Monday, November 26, 2012

Ribbons

It has been about 3 weeks since I've ridden, and I miss it a lot, though I must admit it's giving me more time to get stuff done around the house!  I've at least been out to visit, lunge, and groom Louie at least once a week since I stopped riding.  He's also been used for one lesson, which went well from the sounds of it.

In the mean time, I'm trying to clean out some old stuff from the house, and came across a giant box filled with ribbons and trophies from every horse show I've ever been to in my life. . . Okay, the box weighs about 40 pounds, and most of these ribbons are from horses I leased in the past or used to own (or currently own, but don't regularly show- ie. Cash and Jackson, our Tennessee Walking Horses). 


So, what to do with a giant box of ribbons?  Oh the memories. . . Well, most of them are sadly going to be thrown away, but I saved a few of the pretty ones and high point ribbons and made them into this beautiful wreath (cost me about $9 at Michael's craft shop).  I just have to decide if I'm going to trim the streamers off of all of them or leave them on these last two (as seen in the photo) attached.

Then, I kept all of Louie's ribbons from "official" shows- basically Saddlebred shows or rated dressage shows, and got rid of any WSCA or schooling show ribbons.  Since there weren't terribly many of them (compared to the amount in the giant box), I put them in a glass cylinder/vase, in which I can display them compactly, somewhere in our house. 

Sorry about the pictures, for some reason Blogger won't display them in their upright position as I had saved them.  Anyhow, now I just have to find a couple of places to put my new creations!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Last Lesson For A While. . .

Tonight was my last lesson for a little while. . . being 6.5 months pregnant it's probably time to cut back on my riding.  And not so much because I'm scared of falling or that I'm having any pain, it's more that I'm not as effective as a rider anymore. . .that, and my family worries about me riding. 

 So, it was a great lesson tonight, a great note to end on.  We worked on a lot of lateral work- a lot of shoulder in and haunches in, with a little bit of renvers.  We worked on some shoulder in down the center line, working on keeping Louie tracking where I wanted him to, haunches on the center line and travelling straight- it's a lot harder without a wall!  We found I had to use more outside leg back to hold the haunches, and use my inside leg fairly strongly and intermittently to really get him to hold his withers up and bend through his body (not just his neck).  When we got it right, it felt like we were really moving sideways with some thrust, not just dragging along.  We would then switch to renvers part way through the straight away, just for a few strides, then turn back to shoulder in and round the corner.  Julie thought our renvers tonight was really rather good.  We worked this at the sitting trot. 

We learned a couple of little tricks here- we tried to get Louie to stretch his neck down throughout the exercise, and when he came above the bit, I would use my hands lightly high and wide, with a lot of leg and even add some whip, just long enough for him to fill up the bridle, then I'd release and let him lower his neck.  It worked almost every time, but I have to focus on staying tucked through my pelvis while I do that.  And, timing is everything- if I didn't release in time, he wouldn't seek the bit and follow it down. 

Then we worked some haunches in on a small circle (thinking of bringing both hands toward the outside a bit to get the bend, which is the most important part), transitioning to shoulder in, and then to canter.  We had some nice canter work this way, and actually got him to carry himself, then lower his neck by doing the same principle that we did in the trot work- raise the inside rein up (and use some pressure on it) while using a fair amount of leg, then give the rein and he would seek the bit and stretch down in the canter.  All the while, I need to focus on keeping my body quite still. 

Overall this was a really fun lesson and Louie was really quite good (though I had to lunge him for about 15 minutes before I got on because we had a cold front and the first snow of the year come through today).  It was one of my more effective rides in the past month (as my belly has grown bigger my abs and ability to tuck my pelvis have really suffered, as well as my endurance toting around the extra weight).  I will really look forward to picking up somewhere near where we left off next spring (hopefully sometime around March). 

In the mean time, Louie's future is still a bit up in the air.  He might get a few months "off" just to sit in the pasture and be a pet.  Or, we've also toyed with the idea of having Julie use him for a few lessons with appropriate riders, so that he can at least maintain his condition.  My biggest fear with the idea of using him for lessons is that he will either learn bad habits or get hurt.  But then again, Julie keeps a very tight wrap on her lesson students and wouldn't let them do anything that would cause him harm.  That, and she gets on to ride a fair bit during lessons, and helps to troubleshoot issues regularly.  If I have any concerns about regression, I can always have her put a few rides on him before I come back.  But I think it would be quite beneficial for him to stay in some regular work, as this past year of dressage lessons has been probably his soundest year of his life (knock on wood). 

So, we shall see!  Soon Louie will have a new little rider to tote around!   

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Progress Video

My friend came out to video tape my ride this weekend.  Of course, knowing that something was up, Louie had to act like a spaz, afraid of the "A" end of the arena even more than usual. . . so, after about an hour of warm-up. . . . we were able to shoot some video.  He still wasn't seeking contact with as long a neck as what he has been doing lately, and he wasn't lifting his back as nicely either.  But, we still got some decent moments.  We had some nice half halts, cantering, and lateral work.  I think this video shows great progress (both with my riding and Louie's abilities) in the past 10 months since we started riding with Julie.  Enjoy! 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lesson: Half Halts and Release

Today we had a challenging lesson. 

When Julie first got there, I had just started warming up at the trot and she was surprised at how good we looked.  She asked what we had done to make such an improvement and how I was riding differently than normal.  Well, I didn't think I was really riding differently than normal, he was just somehow being really good- reaching down for contact and a nice controlled, cadenced trot. 

Well I think she was satisfied with our posting trot, so we moved on to a new exercise of very frequent half halts- every stride in the sitting trot.  So, I had to apply inside leg and stomach every time the inside front leg went forward.  That was a big challenge- for me!  Contracting my muscles and releasing them with every stride is a lot of work!  The half halts weren't huge, but just enough to get Louie thinking and his hind legs moving more than anything.

We worked on this for a little bit, and then added an element of allowing forward motion after several half halts.  So we would do 3 consecutive strides with half halts, then release forward and "tap tap tap" my leg lightly with each step and almost allow the energy forward through my stomach. 

Sometimes, we would do a 10 meter circle working on this, then proceed into shoulder in down the long side of the arena.  I need to remember to stay really tucked, and if Louie ignores my aids and runs through me, get really tucked under with my seat, raise and widen my hands, but keep my fingers light, and use whip if he won't listen to my leg to move sideways. 

We then worked on this exercise, but instead of allowing a little more trot, we asked for the canter.  I need to really focus on keeping my feet light in the canter and riding each stride, being prepared to downward transition after 3 strides, or after 3 circles. . .  All of our canter work is being done on about 10-15 meter circles at this point.  We had some very nice left lead cantering.  Our right lead canter is still a bit rushed, higher headed, and not as connected as the left lead.  I think this is just due to Louie's mild chronic left hind leg lameness.

I need to remember not only to keep my feet and legs light in the canter, but also to think towards the stretch just like we do in the other gaits (with inside bend via inside leg and rein, and some half halt and release). 

I think we've made really great progress in the past month or two.  I'm hoping to get a schooling video soon to share Louie's "new canter" as well as hopefully catch his nicer connected trot and stretching skills. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lesson: Finite Half Halts Redefined

Louie and I had a double lesson last Thursday, then another little lesson today as we're missing a few lessons this month with shows and field trials and such.

On Thursday we worked a lot on activating the hind legs in creating a half halt.  This is a modified version of an exercise that we just hate (aka: still don't really get) called "the square."  Okay, so here's how it works:  you're going along at a walk and you want to halt.  Well, you don't just want the front end to run into a wall and stop, you want the hind end to activate, and step under the horse's body into the halt.  So, to do this, we ask for a half halt or a full halt by immobilizing the stomach to tell the saddle to stop moving, and applying a little bit of one or both legs (in this exercise, it's always just applying the inside leg, but if I were to go down the centerline and stop at X, I would use both legs so my horse stays straight).  If we don't get an instant reaction from the subtle half halt cues, then we activate those hind legs by immediately going into a turn on the forehand.  The piece that I think I have been missing in this is that I need to stay perfectly still in the saddle, still giving the cue of "halt" with my body.  Once we get a few steps with the hind legs and a slowing/stopping of the front end, we ask again for the walk, or whatever gait we were in to begin with. 

