Friday, May 27, 2011

A New Wrinkle

The weather today is amazing  - sunny and warm, with a refreshing breeze to keep flies down. Doug and I are taking Megan and some of her clients to the Apple Blossom Paint, Appaloosa and Open horse show later, so I squeezed in a ride. (As an aside, we're researching our horse business idea with Megan).
Rogo is going well. I really need to focus on and learn how to warm him up and read his warm up needs on a ride by ride basis. It makes all the difference in the world. As he gets warmed up you can feel him come more underneath himself, bend more nicely and evenly, become more forward, etc. I know, seems self evident, but he hasn't always been this way. This is a great stage of training for us because he's learning to carry himself.
Here's the wrinkle - a couple of times recently he's taken off at a gallop when picking up the left lead canter. Both times I brought him back without incident and continued on, thinking it was a fluke. He's never done this before when working at home in the ring. (He did it routinely at Cheryl's last spring, outside, when he was learning to canter - always coming around the corner to the left and onto a grassy slope. She told me to let him.)
Today when I rode he galloped off every time I transitioned from trot to left canter. It's a little disconcerting to say the least to be on a young, galloping 17+ hand horse, when you'd planned on a canter. I tried to calmly bring him back, and each time I did, but this isn't a good thing. If he's doing this at home what will he do at a show? In an effort to stick with the test I was riding I put him onto the 20m circle where required. Maybe not the smartest move - we went around that circle like barrel racers, leaned way over, sand flying. I'd manage each time to get him down to a reasonable facsimile of a forward working canter (well, maybe a slower hand gallop).
I think I'll take a different approach next time and bring him right back to a trot and insist on a correct canter before we go ahead. Wish I had a teacher right now...
I may be asking too strongly for his stage of training. Maybe he needs a lighter aid now or more warm up. Any thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Quick Recap

Doug lunged Rogo while I rode bareback yesterday. We worked up to longer trotting - several circles both ways, but it was pretty slow. I ride Savanah bareback everywhere, at all gaits, but Rogo isn't used to it and sometimes gets over-excited, so I'm taking it slow until he responds to aids bareback as well as he does with a saddle. I could feel my hips aching afterward, so it must be working, right? Boy, if I could get my hips to open and relax what a difference it would make. Now that it's getting closer, I can feel how it should be a little more with every ride.
Today I rode tests 1 and 2. I was quite happy with them. They aren't perfect, but for a horse and rider who've barely been able to ride for three months because of rain, and only 2 lessons from Joan in all that time (circumstances beyond her control), I'll take it. 
He's straight again (Yeah!), nicely forward most of the time, all transitions in the correct places, good figures (except stretchy circle). What a good boy. Our stretchy circle is rough, but it's coming along. He stretches nicely but doesn't steer well enough to do the circle well. I use my legs as much as I can, but it's rising trot so I can't use my seat as effectively as I could if I was sitting, and it's on a long rein. Any suggestions? Look where I'm going, weight stirrups as needed...???
I was going to ride test 3 as well, but there's a trot to canter transition in a corner that still has a big muddy area as you come out of it. He did a funny leap over the mud, but I continued on and onto the 20m circle. It was rhythmic and forward, but it didn't feel quite right to me, so I looked down and I swear to God he was counter cantering the circle! Was I imagining this? Is he really able to do this now? I mentioned a while ago that I'd asked him to counter canter to the center line and back and he did it easily, after not being able to do it last fall. I haven't worked on it since, but his balance and coordination must be coming along. Anyway, I praised him (it was an honest mistake and he held his canter when asked), and then we did the canter part of the test and got it right. I decided not to ride it all until the ring is dryer, because the transitions were in all the muddy spots :(. Then we worked for a very few minutes on leg yield and called it a night.
One of the best things about this ride was the forward and jump in the canter. Even when he started off flat a couple of times I felt him re-balance himself onto his hindquarters and really pick it up - power surge. Oh I love that! I live for those moments :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Trying To Keep Training

