Saturday, April 30, 2011

Focus Areas

I finally got a good ride in the ring today. The training is coming along well and I'm really happy with Rogo's attitude - he's so up for trying to please. Here are a few shots Doug took while I was practicing:

I need to remember to:
(a) practice trot canter transitions, and
(b) go back to working on trot work after cantering. 
Rogo tends to go all to hell with his responsiveness to bending after he canters. It isn't like he thinks his work is done - he's willing to go forward. If we work on canter for a more than a few minutes though, sometimes the bending and lateral work goes out the window. Why is that?
My final focus for the coming week is:
(c) trotting off from a halt
I'll also practice my tests a couple of times and if I'm lucky get Doug to video them.
I can't resist adding a few dog pictures that I took today:

 Nola takes her jolly ball where ever she goes...

And my sweetie Doug

Friday, April 29, 2011

With Balance Comes Strength - Of Body AND Mind

It's been pretty rainy here in Nova Scotia, so minimal riding time :( . Sure seems it's going to be hard to get ready for the first show. At least Rogo seems to be gaining balance and holding his training, as I wrote about a few days ago.
Yesterday the riding ring was too wet to use, so I decided to take him to the beach. This still isn't a usual outing for him - it would be his fourth time. Of course because of rain he hadn't been ridden and was very fresh. Savanah was screaming at him because of being left behind, but as is usual for him he ignored this and happily went off up the beach with me. After going some way up the beach it occurred to me to test his response to turning towards home. If I'd been thinking about it we should have done small circles at intervals as we went up the beach, to get him used to turning toward home and back, but i didn't think of it. So when I did turn on a circle to test the reaction we were quite far up the beach and he took a lunge in the direction of home. I was able to keep him on the circle and get him turned back up the beach, then tried the circle again, with a similar reaction. Yikes! Where was my well behaved boy? I walked a bit towards home, but his head was high and I didn't trust him. His one bad habit is to run from me on the lunge when he's feeling high spirited (and this translated to running from me on a lead line when we're outside the fence - a problem we've been working on with success) and I didn't want him to ever get the idea to run with me on his back, ignoring me.
So I got off and lead him for a way, asking for halts and turns, and after about thirty feet or so, quite quickly, his head dropped and he got soft and relaxed. I got back on and we rode up and down the beach a bit and then headed home.  We went up and down a small hill several times for the workout benefit and for some reason this seemed to make him excited. I guess when he's fresh it doesn't take much :) The field we go through to get to the beach isn't all that smooth, but I did leg yield and shoulder in on it anyway, as well as at the beach. 
Then we practiced halting in the backyard. All in all as good as can be expected with the conditions. I need to get some sessions in the ring though!
Doug and I met with the New Entry Coordinator for farming yesterday about our horse business. Things are going well and we were informed we'd be able to register it as a farm - Yeah! It's questionable as to whether horse businesses can register, but registration gives us access to some great funding programs for loan interest rebates, solar power equipment, etc.

Dressage Test Competition Tips From Jane Savoie-Memorize Your Test! | Barnmice Review

Dressage Test Competition Tips From Jane Savoie-Memorize Your Test! | Barnmice Review

