Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do You Lunge, And Why, Why Not?

I don't want to jinx myself, but after three years :) , lunging Rogo finally seems to be coming together for me. I started lunging him the fall he was three and a half. Boy, he sure didn't think that was a good idea. I mean, why would we do that? We could just hang out and eat carrots while I scratched him so why would he run around in circles? Duh. The lack of interest in participating in this new activity manifested itself in him running away from me, and I lacked the finesse and experience to hold him. Bad start and bad habit learned. If he did stay with me, he'd just come to a halt whenever I asked for a trot (forget canter for another year). A few steps of trot earned a "good boy" and carrots. It was the only way to get him to do it. To this day he pauses with a hitch if I say good boy when riding, muscle memory of a carrot appearing next.
Doug got involved in this too, poor guy. When I couldn't hold Rogo he took over. I can still see Rogo cantering down the ring with Doug's heels dug in sliding along behind him. So he built a small pen to lunge him in and on it went. You get the picture. Rogo's lack of interest in working early on could make up several posts, and no doubt I'll do one or two sometime, but this post is about lunging. (Just a quick note on it though - we didn't ever 'force' him and patience was the key.)
I myself wasn't strong in the skill of lunging, having only lunged trained horses, and lunging correctly is a real skill. Without supervision I let Rogo flop around on the lunge line without really working, just happy he was going forward. This went on for too long. If I pushed him he ran away and I got in the habit of not pushing and also to be honest I didn't really know what I was looking for or should be asking for. Sometimes I'd put the lunge line through his bit on one side, around his poll, and attach to the bit on the other side. I can hold him this way, but it isn't a very good training method.
I didn't want to use side reins because I see SOOO many horses behind the vertical and I was afriad that without skilled supervision I'd over do it. On it went, Rogo happily flopping around on his forehand (not that lack of side reins equals this - I mean the whole picture).
I had a teacher for a time who was skilled at lunging, but although I'd watch in admiration I couldn't produce what she did with him. There's an element of feel, confidence and knowing what you're after and how to get it that I just didn't have.
Cut to this summer. Rogo was still running away from me on and off and one day I HAD it (dangerous, etc., I posted about it). With the determination born of needing to cure a dangerous habit I put him to work. I used the lunge line around the poll method and side reins to keep him with me, and I pushed him out of his work comfort zone into a BIG trot. Rogo's not big on big trot's, although he has a beauty when he does it. We did this a few times until he stopped running from me, and then I went back to not lunging. I kind of missed the break through - I was teaching him the gait I wanted, which I couldn't seem to do as effectively or quickly mounted.
Currently coming back from a period of low to no work (Rogo's cut leg, my 'down' time) I was faced with a very lazy horse and a low energy me, so I turned to lunging. OMG - I think I've got it. I'm fastening the line on the side, using side reins at times (I've used them enough that he understands and is ready) without under or over doing it, getting a big, forward trot, and the trot it carrying over to mounted work. In yesterday's ride he carried the trot of my dreams after lunging, something I can work on for 30 minutes and not get if I try it mounted without lunging. Without lunging, there are days I can give him 3 good solid whacks with the whip and still get just a half hearted, short response. This leaves me feeling really yukky (it's like whipping a sweet puppy frankly, and it does no good). Who wants to spend their riding time like that, or have a relationship like that with their horse? Not me.
So, fingers crossed, I think I have a good tool I can use effectively finally. I'm not mean to him on the lunge line (pushing too hard or 'chasing' him). It's just as though we both get it now - focused and forward. Rogo isn't the least bit upset or reluctant. He's as happy as can be and enjoying himself. Is he the equine equivalent of the person who says "I find it hard to go to the gym, but when I get started I love it"?
So, here I am, lunging to put an edge on :) I know many people lunge to take the edge off. Also, some trainers don't think lunging should be used, or used very sparingly. I'm very interested in knowing what you think of lunging as a training tool and / or if and how you use lunging.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


After losing my will to ride for two weeks (a first), now I can't get enough. Today I rode twice. I'm constantly plotting how I can spend the winter with lessons and training five days a week (retirement money? more consulting work?), and when I'm not on the horses, I'm watching training videos or studying dressage books (currently the classic 'The Complete Training of Horse and Rider by Podhajsky).

