Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lesson on Ninja Turtles

I had a lesson this week that was a little different progress than what we've been working on lately.  The weather took a major turn in the past week, from nice fall days in the 50's to 20's and snow.  Needless to say, Louie has been a bit "disconnected" in return.

We started our lesson working on the walk as usual, with a discussion about how much the horse's head should move in the walk.  Julie's opinion is that if the horse is working the hind end, the head should not move significantly so that you need to give with the hands to follow the horse's mouth.  Since I've alwyas followed the horse's mouth with my hands in the walk, this is a challenge for me, but to Julie, the problem was simply that Louie's hind end was trailing, not driving.  So to correct this, we assumed "Ninja Turtle" posture- creating angles in my body to create a similar angle in Louie's body.  So a Ninja Turtle is basically a curled back (shell) with knees and hips flexed to almost 90 degrees and arms straight out front from the shoulders.  In addition, during this, you lay your whip and slow the horse down.  When the hind end comes up under the horse, you can assume normal riding position.

With this, we worked on the walk, then into the trot- we worked on the transition.  While Julie kept saying, "don't let him piaffe!" I really don't know how to not let him do it, lol!  The answer is go a little more sideways.  Though, on a side note- she really liked his piaffe and suggested maybe he ought to work more on it!  But the basic goal is to have him engaged in the hind end in the walk so that he can basically piaffe into the trot.  Now this is a tricky balance since he tends to teeter totter between over-relaxed (heavy on the forehand, good reach with the neck, sluggish, and no transitions) and over excited (often over-collected, sometimes no contact, antsy, practically rearing, but engaged!)    So I probably have to use the Ninja Turtle briefly just for a transition to avoid excessive frustration.

We also worked a lot on trotting and half halts, and using the wall as an aid when the half halt doesn't go through.  Now this is kind of nice for teaching it, but it's not my favorite exercise as I don't always have a wall available when I need to half halt or stop without my hands.  But I nearly always have 1 rein and space to turn on the forehand or go sideways.  So, I can use any of the above methods to make my half halt go through.  One note on that though, is that Julie doesn't want me to overdo the correction, so I don't always need a big turn on the forehand if Louie won't yield, just a little sideways may be an ample correction a lot of the time.  Seems reasonable to me.

One of the biggest themes we worked on throughout the entire lesson was my hands- or basically lessening the use of them.  They need to always be pushing forward into the neck, and rarely pulling back- and when they do need to pull back for something, just do it briefly, then go right back to pushing forward into the neck.  No cheating!  Half halts, everything, should be hands free.  So this, I think is really important, because I do tend to be very busy with my hands, not necessarily hard, but just frequent little pulls or wiggles to get Louie's attention or encourage him to stretch, or whatever.  And while this might be fine to cover things up in the show ring, it does nothing beneficial for our training, so I'm always kind of temporizing a bigger problem by making it "look" like Louie is doing everything right.  Sometimes he actually is, but sometimes I'm helping.  The bigger problem with it is that all that backward motion with my hands translates to backward movement in the horse, and breaks the delicate connection that develops due to trust in my hands.  So... I've got some homework to do!

My homework is lots of transitions, Ninja Turtle to get the hind end engaged, and then piaffe into the trot, and NO hand wiggling- plant them on the neck and push them forward!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Catch up: a couple good lessons and a hunters pace!

I've been neglectful of this blog of late. So here are a few of the recent highlights:

1.  Long Lake Hounds hunters pace- we took Louie and Jackson and had a blast!! We rode fast, completed it in 1 hour 8 minutes, and beat the goal time by about 12 minutes.  We cut an hour off of Louie's last effort!  We will be sure to be back, my husband wants to win next year!

2. Great lesson 2 weeks ago on haunches in- with work on the turn on the haunches and half pass. It's coming along nicely, and connecting to the square exercise by doing the half halt with the inside leg, then catching the horses hind end with the outside leg so they don't actually turn on the forehand. The next step is releasing into more energy and stretch...

3. ... And that's where we picked up today with another great lesson! Exercises to build up impulsion and motor, with half halts then releasing into extensions. First exercise was spiral in, sit to the inside, use the outside aids and not too much inside bend. When you get a nice impulsive trot, spiral out, then shoulder in along the long side.  Next exercise is trotting 10 m circles or half circles, making effortless changes to the next half circle, then after 3 or 4 of them, shoulder in a few steps down the long side and then extend the trot for a few strides across the half diagonal. Can be done sitting trot or posting, need "half half and go's" throughout the circles and whip during the shoulder in and extension- don't overdo the shoulder in.  Julie notes we will probably also get better trot extensions sometimes after working on a powerful canter.  Next exercise- trot spiral in, when you get a nice trot, spiral out and canter. Half halts in the canter focusing on arms up, whip, tuck, and toes/stand, and after a circle or two, extend canter down the long side, a few strides, and before the horse falls on his face in extension, collect back up and canter a circle. Rinse, repeat, but not too much.

Today's lesson was in the outdoor arena- on October 30th, yes!! And it was great! Louie was awesome and Julie has been very happy with our riding so clearly we are doing something right!!  We had a great lesson and have been learning a lot, making strides toward advancement, and doing really well!! Too bad it's fall, no shows for many months...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Breakthrough the Dreaded Square Exercise

 I had a breakthrough of sorts this weekend when I rode Louie. I had had a lesson 3 days prior, and I really focused on what we worked on that day- controlling every step, half halting in the corners and turning on the forehand if he didn't respond.  All the while, working on this square exercise that's perplexed me for 2 years, I think I worked it out for myself during this ride.

