Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lesson 2: Ride from the Core

Well first off, let me just say that my high hopes of Louie's mane being perfectly trained and lying flat are completely gone.  While the binders were still in, Louie looked a bit like a Rasta horse with his hair-do today.  Oh well, bands out and he's just going freestyle now. 

We had another good lesson today with Julie.  We've gotten a lot more "fast" but not necessarily "forward" since our last lesson.  Today we worked on getting Louie more round, raising his back and lowering his neck.  Walking on a circle, we worked on keeping Louie walking with good speed, light contact on both reins, and bending his body with my legs, and perhaps most importantly, holding my dang seat more still!  When Louie relaxes his neck down, I need to give right away with my hands to encourage the reach.  When he ducks back off of the bit, I need to get his back up, so tighten my lower abdominal muscles, and use my legs and whip to push him back up and into the contact. 

We worked a lot on using my core properly to maintain my position (don't let me arms or legs get pulled forward by holding them in with my core) and trying not to "push" with my seat and wow am I sore- deep inside my lower abdomen/pelvis.  I think my illiopsoas muscles hurt.  I'm supposed to use my legs to control my horse's hind legs, use my core to control the saddle and the front of the horse.   

Julie hopped on for a few minutes to work out an issue we were having with getting Louie to stretch down and she figured out that he needs right leg and right hand much more than left, so I need to stay stronger with those aids.  She also got him to piaffe, though, not intentionally.  (I think Julie likes Louie, though she thinks he's a bit lazy, but he's a nice horse and a cute horse).

We also worked on some trot work, and by the end I felt a bit like I was riding a bouncy ball.  I need to practice riding like I don't have a saddle on, and landing my posting very gently (almost not landing) so I'm not sitting on my horse like my couch.  Otherwise, all of the other rules apply that we've already learned.

We worked a little bit as well on counter-bending (Renvers?) on a trotting circle, I think to show me how important it is to keep my horse balanced and straight.  More to come on that next week. She also said something about wrist bracelets for my puppy dog hands. . . uh oh. 

Scattered in the lesson, we also worked on our halting and low and behold we did pretty decent with these.  The main thing I think I learned regarding the halt is that I have to keep a light leg on him through it, don't just take everything off and let him fall into a halt, light heels (so that I don't arch my back), and very gradually use my core to stop the saddle from moving.  We actually got 2 decent halts out of him with this. 

Overall, it's been mostly work on me and my position/aids, and Julie uses Louie to teach me what to do.  It's a little bit hard to learn, this dressage stuff, it's very complicated.  Whew, my head is once again spinning, but this time I think I'm gonna be sore.  Worked up a good sweat today!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Boy

I went up to visit Louie tonight after work because I noticed that 3 of his legs were warm to the touch yesterday when I was out.  Though he didn't look or act sick or injured in the least, so I rode him yesterday, and we got some very nice forward!  Anyhow, I was a bit worried about him, so I went up to visit and he seems fine as usual, all 4 legs felt the same temperature tonight.  Who knows, my horse has been proclaimed "goofy" by more than one vet. 

Louie's mane has been wanting to part right down the middle for the past several months, like an Icelandic.  Maybe that means he's balanced and evenly muscled on both sides (doubtfully), but whatever it means, it looks kinda silly so I banded it on his right side tonight, in hopes to train it a little bit at least. 

He was a happy looking boy standing in the tack up area, though I'm pretty sure he was upset that he wasn't standing next to the round bale any longer.  He's already put on some weight and his hind end is starting to fill in again.  The topline is going to take some time, but it'll come. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lesson 1: Hold the Gouda

Tonight was our first lesson at Sunborn Stables with Julie Penshorn.  It was great, but I feel as though the thoughts in my head right now are similar to the little white dots on your TV screen when it goes snowy- swimming around in no particular order.  So, I'm still trying to organize all of the things I learned/worked on into a meaningful formed memory.  Our Saddlebred buddy Lisa also came out to watch us tonight, so she was there to help me recall some of what we learned.  We're both looking forward to taking some more lessons!

