Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Warm Up - What I Did and How It Worked


I got to try the new warm up today. I used Betsey Steiner's warm up plan (see this post for a selection of warm ups from professionals) as the basis, since she said trot or canter after the walk, whatever is easier for the horse, and I liked that. I selected canter after walk. I summarized the warm up below, and added in an initial 5 minute walk on a long rein. I've written my observations (color coded) after each piece as a guide I can refer to in developing the best plan for where we are now, but you might want to ignore that as it will be painfully dull.

First Twenty Minutes
1.       Walk on long rein 5 – 10 minutes, doing my loosening exercises (for me) at the same time (no stirrups)2
3.       5 minutes of walk, half long rein, on 20 M circle (in easier direction first, then switch).
·         Lengthen stride and come back
·         Flex in and out
·         Check response to half halt
He did this okay. After a couple of minutes he lengthened and shorted stride, flexed in and out, responded somewhat to half halts, but not strongly or sharply. I'm not sure how you're supposed to flex out on a circle though. ...Wait a minute - we did that for months initially :)
4.       10 minutes of canter (pick up contact first)
·         Go large until going freely forward if needed
·         Go on a 20 M circle
·         2 circles, then trot transition
·         A few strides of sitting, then canter again
·         After several transitions, change rein across the diagonal with a trot transition at X (trot should be improving in quality with each transition)
·         Back at canter, ask for lengthen for a few strides, then back, and try again
We went large for one circuit, then onto the circle - so far so good. We did an okay trot transition, but then he didn't want to pick the canter up again easily on the circle. He can do this, but didn't do it well today. We had to go large to get the canter again, then back onto the circle. The same thing the opposite way. He won't canter across the diagonal in this arena, but he does it pretty much 100% outside at home and at Cheryl's (although we'd been cantering again when we hit the rail, not in a stride or two at X) so I'm thinking the smaller size has him flummoxed. It will be a goal to work on.  I tried the lengthen and shorten on the circle at canter. He is far from smooth and easy, but he understands the request and sometimes makes a good attempt, other times falls on his forehand and into a trot when he tries to shorten, especially when we're on a second or third time of it.
Second Fifteen Minutes
1.       5 minutes walk on 20 M square
He started out kind of crooked, but then got straight and by now he was marching along nicely in his walk. You could see / feel a difference by this time. Doug was watching and commented on it.
2.       10 minutes of walk and trot
·         Rising trot on 20 M circle (if not forward go large first)
·         Back to walk and decrease circle to 15 M and increase again (8 to 10 steps in, same out, use leg yield que)
·         Change rein and repeat
·         Transition to sitting trot and repeat a couple of times
·         Do trot walk transitions , allowing 3 to 4 strides for transitions
·         Do trot halt if he gets strong or heavy
·         Finish with sitting trot on circle – leg yield in, start leg yielding out and half way there walk and continue leg yield out
He moves in and out easily from my leg on the circle - why can't we leg yeild going large??? He was putting his head up on the sitting trot / walk transitions. Our finesse isn't good in this one, i.e. getting the exact shape and size, good transitions, but it wasn't bad.
Walk on a long rein break and then ready for work (this may be a complete ride, depending on the day).

Conclusion - parts of this warm up are still challenging for Rogo (I guess that's okay after the first 10 minutes or so?), although he is at least schooling all of it. I think the initial canter trot transitions would be better placed later in the warm up at this stage, with the initial 10 minutes of canter being something simpler and more forward to get the energy going that I'm looking for. His trot improved throughout the warm up, so it succeeded in that, my main objective. Ms Steiner suggests that the warm up is designed such that on a younger horse like Rogo it can be his full session and for Rogo this is a good work out. It incorporates all that he'll need for Training Level and much of Level One. I'll add in more free walks. He likes to stretch (good) and this is too long a session to go without stretches.

Both Savanah and Rogo were happy to come into the arena today, after their free jumping yesterday. Savanah was down right exuberant! Doug got me to longe him on her first and then they did just a few minutes of canter work. It went so well Doug called it a day. I finished my day at the barn by longing Dan.
Tomorrow someone is going to come and ride Dan. I hope it goes well.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Check Out Murphy - He'll Be 30 In April!

