Monday, October 31, 2011

Waiting For Fall / Winter Training To Begin

With a sub-theme of how different horses respond to training intensity...

Rogo is healing nicely from his sarcoid surgery. The wound site looks good and the stitches are coming out tomorrow. Then, wait for it, I take him to Fraser Equestrian Center for November and December with Atlantic Canada's only (I think) level three dressage coach Sue Fraser and her incredibly talented sister Jane Fraser to give us lessons. I'm going to keep doing the lunge lessons with Jane for my equitation, and I'll ride Rogo for three lessons a week with Sue.
We haven't really worked very hard since we were at dressage camp there in early Aug. First Rogo cut his leg, then some things happened that threw me for a loop, then the surgery and bingo, it's Nov. already. I'd had my heart set on doing level one next year, but it will take some work to get training level consistent again, and although I scored mid 60's in my July test clinic I wouldn't say we were consistent mid 60's. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that with steady work under good instruction we'll make significant progress though.
Savanah's the type of horse that even if you're off her for weeks you get back on and pick up where you left off. With Rogo, if he's off for more than three days it takes weeks to get him back where he was. I'm not sure if it's just because he's younger, or because they have different personalities. Opinions / experience with this question?
To digress onto the topic of Savanah for a moment, she is doing GREAT! With Doug not riding she only gets ridden two or three times a week, often bareback and often just for fifteen minutes or so. Yet she's the one who has really made great progress this summer. She is now consistent, solid and precise in all level one movements, and she wasn't at the beginning of the summer. Even with this limited amount of riding I wouldn't hesitate to take her into a show tomorrow in any level one test and I'm sure she'd do well. After riding her the other day I realized how far Rogo is from this. He can do all of the movements, some quite well, but he doesn't have her precision, especially with his circles or a good trot lengthening and shortening. If Doug isn't showing in the spring I'm going to start competing her again.
Okay, back to Rogo. He needs a mix of activities to keep from getting bored, and of course training the same thing every day is a recipe for lameness, but having said that, he thrives on harder work. He gets more energized, accurate and responsive when he works harder (within reason of course). He's been this way pretty much since he's been backed. He won't be all crazy let's go, go, go when he gets to Sue's, because of rest and time off. He'll be " damn, work? seriously?, well okay... here's a little trot, ..." and it will take at least a week to get up to speed, no pun intended. That's my prediction. I'll check back on it next week.
Now, I need your help. This is my first time boarding at a serious dressage barn. The other day on my way to a lunge lesson I realized I'd forgotten my helmet and stopped and bought one. I couldn't help myself - when they had this bright blue one that matched my jacket perfectly I bought it.

It's a matchy matchy sickness. So here's the question and be honest. Save me from myself if need be. Should I hide the sky blue helmet except when I'm home alone and can enjoy it's glowing, heart lightening color privately, or is it okay to wear it at the dressage barn occasionally? I think Joan might look askance at it, and I've had even my grey and pearl bead brow band called gaudy, so I think I know the answer :( ...
Just to be clear, I adore beautiful, classic black and white show clothes. My color love is for schooling only.
You'll see from the picture that I've lost my half chaps so I need a new pair of those too. And no, I'm not buying blue ones :) Also you can see I'm riding Rogo bare back. While waiting for his incision to heal (it's close to the girth area), I've had two or three short bareback rides. I love it and he seems to like it too. We work on 10 m figure eight trot circles (he can do them quite well most of the time) leg yield (his hind quarters are still lagging but getting better), and a bit of trying to sit his working trot. Also we did canter circles a couple of times and I want to increase my confidence with those transitions. If I weren't going to Sue's I think I'd spend most of the winter bare back. As it is, I think I'll use it for cool down time.
Sue only has room for us until the end of Dec., so if nothing opens up there we'll be looking for another indoor at that time, and lessons will be up in the air again. Hopefully my next post will be reporting on our initial lessons at Fraser Equestrian Center!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lunge / Equitation Lessons