So we'll start at the beginning- the saddle.  I rode in my all purpose saddle, but Julie thinks it's too low in front (probably is wider than necessary right now with Louie's body shape) so we added a front riser.  Much to my surprise, the front riser did not make me feel like I was sitting up hill, it still felt balanced. 

I got on and walked for a few minutes and told Julie all about Louie, his training so far, what his bad habits are, his evasions, and how he's generally a very nice, laid back horse.  Julie wanted to feel what I was feeling, so she hopped on Louie for a few minutes and got him walking with much more "motor"- his hind legs and core more activated, using a whip behind her leg to help reinforce what she was asking with her leg, as she quickly learned that Louie is rather dull sided.  She got a super nice active walk and working trot out of him- his neck was relaxed down, he was really using his inside hind leg well (not continuously, but getting the hang of what she was asking him for), and he actually looked like he had impulsion- not lazy, but not "crazy" either- he was still relaxed through his neck and back but was really using himself nicely, much better than I feel that I usually get him to go. 

Then Julie got off and I got on.  We completely changed my posture.  She first had me stretch up through the torso, lift my rib cage, then slowly drop my shoulders down.  Then she had me pull my knees up out of the stirrups and rest them, bent, on his withers.  I was to maintain my pelvis in that position while lowering my legs down to his sides.  My thighs needed to be turned in, but not squeezing with the knees.  So, heels out, but knees loose.  The final posture change of this stage was the ankles- she wants my heels almost "up," and almost no weight in my stirrups so that I'm not bracing my legs down into the stirrup irons.  By raising the heels up, she was asking me to bend my knee, as if I were holding a tennis ball or a piece of Gouda in the back of my knee- hence the title of this post.  Mmmm I like Gouda.

Then we set out into a 10 meter circle at the walk.  She wants me to shift my whole seat to the inside of the circle, and face my head at Louie's outside ear.  She doesn't want me to squeeze with my legs, but rather bump, and actually kindof pester him with my inside calf until he moves away from it.  One thing that I must avoid, however, is begging.  I have to mean it when I bump his side, and if he doesn't move over, I use my whip.  I am to keep a very light rein and not worry too much about him taking a lot of contact, but rewarding him when he seeks it, by backing off my pressure.  She said I need very little backward pressure with this horse since his mouth is like butter.  As for my legs, I should use my outside leg to hold the outside of him in place while I "push the pie crust into the pie tin" with my inside leg (the outside leg is the pie tin).  We got some nice active walking as well, with some help from the whip.  By the way, I took my spurs off of my boots as Julie doesn't really want me using them as it affects the position of the leg (I agree, though I also think the holding a whip affects the position of the hands).  Anyhow, he's become so dull sided that I've become dependent upon the spurs, and I agree, I'm using them way too much when I could enforce my leg perhaps more effectively with the whip. 

After we had a nice active walk going, Julie pointed out that I am pushing much too much with my seat, and that I need to save that for the bedroom (LOL!), and keep my seat more still.  So, while I was no longer working so hard to get Louie to move forward, I was working really hard to keep my seat still, since it's much easier to just follow his stride.  She pointed out that my pushing with my seat is actually just pushing Louie's back down, and it's better to sit quietly "like a little clothes pin that kicks its legs once in a while."

Toward the end of the lesson, we started working on our downward transitions to a slower walk or halt, which need a LOT of work.  The goal is to get Louie to step under himself with his hind legs to stop, instead of just falling out of the gait on the forehand.  Louie still has the tendency to raise his neck up with our downward transitions, so it's going to take some work to get that to stop.  I need to keep him active in the walk with light pressure from both legs, imagining my body is like a soup can that is dented in on the sides (holding all of my guts in firmly), then blow off a little steam and "stop the saddle from moving."  All the while, I need to keep Louie bent, and push slightly more with my inside leg, pushing the pie crust into the tin as I stop the saddle from moving. 

Whew!  That is a LOT to take in for a first lesson. . . at the conclusion Julie said that my homework is to work on getting more forward out of him, so I'll really work on getting this good active walk (like I saw one of the other horses do a few days ago when Julie got on for a training ride as I was finishing working Louie- it's a good thing when the product of your trainer's work is good!).  It seems like she does like Louie as a prospect and thinks we're going to do well.  I'm glad that she is positive because I see no light at the end of the tunnel with all of this snow fuzz in my way. 