It's finally stopped raining, but because Rogo lost a shoe I still can't ride him :( . Thinking walk would be okay (we have a good and still very moist sand footing in our ring) yesterday I got on and walked. Doug was our coach and eyes on the ground and I must say, I was very pleased with the session. I really think it would be beneficial to do a couple of days a month of walk only, even when he has all his shoes.
We did a lot of speeding up and slowing down the walk, on a 20 m circle. Boy does that exercise ever make them tune into you. Rogo tends to be a little strong minded at times, but when we do this he concentrates intensely. After a few minutes he is slooowing down, and then springing forward from his hind quarters when asked for a faster walk. With Doug's watchful eye I kept him engaged even when he was slow (he tended to invert his back and put his head up when we slowed down at the start of the exercise). Within a few minutes he was chewing the bit and reaching for it. Yeah!
Then we spiralled in and out on the circle both ways and I noticed he was more attentive to my lateral aids - he'd really focused on the lesson and I could keep my aids light.
We did a little shoulder in each way and a little leg yield both ways and he did fine. Maybe there should be a walk only dressage class, instead of starting with walk trot? It could include all of the above plus walk pirouettes. I'm kidding, but...
Today I rode a couple of my tests on Savanah, just for my own practice. My neighbor had lit a fire next door and it was snapping and crackling and Savanah was VERY excited about this. I don't blame her. If you're a horse fire isn't a good thing. I had started out bareback but went back and put her saddle on just to be on the safe side. After that things were fine and we rode Training Level 1 and 3. She can do it in her sleep, so I'm able to focus more on my equitation with her, which is a very good thing.
The farrier will be here tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't rain so I can have a ride.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Can You Guess What Caused This?

I rode Rogo this morning, with a saddle since Doug wasn't here to lunge me bare back and Rogo is still too excited about it to go without a lunge line. We warmed up with 20 meter circles at the trot and canter both ways, and 1/4 line trot loops and things went great. I worked at keeping my left hand quiet and down, relaxing my hips, and keeping my legs still. Rogo is staying nicely forward for me.
After the warm up I started practicing the canter parts of Training Level test 3, but Rogo kept turning sideways almost into a half pass. What on earth? There wasn't any spookiness, but he was cantering at  a 45 degree angle! I tried trot - same thing. It was just bizarre. Walk - same thing. Back to canter and sideways it was. Have you guessed the cause yet? I didn't until we halted, and I was on him. We halted and he turned almost 90 degrees. I pushed him forward, straightened him out and asked for halt again. Again he whipped his hind quarters around to face another direction. Then the light bulb came on - yes - a very windy rain squall had blown in while we were working and he was trying to put his hind quarters into the wind and rain! Ha ha, he's so funny. He has far higher expectations of my common sense than is warranted. Why would we be staying out in the rain? Why would we be riding into it? Clearly the thing to do is turn ass end into in and hunker down.
To his credit he didn't try to head for the barn or stop working at all, he just wanted to get into a proper wind and rain position :)  I hadn't realized it, but I haven't ridden him in heavy wind/rain outside before. When it started raining I thought "this could happen at a show, so I'll stay out for a few minutes", but I still didn't put two and two together re the unaided and unasked for lateral work until we did a couple of halts. Poor baby didn't want rain driving into his eyes and I don't blame him. He was just following his instincts.
Doug came back by the end of the ride and although I didn't know it he was standing in the upstairs door laughing and taking pictures. Here's one of us walking in so you can see the slightly disgusted look on Rogo's face :)

You can also see I lost a shoe (it's in my hand). I was expecting this to happen with all the rain we've had - lots of deep mud in places. The call is in to the farrier.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not Horsey, But Really Funny

Have you seen this video of the talking dog? It's one of my all time favourites and was made right here in Nova Scotia. The guy who made it now has a job as a voice actor with National Geographic. Cool, eh?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bare Back Lunging