I still haven't gotten to put my warm up research to work. We headed for the barn the day after my warm up post (yesterday) and the roads were so icy when we got a few miles inland that we had to return home. The afternoon was spent sipping red wine, by the fire with my Mother (who's a sweet heart) and reading. Not a bad day at all.
I want to thank those of you who took the time to comment on my warm up post. For anyone who's interested in the topic of warm ups, they're well worth reading. I learned from reading them that's its fine to try canter after walk - the blood need to oxygenate for the horse to [feel like] work and for some horses this may happen more effectively in canter. Many of you shared your experience and it's very helpful! You can't get this real life experience out of a book. I'll let you know soon how it goes. 
Today the BO had planned a borders' free jumping session in the morning, followed by a potluck. So, no riding, just free jumping. 
Here's a short video of the sweetest horse, Murphy, free jumping. He'll be thirty on April 5. 
video

He's amazing! His owner Karen still rides him several times a week, w,t,c and they also do some jumping and hacking out. I was there a few weeks ago and she was going for her second ride of the day on him (it was early evening and she'd ridden in the morning), and he was more forward than my five year old! He taught my step daughter to canter last winter, and I'm sure he's taught legions. He's been known to be so frisky when Karen's riding in the field that she'll get her friend Elaine to take the edge off for her. How cool is that? Everybody loves him and is so impressed with him. Karen doesn't ride him hard of course, but she has lots of fun with him and he's pretty low maintenance.
I could have ridden after free jumping, but Rogo is learning to really like it and I wanted him to enjoy the indoor. It would be so easy for him to get sour on it.
Savanah was a star in her free jump session - people remark that she is very  agile for such a big horse (a draft cross). She was being used to give jumping lessons when Doug bought her. She tucks her knees up and sails over the jump.
Dan bucked and kicked out a dew times when circling and after clearing the jump successfully a couple of times he knocked it over. Cheryl (the BO and one of my teachers) wasn't at all impressed with his behavior, but he isn't being worked and hadn't been turned out. I didn't find it all that bad under the circumstances (maybe I've learned to trust him more), but I'm going to have to find time to work with him more often. I think I've found someone who may ride him once a week, so that will motivate me to work with him. I know I planned it in the past, but it isn't easy. He's really a good horse and very cute (palomino Appaloosa in sidebar), just not right for my dressage horse.
Tomorrow, my new warm up gets debuted. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Is It The Warm Up? My Trepidation About The Trot

I've written many times about my concern with Rogo's trot. It takes him forever to track up and get any impulsion and when we start trot work after walk he often literally braces back against my leg. His saddle fits, he's fine in other gaits and he is fine in trot by the end of a ride, so I don't think it's a saddle fitting or physical issue. He hasn't liked trotting since he was started on the longe line as a three year old. We had to reward him with carrots for taking two or three trot step in order to teach him to trot!
I posted on a Stephan Peters clinic video that helped, and I know Rogo has back tracked a bit in trot as we added things and now I have to build it up again, but I also feel sure there is more I could be doing to help him.
I've become very interested in the warm up. I notice Rogo is going much better at the end of every ride than even in the middle of the ride. By the end of an hour he is forward in every gait, responsive, soft, etc. and also really focused and concentrating on our work. One of our best rides ever was when we were riding outside in the moon light and stayed at it for an hour and a half. I didn't realize until I went back inside, but he worked hard and at the end of 90 minutes he was going sooo well, so laziness isn't the problem (research indicates the average warm up at a competition at all levels is 30 minutes - slightly less at lower levels and slightly more at higher levels).
On the other hand, at the beginning of a ride, he is slow to respond and doesn't want to trot, even if we walk and do walk exercises for 30 minutes. I know most horses have a better trot after they canter, but Rogo is very pronounced in this trait.
Cheryl (one of my teachers) says he has to get his trot correct in each ride before he canters, but I can't help thinking that not every horse is the same and maybe for him, after a long, lose walk, it's okay to canter.
TBDancer was kind enough to leave me this comment in a previous post:
"I have an OTTB and he warms up way better in canter. After a long slow walk on the buckle, we canter for awhile (doing circles, shallow weaves and then deeper ones on the same canter lead, speeding up, then coming back--all at canter both directions). Afterward, his trot is fantastic. No "sewing machine" trot, but some "hover" in the trot and lots of overtracking."

