Friday, December 30, 2011

Things Are Changing By The Day

I drove down to Port Williams in the late afternoon to ride Rogo. It was sunny and -2 C, although pretty much dark by the time I arrived. Friday night of a holiday weekend - the barn was almost deserted. Two riders were finishing up, so I was all set to have the arena to myself for the second half of my ride.
This is rare here, but that isn't a complaint. There are usually lessons going on all day everyday through the week, and into the evening. You can show up and Sue will fit you in if it's at all possible. Sometimes this means riding with one or two other people, which is a good exercise, but most often my lessons are individual.
Back to my ride - I warmed up with free walk, doing some loops and crossing the diagonal. Then I trotted serpentines wall to wall and did lots of trot circles.  I think I was doing a better job of the circles, but I won't know until I ride them with Sue watching. As I mentioned in my last post, I can't see or feel that they were wrong, so until I can it's hard to fix them. I thought about them a lot since my last lesson and I think that I was really having a mental block. I think I've been riding in such a way that I was over correcting a previous problem and in doing so, thought the problem was fixed. Then when Sue brought it to my attention, I thought the old problem was back,... anyway, I'll spare you the navel gazing details on this occasion only :)  (hmmm, maybe it's too late for that) but if I'm right I'll be well on my way to getting things corrected. Fingers crossed.
On to canter. I gave the canter aid when we were doing a nice engaged trot, and... full, instant, braced, stop. Damn. Move forward, get him straight, give the aid, stop. I can't believe it. We're back to that again. I gave him a few kicks and a whack with the whip, but he wasn't convinced he should canter. This made me tense, so when I did get him to canter apparently I didn't let him go forward enough and he stopped again. Jane Fraser was watching and she told me to let him go, push him forward as soon as we cantered. I tried it and yes, it worked! He was nicely forward, but not over the top at all. This nice forward canter cleared up any problems we were having and we went on to do the best canter work he's done since he started the 'canter rebellion' (associated with insisting on engagement / using his hind quarters).
I could push him up into my hands and then move him in and out on a circle, lengthen and shorten, change his bend, speed up and slow down, etc. I know this is elementary, and even at that it needs much more work, but it's a big improvement. To make it interesting I asked him for canter walk numerous times, and also for a couple of canter halts. I knew from some of his rebellious behaviour in the last few weeks that he was quite capable of a canter halt, so why not do it occasionally? He'll go from canter to walk with a couple of trot steps, and he'll actually do canter halt with just one step to halt, and from quite a light aid (I use my voice too). Who knew? Maybe I shouldn't ask for it yet, but oddly he seems to like doing it even when he's beautifully forward and he didn't try to do it on his own after the initial cantering problem. Maybe he'd like reining? We could develop this into a slide? My 17 hand reiner :)
So lessons learned from tonight:
  • remember to ride the circles from tangent point to tangent point, using eight points
  • use the inside leg and outside rein to do this, with inside rein and outside leg as needed
  • Sue told me that canter is going to push his Rebel Rogo button for awhile; don't sweat it and just work through it
  • re the above, riding nicely forward right away in canter gets him over it
  • doing lots of trot canter trot transitions makes him want to canter non stop :) Guess it's less work than the transitions
After the ride I had a delicious supper of ribs, salad and red wine with Sue, Jane and working student Maria. It was a great evening. Now I'm in my trailer and getting ready to crawl in bed with a book. Another ride in the morning and then home for New Year's Eve. It will be a quiet one of cooking, eating, sipping wine and watching movies with Mom and Doug.
Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Are Circles Still Eluding Me?

Arrrgghh. It's the bane of my riding existence. I can't ignore it any longer. Well, more precisely, Sue my teacher won't let me ignore it any longer and I guess I should (and do) thank her for it. I straighten the quarter of the circle where I leave the tangent point on the open side of the circle and head for the tangent point by the wall. I've done this from the time I started doing circles with Rogo. He'll do it at that point no matter where I start. I thought it was better, or even fixed at times, but today proved it wasn't as Sue worked with us on it. I didn't even know I was still doing it. Because I have him flexed / bent in, I think he's on a circle, but all he does is bend his neck and go in a straight line for that portion. Not being able to see or feel it anymore makes it even harder to fix. Sue tells me what to do - outside leg and rein to keep him from going out straight, but subconsciously I put my inside leg on anyway, to bend him, and then drive him out. It's driving me nuts!
