Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do You Speak Dressage?

Subtitle: Are you a dressage nerd?

Sometimes I'll be talking to my friends about dressage, and they'll glaze over. I know - how can that be when the latest nuance of my 20 m circle is cliff hangingly riveting?
Okay. I get it. Dressage, especially lower level dressage, is about as interesting as watching paint dry to a non dressage person. The fact that no detail is too small to provide endless happy hours of discussion among dressage people is missed on the unconverted.
Aside from that, we also have a language that is incomprehensible to non dressage people. Just for fun (how dressage nerdy is that - I find this fun), I started coming up with a list of words and phrases we use, in the English language, that have an incomprehensible meaning to non dressage people. Some are used by other disciplines, some are specific to dressage. Here's my list:
  • in front of the leg
  • behind the leg
  • half halt
  • free walk
  • up hill
  • on the bit
  • round
  • track up
  • three track
  • shoulder in
  • the double
  • behind the vertical
  • lunge
  • leg yield
  • circus
  • poodle dressage (I just came across this one)
  • half pass
  • button braids
  • knee blocks
That's what quickly comes to mind. There should be a dictionary for people starting dressage. I had no idea what most of this meant when I started, and I'm sure there's tons more I don't know. It can lead to embarrassing questions, ie a new competitor asked the judge at one of our recent shows, after reading the comments, if it was the rider or the horse who should be round. While others had a chuckle, I can totally see this. Who would know if their trainer hadn't explained it yet? To be honest, some of the terms are somewhat ephemeral concepts that have different twists to different people, but that's a whole new topic. As is the language of instruction, i.e. 'brace your back', 'retard the hands', 'irritate the hind leg', ...Don't get me started!
Here are a few sentences to leave non dressage people scratching their heads (don't hesitate to throw our a few when trapped by a bore):
  1. She's doing third so she can use the double, but her trainer wants her schooling for more up hill first.
  2. When half halts didn't get him on the bit I tried some lateral work, focusing on shoulder in and even moving to four track at times.
  3. The reitmeister says Spanish walk is circus, but don't tell the baroque crowd.
  4. He was over tracking by a foot in his free walk.
  5. The frame was too strung out and he was running on his forehand throughout the test.
Trust me, none of the above makes a lick of sense to anyone outside your horse circle and will get you out of almost any less than happy social situation. People who speak this language alot may not even realize they do it. True story - when my teacher Joan called roadside assistance for a flat tire, she told them it was the outside hind :) Do you have any words or phrases to add to the list? I may just do the dictionary...
Now, God help me, I must go do something useful.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Facebook Page for Dressage Adult Amateurs

Leslie Valent who writes Halfpass's Blog has started a new facebook page called Dressage For Adult Amateurs . There is lots of great discussion on the page. I'm enjoying it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rogo Update and Riding Savanah

Rogo healed nicely - no swelling, clean and closed, penicillin finished on Wed. - so I went back to riding on Thur. He was sluggish and spooky, not like him. He isn't a spooky horse and although sometimes he takes a while to get going, he was really hard to get forward. 
Fri. when I went to groom him I saw the wound area was quite swollen and had heat in it, the first time it had been swollen since he cut it a week ago. I gave him a shot of penicillin and called the vet this morning, who told me to do five more days of penicillin (25 cc shots every 12 hours) and put hot compresses on twice a day. I wonder if the penicillin could make him sluggish, or if the hidden infection may have been dragging him down Thur. evening?
Anyway, I cancelled my Labour Day weekend competition plans. He'll be fine but I want him to rest and I don't want to feel pressure to have him ready. I'm hearing there are nasty infections happening in equine cuts and scratches in NS this summer, so I'm going to keep a very close eye on it.
Last night just before dark I jumped on Savanah bareback and headed to the beach. What a great ride we had. She is such a sweetie pie, I just love her. We practiced shoulder in and leg yield, and walk / canter / walk. I couldn't get a walk directly from the canter. She was having too much fun being forward. She loves the beach. If you ride bareback, you'll know that going directly to walk from canter is a real bonus, so I was motivated :) It's interesting, when I was learning to ride bareback I could always transition smoothly from canter to trot on the beach. I'd focus, slow the canter, get her hind end under her and we'd trot. When we were in the ring I couldn't do it nearly as well. She'd fall onto her forehand and bang, bang, bang I'd go on her back until we got it together again. I told Joan that I thought the idea of coming off on the beach with all the rocks around was the incentive I needed to get the transition right. I still think that - motivation and focus can do wonders. Even though I'd think I was trying just as hard in the arena, it never went as well. Does this make sense to anyone?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Savanah's Training Goals