I haven't entirely grasped the process, but the goal is that this exercise teaches the horse to activate the hind legs and eventually "collect" the gait by creating a half halt.  Eventually this can be applied to the faster gaits, of collecting/re-organizing the canter, etc.  I just haven't quite grasped the quantum leap from the turn on the forehand to collecting the canter quite yet. . . some day.

Well anyhow, today, we worked just a little bit on that, but we worked more specifically making half halts go through and using them as a finite correction.  Except we didn't really always refer to what we were doing as "half halting."  We worked first on the same exercise we did to create nice cadence a few weeks ago.  We slowed the gait way down, and then worked on getting more hind end activity without going faster, all the meanwhile encouraging him to reach out for the contact and lengthening the neck (do this with little gives).  The usual chain of events would be something like: trotting on a 20 meter circle, slow the gait, add whip, but hold the speed slow with stomach and some rein, then do lots of little gives on the reins to encourage him to reach out and forward for the bit while keeping the hind end pushing.  To get the neck down and discourage ducking, we added our favorite element:  sideways.  At times Louie would get quite above the bit, so we went very sideways in a shoulder in, but tried to keep him going really sideways without any neck bend, or almost thinking "renvers."  After a few strides of that, Louie would begin to lean on the bit a little bit, which was a cue to lengthen the rein and let him reach down for the bit.  After we got that connection, we straightened him out and continued with the exercise. 

We followed this same procedure/recipe to re-balance him as needed, to "check" to see if he was carrying himself or would be willing to stretch down further.  It eventually ended up being like the square exercise where I would apply stomach and inside leg to activate the hind leg, then release the reins into a more forward trot when/if we got the slowing/re-balancing on the hind end we were looking for- aka, a half halt. 

We then proceeded with a similar process at the sitting trot and working on canter transitions.  We would go along at the sitting trot, hopefully maintaining the ability to make a half halt go through, yet retaining connection with a long neck on the reins.  We would then begin to do a downward transition into a turn on the forehand, then I'd change my mind and allow him forward again.  We did this on a 10 meter circle, then after getting a few nice half-halts to go through, I would straighten him, bring my inside leg forward and ask for the canter.  The big trick here was then to actually RIDE the canter.  I tend to feel relieved when I get into the canter, so I stop riding it and just kind of cruise along.  Well today, we worked on "renewing the upward transition with every stride, and we worked on only cantering 3 strides, then asking for the downward transition (which by the way, has really improved in the past couple of rides) and getting back into a nice collected trot rather than a rushy fast, "run off" trot.  This 3 stride exercise was good for me, because it makes me actually RIDE every stride, vs just being a passenger. 

So, our homework, is to continue to work on making half halts go through, and refining our half halt to get good hind leg activity, and be able to do little gives with the reins and encourage Louie to reach down and out into the contact.  We are also to work on the trot-canter transitions with the mini turns on the forehand in the trot as a half halt. 

Oh- and one more little thing we figured out- my left wrist/hand is always a problem, but it works better if I keep my left rein shorter (when it's the inside rein, and pull it a little bit more away from the neck, as pulling into the neck makes my wrist brace). 

Monday, September 10, 2012

First Level at the Schooling Show

I'm late in writing about it, but we rode first level, test 2 in the schooling show at our farm last weekend.  I planned ahead to make sure I had a solid 30 minutes to warm up, and I'm really glad I did. 

Our test had some really nice moments, and overall, was quite nice.  It wasn't perfect, but it was better than I had expected it to be.  We scored a 7 on our entrance and salute.  We scored 5.5's on our trot lengthenings (Louie still doesn't really have trot lengthenings) and a 5.5 and a 6 on our canter lengthenings (which I felt were quite nice, but the judge wanted to see more lengthening of the frame here- so, something we can work on, considering I hadn't schooled a canter lengthening for many months).   We scored 6.5 and 7 on our leg yields, which were pretty nice, though Louie still has a tendency to brace his neck up and tighten his back in them.  We scored a 7 on our first extended canter-regular canter transition, and a 5.5 on our second (as that was in the far end of the arena, where all bets are off- Louie is afraid of the letter "A").  We scored a 7 on our first canter-trot transition, and a 5.5 on the second.  We scored 7's on our walk work, including the free walk, then our walk-trot transition.  We managed to score a 6.5 on our stretchy trot circle, which was not quite as nice as our stretchy circle in our last test at the show the previous weekend, but we did get some stretch.  Our canter work was quite nice, I thought, for the most part.  Our 15 meter circles were very nice, and the tempo and quality of the canter was much nicer than it had been a few months earlier.  However, towards the end of the test, after a string of 7's, Louie took the wrong lead twice (asking for the right lead), so we scored a 4 on that and 5.5's on everything left in the test.  Ouch.  Bad Louie.  Well, maybe I didn't set him up right, I'm not sure.  It was my first time ever having ridden through the test. 

Overall, we came out with a 60.9%, from a schooling show judge who is pretty fair, and not overly generous, so I'm pretty happy with that.  On our collective marks, we got a 7 on gaits, 6 on implusion, 5 on submission, 6.5 on rider's position and seat, and 5.5's on use of the aids and harmony.  We had some bracy movements at the end after the missed canter transition, then going into the "scary" end of the arena.  Really not bad though, for our first time trying 1st level.  Our trot lengthenings can use some work, but otherwise, we have pretty much all of the movements needed for first level. 

The test was really fun to ride, and it was low stress to only ride one test.  I should do that more often!  I'm looking forward do doing that again, and it was a great way to end our show season!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Northern Lights Dressage

We had our second rated dressage show this past weekend: Northern Lights Dressage, at the Washington County Fairgrounds. 

We got to the grounds early in the morning after I had about 4 hours of sleep the night before, as my ride time was 7:29 am.  Ouch is that early!  Once we got there I had about 45 minutes to groom, braid, change, tack, and warm-up. I got about a 6 minute warm-up. Not NEAR long enough. But, as Julie said, I managed to pull a lot of stuff out of my butt with what little horse and warm-up we had going into that first test. . . .


So in Training 1 we managed to come out with a 61.25% somehow. I really didn't feel we deserved it as he fell out of the left lead canter for a stride or two and was very tense in his free walk, so when I tried to push him for more activity he broke into the trot. But, the judge seemed to think we had some nice moments too. She gave us a few 7's on our left trot circle, right canter circle, and final halt. She gave us a 4 on our stretchy circle with the comment of "needs to stretch foward and down to contact."  Well of course that is the obvious comment for us at this stage.  We didn't have a fantastic stretch in that first ride, so I think 4 or 4.5 was pretty accurate. We got a 5 on our free walk with the same comment as the stretchy trot circle. I think that's fair because it wasn't fabulous with how tense he was in that first test. We scored pretty nicely on our collective remarks, 6.5 for gaits, 6.5 for impulsion, 6.5 for submission, 7 for rider's position and seat (lol, yeah right! like I deserved that!), 6.5 for rider's correct and effective use of the aids, and 6.5 for harmony. Her overall comments were "Nice moments. Horse is nicely forward. Keep working on getting neck softer at the base and stretching." Okay, no surprise there, that is our continuous battle- stretching down. Overall, the test wasn't bad, but I figured it'd be right around 60, not 61.25. . . but I won't complain.
Second test, training 2, was judged by a different judge. She was harsh, and I scored 58.214%. Ouch. I thought that was probably about my best ride. We didn't score anything higher than a 6.5. She gave us a 5.5 on our strethcy circle, which I felt was only a tad bit better than the first test when I got a 4. . . so I dunno. 5 again on free walk. This judge seemed really focused on Louie's neck being too high. Her overall comments were "nice pair, but he needs more correct acceptance of bit with more supple bending left and right."

