Friday, December 30, 2011

Things Are Changing By The Day

I drove down to Port Williams in the late afternoon to ride Rogo. It was sunny and -2 C, although pretty much dark by the time I arrived. Friday night of a holiday weekend - the barn was almost deserted. Two riders were finishing up, so I was all set to have the arena to myself for the second half of my ride.
This is rare here, but that isn't a complaint. There are usually lessons going on all day everyday through the week, and into the evening. You can show up and Sue will fit you in if it's at all possible. Sometimes this means riding with one or two other people, which is a good exercise, but most often my lessons are individual.
Back to my ride - I warmed up with free walk, doing some loops and crossing the diagonal. Then I trotted serpentines wall to wall and did lots of trot circles.  I think I was doing a better job of the circles, but I won't know until I ride them with Sue watching. As I mentioned in my last post, I can't see or feel that they were wrong, so until I can it's hard to fix them. I thought about them a lot since my last lesson and I think that I was really having a mental block. I think I've been riding in such a way that I was over correcting a previous problem and in doing so, thought the problem was fixed. Then when Sue brought it to my attention, I thought the old problem was back,... anyway, I'll spare you the navel gazing details on this occasion only :)  (hmmm, maybe it's too late for that) but if I'm right I'll be well on my way to getting things corrected. Fingers crossed.
On to canter. I gave the canter aid when we were doing a nice engaged trot, and... full, instant, braced, stop. Damn. Move forward, get him straight, give the aid, stop. I can't believe it. We're back to that again. I gave him a few kicks and a whack with the whip, but he wasn't convinced he should canter. This made me tense, so when I did get him to canter apparently I didn't let him go forward enough and he stopped again. Jane Fraser was watching and she told me to let him go, push him forward as soon as we cantered. I tried it and yes, it worked! He was nicely forward, but not over the top at all. This nice forward canter cleared up any problems we were having and we went on to do the best canter work he's done since he started the 'canter rebellion' (associated with insisting on engagement / using his hind quarters).
I could push him up into my hands and then move him in and out on a circle, lengthen and shorten, change his bend, speed up and slow down, etc. I know this is elementary, and even at that it needs much more work, but it's a big improvement. To make it interesting I asked him for canter walk numerous times, and also for a couple of canter halts. I knew from some of his rebellious behaviour in the last few weeks that he was quite capable of a canter halt, so why not do it occasionally? He'll go from canter to walk with a couple of trot steps, and he'll actually do canter halt with just one step to halt, and from quite a light aid (I use my voice too). Who knew? Maybe I shouldn't ask for it yet, but oddly he seems to like doing it even when he's beautifully forward and he didn't try to do it on his own after the initial cantering problem. Maybe he'd like reining? We could develop this into a slide? My 17 hand reiner :)
So lessons learned from tonight:
  • remember to ride the circles from tangent point to tangent point, using eight points
  • use the inside leg and outside rein to do this, with inside rein and outside leg as needed
  • Sue told me that canter is going to push his Rebel Rogo button for awhile; don't sweat it and just work through it
  • re the above, riding nicely forward right away in canter gets him over it
  • doing lots of trot canter trot transitions makes him want to canter non stop :) Guess it's less work than the transitions
After the ride I had a delicious supper of ribs, salad and red wine with Sue, Jane and working student Maria. It was a great evening. Now I'm in my trailer and getting ready to crawl in bed with a book. Another ride in the morning and then home for New Year's Eve. It will be a quiet one of cooking, eating, sipping wine and watching movies with Mom and Doug.
Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Are Circles Still Eluding Me?

Arrrgghh. It's the bane of my riding existence. I can't ignore it any longer. Well, more precisely, Sue my teacher won't let me ignore it any longer and I guess I should (and do) thank her for it. I straighten the quarter of the circle where I leave the tangent point on the open side of the circle and head for the tangent point by the wall. I've done this from the time I started doing circles with Rogo. He'll do it at that point no matter where I start. I thought it was better, or even fixed at times, but today proved it wasn't as Sue worked with us on it. I didn't even know I was still doing it. Because I have him flexed / bent in, I think he's on a circle, but all he does is bend his neck and go in a straight line for that portion. Not being able to see or feel it anymore makes it even harder to fix. Sue tells me what to do - outside leg and rein to keep him from going out straight, but subconsciously I put my inside leg on anyway, to bend him, and then drive him out. It's driving me nuts!
Okay, enough of that. I just have to keep working on it now that I'm aware that it's still a problem. It's more upsetting to me than so called 'bigger' mistakes and challenges though, because it's such a basic and it shouldn't be an issue at this point and because I can't see and feel the problem and the fix.
Other things are going well. The canter steering is greatly improved, but keep in mind we went through a period where it was non-existent two or three weeks ago :) He wasn't happy about using his hind quarters, but he's much more relaxed about that now.
I'm really happy with the trot work. Can you believe that I can't remember the last time Sue told me to push him forward more? It used to be every few strides. Now it's been two or three weeks since I heard it. That alone is like a miracle to me. She actually tells me to steady him (slow him) once or twice a lesson. Rogo has become quite happy with his new forward. Sue told me to look in the mirror a few days ago as we were trotting serpentines wall to wall because she wanted me to see how he was happily swinging his tail from side to side. I saw a happy, relaxed, forward horse, using his hind quarters and swinging his back. Yippee!!! He's like this all the time in the walk and trot now. The canter is improving too, but the circles need work of course.
Yesterday we did 10 meter trot circles, three times down each long side and went around the ring like that. We did them for quite a while each way so we could develop a good feel for it. This was a new exercise for us. When I really focused on relaxing and using my seat and legs we could do them with very little rein aid. When I did use the reins it was mostly the outside rein, so I'm getting the feel for steering this way. It's a big change for me. I've always used the outside rein as a strong support, but the way we're schooling now it is the main steering rein with the inside staying quiet and used only as needed. So to do the circle you feel (or more if needed) the outside  rein in time with the stride or as required to keep the circle. My rib cage is a bit sore today from turning my body in alignment with the turn. I wonder if Rogo feels the same?
Here are some other exercises we've been working on:
  1. trot three loop serpentines wall to wall and walk across the center line
  2. walk and halt and remain immobile long enough to reinforce no movement. Do this repeatedly going large. We needed this because Rogo liked to wiggle and fidget when he halted but he's mostly over it now.
  3. walk canter walk - only one day, but it went well
  4. facing him into the wall and 'leg yeilding' up the wall (except that his face stays directly facing the wall, not angled)
  5. trotting loops - corner letter to center line and back to corner letter
  6. sitting trot - it's coming but needs work. I hold the bucking strap lightly at times to learn the feeling for keeping my hands more still when I sit.
  7. canter 20 meter circles, down long side, repeat. Cross diagonal and trot at X.
  8. For my equitation we've been focusing on stretching my core up with shoulders back, and keeping my knees from gripping.
I'm enjoying the experience of being at the barn sooo much. The people there are amazing. I couldn't ask for a more positive and energizing environment to learn in. I think I'll do a post on some of the horses and riders one of these days.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope each and everyone of you are having an absolutely wonderful Christmas. Be sure to eat without counting the calories and relax as much as you can. Oh yeah, a little rum and eggnog is good too :)
I enjoy reading so many of your blogs, and love your comments and feedback throughout the year. Thank you for making my dressage life that much richer.
I've had a cold, but will be updating my training info soon. In a nutshell I'm happy with Rogo. Life is good.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cindy Ishoy Clinic

