Monday, June 27, 2011

Tempo Changes

I've been focusing on the areas that Joan reviewed with me - regulating tempo in walk and trot, ramener, halts and half halts, and canter transitions. It amazes me how these simple exercises are polishing his performance. He listens to all aids more closely, even the ones we haven't focused on, after the above.
I had trouble with Rogo lacking forwardness in his trot from the time I left lessons with Joan until the time I came back (leaving lessons with her was an unavoidable circumstance). The teacher I had between Joan insisted that I not slow down his trot because it was too slow already, and he needed to go forward consistently before I slowed it down. I didn't fully trust this approach, because I knew from when Joan started us that Rogo would be much more forward in his trot if I alternated between slow and fast. He got to understand the difference. He would slow when asked and then really engage and speed up (in a good way) when asked (keep in mind he was just being started). When I only asked for forward, without differentiating, he just stalled into a very poor quality, on the forehand slowish trot without energy or impulsion that I spent all my time trying to 'push' forward. I don't know enough about training to know if the other teacher's approach would work better with different horses, but it didn't work for us. We spent a year and a half trying to do something that Joan can make improvements on in one lesson. I wish I'd had enough time with her in the beginning to have really understood and stayed with her approach. Do any of you vary the tempo to get improved forward, i.e. slow down so that when you ask for more the horse will power forward?
Of course slowing down while staying engaged sets the stage for beginning collection, varying the tempo builds hind quarter strength, the horse doesn't get bored as quickly when things switch up frequently and I find we focus together as a partnership when we 'converse' more. A lot of benefits from simply slowing down and speeding up. This will lead to lengthening and shortening stride, which shouldn't include tempo changes, or at least only very small ones.
After a solid training session last night I rode Rogo straight to the beach tonight. The sun was shining, it was warm and there was a stiff breeze, so the ride was heaven. I've been a bit stressed out - I've been in the media - there is a financial scandal involving big name concerts in Halifax and the Mayor of Halifax breaking financial rules. I chose to leave employment with Halifax 5 years ago, after almost 30 years and an good track record, and it was triggered by poor handling of the Rolling Stones concert I was project managing. I gave a fairly lengthy interview about it on CBC last week. Today I was attacked by a politician on air for speaking up :(  . No surprise there I guess. I feel good about what I did 5 years ago and what I said last week, which is more than those involved can say. Oops, I see I'm off topic! My point was that I knew after I heard about the negativity directed at me today that I needed to get to my horse. Rogo worked his magic and I went from feeling stressed and wanting to 'get even' to feeling mellow, happy and seeing the humour in it (believe me, they aren't the smartest bunch, it's quite embarrassing for our Capital City and our Province). If you're interested there are media stories posted on this facebook page and a few references in my Twitter sidebar.
After riding Rogo on the beach I rode Savanah bare back in the riding ring. She is doing just amazing! She is schooling most or all of Level 2. Did I mention how startled I was the other day when I asked for leg yield when riding bare back? We were trotting quite forward and she moved sideways so quickly and easily I almost lost my balance. Bare back has a whole new set of challenges when going sideways! I've been riding her more, and riding bare back, so it's starting to help my seat.
This week we'll keep working on the tempo changes and transitions, and add in stretching circle and  20 and 15 meter circles at the trot and canter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lessons WIth Joan