There were a couple of similar comments in recent weeks and of course I can't find them right now, but they got me thinking that maybe I'll try a warm up with canter after walk, just to see how it goes.
I notice that much of what's written about dressage from an instructional point of view focuses on the 'new work' part of the ride, and skims over the warm up, but the warm up is really the key to everything, especially for a horse like Rogo. He comes out relaxed (the first step on the training scale), so I'm thankful for that. Now, how do I help him turn on the engine without making him resentful?
I thought I'd start by googling dressage warm up, and I came up with some good articles and a video which I've provided links to below:


2. Betsy Steiner's Thirty Minute Dressage Warm-Up

What I found interesting about this one is that it said to warm up in either trot or canter after walk, which ever the horse finds easiest. I've always thought I 'had' to get a decent trot before cantering. It would sure be a lot easier to get a good trot if I cantered first, as he's more willing to canter than trot initially.

3.  Dressage Warm Up With Hubertus Schmidt

Both this one and the previous direct trot canter trot transitions on a 20 M circle. I'm going to incorporate this.

4. Dressage Warm Up With Debbie  McDonald and Brentina

5. Video: Dressage Warm Up With Mary Flood

 Comments on video:

But like everything else, this isn't the only way to warm up a horse. You MUST know your horse well. I have ridden many horses that the 10-20 min walk on loose rein or trail ride are the perfect warm up. But I have also ridden many who warmed up better in the canter. My last WB needed you to walk around the arena about 2x and then canter for about 10-15 mins. It you spent too much time walking his mind would get to him and you'd be in trouble. But the canter was his gait! You could canter around for 10min and then come back to the walking exercises, trotting, etc.

As you can see, there is a mixed opinion regarding cantering after walk in the warm up, but there are some very knowledgeable people who do it and suggest using whichever, trot or canter, is easiest for your horse at that stage. So, I'm in - it's canter after walk for me in our next warm up.
Ironically cantering after walk may be the way to go for people with a more forward horse too. In addition to the comment at the beginning I've noticed the comment from other OTTB owners.
Just a final note on this topic - I received a subscription to DressageClinic.com  for Christmas and I LOVE it (more in a future post), but I see these young horses coming out for their clinic lesson doing trots that look more medium than working and I think "wtf, is my horse trot challenged or what???". Sorry for the expletive, but it's descriptive in this case :)
Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. I can't wait to try my new routine tomorrow!


 


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning Walk

It was nice out today, and the beach is still open, unusual for us here in Nova Scotia this time of year. I couldn't help thinking that if we still had the horses at home I could have ridden on the beach today. Oh well, I sure appreciate the indoor most of the time now :)
I decided to take the dogs for a walk, and brought the camera along. Coffee, Baileys, dogs, beach - what's not to love?
Here they are:

Nola, Pepper, Max



We got Nola, the chocolate lab, four years ago as a puppy. She was my husband's Christmas present and she is so sweet and good. The next year we got Max, the yellow lab, as her friend (she'd started trying to play with the horses, not good). He came from a dog rescue and is so loving and adorable I can't imagine anyone treating him badly, but apparently he was tied outside for three years before we got him. He wasn't even house broken but he learned quickly. Last Christmas I found Pepper, the small mixed breed, outside our back door at 11:00 pm in a snow storm. To make a long story short I made inquiries the next day, found out where he lived, took him home three times within 24 hours and eventually we settled it that his owner couldn't look after him and gave him to us. He has a HUGE personality and we love him. So we have three dogs and they all arrived at Christmas time.
Hope everyone had a great Christmas Day and can get a Boxing Day ride in tomorrow!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Rogo's Christmas Present To Me