Monday, April 25, 2011

I Love My Horse

What a surprise, eh? Well no, I suppose not. But here are some more reasons I love him. I hadn't been able to ride in about ten days, because of bad weather and having the flu. Also, because of being sick, I haven't been in the barn. When I went out yesterday for the first time in ages Rogo was the biggest baby in the world. He put his head over my shoulder and pulled me into him and wanted to stand like this for as long as I'd stand there, sort of hugging me. Then he did his kissy thing - he puts his lips on mine and gives a little nudge for a kiss and keeps repeating for as long as I'll do it. For those who train by herd behavior I'm sure we're headed straight to hell, but I know my horse and his 'intrusion in my space' doesn't escalate, it just stays soft and affectionate and I love this about him. He also tucks his head into the crook of my arm and holds it there - thus my pet name for him - Bunny Rabbit. Ha ha, nauseating I know, but I'm a complete sucker for it and Rogo has me wrapped.
Here are some more 'sensible' reasons to love him - after all this time off and me worrying about the time we're losing he came back better than ever. Yesterday, inspired by the Dr. Reiner Klimke video I'd been watching on training young horses at the canter I decided to ask for a 10m canter circle and voila - I got a lovely 10m canter circle with ease. I also asked for walk canter walk on the 10m circle and he did it with one or two trot steps both up and down, both ways. Today I asked for counter canter for the first time since last fall. Last fall he'd do counter canter to the quarter line and back to the right, but not at all to the left. Today he did it several times, from the first ask, both ways almost to the center line and back. Wow! He's always been very clumsy, but not anymore. I think he must be almost finished growing and he's finding his balance now. I'll have to be very careful not to rush things or push him now that he's figuring out how to carry himself. 
He's so cute as he does these new things - he knows he's done well and that I'm pleased with him and he blows and snorts to beat the band after he makes a good effort. What a great Easter gift from him and how nice to realize the time off seemed to be good for him. Come to think of it he gave me that incredible collected canter circle Christmas Eve - maybe he's a religious horse? :)
We also worked on the trot quarter line loop needed for training level, and the stretchy circle. He stretches nicely but doesn't steer too well on the circle with a long rein.
I had a board meeting for my dressage club R.I.D.E.R.S. at a pub in Windsor this evening - the best fish and chips! We've got a great season coming up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

If This Keeps Up I'll Be Doing Walk Trot Again

It's been raining for a week. Also, I've been really sick for a week with a temperature and horribly congested chest / head. So.... no riding. It seems every time I think we're getting somewhere there's another set back. It will probably be okay if I start feeling better soon, and it dries up, but we're really losing valuable training time when we need to be polishing training level and schooling level one.
Hmmm, that's kind of whiny isn't it? Enough of that.
I just got these videos - Dr. Reiner Klimke's series on working with 4 to 6 year olds.

I watched the first one tonight, on trot work. The main messages were to keep hands sensitive to the horse's mouth and do lots of half halts and walk trot transitions, to build up to working on the medium trot. Also, by pushing the horse forward in rising trot, and then coming back for the sitting trot, the horse develops responsiveness to the aids and ultimately responds better to the ask for the medium trot. I need to watch it several more times.
The next one is about canter work and the final one is the introduction to the double bridle. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Our Land

Here is an aerial view of the land we're buying - the land inside the red line is the parcel.

April 25th is the closing date. I wish we could just start building right away, but there's lots of planning to do. We have to consider the services we want to offer, what the market is, how much we need to invest to deliver the service well and the break even point, etc., etc. Also we need to learn the legislative and financial framework around agriculture - it isn't simple. Here are a few things we need to educate ourselves on:
  • Residential, resource, forestry and commercial assessment, 
  • Farm Credit Canada and Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board,
  • Farm Registration and Environmental Management Plans,
  • Green design and funding programs,
  • etc., etc., etc.
Additionally we need to develop capital and operating costs, five year revenue projections, risk management plans, ...
135 acres gives us lots to play with though. Maybe we'll just have a great spot to go horse camping! I've always wanted to do that.
Doug is fully on board with this whole scheme because now he can realize his life's dream of owning a tractor. A tractor with a back hoe and loader and three point hitch - does it get any better? He'll probably never come home. He's already planning where to park the motor home for his 'work camp' :)
On riding matters, I had a great session with Rogo the other day - lunging and then for a short hack to the beach. His third hack ever and first of the season. He was a lamb.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Really Fun Ride