It's just a paperback copy I found at a used book store, but it's a bible for dressage people. I've read it fitfully before, opening it here and there, but now I'm going cover to cover. Joan's teaching aligns very closely (but not completely) with this book. She studies all of the masters and can quote from them at will and tell stories about debates and schools of thought going back hundreds of years.
Since I can't work with Joan right now, and maybe never, this approach will have to do for the time being. But I digress.
Back to riding - Jennifer and Maria came to visit today, to ride and take pictures. Maria is an excellent amateur photographer, so I'm hoping to have some nice pictures to post soon. It was SOOO fun to spend the morning with them.
I'm finding I'm still way behind where I was in my training. Maybe this is partially feeding my frenzy for lessons? Anyway, Rogo was so sluggish when I rode this morning that I had to get on again this evening. I couldn't let the sun go down on that lack of energy :) So I saddled up again, DETERMINED to have a forward ride and voila - I got a forward ride. What does that tell you about intent? Why do I keep forgetting this? Please, if I start whining about lack of energy and forwardness again, remind me that I set the pace and the tone. There's the crux of it - at 50+ I get out of shape really fast. So it's hard for me bounce back with energy from a lay off. Between the two weeks of not feeling like riding preceded by Rogo's cut leg I haven't been riding regularly for awhile.
I evilly felt a little better when Jennifer, who's a very good rider, found Rogo exhausting too. She's only in her early / mid twenties and in good shape, so it's not just me :) Jennifer, if you're reading this forgive me, but I can't help myself. Misery loves company :) Now you have to come back and ride him again so you can experience good Rogo!
I was going to describe the visit, riding on the beach, etc. but I think I'll wait until I have pictures and let them tell the story. It was a really fun day.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Trying To Get Foused Again

After two weeks of only riding bareback at the walk, with the occasional little trot, I saddled up today to attempt a schooling ride. My friend Joanne came to visit and she rode Savanah and I rode Rogo. Joanne did amazingly well with Savanah! She sits her trot beautifully and just looked so good on her - perfect position, had Savanah on the aids and using her hindquarters, etc. That was the successful side of the outing :) Rogo and I were atrocious! I'm not being hard on myself. We were really bad. We were far, far below being able to do even a Training Level 1 test. I'm sitting here smiling as I write this, because I'm not worried about it and in fact am so happy that I got him saddled and attempted a ride. A few days ago it just seemed like too much work, and I'm never like that (normally I have to ration myself). I know we'll get back to where we were. We had fun with a friend and ended with a ride on the beach, so what's not to love? Here's a picture of Joanne and Savanah that I took with my phone through Rogo's ears:

Joanne does a lot for dressage in our Province. Last year she organized a Stephan Peters clinic. Can you believe it? Stephan Peters here in Nova Scotia coaching local dressage riders? This year she's organized an Ingrid Klimke clinic. People are coming from as far away as BC. She created and maintains a Nova Scotia Dressage website that's an amazing resource. She's also training a young horse, a Hannoverian / draft cross and her daughter, a great young dressage rider, rides their other dressage horse at second level.
Backing up a bit, the two weeks of bareback were interesting and I learned from them. I felt my center of gravity mentally and physically lowering to a 'sack of potatoes seat', if I can describe it like that :) - my seat draped, not tight. This is how I sit on Savanah, but have never achieved consistently with Rogo. It's bad muscle memory and started from nervousness when I backed him. So although our technical prowess was non existent today, I think the bareback time was good. I'm going to try to do it at least twice a week, and incorporate time without stirrups into every ride.
Here's what I'm thinking for getting our schooling back on track:
  1. Mentally focus. Plan the warm up exercises and try to stick with it unless I encounter something that really needs to be addressed. Today my mind wasn't with it yet.
  2. Go large and get him forward before starting circles on days when he lacks impulsion. 
  3. Do lateral work earlier in the warm up to get him more forward (this seems to work well for him, but I didn't do it today).
  4. Do lots of transitions.
Also a lesson learned - I get easily distracted by having someone else in the ring. I'm so used to riding alone that through no fault what so over of the rider I'm in with, I get distracted and lose focus on what I'm doing. This is especially true for me in the warm up ring at shows, so riding with someone else is VERY good for me.
Any suggestions for how you get back on track when you've been off for a bit? Does it come right back to you, or do you have to work at it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Riding Update