Third test, training 3, was under the same judge as the first test, but this was in a different arena. Louie was a firecracker. He was great in warm-up, but he was STRONG as soon as we entered the arena. He kindof went into park horse mode- looking, stiffening, and scooting/shying at things as soon as we entered the competition arena. A lot of other horses from our barn had trouble in that arena too- there was a lot more going on around the outsides of the arena there, but who knows what their issues were. Anyhow, I guess it looked better than it felt. Other than our geometry being a little off because my horse was not between my aids, we had a lot of impulsion and a decent test. We had a really nice stretchy trot, but she still only gave us a 4. . . I'm not really sure what she wanted because as you can see from the photo below, we had a decent stretch, and even had some contact, even though Louie wasn't pushing his nose out into the contact. She gave us 7's on our first halt, left lead canter depart (commented "uphill depart"), left canter circle, and medium walk. We got a 6.5 on our free walk this time, but only 5's on our right lead canter and second canter-trot transition (which was late and bracy). I actually thought our right lead canter circle was really nice, I actually got him to relax his neck down in the canter a bit. She thought his neck looked braced in that movement.  We got 7's on gaits and impulsion in that test, overall comments of "nice forward test. work on getting neck softer and through the base especially in transitions." We got an overall score of 61.2%, which I felt was accurate as an overall, even thought I felt out stretchy trot was a 7.. . . .

So, as you can see, some inconsistencies from one judge to the next. I still think my best ride was probably test 2, which I scored so poorly on. . .. Julie was a little upset with the judging (we had 6 horses there from our stable) as it was overally rather harsh, inconsistent, and not explained (I had several movements where we had a comment of "nicely forward" with a score of a 6- so why didn't we score higher??).

Oh well.  Overall, Louie did a pretty decent job considering the circustances and not getting sufficient warm up time.  I had hoped for some 63-65% scores, which I think we could have received had there been different judges, but I will be satisfied with the fact that my horse did a pretty good job, and did make some notable improvements from the last show.  We also had the prettiest braids at the show.  Mae and Jill helped me to do some really cool rosette braids, which I will look forward to doing again sometime!

For now, we will start preparing for our stable's schooling show coming up this weekend, where Louie and I will be riding first level, test 2! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lesson: Bend to Stretch

Catch up time:  the past 2 lessons have been pretty bad.  We were working on a "square" exercise with turns on the forehand at each corner of the square, but the way we did it was really confusing Louie.  So, I'm not even going to explain it because every time I've worked on it, things have not gone well for me and Louie.  So, with a show coming up in a week and a half, I need to just get it out of my mind and focus on show stuff- like contact, stretching, and transitions. 

Today we worked on several exercises all in the same "vein."  Louie wasn't stretching down and into the contact when we first started (that's thanks to the square exercise), so we went to our go-to cure for above the bit- sideways.  We worked on a fair amount of shoulder in.  We trotted a 10 meter circle, then took shoulder in down the straight away.  Well, Louie likes to lift up above the contact when I ask for the shoulder in on the straight away, so we would immediately bring him back into a 10 meter circle, thinking "stretch" then return to the shoulder in on the straight away once we got the contact back and the head down. 

We then worked on stretching on our center line, thinking just a little bit of bend, but not actually doing a bend.  Just open one rein and apply one calf ever so slightly.  Part of my homework is to figure out which side I can get a better stretch from, so that I can enter from that side at the show, and can shoulder in right up to it if I need to to get a better stretch down that center line. 

The other thing that we had to really focus on was keeping the hands wide.  Louie tends to stretch down much better if I widen my hands a bit.  So, when we hit the straight away and wanted to do shoulder in, I had to take my outside rein off the neck a little bit like a leading rein.  This made a big difference in keeping him on the rail.  Also, I need to think about using my calf for the shoulder in, as if I get too pinchy in my knees or thighs, he lifts up above the bit as well.

We then worked on a nice little exercise of sitting trot on a 10 meter circle.  Julie would count out 6 strides, then we were to walk on the 6th count.  So, this is to sharpen our downward transition, keep us riding forward into the downward transitions, and improve our being "on the aids."  To get the downward transition, I need to remember not to beg and use a huge cue or pull on the reins.  I just need to think a little half halt with my epigastrium and inside calf to get the transition.  If I ask for a downward transition, but don't get one, I need to go sideways off the inside leg (this replicates the square exercise that we dislike so much).  In the show, I can just lean forward and "whisper in his ears" (ie exhale audibly) and he'll downward transitions super easily, but we really need to work on this as we haven't had good downward transitions lately. 

Then we worked on the same 10 meter circle exercise, and instead of walking on the 6th stride, I did a half halt thinking "almost walk" on the 4th stride then ask ONCE for canter right after that.  If he doesn't canter, I can't ask again or beg, I just need to play around to discover where the right buttons are for up- as well as for down-ward transitions.  The same is true of the downward transitions.  After 6 strides of canter, downward transition with wide hands, inside rein and inside leg.  Doing this exercise we finally got some decent canter-trot transitions (which have been non-existent the past 2 weeks). 

My homework for this week is to work on stretching through bend, even if it's invisible bend (ie center line), with wider hands, straight center lines with stretch, and transitions by counting my strides and being ready and able to transition up or down at any point.  (One note on that- I need to mix it up and not always canter on the 6th or 4th, but sometimes, stop after 2, or if the canter is good, keep going for a few more strides- Louie is way too smart and he'll figure out this 6 strides thing in a right hurry!).  I am hoping I can get enough good cantering in to be able to ride the entire figure from the training level tests, which involve a fair amount of canter.  I need to also keep the canter I want to ride (rather than the crappy one Louie likes to offer) by sitting in with my seat, laying my whip, and riding the canter from my center. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lesson: Lean Back

Tonight we worked on figuring out and fixing some of the issues I had during my practice rides this week. 

Issue #1:  Louie raised up his neck when I tried to leg yield.  The "monkey bars" think didn't help.  Solution:  I was leaning too forward and getting into my knees.  I need to lean way back, sit the bend, and keep my inside rein open out to my knee.  We also discovered that I have issues with my left hand/wrist- I constantly want to pull that hand up toward his withers and extend my wrist.  Doing this shuts the door on the left hind and doesn't let him bend and use that leg properly to step under himself, so I need to really keep that left hand wide and toward my knee when doing lateral work or bending.  So, I didn't even need the monkey bars, just lean back, tuck my butt way under, and open my inside (especially left) hand out away from his neck and push with my leg/whip lightly.

Issue #2:  I wasn't able to move my inside seat bone forward/up for the canter cue.  I had this problem primarily tracking to the right. We initially thought this was because my right stirrup was a bit shorter than my left.  But Julie hopped on today and discovered that the reason I can't move that hip is because Louie instantly becomes crooked and throws his haunches to the outside the second I quit asking him for the bend.  Solution:  keep Louie really bent, almost thinking haunches in, lean back and get my pelvis tucked way under, and keep my sacrum constantly in the saddle.  This not only let me move my hips, but also, my sitting the canter was eons better than it has been, and the canter, was therefore much improved as well. 

Those are really the two main things we worked on today.  To sum it up, I need to lean way back, keep my butt tucked underneath me (think: sacrum into the saddle), and be sure to open my inside rein way to the inside for any bending or lateral work. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lesson: Riding To Music

Sorry I've really slacked on writing about my lessons.  I think it's time to get back to a little bit of that, as it helps me retain what I've learned better. 

So tonight we rode to music!  It was fun, but rather challenging.  It was hard to keep Louie slow enough to match the rhythm, but maintain his "motor."  My favorite song that we rode to tonight was "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen.  It had a nice swingy rhythm and wasn't overly fast.  It was a perfect song to think of while riding the sitting trot.

We worked a lot on leg yielding at the sitting trot.  Louie tends to lift his neck and lose his "roundness" when I put a leg on to ask him to go sideways, so I've got to insist that he says round (if his head comes up, my hands come way up and wide (but SOFT) like I'm holding onto monkey bars or a big Harley.  Then I relax them down and ask him to reach down and take up contact.  I need to do this before I put my leg on, just to remind him that he needs to stay round.  Then I use a light intermittent leg, with maybe just laying the whip behind my calf to help keep him going.  I need to stop the sideways motion and direct him forward a few times on each diagonal too to make sure he isn't just running sideways and not staying between the aids. 

