Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Hack

Louie and I had a nice hack down the road today, in the crisp fall air.  The leaves were beautiful and the weather couldn't have been more perfect.  Louie was very well behaved, but was clearly waiting for some little goblin to jump out from behind a tree.  If I ever wanted a saddle seat horse, I sure had it today!  Louie would relax his neck down at the walk on occasion, but otherwise was on high alert! 

I managed to snap a few pictures on my phone anyhow. 

Our shadow.

We were going to ride down to the public cross country ski trails that are mowed through 80 acres nearby (about 1-2 miles from the barn), but we realized as we got closer and closer that there was very noisy work happening at the gravel pit adjacent to the park and I didn't think that would be the most enjoyable riding experience, so we turned around and rode back home. 

We rode past the hunting preserve to the South of us, thankfully there was no shooting today.

And this hill looks tiny from here, but it's a good size hill with a decent incline- great butt building work!

Other than being very up headed and alert, Louie was pretty well behaved, and we got some nice walk, trot, and canter (right lead- yay!) work out of him.  I hate to trot and canter much on the hard gravel road, but I'm afraid there's no better option right now. 

I do have two more bits of good news. . . Louie will be moving to Sunborn Stables in two weeks, to be able to ride during the winter, maybe longer!  More to come on the new stable soon, but it is a stable specializing in dressage and eventing; we are very excited.  I also just purchased a used dressage saddle that I think is going to work well for us- more on that later! 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Walk Work

The title of today's post is rather obvious- we worked on improving our worst gait- the walk.  I warmed Louie up in the chambon in long lines, then hooked him to the cart.  The arena was too rough to do much more than some good walk work, so we didn't trot at all, but worked on getting a nice, active walk.  We probably drove for about 20 minutes, aiming for a good active walk with overstride of at least 6 inches the whole time.  I also drove him for the first time, right from the start, in the halter fuzzies, which are almost as good as blinders for us.  He did great, even being cool and windy, he was perfectly comfortable in front of the cart.

I got to thinking while walking along, that the gait I'm looking for is a bit like the dog walk that our Tennessee Walking Horses do- swingy and relaxed with a big overstride, lots of neck movement/headshake, and rounding up through the back with each stride.  While Louie doesn't have the walk that our walkers have, we got some good active walks, using the whole body, that I think were quite nice.  We found that this active walk was especially hard to maintain around turns and when we practiced "loops" or "swerves" as I now call them, following K-X-H in one fluid motion. 

We then worked on some walk-halt-walk transitions.  Louie still can't comprehend halting without raising his neck, but we're getting a good active walk sooner after departing from a halt than we usually get, so I guess that's good.  I'll need to really work on having an active seat to keep this nice walk when riding. 

Louie got a nice big dish of soaked alfalfa cubes and a good grooming after our drive.  I think he looks forward to being worked because he knows there's a reward at the end, and my does he love his alfalfa cubes!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Louie Time

Louie got a little "me time" treat yesterday to relax from his big event on Sunday.  He enjoyed a tasty snack of soaked alfalfa cubes and a nice curry and brushing, and of course, a little time away from the herd (they pick on him).  I think he really enjoyed his "spa day" treat.

And he loves to give kisses after eating alfalfa mash.  Yummy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Few Photos

I thought I'd attach a few of my favorite photos from the Hunter's Pace.  These are all in the video too, but I thought they needed a permanent place on the blog here as well.  Enjoy!

By the first corn field:

On our way back from being lost, a beautiful corridor:

Stopping by the beautiful golden shimmering field after the first jump field (none of which we jumped)

Lisa and Buster, our awesome partners!

The bridge we had to cross

Finish line!  Yay!  We made it!

Hunter's Pace

Louie and I participated in the Long Lake Hounds Hunter's Pace in Hamel, MN yesterday, along with Lisa and Buster (another Saddlebred, formerly an Amish driving horse).

The weather was beautiful, a bit crisp and rather windy, but the sun was shining and the leaves were beautiful fall colors.  The course was in great condition and aside from some riding along the road, the footing was great for most of the course.  We traveled along roads, through peoples' farms and multi-million dollar properties, and on a portion of a public trail around a lake.  There were lots of jumps on the course, though we were technically riding the flat course so we decided to skip most of the them.  All of the jumps were coops, which Louie and I have never come close to attempting, but we did find two small "mini-jumps" that fit our abilities in the host's eventing field at the end of the course (one was essentially a down log, the other a small cross rail, neither of which could have been much over 12").  Aside from some small jumps, we also rode through mud, puddles, and over a wooden bridge.

We were given a map of the course, and there were markers with red and blue flags placed strategically along the course to let us know we were in the right place, but despite that we managed to get lost at least twice (the first time we went way off course into a neighboring horse farm, and took quite a while to figure out that we were lost to begin with, so that ate up about 30 minutes of our course time).  Our getting lost and our de-conditioned horses led us to finish quite a bit behind the goal time of 1 hour 14 minutes, but we had a lot of fun to make up for our lack of speed. 

