Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lesson 7: Renvers Revisited

Well, renvers is still really hard.  Louie doesn't much care for it, as he really has to work, and he's a bit on the lazy side.  Not only that but counter-bending and renvers is counter intuitive.  Tonight we worked on counter-bending and then renvers.  We didn't make much progress in our single ride since our last lesson (since it was over Christmas), but we did improve the canter depart by maybe a tiny little smidgen. 

We started out working just like always, round, bent, forward, on the bit, etc.  We then fairly quickly jumped into counter bending on a circle.  Julie had us spiral in on the circle, keeping an outside bend while making our circle smaller and smaller, then on the way back out again (circle getting larger), take the correct bend and allow Louie to stretch out and down. 

After a few drills like this we transitioned into working on our renvers at the walk and trot (including the transitions).  Louie didn't much care for this and while we had moments of somewhat decent renvers, it overall just looked like an uphappy horse with a dumb jockey who didn't know what she was doing, so Julie hopped on to see if she could figure out what our issues were.  She discovered a few things:  Louie is pretty patient and tolerant of everything we put him through, renvers is very hard for him, and lastly, he is dull to my aids to transition upward.  Okay, so let me get this out on the table, I'm supposed to be transitioning upward simply by sliding my seat slightly forward (just my inside seat bone for the canter) and just keeping my legs in position, but not using them.  Louie has never transitioned like this, especially into the canter, so before my next lesson, I've got to work on teaching him that his new cue is in my seat bones. 

I got back on and we worked a little bit more on renvers, then changing the bend and cantering.  We had one or two decent transitions tonight, so I felt happy about that.  We also had a few little buck/hops that I can't blame Louie for in the least.  This stuff is really hard. 

Lucky for me, Lisa is great with the video camera so she got a nice video of our lesson.  I have a feeling I'll watch this a few times to try to pick out the differences between the way Julie rode and I rode. 

I think in the next week I'm going to go back a bit to our usual "pre-renvers" riding and try to work on the transitions and get that nice low neck and forward round trot back again.  When we work on renvers this week, I'm going to try it along a straight-away, and I'm only going to ask him for a few strides at a time, as I think I'll be able to teach him better in shorter intervals where we take a break to praise him for his hard work.  I don't think we've back tracked, in fact, I think we're super advanced from where we were at our first lesson, but this lesson unfortunately mostly only shows the frustrated, high-headed pissed off Louie, not the beautiful floaty round Louie that I've become accustomed to seeing in the mirrors. . . I guess that means we'll have to have another video!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lesson 6: Renvers (Is Hard!)

Our lesson tonight started with continued work on shoulder in, which, it turns out, needs more bend than I was using.  According to Julie, if I have his body too straight, then he's leg yielding, so I need to keep a nice bend to the inside while asking for the shoulders to come in a few inches from the rail.  We started to really do well with this, once I understood the concept of keeping a bend.  During the shoulder in maneuver, I need to continue to sit to the inside, use an inside leg at the girth (inside leg should be ahead of outside leg at all times to be correct), a little wiggle to make sure my outside leg is still there and giving some forward encouragement and catching him if the hindquarters shift too far out, placed back behind the girth.  My inside hand needs to be off of the neck and toward the inside, just wiggling and releasing on occasion to keep a nice bend with very little contact on the inside rein, and the outside hand with light contact, releasing gently once in a while to ask Louie to stretch his neck down deeper, and giving (the important part!) when he does reach down to it. 

Then after Julie was satisfied with our shoulder in (which wasn't new to us thanks to our lessons last winter with Marlene), she had us trot over a few cavelleti (which was SO much better than the first few times we did them!), then learn something completely new-  Renvers. 