What an experience. First I have to tell you how impressed and appreciative I feel after participating in this past weekend's clinic. Cindy Ishoy is very dedicated to helping riders and their horses. Here are some examples - it's Dec. here in cold, damp Nova Scotia, and barns / arenas are notoriously cold and damp. We don't have heated arenas here. Yet Cindy worked through her lunch hours and stayed in the evenings to either give people extra lessons if they needed it, or extended the lesson they were in by half an hour or more. Let me tell you, when there is a choice between a warm kitchen with a fire crackling and food lined counters, or staying in a freezing barn where you've been for hours - what do you think most people would pick? She flew here from Ontario for the clinic and will continue from here to Europe. It sounds like there are pretty well no days off. And yet she'll stand and teach as long as there's a student and horse who need her. She's a Pan Am and Olympic medalist, but no diva!
Then there are the results - each horse improved through the ride. Some of us (I was one) were brought back for 'detention' :) It's hard to feel bad about being in detention when you are getting more instruction from such a talented teacher.
I outlined in my last post that Rogo's been giving me a hard time in the canter. Asking for more engagement and impulsion really tapped into his willful side. I'm given to painting Rogo in a very favourable light, and he deserves it a lot of the time, but I mentioned in the past how incredibly difficult he was to back. We spent months getting him to go forward - he'd stand and refuse to move and then we'd have to lunge him or work him in a round pen. This recurred twice after lay offs, but hasn't happened in a long, long time. I thought it was a thing of the past until asking him to canter with a rounder frame and then it came back over a period of days until he was in full blown rebel mode just before the clinic. I wrote about it last time - wrong leads, racing, balking, bucking, head shaking, etc., etc. We'd just started to work through it when Cindy came and she did a few great things for us.
I'll discuss the trot first - I haven't done sitting trot with Rogo. I sit to other horses but he was just too bouncy. Also, forwardness and impulsion have been our nemesis. Cindy's clinic, building on the work I've done with Sue and Jane over the last month have made huge improvements here. Rogo is going forward and, ta da, with a rounder frame I can sit his trot now! Cindy had me do long periods of transitions on a circle - walk / halt, walk / halt, trot / walk, trot / walk, for minutes on end. She had me employ a little shoulder fore at times and also remember to put my legs on and push into my hands for the halt. I'm going to pause on that piece for a minute.
I've known to push into my hands for a halt almost from the beginning of riding Savanah, but riding Rogo, who was being challenging, helped me understand it in a bigger way. He didn't want to halt because it's harder to halt and start again than to just jig and go back to trot. So I'd pull because he just wouldn't stop. Wrong. Put your legs on even more strongly and then he's pushed harder into your resisting (not pulling) hands and voila - a nice engaged halt quickly. It's counter intuitive - to get a crisper halt push harder with your seat/legs, but it works.
Cindy also helped me work on accuracy of the figures, and she points out frequently to many riders that the benefit of the figures is in accuracy. Rogo has always fallen in on left hand circles, no matter how hard I tried. They'd be fixed for a while but then go back to that. It would probably be more accurate to say I go back to holding too much with the inside rein and not riding him into the outside rein as I complete the circle. With some focus on getting the steering fine tuned in the new frame we were soon doing better circles, figure eights and serpentines - it's such a balancing act between all of the aids - inside and outside legs and reins, and the seat as well. One thing I learned was to move the hands together to the inside or outside at times, as needed. For example if you move your hands together to the inside, it puts more tension on the outside rein (good) and bends a bit to the inside (good). Of course this HAS to be accompanied by inside leg pushing into the outside rein and outside leg holding / supporting the quarters on the circle.
After riding lots of transitions on circles and going large Cindy told me to do sitting trot. All of the transitions had him using his hind quarters and raising his back more and just like that sitting trot worked, after two years of eluding me.
From sitting trot we were able to work on getting the canter under control (see how the pieces are building through the lesson?). As a reminder right lead canter, which had always been super easy for Rogo was the area he rebelled in - he wouldn't take that lead. Although we got a couple of good right lead canters in, I really had to work at it and I was told to come back for another lesson in the evening - my detention :).
We worked on it more in the evening and Jane Fraser, Sue's sister, rode him as well to help with the training. She's a very good rider but even she had difficulty with him at first as he tried to intimidate a little bit and refuse to respond to the aids. She stayed quiet and patient though and quietly the right lead canter started coming more consistently.
My lesson the second day was similar to the first but now we also had to work on slowing him down - can you believe it? The horse I've struggled to get more forward for two years was out for this third intense lesson in 24 hours and he wanted to GO. It wasn't a racy nervous go at all - he was calm and much softer and nicer the second day, but also the hind quarters were doing their work now. It seemed almost miraculous to me :) He was much different to work with the second day. He was getting back to sweet Rogo who wanted to work with me and not agaist me. I could feel him respond to light aids and it was so joyful! He took the wrong lead once or twice to the right, but I got two good right lead canters without too much difficulty and then Jane rode him again. She got consistent right lead canters with light aids and easy steering - it seems the canter rebellion may be almost over.
SO that was my two days of lessons with Cindy, helped by Jane. They were two of the most intense learning days of my dressage life. I found it hard to sleep the night after the first lesson because my mind was racing with all I've learned.
I watched most of the lessons that others had too and learned tons from that. I'll write about some of the key points I picked up in a future post.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ups and Downs

