Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Hypothetical Answer

The overwhelming majority seems to be in favor of fixing the canter, then re-doing the transition. I can't believe no one picked up on the most obvious answer: Don't make a bad transition! ;)

Unfortunately, it's not always that easy. In a perfect world, you would think, "Oh, the horse has lost impulsion, or contact, or both and won't be able to make this transition.... Abort!" But, that takes a lot of precision, quickness and "feel" and doesn't always happen. I have heard good arguments for both of the hypothetical scenarios I put forth. I think it depends on where you and the horse are in your training.

If you are on a young or naive horse, I think it is correct to keep the canter, fix it if you can, then transition downward and re-do. The young horse is still learning the aids, he may not understand if you correct him when he did what you asked to the best of his ability.

On a more experienced horse who knows the aids, it becomes a really grey area in my opinion. On one hand, the horse complied with my request, he cantered. On the other hand, I'm not just asking for canter anymore. I'm asking for a quiet, collected transition and a good canter. So, if the horse doesn't comply, I should probably immediately transition back down and re-do. But, if I'm in a bad, unbalanced canter, my downward transition will be bad, and I will get a bad trot that I have to fix. And then I will have made two bad transitions when what I was trying to do is make one good one.

Generally, I like to fix the canter, then transition downward and re-do. I don't like to make a ton of bad transitions. But, I can see where that logic may eventually fail me. In operant conditioning theory (the theory we use to train animals) the "aids" fit into negative reinforcement. You apply the aid until the horse complies. The aid is uncomfortable, the reward for the horse is the release of the aid. The immediate correction, which involves a bad downward transition and then an immediate request for the upward transition, is also uncomfortable for the horse. The horse learns that if he does the transition correctly, the way you wanted it, the aids will be released.

A bad transition happens when the horse comes off the aids. Now, why did the horse come off the aids? Is it because you allowed him to? That goes back to not making a bad transition. Don't allow bad transitions, then you won't need to worry about fixing them. Ha!

In conclusion, I think I will be doing my best to not make bad transitions. I will prepare, prepare, prepare and if I feel that my transition might be bad, I will abort, re-collect and then try again.

In the event of a bad transition (which is probable) I'll just wing it. *L*

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Not So Hypothetical Question

As I was working Spider today, I thought of something. We were working on trot to canter transitions. Specifically, we were working on making the trot to canter and canter to trot transitions good.

Say you are making an upward transition from trot to canter. Say you make a bad transition. Your bad transition results in a bad canter. Do you immediately transition back to trot and redo the upward transition, possibly risking making a bad downward transition as well? Or, do you fix the canter, make the downward transition and then redo the upward transition?

I can see pros and cons for both scenarios. But I'm interested in everyone else's opinions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fixing My Balance

It is the opinion of my trainer (and I agree with him) that many of the problems I'm having come from my lack of balance.

I had him get on Spider the last time he was here. Spider went beautifully, of course. He was even able to get shallow half passes on him. I haven't schooled half pass in well over a year. On one hand, it's nice to know that I have done a good job training him, but on the other hand it's a bit humiliating because I can't ride him that well. You'd think the person who trained the horse would be able to ride him best. Although, several trainers I hold in high regard have said that the mark of a well trained horse is that anyone can ride it.

So, how to fix my balance? Sitting on a horse, most of your balance is coming from your core. I do Pilates and Yoga every day for that. I really like the balancing Yoga poses, particularly Eagle, Warrior III, and Half Moon poses, for building core strength and balance. But, I had a bit of an "Aha!" moment yesterday.

I've been noticing that my shoulders and upper back have been sore after riding. It's an area that riders don't neccessarily concentrate on much (or, not this rider, anyway). But, to follow and give the reins, you need to be able to move your arms while maintaining a solid core. I'm having a bit of trouble with this right now, I tend want to collapse if I move my arms at all. So, I thought to myself "Maybe I should do some exercises out of the saddle to work the muscles that are sore in my back". If I can strengthen them, perhaps I can fix this out of balance problem. So, I broke out my exercise ball and dumbells and did some seated rows on the ball. I also spent a little time bouncing the baby while sitting on the ball, and lifting him up above my head. During all this exercise I tried to be very conscious of my core, keeping it well engaged so that I didn't collapse in my middle. Sitting on the ball helps with this, if you don't keep your core engaged on the ball it starts moving around, threatening to dump you on the floor. Sort of like a horse. *L*

We'll see if my upper body strength training helps. It certainly can't hurt.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Lesson

I have been slacking! Well, on the blog front anyway. I have not been slacking in everything else.