Since Doug hasn't been able to ride Savanah for months (he has a bad hip), I've taken over riding her, and I love it (riding her, not his bad hip). She's the horse I started dressage on (although she's Doug's horse) and I showed her my first summer of showing, getting me hooked. She's the ultimate fun horse and horse to get started competing on - she's nicely and easily forward, very responsive to aids, and very safe. I'm 100% comfortable cantering bareback on her on the beach or through the woods, she's that safe and easy.
She was a very nervous and anticipative horse when I started doing dressage with her, and she blossomed with it. She gained confidence, stopped anticipating and generally shone. She ended her first summer of competing as Training Level champion for our Provincial Seahorse Circuit. She's a perfect example of a nonwarmblood doing well (she's a draft cross with the emphasis on draft, of unknown parentage, although I think Percheron is a safe bet as part of it).
At the end of her first show season she showed level one. Doug tried her, loved it, dropped his western riding and went back to riding her and doing dressage and I moved to Rogo. Doug showed her at Training Level as well, last summer, and he also did well with her placing high including firsts in their classes. Because Doug started at the beginning and then didn't show this year she hasn't advanced in her training, but she is VERY good at what she does - push button. She needs to confirm lengthening and shortening her canter, trot lengthening and counter canter (she does it all well sometimes but it isn't 100% consistent) to be rock solid in all Level One movements. She does some of Level Two well too - shoulder in and walk canter came very easily and she's well on her way to 10 m canter circles, and canter / walk. Generally collecting is easier for her than extending.
So my training goals will be to get her consistent in all Level One movement and advance with Level Two. For the end of Sept. I'd like:
  1. 100% consistent in shortening her canter without breaking to trot
  2. a distinct lengthened stride when asked in trot (not speeding up)
  3. balanced, confident counter canter loop to the center line and back (she gets it now, but it needs to be 'easier' for her)
  4. canter / walk with only one trot step (or none)
  5. for me - ride all of Level One test one bareback without a hitch or slight loss of balance (this needs to be done with balancing from the core, not gripping with the legs). I can almost do this some days (I can ride it, but I want it to be flawless), and when I go back to the saddle it feels so 'with her'.
Ideas for exercises to keep this interesting without drilling movements are always welcome!

Savanah with Dan
Doug and Savanah competing, summer 2010

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rogo's Goals Up To End Of September

 I haven't done goals in a while. Just for fun I've copied goals from a year ago and added where he is now, based on his competition and clinic scores where possible.

Training area

Achieved Aug. 2010
Achieved Aug. 2011
Contact (accepting contact with the bit)

6 (hmmm, I don't think so)
6 (7 to 8 in walk and trot, 5 in canter but coming faster)

Working trot





7 all

Free walk


Straight on center line


Precise transitions

Leg Yield - new

6 (varies from 5 to 7)

It doesn't seem like a lot, but we've added new areas. I need some new categories, so here goes:

Training Area
Achieved Aug. 2011
Goal Sept. 30
15 m canter circle
10 m canter circle
Canter lengthen and shorten
20 m counter canter circle
3 loop canter serpentine
Walk / canter
Canter / walk
3 (just starting)
Simple change
Haven’t started
Trot lengthening
4 (haven’t worked on it)
6 (we need to get this going)
Trot collection
Stretchy circle
Leg yield
6 (it comes and goes, up to a 7)
Shoulder in
Halt square
8 (he gets it, but not 100% consistently)
Trot from halt
Rein back
Haven’t started
Marching walk
5 (I haven’t been on top of this)
7 (he enjoys doing it when I remember)
Hack out – trot
5 (just started)
Hack out – canter
Haven’t started

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How Is This Happening?