We're continuing to work hard at Fraser Equestrian Center. Each lesson (three times a week) starts with lunging. In order to make sure that Rogo understands and learns the forward trot we're teaching him, I hold the whip while a more experienced person uses the line. I follow the movement around the lunger and am getting quite a workout. We don't really need me there anymore, or at least not as much, but it is really giving me a much needed workout three times a week.
Then I ride and we are making great progress in some areas and encountering blocks in other areas. The trot work, which needed the most improvement, is going well. He's becoming more forward and supple. We do a circle at each end and when we've warmed up with that for a bit we do three loop serpentines. The serpentines really help with getting the 'flow' of switching bend and keeping rhythm through turns. I'm pleased with our progress here. Rogo is really improving use of his hindquarters and at times booms down the long sides. I look forward to the day when this power is there most of the time and carries through the corners rhythmically.
One very good exercise that Sue has us work on is taking a step sideways, off the inside leg and halting. Then from the halt take a step sideways and walk. Then we do it trot to walk. Then we do it while trotting. It gets Rogo listening and responding to my inside leg more readily. Sue's training programs are very consistent as the horse and rider move up the levels, so you might see a PSG horse doing a similar exercise. I like that the pieces clearly build on one another.
Now for the canter - it is challenging. Canter has always been Rogo's favorite gait and one I didn't struggle too much with. He got lengthen and shorten, counter canter, circles, etc. fairly easily and unlike his trot he's always been nicely forward in the canter. However.... this is the area where he's rebelling against the new asks. He's six, he needs to learn to work in a rounder frame and not stick his nose out so far. I'm not talking tucking his nose into his chest - I'm religious about not wanting him behind the vertical. I'm talking about asking him to round and use his hind quarters. It's not like he was completely on his forehand. He couldn't have done the work he did on his forehand, but he does / did canter with his nose stuck waaay out and it's time to ask for roundness. Rogo doesn't think this is a good plan and his reaction is to resist. He'll refuse to pick up the canter, he'll canter on the wrong lead (he's never done this), he won't steer (a circle is out of the question) without REALLY heavy aids that ruin the ride, he'll balk, he'll duck out of the arena, throw in a buck,.... If you've read my posts about backing him you'll recognize this behaviour from that time (minus the buck). It seems to be a reaction to being pushed out of his comfort zone.
I was feeling quite guilty about it - thinking I wasn't giving my aids properly and confusing him, that I was throwing his balance off by insisting he use his hind end, blah, blah, blah. That is until he got so bad the other day that I got very firm with him. He was verging on dangerous and I admit it, I gave him several good whacks. I sure don't advocate this as a training method except in extreme need, but it was a revelation for me re his canter in this instance. I put him back on a circle, lightly asked for a canter, and got the best canter we've had since we got there. It was wonderful - soft, immediate transition onto the correct lead, forward but not rushed, steering perfectly on circles and across the diagonal with the lightest aids. Huh? What were the last three weeks of cantering issues about? He knew exactly what I wanted and did it easily, so why all the resistance? I don't know and never will. I doubt it's fixed, we'll probably have some more struggles before all is said and done, but at least I know he can do it.
My sweet boy, who I dote on, is quite capable of doing this (resisting training) for months. He has in the past and patience and consistency are called for and will win the day in the end. He might decide to get with the program this week, or it might be months. Time will tell, but I think I know now that this is a likely response from him when training goes to a new level.
On the plus side, the resistance in canter has demonstrated that he can counter canter deep into corners and stay balanced, do clean flying changes easily, do a quarter canter pirouette when he's about to hit the wall, do canter / halt ... :) Now I just need to get him to want to do it with me, not at me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting The Canter Figured Out

Today I rode on my own to try to figure out why I was having new problems with the canter. He wasn't wanting to pick up or carry the canter, which hasn't been a problem for over a year, and steering was out the window. As luck would have it, Sue was there schooling her gorgeous Dancer (a 17.2 Idocus gelding) and Jane was there too having just finished schooling her handsome PSG horse Kenny (barn name :).
After a short walk on a long rein we did a bit of trotting three loop serpentines and then I tried cantering a 20 m circle. It didn't start well. He didn't want to canter and when he did he picked up the wrong lead three times at least, something he never does. At one point I looked down as I was asking for the transition and - what -  I had his head pulled seriously to the inside. I mean pulled in. Poor Rogo. He didn't like this AT ALL and wasn't standing for it. Just then Jane called out to me to give my inside rein. I did and there was an instant, positive result. He cantered and I could steer much better, although I need to carefully practice to get back to where we were.
What caused all of this? I'm not sure. I'm asking for much more forward, engagement and contact, and it's hard for him. It's also hard for me, because I need to learn to ride this way, and also how to ride the much bigger resultant movement. I think that equitation issues I had in the past are magnified, as are bad habits Rogo had. Put all of this together and we have wrinkles to iron out.
The good news is that I spent the rest of the ride with an almost loose inside rein so Rogo would get his confidence back in it and he went fine. I'm hoping a few more practice rides and we'll be on track with it. The other good news is that the trot is coming along amazingly, so over-all things are good.
Thanks for all of the nice comments on the last post. I should explain that my three lessons a week are probably going to be over the end of Dec. :( There isn't going to be room for us at the barn after that. So I may spend the rest of the winter without lessons, which will kill me because we are finally getting things going in a good direction.
Boarders can buy lesson plans to make it more affordable, and also Doug pushed me to take this winter to put on a lesson blitz. His reasoning is that it doesn't make sense for us to put so much into owning the horses and then not train them, when that is what the original goal was and what I love.
Our horse business planning is coming along. We meet with a potential supplier for the indoor next week. I'll do a post on it soon as I'm quite excited about it. Lori Skoog from Skoog Farm Journal kindly asked recently if we'd decided on a location. We've bought 135 acres in Brookfield Nova Scotia, 5 minutes from the main highway running between the Halifax and Truro.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Where To Start....

