Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Drive Time

Hallelujia!  We drove for the first time in months!  A week or two ago when Sandy was there, we put him between the shafts, but didn't hook him.  Even with all the scary stuff happening that day he kindof settled down in the cart.

Well today I noticed that the scary end of the arena had less stuff in it, and there was a direct correlation to Louie's spookiness- it was much decreased.  Granted I had to move one of the carts around a little bit to get to mine, so that gave Louie something more to look at once again.
So after a lengthy warm-up in the long lines, since Louie was so nicely behaved and didn't appear to be jumping out of his skin too much, I pulled the cart up and hooked him up.  We long lined with the cart hooked for a few laps just to see how things would go, but they went fine so I hopped in.  It was like we never stopped driving.  Yay!  We picked up just where we left off, still dealing with some whip anticipation and wanting to bend his neck to the middle even if we're going down a straight away, but it was reassuring to not run into any trouble.  We kept the drive short so as not to push our luck, but probably went about 5 laps in each direction at a walk and a trot. 

I was very happy with my Louie boy, and he looked so happy driving along, I just know he missed it, as he just feels so relaxed and comfortable in front of the cart.  I'm looking forward to spring time when we can get outside to drive in the big outdoor arena before the bugs come to life.  :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Free Jumping

I didn't have much time to work Louie today, and since we had 12 inches of snow land on us last night and today and I had to work all weekend, we we weren't very motivated to do much real concentrated work.  So, we did something that I don't think we've ever done before- free jumping. 

I set up a small jump with a pole propped up on a barrel at the one end and the other end on the ground at the wall, and a chute with another pole propped up on the barrel on one side of the jump.  I intended to have Louie approach the jump from the side with the chute, then go over it.  Well, he didn't want to approach it from the chute side, but he did approach, but refused the first couple of times from the non-chute side.  I think he was confused as to why there was a barrel laying in the arena, and why go near that if you don't have to?  Well after a few tries, he finally decided it wasn't so bad and popped over the little diagonal-rail.  Good boy! 

I tried several times to get him to approach it from the side with the chute, but he was not going to have it.  I think this is because I positioned the jump about 2/3 of the way down the arena, and the side with the chute was the longer portion, so he had way more time to decide to skirt out of the way and skip the obstacle.  I never did get him to approach it in the intended direction, but he sailed over it about 10 times from the opposite way.  Fun! 

Next time I think I'll set up a second jump or a series so that he has to navigate two obstacles close together.  That could be fun, and I want to do what Mary had told us to do last year when we started to try some little jumps- space them differently every time so that he has to figure out where to put his feet on his own.  That will help him learn how to time his own strides more effectively.  This is good cross training, and gives him some freedom of expression, as he gets to run around and "get the bucks out" a little and have some fun.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the Lines Again

Today I worked Louie on the long lines again.  I think I've long lined him only once or twice since starting our dressage work.  Eek!  Bad Mom!  Just being honest. 

The warm weather (high in the 40's today!) had been making large sheets of snow melt and slide off of the roof, which apparently made terrible noises while we were tacking up (really not that bad, but it got Louie a little worried).  So I grabbed my stretchies. 

When we got into the arena, Sandy was driving her mini, and Louie had never seen this before- like a large dog pulling a lady around in a cart- weird!  So he was already nervous, and now had THAT to look at too.  It was a good thing I had the bungies.  We started down at the far end of the arena (the scary end to begin with), clipped the bungies, and away my saddle seat horse went!  Wow, he's starting to give me second thoughts about what discipline he wants to do!  His neck and head were up and set like a nice country pleasure horse, and he was working those stretchies, going level or better, and really driving off of his hind end.  It took several big circles around the end of the arena in each direction before he settled down enough to take them off. 

After a bit, we took off the bungies, then did a few big laps around the whole arena at a trot.  I couldn't go too far, I'm a little out of shape for this activity.  We settled down and walked and Louie was actually quite calm by this point, so Sandy came back in the arena and helped me get the cart behind Louie.  We didn't hook it, but put the shafts through the tugs and while I ground drove, Sandy led him with a lead rope by his head.  Louie did great, not a care in the world.  I think being between the shafts actually relaxes him.  I've been so hesitant to hook him with all of the scary stuff going on between the far end of the arena, snow melting, etc, but I felt better about that today.  It's only been a few months since our last drive, and I'm hoping with Sandy being there more often now, we'll be back in the cart again soon!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Meltdown and The Recovery

Well, since the last post, Louie and I had 2 terrible rides; Louie was very frustrated/anxious, and refused to take bit contact, sucked back behind the bit and refused to work in a relaxed state of mind and body.  I think Louie was suffering from a few different things at once- boredom, frustration, and confusion.  That's not a very good combination, but I think that I've figured out some answers to why he is feeling this way. 