Fall is a trying time of year. On one hand, the weather is mostly beautiful. On the other hand, I have many, many chores to do. Winterizing the farm is a lot of work. My latest chore is filling in the low spots in front of the barn with stone dust. The horses wear down paths that get muddy and freeze in the winter. I'm trying to put a little stone dust in there every fall. Hopefully someday I'll have a nice, mud proof area there.

I took another lesson with my trainer last week. I'm trying to get myself squared away before winter sets in. Winter riding is a pain, the better I am going into it, the better I will come out.... I hope.

Anyway, my trainer was pleased to note that I have made progress since last time he saw me. That's always nice to hear. I'm following the horse's movement well, but now I need to work on speed and accuracy in my corrections. It's mostly a fitness issue. My fitness, that is. My core is weak and I'm using my reins to balance myself. I need to concentrate on engaging my abdominal muscles, especially when I give the reins, so as not to lose the horse's frame or jerk at his face. It's getting better, though. Slowly.

I have been very pleased to note that the last several times I've ridden Spider he has had a lot of lovely white foam on his lips. Today it was even on his knees where he had drooled a bit. It also ended up all over my clean shirt after the ride, but these things happen sometimes. I'm not going to complain about a bit of foam on my shirt!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Of Those Days

I often have days where I just feel like a slug. No energy whatsoever. Spider was having one of those days today. I'll admit, I was a little off my game, too. This sitting trot stuff is taking it's toll on my poor old joints. But still, I wanted to ride anyway. So I went and got Spider and started to groom him up.

I'm not much of a groom. My basic non-show groom consists of knocking the dirt off where the saddle goes, looking at his legs for boo-boos or swelling and picking feet. It takes less than five minutes. Apparently, at some point during my less than five minute grooming, Spider fell asleep. I found this out when I went to pick up his right front foot and he nearly fell over. Then he had the audacity to give me a dirty look for disturbing him. I was the one who nearly got squished, and he's giving me the stink eye?

Once I was in the saddle, his energy level didn't really improve. I mean, I know that technically the walk is a gait without impulsion... but this was ridiculous. From a lethargic walk, we moved into a lethargic trot. On the bright side, it was easy to sit!

And then he tripped behind. And I remembered my promise to him. I promised him that I would never let him trip again. Time to get serious. I sat down, shortened my reins and kicked him up into gear. We ended up having a pretty good ride after that. Not the best, the impulsion really wasn't as "there" as I would have liked it, but he didn't trip again. I suppose that's a win.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sitting Trot

I haven't been sitting the trot lately, partly because Spider was out of shape and partly because I thought he was lame. Turns out he wasn't lame, I just forgot how to ride. Anyway, I attempted sitting trot today, for the first time in at least six months (probably longer). It did not turn out well. I probably should have seen that coming.

I actually didn't even set out with sitting trot in mind. I was going to do changes through the trot to prepare for simple changes. Spider has a flying change already, and sometimes a simple change, but we haven't done them in a great while (like, since last year). I wanted to start with something easy. Ha!

So, this was the set up: I was going to ride a figure eight, doing the change through trot in the center. In retrospect, I probably should have attempted the change across the diagonal of the arena, rather than attempting it on a 20m circle. But, hey, why not go for broke?

In asking for the change through trot, I knew I would have to sit the trot for 2-3 strides (or 4-5... it has been awhile since we've attempted anything like this). No big deal, right? Wrong. As soon as Spider made the downward transition I started flopping around on his back like a dying fish. Somehow, through my flailing and flopping, I managed to change direction and get him to pick up his left lead for the next half of the figure eight. It wasn't pretty. At the next change, he picked up the wrong lead, due to my utter inability to give a decent cue through my bouncing. *Note to self, Spider is fit enough to counter-canter... nice!