Okay, enough of that. I just have to keep working on it now that I'm aware that it's still a problem. It's more upsetting to me than so called 'bigger' mistakes and challenges though, because it's such a basic and it shouldn't be an issue at this point and because I can't see and feel the problem and the fix.
Other things are going well. The canter steering is greatly improved, but keep in mind we went through a period where it was non-existent two or three weeks ago :) He wasn't happy about using his hind quarters, but he's much more relaxed about that now.
I'm really happy with the trot work. Can you believe that I can't remember the last time Sue told me to push him forward more? It used to be every few strides. Now it's been two or three weeks since I heard it. That alone is like a miracle to me. She actually tells me to steady him (slow him) once or twice a lesson. Rogo has become quite happy with his new forward. Sue told me to look in the mirror a few days ago as we were trotting serpentines wall to wall because she wanted me to see how he was happily swinging his tail from side to side. I saw a happy, relaxed, forward horse, using his hind quarters and swinging his back. Yippee!!! He's like this all the time in the walk and trot now. The canter is improving too, but the circles need work of course.
Yesterday we did 10 meter trot circles, three times down each long side and went around the ring like that. We did them for quite a while each way so we could develop a good feel for it. This was a new exercise for us. When I really focused on relaxing and using my seat and legs we could do them with very little rein aid. When I did use the reins it was mostly the outside rein, so I'm getting the feel for steering this way. It's a big change for me. I've always used the outside rein as a strong support, but the way we're schooling now it is the main steering rein with the inside staying quiet and used only as needed. So to do the circle you feel (or more if needed) the outside  rein in time with the stride or as required to keep the circle. My rib cage is a bit sore today from turning my body in alignment with the turn. I wonder if Rogo feels the same?
Here are some other exercises we've been working on:
  1. trot three loop serpentines wall to wall and walk across the center line
  2. walk and halt and remain immobile long enough to reinforce no movement. Do this repeatedly going large. We needed this because Rogo liked to wiggle and fidget when he halted but he's mostly over it now.
  3. walk canter walk - only one day, but it went well
  4. facing him into the wall and 'leg yeilding' up the wall (except that his face stays directly facing the wall, not angled)
  5. trotting loops - corner letter to center line and back to corner letter
  6. sitting trot - it's coming but needs work. I hold the bucking strap lightly at times to learn the feeling for keeping my hands more still when I sit.
  7. canter 20 meter circles, down long side, repeat. Cross diagonal and trot at X.
  8. For my equitation we've been focusing on stretching my core up with shoulders back, and keeping my knees from gripping.
I'm enjoying the experience of being at the barn sooo much. The people there are amazing. I couldn't ask for a more positive and energizing environment to learn in. I think I'll do a post on some of the horses and riders one of these days.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope each and everyone of you are having an absolutely wonderful Christmas. Be sure to eat without counting the calories and relax as much as you can. Oh yeah, a little rum and eggnog is good too :)
I enjoy reading so many of your blogs, and love your comments and feedback throughout the year. Thank you for making my dressage life that much richer.
I've had a cold, but will be updating my training info soon. In a nutshell I'm happy with Rogo. Life is good.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cindy Ishoy Clinic

What an experience. First I have to tell you how impressed and appreciative I feel after participating in this past weekend's clinic. Cindy Ishoy is very dedicated to helping riders and their horses. Here are some examples - it's Dec. here in cold, damp Nova Scotia, and barns / arenas are notoriously cold and damp. We don't have heated arenas here. Yet Cindy worked through her lunch hours and stayed in the evenings to either give people extra lessons if they needed it, or extended the lesson they were in by half an hour or more. Let me tell you, when there is a choice between a warm kitchen with a fire crackling and food lined counters, or staying in a freezing barn where you've been for hours - what do you think most people would pick? She flew here from Ontario for the clinic and will continue from here to Europe. It sounds like there are pretty well no days off. And yet she'll stand and teach as long as there's a student and horse who need her. She's a Pan Am and Olympic medalist, but no diva!
