Monday, January 30, 2012

Lesson 11: An Equal and Opposite Reaction

Sorry I am late in posting about my lesson last week.  But here it goes. 

You know Newton's law of motion that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. . . well our lesson was kind of like that.  Louie has been trying to figure out lots and lots of ways to get out of being round and staying on the bit.  His two favorites are:  "hey look! That crack of light coming from the corner of the door is going to eat us both!" above the bit, and "I am so frustrated with you Mom!" behind the bit. 

We've worked on remedying these problems in the past, but we really focused on this, and Julie said something that really made sense to me.  She basically said, that I need to be ready with a response or a "fix" for each time Louie does something besides being round (while he's on my time, gosh darn it!), and in addition, I need to look for opportunities to give.  So that basically means that I need to be thinking and know the answers and what to do each time Louie decides he wants to go above or behind the bit- have a solution ready to use for each problem I might encounter.  Then in addition to that, I need to pay attention to the "feel" and if I feel that Louie is ready to sink his neck deeper, I need to be prepared to let him do that when I feel him giving me those signs (ie filling up the bridle or taking more hold of the bit). 

So the fixes. . . when he wants to go above the bit, I need more bend, more sideways, bending him away from and pushing him towards the scary monster.  Shoulder in works great for this.  When I take my inside hand off of his neck and back to my knee, I need to still hold with my outside rein (think pulley rein) to get the neck to come down and in into the contact vs just over-bending. 

When Louie wants to go behind the bit. . . now this is a really tough one as it evolves some with time. . . but for the time being, what works is to add leg and say "whoa" with my seat/tummy so that he doesn't run off.  Even from a standstill, adding legs causes him to reach his nose out some.  The key is not to pull with my hands to cause him to back off of the bit.  I need to give some to make it a happier experience.  The other key, which I think has really helped us, is that when he does duck back behind the bit, I can't throw my reins away.  This is where that looking for opportunity to give comes in to play. . . I need to then shorten my reins and keep the same contact that I want, using my legs to push him into it (and stomach to control the speed, grunting if need be LOL).  After going around like this, BTV while still maintaining contact and getting a big forward message from my legs, eventually he gives in to it and starts to become heavier and heavier in the bridle.  As I notice him increasing the downward pressure on the reins, then is my opportunity to give, and let him lengthen the neck. 

I really think that this behind the bit treatment has helped as we worked on it a fair amount at our lesson on Thursday, and in the three rides I've had since then (I know, a lot of riding I got done this week!) I've hardly felt him go behind the bit at all in the past few rides. 

The other thing that I think really helps is lunging him a little bit to warm him up- both directions, both ends of the arena.  That way we get some of the "monsters" and freshness dealt with and out of the way so that we don't spend our entire ride trying to deal with being above the bit and running away from scary monsters.  I have done that the past two rides and my it sure seemed to help us have a more productive ride. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

So Much for Riding This Week!

Well I didn't ride at all this week, and most likely won't ride before my next lesson on Thursday. . .

I stuck to my plan and drove Louie yesterday.  He was a little wound up, but we didn't have any trouble working through it. . . . until I asked him for an extension along a straight away.  I tapped him with the whip a few times and he crow hopped, felt the crupper, then started kicking out badly, up over my head, I was scared for my life.  I tried to work him through it, but he caught one of my reins with his hind leg so it was wrapped under his leg.  He was speeding around a corner, still bucking and running and I had no control.  Feeling that it was wiser for me to bail out and save being kicked in the face since I had no control with my rein lost, I rolled myself back out of the cart and Louie kept going. . .

He only ran less than a lap around before he stopped and stood while one of my barn mates caught him.  I unhooked him right away and checked us all over.  There didn't seem to be any damage to me, Louie, or the cart, so I started off long lining Louie in some circles at a trot to settle us down, knowing that I would have to hook him again to preserve our driving abilities and avoid building fear. 

After a little while of long lining he seemed to have settled down, so I re-hooked him and drove for about 5 minutes, both ways, some circles at the walk and trot, and other than being timid with the whip, we didn't have any issues. 