So renvers is haunches out.  It is very similar to shoulder in, except the bend is opposite.  Well if we have shoulder in down pretty well, renvers should be no big deal then, right?  Wrong!  The hard thing about renvers (besides the fact that it is nearly impossible to keep correct in my brain!) is that the horse has to be really, really responsive to the legs.  It's a true test to find out if your horse moves away from your legs well, as unlike shoulder in, it takes a LOT of inside leg to keep both the haunches and the head out.  Think of a parachute or a gently curved semi-circle.  It is a lot easier for that semi-circle to travel in the convex direction, with the center of that line leading and the two ends of the semi-circle trailing behind.  This is like shoulder in.  You push the middle of the horse sideways and the head and tail follow.  Renvers means pushing that semi-circle in the opposite direction, in the concave direction, which, to a parachute creates a lot of resistance, and hence slows it down.  So we have to push two ends of the arc forward instead of just pushing the middle and having the rest follow.  So naturally it is challenging, and it's a bit unnatural! 

This is a view from above of a horse in renvers.  You can see the rail at the bottom left of the photo.

We worked on this mostly at the trot.  Julie loves renvers because it forces a horse to use both of their hind legs, rather than just the inside leg.  Well, Louie doesn't love to work, so he resisted, but eventually we had some decently okay looking renvers on a 20 m circle in posting trot.  For the renvers movement, my weight needs to be to the outside, my legs need to switch (inside leg back, outside leg forward), and both of my hands need to come somewhat to the inside.  You use a TON of inside leg (but intermittent, with help from the whip or you'll be a hurting unit) to keep those haunches out, but some outside leg at the girth to keep the bend to the outside and to help control the direction of travel.  Then the outside rein has to work fairly hard here to ask for the bend, as it's not natural for what we've taught the horse nor ourselves 'til now, and the inside (inside of the circle) rein needs contact to receive the horse's movement from the outside leg and not let the horse drift out of the circle. 

Well, it wasn't pretty but we got a little bit of decent renvers, and then we used it as a set up for the canter depart.  Julie had me doing a sitting or posting trot in renvers, then switch my bend (and my legs) and ask for the canter with little to no leg.  My inside seat bone sliding forward (with my legs already in position with the outside leg back) should be the cue for the canter.  After three or four tries, we couldn't pick up the right lead (well, think about this, three months ago, I had to use spurs, seat, lean forward, and kiss in order to get it, now we can do it with just a little leg and seat, but we'll have to shake up the coke bottle a bit more so he is more sensitive to just the inside seat bone sliding forward with the legs in the position of canter (outside leg back, inside leg at the girth).  So that is our homework for the week. 

I figure we'll do a lot of work on renvers and probably also on our trot-canter transitions in the next ride or two that we get in before our next lesson.  I'm hopeful that it will get easier!  Hopefully we'll get more than one ride in with Christmas this weekend!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time to Think About a Body Clip

While the weather has been unseasonably warm lately, Louie's worked up a pretty decent sweat the past four times I've worked him.  His neck, chest, girth area, belly, thighs, and flanks get pretty sweaty and I've had to use a hair dryer on him in addition to walking him in a cooler to help dry him before putting him back outside again. 

Well that whole procedure is a bit of a pain in the butt (and time consuming!), and while Louie does great and actually loves the warm dryer, I'm thinking I may need to give him a little bit of a body clip to help him cool out quicker.  He's got one of the thickest coats on the farm and several of his pasturemates have at least a partial clip. 

I'm thinking if I do it, we'll start with a very conservative clip like a neck and chest clip (mostly just chest though as Louie doesn't have a hood for his blanket), and if needed, we'll do a low trace clip.  I found a great website with lots of clip patterns:

Anyone have any thoughts, tips or tricks to body clipping?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lesson 5: Taming the Saddle Bronc

40 mph winds always make for an interesting horse experience.  Tonight during my lesson there was an added element of horse conflict happening right outside the arena door.  Louie was riding along pretty nicely, warming up and doing well when all of a sudden a horse started squealing and kicking (from what I could hear) in the neighboring paddock, and Louie got a little bit upset/excited over it.  I tried to continue asking him to relax and stretch on his nice 20 meter circle, but the stars aligned (too little work, cold windy day, plus horse conflict event) and Louie set off in bronco style.  He only did one little jump/buck thing, but succeeded in un-seating me, though luckily I stayed on.  Needless to say he was a little fresh and we spent a lot of the lesson getting him to pay attention to me and not the ongoings of the weather and scenery.  Everyone could see the Saddlebred come out of him today!

