Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting The Canter Figured Out

Today I rode on my own to try to figure out why I was having new problems with the canter. He wasn't wanting to pick up or carry the canter, which hasn't been a problem for over a year, and steering was out the window. As luck would have it, Sue was there schooling her gorgeous Dancer (a 17.2 Idocus gelding) and Jane was there too having just finished schooling her handsome PSG horse Kenny (barn name :).
After a short walk on a long rein we did a bit of trotting three loop serpentines and then I tried cantering a 20 m circle. It didn't start well. He didn't want to canter and when he did he picked up the wrong lead three times at least, something he never does. At one point I looked down as I was asking for the transition and - what -  I had his head pulled seriously to the inside. I mean pulled in. Poor Rogo. He didn't like this AT ALL and wasn't standing for it. Just then Jane called out to me to give my inside rein. I did and there was an instant, positive result. He cantered and I could steer much better, although I need to carefully practice to get back to where we were.
What caused all of this? I'm not sure. I'm asking for much more forward, engagement and contact, and it's hard for him. It's also hard for me, because I need to learn to ride this way, and also how to ride the much bigger resultant movement. I think that equitation issues I had in the past are magnified, as are bad habits Rogo had. Put all of this together and we have wrinkles to iron out.
The good news is that I spent the rest of the ride with an almost loose inside rein so Rogo would get his confidence back in it and he went fine. I'm hoping a few more practice rides and we'll be on track with it. The other good news is that the trot is coming along amazingly, so over-all things are good.
Thanks for all of the nice comments on the last post. I should explain that my three lessons a week are probably going to be over the end of Dec. :( There isn't going to be room for us at the barn after that. So I may spend the rest of the winter without lessons, which will kill me because we are finally getting things going in a good direction.
Boarders can buy lesson plans to make it more affordable, and also Doug pushed me to take this winter to put on a lesson blitz. His reasoning is that it doesn't make sense for us to put so much into owning the horses and then not train them, when that is what the original goal was and what I love.
Our horse business planning is coming along. We meet with a potential supplier for the indoor next week. I'll do a post on it soon as I'm quite excited about it. Lori Skoog from Skoog Farm Journal kindly asked recently if we'd decided on a location. We've bought 135 acres in Brookfield Nova Scotia, 5 minutes from the main highway running between the Halifax and Truro.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Where To Start....

I'm continuing lessons three times a week at Fraser Equestrian Center and I'm blown away by the difference it makes. Rogo is becoming much more forward and round. I don't know if other people are like this, but when I'm with a good teacher I can do things I can't do on my own. Even when I'm physically capable of something and understand the concept, it just doesn't work for me without a coach. Take forward for instance - I worked HARD at getting it, understood the concepts and methods, could get when Joan was with me (which was rare), but couldn't get it consistently on my own. With a teacher pushing us we're building the ability to go into a forward trot naturally.
I posted when I started lessons a couple of weeks ago about the well timed and meaningful kick instead of nagging to get forward. I had to do it a lot! Now I've learned to time it for effectiveness so I hit the 'driving' point correctly and we don't loose rhythm (most of the time). I have to do it much less often now and Rogo carries the forward on his own more effectively. We're also starting each lesson with lunging for forward in trot, so it sets the tone and helps him understand what we're looking for.
I've been feeling different about my riding too - more secure. Writing this is sure to lead to a fall :) , but I've got a different sense of confidence. Ironically (or maybe not), with Rogo going forward more strongly, I'm 'with' him and feel more settled in the saddle. This makes sense in that he has to lift his back more to get the forward, so it's easier to ride. I can actually sit this trot better than the slow one (although it still has a long way to go). The improvement in confidence is helped by confidence in my teacher - she sets a tone and energy in the arena that both Rogo and I believe we can do it and then we do. The lunge lessons I had really helped too, and I need to get more of them.
I worry that Rogo could get stressed by the new expectations and work ethic, but so far so good. He still greats me at the stall door or pasture gate and pushes his head into his halter. He still loves to be loved :).
He's been rebelling at the canter, not wanting to steer and really pushing back, so that's something to keep an eye on. His canter has always been forward (it was just the trot that was the problem), so now his already forward canter, in his mind, needs to go up a notch too? I'm not sure what is causing this but he only wants to go fast, in straight lines. I have to really focus on getting a controlled canter and using a strong outside rein and leg to keep him on a circle. To be honest it gets a little over the top at times, but today it was a little better.
The last time I stayed overnight in the trailer it was -8 C. and I ran out of propane - yikes! I hooked up a back up tank, which seemed empty too, and then went to a garage for another tank, which didn't work, so I spent the night with many layers of clothes on, under many layers of blankets. It was COLD! Turned out, and I'm embarrassed to say this, I was switching the tank to the generator and not to the inside of the trailer. I could have sworn I knew which was which. I'm blaming Doug...
Today I did something that scares the hell out of me - I signed up, with Doug and Sue's encouragement, for two days of riding in the Cindy Ishoy clinic that will be held at Sue's on Dec. 9, 10 and 11th. I told Doug I'm afraid I'll be a train wreck. I still don't have the stamina I need to ride Rogo effectively and without that my aids aren't as effective as they should be after 10 or 15 minutes. A walk break helps, but will I get one? Should I ask? Will I just fall apart? That isn't out of the question. I need to be able to process and react to information my teacher is giving me much faster and more effectively.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lit Quadrille From Royal Winter Fair (Toronto, Canada)