I had two wonderful lessons with Joan. We're starting at the first again, to quickly review. First was my equitation and working on having a perfect position. It's far from perfect, but we're working on it. What else can I do? The main problem is that my legs still aren't still when I trot. Also, my heels come up when I trot - I start posting off the balls of my feet. Bad Carol.
Then we worked on slow, medium and fast walk to get him to tune into the aids and move forward from my leg more. To slow, I reduce 'giving' with my hand, and reduce the follow of my seat and legs. This also shortens the stride. In time we will only shorten and lengthen stride without changing tempo, but for now it is slower and faster. This sounds boring and very basic, but it really gets the horse to tune in and listen. Also, to pay more attention to a squeeze from the calves - when they are going very slow they are waiting for the signal to move forward, and will surge forward nicely when it comes. To move from slow to medium squeeze with both legs and then follow more with seat and hands. To go fast, roll the calves on and off in time with the corresponding hind leg hitting the ground. It works very well for regulating the speed and length of stride, but getting the timing and correct lag movement takes some practice. Joan calls this gaiting - has anyone else used the term for this? It doesn't seem to be in common practice now but I found a gaiting definition in an internet search that corresponds with this. Most use the term for a gaited horse.
We moved to slow, medium and fast trot. After practicing that we practiced ramener - the beginning of collection. She's introduced it before, but because we can't work together regularly I didn't keep it up. Rogo started to get it during our lesson. Joan was quite pleased with him. A couple of times he tucked his hindquarters and rounded nicely onto the bit, even carrying it for a couple of steps when I released it. To do it you push with the seat, apply the legs and gently hold with the reins or vibrate the reins ever so slightly. Rogo responds best to a light vibration. Also, he responds nicely to moving forward at the trot after we do a slow trot.
At our next lesson we practiced halt and half halt. For halt I retard the hands - stop giving with them, as I push with my seat and legs into my hands. His hind quarters should come up beneath him, and halt, so he is ready to move off. Then I release and he should stand straight and square, without moving until asked.
For half halt I apply seat and legs first, into the hands which capture the energy created and hold it as long as needed - an instant or a few seconds. Some people start the half halt with the hands, the same as the halt, but Joan explains both ways and suggests the hands come last. It all happens almost simultaneously.
Then we worked on canter transitions After all this time I still don't feel like I give them crisply and clearly, but they seem to figure it out, God bless them. Two quick feels with the inside rein, two light taps with the outside heel behind the girth simultaneously with the hands, inside seat bone slightly forward and down and off they canter. We did this a few times, preceded by half halts, and did a few from the walk. He takes a trot step and then canters.
Riding on my own yesterday I decided to canter figure eights, and practice the canter transitions and the change of direction in the figure. Rogo kept right on cantering and did a counter canter circle after cantering a circle on the 'correct' lead. I was surprised so did it a couple of more times to be sure and yes, he was doing it nicely. What a good boy!
Joan's husband is very ill and in hospital now. I won't be able to have lessons for awhile. I'll be spending a lot of time with them and may not be blogging too much for a while. We'll see.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Knee-Deep In June

I remember my mother telling me that this was a favourite saying of my grandfather's. Or was it his favourite time of year? Anyway, James Witcomb Riley wrote the poem Knee-Deep In June, and the expression is so perfect for this time of year when everything is freshly green and bursting with growth. I have the sense that it is rushing by, and that if I blink I'll miss it. Life is too short - I don't want to miss one June day, let alone a month. So today, when the sun was shining for what seemed like the first time in forever, I made a conscious decision to relish every June moment. It was great.
It started with a riding lesson with Joan at 9:30 am. There couldn't be any better start to the day. Joan gave Savanah and I lessons twice a week for well over a year before I started showing her, and we had a great show season. For one reason and another I haven't had more than the odd lesson with Joan since then, so to have a lesson with her is a highlight. We are trying to get back into regular work together, but her husband's health will dictate whether that is possible.
The weather was perfect - sunny, but just breezy enough to keep flies away. We worked on changing the tempo within walk and trot, and on my equitation. She was very happy with Rogo and for the first time ever she was happy with the way I timed my aids with his hind leg to move him forward - calf on when corresponding hind leg is on the ground; don't kick or use the heel, roll the calf on and off. She offered to give me another lesson tomorrow morning - heaven!
Joan went home, Doug went tractor shopping (more on that in a future post) and then I rode Savanah. We worked on shoulder in, leg yield, simple changes and free walk. She is so sharp and amazing. I hope Rogo reaches the point where he is as responsive as her.
Then I took the three dogs to the beach and since the tide was in, the Labs had to play fetch the stick from the water. Little Pepper just paddled along the shore. What next on a Knee-Deep In June day? Chicken Ceasar salad, garlic toast and read three days worth of newspapers on the deck off the kitchen, looking out on the bay. Hmmm, full belly, tired body - what better sunny June day activity than a nap outside? We (the dogs and I) moved to the upstairs deck off the office and we all piled onto a lounger and slept - breeze, birds singing, drifting off to sleep...
Just as we woke up, Doug arrived home with lobster - Yum! We had a drink on the deck and started cooking. A totally successful June day that I won't regret one second of. I'm always rushing but today I savoured every minute. It felt so great that I may have to do it again soon :) Sorry for the boring babbling, but I want to remember to do this when I can.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another Great New Dressage Blog