The first thing we worked on was a lot of bending.  Over-bending for a while, to get him to listen and work harder- it worked.  Then we worked on some 10 meter walk figure 8's.  I tend to use a neck rein in addition to my direct/leading rein, which is a really bad habit, so Julie had me plant my inside hand on my knee, and when leaving the circle to change directions, have two inside hands (2 hands wide and on the knees) for a stride or two until I change the bend start the second circle of the figure-8.  After a few times this clicked.  And, don't forget to shift the entire seat to the inside! 

We carried the exaggerated inside bend along the straight away, and transitioned it into a shoulder in.  We worked on this at the trot and it was probably the first time Louie had really done shoulder in at the trot.  It wasn't beautiful, but using my whip really helped.  Also she pointed out that I'm not to post side to side, but always up/down/front/back. 

Then we worked on a drill, in which we walk along one of the long walls, then half halt (stop with my seat) and if Louie doesn't stop, I turn him into the wall.  Then I ask for a turn on the forehand, 180 degrees, and continue on walking.  We then transitioned this into a leg yield along the wall, haunches in.  I believe we only did this at the walk, but I could be wrong.  I'm pretty sure Louie thought I was asking him to canter when I asked him to shift his haunches.  This will be something we'll have to keep straight. 

We then worked on shifting the haunches out on a 20 meter trot circle.  Shift the haunches out, then once he's moving away nicely sideways, let him relax and stretch down.  He was pretty sure he was supposed to be cantering with this drill too.  And the whip came in handy with this exercise as well. 

As you can imagine, there were several times during our lesson today in which Louie, being excited but restricted, resorted to his usual Saddlebred neck curl.  We actually found several ways to get him out of it.  If he is going slow, speed up and ask for more bend.  If he is going fast, slow the gait down (slow down our posting) and much to my surprise, I was met with an improvement in contact after a short time.  This is part of our homework, to work on encouraging contact and always asking him to relax his neck deeper and lower, before he even anticipates to raise up.  We've had pretty good luck thus far getting him to lower his neck by bending him, applying a little leg (calves), and gently wiggling my inside rein, softening/lengthening the outside arm as he reaches down for the bit, to "give" a little, all while encouraging him to "fill up the bridle" by pushing him from the back and catching him with my hands.  By the way, a little side note, and that is that I only get to use my hands if I use my legs, to catch him or control his rate/bend if needed. 

Finally we actually did work on the canter, and she wanted us to work on keeping that same fullness in the bridle (contact).  Julie wanted us to slow our canter down and choose whether I was going to sit or two point, as I was "posting" in the canter (haha!).  Louie was going a bit fast, which can be hard to sit, so I was doing sort of a half seat.  Julie said, "we all know he can canter slower than that!," but of course being lazy, he broke into a trot when I asked him to slow down.  Eventually we got a very nice relaxed canter in two point.  She said I'm to work on the same way of getting him to relax his neck down in the canter as I do in the trot.  I did notice him doing a little bit more relaxing than he usually does in the canter, probably because by this time, he was pooped! 

One last little note, is that we've struggled a bit with the downward transition from canter to trot, probably because my seat contact is limited in the canter.  But, basically the transition aids should be adding both calves (lightly, and progressively, as it's not intuitive and isn't going to be natural at first until we master it at the slower gaits first), and moving the outside hip bone forward and holding both hip bones forward.  Naturally in the canter, the inside hip bone sits more forward, so stilling the seat (lower abs!) and bringing the seat straight is essentially the cue. 

Our homework is to basically to work on most of the stuff that we worked on today, especially getting him to seek contact, and encouraging him to lower his neck.  Julie did comment that my feet looked a lot better (I pretended like I was riding without stirrups, and my knees more flexed), and she hardly picked on my legs at all today.  So, our 5-10 minutes of no stirrup work that we did on Monday probably paid off. 