I don't know what to say, so I'll just start right in and describe it. Rogo was over the top about the bare back pad (I normally ride bare back without a pad but because I'm just starting on Rogo I thought I'd use one). He took off on me several times as I tried to lunge him (inside a fenced area) so Doug took over. I hate to admit it but Rogo can get away from me on the lunge and Doug can hold him (even though it means he gets dragged in the dirt). It's hard to understand why he would be so excited about a bare back pad but he was. Galloping round and round the arena. Snorting and electric. Passaging. You get the picture. The funny thing is that when he was introduced to the saddle he wa totally indifferent to it. I'm serious. There was NO reaction. Same thing with being mounted. He's never minded having a rider on his back except to resist going forward at first. So why does he react so excitedly to a bare back pad? Who knows.
Amyway, after he settled down I got on, while Doug lunged. I spent most of the time walking, but did a little trot (less than a 20 m circle). Rogo was fine by then and chewing the bit nicely and reaching for it. I was able to relax my hips and feel the difference between this and what I'm doing in the saddle (too tense). We're going to do a lot more in the next while.
Conclusion - I need lots more of this and Rogo needs more switching things up. I think bareback will really help my seat with him. I'm going to ignore the fact that I have a show coming up, and spend some quality time on bare back. We'll ride our tests when we get there and pray to the dressage goddess for mercy :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Damn My Left Hand

Just got in from a ride on Rogo. He was beautifully forward (a benefit of too much rain and no riding?) - I love it when that happens! I've learned, finally, that I can only work hard a couple of times a week, and other days we can do lighter work or nothing. Maybe you've noticed I'm not complaining about lack of forward anymore? Of course there's still work to do on consistent forward, rhythm, and using the hind quarters, but it's going in a good direction.
That's the good part. The bad part is that with the missed time, my left hand has reverted to all it's old bad habits. I couldn't understand why his left circles were counter bent, like a year ago. Even when I just posted about Joan telling me not to raise my left hand when it's on the inside (I don't do it when it's on the outside), I did it again. ARGH! At least I knew how to fix it, but every time I got distracted up it went. I have an instant meter when it goes up because his head goes out.
He did something I don't remember him doing in our ring before - he took off at a gallop when I asked for a canter and tried to charge through my aids. And this was at the end of the ride when he should have been tired. It took a few seconds but I got him slowed without incident (I'm always afraid of a rear or buck when bringing them down quickly, but I want him to know this isn't okay) and then put him into a canter and continued our practice test ride. The rest of it was great. I don't know what that was about, but I hope he doesn't try it at the show - it looks so out of control and untrained.
We finished with a short hack on the beach and he was very looky and 'up' but not spooky.
Tomorrow Doug, God love him, is going to lunge me bareback and we're going to work on that left hand and relaxed hips (for quiet legs). Rogo is going to be very surprised by bare back - new things intrigue him and also get him excited.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Can You Help Us?

I've posted about our plans to develop an equestrian facility. I'm excited because our on-line survey is ready to go! I promise I'm not going to go all commercial on my blog - this is my training journal - but I can't help talking about it from time to time. Although the facility is being built in Nova Scotia, I'm looking for facility user needs and preferences and I think they're probably quite similar regardless of geography. Can you help us by filling out the survey? I'm going to keep the survey link posted above for the next month and would love to get your feedback. Also, send me comments or email me if you have thoughts or advice that don't fit in the survey. As always, comments are candy :) Please feel free to forward the link to anyone you think might be interested.
I'm chronicling the facility development process on facebook and Twitter if you're interested in following along and putting in your .02 worth from time to time.
Back to training journal posts tomorrow. It rained again today (we're awash in mud) so no riding :(