Overall it was a really fun event and I am looking forward to participating in another one in the future!  Another example of how Saddlebreds really can do just about anything!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Windy and Wiggly

We had a nice hack down the road today in the cool and windy fall weather.  The farrier had been out to fix up Louie's feet (Louie pulled a shoe on Monday, so we decided to just put him into plain plates before the hunter's pace on Sunday, to give some protection, yet help the transition to barefoot), so he was in good shape for riding again. 

We set out down the road, riding along side the pavement, then on the gravel road, at a walk, trot, and canter.  Louie did great, while he wanted to ride saddle seat (that Saddlebred comes out when he gets excited), he relaxed down enough to get some nice hunter trots and free walks too. 

What I noticed from time to time, was that Louie wanted to swing his hind quarters around just a little bit to the side and "dog track."  Now of course this is not an efficient way to utilize his energy, as riding straight, with the hind quarters tracking immediately behind the forehand allows all of his energy to be directed forward, rather than having part of the energy directed to the side.  I was able to get him to straighten out most of the time, but soon enough we found ourselves back in the same crooked position, hollowing one side of his body again.  I think he is too used to riding circles and has forgotten how to track straight.  The other factor is that it was quite cool and windy outside which always makes horses antsy and brings out all of that extra energy that they don't know what to do with.

Well, I think that the hunter's pace we are doing this weekend should help him remember to track straight.  Trail riding cures a lot of things, and I'm hopeful that some more regular trail riding should help Louie to realize how much easier life is to trot with the hind feet behind the front feet. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dressage Schooling Show

Well, we had a pretty good show!  For our second-ever dressage show, Louie did pretty well; he did every bit as well as I would have expected him to, and at times even better than I expected. 

We got off to a little bit of a late start heading to our first class as we wanted to watch one upper level horse/rider go in Prix St. George, which was about 30 minutes before my first class was slated to start.  Luckily, they waited for us, as I scrambled to saddle Louie, and my friend Lisa did a quick mane braid and put on his bridle. 

Our first class was the training level derby.  This is a group class, intended to be a warm-up for horses and riders.  Louie did well in this class, placing 2nd out of 4 with a score of 72.9%.  Here is the video.
The judge came up to us for a few comments following the class, and said, "He's a Saddlebred, right?"  I was pretty impressed that he knew, as not everybody expects to see Saddlebreds competing in the dressage ring.  He asked how long I had had Louie and how long we've been riding.  He told me that Louie had a great canter, and he was really impressed to see a good, true canter from a Saddlebred.  I was a little bit surprised by that comment as anyone who's followed this blog knows how much we have struggled with the canter. . .

Following the derby class, I had a couple of minutes to warm up for my first test, and was very happy to get a quick schooling session from Julie Penshorn, the owner and trainer at Sunborn Stables.  She had some very useful things to say.  First of all, she wanted me to take the arch out of my back and ride from my core.  She pointed out that when I arch my back, I pinch my knees, then that causes Louie to raise his neck up.  Well that makes sense.  When I was able to go around with tighter abs, a more relaxed back, and looser knees, Louie did seem to relax more.  We worked a little bit on bending and getting Louie to relax and stretch down into contact.  Julie reminded me that if he backs off of the bit, I need to push him forward and encourage him to reach out for it, but not hold a constant contact on the bit- lighten up once he takes contact to reward him for it, and keep pushing him into it, bending him with my inside leg.  Finally we worked on our trot-canter transitions, as Louie was a little bit sluggish in departing into the canter, and I was begging him with my cues (back story here, in dressage we're not allowed to make noises or verbal cues to the horse, but I've always used a kiss cue to ask Louie to canter, so going without made it more challenging, so that's understandable).  What Julie had me do was kindof cool.  She had me get him really pumped up in the trot a little bit before we planned to canter, by kicking him a bunch of times, but holding him back (uh, I think that's basically like a half halt, right?), then sitting and asking lightly for a canter.  At first it didn't work and Louie just trotted right through my canter cue, but after about 3 times, he got it, and in our next tests, he sprung right into the canter, sometimes even a bit earlier than I had planned. 

Then the whistle blew for my first test- Training Level Test 2. 
We scored a total of 66.8% on Training Test 2.  We scored 8's on our trot circles in both directions, and 7's on our canters and stretchy circle.  His comments for us on the lower scored portions were generally surrounding crookedness, lack of energy, and needing to relax and not be so tense (particularly in the walks and the change of rein trots).  In our collective marks, we scored a 7 on gaits, 7 on impulsion, 6 on submission, 7 on rider's position, 6 on rider's use of the aids, and 7 on harmony between horse and rider.  His further remarks were, "Very nice horse!  I like!  Great gaits!  Walk needs work.  More energy without speed or tension." 

Before my last test, one of the Sunborn instructors, Jill, came out to give me some coaching.  She was also the one reading my tests.  With Jill we worked on the free walk, trying to relax and stretch down, and getting better tempo/energy/submission in the trot.  I don't remember much from this coaching session anymore, as by then, I was sweating pretty good and felt a little bit like I'd been through a whirlwind. 