I'm continuing lessons three times a week at Fraser Equestrian Center and I'm blown away by the difference it makes. Rogo is becoming much more forward and round. I don't know if other people are like this, but when I'm with a good teacher I can do things I can't do on my own. Even when I'm physically capable of something and understand the concept, it just doesn't work for me without a coach. Take forward for instance - I worked HARD at getting it, understood the concepts and methods, could get when Joan was with me (which was rare), but couldn't get it consistently on my own. With a teacher pushing us we're building the ability to go into a forward trot naturally.
I posted when I started lessons a couple of weeks ago about the well timed and meaningful kick instead of nagging to get forward. I had to do it a lot! Now I've learned to time it for effectiveness so I hit the 'driving' point correctly and we don't loose rhythm (most of the time). I have to do it much less often now and Rogo carries the forward on his own more effectively. We're also starting each lesson with lunging for forward in trot, so it sets the tone and helps him understand what we're looking for.
I've been feeling different about my riding too - more secure. Writing this is sure to lead to a fall :) , but I've got a different sense of confidence. Ironically (or maybe not), with Rogo going forward more strongly, I'm 'with' him and feel more settled in the saddle. This makes sense in that he has to lift his back more to get the forward, so it's easier to ride. I can actually sit this trot better than the slow one (although it still has a long way to go). The improvement in confidence is helped by confidence in my teacher - she sets a tone and energy in the arena that both Rogo and I believe we can do it and then we do. The lunge lessons I had really helped too, and I need to get more of them.
I worry that Rogo could get stressed by the new expectations and work ethic, but so far so good. He still greats me at the stall door or pasture gate and pushes his head into his halter. He still loves to be loved :).
He's been rebelling at the canter, not wanting to steer and really pushing back, so that's something to keep an eye on. His canter has always been forward (it was just the trot that was the problem), so now his already forward canter, in his mind, needs to go up a notch too? I'm not sure what is causing this but he only wants to go fast, in straight lines. I have to really focus on getting a controlled canter and using a strong outside rein and leg to keep him on a circle. To be honest it gets a little over the top at times, but today it was a little better.
The last time I stayed overnight in the trailer it was -8 C. and I ran out of propane - yikes! I hooked up a back up tank, which seemed empty too, and then went to a garage for another tank, which didn't work, so I spent the night with many layers of clothes on, under many layers of blankets. It was COLD! Turned out, and I'm embarrassed to say this, I was switching the tank to the generator and not to the inside of the trailer. I could have sworn I knew which was which. I'm blaming Doug...
Today I did something that scares the hell out of me - I signed up, with Doug and Sue's encouragement, for two days of riding in the Cindy Ishoy clinic that will be held at Sue's on Dec. 9, 10 and 11th. I told Doug I'm afraid I'll be a train wreck. I still don't have the stamina I need to ride Rogo effectively and without that my aids aren't as effective as they should be after 10 or 15 minutes. A walk break helps, but will I get one? Should I ask? Will I just fall apart? That isn't out of the question. I need to be able to process and react to information my teacher is giving me much faster and more effectively.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lit Quadrille From Royal Winter Fair (Toronto, Canada)

Have you seen this video from Horse Junkies Unitied? It's an amazing display of horses trusting their riders as they perform in the dark decked out in lights.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Different Breeds Doing Dressage

No one called me on it, but I'm feeling guilty about writing in my Ingrid Klimke clinic post that I'd rather spend my time and money doing dressage with a warm blood because they are better suited to doing it. What a stunned as me arse thing for me to say. You guys should have roasted me :) First of all, I caught the dressage bug as a teenager riding my beloved 14.2, pretty palomino, grade horse Trigger and taught him to do two tempi's in my back yard riding to the Beatles 'Hey Jude' (I was already 5'9"). Second, I re-caught the bug after not riding for 30 years on very drafty draft cross Savanah and I adore doing dressage with her. She is sooo precise, supple and smart and there's a long and unruly line of people who would love to have her. Third, I showed my Appaloosa Dan in Training Level two years ago and we had a blast. Who do I think I am saying I prefer spending my time with warm bloods? Obviously I didn't think that statement through and it isn't true. Every horse and rider can benefit from dressage. That's what I love about it.
It was my writing about a gorgeous Friesian stallion that prompted my comment. Truth be told, I don't think I have the talent to ride these beautiful horses. That's much closer to the truth! The woman who rode him, Erin MacQuarrie, is such a beautiful rider. She's a professional from New Brunswick and has one of the best reputations in Atlantic Canada and beyond as a teacher and trainer. Doing soft and balanced walk-canter-walk on small circles with a five year old stallion doesn't happen without great riding and a talented horse.
The clinic organizer Joanne Dustan is amazing. She had a very fair selection process that ended up with a variety of breeds and many amateur riders. For example the following were represented: Quarter Horse, Morgan, Arab cross, a Clyde/Saddlebred cross, Andalusian, Dutch warmblood, Friesian, Thoroughbred, etc. This is how it should be in my opinion.
To top it off, Ingrid was just awarded the highest equestrian sport accolade in Germany - the only person under 50 and the only woman to be named a German Riding Master. And we just had her here last weekend coaching our local riders and horses of all breeds.
Our dressage club R.I.D.E.R.S. (I co-chair) had a special class at our Labour Day show to showcase different breeds doing dressage. Unfortunately there was only one entry in the class, but she was great. She was riding a Quarter Horse and did a reining demo, after doing very well in her dressage class (I think she was reserve champion at Training Level). She and this horse do just about any equine activity or discipline you can mention, Western and English. Our shows have many breeds, it was just this class that didn't have a lot of entries (I think people want to concentrate on their tests more so than showcasing a breed). Our shows have Fjords, Canadians, Thoroughbreds, draft crosses, Friesians, Arabians, Quarter horses, ponies, Appaloosas, Paints, different varieties of warm bloods, Andalusians, etc.
I find myself very intrigued (here's my 'prejudice'?) by blogs written by people riding off the track thoroughbreds. I follow several and these horses and their owners amaze me. The intelligence, heart and talent they display and that can end up being discarded after only one small part of it is explored (racing) is striking. But this is a whole post on it's own.
I'm drawn to blogs by people who are doing dressage with different breeds and follow many of them. You can probably find several on my sidebar - Quarter Horses, Paints and Thoroughbreds to name some. These horses and riders are inspirational and put many warm bloods to shame. Their size is much better suited to many riders and careful selection to find the horse suited to your need results in many successful horse / rider combinations in many breeds. This is what makes it all so fascinating!
Yes, at my height a bigger horse is desirable, but a draft cross or an OTTT, to name two, are definitely options I'd think about if I needed another horse. Do you have any favorite breeds, for dressage or otherwise? If so, what do you like about them? Does color sway you? Does your preference change as your age changes? Etc.
Hmmm, just realized I'm segueing into a new topic :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Does It Get Any Better?