Then there are the results - each horse improved through the ride. Some of us (I was one) were brought back for 'detention' :) It's hard to feel bad about being in detention when you are getting more instruction from such a talented teacher.
I outlined in my last post that Rogo's been giving me a hard time in the canter. Asking for more engagement and impulsion really tapped into his willful side. I'm given to painting Rogo in a very favourable light, and he deserves it a lot of the time, but I mentioned in the past how incredibly difficult he was to back. We spent months getting him to go forward - he'd stand and refuse to move and then we'd have to lunge him or work him in a round pen. This recurred twice after lay offs, but hasn't happened in a long, long time. I thought it was a thing of the past until asking him to canter with a rounder frame and then it came back over a period of days until he was in full blown rebel mode just before the clinic. I wrote about it last time - wrong leads, racing, balking, bucking, head shaking, etc., etc. We'd just started to work through it when Cindy came and she did a few great things for us.
I'll discuss the trot first - I haven't done sitting trot with Rogo. I sit to other horses but he was just too bouncy. Also, forwardness and impulsion have been our nemesis. Cindy's clinic, building on the work I've done with Sue and Jane over the last month have made huge improvements here. Rogo is going forward and, ta da, with a rounder frame I can sit his trot now! Cindy had me do long periods of transitions on a circle - walk / halt, walk / halt, trot / walk, trot / walk, for minutes on end. She had me employ a little shoulder fore at times and also remember to put my legs on and push into my hands for the halt. I'm going to pause on that piece for a minute.
I've known to push into my hands for a halt almost from the beginning of riding Savanah, but riding Rogo, who was being challenging, helped me understand it in a bigger way. He didn't want to halt because it's harder to halt and start again than to just jig and go back to trot. So I'd pull because he just wouldn't stop. Wrong. Put your legs on even more strongly and then he's pushed harder into your resisting (not pulling) hands and voila - a nice engaged halt quickly. It's counter intuitive - to get a crisper halt push harder with your seat/legs, but it works.
Cindy also helped me work on accuracy of the figures, and she points out frequently to many riders that the benefit of the figures is in accuracy. Rogo has always fallen in on left hand circles, no matter how hard I tried. They'd be fixed for a while but then go back to that. It would probably be more accurate to say I go back to holding too much with the inside rein and not riding him into the outside rein as I complete the circle. With some focus on getting the steering fine tuned in the new frame we were soon doing better circles, figure eights and serpentines - it's such a balancing act between all of the aids - inside and outside legs and reins, and the seat as well. One thing I learned was to move the hands together to the inside or outside at times, as needed. For example if you move your hands together to the inside, it puts more tension on the outside rein (good) and bends a bit to the inside (good). Of course this HAS to be accompanied by inside leg pushing into the outside rein and outside leg holding / supporting the quarters on the circle.
After riding lots of transitions on circles and going large Cindy told me to do sitting trot. All of the transitions had him using his hind quarters and raising his back more and just like that sitting trot worked, after two years of eluding me.
From sitting trot we were able to work on getting the canter under control (see how the pieces are building through the lesson?). As a reminder right lead canter, which had always been super easy for Rogo was the area he rebelled in - he wouldn't take that lead. Although we got a couple of good right lead canters in, I really had to work at it and I was told to come back for another lesson in the evening - my detention :).
We worked on it more in the evening and Jane Fraser, Sue's sister, rode him as well to help with the training. She's a very good rider but even she had difficulty with him at first as he tried to intimidate a little bit and refuse to respond to the aids. She stayed quiet and patient though and quietly the right lead canter started coming more consistently.
My lesson the second day was similar to the first but now we also had to work on slowing him down - can you believe it? The horse I've struggled to get more forward for two years was out for this third intense lesson in 24 hours and he wanted to GO. It wasn't a racy nervous go at all - he was calm and much softer and nicer the second day, but also the hind quarters were doing their work now. It seemed almost miraculous to me :) He was much different to work with the second day. He was getting back to sweet Rogo who wanted to work with me and not agaist me. I could feel him respond to light aids and it was so joyful! He took the wrong lead once or twice to the right, but I got two good right lead canters without too much difficulty and then Jane rode him again. She got consistent right lead canters with light aids and easy steering - it seems the canter rebellion may be almost over.