Today was a typical ride until almost the end. I was happy to discover that with a few minutes of practice Rogo got over not wanting to leave the rail. Oddly, after making sure we stayed off it, he seemed to want to avoid it on his own. Is he becoming an anticipater? (I don't mind a little anticipating - as long as I keep mixing things up I'm fine). Sometimes he picks things up with only a repetition or two. Unless it involves trotting. Then he isn't too enthusiastic.
I'm learning about the trot though. Some days he needs a long warm up before he'll trot with any quality, and I'm getting so I can tell which kind of day it will be before we even get into the arena. I've been doing the same warm up for months and maybe I should revisit it. Trotting certainly isn't Rogo's strength but I'm hoping that with training - lots of transitions, ground poles, hill work, etc. he'll improve. Of course, my riding needs to be the best it can be as well, so naturally that's an on-going goal.
Then we worked on canter and leg yield, and they are coming along - nothing spectacular, but good trying on his part and I'm starting to get the weight in my left stirrup / on my left seat bone a little more smoothly when needed.
I'd decided to have a final trot, going large to stretch out the muscles after the leg yield and then call it a day. This is when I got my Christmas present from Rogo :) When I put my legs on he cantered and my first instinct was to bring him back to a trot, since that was what I asked for. Then I decided, hell, it's Christmas Eve, he's been good, he likes to canter, just have an easy canter, no lesson work and let him finish on a high note. So we cantered, and then I thought, as taught, "I must totally relax my hips", and because I had no lesson in mind and no one was there to judge if he broke to a trot, I became very relaxed. We just cantered very easily and a couple of times I felt Rogo hesitate and almost trot (he's used to me pushing more with my hips), but I didn't try to correct him, just stayed completely relaxed, whatever he wanted to do was fine (I know, this isn't correct). I had some music playing and without thinking about it I began to keep time to the music with my seat, staying very loose, followed by a light impulse with my reins and Rogo went with the rhythm very easily. I thought circle, and he went onto a circle. I was still completely relaxed and we did a fifteen meter circle, but this was the amazing part - the beat was kind of slow, and Rogo did what I'm sure was a collected canter. As we did the circle it felt like I was sitting on a bouncing ball. He was going vertical with just the smallest steps forward, and it was as light as a feather - I barely had more than the weight of the reins in my hands and I wasn't pushing him at all and he was just springing along like a bunny rabbit :) in perfect rhythm and straight on his circle. I took him off the circle as soon as he completed it because I knew what he did was quite an accomplishment for him. I asked for a trot, threw my arms around him and told him over and over what a good boy he was. I actually got teary, which I've never done before when riding. I know I'm a flake, but it felt magical. I don't have a school master to ride, I've never ridden a horse trained past level one, I don't know what my relaxation and light aids are really supposed to feel like, let alone collection ...
So not only did he give me those magical few moments, he taught me that he does best when I'm light, and that often I don't need to try so hard. I honestly think it may be one of the most important riding lessons I've ever had.
I honestly and genuinely apologize if I sound like I'm bragging about Rogo's canter too much. I see it as completely separate from me. And I'm sure we'll bomb in all our canter work at shows next summer just to teach me to be more careful about what I say. I can never recreate my good moments when there are other people there. I think most people are like that, so it's an equal handicap.
Our weather continues rainy and windy. I'm so used to it I was surprised to read that we're (the Maritimes) being offered federal disaster aid. I'm just happy it isn't snow.
Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trackitis

I just made that word up. It means a horse who doesn't want to leave the track. I've never had this happen before, but in the last week or so Rogo has decided he doesn't want to leave the track. Now that it's finally sunk in I realize there have been signs of it for awhile - slow to pick up a circle (having to go around a second time to get it) and not wanting to cross the diagonal. I'm going to have to back track and get the steering solid again.
He had been steering quite well, but not always with the correct bend. Now his bend is very good, but he doesn't want to bend more than necessary I guess :)
Maybe he's figured out that it's more work to leave the track and do figures than it is to go large? Has anyone else experienced this? I know many horses like to stay on the rail if they're close to it, but I mean really pulling against me not to leave the rail. This is what happened today, and it made me realize it had been creeping in while I focused on training other things. I've been working lots on doing serpentines to get bend, but have neglected circles so I have my work to do. The upside is that all the serpentines have improved bend and contact but I'm learning I can't neglect one thing for another.
I had a lesson with Cheryl today and we worked on trot - going over ground poles, and canter circles. We did a little leg yield at the end and I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I need to keep the outside rein on more to signal that we're moving that way. I was just going on and off with it quite lightly, but when I took a firm steady contact it worked.
Back to the barn tomorrow - I have to get him moving easily on and off the track again!
If you haven't seen it already, here is a lovely video of Uta Graf riding Damon Jerome, on Mel's blog Devoted to Dressage. Her riding is BEAUTIFUL!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Doug and Savanah's Longe Lesson

Here are some pictures of their longe lesson on Sat. They did really well. It's one of Cheryl's strengths - she gives a great longe lesson.