I've been driving to Port Williams for lunge lessons for the last few weeks to work on my equitation (the place I went to dressage camp last summer). So far I've had four. This represents a significant commitment on my part, as it is an hour and a half + drive to get there - so three hours + driving for a lesson. They're worth it though. Jane Fraser gives the lessons. She's Sue Fraser's sister and teaches at her barn some. Sue is a level three dressage coach and we're really lucky to have both she and Jane here in Nova Scotia. 
These lessons are intense and I love them. To give you a little background, instead of getting better, my riding has gotten worse since I backed Rogo. It was both my first time backing a horse, and first time riding a warmblood. Can you imagine? (I know it wasn't a smart thing to do, but it's working.) And I wonder why he didn't want to go forward at first? Oh la la. The movement is sooo different. Savanah is a big powerful horse, but the sensation of riding the two horses is like being on two different species. Rogo is shading over 17 hands and has a lot of suspension. 
When being lunged the reins are tied up and I hold (lightly when I'm doing well) a strap on the front of the saddle. This gives me the freedom to think about my equitation and work on isolating body parts and using them individually.
Here are a few things I've learned in no particular order...
I noticed that when I clamp my knees and thighs my lesson horse slows right down - I can almost feel them braking. I'm almost sure I've been doing this to Rogo, at least at times. Jane tells me that doing this will cause some horses to race and others to get balky. A horse like Rogo who wasn't anxious to go forward even on the lunge before backing wouldn't react well to this from his rider. I remember him lowering his head and shaking it all the time when I first asked him to trot under saddle. Not a happy boy, and I didn't know why. Hmmm, I think there may be a relationship. I've always felt there was something not right about how I was trotting, because he's nicely forward at the canter. I learned through my lunge lessons that although I can improve my canter seat, it isn't restricting like my trot seat often becomes with tight knees and thighs. Like many people I find it much easier to sit with stability at the canter, even the huge warm blood canter Rogo has. The school horse I rode that day was a Thoroughbred, so sometimes tight upper legs made her race and sometimes she just shut down / slow down. Relaxing got her to relax and lengthen her trot into a nice big, steady rhythm.
I've had teachers tell me to relax my upper leg before, and let it lie softly without 'clamping' but the lunge lessons make the effect of a tight thigh / knee so clear - instant loss of quality in the gait with upper legs tight and instant improvement in the length of stride and rhythm when the upper leg is loose and open.
And here's my big break through! Keeping my heels down has always been hard for me on Rogo, and forget keeping my legs quiet. Jane kept telling me to put my legs back, put my legs back. They continually crept forward so that I didn't have a straight line from ear to shoulder to hip to heel - my legs got too forward. She also told me to push down through my heels each time I rose in the trot. I just couldn't do it - my legs kept going forward and I couldn't hold them in place. Finally, in frustration with myself, I decided to correct the leg position with each stride. I pushed my lower leg back/down, back/down, back/down and suddenly Jane shouts "You've got it"! After a couple of rounds of it she had to stop me to show me the goose bumps on her arm. She said it was the single biggest improvement I'd made. I was so touched that she cared that much about my improvement, and so happy to finally 'feel' the flow and rhythm of trotting with my legs correct. I think it is this real caring that takes Jane from being a very good teacher to being a great teacher. She has the information, she's knowledgeable about how learning takes place, and she genuinely cares about her students and their horses learning and improving. I think I might have gotten a little teary eyed at my improved leg position :)
I told you this was in no particular order, and being that my readers are much more knowledgeable than me in many / most cases, you'll know the lower leg epiphany came before the upper leg relaxation. Once the lower leg learned the movement and I could relax into it without straining to keep my leg in the right place, or bouncing up off the ball of my foot instead of stepping down into it, the upper leg relaxed and my horse relaxed and went forward.
I feel like a blind man who is learning to see, and I'm disappointed that years have gone by without good lessons. I should have been doing this years ago. It takes so many years to get good, and now I've lost years. I need at least another hundred hours of this to start to crack the surface.
A couple of my biggest areas to correct are keeping my shoulders back, stretching up through my core and tucking in my butt. I'm moving Rogo to the Fraser Equestrian Center for Nov. and Dec., so I'll be getting training lessons with Sue and I want to keep my lunge lessons up all winter. OMG, I'm so excited! 
By the way, Rogo is recovering well from surgery and the vet expects he'll be in fine shape to start training with Sue in Nov. I rode him bareback yesterday (the incision is too close to the girth area to put a saddle on him). 
Here are some lunging pictures:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rogo Pictures

Here are more photographs taken the same day as Savanah's also by Maria Casey.

I like the way his neck muscles are developing. Thanks for the beautiful pictures Maria! You captured his sweetness.
Rogo had his sarcoid surgically removed this morning. It was slowly growing and chances of success are higher when they are small. The vet said he thinks he got all of it. It will be biopsied to ensure it is a sarcoid and to see if the edges of the piece removed are cancer free.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Savanah and Dan Pictures

Maria Casey came to our house a couple of weeks ago and took some amazing shots of our horses. I`ll post some of Rogo in a future post. Today, bareback on the ever photogenic Savanah...

In the riding ring
At the beach
At the beach
Cantering up the beach

Walking back to the riding ring

Turned out and happy

Maria and Jennifer (who rode Dan last winter) also went to visit my Appaloosa, Dan who is staying at Joan`s to keep her Arabian company. Here are some pictures of Dan and Jennifer:

It looks to me like Dan remembered Jennifer! He really likes her. Wish she could get out to ride more. Maria did such a great job with her photography. Thank you Maria, these mean a lot to me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Slow Mo Rogo