1.  We have been focusing so hard on our dressage lessons and trying to perfect everything that we haven't been changing up the routine like usual, and have been really working on the same things most every time I'm out there over the past 2 months.  I haven't driven him since November because the "scary" stuff in the indoor is still making him anxious, and I don't want to have an accident with the cart due to him spooking.  But, it really is bad of me to have not changed it up at all, I at least need to long line him once or twice a week so he doesn't become dressage-sour. 

2.  He thinks Mom's confused.  I keep changing the way in which I ask him for the same maneuvers because I find out in my lesson that I had been doing it incorrectly between lessons.  Then I change the cues, and now we've gone through several sets of cues for the same end result and Louie is a little confused as to what I want, and naturally, frustrated. 

I've done some major soul searching as I gave Louie a few days off to forgive me and clear his head, and I think I've found some answers.  I thought about all together giving up and quitting dressage lessons.  But instead, I did a lot of reading, asking, and research and I think I have found some information that is helping me to obtain the information that I need.  While Marlene is an excellent instructor in many ways, I have a hard time understanding exactly which aids and cues I'm supposed to use, and when/how to achieve what I want.  I think part of this is because Louie's not trained in dressage already so I'm teaching him as we go, and I think part of it is the fact that I am somewhat trained in riding in general, good or bad, and I don't necessarily apply the cues in the purest sense as I subconsciously use other aids to get what I want the way I've done for years. 

I started reading the book "Centered Riding" by Sally Swift.  This is a book that I think many riders from many different disciplines own and enjoy.  While reading it, I really started to understand the aids and cues that I need to use.  It is finally occurring to me that I don't necessarily use my legs to control Louie's front legs, I can use my hands to control those legs, and I should use my legs to control Louie's hind legs.  For instance, in a half-pass toward the rail, I would use one leg at the girth and the other with very slight contact behind the girth.  I use an intermittent pressure with the girth leg (inside leg), pushing him into my outside hand, and the outside leg pushing us forward.  The inside rein is used basically to take an ever so slight bend.  In the past, I would get all bent out of shape because Louie's front end would drift to the outside sooner than his hind end, and I had no idea what I should use to stop it, as my outside leg is positioned behind the girth, where it can't control the shoulder.  Well it dawned on me while reading this book- I use my outside hand to control the movement of the outside shoulder.  To prevent it from popping out or moving too quickly, I can tighten the pressure there.  Amazingly enough, if I put too much pressure on the outside rein and inside leg, Louie actually almost turns his haunches to the rail.  Crazy how this works, it's really the opposite of what you learn in most other disciplines.  And for the seat- no more focusing on weight on one side vs the other, I'm going to try to keep it even on both seat bones, and using a good following seat, following each stride, and when I want Louie to move laterally, taking a longer following motion, to shift my center slightly laterally so that Louie will follow. 

We had a "recovery ride" on Monday to just relax and get back into the gears of walk-trot in a straight line with Louie's nose in the air. 

I guess the recovery ride helped because today during my lesson, while Marlene was prepared to see a meltdown, she saw the same old same old, relaxed and quiet Louie as she ever sees.  He made such a liar of me.  Well, we had a nice lesson and worked more on our shoulder in and leg yielding, which went great.  Then after the lesson since it was not even 10 degrees outside and we had been basically walking the whole time, I decided to do a little trotting/faster paced work for a few minutes to warm up before I got off and my frozen icicle feet shattered when they hit the ground.  We trotted for a bit, then worked on our shoulder in again, but this time, Louie got frustrated and ducked back behind the bit again.  I wonder why he did this?  I think I became less relaxed when Marlene left, and I was pushing him harder when it was just me.  Perhaps this is maybe part of what is causing the frustration? 

So I need to do a few things to get out of this rut.  We've got a month until our next lesson.  So in that time, I plan to work more on long lining between rides, and varying our routine, hopefully some ground poles, caveletti, etc.  Then when I do ride and work on dressage, I'm going to bring my "Centered Riding" book with me, and re-read a section during my ride so that I can stay in a clearer, calmer state of mind while working on these new techniques.  And I'll try not to over do them either.  Well, that's a lot to work on, or, I guess a lot to not work on sort-of.  But for sure a lot to think about over the next few weeks.