Monday, November 18, 2013

Why I Don't Actually Need To Fix My Changes

A few weeks ago I was lamenting to my trainer over the fact that I see loads of people doing the upper levels by just kicking and cranking the crap out of their horse, but anytime I do that, my horse just sticks his nose as high up in the air as he can like a deranged giraffe.  It's really not fair, their way looks a lot easier.  And they aren't getting 50s.

Luckily, my trainer knows me so he knew I was (mostly) kidding and didn't throw anything at me.  Instead, he sighed and said, "You can't ride like that because you have a horse that is sensitive.  Now, shut up and do that half-pass again, but this time set it up correctly and ride the whole thing!"

"Shut up... set it up correctly and ride the whole thing" is actually a pretty good way to solve any problem, as it turns out.  It has helped my flying changes immensely....

Spider used to be a jumper, and came to me with an automatic change, which I then had to de-automate because I needed him to do counter-canter.  But, I didn't really do that good of a job de-automating it, because he would still try to change any time you changed direction.  So, I decided to just skip 2nd level and go straight to 3rd.  Seemed to make sense, right?  Except there aren't any cheat codes in dressage.

I learned rather quickly that Spider had a lot of trouble doing the changes from a collected canter, and I couldn't figure out why.  He could counter-canter in collection beautifully.  If I let him out into a Training or 1st Level frame, he would change every time we changed direction.  But, once collected, he could only change in the corners or he would cross-canter for several strides.  And sometimes he would even continue to cross-canter through the corners, which is extremely uncomfortable for the rider.  He seemed fine with it.  We actually did an extension in cross-canter in our last show.  Sadly, there were no points added for technical difficulty.  (Which I think was totally unfair. How many horses can do an extension while cross-cantering?)

I was stumped.  I felt the only rational thing to do was to go all the way back to the beginning.  We spent several days doing canter-trot-canter transitions.  Then we stepped it up to canter-walk-canter transitions (AKA, simple changes).  Then I had a lesson.

As I explained to my trainer what I had been doing he sighed, probably suppressing an urge to throw something at me.  Then he said, "You don't need to do that.  The horse can already do a flying change."

He had me take up canter on a circle, then do a shoulder in on the circle. (While you don't see this in tests, it is a real thing.  Sometimes it's called canter plie, usually in the old classists' books.)   After that, we did haunches-in.  Then back to shoulder-in.  Make the circle smaller.  Shoulder-in. Haunches-in.  Make the circle smaller.  Shoulder-in. Haunches-in.  Walk. Change direction.  Shoulder-in. Haunches-in. Make the circle smaller.... you get the point.  Eventually, we went out across the diagonal in canter and did an absolutely flawless flying change.  And then we went the other way and did another, just to prove it.  Woohoo!

So, what was the difference?  Preparation.  Riding those quick transitions forced me to ride every step and got me into the habit of doing it.  It also helped loosen Spider up, so there was no tension in his collected canter.  (Tension is the root of the deranged giraffe impression)  He was also paying closer attention to me, since I was actually giving him direction instead of coasting along and then being all "Change now!".  As it turns out, if you've taken the time to create a horse that is sensitive and reactive to the rider's direction, you sort of need to continue to provide direction.  Who knew?

That was last week, and I've continued applying those concepts to my riding.  I no longer have a need to fix my changes, because they were never broken.  I just need to set things up correctly and ride the whole thing.

That sounds really easy, doesn't it?  HA!  It's hard as hell, because nothing in dressage is easy!  But, that's another post.  Right now, I need to go torture myself ride my wonderful horse.



My new aerobic routine is getting the mud off of him.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Down The Rabbit Hole

I tend to be easily distracted, particularly when it comes to the internet.  I find it easy to get lost in the sea of links, one simple Google search can suck up hours of my day if I let it (and I frequently do).