Overall I really learned a lot, and learned that I have a LOT to work on- more on me than on Louie at this point.  I like Julie's teaching style, and I really like how much work she puts into teaching, she's not only good at teaching, but she's very passionate about it and motivated/energetic and involved.  I feel that I'm not grasping the whole big picture quite yet, but I'm sure I'll get there. 

In other news, Louie has moved up in the totem pole!  He's in the paddock now with 3 other horses and apparently he's above one other horse there.  What a relief for him to finally not be rock bottom.  He seems to be settling in well and is not looking beat up at all, is enjoying the round bale, and got his light winter blankie tonight (it's brr cold outside!). 

We're looking forward to our next lesson, but have a lot to work on in the mean time! 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Louie moved to his new stable yesterday, and is settling in very well. 

We had our first ride today and Louie felt great.  We rode in our all purpose saddle, and he felt like he was moving really nicely and was relaxed but energetic.  We got some awesome neck stretches at the trot; I don't think I've ever seen him relax his neck down at the trot like this before, with this much regularity. 

The footing in the arena is awesome, I could tell within the first few steps at the trot, as they felt springy and powerful.  Louie felt very balanced and controlled at the canter, and we were even able to practice some "lengthenings" (I put it in quotes as it's not really a true lengthening, but the closest we've come to it so far) at all gaits, and some lateral work at the walk. 

The only thing that was a bit of a challenge for us was the tack-up area, and not because it isn't an awesome set up- it really is (and it's heated, so that's a huge plus in the winter!).  It's a wide walkway with 3 double size tie stalls on one side, where there are cross ties for the horses, used for grooming and tacking.  The challenge was backing into them.  I suppose walking backwards into an enclosed space that you've never been in before is a bit of a high expectation for Louie's first time in the tack-up area.  It took a minute, but he eventually backed in and stood in the cross ties very nicely while we groomed and tacked up.  It will just take some repetition for him to master it, I'm sure. 

We've got our first lesson scheduled for Thursday; I'm super excited!  I'm also a little nervous for it, though, as being new to the stable and the routine, I can't help but worry that we'll stick out like a sore thumb, out of condition, and in need of a lot of work. . . well, as far as sticking out like a sore thumb, that might happen anyhow because I'm pretty sure Louie is the only Saddlebred at the stable.  But hopefully we'll stick out like a pretty painted fingernail instead of a sore thumb, as I liken Saddlebreds closer to that analogy. 

So far, so good.  Louie was turned out today in a big grass pasture with his 3 new pasturemates, and I hear it went well.  For the next few days though, he'll mostly be hanging out in his dry lot by himself until everyone gets adjusted.  He looks pretty happy to me!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Getting Ready for Our Next Adventure!

We've been spending the past week relaxing, doing a little long lining, but mostly just some peaceful grooming and eating buckets of soaked alfalfa cubes (Louie, not me).  We are getting our items together and cleaned for a fresh new start at a new barn, to which we move this weekend.  The fall weather has been perfect, and is just starting to turn cold, so the timing is perfect.

We're going to be moving to a dressage and eventing stable called Sunborn Stables, to ride with their fabulous trainer and instructors.  The stable is a bit further from home than I'd prefer, but they take great care of the horses, are innovative and possibly more picky about how their facility and horses are maintained than I am.  So, I am expecting the drive will be well worth it as I won't worry about Louie as much as I have in previous situations; he'll be in good hands, and we'll be immersed into a learning environment once again where we can just focus on our training and making progress in a new discipline.  I am really looking forward to being able to ride through the winter, and to learn more dressage, and also improve our jumping skills.  I'm quite confident that we will be able to make some progress at this stable, as they've got an excellent track record, many of their students actively compete all over the country, and they were able to help Louie and me with coaching in just a few minutes between rides at our dressage show last month.  I am very hopeful that we'll be able to get an extended trot out of Louie!

Very excited for the move and looking forward to diving in to dressage head first!