Monday, May 16, 2011

Transitions Within Canter

Jan at A Thousand Pounds of Fragile Horse writes a great blog about she and her horse Buckshot. She asked me how we (Doug and I) regulate shortening/lengthening stride in canter, so I'm going to attempt to explain how we're taught by Joan to do it. I should have her check what I write first, because I know she'd find my writing too imprecise or inadvertently misleading, but I'll give it a shot. Jan is a western rider, so I don't think she'd have rein contact, which would be different than what we do. I'll describe our approach, and I think the western version would be using the seat and legs only? Maybe someone will tell us :)
The aid we use to regulate length of stride in the canter goes like this... As the horse starts to push forward for the stride (outside hind), you follow/push with your seat and lightly squeeze your legs. Then at the height of the stride's 'jump', coming into the concluson of the stride, you catch the energy very lightly with your little fingers, sort of a pinky finger pulse (we have our reins under our little finger, not third finger) or acknowledgement with the hands. Ha ha - Joan would faint if she caught me using terms like 'pinky finger pulse', but I think it works :)
After your horse comes to recognize how you've inserted yourself into her/his rhythm, you can give a crisper aid to shorten the stride and the horse will follow - shorten your seat's 'follow' and make the catch with your little finger crisp and quick. If he thinks you mean trot the first few times, immediately put him back into the canter so he understands - shortening the aid means shortening the stride.
The same goes for lengthening the stride - push further with your seat, slightly raise your hands and release the little finger more than catching with it. The horse will lengthen his/her stride. Be careful to use your seat and regulate your aids so you don't put your horse on the forehand.
This can all be done while keeping the same rhythm, the strides just get shorter or longer. If you want to speed them up or slow them down, give the aids more quickly or slowly and of course push more for faster :) I think most horses get the idea fairly quickly, but getting a polished consistent response takes a lot of practice. Rogo and Savanah will do it, but are still in the beginning stages. We haven't worked at it consistently. For western it seems to me you'd do most of this with your seat, but I don't know anything about western riding. It would be interesting to know.
I hope this made some sense. Its a very quick, high level summary. It works, but I don't know if I've explained it very well. Try to feel the timing more so than follow my description, because it's hard to describe the timing. Jan I think you might enjoy some dressage as well as western. And I'd like to know more about the reining you do!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lesson With Joan


Doug and I were very fortunate in having a lesson with Joan yesterday. She can't come very often :( due to family health issues, but we sure appreciate her when we can get her. If only I could work with her more often. She astounds me in her ability to diagnose the cause of issues and fix them. Yesterday, in one lesson, she fixed the problems I wrote about recently (slightly counter bent when going left, sluggish canter transitions and loss of 'jump' and energy in the canter). I assumed the issues were there for now and that I'd need to work diligently for weeks (at least) to fix them. Honestly, we have our own personal biomechanical diagnostic machine and solution finder when she comes :)
I feel like I  should be able to diagnose these things myself, and fix them at this point. Although I'm very much an amateur, I think I should know these lower levels and basics fairly well by now. Somehow though, when I'm not having lessons, I drift. I try something I saw on a video. Something different works one day and then not again, although I keep trying it. I get a little worried that something isn't working and then try harder, and HARDER. A 'bad' muscle memory creeps back in and I don't even know it. And so on... Does anyone else do this or am I alone? Here in Canada, Newfoundlanders are known for their wittiness and colorful use of the English language, and I'm afraid I fall into the 'stunned as me arse' category!
Anyway, back to fixing the problems. Here's what Joan did (or had me do). In response to me telling her about the counter bending when going left, she got me to show her, then called me in and told me that the main problem was that I was raising my inside (left) hand. Additionally I was holding the outside rein a little too much (she doesn't have us use the outside rein to the extent that many/most people use it today; more on that in a future post). I rode it a few times with she and Doug watching and God help me didn't I keep raising that inside hand every time. I actually 'anchored' it (in my mind) by touching the saddle pad with it and thought I didn't move it, but she and Doug both confirmed I raised it even then! We worked on it a bit - inside hand staying low, look to the outside and weight the outside stirrup (to counter what has become a bit of a habit with him), outside rein keeping contact and supporting but not holding, seat pushing forward to keep impulsion. It helped a lot, but it was a fine balancing act and he wanted to turn out.
Then we worked on the canter transitions and carrying it. First she watched. The verdict? Yes, I was worried and trying to rush him and trying too hard. Yuk. So she got me to relax and quietly ask correctly. Duh. Instant success. How does my horse tolerate me? Why do I keep slipping into that bad habit?
Then she got Doug and I to work on transitioning within canter - working canter, lengthen, shorten, hand gallop, back again, etc. etc. They loved it! Problem solved. Lot's of jump and forwardness. Lot's of good transitions. Thank you Joan!
My other big challenge right now is keeping my heels down and legs quiet when trotting. The direction from Joan is bare back and lunging. I love bare back, but only do it on Savanah, or occasionally Dan. I tried it once with Rogo last summer, but he got very excited and didn't listen to aids and I haven't gotten around to working on it. Today I got Doug to lunge me on Rogo and we worked on quiet legs. I realized my hips are much too tense and I need to free them up to get my legs long, heels down and legs quiet in the trot. I'm going to keep getting Doug to lunge me regularly and next time will be bare back. This is our # 1 goal for equitation.
After lunging I did a bit of trotting to the left, following Joan's instruction, and Rogo stayed softly and easily flexed to the inside. I couldn't believe it! I've had this problem before (bad muscle memory!) and a previous teacher literally gave me the same lesson for six weeks, with not the slightest improvement, trying to fix it. She got angrier at me every lesson and didn't stop repeating the same lesson that didn't work until I called a halt to it. Anyway, enough of that. Don't get me started.
Doug and I are taking Joan's husband Roy for radiation treatments this week. I hope it gives him some relief from pain. He is a wonderful person and an icon in our community - volunteer, amazing story teller, heritage advocate, heritage home restorer, preserver of history, great cook, etc., etc.What ever I write about him seems inadequate, but I'll just say he's one of the most inspirational people I've ever met.
Thanks for the comments on my last post. Most of them disappeared, due to a Blogger malfunction. Just wanted you to know I didn't delete them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Remember When I Said