Seriously, this day was perfect. I retired at 50 (I should tell you about that sometime, it's quite a story) and now I'm kind of living my dream in many ways. Well, now I feel I have to qualify. I do consulting work, but on my terms. Also, we're still planning to build and operate a horse facility next year, so that is going to be LOTS of work.
Back to my perfect day...
Here's how it started:

I stopped at Avery's Farm Market on my way to Fraser Equestrian Center to buy a bag of 'drops and culls'. $5.99 for a 20 lb. bag of delicious apples.

Although it was about 9:45 on a Monday morning, I thought why not have a cone of my favorite icecream - Privateers Bounty? Have you tried it? It is utterly addictive. Licorice and salted butterscotch chunks. I don't even like licorice but this combo is deadly delicious.

Then, reunited with my darling boy. Rogo has settled in nicely at Fraser Equestrian Center and was ready for our lesson with Sue - first time under saddle in over three weeks. I didn't know what to expect. He could have been over the top energy wise, or just lazy and not wanting to work. It didn't occur to me that he'd be in the middle - pretty much where he left off. Yeah! My sweet baby is growing up. He did try to run out of the ring two or three times, but hey, it could happen to anyone right? This is his oldest trick and Always comes back after a lay off, even if he hasn't done it in months. Not a biggy, just a chance to discuss who's making decisions :)
Sue had us work on good basics, forward being the most important. Rogo still needs to learn to go forward automatically without nagging, and I need to learn to ride him forward without nagging him. A quick and if need be sharp correction, and then relax. Repeat as necessary. I'd much rather do this than be picking at him, but I need to train myself to do it. I don't even realize I am picking at him to keep him going, so having Sue there giving us instruction and feedback about this is awesome. If he learns to go forward easily everything else will be SO much easier.
We did lots of working on forward at the walk - he needs to march along and he can do it beautifully when we focus and remember to do it. We also worked on forward at the trot. There's lots more work to do here. Sue wants me to give him a firm 'kick' or bump to get his attention and get him
forward. There's an art to this and I don't have it. The aid needs to be delivered at the right time in the stride and without interrupting our connection. I'm clumsy at it, but will learn. I don't want this to sound harsh - I'm not wearing spurs and Rogo isn't at all put off by it. It's an impulse forward and as I learn to time it correctly and he learns to respond, the need for it will decrease. I thinking I'm heading to weaning off of my whip and onto my legs more. Ultimately of course a very light aid is the goal. So, just to repeat the key point - I need to stop an almost constant light aid and give a firm aid only as needed. I know this intellectually already, but haven't succeeded in doing it. Sue will keep us on track.
We worked on walking a three loop serpentine from quarter line to quarter line. Then we trotted it. It's challenging, because without the wall as a crutch any holes in the training show up easily. Can you guess Rogo's? He did this quite well in many ways, changing bend and staying precise when I guided him correctly, but we're still weak on the left leg into the right rein. He almost ignores my left leg. This is an area for attention for sure. Maybe I'm making it sound worse than it was. He bent correctly most of the time, but he's definitely hollow going left.
We did trot figure eights and they went fairly well, but of course there's the same issue re hollowness.
So, day one conclusion? More forward, and get him attentive to the left leg. I'm loving having lessons with a good teacher!!!!! As I mentioned, Rogo and I will be here at least until the end of December and we'll have three lessons a week with Sue. I'll stay overnight in the trailer one or two nights a week. I'm in the trailer tonight and loving it. It was 16 C. today!
Here are a few more pictures:

Looking out over the marsh from Fraser Equestrian Center. Can you see how smokey the hills in the background look? It's beautiful here.

 My smart car parked on front of our trailer. I sat outside in the sunshine reading a dressage book after riding.

My good friend Verna gave me this Canadian whiskey when she was here visiting from Alberta in Oct. Just the thing for a November evening.
A final note - Rogo's lab work results arrived today. His tumour was confirmed as a sarcoid and the edges of the piece removed were free of cancer cells, meaning there is less chance of a recurrence. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
Our next lesson is at noon tomorrow. More posts coming :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ingrid Klimke Clinic