Check out Dressage Queen In Training - another great new dressage blog. So happy to see more of them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Show Videos

Here are a couple of videos Doug took at the show in Windsor. Training Level test 2 is first, then Training Level test 3. This was the second day of Rogo's first show outing at Training Level. The comments in test 2 were to ride more forward and with more impulsion, so I tried that in the second test. I only brought the mark up .5, from 60.25 to 60. 75, although we went from 5th to 2nd place. We scored 61+ on both tests the first day, so our marks went down. This is something I'll have to watch for and figure out, as we dropped on the second day in our walk trots last year. I used to go up with every successive test on Savanah, so something is going on.

Training Level, Test 2, Windsor NS, June 5, 2011

Training Level Test 3, Windsor NS, June 5, 2011

Our next outing will be mid July when we go to a test riding clinic at Hobby Horse Farm in Annapolis Valley. Lynda Southam, an M judge from Ontario will be coming in to give the clinic. We prepare our horses and ourselves as we would for a show - braiding, show clothes, etc. and ride the tests of our choice. The judge marks it and then discusses the results with us, with tips on bringing up the score. Then we ride it again. We do this once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I'm doing both Sat, and Sun. I might try Level 1 test 1. It is no where near show ready, but I might try it in this kind of setting to get training advice for getting it show ready. He can do all the movements for that test, except lengthening stride in the trot, which we really haven't worked on. I'll see how it goes. I might drop that idea and do Training 2 and 3 or Training 1 and 3.
He can do most Level 1 movements fairly well, i.e. lengthen and shorten stride in canter, 15 m canter circles, counter canter to center line and back, so we should be solid in competition with it next year and maybe even start it this fall. If you watched the videos you will have seen that Rogo needs to be rounder and more connected, but it is getting very close. When we get this it will help  everything else. We also need a steadier rhythm, precision on our circles and corners, and we didn't hit the transition points 100% of the time. Joan tells me the stretching circle is going to be our first training priority because it will help everything, and she wants him stretching well as we encourage him to work in a rounder frame.
His marks were all 6's and 7's, except he got 5's twice for impulsion - not good, especially since it's double points, and a 5 for something else I can't remember - a missed transition point? crappy circle? something like that. He is more than capable of 8's and he'll work with more impulsion now, so I just need to ride and train better. If we can just get more lessons I know we can move some of these marks up. I'd like to be consistently in mid 60's by the end of the show season. We've been without good lessons for a long time though. As a matter of fact I haven't worked consistently with Joan since I rode Savanah, so I may be expecting too much to try to get to high 60's this year, but we'll get there :).
On a completely different topic, our business partners for our equine business are our friends Megan and Greg. They are in their 20's and just got married on Sat.! It was a beautiful ceremony and Megan was stunning. I'll post a picture or two soon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Riding Update