I had a great ride on Rogo today. It was quite windy, but sunny and warm and since Rogo doesn't mind wind it was perfect. It seems only yesterday that it felt like these days would never come.
Rogo was so good - I was able to get him to go forward on my own, the way I had with Joan. It was almost like he was waiting for me to ask and as soon as I did he surged forward. This wasn't one of those "I'm excited it's spring" days. He was as calm and quiet as could be, but when I asked for forward he gave it. YEAH! It's a break through. He powered down the long sides and across the diagonal. This is what I've been looking for for so long. He had it the summer I started him, but then it disappeared (coincidentally when Joan disappeared), but now it seems to be back.
It still needs lots of work of course. Partly he is just going more quickly, and of course that isn't what we're looking for, but he's using his hind quarters more too, and taking contact more and generally going more forward so I'll take it. It isn't completely consistent yet either, as in from the first step and perfect rhythm :), but I'm so happy that it's getting there. I think all the work we've done with free jumps and on the lunge has helped too.
We rode Training Level test 2. I'm thinking I'll do tests 2 and 3 in the show. Test 1 calls for a half canter circle and I really don't want him to get it into his head to stop cantering that quickly. I guess it shouldn't make any difference and maybe I'll do the three of them...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

OMG - Joan's Back

I can hardly believe what happened today. I've always been able to do things with Joan that I couldn't do on my own, but today was a real milestone for us. Just to be clear, I often screw up around her, because I admire her so much as a teacher I get nervous and try too hard. Having said that, when I'm stuck she can come in and work with us for a few minutes and fix whatever the problem is. She can never believe she fixed anything because with her there the problem just seems to dissolve. Here's what happened today, but I have to give a little background first, that I'll call:

Riding Rituals

I attended a spring dressage workshop a couple  of weeks ago put on by RIDERS (I'm Co-Chair), designed to prepare for show season and lead by Jane Fraser (a great dressage rider and teacher here in NS). It was very inspirational and one of the things she talked about was mental preparation and having a 'mantra' to say before a test in a show. She shared hers and it touched a nerve with me because without knowing it was a technique used by athletes before a competition I had already invented one for Rogo and I. I say it before every ride, with my hand on him. Today I added a piece about forwardness. 

In a nutshell it was a mental preparation for working on forwardness and, flaky as it sounds, it was asking whatever power you (I) believe in for guidance to achieve energy and forward. How shallow is that? World peace? An end to world hunger? Love and prosperity? No - forward is what I prayed for. Holy shit, save me, but there it is. 
And guess what? I got forward!
It seems hard to believe but here's what happened. We had a lesson and Joan worked on our equitation (legs mostly) and on ramener (beginning of collection). When we were finished with that she suggested I work on forward while she coached me. I'd been complaining about it to her for months. She seemed much too unconcerned about it the whole time I talked about it, and when we finally got to it it just instantly happened. How does she do that? I have no idea. She told me to trot on the rail and then tap with the whip, use my legs and post faster than him. He was almost instantly in this huge forward trot and I have no idea why it worked today and not any other day. It was warm and he'd been poky as all get out. It wasn't as though it was one of his forward days, but away he went. It also wasn't as though I haven't been trying this almost every ride to no avail, but for whatever reason, today it worked like magic. He hasn't been like this since the summer she started us when we had to slow down for corners because he didn't have the balance to speed through them. He's been slow ever since I've been away from her, but now she's back and instantly he's back. How great is that?
So to wrap up, I'm ecstatic that I'm having lessons with Joan again. It's going to be a great summer.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

This Gives Me Lots To Work With :)

I wasn't going to post this, as it isn't our best effort :), but then I thought, it's a genuine record of where we are at this point in time, and if I only post good examples the videos will be few and far between. As noted in my last post, I'm riding Training Level Test One, so I can critique it and plan my preparation for the show season. It's the first time in about 10 days it's been dry enough to ride in the riding ring, so we're both a little rough. The biggest problem, and I've written about this before, is the lack of forwardness. With forwardness a lot of the issues we have in the video would be fixed - woobly on the center line, me being jerky in an effort to keep him going, etc. He's been more forward than this almost all spring, so it was too bad he wasn't for this. All in all I think we're on the right track though.Feedback is welcome.