We worked a little bit on stretchy trot as well, with the same concept of lifting the hands if he lifts his head, and then lowering them and asking him with the leg and whip to come up over his back and into the hand.  Another thing we did was slowing him down with the whip- not very intuitive, but when Louie would start to rush, I would add a little bit of calf, and lay the whip behind my leg (then use more outside leg to prevent him from throwing his haunches away from the whip), a lot of stomach and a fair amount of hand up high and wide.  Julie said it is okay for me to use my reins to slow him down (think: create a boundary) if I've got the forward aids on as well- to push him into the front boundary from the hind end and maintain the engagement and contact. 

Our half halts were pretty good tonight.  We've been trying to keep really light aids with the half halt coming from my epigastric area, not my entire abdomen.  I've been doing light repeated half halts to get him to slow down and halt- and this is helping a lot with keeping his head low and into the contact during the halt and downward transitions. 

After we mastered the sitting trot shoulder-in and leg yielding work, we worked a bit on our canter.  We got a couple of really nice moments in the canter- one super prompt depart right with my inside seat bone, and two times we had a very night right lead canter from sitting trot (which lasted about 5 strides before Louie broke into two pieces, got heavy on the forehand, and I started my "wiggly back). 

Overall it was a good lesson, we had some really super moments and made some improvements!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tanbark Cavalcade of Roses

Sorry I have been neglecting this blog of late.  The past few weeks have been spent in preparation for Tanbark horse show.  Tanbark is the biggest, most prestigious Saddlebred show in Minnesota.  It is held at the state fairgrounds, at which Louie had never shown before. 

Well I have to say, Louie was a really good boy.  He was such a trooper as I clipped, bathed, and trailered him to the show all by myself.  Then he was stabled all by himself, locked in a stall for 3 days, and was really very well behaved.  It was really hot all week, and it was good that we were stabled right by the wash rack, Louie got baths several times per day.

Our first class was the Saddlebred Hunter Country Pleasure class, which did not go that great for Louie.  It seemed to be good in the first half of the class, and we got through the left lead canter without issue (which we had been struggling with over the past few weeks- Louie had been changing leads and quitting on me- naughty boy!).  I think I kindof let my guard down and the second way, Louie kindof took over and started making the decisions for me.  He was charging so fast in the trot, I felt completely out of control.  In the canter, he switched his hind lead on me going around a corner, so I pulled him up and re-started him.  He took one stride of the right lead, then completely changed to the left lead (well, he did a 1-tempi!).  It took me about 1/4 of the ring to get him re-started on the correct lead.  And, it happened right in front of two of the judges.  Naughty boy!  Additionally, he was cutting the corners, and would not get into the gate-side end of the arena at all.  I think all of my trying to push him to the outside may have contributed to the lead change issues.  Well, that was our "throw away" class as we had planned.  We placed 5th out of 6. . .

We had a nice schooling ride the next day, and I worked on controlling him at higher speeds and getting into the corners.  Our second ride, in the Saddle & Bridle Hunter Seat Classic went much much better.  We had two tiny bobbles in that class.  Once he broke from the trot and took a stride of canter (when I tapped him with my whip for cutting the corner- I saw my opportunity to fix that issue and I did!  never had a problem after that, so it was worth it).  Then in the right lead canter, I was trying to slow him down and make him canter a little "nicer" and he broke to the trot for one stride, then hopped right back into the canter.  I don't believe the judges saw that, but we had overall a much nicer ride, and I rode smarter, finding more space for myself in the ring and staying away from the other horses much better than in the first class.  We still ended up 3rd out of 4, but I was happy with his performance.

Our final ride was the Saddlebred Hunter Country Pleasure Stake class.  Louie did a phenomenal job and I couldn't have asked for a better performance out of him in this class.  The only thing he did that wasn't ideal was that he took a few steps back after the reverse.  Our extended trot could be better, but I think it would have been better if I hadn't had to run him off his wheels the whole time to keep up with the others.  It's hard to get a good extension in comparison to a trot that is already almost at the edge of his capabilities.  His hand gallop was great, though the ribbon girl suggested that I sit down in the hand gallop (what?  no. . . ).  Overall, this was a really great ride, I had fun, and could not be more proud of how Louie did in this class.  We still managed to place 4th out of 5. . . I wish the judges would have liked us better, but I think the big difference in the horses who placed was a more flashy trot.  Oh well, we had fun, it was a good experience to show at a big show and I'm glad I can say I did it at least once in my life. 

Here is a video of our Stake class (nevermind the section of the extended trot that gets skipped as my dad turned off the camera- partial video is better than no video!).  Good boy Louie!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

St. Croix Dressage Show

I nearly forgot to write about our dressage show last weekend!

Well, I can say that the week leading up to the show was terrible- Julie rode him twice and he was bad for her, then he was bad at my lesson.  Then Julie rode him one more time the day before the show and I lunged him that night with the chambon on.  Well I think he was a little bit tuckered out by the time of the show, and he was quite cooperative and agreeable. 

We had a great warm-up at the show and completed our first test, Training Test 3, quite respectfully, in my opinion.  We came out with a 62.6% and some nice comments from the judge, who gave us 7's on our canters and 6's on our free walk and stretchy trot circle.  The video is in pieces, and is missing a little bit, but shows most of the test.




Our second test (Training 2) was decent, but I felt Louie was a little more "tough" to handle during this test.  He was a bit harder to downward transition and I felt as though I was pulling on the bridle more than I would like to.  Overall though, it wasn't a bad test.  We had a different judge for this and the next test, who seemed to be a little lower scoring than our first judge.  She gave us a 7 on the free walk, but only 6's on our canter work, and a 4 on our stretchy circle due to insufficient stretch downward.  We made up some points though with better scores on our trot work and straight center line halts.  We came out with a total of 60%. 



Our final test, Training Test 1, was definitely our best.  However, since we had the lower scoring judge, we didn't score that well, only a 60.625%.  In this test she gave us a 5 on the stretchy circle (better than the last time!), and a 7 on the free walk, 7.5 and 8's on our halts, and 6's on everything else. 



Overall, I was really pleased with Louie, I felt that he performed just as well as he has been at home, and he didn't give me any of the trouble that he had been demonstrating at home earlier in the week.  It was a great first recognised dressage show, we came out with a 3rd place and two 4th's (out of like 6-7 riders in each class!), which isn't too shabby, plus it was great experience and exposure.  My husband snapped a few photos that I think turned out kind of cute. 






Monday, May 21, 2012

Restful Preparation

It's field trial season again, so Louie gets a few weeks of light duty as we stay busy with the trials. 

In his down time, Louie is enjoying relaxing in the sun, eating acres of lush green pasture (yes, he is fat already. . . ), a massage, and the occasional ride (or in today's case- trail ride around the property!). 

Our first recognised dressage show is rapidly approaching- on June 2nd.  Since I'm missing 3 lessons, Julie is going to ride Louie 3 times in the week before the show.  So he will get 3 rides with Julie, then my lesson, then a bath and probably a little lunging and massaging the night before the show. 

Thankfully I have the tests pretty well memorized from having ridden them a few times now.  I know it's not a very traditional way to prepare for a show, but I'm hoping Julie's 3 rides, followed by my lesson and schooling the day of the show will be enough to get us back into the zone.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Lesson 24: Outside Aids

We had a dressage lesson this week as it was exceptionally rainy outside and the outdoor arena was not serviceable.  The indoor arena, while workable, is not ideal for jumping, so we worked on some flat work.  This was actually a good thing though, as I'm going to miss my next three lessons due to the dog field trials.  Julie is going to use those three lessons instead to put three rides on Louie again during the week I come back.  I am hoping to practice a little bit during the next few weeks, but I won't get in any regular work to prepare for the shows I'm hoping to do next month, so hopefully Julie will be able to help keep Louie going while I'm gone. 