The whistle again blew for my next test- Training Level Test 3.
We scored a total of 65.2% on Training Test 3.  This time we scored an 8 on our left canter circle.  We scored 7's on most of our transitions, our free walk (yay!  the schooling paid off!), our second trot "loop," and our right canter circle.  We got a low mark of a 5 on our stretchy circle this time, with a comment "shows no desire to stretch."  Most of our criticisms in this test were about being crooked or tense.  I can certainly see the crookedness, especially coming down the center line in this test.  For our collective remarks, we scored a 7 on gaits, 6 on impulsion (maybe we were more tired by this test?), 6 on submission, 7 on rider's position, 6 on rider's use of aids, and 7 on harmony.  Our overall remarks were, "Great canter!  This horse is worth putting time into!  Very nice pair.  Thanks." 

Following our last test, the judge had a few comments for us, which I always find very helpful.  The judge loved Louie's canter, he said it is his most balanced and strongest gait (I'm thinking, what? really? as I've always felt it to be his weakest and least balanced gait- shows you what I know).  He said his trot is okay, and his walk needs some work, as it's very tense, and needs more relaxation and impulsion.  He said that the quality of our walk and trot work would probably hold us back in the 60's for percentages in the lower levels, while our canter could give us higher scores.  He said that Louie would likely be penalized on the technicalities in the lower levels, but may do better in the upper levels, where there isn't so much emphasis on the walk.  (That is, if he can make the upper levels. . . but hey, I like that upper level comment! )  Overall, he said he really liked Louie and he would keep him in his training barn.  I made sure that Bjorn heard that comment, as he sometimes gives Louie a hard time since he didn't turn out to be a saddle seat horse. 

We had a great time at the show, and our fellow Saddlebred mom Lisa came to cheer us on and helped us a ton!  She even brought treats for Bjorn.  If you're reading, thank you Lisa!!  I'm not sure how we placed in our two tests, as Bjorn got antsy to leave before we could see the placements, but I don't think we were in the top 3 or 4, as there were lots of riders in training level today.  Even so, I was SUPER impressed with how well we scored, as scores in the 60's are very respectable, and it's better than two years ago when we scored in the high 50's in intro- we've definitely made progress.  And, I have to say, paying $15 for coaching was an awesome deal, as we basically got two mini lessons from two different instructors at the barn, and our tests read. We don't usually glean that much info from an hour-long lesson, so it was awesome! I will do it again, and in fact I might trailer up there to take some lessons this winter! We didn't end up doing the jumping class today, but that's okay with me, that was enough work for one day (read: we were worn out), and I think both Louie and I are going to sleep well tonight!  Got to gear up for our hunter's pace next weekend!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Chambon

With our dressage schooling show fast approaching, I had a little bit of a panic moment realizing that we have SO much to improve upon- namely bit contact, lowering the neck, transitions, and the stretchy circle.  So, like most of the training level tests.  

I did a little bit of reading and chanced upon a recommendation for the use of a device called the Chambon.  Now, I'm not huge on gadgets, as I believe they tend to be habit forming, but this one is kinda neat because I believe I can utilize it to teach Louie what I'm asking for, then hopefully I won't need it for long. 

So, here is a Chambon, for those who are not familiar. 

The idea of the Chambon is to apply pressure to the poll and the corners of the mouth when the horse raises his head up beyond a certain point.  Since I've been struggling with finding a way to get Louie to relax and stretch down for many months (with the exception of getting him really tired then letting him jaunt along at a free, loose-rein walk), this device will help to teach him what I want, and all I have to do is associate a "cue" with the pressure he feels when the Chambon activates, and voila! 

The thing I love about the Chambon in comparison to any other "gadget" is that not only is it gentle (mine is part elastic) and acts only when needed, but it leaves the horse's nose free to stretch OUT and is pretty much the only device that doesn't pull the bit back to the chest in some way.  With Louie's (and most Saddlebreds) habit of curling his neck up into a circle, this will be most valuable to not create a bad habit. 

So I constructed a home-made variety out of some of my old saddle seat appliances- surgical tubing from a pair of stretchies, and an old rope sidecheck.  I've ridden him twice this week in this set up and so far the results have been fantastic.  Since I've taught him a cue (basically just working the bit in his mouth) that he feels at the same time as the Chambon activates, he's learned that the cue means to lower his poll.  He's now responding pretty easily to the cue and lowering just based on that alone.  I'm very excited as I've fretted over trying to get Louie to relax his Saddlebred neck down for months and have just never had a way to get that message across.  Well now I've got one! 

The other really cool use is during transitions, since Louie likes to raise his poll up several inches for every transition he makes, this will help to just discourage that, and I can focus on the rest.

Our stretchy circle (at least the neck lowering part of it) as improved dramatically in the past 2 rides, and I am hopeful that the message will stick when the Chambon isn't there on Saturday during my show.  I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.