Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Second Cindy Ishoy Clinic

I'm still a little giddy :) over Rogo's progress, and how he went at the clinic last weekend.He's really come a long way over the winter. The clinic was perfect for 'crystalizing' our winter gains and setting the stage for spring.
The weather couldn't have been nicer. We got a pet sitter for the pets at home and Doug and I stayed in the trailer at Fraser Equestrian Center Thursday and Friday night. It was 26 C. on Thur.! We were sitting in the trailer Thur. evening with a friend, sipping wine and chatting, with the door and all the windows open. This would be extremely unusual for May, and unheard of for March.
Thur. I had a lesson and Fri. and Sat. I rode in the clinic. Thur. was Rogo's first lesson outside for the year. He was very exuberant about that!

He managed to control himself except for this one minor hop that Doug caught on film (now if I could just learn to control my facial contortions). After about twenty minutes of not getting much from him but "I want to canter now", Sue suggested I lunge him. He just wanted a good gallop in each direction for about two minutes and he was fine. Here he is blowing off steam. Check out the bare arms - it was hot!

Then he settled down for a good lesson on basics - nothing fancy for out first day outside.

We did walk and trot circles and serpentines, and canter circles, working on bending and suppleness.
The clinic started the next day and I was nervous. I'm not sure why, because it isn't a competition, but I was a little on edge. I wanted Cindy to see what a good boy Rogo was, and we are at this crossroads right now. In my mind it could have gone either way - he could have been great, or he could fight the contact throughout the ride and try to run off in the canter.  It's only been in the last week approximately that he's gotten steady in the contact and (mostly) stayed with me in canter. Even my last post is lamenting the canter work, but that has improved by leaps and bounds since then, no pun intended :)
Cindy starts each lesson by asking the rider what they are working on. I told her where we were and then we went right to work in trot, circling at each end and then doing serpentines. She told me to shorten the reins several times. After he got warmed up we did sitting trot on a circle and did a lot of trot walk transitions. I found I could sit to the trot better on this day than most days, as I could at the last clinic. Can I dig deep and find this ability when she isn't there? I hope so. Doug was watching and told me it looked good.
Cindy also reminded me several times to keep my outside hand down and she had me hold the strap on the front of my saddle with my outside hand from time to time, in order to get the feel of the steady, low outside hand. She had me really reinforce, as Sue does, the right bend. At first it felt to me like I was over bending him, but I soon felt him get lighter and more responsive to the right.
We did an interesting 10 M trot circle exercise - start at the first letter of the long side doing a 10 M circle and on the letter side of that circle do a straight line to X (it's a 40 M ring), do another 10 M circle and on the open side of that circle do a straight line to the end letter and 10 M circle again. It calls for lots of bending and straightening. Cindy reinforces the importance of the training pyramid and we heard lots about rhythm and suppleness throughout the clinic.
About half way through the first lesson I was trotting along and it dawned on me - we were doing it. I mean we were staying forward, keeping a good rhythm, Rogo was using his hind quarters and keeping a good steady contact with the bit, we were focused and following instructions - Yeah! We weren't going to blow it! I had a lovely young dressage horse under me and we were going through a great lesson without any undue difficulty. This is huge for us and really as I write this I'm thinking I need to break open some bubbly soon to celebrate.
The canter work went well. He transitioned, took the correct lead, steered easily, went into corners and did circles, crossed the diagonal and transitioned to trot nicely with a good corner, etc. The second day Cindy had us do more walk trot on a circle and then sit the trot and canter as we crossed the center line of the circle. Rogo aced it every time.
For leg yield we circled at the end and then did sitting trot up the center line and leg yield to the wall. We did much better with me sitting. We did lengthened stride in the trot, either down the long side or across the diagonal and Rogo did his best lengthening yet. 
Here are a few pictures of the weekend. I have some video too which I'll post soon so that I'll have a record of where we are.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When He's Good He's Very, Very, Good and When He's Bad He's ...