As a reminder, the square exercise, according to my original understanding, was an exercise performed at any gait, where you basically ride in a square, asking for a half halt followed by a turn on the forehand at each corner.  Some how this is supposed to make the horse half halt and use their hind end with each corner. 

So here is my basic interpretation/concepts that help me to understand how to use it during my ride... the square exercise is basically the preliminary step to install a "half halt button" on the horse.  when you ask for a half halt, if you don't get an immediate answer, you briefly apply your inside aids (whip, leg, rein) as a correction to say, "hey, wake up, I said half halt/slow down, and you just blew through my aids."  It has to be a quick/abrupt correction, not just pulling the horse in a circle, but getting their front end to stop abruptly while any bit of their remaining momentum is carried out by the hind legs until they come to a near-halt, then you can proceed forward and relax the aids and carry on. 

If you do it frequently- like 4 times in every circle, they come to expect that they could be asked to stop at any moment and they start moving about under much more control.  After a few corrections, they start to feel those inside aids when you start to ask for your half halt (core becoming still, inside leg (well both legs, but more inside), inside rein) and they start to automatically half halt because they know the correction is coming if they don't slow down, rebalance, and stay with you.  Eventually, you can go around and use a more subtle core contraction/stilling of the seat with a little bit of leg (seems that applying more inside leg gets the desired response) and closing the inside hand just slightly and they offer the half halt with much less drama.  So basically, the correction (quick turn on the forehand) results from an exaggerated form of the cue for the half halt.

I worked on this at the walk for a long time, then the trot for a while until he seemed really responsive on both sides, then I tried it at the canter (only half halting about 3 times per circle instead of my usual 4- it's just tough to do it every other stride for starters) and we had some really great half halts!  Especially at the canter, he felt the inside leg and just rebalanced and slowed down beautifully.  I then used it to do my downward transition, and while it wasn't great, it was a lot less rushy/trotting/falling down than normal. 

So, I'm not sure if I've got the right interpretation of the exercise, but after 2 years I think I finally understand it.  The square exercise installs the "half halt button" by showing them a very mild form of the same aids (inside leg, core, inside rein) that would be used to quickly stop their front end in the turn on the forehand. 

not sure if it's right, but worked well for us!  Success!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Schooling Show

We did it!  At the last minute I entered out in-barn schooling show with Louie this past weekend.  It was really fun and a little nerve-wracking.  I guess it had been a while since I'd experienced show nerves! 

I hadn't ridden basically since my lesson a month ago, except the night before the show, out of desperation.  He was really good for that long of a vacation!  Super responsive, listened to me, just like he never missed a beat!  The only way I could tell he was out of shape was by looking at the extra pounds he is carrying due to the beautiful lush pastures coming in this spring. 

We rode our tests back to back, First level test 2, followed by training level test 3.  Louie did really a nice, respectable job.  He didn't stretch well because he was nervous (he pooped, I swear, 8 times during our warm-up).  His extensions in First Level weren't fabulous, but they were half way okay given his lack of training in that department.  But what was really great was his lateral work.  Had that first level test not called for leg yielding, we would have scored a lot lower, but the judge gave us an 8 on one of them, with a double coefficient!  We also did well on our harmony and submission, and the judge wrote in the collective comments, "your horse loves you!" and she also told me this and that she thought Louie was very elegant at the conclusion of the rides.  So that was kinda fun.

Anyhow, he was a really good boy and it felt great to get back in the saddle and ride!  3 days in a row I ended up riding, so we're on a roll!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lesson- Loosening the Legs

Louie and I have been having some nice rides lately, just not as often as I'd like.  We had a lesson last week that really focused on getting me to stop gripping with my legs (read: knees) and just letting them kinda flop.

We worked on a lot of free walking with a really fast and reaching pace, focusing on him walking hard enough to drop his head and just keeping the lower body loose and flopping.

This helps to keep my hips and knees loose, and keep the weight out of my stirrups.  We found that if I kept my knees bending and flopping off of the horse's sides, he was more relaxed and used himself nicer.  We got some good work from the hind end and nice movement in his back in the trot.  We found that applying (laying) the whip in the sitting trot, then keeping my legs loose and flopping, calves on but knees loose, we got a nice sitting trot that translated into a nice self-supported and engaged canter. 

We were able to get some nice half halts in the canter too by just applying calves, and holding with the reins (not squeezing my abs til the cows come home and hoping he listens)- this resulted in a very quick re-balancing correction, and let us continue on in a nice balanced canter without deteriorating the quality of the canter until we broke to a trot. 

It felt great to get some nice rides in, especially rides that felt good.  I'm looking forward to hopefully getting off the farm this year with a schooling show or two!  And maybe a WSCA show, trail ride, etc...  yay!

Oh, I also got Louie a pretty new halter, but I can't seem to be able to upload it to blogger. Maybe later!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Few Good Rides

Sorry for the lack of updates lately! 

We've had a nice string of decent rides mixed in over the past few weeks/months, when the weather is warm enough to ride.  We're experiencing one of Minnesota's coldest winters that I can remember, which is making riding quite difficult, to say the least. 

We had been having a little bit of a riding crisis a few months ago, toying with jumping, saddle seat, western, and a whole lot of other ideas, but Louie has kinda "bucked up" and shown me that he does perhaps want to be a dressage horse after all!  We haven't had time to commit to regular lessons lately as I'm only able to ride a few times a month, but once the weather warms up a bit and our travelling eases up, I envision getting back into the swing of things and maybe even going to a show this year!

Okay, I won't get too ahead of myself.  For now, happy riding!  And remember my two favorite quotes to live by:

"Practice makes better"

- and -

"Keep your goals high and your expectations low."