Have you seen this video from Horse Junkies Unitied? It's an amazing display of horses trusting their riders as they perform in the dark decked out in lights.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Different Breeds Doing Dressage

No one called me on it, but I'm feeling guilty about writing in my Ingrid Klimke clinic post that I'd rather spend my time and money doing dressage with a warm blood because they are better suited to doing it. What a stunned as me arse thing for me to say. You guys should have roasted me :) First of all, I caught the dressage bug as a teenager riding my beloved 14.2, pretty palomino, grade horse Trigger and taught him to do two tempi's in my back yard riding to the Beatles 'Hey Jude' (I was already 5'9"). Second, I re-caught the bug after not riding for 30 years on very drafty draft cross Savanah and I adore doing dressage with her. She is sooo precise, supple and smart and there's a long and unruly line of people who would love to have her. Third, I showed my Appaloosa Dan in Training Level two years ago and we had a blast. Who do I think I am saying I prefer spending my time with warm bloods? Obviously I didn't think that statement through and it isn't true. Every horse and rider can benefit from dressage. That's what I love about it.
It was my writing about a gorgeous Friesian stallion that prompted my comment. Truth be told, I don't think I have the talent to ride these beautiful horses. That's much closer to the truth! The woman who rode him, Erin MacQuarrie, is such a beautiful rider. She's a professional from New Brunswick and has one of the best reputations in Atlantic Canada and beyond as a teacher and trainer. Doing soft and balanced walk-canter-walk on small circles with a five year old stallion doesn't happen without great riding and a talented horse.
The clinic organizer Joanne Dustan is amazing. She had a very fair selection process that ended up with a variety of breeds and many amateur riders. For example the following were represented: Quarter Horse, Morgan, Arab cross, a Clyde/Saddlebred cross, Andalusian, Dutch warmblood, Friesian, Thoroughbred, etc. This is how it should be in my opinion.
To top it off, Ingrid was just awarded the highest equestrian sport accolade in Germany - the only person under 50 and the only woman to be named a German Riding Master. And we just had her here last weekend coaching our local riders and horses of all breeds.
Our dressage club R.I.D.E.R.S. (I co-chair) had a special class at our Labour Day show to showcase different breeds doing dressage. Unfortunately there was only one entry in the class, but she was great. She was riding a Quarter Horse and did a reining demo, after doing very well in her dressage class (I think she was reserve champion at Training Level). She and this horse do just about any equine activity or discipline you can mention, Western and English. Our shows have many breeds, it was just this class that didn't have a lot of entries (I think people want to concentrate on their tests more so than showcasing a breed). Our shows have Fjords, Canadians, Thoroughbreds, draft crosses, Friesians, Arabians, Quarter horses, ponies, Appaloosas, Paints, different varieties of warm bloods, Andalusians, etc.
I find myself very intrigued (here's my 'prejudice'?) by blogs written by people riding off the track thoroughbreds. I follow several and these horses and their owners amaze me. The intelligence, heart and talent they display and that can end up being discarded after only one small part of it is explored (racing) is striking. But this is a whole post on it's own.
I'm drawn to blogs by people who are doing dressage with different breeds and follow many of them. You can probably find several on my sidebar - Quarter Horses, Paints and Thoroughbreds to name some. These horses and riders are inspirational and put many warm bloods to shame. Their size is much better suited to many riders and careful selection to find the horse suited to your need results in many successful horse / rider combinations in many breeds. This is what makes it all so fascinating!
Yes, at my height a bigger horse is desirable, but a draft cross or an OTTT, to name two, are definitely options I'd think about if I needed another horse. Do you have any favorite breeds, for dressage or otherwise? If so, what do you like about them? Does color sway you? Does your preference change as your age changes? Etc.
Hmmm, just realized I'm segueing into a new topic :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Does It Get Any Better?