Poor Rogo. Doug says he is accident prone. I have to admit, he was very clumsy as a 3, 4 and even 5 year old, but he's much better now. Anyway, Fri. evening when I went to groom and tack him up, after a week of so much rain I'd only gotten one ride in, I found his right front leg bleeding from a small cut. The weird thing is, and I'd sure appreciate thoughts / ideas on this, is that it's the THIRD time he's cut this area on a front leg and all have been a mystery as to cause. The first time was the left front, then a few months later the mirror image of this cut appeared on his right front, and now, two years later, the same cut is back on his right front.
The vet said he'd never seen this before (after the second one appeared) - two identical cuts on opposite legs, occurring when Rogo was in  different locations (so it didn't appear to be his environment), and no visible cause. We even wondered if Dan, the Appaloosa, was biting him in play, although it didn't appear to be a bite mark. Now Dan isn't here (he's at Joan's), so he didn't do it. Savanah is the low horse on the totem pole and wouldn't bite (and it isn't a bite). It isn't a kick. It presents as sort of a puncture / cut. Here is a picture of it:

Could he be hitting it and slicing with a hoof when he's getting up? I've watched him rise, with this question in my mind, and he didn't come anywhere near his front legs with another leg. The first two times he wasn't wearing shoes, but now he is. There is a small nick in his left hind ankle that happened at the same time.
Although it is fairly innocuous this time when I found it right away, the first time he was at a boarding barn and I didn't get there from a Thur. to a Mon. and when I came on Mon. his leg was like a huge stovepipe, with rivers of puss coming out of it. He was off work for 6 weeks and went through two courses of antibiotics. So if I can find a cause for this and manage it in some way it would be a great help. It doesn't cause any permanent harm, but it sure would be nice to put a stop to it, or at least understand it.
Here's the care routine, so I'll remember dates and tasks. Every twelve hours:
  1. clean the wound with a toothbrush dipped in warm water, to keep the would from sealing over with dried fluid - we want it to drain
  2. insert a blunt syringe filled with saline into the wound, flush it, and squeeze out any / all fluids. Repeat this three times each treatment. Do this for three days (until wound is almost healed closed)
  3. Give him 25 cc's of penicillin - a needle twice a day alternating neck and rump for five days
On the bright side, the vet said Rogo is well muscled and very well behaved, which makes treating him easy. He has to stay in his stall to keep flies out of his wound, but starting today I can let him out at night in their grassy area (not the sand riding ring).
We had a great time on our one ride - I did three loop canter serpentines twice. He did them easily - Yeah Rogo! Then I put him on a 20 m canter circle which I picked up on the long side (not a corner). As we cantered I pushed him into the outside rein and bent him slightly in - thinking I was doing the exercise from dressage camp. Guess what? He'd been counter cantering and did a perfect and instant flying change when I applied the aids! Wow - my first flying change since I was a teenager. In reading Kyra Kurkland's book I see that this is how she introduces flying changes - she counter canters a 20 meter circle and then asks for the change, so I think this won't be too hard for Rogo. I won't do it again though until I have some instruction as to when to teach it. I want to make sure I don't screw up his counter canter, although he seems to understand the difference in being asked to counter canter and being asked to change, at least in this one instance :)
Remember - please send me your thoughts, ideas, experiences if you can help me solve the mystery of Rogo's inside front leg cuts. Thank you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dressage Camp Wrap Up

Although I'm tardy in posting, I want to re-cap the dressage camp lessons so I can crystallize them in my mind.

Main Equitation Points I Need To Focus On:
  1. Keep my legs back, they creep forward
  2. Keep my knees off of him - although I don't grip with my knees, even having them lie against him seems to block him. It will require having my toes slightly turned out in order to keep my knees very light. When I get it right he is much more forward. 
  3. Keep my shoulders down and back - have 'good boobies' as Jane Fraser (who gave me lunge lessons) calls it :) 
  4. Stretch UP from my abdomen to my neck. This improves everything. For example, it is much easier to sit to Rogo's trot when I do this.
  5. Do rising trot by bending and unbending my knees, not rising off the ball of my foot. This will keep my heels down.
  6. Keep my hands down! Hold the bucking strap if need be to keep them from going up. Hold my whip correctly so I don't pull the reins if I tap.
  7. Tuck my butt under me.
That's it for the main improvement areas.