My goals from this are to work on building strength in his hind quarters, REALLY focus on forward and to improve the quality of the connection, especially in canter, and the trot canter trot transitions. Also, to polish steering in the stretchy circle and free walk and to get a straight, square halt. I'm going to ride tests two and three as well in the next few days.
Rogo turns six on Mon. I can't believe it. It seems like just a year ago he arrived as an ugly duckling two year old. Maybe it's just my adoration, but I think he gets handsomer all the time :)

Friday, April 8, 2011

April Plan - Preparation

My plan for April is to solidify Training Level. Here's how I'm going to approach it:

1. Stretch (me) before mounting 
2. Warm up:
  • Time to be dependent on needs of the day
  • Begin walking on a long rein and do my mounted stretches as we do so
  • Walk  on a 20m circle, lengthening and shortening stride; bend in and out on a 20m circle
  • Trot 20m circle, do walk trot transitions, do 'stretchy' circle
  • Trot 1/4 line loops both ways
  • Walk leg yield both ways
  • Canter large; canter on and off 20m circle; canter / trot transitions on 20m circle
3.  Ride and video Training Level tests 1 and 2
4. Study videos and make a list for concentrated improvement
5. Develop training plan from videos and incorporate a minimum of one hack and one day of free jumping per week in plan
6. do ground work outside the fenced area after each ride
7. schedule a visit to the show grounds and book an hour in the arena one week +/- before the show

There, I have a plan to start getting focused. Doug and I free jumped Rogo and Savanah yesterday and they were in heaven - they kept avoiding the low cross rail we had set up and jumping the four foot bar we had between the little cross rail and the fence. Savanah literally tucks her hind feet against her belly and neither horse ever hit a rail - they were clearing four feet with miles to spare :) It was so fun to watch them and Rogo was galloping and turning on a dime like a compact little cutting horse instead of a 17 +h warm blood. I had no idea he could move like that. Savanah does this HUGE trot that is just to die for when she gets excited and happy like that. Fun times.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What I Want To Remember

I tend to get nervous when I think about showing Rogo, and show season is coming up. There's good reason for this, in that he's the first horse I've backed and taken to their first shows, and I'm getting older and not that experienced. He gets very excited in new places and he has in the past galloped off with me at Cheryl's. Also, he's over 17 hands now (I'll measure him this week, but he's grown and was 17 hands a year ago).
The things I want to remember revolve around the following: he's a year older than his first shows, and he did fine there. Yesterday I rode him in the pasture, not a hack out, but much more exciting for him then the riding ring and due to rain, he hasn't had a good workout in close to a week. He was bouncy with excitement, wanting to go, go, go. I did lots of walking shoulder in and leg yield (they're still rough, but coming) both ways and it is so apparent that he does them better when he's up like this. Then we did trotting. He'd surge forward and a year ago he would have broken to a canter almost instantly when in one of these moods, but he kept a nice trot and came back to a halt as soon as I asked, standing, yet eager to go forward. We'd trot off and repeat. I kept the session quite short because he did so well and the footing wasn't good - rough and a little slippery in places to be honest.
After this I took the dogs for a walk on the beach and the sun was shining, waves crashing, wind blowing and it was wonderful. It finally felt like spring! I celebrated my great afternoon with a glass of red wine and began to reflect on my ride. Any experienced horse person is going to roll their eyes and wonder at my 'slowness', so I'll just say that I did know this stuff (that I'm about to discuss) on the surface, but somehow it hadn't been internalized. What I realized is that this is how I want Rogo - it isn't to be 'controlled', it's to be celebrated. When backing a horse, you may be a little cautious and maybe even lunge first if they are a little over the top in their excitement, but we're past that. I love these rides when he's so forward, yet I feel nervous about having him at a show when he's like this. What I need to remember is that this is when he's at his best, this is how he should be presented at a show, he's proving to me that I can trust him to listen when he's up.
I'm not suggesting that I suddenly expect him to be as trust worthy as Savanah at a show and put sensible caution aside. I am realizing he's responding well to his training and I need to let go of my show fears and enjoy the fun boy he is.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My First Fall Off Savanah, and Other News