Here's what Doug says:
"This was very beneficial. I'm looking forward to doing more over the winter."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cantering Fiend

I rode Rogo this afternoon. It was a great day weather wise - sunny, around 0 C. and no wind. We rode in the indoor since the ground was hard.
I took two CD's over that I'd made, my first ever. Cheryl has a good sound system in the indoor, so it's fun to ride to music. I find it really helps me with rhythm. A couple of my favorites are Glee covers of rock classics (Dancing With Myself, River Deep Mountain High) that my stepdaughter gave me (thanks Michelle!). Now to get some Lady Gaga!
I only rode for about 35 minutes today. Rogo wasn't in a trotting mood and because he'd been so good the last two times I quit the trot work as soon as I got a decent trot both ways. Then we worked on cantering and he was just brilliant (for his stage). Big, jumping strides, lengthening and shortening strides, 20 M to 15 M circles and out again. Good transitions up and down. He seems to love cantering and really focuses and tries hard to understand and do what I ask, more so than in any other area of our work. It makes me very happy because I love cantering too! I'm careful not to over-do it though. I wouldn't want to get him tired of it so he'd lose the joy he expresses much of the time when cantering. 
If I didn't know him and trust him so much it might be a little intimidating when he has days like today because he's very forward and the jump and stride are very big. He listens though. When I asked for the circles you could literally feel him make a pronounced shift of weight onto his hind quarters each time he left the track and began the circle, to the extent I needed to shift my seat a bit to stay with him.
Anyway, enough bragging :), it isn't always this good, but canter comes more easily to him than trot for some reason. It's funny because when I first saw him as a two year old it was his canter that I liked most - there was a very distinct, even three beats and moment of suspension. 
I asked for a halt while doing some easier work after the canter and he did it perfectly square, instead of leaving the left hind back as he often does, so I called it a ride.
Then I cleaned tack (very needed) and trimmed Rogo's mane and tail and washed his tail (it's white and was getting quite dirty). I had great intentions of getting Dan groomed and cleaned up, but he was turned out with his quarter horse friend Lucy and it was too nice to bring him in. All in all a great day.

Goals With Indicators, for Jan. 2011

I know I'm looking a little obsessive here, but this is how my brain works after too many years of doing business planning. This will be boring for anyone else, but it's for me to put in my goals page and refer to. I wanted the indicators to go with the goals, because it will help me be more clear about what I'm shooting for and also help me to visualize it. The crossed items are being removed and the red items are items I've just added. They are mostly the pieces needed for level one, with the addition of shoulder in and ramener.

Training area
Goal Nov. 2010
Achieved
Goal Jan. 2011
Indicator(s)
Contact (accepting contact with the bit)
6
6
6.5
maintains steady contact through transitions
Bending
6
6
6.5
Smoothly, equally changes bend for serpentines
Working trot
7
6.5
7
Tracking up 90% of time once warmed up
20 M trot circles
7
6
7
Self explanatory
10 M trot circles
4
II
Lengthen stride in trot
2
3
Three strides of distinct lengthen
Ramener
2
3
Three strides of distinct, quality beginning of collection
Stretchy circle
5
Perfect shape
Precise walk trot walk transitions
6
7
On the letter and not the forehand 95%
Canter:

Transition up/down



Carry

Steer


7

7
7


6 / 5

6.5
6


7/6

7
7
Transitions are precise (within 2 strides), with engaged hindquarters
Counter canter
-
Not sure we can work on this inside yet
Lengthen stride in canter
3
3 strides lengthen and transition back in three strides
15 M canter circle
5
6
One quality circle
Free walk
7
7
7
Straight and forward 90% of times
Halt directly from trot
6
5.5**
6
Max. one walk step
Half halt
4
4.5
5
Responds 60% of time
Straight on center line
7
6.5
7
Self explanatory
Rhythm W