That it was probably going to rain for two weeks, because I'd just written a two week training calendar? Well, guess what? You've got it - it's been raining steady since. It's raining right now. Then again, maybe this is the riding goddess's way of preventing us chronic over preparers (?) from always arriving at the show with a tired horse.
Never to be deterred in my type A approach, I'm studying tests, visualizing my rides, and running (in the rain, on the beach with the dogs). What Rogo and I really need is show miles. Until we get them, our competition rides won't be what they should be and I'll continue to be somewhat nervous. I made a promise to myself after all the good advice I got to my last post though - I'm not going to lose sight that this is for fun. 
For anyone reading who also gets nervous as we approach show season, and just to keep me in the right frame of mind, I'll reflect on Rogo's first show. He jumped out of the dressage ring in his first class and knocked one whole side of the ring down. How embarrassing is that? There was stunned silence for a few moments and I just froze and wanted to sink into the ground. Of course it all worked out fine, his other classes were good and now I have a funny (?) story to tell. Now, God help me, if I can just stay on I have no where to go but up. Hope I haven't jinxed myself...
Here is a link to arena figures that I find very helpful in learning where I should be when riding my tests. This site also has arena diagrams that you can print in multiples per page to use when memorizing.
Hope to have a ride / training update soon.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Please Send Me Your Classic Show Prep Mistakes In The Unlikely Event That I've Missed Any