I should warn you that this post is an unabashed, unapologetic ode to Rogo, who isn't exactly an angel in many people's eyes (I'll explain that in a bit). This winter has been a turning point for him/us. It's been one of the most challenging times of my life, and he hasn't been easy, but it's worth it many times over. As you know, we've been at Fraser Equestrian Center for the winter. There are two big, game changing, developments:
  1. Rogo is forward - as you may remember, I've struggled with Rogo being super lazy in the trot. He just wouldn't go forward no matter what - kicks, whips - nothing worked and it felt awful to try that way. You may be cynical and credit the spurs you see me wearing now. I can tell you that didn't get him forward. I wore them for weeks before there was a difference. The thing I believe made a difference was a coach who made me push him forward until he built the muscles and the muscle memory to go forward naturally. For weeks Sue would tell us every few strides, "more forward". Now if she mentions speed at all she is telling me to half halt on the outside to steady him (slow him a bit and get him on his hind quarters). When I mount, Rogo is raring to go and the first part of the ride requires a lot of half halts to keep him from running. He actually jigs :), so be careful what you wish for. He is so forward he had to have his feed cut in half and he is still an energizer bunny. How could you not love that? The other day Sue said to  me "he's gone from a diesel to a sports car and he's not going back". So, that about sums it up - after two years + of lamenting lack of energy / forwardness I've got a young horse with a go button. Heaven. 
  2. The second big development, and of course hand in hand with the first, is that Rogo is developing roundness. He's been flopping around on his forehand for 2+ years and now he's learning to use his hind quarters. I can't describe how happy I am, how amazing it feels, that he's driving from his hind quarters. This is kind of flaky of me, but I'm so impressed and amazed by the feeling that I am literally dreaming about riding him almost every time I fall asleep. Keep in mind this is my first warm blood and first time starting a horse, so having this power develop is very big to me. It's a sensation I'd describe as having a powerful motor driving you forward. Rogo is big boned and has a strong jumper influence in his pedigree. When those hind legs start coming underneath him and sending us forward it's a feeling like I've never known before. I love it and I love knowing it's only going to get better as he develops. 
My niece flew in to visit my Mom who just had a hip replacement (thus I've been off blogger for a week) and she took the videos you see here with a phone. The quality isn't good but at least it's something for the record I want to keep (glare is from back door being open - it was 17 that day!). The first is just a short clip but you'll hear Sue referring to Rogo's power (he's been wanting to go, go, go). He isn't fast here; as a matter of fact I've slowed him to the point that he's slower than usual. Just for the record, once he gets warmed up and into the lesson he's all business. This isn't a spooky energy, it's a forward energy.
The next is of him doing 10 m circles down one long side and (supposedly) leg yielding up the other side. He pokes his nose out and goes on his forehand during the leg yield (he does it okay sometimes, but not in this instance), but he went like this all the time last fall. Anyway, this is pretty average fare for someone doing dressage, but it's big to me! (You'll see Brittany and Spider at the end. Spider is schooling PSG and he's spooking at my niece in the corner videoing. I think Spider is an Appendix Quarter Horse and he's very talented. He does very well in competition. I don't know how to edit it out.)


 Now, for the 'when he's bad' part - Rogo is very strong minded and he hasn't been, shall we say, 100% in favour of roundness and using his hind quarters. This manifests itself in the canter where he will suddenly, with no warning turn on a dime and veer off course, trying to leave the ring (and succeeding on occasion) and / or getting very strong/fast and refusing to turn. He'll also take the wrong lead which he'd never done before and even went through a phase where he'd try to refuse to canter. Generally anything to create a little chaos and avoid the intended work plan. It has taken all of my perseverance to stick with it. I feel bad because if anyone else is riding it is a little disconcerting to say the least, but I'm not giving up so it is what it is. It's gotten a lot better but it still isn't great.
So even though he's missed over a month (sarcoid surgery) out of the last four months, he's made great progress over all and even the 'bad' is getting better.

We have another Cindy Ishoy clinic coming up in a couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to that. I'm also looking forward to catching up on my blog reading again. Dear knows what I've missed. Coffee and horsey blogs are on the horizon...

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    Winter Horse Keeping At Home

    This is the first winter we've kept horses at home for a few years. We've been boarding all three of them for the last few winters so we'd be able to ride them in an indoor over the winter. This year just Rogo is boarded and Dan and Savanah are at home. Doug and I love having them here. It feels empty when there are no horses in the back yard.
    They've had a very easy winter. There's been a lot of ice and I've been driving so much to ride Rogo (a round trip is 3.5 hours) so this translates to time off for Savanah and Dan. I must say though, it is very tempting to jump on furry Savanah bareback for a heated seat ride.
    We've done a few things differently this winter than we did other winters when we had them home. One of the biggest differences was that we rarely put them in. In the past, after about the first week of Oct., we'd lock them in their stalls every night and let them out in the morning. This year they may have been put in for the night about five times - only when it was REALLY cold or it was raining or snowing. They can go in on their own and we clean and bed their stalls everyday, but we don't lock them in. We're basing this on research reports we've read that it's healthier for them. This is very easy for us to do, because their stall doors open onto their turn out. They have heated buckets in their stalls and we can feed them in their stalls or throw hay outside on nice days.
    I'm thinking about offering outdoor board as an option at the facility we're building. I'm curious about how people do this when the turn out isn't attached to a barn. I know that run in shelters are required, but how about water? I guess it would be necessary to run electricity for heated water tubs? And I wonder if it's standard to give free choice hay to horses kept outside 24/7? This would work for Dan, but Savanah can't have free choice hay. We tried it one winter and she ate steady and blew up like a beach ball - decidedly unhealthy. Also, we put our horses in when it rains or is below -15 or so (depending on the wind). Do some people leave them out regardless of the temperature? What about blankets? Savanah is like a wooly mammoth, hates blankets and they would be counter productive. Dan doesn't get nearly as thick a coat and loves his blanket - he gets in a snit if we're late getting it on him and then is happy and sweet once it's on. If they're out 24/7 how could you be sure they were dry under their blankets, that they weren't over-heating, etc.? I wonder if it would end up being more work than keeping them in a barn at night, because you'd still need to carefully monitor and check their needs, but it would be harder to do.
    One of the other big changes we made was switching to haylage. We thought we had an agreement with our hay supplier to sell us hay all winter, as required. This solves the need to store large amounts, but mid winter he told us he'd sold all the hay. Not a good system it turns out. So we switched to another supplier who had only haylage. This is out first time using it. It was strange in that the the horses wouldn't touch it for about 36 hours (we still had hay left and gave them that). Then, they started gradually picking at the haylage we'd put out and fairly quickly they couldn't get enough of it. Now they love it. We feed a little less than hay as it is higher in calories. The up side of haylage is that it isn't dusty at all - I love that. Now they are completely on haylage (after a period of easing them onto it), are the same weight as before and look great. To be honest I think I should have done a little more research, but I asked horse people I trusted, read what I could and proceeded. It wasn't new to Dan as he was fed haylage when he was at Joan's. It was new to Savanah though and I need to be careful with her as she's colicked in the past and also she's a very easy keeper. I suspect she could get laminitis easily. One option would be to get the haylage analysed at the agricultural college so we'd understand the calorie and nutrition content, and plan from that in consultation with our vet. Great intentions but since it's working out I haven't made time. We'll have to figure out something else as the weather warms up because haylage can mold quickly once it's opened (in the cold weather it hasn't been a problem) and with only two horses eating it it is likely to mold before a round bale is finished once the weather gets warm.
    Here are some pictures I took with my phone today. You can see that spring hasn't come to Nova Scotia yet.