Training Exercises and Lessons Learned
  1. Forward, forward, forward - he needs to learn new muscle memories of going strongly forward. He likes to do it once we get warmed up and he gets the idea.
  2. To get a better connection bend him, either on a circle or going large. Support this with an inside leg to outside rein. Do this is all three gaits.
  3. Balance with a circle at each end when riding in the arena. Begin and end many / most movements with a circle. Ride well into the corners before picking up the circle, using the inside leg and outside rein.
  4. Ride lots of figure eights and three loop serpentines in trot. Sometimes walk across the center line in the serpentine loops. This helps school half halts.
  5. Always stay active, forward, straight in the down transitions - no wandering around after cantering just because I'm tired :)
  6. Keep the walk marching, always.
  7. Leg yield aid is inside leg and outside rein simultaneously when inside hind is off the ground. Do leg yield toward both the track and the center line. 
  8. Do working trot circles at each end, and ask for lengthening down the long side between them.
That's my summary of equitation lessons and training exercises. They've really helped us. Next post I'll talk about the effect it's had on us - results.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 5 At Dressage Camp

Here is Rogo looking out of his stall.
Today was incredibly fun and productive. On his fifth day of hard work I thought Rogo would be very tired, but he came out with the energy of his first day outside in spring. Who is he and what has he done with Rogo? He was all go, go, go. What fun! His canter had amazing jump and he had a huge trot. All I had to do to get either of them was stay out of his way.
Sue said he is enjoying himself and the new forward, and also the weather today may have affected him some (a bit cooler, around 20 C.). Whatever the reason, I loved it.
We did lots of circles and serpentines in trot. In the serpentines we walked over the centre line and did the rest in trot. This helps school half halts. In canter I need to bend and release on a circle, with lots of outside rein support, to help him use his hind quarters and lift his back. 
We did trot leg yield from the wall inward. I should only ask for 2 or 3 good steps when doing it this way.
All in all a great day. Tomorrow I have a lesson in the morning and then go home.

-- Sent from my Palm Prē

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dressage Camp Days 3 and 4

It is still wonderful. No surprise there eh? I've been auditing the Cindy Ishoy clinic for hours a day when I'm not riding and it is such a great learning experience.
In my lunge lessons the main things Jane is addressing with me are keeping my legs back, dropping my shoulders which I pull up to my ears, and tucking my butt in. Also, she's teaching me to bend and unbend my knee in rising trot to keep my heel down. I've had a bad tendency to push up and down off the balls of my feet causing my heels to come up and leg to move. A good way to practice is to stand with your toes on a stair and rise up and down off your toes. Then rise and drop again, only this time do it by bending and unbending your knees, while keeping your heels down. It's a good trick which works for me.
In my lesson with Rogo we're working on forward, forward, forward. I thought he'd get cranky if pushed too hard, especially after four days of it, but he's isn't minding at all. He's a real trooper and today Sue said he had a good work ethic. This is HUGE for us, as he did not want to work as a young horse. He'd pin his ears, shake his head and refuse to move at some point in every ride, and he'd have to go on the lunge or in the round pen. We just stayed calm and patient with him, and now he likes to work. He needed to grow up. He's getting more forward already, and starting to use his hind quarters more and carry himself. She's getting me to ride him with a slightly shorter rein and to bend him to relax and accept it. We do lots of figure eights and three loop serpentines to change the bend. She gets us to use the outside rein and inside leg to hold their shoulders up and keep then straight. A recurring theme, but it's getting better, is my need to keep my hands down.
Today we did leg yield and although he's never done it very well at the trot at home he did it quite well here. We did it from the quarter line to the wall both ways and over he went as nicely as could be, keeping a good rhythm and forwardness.
His canter is getting it's jump back that he had in the past and he's quite joyful about it. I LOVE it. He needs to learn to carry it though, as he still drops onto his forehand at times.
Jeni from Super Size My Cob lightened my thunder storm riding picture. I love it. I've got a huge grin because I think we're crazy to be riding. It turns out that the airport was closed, roads were washed out and there were many car accidents because of the storm. It was a crazy.