Seems ironic after writing about run away Rogo a few days ago, but tonight I have a whole different story. I've been trying to incorporate as much bare back into my riding as I can get, without giving up on my saddle entirely (I would give it up for a while, but neither of us is to a stage we wouldn't regress in some areas without it). I ride bareback once or twice a week, and at the end of almost every ride I take the saddle off and ride bareback for ten or fifteen minutes. He seems to really like it. Maybe it's a coincidence, but he's been even more affectionate since we started this - it's such a nice connection. I can feel where his feet are almost intuitively and it's much easier to time my aids, for example we do the leg yield much better bare back. He also does a mean shoulder in and nice ten meter trot circles. 
I haven't cantered bareback with him until today. I canter bare back on Savanah everywhere - in the arena and hacking, but I can't sit Rogo's trot very well yet (there's lots of suspension). Without a solid sitting trot those canter transitions, up and down, are a little dicey :) Also, a year ago he was VERY excited the one time I got on bare back and tore around the arena (trotting) with little steering or brakes, so I didn't try bare back on him again until recently.
We had a great ride under saddle today - he was forward and focused. After about 30 minutes I decided to pull his saddle off and ride bare back, and then it hit me - today's the day to start cantering bareback with him. I trotted one circle and then asked for canter. He went right into it, but here's the strange part - he did this super slow motion canter that he's never done before. It was so slow that I had to really focus to keep my rhythm slow enough in following. It was like a good lope - not laboured, but not collected and super slow. After one circle I asked for trot and he did one tiny trot step and walked. I felt like he was trying really hard to take care of me and keep me safe at this new undertaking. He wasn't the least unbalanced or hesitant - just really slow. So I tried a circle the other way and he did the exact same thing. I'm going to see if I can catch some on video to show you. I'm just so puzzled, yet kind of pleased with it. I don't want this canter to be part of our repertoire, but it was a perfect first bare back canter on a horse whose big movement can be a little intimidating. Sometimes his intuitiveness scares me a little. No, scared is the wrong word. Leaves me in awe.
We had a really good lesson with Megan Bishop a few days ago. We worked on trot / canter / trot transitions a lot. They have regressed, as have our halts which we worked on as well. For the canter transitions my problem is that I can't sit his trot well, so I have this period where I try to rush from trot to canter. This gets Rogo off balance and he struggles with the first canter stride or two. Not pretty. Megan had me slow down that trot step just before cantering, so I can sit soidly and give a clear canter aid. It worked - Yeah! It needs more practice, lots more practice, but it's coming. She also got me to practice sitting trot, which is what I need in the longer term . The time I lost in Aug. / Sept.  and the lack of lessons is telling on us there (transitions and halts) and other places, but it will all come back. I'm pretty happy with him.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rogo Training Goal Results for September/October, and Goals for November

Here are our results for September and Goals for November. Rogo's sarcoid has been slowly growing, so it is scheduled for removal next week - thus I'm leaving Oct. out of the goal setting :) He'll be off for two or three weeks, but I may ride him bareback before that (the sarcoid is close to the girth area). We'll be rusty though, so maybe I shouldn't hope for too much regarding goals in Nov.
Generally speaking, everything needs to be more forward and he needs to be rounding more. He's schooling all of the Level One movements, some better than others, but the engagement he should have for this level isn't developed yet.
My equitation is another big goal. I've been for two lunge lessons in the last couple of weeks and want to have as many more as I can get. They are fabulous! More on them in an upcoming post. Needless to say, Rogo will be able to improve as I am able to ride him better. Building on that, sitting trot should start appearing here. Let's say a goal of being able to sit the working trot most of the time by the end of Nov. This will be good bare back work!

Training Area
Achieved Aug. 2011
Goal Sept. 30, & Achieved
Goal Nov. 31
15 m canter circle
7    6
10 m canter circle
6   5.5
He is doing these (canter circles), but needs to engage his hindquarters more, round and move more lightly. Improving my riding will help this.
Canter lengthen and shorten
7   7
Counter canter to center line and back

3 loop canter serpentine
7   5
20 m counter canter circle
6.5 haven’t worked on it
Rogo was a star when we started counter canter and did the circle and serpentine easily first time asked, thus I scored him high. I didn’t work on them and when I went back, they weren’t as solid as I thought, so I’m going back to working on the Level One loop for now.
Walk / canter
6   5.5
Canter / walk
3 (just starting)
5   4
Simple change
Haven’t started
3   na

Trot lengthening
4 (haven’t worked on it)
6 (we need to get this going) 5
Trot collection
5.5   5.5
Stretchy circle
7   6
Rogo was good at stretching forward and down, but the last couple of rides he goes straight down, with no forward. Also, he goes straight down with his nose to the ground for a few strides, then lifts his head again, then repeats. Any ideas as to cause?
Leg yield
6   6
Shoulder in
6   6
Halt square and stand
8   5 this is regressing!

I’m still having trouble getting Rogo to understand I’m not asking for anything more when we stop. He starts wiggling back and forth, trying to figure out what to do next.
Trot from halt
7   6
Rein back
Haven’t started
5 na

Marching walk
5 (I haven’t been on top of this)
7 (he enjoys doing it when I remember)  6.5
Free walk
7   7
Hack out – trot
5 (just started)
6  5.5
Hack out – canter
Haven’t started
5  did once on purpose and once by accident J