Today Doug and I audited the Ingrid Klimke clinic in Truro that Joanne Dustan (Nova Scotia Dressage) organized. We're so lucky to have the quality of clinicians she brings in, here in Nova Scotia. Last year she brought in Steffen Peters - can you believe it?
Ingrid of course uses LOTS of cavalletti in her training. There were mostly dressage riders in the clinic, but some eventers too, which I was really intrigued by. Can a mid 50's woman who's never jumped take up eventing? Maybe the most introductory level? No? Damn. To digress for a moment I do want to learn to do just low, basic jumps, because I think it would be good for both Rogo and I, but that's another story.
Back to the clinic - I'm not educated enough to interpret it in detail for you, but here are some key points that Doug and I took away:
  • do lots and lots of transitions - trot walk trot with only ONE walk step, canter walk canter
  • put cavalletti at the 1/4 points of a circle and count your strides between them to make sure your strides are rhythmic and even in either trot or canter. You can also set the cavalletti higher and go 3 strides between, four strides between, three strides between, four strides between, etc. by regulating the stride length and steering more to the inside or more to the outside of the circle / cavaletti. This is a good exercise for eventers to control stride length and control steering at speed, but would be good for any horse and rider.
  • school canter pirouettes by coming out of the corner doing canter half pass to the far quarter line followed by a 6 m circle in travers. Do this several times, then ride a half pirouette. Focus on the rhythm and quality of the canter more than keeping it small.
  • A recurring theme was to release the inside rein on the circles, something I need to do more, especially to the left where I still hang on it too much
  • When schooling changes, if your horse starts to anticipate and change on his own, make sure your aids are saying 'no', until you say 'yes'. Reduce the number of changes to 3 (i.e. 3 three tempis, 3 four tempis) and concentrate on getting three correct changes rather than trying to go all the way across and having the horse start changing on his own. Don't collect too much - let the horse go reasonably forward.
  • to help a young / greener horse do canter walk transitions, try cantering 10 m figure eights, with 2 or 3 walk steps to change direction. We watched her working with a 5 year old Friesian stallion on this exercise and is was striking how quickly he went from not being able to come close to a canter walk transition to almost nailing it.
  • Here's a picture of him. I LOVE Friesians to look at. I don't expect I'll ever own one. Stunningly beautiful as they are I'd rather spend my limited time and budget with a warmblood if I can, simply because most are better suited to dressage. But boy, I'm sure glad others ride them so I can watch! Come to think of it, I think Jane Savoie rides some Friesians, so I guess they can do dressage just fine  :) This guy just may have been the most beautiful one I've ever seen.

 And here he is going over the cavalletti, with Ingrid in the background (phone photos, sorry):

In other news, I start my lessons with Sue Fraser tomorrow, on Rogo. When the vet came to take out the stitches he decided he needed five more days off, so he's been there getting settled (the wound was still a bit open). Rogo's been off for over three weeks except for three or so short bareback rides, and I've been doing very little riding. Soooo, I'm a little nervous to jump right in, but how else will we get going again? We really need lessons from a skilled teacher right now and Sue fits the bill. It's over three hours to make the round trip, so I may stay in the living quarters in the trailer tomorrow night. I have lessons Mon., Tues., and Thur. this week. Let's hope that trailer furnace is working well!
Here's a picture I took when riding Savanah on the beach the other day:

These are a couple of the horses that live next door. They're in with cows and this is where Rogo had his terrible cow fright :) He'd only been to the beach a few times so when they ran over to look at him it threw him for a loop.
I was very proud of Savanah on our ride. She was bareback (she's so warm and comfy I can't resist) and I aasked her to lengthen, shorten, lengthen and shorten her canter down an open stretch and she did it perfectly! Twice! This is a challenge as she loves to go forward and an open beach on a crisp Nov. day brings out the 'go go go' in her, but she stayed perfectly on the aids and responded brilliantly. We're so lucky to have a safe, sensitive, forward horse like her.
Hope everyone had a good weekend.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Waiting For Fall / Winter Training To Begin

With a sub-theme of how different horses respond to training intensity...

Rogo is healing nicely from his sarcoid surgery. The wound site looks good and the stitches are coming out tomorrow. Then, wait for it, I take him to Fraser Equestrian Center for November and December with Atlantic Canada's only (I think) level three dressage coach Sue Fraser and her incredibly talented sister Jane Fraser to give us lessons. I'm going to keep doing the lunge lessons with Jane for my equitation, and I'll ride Rogo for three lessons a week with Sue.
We haven't really worked very hard since we were at dressage camp there in early Aug. First Rogo cut his leg, then some things happened that threw me for a loop, then the surgery and bingo, it's Nov. already. I'd had my heart set on doing level one next year, but it will take some work to get training level consistent again, and although I scored mid 60's in my July test clinic I wouldn't say we were consistent mid 60's. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that with steady work under good instruction we'll make significant progress though.
Savanah's the type of horse that even if you're off her for weeks you get back on and pick up where you left off. With Rogo, if he's off for more than three days it takes weeks to get him back where he was. I'm not sure if it's just because he's younger, or because they have different personalities. Opinions / experience with this question?
To digress onto the topic of Savanah for a moment, she is doing GREAT! With Doug not riding she only gets ridden two or three times a week, often bareback and often just for fifteen minutes or so. Yet she's the one who has really made great progress this summer. She is now consistent, solid and precise in all level one movements, and she wasn't at the beginning of the summer. Even with this limited amount of riding I wouldn't hesitate to take her into a show tomorrow in any level one test and I'm sure she'd do well. After riding her the other day I realized how far Rogo is from this. He can do all of the movements, some quite well, but he doesn't have her precision, especially with his circles or a good trot lengthening and shortening. If Doug isn't showing in the spring I'm going to start competing her again.
Okay, back to Rogo. He needs a mix of activities to keep from getting bored, and of course training the same thing every day is a recipe for lameness, but having said that, he thrives on harder work. He gets more energized, accurate and responsive when he works harder (within reason of course). He's been this way pretty much since he's been backed. He won't be all crazy let's go, go, go when he gets to Sue's, because of rest and time off. He'll be " damn, work? seriously?, well okay... here's a little trot, ..." and it will take at least a week to get up to speed, no pun intended. That's my prediction. I'll check back on it next week.
Now, I need your help. This is my first time boarding at a serious dressage barn. The other day on my way to a lunge lesson I realized I'd forgotten my helmet and stopped and bought one. I couldn't help myself - when they had this bright blue one that matched my jacket perfectly I bought it.