Case in point:  I've been giving Spider Devil's Claw as a supplement for years (but not during competition season, it's illegal).  There's quite a bit of good evidence that it does work as an anti-inflammatory (which is probably why it's banned in USEF competition).

I can't take most anti-inflammatory drugs because they exacerbate my auto-immune disease.  If I'm achey, I can only take acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is pretty useless, or narcotics, which just make me sleepy.

A few months ago, as I was pondering how much better Spider was feeling after going back on his Devil's Claw after a competition, I thought to myself "Hey, I wonder if I can take Devil's Claw?".  So I consulted Dr. Google....

(Note: Any time I consult Dr. Google, I always make sure that what I'm reading is an article from a legitimate, peer reviewed, scientific journal... preferably a medical journal.  I do not ever trust content from sites with titles like "Dr. Moonbeam's Super Secret Compendium of Treatments The Medical Community Doesn't Want You To Know".  I also check and cross check the references in the journal articles.  Then I ask my Dr. about it.  You can never be too careful!)

In Googling "Devil's Claw and IBD", I fell down a rabbit hole.  Not only did I find out that Devil's Claw can be tolerated by people with IBD, but I also found out that there are other anti-inflammatory herbs that are not only effective pain-killers, but also help treat IBD!  The two that came up over and over, and had solid evidence to back them up, were Boswellia and Turmeric.  After talking to my GI Doc, I figured I'd give them a try....

Now, the caveat with all these "supplements" is that, here in the U.S., there is no regulation on them.  So, while the substance may work very well in a laboratory setting with controlled doses of the active ingredient, you may not be getting that dose from the supplement you buy at the health food store.  Numerous independent studies have shown that many of the supplements on the market, including equine supplements, do not contain the stuff they say they do.  You have to do your research and practice a bit of trial and error when choosing supplements.  I prefer to find supplements that list exact amounts on their labels.  None of this "Contains XYZ!" advertising BS, I want to see exact milligram amounts listed on your label!

So, this is totally not an endorsement of any product.  But, there is quite a bit of evidence that Devil's Claw, Boswellia and Turmeric are effective at relieving pain and inflammation.  And they work for me!  They also seem to be working for my horse.

Of course, the plural of "anecdote" is not "data", and you should always exercise caution and good sense when trying out such things.

Or, you can just use the time tested, redneck approved painkiller.... Booze!

A fancy glass makes it less redneck when you let your horse lap up wine.



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Well, It Wasn't The Lowest Score I've Ever Gotten....

It was the second lowest score I've ever gotten in a dressage test.

It was the lowest score I've ever gotten at 3rd Level, so I broke a personal record there. 




I'm talking, of course, about the USEF show I competed in last Sunday. Spider and I did not do our best work, but we went out and did it and we own our mistakes. 

And, oh boy(!) were there mistakes!  We competed at Third Level, Test 1. My first mistake was starting my warm-up too early. My second mistake was to stop riding my horse as soon as I entered the ring. I had a tired horse that I wasn't riding, and we were doomed....

We ended up with a 50%, and we earned it. The judge was fair. My half-passes stunk and the changes were worse.  My only complaint was that she called an error when we didn't do a flying change in the correct place. Judges will sometimes do that to help your score if the missed movement affects the following movement (like a flying change in the wrong place). But, honestly, by that point in the ride there was no saving us.  I wish she had just let us go on our merry, crappy way.

She did say he was an attractive horse, though.  So, I guess we have that going for us....

We have the whole winter to fix everything.  Step One is going to be building up both of our fitness levels.  Step two is going to be getting Spider to do his changes when and where I ask him to, rather than wherever he feels like it.  


For Step One, I've been riding Spider for 40 minutes straight, without our usual frequent breaks.  I'm also going to start jumping once a week.  For myself, I've upped my own workout routine and plan to add some sort of aerobics.  I don't know what kind of aerobics, because I hate aerobics, but I'm sure I'll think of something.

Step Two is a post unto itself......




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