Well onto this week's lesson.  We worked a lot on a new concept- getting Louie to stretch without using the inside rein.  We already know that if I tug on or wiggle the inside rein a little bit, Louie stretches down pretty willingly.   But while this is correct, his response is not always correct- what also often happens is that he ducks back behind the contact and stays completely without contact on the inside rein.  He also has a tendency, depending on which way we're going, to lose his left shoulder (falls out on the circle), and shift his hindquarters to the right (especially when tracking left).  So. . . to remedy these things, we focused not on doing anything with the inside rein, but to think about getting him to reach for the outside rein, and use an outside leg to accomplish that.

We also found that when he curls, or ducks behind the bit, one great way to get him out of that is to use the outside aids- outside leg (kicking if need be) and a steady outside rein.  It really seemed to work well to keep him on the contact better.  The only other ways we have found that can work are to go a little bit sideways, or add a lot of leg (and stomach to prevent him running off) and hold him until he wants to lengthen his neck. 

During the lesson Julie also pointed out some of the little posture corrections like making sure that I don't extend my wrists as I have a tendency to do. 

We worked a bit on trotting straight down the center line.  Louie has a tendency to want to "look at the scenery" so naturally he trots anything but straight as he looks from left to right, his body turns and curves with each step . . . so we went sideways.  We trotted shoulder in down the center line.  It took a little figuring to get this right, but we eventually got a very nice shoulder in when I focused on trying to bend his body more, but not go too sideways.  I had to keep my "outside" leg back and use that quite a bit to keep the haunches from drifting too far sideways and straightening his body out.  I also had to focus on keeping my outside rein- once again outside aids. 

Another exercise we did to work on lengthening the neck was trotting in a nose to the wall leg yield down the straight side, then asking him to stretch on the short curved ends.  This worked pretty well so long as I got a good half halt in each corner of the arena.

We worked just a bit on the canter, trying to get a good half halt before the depart and thinking about trying to half halt every few strides during the canter.  We need to continue to work on making the half halt go through in the trot, and getting the haunches engaged to get a nicer canter.  All in good time. . .

Monday, April 30, 2012

Lesson 23: Straight Through the Jump

We worked this week on getting Louie straight between my aids as we prepared to jump.  He was wanting to drift his haunches to the outside of the circle (I guess he has always done this, I just didn't really recognise it), so we had to work really hard on paying attention and keeping him straight on the circle. 

After a while we trotted up to a single jump (cavalleti on the highest position) without any trot poles before it.  Julie likes to think of a jump as a canter depart, so the goal would be to come out of the jump on the proper lead.  Well, as we were tracking to the left, Louie should have taken his left lead out of the jump. . . but not so. . . even with his feet placed exactly where Julie thought they should have been, he always managed to re-arrange them at the last minute to avoid taking his left lead.  Apparently our lead problem is reversed.  You may remember some posts quite a while back about how much Louie hated his right lead. . . well now that seems to be his one good side. . . I think that may be due to his left hind stifle, as we've been thinking about having it injected now that we're asking him to work harder and he has been chronically lame (very very slight) on that left hind for a few years.  We've had it evaluated, but haven't had it injected for about 3 years. 

We tried about 20 times to get the left lead out of the jump- with me putting my right leg back, left leg forward, and opening the left rein inward, having him almost in haunches in as we approached the jump, and even cantering up to the jump and he just wouldn't take the left lead out of the jump.  Well, we FINALLY got Louie to take his left lead out of a jump by managing to get him to approach a line of 6 caveletti followed by 2 bounces and go over with his left leg first.  By the way, we did that gymnastic about 3 times before he finally timed it right to get his proper leg going into the line. 

Louie did a good job and is a very willing and able jumper, just not so loving of his left lead right now.  I think he'll be plenty capable of showing in the Saddlebred shows in the Saddle & Bridle classes, as I don't think they care what lead you land the jump in. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lesson 22: Jumping Lesson Two

Sorry this post is a bit delayed, but our second jumping lesson last week was good! 

We emphasized the need for a good walk warm-up, working on exercises to keep Louie between my aids. 

We had to ride in the indoor arena because it was pretty cold outside, so we couldn't work on as many bounces as last week, but got in some nice cavaletti lines followed by a single jump.  Louie did well with this and Julie thought he was actually not too bad over jumps, and uses his front legs really well. 

Nothing monumental in this lesson, but had a fun ride on Monday with my friend Jordan, who also rode Louie and I showed her the ropes of how to get Louie to relax into a nice dressage frame.  We had fun, Louie is a good boy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Massage Lesson

We had a different type of lesson tonight (an extra, so I didn't include it in with the rest of the lessons for the purpose of this blog).  We had a group lesson about massage- with 3 other horses/owners, and we went around from horse to horse watching and feeling with our hands, elbows, shoulders, etc. to learn the sore spots and feel tight muscles and anatomy on each horse.  Julie has a lot of experience in massage, not only through personal certification and education programs in equine massage and chiropractic, but from years of practicing on her own and client horses.

Julie started with a little bit of her usual assessment- running the fingers forward down the spine from the SI joints to about the base of the withers (fingers about 6 inches apart so that they travel along the paraspinal muscles).  A horse showing a lot of tenderness with this first assessment may have a chiropractic abnormality and may require some adjusting.  We divided the horse into portions, with the most forward portion of the back indicating problems in the neck and the most posterior portion of the horse (from the loins on back) indicating the hind end.  She also pushed on the SI joints and on the C7 vertebrae at the base of the neck to look for soreness or maladjustment in those areas. 

After that, we moved along to muscle assessments, and basically just rubbed over the major muscle groups looking for signs of soreness, tightness, or "stringy" feeling muscle bands.  When we found something sore, we would rub that area, either with constant pressure, cross-fiber massage, or rubbing along the length of the muscle belly.  Julie noted that her preference is constant pressure over tight spots until they loosen, she has found this method to give her the most bang for her buck.  When working areas on the back, it is useful to stretch the back (do an ab lift exercise) right after massaging the area. 

We noted common areas of soreness in many of the horses:  around C7 and completely around the scapula (should be able to bury the fingers under the scapula all the way around it essentially), along the triceps area above the horse's elbow, along the paraspinals and loins, in the hind quarters, hamstrings, and between the hind legs.  Louie's most sore spots were in the back (big surprise there)- basically the entire area the saddle panels cover (which, it turns out, may not be the best area to work to release the tension- the soreness may be referred from somewhere down the muscle belly or the kinetic chain), and in the hamstrings.  This has some bearing on how we ride as well, as it is interesting to note that a horse who spends a lot of time without its hind end engaged, and legs trailing behind itself will typically have tighter hamstrings, just based on principles of kinesiology. 

We worked on our horses on each of these areas for almost an hour, then worked on some stretches.  We stretched the front legs- extended straight out and a little bit medially and laterally (Julie says laterally is where she tends to get nice adjustments), neck (pressing on each vertebrae and bending the neck around the hand in each direction), and "hulas" in which you push on the horse's rib cage to the side in points moving from front to back pulling the tail around so the horse's body bends laterally throughout the back.  We worked on treat stretches like the ones recommended in Hillary Clayton's book "Activate Your Horse's Core" (which I own and love)- reaching to each side and down between the legs.  One important note that Julie wants to see is when the horse reaches around for the treat, their ears should remain pretty level- they aren't doing the exercise correctly if they twist their heads and turn it sideways as they reach to the side. 

Of course Louie and I also added in a lot of abdominal exercises and back-lifting exercises, per the Hillary Clayton book, which are a great compliment to all of the rest of the body work we're trying to accomplish. 

It was an interesting lesson and I think I learned a lot, about how to assess and massage a horse, finding sore spots and working them out, and improving flexibility and joint mobility.  Hopefully doing some form of regular massage work with Louie will help us to improve not only his comfort level, but may even improve his soundness and movement. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lesson 21: First Jumping Lesson

Well it may be obvious from the title of this week's lesson, but Louie and I had a blast in our first jumping lesson tonight!