T

C
7
7
7
7
6
6.5
7
7
7
II
II
II
Precise transitions

6

5.5

6
Leg Yield
4
3
4
4 good walk steps
Should in
4
4.5
5
5 good trot steps
Me
Canter position
7
6.5
7
Heels down
Relaxation
6
6
7
Cheryl feedback
Sitting trot (Rogo)
5
5
6
10 good steps

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Year of Goals

Training area
Dec. 2009
Achieved Oct. 2010
Goal Nov. 2010
Achieved
Goal Jan. 2011
Contact (accepting contact with the bit)
0
5.5
6
6
6.5
Bending
0
5.5
6
6
6.5
Working trot
0
6.8*
7
6.5
7
Canter:

Transition



Carry

Steer
0

6 up, 5 down
6
6

7

7
7

6 / 5

6.5
6

7/6

7
7
Circles
1.5
6
7
6
7
Free walk
3
7
7
7
7
Halt
0
5
6
5.5**
6
Half halt
0
3
4
4.5
5
Straight on center line
0
6.5
7
6.5
7
Rhythm W

T

C
1
6*
6*
6*
7
7
7
7
6
6.5
7
7
7
Precise transitions
0
5
6
5.5
6
Leg Yield
-
3
4
3
4
Should in
-
3.5
4
4.5
5
Me
Canter position
6
7
6.5
7
Relaxation
5.5
6
6
7
Sitting trot (Rogo)
3
5
5 ***
6

Notes:

  • * working trot and rhythm went down because we added in a lot of bending and he's still getting used to it
  • **We're changing this to halting directly from the trot
  • ***Didn't work on it as I needed to work on getting his trot forward again, and getting him more round
  • I discovered I wasn't using my left weight aid so this is a challenge
  • I started longe lessons again this month and really felt a difference in my leg position (got them back more where they should be, and longer)

    This month marks a year since we moved the horses to Cheryl’s for the winter and I brought Rogo back to work after a three month lay off. This is when I started focusing on his training for the first time. He’d been started under saddle previously, but had only walked and trotted on a fairly long rein and hadn’t worked steadily. He wouldn’t even trot a year ago and I was just getting back on my feet from an injury, so we had challenges! It’s been a fun year. With Cheryl I’ve kept scores of the training areas and thought I’d compare a year ago and now.
    Doug and I had lesson today, Doug on the longe with his horse Savanah. They did great, although her canter has gotten flat. It could be because she recently had her shoes pulled for the winter and her feet are a little sore, or maybe she needs to get more muscles built up in her hind quarters as per last post. Anyway, Doug and I both find the longe lessons incredible for helping our position and seat.
    Rogo and I had a good lesson. He trotted nicely and did lots of good bending and kept the contact fairly well. We did bending and counter bending on the long sides in a nice big trot and he did really well with this, holding both bends nicely the length of the long side. He softened and took a lovely contact as we did this.
    I found that I couldn't ride the canter as well as I wanted to today, so we had a couple of good canters but I suggested stopping becuase I didn't feel I was holding up my end of the deal. Cheryl said he'd probably be a horse who would carry me through when I'm tired, as she could see I wasn't doing well, but he covered for me. What a good boy!
    Our leg yield was abysmal. I take full responsibility because he can obviously learn things and thus I'm not teaching this as I should. I feel safe in saying this as I find the aid awkward. The only other thing I've found as difficult is learning to feel when the hind legs are on the ground. I can do that now, so that should help me time the leg yield, but it seems I work too hard at it instead of just going in a nice rhythm. Rogo is confused. Sometimes he crosses and sometimes he doesn't. Today Cheryl got me to do it from a halt, so he'd get a step or two.
    He's getting the shoulder in much better than leg yield and sometimes / often does it like a pro (other times he doesn't quite get the aid quickly and thinks I want a turn). I started teaching this some time after leg yield.
    It was a beautiful day and we went to Cravings Cafe for lunch after our lessons- home made mac and cheese - what could be better?