Obviously, someone needed to work on sitting trot. So, I abandoned my changes and took up a 20m circle. First I did walk to trot transitions. I trotted him until I started to bounce, then went back to walk. Then back to trot. Then back to walk. You get the idea. I don't know how long we did that, but I have a headache now. And a backache. And my hips hurt.

This story doesn't have a happy ending, yet. My hips are very tight, they need to learn to be loose again so that they can swing with the horse, instead of bouncing me around. We'll keep working on it. We'll get there.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Thoughts On Forward

Forward is a tricky thing. It's easy to get fooled. If I had a dime for every time I've heard "Not faster, forward!", it would pay for all my lessons. It helps to remember the training scale: Rhythm, Relaxation, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection.

First you need to develop rhythm and relaxation, then take the contact, and then you can begin to establish impulsion by driving the horse forward into the contact. Not faster, faster will allow the horse to become unbalanced and fall onto the forehand. It's a tricky thing, indeed. The nice thing about having proper contact is that you should be able to feel when the horse falls onto the forehand. With Spider, it suddenly feels as though I'm going to be pulled out of the saddle, or my arms are going to be ripped out. That feeling is pretty consistent across all the Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds I've ridden. Some breeds I've ridden are different, Iberian breeds come to mind. They always feel light in the bridle, in my experience, whether they're on the forehand or not. I think it's just the way they're built. Anyway, back to Spider and forward and schwung and all that......

We're doing loads of transitions to improve Spider's impulsion. Transitions between gaits, transitions within gaits. Transitions on circles, in serpentines and in straight lines. Transisitions everywhere. I honestly can't think of a better way to create forward energy than asking for upward and downward transitions. I've been wracking my brain for new ideas, too. Transitions do get boring after awhile. Small circles and lateral work sort of build impulsion. Except that if you don't have impulsion you won't be able to do them. So, they don't really build impulsion, they reinforce it. Important, but not quite the same. Looks like I'm stuck with transitions.

Monday, October 11, 2010

An Interesting Ride

Yesterday afternoon was beautiful. A perfect day for riding. My neighbors thought so, too. They have dirt bikes. Apparently, Spider is not so fond of dirt bikes. Oh well, he's a show horse, and show horses need to be used to strange things. Not that I've ever seen dirt bikes at a show ground.... but, honestly, I've seen weirder things. Dirt bikes should be no big deal.

Spider is a Thoroughbred. Well, I think he's a Thoroughbred, anyway. He was sold to me as a Thoroughbred Sporthorse, but he doesn't have papers, tattoos or brands so really he could be just about anything. But, he looks like a Thoroughbred and acts like a Thoroughbred, so I call him a Thoroughbred. Anyway, my point was.... Spider is a Thoroughbred and as such can be rather noodle-brained and spooky. But, he is honest. He never tries to unseat me, he just wants to get away from the scary thing. Which I understand, and respect. However, he must respect that I would not put him in danger and he must do as I ask. So, we had a bit of an argument. He had to decide which was scarier: being eaten by a dirt bike, or disobeying me.

That's not to say that I rule my horse through fear, or that I think he should fear me. Far from it. But, he does need to understand that disobedience will be punished. He is a show horse, he will encounter strange situations and scary things. He must accept my guidance in these situations.

Spider's evasion in the face of monsters is always the same: Spin around and try to scurry away. It's so very fitting for a horse named "Spider". I used my standard response for monster induced drama: ride the horse, ignore the drama, sing a happy song. These dirt bike monsters turned out to be scarier than windy day monsters, though. Spider began trying to refuse to go into parts of the arena closest to where the dirt bikes had been (by this time the neighbors were in the woods on the far side of their property, nowhere near us). Not cool. In my experience, once you allow a horse to avoid one part of an arena, it's not very long before you're riding a ten meter circle at the entrance because your horse spooks in every corner. I had to tap him with the whip a few times to get his attention and let him know that refusal is not acceptable. The nice thing about not using your whip much is that when you need it, you get a big response. It went like this: He would suck back and try to spin away from one corner of the arena. I would bump him with my leg, making sure to give with my reins (in my experience with these situations, kicking and blocking with your hand at the same time creates explosions). If he still refused, or refused again, he got a tap with the whip. When he moved forward without shying he was praised and told how brave he was. The entire time I remained loose and calm.