The first few days after the show I just rode bareback on the lunge line at walk and trot, and ride Savanah some. The bareback is to help me get a better, more relaxed and quiet seat on Rogo. I do it on the lunge because he gets excited about it, and also because I want to just think about relaxation and balance. He's getting used to it now, but I think I'll stay on the lunge for awhile as it really helps to focus. I can see / feel an improvement already. I have to be careful not to make his back sore though - he isn't used to sitting trot or bareback, so I only do it for 5 or 10 minutes.
I'm riding Savanah more because Doug's arthritis is getting worse and right now he finds it too painful to ride. This is very sad because he is a good rider and Savanah is very fun to ride. He'd planned to show again this summer with her (they did very well last summer), but he won't be able to. We're going to see what we can do medically to try to improve things for him and get him back in the saddle.
Savanah is living proof that good basics are the building blocks for moving up the levels. She has only been trained in Training Level, with Level 1, test 1 two years ago. Since I've started riding her more I'm trying lots of level 1 and 2 movements, and she can pretty much do all of them, even though she hasn't schooled them. They would need practice and polish for a show, but it would come fast. She is just so supple and responsive to the aids that you can ask her for anything within reason and she'll do it. We did three loop canter serpentines with canter / walk / canter simple changes over the center line and she picked it up really fast - 2nd try and she had it. I'm going to talk to Joan about starting her schooling flying changes. She did the same with shoulder it - just ask for it, she confirms "you want this?" and then we can trot effortlessly in a shoulder -in with no previous practice. All the training level training has gotten her ready for more for sure.
Rogo was full of it today. I lunged and rode and focussed on getting just a little bit of forward and round in each gait. When I got it we quit, because it was raining out. Then I spent the morning, two hours, discussing Rogo's training with Joan, drinking coffee and eating banana bread that Doug had baked. It was a fun discussion. She has a better understanding now that I need her to work with us and to do basics in order to get any better with Rogo; I can't just do on my own with him what she did with Savanah and I. It will be questionable whether she can spend much time with us though as her husband Roy isn't well.
I just posted some pictures of our new land on our facebook page if you're interested.
I had a great weekend with the R.I.D.E.R.S.  Board (our dressage club). We met in the Annapolis Valley, then toured Hobby Horse Farm, the location of our July test riding clinic, and then my co-chair Alison took me to see Sue and Jane Fraser's equestrian center. Sue is a level thee dressage coach and a  judge - an amazing resource for dressage in Nova Scotia.

Interesting New Blog

Here's a new blog about a First Time Dressage Trainer . She's training a New Forest Pony and it looks like it's going to be interesting.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


As I mentioned in my last post, we had our first para-equestrian rider at the show on the weekend, Nel Godin-Keating. She's a twelve year old girl and her celebral palsy hasn't stopped her from becoming an exceptional equestrian. CTV did a short story on on it, captured in this video, and I absolutely guarantee that watching it will inspire you and make you realize you just witnessed something special. The story has gone national, is spreading on facebook and is now posted on Barnmice. If you ever had the feeling (haven't we all?) that horses changed your life, just look at what they've done for this talented little girl.
Nel memorized her test and rode it flawlessly without a caller, despite this being her first show ever and despite all the other things she has to think about. Her horse was a little spooky when he came in (ridden by the trainer), because of the reflection in the plexi-glass on the sides, but when Nel got on he became as focussed and tuned in to his rider as any top dressage horse I've ever seen - not one false move.
Our club got involved when I was farwarded an email that accidently went to another club a couple of months ago. It was from Nel's mother, wondering if she could come to our show. We bagan to correspond and the rest as they say is history. The R.I.D.E.R.S. Board totally came on board with supporting para-equestrian dressage and now we hope to make it easier for others to get started. We'll be discussing soon and I'll keep you posted. Already we've heard of others who want to participate. Nel is a catalyst and she's inspired us all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What A Week

I had such a fabulous time at the horse show that I don't know where to start when writing about it. Here's a summary:
  1. I'm on the Board of the dressage club that organized it, and it was an amazing experience to work with such positive people and all of the committed and skilled volunteers. We really had a great time together, although everyone was tired out :)
  2. We had our first para-equestrian rider, I think a first for a Nova Scotia dressage show. Twelve year old Nel could teach a thing or two about committment and courage to anyone, and her test was amazing. I'm going to devote more of a post to her and her ride when I get the video uploadable.
  3. Rogo exceeded my expectations and was so interesting in his approach and reactions. I reached a milestone in my trust of him (and maybe his of me?). We are galvanized to train and improve!
His Sun. rides were 60 point something and earned him a 5th and a 2nd. There was only about 2 points between last and first place in all his classes, so we're all (Training Level AA's) on track and ready for a great summer of bringing up those marks. Here's a sample score:

Doug has some videos of his tests, so I'll post one soon.
Here are a couple of pictures:

The main areas we need to focus on are:
  1. more forward (he's forward when I ask, I just need to remember to ride more forward)
  2. rounder circles (much more practice needed, especially with stretching circle)
  3. rounder frame
And although I mde my first 7 ever in position and seat (I've always been 6), I'm setting my equitation as my # 1 goal. It took a back seat for too long.

He did really well on the trot loops to the center line in test 3, and his center line / halts. Some of his canter transitions were very good (that was a revelation), and he went very nicely forward in canter when asked (I'd been afraid of gallop or nothing).
I'm soooo behind on my blog reading. Catching up with coffee in hand will be a treat this week.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

At The Show

I'm at Rogo's first show of the summer. He went it two walk trots last summer, but they didn't feel like more than getting him out to experience the show grounds. They were in a different location than this one, which is inside. I was so nervous and anxious I didn't even blog about coming. I almost backed out a thousand times. We haven't been able to ride much in three months because of the particularly rainy spring and no indoor, and Joan hasn't been able to spend much time with us, so no teacher. Not a good combination for an inexperienced rider and green horse to go to a show.
The warm up last night started out almost disastrous. He could hardly be led around the ring, which is a hockey rink in the winter. He kept being scared by his reflection, the brightly painted pictures, people coming and going behind the plexiglass, etc. I rode him for an hour before we could canter without a gallop and as soon as I got a canter I quit for the night. We were both exhausted. I had helped with organizing the show too, so I was tired out by the last week.
The dressage arena and flower boxes weren't set up when we rode last night, so I thought for sure it would be bad this morning, and that there was a good chance of elimination. I thought seriously about scratching. Anyway....we went in and he was fine! A little up, but manageable. He scored a respectable 61.25 and third place in a class of six. I know that isn't a high score, but it isn't bad and in the circumstances I'm ecstatic.
The judge commented several times to ride more forward, so for our second test we went for it. It was odd, because after the galloping incidents I'd had at home, I suddenly, in this strange environment and stressful conditions, felt complete trust in him. I didn't feel any nervousness or hesitation in asking for and getting all he had, within manageable bounds.He went for it and it was fun, fun, fun. We only brought our score up by .5, to 61.75, because we lost a little in precision that we gained in forward, but what an exhilarating exercise in mutual trust.
Rogo was a doll and knew he'd made me proud. He snorted and blew as soon as we got back outside and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. He's happy as a clam, visiting with everyone in the barn, laying down to sleep, and getting lots of treats and fussing over.
We rode Training Level tests 1 and 2 and will ride 2 and 3 tomorrow. It's an Equine Canada bronze show.
I'll post some pictures when I get home. I'm just so proud of my sweet boy I couldn't wait to write about it :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Training Update

Thanks for all the great advice on the galloping everyone. It was very helpful. I've had one more episode of it (not as bad), but other than that the canter work has been fine. 
Also, I understand some people couldn't comment. I've switched to a different comment format and it should work now. I love my comments, so please keep them coming!
We've been practicing our tests a little bit (I've ridden each of them a couple of times), and our focus is trot / halt / trot with fewer walk steps and immobility at halt, and trot / canter / trot transitions. The later need to be a little more crisp on the up and keeping engaged hindquarters on the downward.
I've been doing some ground work and trailer loading, and keeping fingers crossed it's going well. I went to a Paint, Appaloosa, Open show last weekend to trailer a friend and her clients (not to show) and I was very impressed with the behavior of the halter horses. I'm going to get her to show me how they train them.
I'm off to ride. More later.