It's been so long since I posted I don't know where to start. Guess I'll start with recent stuff and work back, but will probably jump around. To tell the truth, my schooling isn't progressing on the path it should. I'm very troubled about a dear friend in a bad situation, a situation she can't see her way out of and which I'm helpless to change.This sucks the life out of me. Even putting a saddle on a horse seems like a lot of work, let alone having a forward, focused ride. So I walk, bareback. That comforts me. Rogo is new to bareback, so this is good for both of us. Enough said about that.
Prior to this bad situation (my friend) fully coming to light I was focusing on getting more impulsion at the trot. My approach, and I'll get back to it, was to ride twice a day for about 20 minutes each time, and do nothing but forward trot after warming up. Circle at each end and down the long side, forward, forward, forward until it is muscle memory and natural. I also hacked out a bit (more on that), but schooling sessions were just as I described.
I will only try this approach (when I resume) for a few days or a week, then mix it up more. I don't want him to get sour but I think by doing it in short bursts and taking him out of the ring he should be fine. Before that I did the same thing with the walk and he now marches briskly forward quite well with little prompting. I really saw a difference. Even when I got slack and forgot to keep up the walk rhythm he was carrying it in a forward way on his own. So this has been a plus for Sept.
I had my first canter on the beach with Rogo a couple of weeks ago. He was tired from ring work and the sand was deep, so I thought now is the time. I knew he'd want to take off because he loves a forward canter, and sure enough we had a little hand gallop before settling into a working canter. I kept it fairly short and it was great. I'm sure he'd be fine if I let him go, and if I was younger and braver I probably would have. I can't help but be a little nervous about just letting him go though. I want to make sure he's responding to me before I let him go all out. When I got Dan (my Appaloosa)  he was only five and I let him break into a gallop on the beach (this is when I was newly back to riding after 30 years) and he bucked me off. This was before I discovered he had a broken tooth with a bare nerve, but I'm still nervous about just letting a green horse decide to gallop in an open area. I guess that's probably a good thing.
On the way home home Rogo spotted some cows on top of the bank looking down at him and he FREAKED. This was a first for him. He ran backwards onto the mud flats; not good. If you've read my blog long you know he isn't typically a spooky horse, but he doesn't like environments he's used to to change. It got so bad I dismounted and led him until he couldn't see the cows and then got back on and rode home. I've had him back once, but only part way past the area where the cows were. He didn't try to stop, but I'm going to take it slow. It would be ideal if we could go with Savanah, but with Doug not able to ride that isn't happening.
Speaking of Doug, he's been to a natureopath and is on supplements to help his arthritis, so we're hoping for some improvement.
Recently a friend, Jennifer, came to ride Savanah and she took her over some jumps. Savanah hasn't jumped in years, but was jumped before we bought her. She seemed to really enjoy herself, pulling to head for the jump as Jennifer circled at one end. They both did great and I hope there's a repeat. I'll have to get some pictures.
This is getting long and I have more updates, so will have to get back to posting more frequently.
Sorry I haven't been commenting much. I'm reading when I can. 
Thanks for all of the feedback on my last post. It seemed to be a popular topic (speaking dressage) and I got some really funny comments and great ideas for a dictionary :)