In the end, he accepted that the dirt bikes probably were not going to eat him. And I got a very forward horse. Since I had a very forward horse and needed to do something challenging to keep his mind off the dirt bikes, we worked on lengthenings. And I concentrated on riding every single step. I had him do a few voltes in the corner, then lengthen down the long side and back to volte in the next corner. We did those at trot and canter. A few times I asked for leg yields off the volte instead of lengthenings. Spider likes to anticipate, if you do an exercise the same way too many times he soon starts doing it without you. I should probably have tried some half-passes, he certainly had the impulsion for it. I didn't think of it, though.

Even though the ride started off rocky, I ended up having one of the best rides I've had in a long time. At the end, I was grinning and singing Spider's praises. I would like to recreate that same impulsion and control over every step in my future rides. Preferably without the aid of dirt bikes.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Windy Days

Windy days always go one of two ways:

1. Horse is excited, but still listens. You get tons of forward energy and have a super fun ride.

2. Horse decides every swirling leaf and funny noise is a giant horse eating mountain lion and you spend entire ride convincing horse that is not the case.

Yesterday we had scenario number two. What a pain. But, every problem is an opportunity to learn, right? So, what did I learn yesterday? Well, nothing new, really. But I got positive reinforcement of things I already knew.

Many, many years ago, when I was younger, hardier and bouncier, I knew exactly what my strengths were as a rider. I was young, I had a sticky seat and I was dumber than a box of rocks (although, back then I called it "brave"). These strengths combined to make me a strong, fearless rider, albeit not a very knowledgeable or sensitive one. As years passed, I realized that bounciness and stupidity were only going to get me so far. I fell into a very awkward phase in my riding. I wasn't as foolhardy, and didn't have the knowledge to back me up. So, I immersed myself in every scrap of information I could find. I rode every horse I could get my hands on. I talked to every trainer who would give me the time of day. I learned that knowledge is power. And with power comes confidence.

So, on a windy day when my horse is spooking at everything, I don't need to be brave. I know what to do: ride the horse. Ride every step. If I take control, calmly and confidently, my horse will follow. And if he doesn't, my calm, confident attitude should help me deal with the meltdown.

Now, here's a little secret. When a horse is sucking back, spooking, starting and spinning, it's nerve-wracking. I'm not immune to that. But, I have a trick. I sing. Loudly. Usually off-key. I'm a huge Beatles fan, so I usually choose "Yesterday" or "In My Life". When I'm feeling ironic I like "The Fool On The Hill". But, really, the song doesn't matter. It's the singing. Singing regulates your breathing. When you regulate your breathing, you calm down, focus and relax. You look like a lunatic to outsiders, but at least you're a calm, relaxed lunatic.

So, since Spider wanted to spook and spin, I started singing and put him to work. Just like my mind needed something to focus on to keep from spooking, his mind needed something to focus on, too. I put him on a 15 meter circle and we did transitions between walk and trot. At first he was tense and the transitions were bad, but as we worked he loosened up. Eventually we got some good transitions and were able to venture off our little circle. The key was to ride every step. If I'm riding and concentrating, I'm in control.

Today, it was still windy. But, I had scenario number one, and we had a good ride. I'd like to think it was because of my confidence yesterday in the face of horse-eating monsters. Or perhaps Spider just didn't want to hear my singing again.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stringhalt Saves The Day

Vinny, my old retiree, is still suffering the effects of stringhalt. I am told it will take a year or more before he returns to normal. He has adjusted quite well, though. He has learned that he can canter much more easily that he can walk or trot, so he cruises around at a slow canter all day. Because he lifts his hind legs too high, from the stringhalt, he makes a sort of "clop-clop" noise when he canters. It's quite distinct and very loud. We joke that he can't sneak up on anybody. That came in handy this morning.

In the wee hours of the morning, about 4am, I was awakened by the distinct staccato rhythm of Vinny's canter. Coming from the front lawn. I sat up just in time to see a large, white body go cantering past my window. There's no missing Vinny, he sticks out like a sore thumb, even in the dark. And he makes enough noise to wake the dead.