It's a matchy matchy sickness. So here's the question and be honest. Save me from myself if need be. Should I hide the sky blue helmet except when I'm home alone and can enjoy it's glowing, heart lightening color privately, or is it okay to wear it at the dressage barn occasionally? I think Joan might look askance at it, and I've had even my grey and pearl bead brow band called gaudy, so I think I know the answer :( ...
Just to be clear, I adore beautiful, classic black and white show clothes. My color love is for schooling only.
You'll see from the picture that I've lost my half chaps so I need a new pair of those too. And no, I'm not buying blue ones :) Also you can see I'm riding Rogo bare back. While waiting for his incision to heal (it's close to the girth area), I've had two or three short bareback rides. I love it and he seems to like it too. We work on 10 m figure eight trot circles (he can do them quite well most of the time) leg yield (his hind quarters are still lagging but getting better), and a bit of trying to sit his working trot. Also we did canter circles a couple of times and I want to increase my confidence with those transitions. If I weren't going to Sue's I think I'd spend most of the winter bare back. As it is, I think I'll use it for cool down time.
Sue only has room for us until the end of Dec., so if nothing opens up there we'll be looking for another indoor at that time, and lessons will be up in the air again. Hopefully my next post will be reporting on our initial lessons at Fraser Equestrian Center!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lunge / Equitation Lessons

I've been driving to Port Williams for lunge lessons for the last few weeks to work on my equitation (the place I went to dressage camp last summer). So far I've had four. This represents a significant commitment on my part, as it is an hour and a half + drive to get there - so three hours + driving for a lesson. They're worth it though. Jane Fraser gives the lessons. She's Sue Fraser's sister and teaches at her barn some. Sue is a level three dressage coach and we're really lucky to have both she and Jane here in Nova Scotia. 
These lessons are intense and I love them. To give you a little background, instead of getting better, my riding has gotten worse since I backed Rogo. It was both my first time backing a horse, and first time riding a warmblood. Can you imagine? (I know it wasn't a smart thing to do, but it's working.) And I wonder why he didn't want to go forward at first? Oh la la. The movement is sooo different. Savanah is a big powerful horse, but the sensation of riding the two horses is like being on two different species. Rogo is shading over 17 hands and has a lot of suspension. 
When being lunged the reins are tied up and I hold (lightly when I'm doing well) a strap on the front of the saddle. This gives me the freedom to think about my equitation and work on isolating body parts and using them individually.
Here are a few things I've learned in no particular order...
I noticed that when I clamp my knees and thighs my lesson horse slows right down - I can almost feel them braking. I'm almost sure I've been doing this to Rogo, at least at times. Jane tells me that doing this will cause some horses to race and others to get balky. A horse like Rogo who wasn't anxious to go forward even on the lunge before backing wouldn't react well to this from his rider. I remember him lowering his head and shaking it all the time when I first asked him to trot under saddle. Not a happy boy, and I didn't know why. Hmmm, I think there may be a relationship. I've always felt there was something not right about how I was trotting, because he's nicely forward at the canter. I learned through my lunge lessons that although I can improve my canter seat, it isn't restricting like my trot seat often becomes with tight knees and thighs. Like many people I find it much easier to sit with stability at the canter, even the huge warm blood canter Rogo has. The school horse I rode that day was a Thoroughbred, so sometimes tight upper legs made her race and sometimes she just shut down / slow down. Relaxing got her to relax and lengthen her trot into a nice big, steady rhythm.
I've had teachers tell me to relax my upper leg before, and let it lie softly without 'clamping' but the lunge lessons make the effect of a tight thigh / knee so clear - instant loss of quality in the gait with upper legs tight and instant improvement in the length of stride and rhythm when the upper leg is loose and open.
And here's my big break through! Keeping my heels down has always been hard for me on Rogo, and forget keeping my legs quiet. Jane kept telling me to put my legs back, put my legs back. They continually crept forward so that I didn't have a straight line from ear to shoulder to hip to heel - my legs got too forward. She also told me to push down through my heels each time I rose in the trot. I just couldn't do it - my legs kept going forward and I couldn't hold them in place. Finally, in frustration with myself, I decided to correct the leg position with each stride. I pushed my lower leg back/down, back/down, back/down and suddenly Jane shouts "You've got it"! After a couple of rounds of it she had to stop me to show me the goose bumps on her arm. She said it was the single biggest improvement I'd made. I was so touched that she cared that much about my improvement, and so happy to finally 'feel' the flow and rhythm of trotting with my legs correct. I think it is this real caring that takes Jane from being a very good teacher to being a great teacher. She has the information, she's knowledgeable about how learning takes place, and she genuinely cares about her students and their horses learning and improving. I think I might have gotten a little teary eyed at my improved leg position :)
I told you this was in no particular order, and being that my readers are much more knowledgeable than me in many / most cases, you'll know the lower leg epiphany came before the upper leg relaxation. Once the lower leg learned the movement and I could relax into it without straining to keep my leg in the right place, or bouncing up off the ball of my foot instead of stepping down into it, the upper leg relaxed and my horse relaxed and went forward.
I feel like a blind man who is learning to see, and I'm disappointed that years have gone by without good lessons. I should have been doing this years ago. It takes so many years to get good, and now I've lost years. I need at least another hundred hours of this to start to crack the surface.
A couple of my biggest areas to correct are keeping my shoulders back, stretching up through my core and tucking in my butt. I'm moving Rogo to the Fraser Equestrian Center for Nov. and Dec., so I'll be getting training lessons with Sue and I want to keep my lunge lessons up all winter. OMG, I'm so excited! 
By the way, Rogo is recovering well from surgery and the vet expects he'll be in fine shape to start training with Sue in Nov. I rode him bareback yesterday (the incision is too close to the girth area to put a saddle on him). 
Here are some lunging pictures:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rogo Pictures

Here are more photographs taken the same day as Savanah's also by Maria Casey.

I like the way his neck muscles are developing. Thanks for the beautiful pictures Maria! You captured his sweetness.
Rogo had his sarcoid surgically removed this morning. It was slowly growing and chances of success are higher when they are small. The vet said he thinks he got all of it. It will be biopsied to ensure it is a sarcoid and to see if the edges of the piece removed are cancer free.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Savanah and Dan Pictures

Maria Casey came to our house a couple of weeks ago and took some amazing shots of our horses. I`ll post some of Rogo in a future post. Today, bareback on the ever photogenic Savanah...