Today, I needed to regain some ground, and while it was too stormy/windy to drive today, I put the harness on (with my kicking strap that will now become a permanent fixture on the harness), hooked some side reins and a lunge line and set out to work out some issues.  I knew that he would be likely to buck/kick on the lunge line when fresh and stormy, so this was a perfect opportunity.

After a little while, I asked Louie to canter on the lunge (which nearly always produces some sort of buck/kick/jump), and when he set out to canter and let out a little buck stride, I growled at him, pulled on the lunge line, used the whip at the same time.  Well whatever I did sure got his attention.  He did the same thing once or twice more, and I did my best to show that that sort of behavior is NOT acceptable.  By the end of the lunge lesson (which by the way did cause Louie to work up a pretty good sweat), he was making decent trot-canter transitions both ways on the lunge line, with no funny business. 

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, and I'm hopeful we'll be able to drive again soon to cement to skills that we worked on today, with the kicking strap as my safety net.  I was just thankful nobody got hurt!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lesson 10: Practice Perfection

First off a side note from earlier this week.  Louie had a massage from Julie's son on Tuesday, which I'm sure has uncovered part of our issues with our rides this week- Louie's back is sore.  Well, nothing is really new there, as his back is often sore, but we think at this point that this is something that needs to be worked through, as he probably is either sore in his back because he needs to use his hind end more and lift his back more, or because he is sore in his hind legs.  Anyhow, he's not lame and not severely sore, but I'm going to probably cut back my riding just a bit as a prophylactic measure and get rid of the front riser so that the saddle fits a little more uniformly.  I think Louie will also benefit from a few more massages.  I'm going to try to drive him a little bit more too as we've only driven once since coming to the new stable, as we've been focusing so much on making riding progress.

Anyhow, tonight was a very very cold lesson.  It was about -2 degrees outside (actual temperature) when we rode.  I usually don't ride when it's this cold, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to reschedule my lesson, and Julie still works her horses and teaches when it's this cold, so I figured it would probably be alright.  Wow did my joints ache after that! 

We worked on essentially the same things this week as we worked on last week, except Julie wants me to work a little bit more on promptness and having our riding be quality and transition ready all the time, "practice as you play" type of thing.  No slacking off.  And as great as we can get a nice relaxed trot, we've got to be able to get that quickly and transition in and out of it smoothly.  It can't take a minute to build up enough energy to make a decent transition from a relaxed gait. 

So, specifically, we worked a LOT on half halts, and in those I need to use more whip and abs, and just plant my hands on Louie's neck and get his back end to speed up and his front end to slow down.  We worked on our walk-trot transitions, which need to be more prompt as Julie noticed that I am begging for the transition.  Well, honestly, I'm not totally sure that Louie understands the cue of moving my seat forward yet, through he's getting better with it.  He'll do it when I get his engine really revved up, but he's just looking for the easier answer (which, is trotting rather than walking with impulsion).  I think the other thing I notice is that when I move my seat forward to ask for the trot, I give up my legs, which I should keep on through the transition. 

The other thing that we worked on was Louie's gawking and going above the bit.  When he does this, I need to take him into more of a bend and push him toward whatever monster he is scared of, moving sideways.  I can't let him be a tourist and look at the scenery, I need to drive and have control while he's on my time.  I need to do whatever I need to do to get him round, which, typically involves bending, planting my hands on his neck so I'm not too busy with them, and pushing with my legs and whip and maintaining the tempo and speed with my seat/core. 

He also likes to go behind the bit and curl his neck when he gets frustrated.  For this, we think, bend less and go more forward.  When he ducks behind the bit, I need to use some fairly strong forward aids, and my abs strongly to keep him from plowing ahead too quickly.  I need to keep my hands quiet and planted on his neck.  Slowing the tempo or speeding up also tends to help him come out of it. 

We worked a lot on gait changes, half halting, changes of rein (from one circle to another and across the diagonal as well as a half circle change of rein), etc and having them all be prompt, round, and without falling apart and having Louie throw his neck in the air.  This is challenging, partly because I'm obsessed with changing my whip and in the 20 seconds I fumble with it, Louie completely falls apart.  So I'll either have to not change it and just keep it in my right hand, or ride with two whips like most people there. 