I rushed out and turned the floodlights on. Sure enough, all three horses were standing on the front lawn. How? The gate to the back pasture was standing wide open. Now, I'm not one to leave gates open, especially not after bed time. I check the gates a few times before going in for the night. But, before I could investigate further, I needed to capture the wayward beasts. Fortunately, Spider is completely lacking in guile. He came trotting right up to me as soon as he saw me. I led him back into the pasture and the others followed, with a little prodding from my husband. I checked everyone over for boo-boos, then headed over to where my long-suffering, non-horsey husband was trying to figure out how the gate had gotten open.

Turns out, all the rain has softened up the ground just enough to allow the gate post to wiggle a bit. It wiggles just enough that if you push the gate at the right time, while wiggling the post, the gate will pop open. The buggers must have been scratching their butts on the gate and managed to pop it open.

I have no idea how long they were out for. My forensic investigation only turned up one poo pile, which leads me to believe they weren't out very long. They did manage to get into a lot of mischief while they were out, though. The mud made it very easy to track them. Since Spider and Vinny have very different shaped hooves, I was also able to easily tell who had been where. Vinny went straight for the lawn. Spider, on the other hand, took the grand tour.

First he got on the deck. Yes, on the deck. It's a raised wooden deck, the kind that you would think a horse would avoid. He then nosed around in the gazebo, rearranging the cushions on the patio furniture there. Then he climbed off the deck and into the arena, noodled around in there for a bit, then climbed over (climbed over, I saw the hoof prints) the 3 ft tall dirt berm that is supposed to keep horses out of the neighbors yard if they get loose (sorry neighbors). Apparently something spooked him in the neighbors yard, because there was a huge a divot where he spun and jumped back into the arena. From there, he decided to check out the tractor, which is parked next to the arena, then on to the carport to investigate the cars. Thank goodness the garage doors were closed, I shudder to think of the havoc he could have wreaked in there with the motorcycles and power tools. After investigating the cars, he walked down through the landscaping next to the house and into the front lawn to join his friends, which is where I found him.

The gate was an easy enough fix. We jammed a screwdriver through the latch, then secured the gate to the post with some baling twine and a snap. Once the weather dries out we'll reset the post. It's sort of a pain to get in and out with the new "security features", but I'm pretty sure you need opposable thumbs to get that gate open now. We'll see. If they do get manage to get it open again, at least I know I can depend on Vinny and his stringhalt to give them away!



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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Forward- Or Lack Thereof

I've always hated the word "forward" as it applies to dressage. It just doesn't mean what you think it should mean. Dictionary definitions for forward include: near, being at or belonging to the forepart; situated in advance; strongly inclined; lacking modesty or reserve....etc. None of those definitions have anything to do with the dressage concept "forward". Well, some riders I know fit the "lacking modesty or reserve" definition. Ahem, I digress...

I like the word impulsion better. It conjures up images of engines and energy for me. It is a bit bulky and awkward to use in conversation, though.

There's always the German word "schwung". It's fun to say. "More schwung!" "He isn't schwung-y enough!" Of course, I can't help but giggle whenever I hear the word "schwung" used in conversation. Just try to keep a straight face while someone bemoans their gelding's lack of schwung. Impossible.

Back to forward. I don't know that I can really put into words what forward is to me. It's certainly more than just the property of moving forward. So many riders make that mistake, driving the horse faster and faster until they're careening out of control, on the forehand and rushing. To me, forward feels almost slow. No, not really slow.... suspended in time. It feels as though time is standing still and I can feel and control every footfall of the horse. If it doesn't feel like that, that I can control every footfall, then I know the horse isn't really forward. It's hard to describe. I suppose that's why the best word anyone could come up with for it is "forward".

Spider and I are continuing to work on our impulsive forward schwungness. It's getting better. We're doing a lot of transitions, flexing in and out of a circle and leg yields. But, mostly we're doing transitions. Transitions build up muscle and get a horse under himself like nobody's business. By next week I want to have him consistently on the bit and using his back so I can start to bring back the 2nd level work, mainly counter canter and the dreaded canter-walk transitions. I hate those things.

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Back To Basics

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