In the riding ring
At the beach
At the beach
Cantering up the beach

Walking back to the riding ring

Turned out and happy

Maria and Jennifer (who rode Dan last winter) also went to visit my Appaloosa, Dan who is staying at Joan`s to keep her Arabian company. Here are some pictures of Dan and Jennifer:

It looks to me like Dan remembered Jennifer! He really likes her. Wish she could get out to ride more. Maria did such a great job with her photography. Thank you Maria, these mean a lot to me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Slow Mo Rogo

Seems ironic after writing about run away Rogo a few days ago, but tonight I have a whole different story. I've been trying to incorporate as much bare back into my riding as I can get, without giving up on my saddle entirely (I would give it up for a while, but neither of us is to a stage we wouldn't regress in some areas without it). I ride bareback once or twice a week, and at the end of almost every ride I take the saddle off and ride bareback for ten or fifteen minutes. He seems to really like it. Maybe it's a coincidence, but he's been even more affectionate since we started this - it's such a nice connection. I can feel where his feet are almost intuitively and it's much easier to time my aids, for example we do the leg yield much better bare back. He also does a mean shoulder in and nice ten meter trot circles. 
I haven't cantered bareback with him until today. I canter bare back on Savanah everywhere - in the arena and hacking, but I can't sit Rogo's trot very well yet (there's lots of suspension). Without a solid sitting trot those canter transitions, up and down, are a little dicey :) Also, a year ago he was VERY excited the one time I got on bare back and tore around the arena (trotting) with little steering or brakes, so I didn't try bare back on him again until recently.
We had a great ride under saddle today - he was forward and focused. After about 30 minutes I decided to pull his saddle off and ride bare back, and then it hit me - today's the day to start cantering bareback with him. I trotted one circle and then asked for canter. He went right into it, but here's the strange part - he did this super slow motion canter that he's never done before. It was so slow that I had to really focus to keep my rhythm slow enough in following. It was like a good lope - not laboured, but not collected and super slow. After one circle I asked for trot and he did one tiny trot step and walked. I felt like he was trying really hard to take care of me and keep me safe at this new undertaking. He wasn't the least unbalanced or hesitant - just really slow. So I tried a circle the other way and he did the exact same thing. I'm going to see if I can catch some on video to show you. I'm just so puzzled, yet kind of pleased with it. I don't want this canter to be part of our repertoire, but it was a perfect first bare back canter on a horse whose big movement can be a little intimidating. Sometimes his intuitiveness scares me a little. No, scared is the wrong word. Leaves me in awe.
We had a really good lesson with Megan Bishop a few days ago. We worked on trot / canter / trot transitions a lot. They have regressed, as have our halts which we worked on as well. For the canter transitions my problem is that I can't sit his trot well, so I have this period where I try to rush from trot to canter. This gets Rogo off balance and he struggles with the first canter stride or two. Not pretty. Megan had me slow down that trot step just before cantering, so I can sit soidly and give a clear canter aid. It worked - Yeah! It needs more practice, lots more practice, but it's coming. She also got me to practice sitting trot, which is what I need in the longer term . The time I lost in Aug. / Sept.  and the lack of lessons is telling on us there (transitions and halts) and other places, but it will all come back. I'm pretty happy with him.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rogo Training Goal Results for September/October, and Goals for November

Here are our results for September and Goals for November. Rogo's sarcoid has been slowly growing, so it is scheduled for removal next week - thus I'm leaving Oct. out of the goal setting :) He'll be off for two or three weeks, but I may ride him bareback before that (the sarcoid is close to the girth area). We'll be rusty though, so maybe I shouldn't hope for too much regarding goals in Nov.
Generally speaking, everything needs to be more forward and he needs to be rounding more. He's schooling all of the Level One movements, some better than others, but the engagement he should have for this level isn't developed yet.
My equitation is another big goal. I've been for two lunge lessons in the last couple of weeks and want to have as many more as I can get. They are fabulous! More on them in an upcoming post. Needless to say, Rogo will be able to improve as I am able to ride him better. Building on that, sitting trot should start appearing here. Let's say a goal of being able to sit the working trot most of the time by the end of Nov. This will be good bare back work!

Training Area
Achieved Aug. 2011
Goal Sept. 30, & Achieved
Goal Nov. 31
15 m canter circle
7    6
10 m canter circle
6   5.5
He is doing these (canter circles), but needs to engage his hindquarters more, round and move more lightly. Improving my riding will help this.
Canter lengthen and shorten
7   7
Counter canter to center line and back

3 loop canter serpentine
7   5
20 m counter canter circle
6.5 haven’t worked on it
Rogo was a star when we started counter canter and did the circle and serpentine easily first time asked, thus I scored him high. I didn’t work on them and when I went back, they weren’t as solid as I thought, so I’m going back to working on the Level One loop for now.
Walk / canter
6   5.5
Canter / walk
3 (just starting)
5   4
Simple change
Haven’t started
3   na

Trot lengthening
4 (haven’t worked on it)
6 (we need to get this going) 5
Trot collection
5.5   5.5
Stretchy circle
7   6
Rogo was good at stretching forward and down, but the last couple of rides he goes straight down, with no forward. Also, he goes straight down with his nose to the ground for a few strides, then lifts his head again, then repeats. Any ideas as to cause?
Leg yield
6   6
Shoulder in
6   6
Halt square and stand
8   5 this is regressing!

I’m still having trouble getting Rogo to understand I’m not asking for anything more when we stop. He starts wiggling back and forth, trying to figure out what to do next.
Trot from halt
7   6
Rein back
Haven’t started
5 na

Marching walk
5 (I haven’t been on top of this)
7 (he enjoys doing it when I remember)  6.5
Free walk
7   7
Hack out – trot
5 (just started)
6  5.5
Hack out – canter
Haven’t started
5  did once on purpose and once by accident J