For the second time this week I had to walk Louie in a cooler for 10-20 minutes and use the hair dryer on Louie to cool him out and dry all his wet sweaty fur. He doesn't mind the blow dryer, in fact I think he loves it.  So relaxing and warm.  :)  But, we might have to think about a trace clip if we continue to work up a sweat!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lesson 4: The Bane of Stirrups

Tonight was our 4th lesson with Julie.  We worked on the usual type of stuff and I asked Julie to help us clarify our cues for a downward or upward transition (as they're pretty similar all in all).  I'm not sure I got a clear answer on the difference, but I think throughout our lesson tonight I figured out enough of what I need to understand for now. 

We did a little bit of work with the cavaletti, which Louie once again panicked when he started into them.  This time it was only 3 of them in a row on a circle.  He trotted the first one, then jumped the second two.  LOL.  Oh Louie. . . by the third or fourth time through, we had a respectable trot through them. 

We worked a lot on slowing down using the seat tonight.  I thought we really did a nice job with this.  I do have to be careful to not completely lock my seat and brace into my stirrups as I tend to do this.  Just tighten my lower abs and slow the saddle down, not completely stop it unless I really mean to stop completely. 

We also worked some on half halting, basically slowing my seat, then bumping a little bit with the legs or laying the whip gently on his side.  Louie did manage to do one very nice square halt while we worked on that.

The other thing we worked on was lengthening the neck, by using the seat.  My basic cues to get Louie to lower his neck are: apply just a little bit of light calf, especially the inside leg, tighten my lower abs, make sure my posting is nice and light, and very gently wiggle my reins a little bit (mostly inside, but sometimes the outside leg to get him to take the connection lower).  This also worked really well, and I was impressed with how much I was able to get him to lower just with these simple things, sometimes without even using the hands.  We did, however, discover during this exercise that I use my hands too much at times, and Julie thinks I should try to keep my hands a little more still to give Louie more confidence that he's doing the right thing.  I need to keep my elbows loose to move, and give with the forearm, as that part of my arm "belongs to my horse." 

We worked just a little bit on our walk-trot transitions, and found that these really can be very light and easy, and I really don't need to rev the engine a whole lot.  Just a touch from an active forward walk, slide my pelvis slightly forward, and if he doesn't go off of the seat movement, give him a tap with the whip and try again. 

Finally, probably the biggest thing we worked on tonight was my leg position.  I need to roll my thighs in, so that my knee caps are basically touching the saddle, and my thighs are making more contact with the horse.  When I do this, I also need to turn my feet way in, so that my heels are out, and keep a bend in my knee (light heels), so that my weight isn't braced down into the stirrups.  This bracing is a really bad habit that I have which, lucky for me, gave me a one week sentence of riding without stirrups. . . Argh.  It will be good for me, but I just hope I don't fall off while I'm at it!  It should help me to keep the bend in my knee, use my thighs more (but not vice grip), and NOT brace into my stirrups.

A Cool Farriery Photo

I snapped this photo of my farrier Pat making a set of winter shoes for another horse at the barn with my new iPhone 4s.  I have to say, the camera is amazing. 

Pat was out to pull Louie's shoes, so I'm hoping he's not too tender footed after losing the protection he's had for the past 8 months!  Only time will tell.  If needed, Pat will be out next week to make any changes necessary.  I'm hoping that Louie will be able to stay sound barefoot for a good long while now!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lesson 3: Shake the Coke Bottle

Tonight was our third lesson.  I got two nice rides in since our last lesson on Sunday, and it seemed to Julie as though they have paid off as Louie was doing great, much more forward, almost "round," and, surprise surprise- neck lower.  I got him to lower his neck with one simple thing- when he did it, I praised him like crazy.  He clearly feeds off of the positive reinforcement quite well.  I did use just a bit of light seasawing as I used to teach him to lower while wearing the Chambon this fall, but just one or two little wiggles on the rein and he seemed to relax. So once I started linking that with bending and praising, it seemed to stick- at least so far.