There are so many cute dogs and puppies here that I have to post a few pictures:

 Labradoodle and golden retriever puppies playing. How cute is that?

 Andrew's been playing in the mud.

Poodle going for tractor drive.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

You Aren't Going To Believe This

The dressage camp is wonderful. That isn't the part you aren't going to believe. I'll get to that part in a moment. First I want to tell you about how the camp is organized. I'm having lessons with the other woman who co-chairs our dressage club (R.I.D.E.R.S) with me. In the morning we start early (8:00 am) with a lunge lesson with Jane Fraser who is locally famous for her lunge lessons. I can honestly feel a difference already. I don't want to jinx myself, but I think I'm getting my heels down more consistently. I get lunged on a school horse, not Rogo. It's very tiring but great.
Then we watch lessons for a few hours, given by Cindy Ishoy who's flown in to give a clinic. Her linked bio is well worth reading. She's an eight time Olympian and an Olympic medalist. As you can imagine, the atmosphere is heaven. We're over-looking a bay in the country, a small group of women of all ages who share a passion for dressage, and all day is spent riding, talking, and learning dressage. The meals are all home cooked right here, and are to die for. Last night was scallops, tonight was a curry chicken casserole, tons of salads, sides, etc. and somewhere in there I pigged out on strawberry shortcake. If there is a heaven, this is it.
Back to the lesson - we have a lesson with Sue Fraser in the afternoon. Her bio is also impressive and  well worth reading. I ride Rogo for my lesson with Sue. She is getting me to get more out of him than ever before. Although I'm pushing him to go more forward and work harder, he doesn't mind it. He isn't cranky about it at all. I wonder if he likes the sensation of discovering his power as he starts to come rounder and more forward? He's giving it his all, bless his little heart. It can't be easy for him, because without a teacher I just didn't have the confidence to push, and always erred on the side of caution. Now he's being asked for more and as he responds I'm astonished by the power and gaits that emerge.
This leads me to the unbelievable part - today's lesson with Sue. There were severe thunder storm warnings in effect, and we heard thunder rumbling as our lesson started (indoors). We were just getting warmed up in the walk when the rain hit the roof with a roar. It came in waves, in such a way I haven't heard before - crashing into the roof, subsiding and crashing into it again, all in seconds. This unnerved Rogo (it was his second time in there and second day here) and he jumped around a little, but only for less than a minute. I just kept him working, but instead of walking along the sides I circled him. Then the thunder started in earnest. By now Rogo wasn't jumping around, but I thought the lesson might get canceled. Instead Sue put a microphone on to talk over the roar and we continued. The noise mounted and the lesson went on. As I rode, I thought "I'm never going to forget this, this is a ride to remember". It felt wild, and instead of feeling scared I felt like it was the chance of a lifetime to ride through a storm like that, in an indoor, with a great teacher. How often do things like this happen?
We were trotting now, asking for big trots, lengthening down the long side. The atmosphere was almost otherworldly, the thunder and lightening coming at the same time and at times pretty much continuous. It got to the point we couldn't hear Sue even with the microphone - I'd catch sporadic words or ride over to her to ask what she said. Everyone had gathered to watch, but I was only vaguely aware they were there. Then we cantered and Sue wanted Rogo more in front of my leg. We're cantering through this roaring thunder and Sue is yelling to me to tap, tap, tap him with the whip and get him using his hind legs. I was afraid he'd use his hind legs to throw me over his head, but my brave big boy just went to work harder and ignored the noise. At one point the lights went out and we were almost in darkness, even though there are lots of sky lights and side lights. They came back on though and we continued. Wow. What a day and what a ride.
Doug and Mom had driven down to watch today of all days. It unnerved Mom some, but I'm glad Doug saw it because he wouldn't believe it otherwise. I like that he sees what a good boy Rogo is.
Here is the only picture that is light enough to see anything:

Here's one of Alison in her lunge lesson yesterday:

You an see the difference in the light level even though they are both taken in the daytime.
So that's my report on dressage camp days 1 and 2. I'm learning lots, enjoying it more than I can say, and had a wild but wonderful ride today.