    Here is Savanah eating her haylage and looking very happy and hairy :) I wish I had a better picture of her face. She truly is wooly and I think it's quite beautiful. For comparison purposes I included this picture Maria Casey took of her in the fall (below). What a difference!

    Then there's Dan munching away, and a picture from my office window so you can see how wintery it still is.
    I'm very interested in hearing about how you manage horses in the winter and anything you do to make the job easier.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    Rogo's February Riding / Training

    In re-reading my last post I seem to be obsessed with staying warm. That fits.
    Back to Rogo's training - I didn't get to have a lesson today. Sue (trainer/teacher/ barn owner) texted this morning that it was -16 and too cold to ride. We had a good Feb. though. He is figuring out working from his hind quarters and is less anxious about it.
    His feed was cut back before his surgery due to his bucking episode (the only one he's ever had since being backed), and he still has lots of energy and forwardness without the drama.
    Due to the fact that he got very rebellious about being asked to canter in a rounder frame, we are still doing mostly training level work. On one hand this is discouraging given his age and time we've been at it, but on the other hand he is a different horse, which is very encouraging. After two years of dawdling along (check my energy level labels) he is beautifully forward - this alone is revolutionary. The other big change is that he is moving in a rounder fashion, using his hind end. Both of those things are fundamental to progress and I think must take a lot of effort and work on his part. He needs to move his balance from front to back and that can't be easy. It accounts for the canter issues I think.
    So the status is that training level is all very good except that he is still bracing / resisting a bit during the first canter transition or two, and he may be difficult to steer some days in canter until he is warmed up, i.e. staying on a good circle.
    I half halt to address the bracing. (There are lots of different half halts. I'm calling this a half halt for lack of a better term, but it isn't my usual.) It seems counter intuitive but it works. He's bracing, sucking back, and grabbing the reins. I take and give on the outside rein until he stops grabbing the reins and softens. I immediately give the canter aid and it usually work. After he's done one or two transitions they are better. Some days, once he's warmed up, he'll canter from a walk with a light ask.
    To address the steering on a canter circle issue (wanting to go straight instead of on a curved line) I need to remember to use a strong outside rein and if I need it, to use my outside leg, even giving a kick if he is really wanting to get strong, or a tap on the shoulder to reinforce the turn. As we work at this he goes with lighter and lighter aids. As soon as he starts working with me I have to go as light as possible, because once he is steering okay, continuing with heavy aids makes it go bad again. And the heavy aids can cause or at least reainforce another avoidance issue - getting faster (too fast).
    He'd been cantering fine for a long time, without any of these issues, but he was on his forehand. Getting him to rebalance more to the hind end caused us to encounter these training issues, but over all things are better - the quality of the canter when he 'gets' it is much better than before we had the problems.
    We won't move ahead until things are really solid and it will make it easier in the long run.
    He is advancing in some areas - he is doing ten meter trot circles, some leg yeild and some shoulder in.
    We worked on ground poles a couple of times in February and that was fun for both of us. He did really well and it helped him get past his anxiety - yeah! We couldn't do too much cantering over poles though - he wanted to gallop. It will take more work but we enjoy it.
    So, the big gains are in re-balancing more to the hind quarters and more forwardness. Those things are huge. He's a good boy to work so hard, especially with the health problems he's had this winter (sarcoid - things are still looking good on that front). I'm very happy with him.