So tonight's lesson we started with some basic bending and riding straight exercises at the walk and trot.  I still am pushing with my seat, but I can't figure out how not to, as Louie pushes me, so I do my best not to resist.  Anyhow, it must have been somewhat better today as I didn't get yetlled at quite so much for it today. 

After some warm up, she sent us through a line of 8 cavaletti on the lowest positions (still about 6 inches off the ground) at a trot.  The first time through was somewhat of a disaster.  Louie rushed the first one, then spent the rest of the time trying to figure out his spacing and where to put his feet in a big hot mess.  I lost control and quit posting, just kindof bobbling along through the uncoordinated jumble.  The second time through was much better.  Julie had me focus on controlling our speed and posting the whole time.  By the third time, Louie went through with just about perfect stride, speed, and foot placement, but he still wasn't truly round.  We changed directions and this time did the same things, focusing on maintaining our speed and rhythm (not too fast), controlling my posting so I don't land on Louie's back like my couch, but this time trying to encourage Louie to go round as he went through them, encouraging him to drop his neck and use his core to hold his back up.  By the third time through the second way, Louie went through "almost round," which I thought was pretty awesome coming from how Julie felt his back was so hollow at our first lesson two weeks ago.  It felt like I must have been riding some big warmblood doing a nice passage- it felt good!  Julie really likes cavaletti because they help to balance a horse, as they have to work both sides equally.  Of course cavalleti also help to strengthen the legs and back (if done properly in a round form), and improve rhythm and judgement for the horse in placing their feet.

Next we worked a little bit on getting Louie to shift his haunches out on a circle.  Louie really had completely forgotten how to shift his hindquarters to the outside, so we needed to refresh the turn on the forehand lesson.  Part of my homework for this week is to work on the turn on the forehand in both directions.  The reason this is important is because when Louie tracks to the right, his "concave" side, he lets his left shoulder fall out too much, so she wants me to work on once in a while asking for haunches out to help keep the shoulder straight and re-define our "pie tin."  Since Louie did know how to do this at one point in the recent past, a quick refresher should be easy.  The one thing that is quite different between how Julie and Marlene teach is that Julie is okay with me moving my inside leg back, whereas Marlene would never let me move my inside leg back, which was my natural reaction, so, I guess back to what feels easy for me! 

The last thing we worked on was a tiny bit of canter work (I mean like half a circle) to the left.  Julie says that the key to a good canter transition in this exercise is a good walk to sitting trot transition a few strides before it.  So, we spent the majority of our time getting a good walk to trot transition- without begging or really using any leg.  The key is to shake up the Coke bottle (rev the engine!) then allow the transition to happen by just "thinking" it.  So, we worked on what I would interpret as half halts, to help re-balance and get the hind end ready to spring into action for what's ahead.  We worked on getting a forward, active (but not fast) walk, and half halt by asking for more go from the hind end with the legs and whip, but at the same time, saying "stay" with a very still seat (stop the saddle from moving) and a little bit of rein pressure if needed to stop forward movement.  When it feels like there is a lot of energy brewing and the bottle is about ready to explode, let him transition into a sitting trot, just by thinking of it and letting the seat slide forward a tiny bit into the trot.  After a few strides, with the inside leg quite forward, weight on the inside hip bone (literally feel the ischium pressing into the saddle) knee bent and heel light, and the outside leg way back (bent at the knee), ask for the canter. 

We had about half a 20 meter circle of nicely balanced canter that Julie liked before he kindof fell apart when I asked him to work harder.  We worked on pushing with the legs while using quite a bit of rein (hands low, wide, and very little following of his movement) to get him to essentially balance himself and be round in the canter. 

Overall it was a good lesson and I'm really glad to know that Julie thinks we've made some good progress!  I'm already looking forward to my next lesson!  My homework for this week:  work on the turn on the forehand and shifting the haunches out, and walk-trot transitions where I "shake the coke bottle" then ask for the trot without really cueing him with my legs.