Friday, March 22, 2013

Good Hands

After being chastised for pulling my horse into position in my last lesson, I decided to put the "bucking strap" back on my saddle.

I really need to clean my saddle.

It's not really a bucking strap.  I'm actually not sure what it's called, but its a strap that's designed to help you keep your hands in place while you ride.  The idea is to loop your pinky around the strap like so:

I also need to wash my gloves.

The strap is a gentle reminder to keep your hands in position and doesn't allow you to pull.  Only having your pinky on it prevents you from using it to brace yourself.

I've spent the last week warming up like this.  I let go of the strap when I'm ready to work, but the muscle memory remains. If I find myself bracing, I pick up the strap again.

I'm quite pleased with the results so far.  My hands are staying quieter, and Spider seems much more supple.  My abs are also sore, which is always a good sign.  Sore abs mean I'm using my core to support myself, not my reins.

I purchased my strap, and honestly I'm not even sure why I paid for it.  I think I knew the person selling it and it was one of those "political" purchases.  You know, when you buy something from someone because you need to play nice...

You could easily just make one yourself out of baling twine, though.  I had a baling twine one before I purchased the "fancy" one.  Just cut off a piece of baling twine about 20 inches long, then tie it to the D rings on the pommel of your saddle.  Voila!  You have your very own Fancy-Schmancy Hand Keeper-In-Placer!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meteorological Winter Shenanigans

According to the National Weather service, March is the end of meteorological winter in my area.  It is currently snowing, so I'm going to take that with a grain of salt.

But the weekend was mostly nice, especially Sunday, and, since Sunday was St. Patrick's day, Spider and I decided to get up to some shenanigans.

Does the hat make him an Irish Thoroughbred?

We decided that dressage was just far too French of an activity for St. Paddy's, and went for a trail ride instead.

Spider and I have different views on what constitutes a "trail ride".  I like following a nice little trail through the woods, enjoying the scenery, and maybe jumping over a log or two.  Spider likes to make his own trails.  If allowed to choose his own path, he will always just go right off the trail and through the brush.  I think he may have watched "The Man From Snowy River" one too many times as a colt, and now fancies himself a Brumby.

In the last year, we've had two hurricanes, a derecho, and several Nor'easters that have knocked down trees on our usual trails.  Spider loves this, as it means he gets to choose the path around the downed trees.  Unfortunately, he never chooses the path of least resistance:

It's blurry because I'm getting hit in the face by a tree branch. Which is probably why you shouldn't take pictures while "trail" riding.

So we enjoyed a lively afternoon crashing through the woods, mostly off the trail.  Spider has all the grace of a drunk walrus when it comes to "trail" riding, and makes about as much noise.  I think we might have given the local deer and squirrels a heart attack.  But, we had fun and even got to use some dressage.

It turns out that lateral work comes in very handy when your Brumby-wannabe walrus is about to run you into a tree... unless you're taking a picture on your phone, that is.

After we got back from our trail ride we shared a whiskey sour in honor of St. Patrick.  And by "shared", I mean Spider dumped my whiskey sour all over the bar and then licked it up.  Maybe he is Irish, after all....

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Much-Needed Kick in the Breeches

Well, I think I'm officially over my Winter Blahs.

I had a lesson on Wednesday.  My trainer pointed out that, while my transitions, corners and circles were looking very nice, my lateral work had not improved at all.  I decided not to tell him that was because I hadn't been working on my lateral work at all.

In my state of blahness, I have just been jumping on, doing a bunch of transitions and maybe some serpentines or figure eights, then calling it a day.  As a result, my lateral work had suffered a bit.  I was chastised for not staying balanced in the saddle during the shoulder and haunches in and then, because I wasn't balanced, I was pulling my horse into position rather than allowing him to do it on his own.

It is now spring and I need to get into gear.  That means a return to the lateral work, because I need it to do the 3rd, 4th and PSG level work.  No more winter blahs for me!  We're now moving forward into our Spring Workout Plan!

We're going to keep the transitions and corners, and add in some quality lateral work.  And by "quality", I mean I'll be focused on my balance and straightness and just let Spider do his thing.

My Spring Workout Plan also involves cleaning this hot mess up every day.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Rein Back

I use rein backs frequently in my riding.  Most dressage riders I know do not.  The rein back is not considered a "forward" movement, and thus most dressage riders find little use for it in their training.  We dressage riders are always taught "Forward, forward, FORWARD!".

Rein backs are seldom asked for in the tests. As a dressage rider, I have always been told not to school it, but to just let it happen if the test called for it.  Good advice for some, but I do find it useful in my training.

I come from a western riding background, in which rein back is used much more frequently, so I never had the prejudice against it that I find many dressage riders do. I was brought up riding "working horses", cow horses, trail horses, etc.  Rein backs were useful for working cattle, getting out of tight spaces, and opening and closing gates while mounted.  They were always taught to horses, and schooled frequently.  You did not want to be stuck in the brush with a horse who didn't understand a rein back!

I find the rein back is also very good for riding in busy boarding barns, as you never know when some idiot fellow boarder is going to invade your space with her darling Schnergleumfinwangin, the fancy imported Warmblood who likes to assault every horse within striking distance just because he knows his rider isn't going to do a damn thing about it.

As soon as I got Spider, I made sure to teach him a good rein back (mainly to protect him from the many Schnergleumfinwangins that I boarded with).  Then I brought him home to my little farm and started trail riding, and I continued to use rein backs to get us out of the sticky situations we found ourselves in while out exploring.

Now, as Spider and I are moving into the more difficult levels of dressage and delving further into the idea of collection, I have found even more use for the rein back.  When used tactfully and judiciously, it is an excellent exercise for strengthening the haunches and increasing collection.

This seems counter-intuitive. It is not a "forward" movement, how could it possibly increase collection?

Properly done, the rein back requires the horse to tilt his pelvis under his body.  This tucking under of the pelvis is the base of collection: it causes the back to round up and gives more power and range to the hind legs.  So, while the rein back is not a "forward" movement, it is still a good exercise to use when working on collection.......

With a few caveats:

1.  It should never be used as punishment! It is an exercise, and should be treated as such.  Don't get pissed off because your horse isn't on the bit and then back him around the arena to "fix it".  It's not going to work.  The horse has to be on the bit to do a proper rein back! (I should write that last sentence in all caps, but I don't want to be too obnoxious)

2. Don't drill it! It's a very difficult exercise for a horse, do it a few times, then be done.  If you over-tire the horse, you will lose the quality of the rein back and then you've lost the entire purpose of the exercise.  3-4 steps is enough for each rein back.

3. Don't let the horse race around backwards!  It's just like going forward, keep the same rhythm and regularity in the rein back.  If the horse just runs backwards, he's not getting any benefit from the exercise.

You have to think of the rein back as a strength building exercise.  It must be slow and controlled.  You must maintain the proper form.  If the correctness of the movement is compromised, abandon the exercise and move forward immediately.

Rein back is not for everyone, nor is it for every horse.  But, I've found good results with it.

You know you've hit the big time when you've got your own groom!

Let me know what you think of rein back in the comments.  Negative or positive doesn't matter, every horse is different, every rider is different.  Part of the process is learning what works for you and the horse you're sitting on now. 


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