Seriously, this day was perfect. I retired at 50 (I should tell you about that sometime, it's quite a story) and now I'm kind of living my dream in many ways. Well, now I feel I have to qualify. I do consulting work, but on my terms. Also, we're still planning to build and operate a horse facility next year, so that is going to be LOTS of work.
Back to my perfect day...
Here's how it started:

I stopped at Avery's Farm Market on my way to Fraser Equestrian Center to buy a bag of 'drops and culls'. $5.99 for a 20 lb. bag of delicious apples.

Although it was about 9:45 on a Monday morning, I thought why not have a cone of my favorite icecream - Privateers Bounty? Have you tried it? It is utterly addictive. Licorice and salted butterscotch chunks. I don't even like licorice but this combo is deadly delicious.

Then, reunited with my darling boy. Rogo has settled in nicely at Fraser Equestrian Center and was ready for our lesson with Sue - first time under saddle in over three weeks. I didn't know what to expect. He could have been over the top energy wise, or just lazy and not wanting to work. It didn't occur to me that he'd be in the middle - pretty much where he left off. Yeah! My sweet baby is growing up. He did try to run out of the ring two or three times, but hey, it could happen to anyone right? This is his oldest trick and Always comes back after a lay off, even if he hasn't done it in months. Not a biggy, just a chance to discuss who's making decisions :)
Sue had us work on good basics, forward being the most important. Rogo still needs to learn to go forward automatically without nagging, and I need to learn to ride him forward without nagging him. A quick and if need be sharp correction, and then relax. Repeat as necessary. I'd much rather do this than be picking at him, but I need to train myself to do it. I don't even realize I am picking at him to keep him going, so having Sue there giving us instruction and feedback about this is awesome. If he learns to go forward easily everything else will be SO much easier.
We did lots of working on forward at the walk - he needs to march along and he can do it beautifully when we focus and remember to do it. We also worked on forward at the trot. There's lots more work to do here. Sue wants me to give him a firm 'kick' or bump to get his attention and get him
forward. There's an art to this and I don't have it. The aid needs to be delivered at the right time in the stride and without interrupting our connection. I'm clumsy at it, but will learn. I don't want this to sound harsh - I'm not wearing spurs and Rogo isn't at all put off by it. It's an impulse forward and as I learn to time it correctly and he learns to respond, the need for it will decrease. I thinking I'm heading to weaning off of my whip and onto my legs more. Ultimately of course a very light aid is the goal. So, just to repeat the key point - I need to stop an almost constant light aid and give a firm aid only as needed. I know this intellectually already, but haven't succeeded in doing it. Sue will keep us on track.
We worked on walking a three loop serpentine from quarter line to quarter line. Then we trotted it. It's challenging, because without the wall as a crutch any holes in the training show up easily. Can you guess Rogo's? He did this quite well in many ways, changing bend and staying precise when I guided him correctly, but we're still weak on the left leg into the right rein. He almost ignores my left leg. This is an area for attention for sure. Maybe I'm making it sound worse than it was. He bent correctly most of the time, but he's definitely hollow going left.
We did trot figure eights and they went fairly well, but of course there's the same issue re hollowness.
So, day one conclusion? More forward, and get him attentive to the left leg. I'm loving having lessons with a good teacher!!!!! As I mentioned, Rogo and I will be here at least until the end of December and we'll have three lessons a week with Sue. I'll stay overnight in the trailer one or two nights a week. I'm in the trailer tonight and loving it. It was 16 C. today!
Here are a few more pictures:

Looking out over the marsh from Fraser Equestrian Center. Can you see how smokey the hills in the background look? It's beautiful here.

 My smart car parked on front of our trailer. I sat outside in the sunshine reading a dressage book after riding.