We rode in the outdoor again and he started out a little tense and "looky" in one corner, but Julie had me shorten my reins, plant them on his neck (so I wasn't pulling on his mouth) and push him up into it.  We knew when he was ready to relax and stretch some when he started to get a little heavier in the bridle, and was actually letting me push him up into it.  After some warm-up of trotting some 3-loop serpentines, we worked on a few quick drills to get him nicely between the aids. 

We did a little bit of leg yielding at the trot, some nose-to-the-wall leg yielding and shoulder in, then did a little bit of 10-meter circle work.  We worked on our sitting trot on the 10-meter circle (which was much better because I worked on our sitting trot a lot over the past week), then worked on a few canter transitions, and cantering on the small circle.  Much to my surprise, Louie did awesome with this, and had several very nice, balanced canter departs, which usually deteriorated into a faster, less coordinated canter, but he still kept in the canter, and on the small circle (which was a huge improvement from 2 weeks ago when he was in the habit of quitting after 2 or 3 strides).  We had a little trouble getting our canter-trot transitions to be any good, but Julie thinks that's because he was doing such a difficult canter that it was too unbalanced to get a decent transition.  I still need to work on my "wiggly back" in the canter, riding it aggressively enough to keep him going, but not pushing him too much with my seat.  We did several sitting trot-canter-trot-walk transitions on the 10-meter circle going each direction, then started in on the cavaletti. 

We first trotted a long line of about 8 cavaletti in their lowest position- something we have done lots before, so this was no big challenge.  While doing this, we made a few position changes that are different than our dressage equitation.  For this, I got to lean forward (haha, I think I should probably just be a hunter rider with how much I like to lean forward), put my heels down, and we shortened my stirrups just one notch (I rode in my all purpose again).  Julie wanted me to keep my feet a little bit more forward, and post basically with my hips rising and falling only, but my head and chest staying level.  Julie explained that she typically teaches more of an eventing-type equitation because it's safer and more practical than equitation sought in the hunter ring.  Sounds like a plan- I'm all for safe!

After a few trips through the cavaletti, Julie rolled the last cavaletti in the line out and up to it's highest position (so there was about 6 feet between the last low cavaletti and the high one).  She wanted me to post the cavaletti, then think "sit, sit" when I got to the end of the line, then just follow him over the last one.  The first time through, Louie didn't really leap the last one, just kind of trot-cantered over it.  Julie wanted it to be more like a canter stride over the cavaletti, but didn't want me to cue him to canter, just help him to "think canter" when we got to the jump.  So to help him get into the feeling of "canter" over the jump, she rolled out another one out at it's highest position so that we went through the line of cavaletti, then had the 6 feet of nothing, then a high one, 6 more feet, and another high cavaletti, which created a bounce stride on those last two high cavaletti.

When I saw this bounce gymnastic configuration she had set up, I thought, "oh my, Louie can't handle that!  That's way too advanced for the likes of him!" but much to my surprise, we went through, trot, trot, trot, jump, jump!  Woohoo!  And I think Julie liked the canter steps/jumping that she got with that configuration so she added one more bounce to the drill, so we had 3 high cavaletti to go over, one right after the next with no stride between.  Louie did great with this, he didn't get flustered, he didn't refuse or try to run out too much, he just sailed right on through it.  I think I remember at one point, Julie saying that she wanted them to kind of muddle through it and struggle, as I'm sure that builds their skill and depth perception, stride judgement, and take-off, etc.  She also had to keep reminding me to pull my feet forward a little bit, as they have been wanting to sneak back to where I balance them for my flat work. 

We did the 3-cavaletti bounce a few more times and Louie got better and better each time through.  Julie thought we did a nice job, and didn't notice Louie being an ugly jumper (though admitted she was watching me much more than him- which I can't fault her for), but I'll take that as a good thing if my horse can do at least a good enough job to not overtly embarrass himself!  Here I have been worried that Louie will not have any skill at jumping, but he could prove me wrong yet.  I could feel him kind of reaching for the last jump on the 3 cavaletti bounces, so I think if we had had 4 in a row, things might have gotten ugly, but as it was, he did great, and this is a fantastic start to building up our jumping ability, not to mention muscle in the hind end and back, flexibility and good brain food.  What fun!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lesson 20: Conquering the Hard Hearted Horse

Louie was really wound up and naughty at my lesson this week.  I'm really not sure what got into him, but as I headed down to the outdoor arena (our first lesson in the outdoor, though we had ridden in it several times previously) I had planned on having about 20 minutes to warm up before I was set to begin.  I planned this as a little chance to "get the edge off" as both Louie and I were a little amped up that day. 

Well we got down there and Julie had finished early, so she started right in with my lesson.  Drat!  As she taught us the math of the outdoor arena and where each 20 meter circle should be, Louie walked along at what I felt was a gait that was ready to explode.  Eventually we trotted and instead of relaxing, Louie did a little short stride, back tight, head up, teeth grinding trot.  Ugh.  I knew I needed that warm up time!  Well we worked through it.  Louie was all over the place and had way more energy than he knew what to do with. 

Eventually he settled in a little bit and we worked on some shoulder in, leg yielding, and other lateral work, which Louie did quite well.  We worked a bit on extension as well, and we hit one diagonal with an awesome extension!  I think Louie is starting to pick up on what I'm looking for.  Our good extension came when we trotted across the far end of the arena fairly quickly, then Julie had us take the diagonal and try to slow down, yet cover ground.  That seemed to be a winning combination thought process. 

We later worked on the canter, which was not a pretty sight. . . As we cantered 3 strides on the left lead and broke, several times in a row, I kept failing in keeping him going, Julie kept telling me that all I need to do is lay the whip on him, so next time I did, and BAM!  Louie leaped through the air in what felt like a massive buck (but apparently was only a really big kick at the whip) and completely unseated me.  I lost my right stirrup, was sitting way off to the right of the saddle, Louie still cantering forward and to the left.  I tried to steer him into the rail to stop him, but he got to the rail and started going sideways so I further lost my balance, and my left stirrup.  I thought for sure I was going to come off, but thankfully I somehow stayed on, and once seated back in the center of the saddle with both feet in the stirrup, we had a little discussion about what the whip is and the fact that I can put it on him and he does NOT get to kick at it. . . . I think we've had this discussion numerous times, but it never seems to sink in.  So afterward, Julie was correcting my leg postition a little bit (my toes were sticking out like they sometimes have the tendency to do) and she said, "stab your toes into his hard heart!"  I thought that was a pretty good way to think about it. 

Well we proceeded with the lesson and didn't really get anything accomplished since he was now more wound up than before.  Julie pointed out that it was likely I would have to ride him like this at a show sometime in the future, so I best get prepared for it!  To work through it, I just continued to apply half halts and try to bend and stretch Louie around my inside leg.  We got through the lesson, but if it hadn't been a lesson, I would have galloped that horse around for a good 20 minutes then come back to what we were trying to do.  Though I don't think Julie believes me, Louie really needs a good long warm-up and for him, working him for a long time (running or trotting, spirals, etc) really does seem to help him get into a good state of mind if we have issues.  After all, that is kind of what we did at the show. . .

Since that awful ride, I'm happy to report that we've had two rides, one of which was quite nice- yesterday, in the indoor arena, with the sprinkler going.  Surprisingly enough, Louie did great with that, and we had a nice ride, he was very responsive to my aids, but not overly sensitive. 

I asked Julie if we could jump this week at my lesson, so I think I might show up in a jumping saddle for my next lesson.  I think Louie could use the change of pace- something different to do for a while.  We'll still work a lot of the same principles as we use in our flat work, but since we're not going to the Otter Creek spring show (we decided we're not quite ready for a rated show in less than one month's time), but I think the jumping will add an extra element of fun or challenge for Louie, that will help break up some of the repetitive dressage work for him. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dressage Schooling Show

Well the schooling show was pretty fun.  Our scores were indeed lower than last year and we had a couple of little bobbles that hurt us, but overall we did pretty well and ended up training level champions (yay!  we got a gift certificate to St. Croix Saddlery for that!) even despite our less than awesome performance.