I had a very lucky escape from injury the other day. I took Savanah for a bare back ride on the beach, our first ride on the beach since last fall. It was windy, snow was flying and she was VERY up for a trip to the beach. Maybe I should have taken all this into account and waited for a calmer day (or used a saddle), but the weather's been terrible, meaning the ring is too wet to ride, and Rogo needs to be lunged or ridden more regularly before I can take him out. He gets very excited outside the ring, meaning he needs more of it, but I have to do it safely.
I've ridden Savanah bare back a lot and feel pretty much as safe without a saddle as with one. She's broad and well balanced. I love riding her bare back - I feel such a connection and can work on my seat, not to mention having a nice heated seat :) So, off we went. It was fun, fun, fun. We did a big trot for a long way up the beach and it was nice to note that I can sit easily, since I still can't sit Rogo's trot a lot of the time (I think it will get better as he gets rounder). After that we rounded a point onto another small beach and had a great canter. Savanah was blowing and snorting and raring to go, so you'd think if there was going to be a problem I'd have it then. That part went really well though and I was grinning from ear to ear. I decided we'd done well and brought her back to a walk and turned for home. We always walk home because otherwise she hurries. Just as she turned she saw something that made her spook and I wasn't paying attention - we were walking safely home right? Off I went, but oddly, I went off in the direction of the spook - maybe because we were turning and I wasn't sitting over her center of gravity properly? Anyway, I went off and under her and she stepped on me. She's very big - a draft cross who truly shows her draft. Miraculously I wasn't badly hurt. I must have sunk into the sand some as she stepped on me, and she must have had lightening reflexes and shifted her weight off me. She completely froze in place and I was lying completely underneath her. I thought for sure I'd have broken ribs but I crawled out and realized I was just a little sore and shaken. There was a sandstone outcrop beside us and I led her over to it and she leaned into it to try to make mounting easier. I jumped on and we walked home. I think I have a guardian angel (the one who looks out for fools).
Honestly, the ride was so much fun until that happened that I don't even feel bad about it or regret it. I can't wait to go again. We've had Savanah for five years and it's my first fall off of her. She's very safe and it was just bad luck and probably bad judgement to go that day without a saddle. Oh yeah - a plug for helmets - I was wearing mine and hit my head on a rock hard enough that it hurt afterward, so I shudder to think of the damage that would have been done without a helmet. It's time to replace it.
Then, another story. My teacher Joan has had two Arabians, half brothers Razim and Fadin, that she's had since they were weanlings or yearlings. Razim died the other day with no warning. He was only seventeen. Fadin has never been separated from Razim in all his life. Joan asked if Dan (my Appaloosa) could come up and stay with Razim for awhile to keep him company, so we took him right up. Dan was wonderful - Fadim was on edge when we got there, but Dan was stabled beside him and stayed very calm. After being beside one another all night we turned them out together in the morning and they were instant friends - running and playing. We had made two piles of hay, but they just ate out of the same pile. That evening Dan went into Fadin's stall with him and they were in there eating together calmly and happily. I know this isn't safe and Doug went in and got him out right away ( I wasn't there but I guess they weren't expecting it), but it seems incredible to me that they could be so relaxed together so quickly. I don't know what we'll do longer term, but we won't worry about it for now.
Today my friend Lynn's daughter Jessie came over to try our saddles as she's shopping for saddles for her three horses. It was great to see her. She's a great rider and although only about 5 ft. (+?), she's backed and trained a 17.2 Swedish warm blood and several others too. She's in the process of training three warm bloods now and I think she does a great job. She may come back with her horse Elvis soon so we can ride together.
A final note - if you're following me and I'm not following you please send me a note. I read a lot of blogs from my google reader (highly recommend it) and really enjoy finding and reading new ones. I don't always comment, but I read and enjoy tons. Lately I find new followers aren't added in chronological order, so I can't tell who's new, I just see the number increase every so often.
Since it's going to snow tonight I won't feel too guilty that this post isn't the slow, medium and fast warm up and training bag of tricks that I need to organize and that I committed to in my last post. My business planning has me distracted :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Big News!