My good friend Verna gave me this Canadian whiskey when she was here visiting from Alberta in Oct. Just the thing for a November evening.
A final note - Rogo's lab work results arrived today. His tumour was confirmed as a sarcoid and the edges of the piece removed were free of cancer cells, meaning there is less chance of a recurrence. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
Our next lesson is at noon tomorrow. More posts coming :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ingrid Klimke Clinic

Today Doug and I audited the Ingrid Klimke clinic in Truro that Joanne Dustan (Nova Scotia Dressage) organized. We're so lucky to have the quality of clinicians she brings in, here in Nova Scotia. Last year she brought in Steffen Peters - can you believe it?
Ingrid of course uses LOTS of cavalletti in her training. There were mostly dressage riders in the clinic, but some eventers too, which I was really intrigued by. Can a mid 50's woman who's never jumped take up eventing? Maybe the most introductory level? No? Damn. To digress for a moment I do want to learn to do just low, basic jumps, because I think it would be good for both Rogo and I, but that's another story.
Back to the clinic - I'm not educated enough to interpret it in detail for you, but here are some key points that Doug and I took away:
  • do lots and lots of transitions - trot walk trot with only ONE walk step, canter walk canter
  • put cavalletti at the 1/4 points of a circle and count your strides between them to make sure your strides are rhythmic and even in either trot or canter. You can also set the cavalletti higher and go 3 strides between, four strides between, three strides between, four strides between, etc. by regulating the stride length and steering more to the inside or more to the outside of the circle / cavaletti. This is a good exercise for eventers to control stride length and control steering at speed, but would be good for any horse and rider.
  • school canter pirouettes by coming out of the corner doing canter half pass to the far quarter line followed by a 6 m circle in travers. Do this several times, then ride a half pirouette. Focus on the rhythm and quality of the canter more than keeping it small.
  • A recurring theme was to release the inside rein on the circles, something I need to do more, especially to the left where I still hang on it too much
  • When schooling changes, if your horse starts to anticipate and change on his own, make sure your aids are saying 'no', until you say 'yes'. Reduce the number of changes to 3 (i.e. 3 three tempis, 3 four tempis) and concentrate on getting three correct changes rather than trying to go all the way across and having the horse start changing on his own. Don't collect too much - let the horse go reasonably forward.
  • to help a young / greener horse do canter walk transitions, try cantering 10 m figure eights, with 2 or 3 walk steps to change direction. We watched her working with a 5 year old Friesian stallion on this exercise and is was striking how quickly he went from not being able to come close to a canter walk transition to almost nailing it.
  • Here's a picture of him. I LOVE Friesians to look at. I don't expect I'll ever own one. Stunningly beautiful as they are I'd rather spend my limited time and budget with a warmblood if I can, simply because most are better suited to dressage. But boy, I'm sure glad others ride them so I can watch! Come to think of it, I think Jane Savoie rides some Friesians, so I guess they can do dressage just fine  :) This guy just may have been the most beautiful one I've ever seen.

 And here he is going over the cavalletti, with Ingrid in the background (phone photos, sorry):

In other news, I start my lessons with Sue Fraser tomorrow, on Rogo. When the vet came to take out the stitches he decided he needed five more days off, so he's been there getting settled (the wound was still a bit open). Rogo's been off for over three weeks except for three or so short bareback rides, and I've been doing very little riding. Soooo, I'm a little nervous to jump right in, but how else will we get going again? We really need lessons from a skilled teacher right now and Sue fits the bill. It's over three hours to make the round trip, so I may stay in the living quarters in the trailer tomorrow night. I have lessons Mon., Tues., and Thur. this week. Let's hope that trailer furnace is working well!
Here's a picture I took when riding Savanah on the beach the other day:

These are a couple of the horses that live next door. They're in with cows and this is where Rogo had his terrible cow fright :) He'd only been to the beach a few times so when they ran over to look at him it threw him for a loop.
I was very proud of Savanah on our ride. She was bareback (she's so warm and comfy I can't resist) and I aasked her to lengthen, shorten, lengthen and shorten her canter down an open stretch and she did it perfectly! Twice! This is a challenge as she loves to go forward and an open beach on a crisp Nov. day brings out the 'go go go' in her, but she stayed perfectly on the aids and responded brilliantly. We're so lucky to have a safe, sensitive, forward horse like her.
Hope everyone had a good weekend.