The derby went fairly well.  Louie was not probably warmed up enough prior to this class to really do well (though, honestly it's supposed to be a warm-up, so I shouldn't really be too concerned with that).  He was having a hard time relaxing and stretching down, and was overly sensitive to my aids and wouldn't stay between my aids very well, but we got through alright and won the class with a 65.8%. 


I wasn't very happy with Louie's poorly relaxed version of the derby, so we worked on a lot of walking sideways before this next test.  Though I'm not that certain it helped, he was pretty inconsistent with his neck position in all of the classes and he about died in the left lead canter.  Other than getting a 3 on the left lead canter here because we broke twice, it wasn't as awful as it felt.  We actually got a 6 on our stretchy circle and our free walk, and 7's on our halts, for a total of 56.9%.

Well you can imagine I wasn't thrilled with that ride, so we went down to the outdoor arena to blow off some steam after that ride.  We worked on that left lead canter and we made several canter circles then went to practice a canter through the diagonal and Louie actually did a flying lead change on me!  Wow, that was cool!  Totally accidental, but fun!  Well, we worked the edge off a bit, took several trips over the cavaletti that were set up down there, and spent some time getting over the scary big white plastic dressage letters set up in the outdoor ring.  By the time I went up for my next test, I had a  much more manageable horse, and ended up with a 60.7% on test 2.  Of note, we got 8's on our halts in this test.

I got off to rest after the second test, and got on just before my final test.  After just a little bit of warm-up we rode test 3, which happens to be my favorite of the training level tests (I think because I like the difficulty of the loops and the canter-trot transition through the diagonal).  While we had no stretch in this third test, the rest of it was pretty decent, and we ended up with a 61.0%. 


Well, overall, it was a decent show, and I think it shed some light on thing we need to work on over the next few weeks/months.  We need to work on the stretch (constantly) and especially getting the stretchy trot when I ask for it.  We need to work on our canter, especially the left lead.  And we need to work on our straightness and getting him moving off of my aids quickly, but not being overly sensitive. 

I got a little down on myself and my horse over the past couple of days because we didn't do as well in the show as I had hoped, but a couple of friends have reminded me that I'm being a bit too hard on us and that these tests weren't as bad as they felt.  I guess I was just a little bummed because we seemed to have such a nice clinic ride that I had higher expectations for the show. 

Well one thing that I think we've learned I need to do before my next show is to ride a lot, and warm up a ton before my first class.  As training level is all about being relaxed and submissive, I think getting the edge off a bit more before my class would be better.  I didn't even need to use my whip at all in the show, but it might be nice to have a bit of a tired horse who needs to be pushed along somewhat for training level. 

We're trying to decide if we're ready to go to a rated show at the beginning of next month.  At this point I'm not sure I want to shell out a lot of money to go and do poorly and put up sub-60% scores, so on Thursday at my lesson we're going to try to decide whether it would be worth our while to go, or if we'd be better off saving up for a different show later on this summer when we'll have more time to prepare. I guess we'll see!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bill Woods Clinic

Today was the clinic with Bill Woods and I have to first say that I am SO proud of my Louie!  He was a rock star; he felt awesome, and fit right in with all the fancy brand asses (aka warmbloods).  He really cleaned up nice too!  I am super thankful too that Kris was able to video tape for me at the last minute so I can share this and watch it over and over to learn all of the things that haven't sunken in yet. 

Also, it turns out Bill is quite the comedian.  I watched several hours of other riders today in the clinic and not only is he an excellent clinician and rider, but he had some of the funniest jokes and stories; he's quite entertaining.  I will have to purchase his book, Dressage Unscrambled, as I have heard it is a great read, and if it's anything like the little bit of his writing he shared with us at lunch today, I'm sure it will be well worth it. 

I could go on and on typing what we learned about, but a video does that so much better.  Without further ado:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lesson 19: Stretch

Tonight we worked again preparing for the clinic tomorrow and the show this weekend.  We worked primarily on getting Louie to stretch his neck down.  To do this, I slow him down, use my legs and core, and ask for more bend, sometimes "fishing" and extending a lure (the rein) for him to reach for (lengthen the rein slightly and ask him to reach out for it).  It helps to bend him slightly to the outside, then the inside if he doesn't go just off of the inside leg and rein alone.  By the end we got some nice stretchy circles, and as usual, some nice free walks.  One tip with the free walk- lean back just a bit, it seems to encourage him to stretch down further. 

We ran through a couple of the tests and once again, Julie really liked our "loop."  We need to work on keeping him in the left lead canter, so I'm going to probably need to lay my whip on him a few times during the left lead canter to keep him going.  He is surprisingly lazy and likes to break out of the canter more than he used to.

Two other things that Julie wants me to really work on are to grip with my thighs and calves, rather than my knees and feet- and Julie thinks we need more thigh.  The second is to avoid bending my wrists (I have a tendency to ulnar deviate my wrists despite my wrist braces), and I end up bringing my pinkie finger further back than it should be.  The 4th/5th fingers always need to be closest to the bit, never contracted/curled under.  I also need to bend more with my elbows as I seem to lengthen and shorten my reins from the wrists and shoulders. 

Well, I'm very excited for the Bill Woods clinic tomorrow, I have been planning out our outfit for that and the show, trying to make sure we look as nice and professional as possible!  I should have an update in the next couple of days!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Look of Eagles

I snapped this picture of Louie with my phone today while I was grooming him.  The horses had been running around their summer turnout pasture, getting their 30 minutes a day as they are introduced to the grass.  When they came back in they were WILD!  And it's also cold and windy today compared to the past week or two.  All of that together made for a little bit hyped up horsie, so I had to lunge him before I could even groom him.  While Louie wasn't exactly confident at this time, he sure has that look!

Lesson 18: Preparing for The Show

In preparation for the upcoming Bill Woods clinic and schooling show next weekend, we worked on a few show-related topics in our lesson last Thursday.

We worked on the shapes of the figures, including the training level "loop" which I like to refer to as a "swerve."  Julie was pleasantly surprised by how well we performed the figure, though she does prefer to change the diagonal on the quarter lines, to go with the change of bend.  I have also been practicing weighting my new inside stirrup before making the change as I think that's a nice "heads up" for Louie.

We worked a lot on our canter- getting the depart (off my seatbone and no legs, not leaning forward, being prompt and balanced, etc), riding the canter, and canter-trot transitions through the diagonal.  Julie noted that the best canter we tend to get is the one where Louie takes a step or two and then breaks to the trot because he's too weak to continue.  Well we can work with that, I'll just have to push him to keep going after the first stride.  He tends to do that more to the left, going to the right, surprise, surprise, he seems much more willing to canter.  Funny, when cantering to the right has always been one of Louie's worst, most challenging obstacles.

We worked also quite a bit on trotting 10 meter circles and turning down the center line.  Julie finds that I turn too late most of the time, so I'll just have to practice really watching where I'm going and turning a bit earlier than I think I need to.  We paid some attention to learning how to salute properly as well.  I guess I never knew there was a "method," but I learned it properly in 5 steps.  1: take both reins in the left hand (and whip if applicable).  2:  lower the right arm down just behind the thigh, hand facing back.  3: bow head down.  4: head up.  5: take the reins and whip in both hands.  Of course don't forget to smile at the judge.

All of this show stuff may seem daunting, but we still managed to work on some lateral work, practicing our shoulder in.  We practiced shoulder in down the long side, then come down the center line, leg yielding toward the diagonal, maintaining the same bend and direction of movement that we did in the shoulder in down the long side. 

Of course, like usual, we worked on our free walk and getting the neck to go down as quickly as asked.  That is coming along pretty nicely, but I think we need to work more on our stretchy trot circle, as Louie is more willing to drop his neck in the walk than in the trot or canter. 