Well we did it. Today Doug's and my offer was accepted for a piece of land. We bought 135 acres, 5 minutes from the 102 (the Trans Canada Highway). We are very excited!
Thinking of a horse business, this location is ideal - it's central in the Province and there aren't any back roads to travel over to get there (easy with a trailer), yet it is pure rural. It's only about 10 minutes to Truro (a large town) and 40 minutes to Halifax (Atlantic Canada's biggest city and NS's capital). It's also close and convenient to get to from Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
We'll take our time now and think about what we want to do. Maybe it will just be an investment for the future, or maybe we'll develop it as a horse business sooner rather than later. We need more market research and  work on our business plan before we decide if / when to move, but it was the right location for the right price so we took it. We feel sure the land is a good investment even if we don't do a horse business. It's a little scary, especially at our age, to embark on a major business investment - but at least most of the investment is in land or buildings :)
Back to training journal writing - I'm slowly but surely realizing (no one will ever accuse me of being a quick study when it comes to dressage) that Rogo, for whatever reason (young? big? genes?) isn't like any other horse I've ever ridden. He is REALLY different almost every time I ride him. When I first backed him I thought it was because he was so young and inexperienced. I could never develop feel with him, because he always felt different. With Dan and Savanah and other lesson horses I've ridden, I pretty much know what I'm going to get. They may be a bit more frisky on a windy cool day and a bit slower on a hot day, but that's about it. With Rogo, the only generalization I can make is that he's more forward spring and fall. However, that doesn't mean he's forward every ride spring and fall (and I've been very careful not to over do it). He can be extremely forward one ride, and two days later he can be slow, slow, slow, after a day off. I'm sure he isn't uncomfortable because he's soft and happy, just low energy.
I've talked to the vet about this, given supplements, experimented with his diet but I can't connect anything to the dramatic change in energy. It's disconcerting to try to plan a warm up or a ride when you have no idea until you're on him what kind of ride it's going to be. That wouldn't be so bad, but how do you plan your ride at a show? This is my big question if anyone has any advice. It could be he'll need a lengthy (40 minutes or so) warm up with lots of bending and canter work to get energized, or he may just need 10 minutes to get supple on days when his energy is good.
I hope this doesn't sound like complaining because he's really fun and has a great personality. Matter if fact I can't imagine riding another horse now - he's just too much fun. Some days it feels like magic.  I'm just thinking out loud and continually puzzled by this.
Ride before last, almost from his first step, I felt like I could have taken him into a show the next day. Yesterday it took at least 25 minutes to get him to connect and become more forward. Dear knows what it will be next ride.
This is a challenge for me, because warm up routines and a planned training session make me feel like we're having a productive ride and getting somewhere, whether it's true or not :). Maybe it would help me if I developed a slow, medium and forward bag of tricks I could draw on, within broad parameters, so I wouldn't have to try to figure out spontaneously what to do. That will be my goal for my next post.
Meantime, the broad parameters:
  • don't expect connection and rounding until he's warmed up, whether this is a minute or 20 minutes, and be ready for either
  • improve his response to moving forward and laterally from my leg aid 
  • focus on our weaker areas: the stretchy trot circle, riding the canter trot transition, leg yield