Finally we worked a little bit more on our trot-canter in two point transitions, which is actually pretty decent (other than the fact that Louie was really wound up with the cold and bucked into the canter a few times). 

My homework for the next week is more of the same, another week of short stirrup work (did I mention that she moved my stirrups up 6 notches?  ouch! it hurts!) and working on getting better engagement and roundness, more prompt and light transitions (within and between gaits), half halts, and a little bit of two point cantering, focusing on getting my butt back and out of the saddle and not breaking my body in half in the middle. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Explosive Energy

Today Louie was all wound up for some reason.  I attempted to ride, but he was really nervous, gawking at everything, wouldn't listen, and when I asked him to go sideways because he was being stupid looking at something, he ground his teeth and acted even more wound up.  He pooped 4 times in about 10 minutes of walk-trot work.  We got some decent walking in, but every time as soon as we tried to trot, he fell apart and was back to his nervous behavior. 

So I thought, I'm not going to fight this battle today.  I hopped off, hooked up some side reins, and lunged him for about 20-30 minutes. 

He started off at a racetrack trot.  Shortly after taking off at a trot, he started bucking, kicking, and just working out some of the extra energy that was apparently built up inside of him.  I was worried he was going to kick one of the walls, but thankfully he didn't.  He continued this fast trot- buck/kick routine, then cantered, bucked a bunch of times, and thought he was pretty hot stuff.  So we just kept going. . . I was glad I wasn't riding.

Eventually he settled down and actually relaxed.  I was able to ask him to lower his neck by wiggling my lunge line and praising him.  He picks up on that type of thing pretty easily.  By the end I had a very nice training level trot that was relaxed, round, and active.  I also had a very sweaty horse. . . we'll try again tomorrow, and hopefully I'll have a cooperative animal!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lesson 9: Quieting the Hands and Seat and Adding Impulsion

Tonight we worked on a little bit of everything. We started out with a little bit of lateral work with shoulder in and renvers along the straight away.  Julie wants me to "think" renvers when I do my corners, to help me get deeper into them at the walk. 

We worked a lot at first on medium walk to free walk, and Julie reminded us that when a test calls for free walk, the horse has got to do it "now!" or you'll lose points if they take half of the distance to lower the neck.  We're getting the hang of this pretty well, but we can always use some improvement in transitions.

We then worked a little bit on our half-halts and the beginnings of extension.  Basically what she wants me to do is to half halt for several strides, then "Go!" by changing the "attitude" of my body and thinking extension from my belly button.  Not add leg, give the reins, or anything like that, more releasing the impulsion created in the half halt into forward movement.  I think I have yet to figure out exactly what the attitude change I'm looking for is, but I think for now Louie's probably going to feel it as a different speed and height of posting.  We got a little bit of some decent extension, but it's inconsistent yet.

We then worked on a little bit of sitting trot with no stirrups and Julie was kind of laughing as I sat the best when I was fumbling around looking for my stirrups.  That is part of my homework, to slowly start to introduce some sitting trot, in short bursts, starting with just more frequent changes of my posting diagonal, then sitting 3 strides, 4 strides, 5 strides, etc until Louie doesn't really seem to notice or care whether I'm sitting or posting, as right now, he seems to think it's a really big deal if I change from one to another. 

After a little bit Julie had had enough of me bending my wrists so she put on some old wrist braces that she had and made me ride in those.  They immobilize the wrist joint so you have to use your shoulder more.  I do think it helped, as I know that I use my wrists a lot in an effort at subtlety, but in using my reins so much, I am killing Louie's confidence and teaching him to back off of the bit.  So far the wrist braces actually really seem like they're going to help with that.  I have to wear them for at least the next week.  Julie says Bill Woods (a clinician who is actually coming for a clinic later this spring) thinks of the arm like a hollow tube from the fingers to the elbow, and the rein goes through that tube and attaches at the elbow.  I can see how this will help, I just need to make it a habit, which means I could be wearing the wrist braces for many months. 