We are very excited for the clinic this week.  It will be the day after my lesson that I ride in it, so hopefully we'll be ready, well practiced, and not too fresh!  I ride in the morning, so I may have to do a little warm up first if it's cold or windy outside.  I know both Julie and I are excited to hear what he has to say about Louie and my riding, and what ideas he will have for helping us to get better.

As for the show, I need to learn all 3 training level tests over the next week.  I've printed them out and run through them in my living room, but when you're remembering 3 different tests, it's really easy to get the movements mixed up from one test to the next.  I think I must have a reader again this year, as that really helps, especially when you're riding more than one or two tests.  I need to focus so hard on getting my horse moving right and my own riding that I hardly have enough brain function left to remember the next step in the test.  And, from the sounds of it, we're going to have a cheering squad, so the pressure is on!  Whew!  I just hope that I am able to get somebody to video tape our rides.

Over this past weekend, following my lesson, I had two really nice rides on Louie in the outdoor arena, which is bigger (regulation size) and has awesome footing.  I really like riding out there and I think Louie prefers to ride outside, as he is much more relaxed and things tend to come easier when he's not jumping at the sounds that the weather outside makes on the indoor arena.  Granted, that is good for him to get used to, but it just makes for a more peaceful, relaxing ride without it.

Now to squeeze in one more ride and some tack cleaning before my lesson and the clinic later this week!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lesson 17: Stretch Over The Back

Louie and I had a great ride tonight!  One of the other instructors was there to watch again and she was super impressed with how great we did tonight, and how much progress we made from 2 weeks ago.  I think it helped having Julie ride Louie a few times. 

The weather was awesome, I rode in a tee shirt!  We worked on all 3 gaits, and stretching the neck forward and down.  We worked on 10 meter walk and trot circles, getting Louie to stretch down with inside leg and inside rein.  He has it figured out pretty nicely, but we still need to work on getting him just a bit deeper (using legs/whip, but using my stomach to encourage him not rush), and we also need a fast response to get that stretch into the free walk right when asked.  Our walk-trot transitions were pretty nice, and we worked on the sitting trot-canter, which was surprisingly very easy to transition him just by positioning my legs and sliding my inside seat bone forward and up.  I still need to work on keeping myself from "wiggling" a bit in the canter and sitting trot.

We worked on a little bit of shoulder in, working on looking for opportunities to release and give, and focusing on posting straight forward, not off to one side. 

We also worked on getting my shoulders back and I showed Julie my "shoulders back" strap system that I recently purchased and she liked the results we got wearing it.  She is hopeful that if I keep wearing it, it will help me to avoid some comments from judges regarding my forward shoulders when I show.  I think I should just wear it 24/7.  We worked on the "exercise of the week" also which is to occasionally lift the foot up out of the stirrups to make sure that I'm not bracing in the stirrups, which I tend to do when Louie gets "looky."

Throughout the ride, we kept coming back to the concept of asking Louie to stretch over his back and lengthen his neck.  He starts to get a little "curly" in the neck/behind the bit when frustrated or when I ask him to do something difficult, so we spend a 20-meter circle or two "making up," quickening the pace, and getting him to stretch back out to the bit again.  He seemed to do quite well with this.  Julie also thought that he had a very nice frame tonight and was working over his back nicely.  She likes the frame that we've developed over the past few months, and she thinks that the judges will be in for a treat to see a Saddlebred with such a nice beginning dressage frame (as she said not many of the Saddlebreds out there competing in dressage really get their necks long and low).

Julie figured out in her rides this week and last that Louie is challenging, and he likes to be inventive and change the game just when she thinks she's got him figured out.  So I'm guessing this is where my experience with him and hard work will come in, as now I think Julie is more equipped to help us, but I think I need to keep trying to ride and push buttons and try to feel out how Louie is responding and what he needs to learn what he needs to do.

Overall, we had a really nice ride, and I was very happy with Louie, especially when Julie said "Jill wants to ride your horse!" in the middle of my ride.  That's always a good thing when an instructor likes your horse, though I don't know why anybody wouldn't want to ride a beautiful nice Saddlebred like Louie!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Happy 6th Birthday Louie!

Louie is 6 years old today!  We are having an un-seasonably warm weekend here too, with temps in the 60's and sunshine.  Louie got his blankie off yesterday so he can relax and lounge in the sun without overheating.  Too bad I can't be there to celebrate with him as I've been working all weekend.  Tomorrow we will have to celebrate with a few horsie muffins.  Happy birthday Louie!

Here's an older picture of Louie as a baby. He hardly looks like the same horse now! 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lightbulb Moment: In Front of the Leg

Today was one of those challenging spring days with the ice and snow melting off of the roof of the arena.  It was windy and noisy, filled with loud crashes and bangs due to the ice sliding down the roof, melting in the sun.  Naturally, this made for a difficult atmosphere for a horse like Louie who tends to react to such noises in a not so positive way (as he did two days ago when I rode him in similar conditions). 

Well today we warmed up on the lunge with the side reins on, attached down to his girth rather than at his sides and I practiced a new way of getting him to step under himself with his hind legs.  I gently flicked the lunge whip and tapped his hind leg/hindquarter with the whip while walking on the lunge line.  When he sped up and broke into a trot, I brought him back to the walk and we tried again.  After a few times, he figured it out and started stepping under himself more when I flicked the whip at him.  We worked on this in the trot and it seemed to work well, instead of kicking out at the whip like he would sometimes do, he tucked his butt up under himself just a bit, and reached forward with the hind legs. 

So after a long warm up (due to the crashing of ice all around us), we worked on this same principle from in the saddle, with an idea from a discussion with a friend earlier in the day.  From a halt, I asked him to step forward with one hind leg by using one of my calves lightly (the same leg as his leg that was back), just behind the girth.  This worked pretty well at the halt, I could bring his lagging leg up under him so that he would halt square, so I tried it at the walk and then the trot.  It seemed to really work and get him to step up and use his hind legs more when I just nudged him lightly with the inside leg (and reinforced with laying the whip on his side once in a while as needed) and after a while I felt that same marching feeling as I did during my lesson last week.  (When we tried this whole idea a few days ago by applying a lot of leg and stomach it was a miserable fail compared to when Julie was there to help coach us through it, so I'm glad I figured out a way to do it differently- at least so it seems). 

The other thing I did differently today was I tried to not use my hands at all.  In doing this I realized that I don't really need them for anything, they're almost more of a prop than anything else, just holding the reins to hold up the suspension bridge.  Louie naturally relaxed his head down pretty well on his own and seemed a little more consistent/confident this way compared to when I am constantly on his case with my hands. 

Throughout the ride, I tried to focus on having my horse in front of my leg- which means he is moving sufficiently forward with light aids and not being dragged along with heavy leg cues.  The feeling of having him in front of the leg is incredible- it feels like it's supposed to!  His gaits are more forward, free, and engaged.  Also, when he is in front of the leg, any little spook or shy is much smaller than when he's inverted and behind my aids.  When he sees something scary, all you need do is just concentrate on getting him to step under with the inside hind leg, and it's like the rest comes together on its own regardless of the situation (now I'm not saying he was perfect, but overall, it was much more pleasant than it could have been with the conditions the way they were)! 

The other thing I tried, on the tip of a friend, was to weight the new inside stirrup before changing directions (when doing a figure-8 or other change of bend).  It helped Louie to kind of know what was coming ahead of time and help him change his bend more easily.  

I rode in my dressage saddle today (and two days ago) and today I really felt good in it, I felt like I was sitting up tall, had a nice open hip, and was using my aids more effectively and lightly. 

When I rode Louie a few days ago over the weekend, I had so much trouble getting him to step under himself that I nearly gave up.  So frustrating. . . So since I have to miss my lesson this week due to a conference for work, I asked Julie to ride Louie instead in place of my lesson.  I'm going to also have her work him a couple of other times over the next two weeks since I won't be out to do much with him due to a very busy work schedule.  At first I felt like I was giving up on myself as an amateur-trainer by asking her to ride/train him a few times, but I think having a professional put a few rides on him will help us get past this hurdle much quicker.  And at the end of the day, after 4 rides by a professional, I'll still be the one who mostly trained him!