SO that was my two days of lessons with Cindy, helped by Jane. They were two of the most intense learning days of my dressage life. I found it hard to sleep the night after the first lesson because my mind was racing with all I've learned.
I watched most of the lessons that others had too and learned tons from that. I'll write about some of the key points I picked up in a future post.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ups and Downs

We're continuing to work hard at Fraser Equestrian Center. Each lesson (three times a week) starts with lunging. In order to make sure that Rogo understands and learns the forward trot we're teaching him, I hold the whip while a more experienced person uses the line. I follow the movement around the lunger and am getting quite a workout. We don't really need me there anymore, or at least not as much, but it is really giving me a much needed workout three times a week.
Then I ride and we are making great progress in some areas and encountering blocks in other areas. The trot work, which needed the most improvement, is going well. He's becoming more forward and supple. We do a circle at each end and when we've warmed up with that for a bit we do three loop serpentines. The serpentines really help with getting the 'flow' of switching bend and keeping rhythm through turns. I'm pleased with our progress here. Rogo is really improving use of his hindquarters and at times booms down the long sides. I look forward to the day when this power is there most of the time and carries through the corners rhythmically.
One very good exercise that Sue has us work on is taking a step sideways, off the inside leg and halting. Then from the halt take a step sideways and walk. Then we do it trot to walk. Then we do it while trotting. It gets Rogo listening and responding to my inside leg more readily. Sue's training programs are very consistent as the horse and rider move up the levels, so you might see a PSG horse doing a similar exercise. I like that the pieces clearly build on one another.
Now for the canter - it is challenging. Canter has always been Rogo's favorite gait and one I didn't struggle too much with. He got lengthen and shorten, counter canter, circles, etc. fairly easily and unlike his trot he's always been nicely forward in the canter. However.... this is the area where he's rebelling against the new asks. He's six, he needs to learn to work in a rounder frame and not stick his nose out so far. I'm not talking tucking his nose into his chest - I'm religious about not wanting him behind the vertical. I'm talking about asking him to round and use his hind quarters. It's not like he was completely on his forehand. He couldn't have done the work he did on his forehand, but he does / did canter with his nose stuck waaay out and it's time to ask for roundness. Rogo doesn't think this is a good plan and his reaction is to resist. He'll refuse to pick up the canter, he'll canter on the wrong lead (he's never done this), he won't steer (a circle is out of the question) without REALLY heavy aids that ruin the ride, he'll balk, he'll duck out of the arena, throw in a buck,.... If you've read my posts about backing him you'll recognize this behaviour from that time (minus the buck). It seems to be a reaction to being pushed out of his comfort zone.
I was feeling quite guilty about it - thinking I wasn't giving my aids properly and confusing him, that I was throwing his balance off by insisting he use his hind end, blah, blah, blah. That is until he got so bad the other day that I got very firm with him. He was verging on dangerous and I admit it, I gave him several good whacks. I sure don't advocate this as a training method except in extreme need, but it was a revelation for me re his canter in this instance. I put him back on a circle, lightly asked for a canter, and got the best canter we've had since we got there. It was wonderful - soft, immediate transition onto the correct lead, forward but not rushed, steering perfectly on circles and across the diagonal with the lightest aids. Huh? What were the last three weeks of cantering issues about? He knew exactly what I wanted and did it easily, so why all the resistance? I don't know and never will. I doubt it's fixed, we'll probably have some more struggles before all is said and done, but at least I know he can do it.
My sweet boy, who I dote on, is quite capable of doing this (resisting training) for months. He has in the past and patience and consistency are called for and will win the day in the end. He might decide to get with the program this week, or it might be months. Time will tell, but I think I know now that this is a likely response from him when training goes to a new level.
On the plus side, the resistance in canter has demonstrated that he can counter canter deep into corners and stay balanced, do clean flying changes easily, do a quarter canter pirouette when he's about to hit the wall, do canter / halt ... :) Now I just need to get him to want to do it with me, not at me.