Arrrrgh! Hoooow many times do I have to tell myself, "don't over prepare", "don't focus on one exercise and neglect others", "don't over tire your horse", "don't introduce new tack before a show", ... and yet that's exactly what I've done. Probably not a surprise to anyone who's read my navel gazing goal list and goofle google calendar plan. Stop me before I ride again.
A month ago I felt quite confident that we were ready for Training Level. Rogo was going well although we'd missed a lot of time due to weather and flu. He'd gotten a little stiff to the left again, after being even for months (maybe I was stiff after lack of riding time, not him?) but everything was really quite nice and we were schooling most of Level One. Anyway, to get ready for the show, particularly Training Level test three which has a trot loop to the center line and back,  I started doing the trot loop to the left every chance I got. In retrospect I see that I pretty much stopped going straight to the left, ever! Duh. Then guess what happened? Rogo thought all left long sides meant loops, so when I decided to ride test two and go straight he went down the long side counter bent. It didn't occur to me why until today, so geniusly I decided to put spurs on to get him to listen to my left leg better. Never mind that I've only worn spurs with him once for a few minutes months ago. As an aside I'll wear spurs in good time, and his gaits were brilliant, but they didn't fix the bending problem. No kidding, eh?
While trying to polish the bits and pieces of the test, I started riding more even though I'd made a promise to myself earlier to only do two hard days of training a week and have shorter / easier sessions or fun things the other days (free jumping, hacking), with lots of time off. So, with the extra work, his beautiful jumping canter disappeared to be replaced with a laboured hop that breaks when it shouldn't. 
So far I've wrecked his straightness / evenness and his canter. 
I did manage to salvage something today. I decided to get on and just walk circles and go large for a maximum of ten minutes. It was then that I realized what I'd done and why things had gone down hill. I insisted on straightness quite firmly and we got one long side trot to the left that was straight and I called it a day.
So, do I forget going to the show in approximately a month and go back to sane training and go to a show later in the summer, or see what I can salvage and go to the show now to get some miles on Rogo?
I don't have a teacher right now, and it shows.

Goal Do Over

After yesterday's ride, I have to down grade my achievements and goals. Also, that whole goal table was getting too complicated. 

Training
Area
Jan. 1
2011 goal
May
2011
achieved
Goal
June 1
Contact
6.5
6.5
7
Bending
6.5
6
6.5
Free walk
6
6.5
7
Working trot
6
6
7
Working canter
7
6
7
Trot/halt/trot
6
6
6.5
Circles
6
6
7
Lengthen stride in trot


5
Lengthen stride in canter

5
5.5
Counter canter

5
5.5
15 m canter circle

6
6.5
Leg yield

4
5
Shoulder in

4.5
5
Ramener

4
5
Me



Unlock elbows

5
6
Heels down, toes in

5
6
Energy and focus

6
7

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Goals

I realized in February that my lessons weren't working out. I was very happy to get back with Joan after that, but now she, for reasons beyond her control, can't give us many lessons. I've let my goal writing and tracking slide (see tab above for the previous year).
Tedium warning - this is very boring stuff, but I need to write it to help me train. These were my Jan. goals. I've written shorter and more immediate lists in the interim, but this was my plan, with May 31 goals added. Focus areas are highlighted to remind me where more work is needed. I've made a google calendar which identifies ride times and work, for the next two weeks. That should pretty much guarantee that it will rain for the next two weeks!

Training areaGoal Jan.        
Achieved
April 30
Goal    May 31 
Indicator(s)
Contact 6.5
6.5
7

Bending 6.5
6.5
7
Smoothly, equally changes bend
Working trot
7
7
7.5
Rogo is forward thinking
20 M trot circles
7
7
7.5
Self explanatory
10 M trot circles46
6.5

Lengthen stride in trot

5
Four strides of distinct lengthen
Ramener

5
Three strides in trot and canter
Stretchy circle

7
Perfect shape





Canter:

Transition up/down

Carry


Steer


7
7
7








6/6.5
6
7
7


Transitions are precise (within 1 stride), with engaged hindquarters

carrying has slipped to a 6 and he's lost his 'bounce'. We need to work on that.
Counter canter35
6

Lengthen stride in canter36
6.5
4 strides lengthen and transition back in 2 strides

15 M canter circle5
6
7
One quality circle
Free walk
7
7
8
Straight and forward 90% of times
Halt directly from trot
6
6
6.5
Max. one walk step
Half halt
4
5
6
Responds 75% of time
Straight on center line
7
7
7.5
Self explanatory
Rhythm W

T

C
7
7
7
7
6
6.5
7
7
7

This needs work





Leg Yield


5
4 good trot steps
Should in


5
5 good trot steps
Me



Canter position
7
6.5
7
Legs long, heels down
Hands still

7
Maintain energy and focus throughout ALL of ride

7