We then worked out some issues we were having with Louie wanting to curl back and duck behind the bit once in a while.  Julie hopped on for a few seconds and basically so far what we're going to try to do is basically "grunt it out" with strong abs.  So, for example, in the trot, if he ducks back behind the bit, I need to keep my reins the same length, add my calves, make sure my back is not arched, and use my stomach strongly to keep him from going too fast.  So I'm using my stomach (as strongly as needed) for breaks instead of my reins, and hopefully he will reach out into the contact.  Another technique that often helps is to either slow down or speed up within the gait, make a gait change, or add more bend/lateral work.  Julie stressed the importance of getting him to reach down into the bit and really establish a solid training level frame before proceeding to the higher levels, as if we don't get him reaching down, he'll just drop his back instead of doing the work properly. 

Lastly, she hiked my stirrups up 6 notches and I rode the canter in 2 point "jockey style" trying to maintain my head and torso in a constant position with the horse moving under me.  She says doing this for a while should help me to eventually sit the canter without breaking my body in the middle as I so often do in the canter.  She said we had a very nice jumping position, so that is good as this is something we work on outside of lessons on occasion too (just not with this short of stirrups).  This is part of my homework, as well as wearing the wrist braces and working on a little more sitting trot.  I'm also going to really try to work on my half halts more, though Julie did agree that I really like homework as we do some pretty decent discovery and make progress between lessons.  I am super excited to start working on more extension!  But for now, we've got other things to fix, so I've got to be patient, but of course I'll try it out from time to time. 

It was cold, a high of about 14 degrees today, and despite my apron clip that Louie got, he still managed to work up a pretty solid sweat, as did I!  So, we may have to think about extending his clip. . .

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lesson 8: Gas and Brakes in Every Step

Today we warmed up with some half-passing across the diagonal, then halting at X and doing a 360 turn on the forehand, then continuing the half pass along the diagonal.  We did this several times rather well at the walk, though we could use a little bit more bend in the direction of the movement (hey- it's renvers at an angle!) and a relaxed, lower neck. 

After this, we worked extensively on half halts.  We started with halting from the walk after just a few steps (using leg and seat only).  We then progressed to eventually walking one step, then halt, then take one step then halt.  This required a TON of ab strength to keep him from walking further than one step.  What Julie says is that we need to have gas and brakes in each step- you need to be engaged and able to go faster and slow down with instant responsiveness at all times.  Once we got this single-step gas-brakes-gas-brakes (feels like being in a traffic jam) down pretty well, we walked along continuously, but it was noticeable how much each step was purposeful and individual after doing this exercise.

Then we tried it at the trot.  Our halt was not as good through the trot as Julie doesn't want me to sit for the transition as Louie drops his back when I do that. We needed to learn the "pulley rope" and how to really stop with using the legs. Using the legs to ask the horse to stop is really counter intuitive- until you understand that the rider's legs are asking the horse's hind legs to go forward, and the rider's seat/core is asking the horse's front legs to stop, which, if done properly, should result in a horse who stops with his legs up under his body. 

Well, horses aren't born (or in Louie's case, aren't initially trained) to stop when they feel the legs being applied.  So, we use the "pulley rope" to teach it.  The legs are applied while the seat says "whoa," and the inside hand acts as an anchor for the rein, planted on the neck while the outside hand gently (read: as lightly as possible) pulls the rein back/up through the pulley (ie the bit) until the horse slows or stops.  I was surprised using this method, that he actually did stop, and didn't need a ton of rein for this.  Our plan is to only use the pulley rein concept as needed until Louie understands the concept of stopping/half halting off of the leg and seat alone (well, pretty much alone- but the point is to not crank on his face), as this does cause his neck to shrink up instead of lowering so nicely like we've been seeing lately. 

At the end we worked on trotting down the center line and halting at X, using the legs, the seat (stilling the seat, almost staying in 2 point until we were stopped), and the pulley rein to halt. 

By the end of the lesson, we had a pretty decent half halt, which is pretty much exactly what we worked on throughout the lesson.  Though sometimes it was actual halting, many times we used it to almost transition from the trot to the walk, then keep trotting.  Stopping with my legs and the pulley rein, and working on our half halting is my homework for the week.