the downward transitions than upward because increased leg pressure seems to be an easier cue to pick up on- well, at least for now.  We had a few very nice stops (walk-halt) and I made sure to make a big deal of it with lots of praise, but it hasn't sunk in yet.  We'll keep working on it. 

Tonight was a fairly intense, but short ride.  We worked a lot of Figure-8's.  Louie tends to get worked up after we canter- this is a long standing issue and is probably going to be a long road to improving it.  After we canter, it becomes quite difficult to walk quietly on the rail or in a large circle using ANY leg pressure- every touch of the leg suddenly means trot or canter.  Argh.  So we trotted for a while to try to relax and clear his head after our first canter, but Louie didn't really want to relax into our trotting Figure-8's, so after 3 or 4 of them, I decided, okay, let's do some more cantering. 

I think Louie feels like he needs to get a certain amount of cantering out of his system before he can feel content with walking in a relaxed manner following the canter. 

So I cued him up into a canter and we did a circle.  Then I thought, well, the heck with boring circles, let's keep doing Figure-8's!  So we did a few cantering Figure-8's with simple lead changes in between.  With all of those lead changes off of the rail, I was amazed that Louie nailed almost all of them and got the right leads!  Out of probably 8 upward transitions, Louie took the correct lead 7 of the times.  He missed the second to last one, going to the right, but I took him down and re-cued at the top of the figure (end of the arena) and he picked up his right lead without issue.  Then we stopped.  Fun!  He was pretty tired and willing to relax and walk after all of that.  It was a good exercise for him and it seems as though his leads are definitely starting to look up! 

Overall, while both rides had frustrating aspects, I was quite pleased with both of them, feeling as though we did something well each time, even if it was just braving the far end of the arena by ourselves. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Year In Review

Looking back, 2010 was a great year for Louie and me.  Between our training progress, new adventures, and successes, we really added a big chapter to our lives in the past year.  Let's look back from where we were this time last year to now, to really put things into perspective.

In the winter of 2010, we were mostly working on long lining.  We had taken about 5 months off from riding due to Louie having a sore back and left hind leg, and to give him a little time off to develop both mentally and physically.  Louie and I did a lot of cardio training together, me running around the ring on the end of the lines, and actually this is how we finally started to solidify our right lead canter. 

Louie discovered what "Uncle Jimmy's Hanging Balls" are, and he loves them. 

Louie had his first session of chiropractic plus accupuncture, and I think he liked that too. 

Louie and I started learning how to jump.  We still have a long way to go in this category, but it doesn't come overnight, and it's not Louie's strongest suit. 

We worked with a phenomenal carriage driving trainer, Steve Wood, and not only overcame our fear of the plastic sled on the sand,

but we officially "broke" Louie to drive- in a real cart. 

As it turns out, Louie loves to drive, and is very good at it. 

We met with Master Saddle Fitter, Cordia Pearson, who helped us to finally find a suitable hunt seat saddle (a nearly impossible task, so we learned).  We still keep in touch and Cordia loves to hear how Louie is doing with all of his adventures. 

Louie somehow made ground beef of his leg, and we had to skip a show I had wanted to attend. 

We got a new quick hitch harness, and we love it. 

Louie's leg healed, and he came back better than ever, worked some kinks out of the canter leads, and went to our first Saddlebred Show at the Washington County Fair.  We had fun splashing through the mud!

Louie enjoyed the dog days of summer while I was off at field trials with Jackson (the other child).  The days went by and summer faded into fall.

We went to the Octoberfest Horse show (another Saddlebred show) and Louie did great, made improvements in each class and even impressed the judge. 

In the fall after show season was over, we went trail riding at Lake Elmo Park Reserve with my husband and Jackson (the TWH "other" child) and Louie proved what a great and safe trail mount he could be.

As the leaves changed, we had a photo shoot (I haven't even posted all of these photos here yet, so this is a sneak peek) ala "Glamorista" with my good friend Karina Peterson, from k. noel photography (

We went on another trail ride with a big group from our stable- we dressed up in all the blaze we could find since it was opening deer hunting. 

As fall cooled into winter, we started taking dressage lessons with an amazing and successful rider and S-Judge (becoming an S-judge is no easy feat!), Marlene Schneider.  So far our lessons are going great, and Marlene and I really seem to connect.  The lessons we learn will not only benefit our hunt seat show ring performance, but will be overall very beneficial to Louie's health and condition. 

Wow, that is a lot to take in!  We've come so far in the past year.  Just imagine what 2011 will bring- I'm sure more dressage, jumping, showing, and driving!  Louie and I don't have a specific resolution for the new year, but to continue to have fun, learn, and enjoy one another.  Here's to a fabulous 2011!  Cheers!