Thursday, May 24, 2012

Schooling Show

Rogo and I went to a training show last Mon. and I'm quite pleased with him. I took him the night before and he was very calm and relaxed - no upsets or stress about being in a new place. I was able to ride him in the show ring and ran through a test quite nicely in a very relaxed manner within minutes of going in.
I tacked him up the next day and was on him 50 minutes before our first test, so he'd have lots of time to get acclimatized and warm up. In the warm up ring he was so laid back I only worked for a few minutes, then went to talk to my friends and watch the rides from his back. He stood quietly with no fuss.
When it got almost time to ride I did about ten minutes of warm up, then took him down to the ring, where you can ride beside the dressage ring while on deck. It was here that I realized I'd badly miscalculated - Rogo was suddenly on fire. I don't think I was passing tension on to him as it was the most relaxed I've ever felt at a horse show. Having said that, I'm sure that as I prepared to go in I did feel 'up' for it. What ever the reason, Rogo wanted to GO. I practiced lots of trot halt while waiting to go in and then rode the test, hoping for the best. Honestly I was holding him with everything I had and half halting every stride to keep him under control. He wasn't spooky at all - horses were running in a field right bedside him, there were lots of new sights - but he was all about going forward. Can you believe this is the same sleepy horse I had a year ago? My friend Alison asked me afterward if I'd been holding him strongly, as he exploded into the canter, and that was a good word for it :). We came away with 63+ and third place out of six, missing second place by tenths of a point. Second went to Alison, doing a great ride on her just turned five home bred warmblood at his first show ever. Very impressive!
Then..... we did First Level test one. I had been within a hair's breadth of scratching two days before, because of the canter issues I've been having with him for months (trying to run off, refusing to canter, etc.), but we went for it. This time I warmed up much longer and again he seemed very calm, but again, once the bell rang and I picked up the reins he was soooo strong. It was all I could do to hold him through riding the test. He did a nice consistent test except for trying to gallop out of the arena during his first canter circle. We recovered quickly, receiving a 2 for the maneuver :) I later learned. He got 60 + for fourth out of eight or nine entries. His mistakes were all about impatience to go forward - jigging at the end of a beautiful free walk, trot steps thrown in when he was supposed to be walking, late transitioning from canter to trot, etc.
These things, the impatience to go forward faster and being too strong, will all get better with practice and experience, and I think the nice forward will be a very good attribute then. I was really happy with him and it was a really fun day with lots of dressage friends, laughs, sunshine and a beautiful facility. Can't wait to do it again!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Three Good Things About Todays Ride

I want to start writing this little list at least once a week to counter my tendency to be negative with my riding. I can be very hard on myself and today it was too much - Rogo is doing much better in so many areas and instead of being happy and pleased about that, I zeroed in on what wasn't working as well and almost let it ruin my ride. This is wrong from several perspectives:
  1. It blocks my ability to ride well and learn
  2. It can be draining to the teacher who is putting so much intense focus on helping us improve
  3. I miss the good points, and the opportunity to praise and encourage my horse
  4. I suck all the fun and enjoyment out of something that I love
So, here goes, the first of what will be a regular feature - What Went Well In Today's Ride:
  1. Rogo's contact was steady most of the time
  2. He lengthened stride nicely in trot, while staying round
  3. His canter work was much, much better than even a week ago - transitioning onto the correct lead when asked each time, carrying it well and doing his figures, rounder
One area for improvement - sometimes he gave a little hop when we were trotting. I need to make sure I'm not too strong with my inside rein when he is doing this, and push him out with my inside leg.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sometimes It's Not My Fault, and Sometimes It Is

I tend to put all of my thinking into one camp or the other, so this is to remind me not to do that. In my last post, I tended to think that because Rogo had been off for a week while I was away, he'd regressed in his training. Hmmm. He probably did a little bit, but I'm not being nearly careful enough to check that my own riding hasn't regressed while I've been away. It definitely does - I fall right back into bad habits - gripping with my knees and thighs, too much inside rein. Rogo's gotten so sensitive now that those things completely throw him off. Put that together with his down time, and we have problems. I need to remember to take responsibility for coming back with correct riding when I've been off, instead of assuming I'm picking up where I left off.
On the other hand, at other times I'll blame myself and maybe I shouldn't. Yesterday Rogo decided he was scared of a blanket hanging on a line. Hanging blankets are a long standing fear of this big, brave boy; don't know why. This led to a lot of high headed, nose pointing skyward with inverted back kind of work in the outdoor ring. I was doing lots of transitions and trying to stay quiet instead of grabbing at him and keeping my hands busy trying to fix him. It wasn't working and I felt my self growing more and more frustrated and discouraged with myself - "why can't I ride better than this?". Then Jane came along and said "Good job Carol. Keep working on the transitions with quiet hands." What? How can she walk by and see my horse's nose pointed skyward and say good job? It changed my perspective and I dropped the idea that I had to 'fix' him completely in order to have a successful ride. Quietly working on transitions that day was enough. He'd get over it. We did go on ot have some fairly good canter work with much improved transitions although the anticipation was back. No biggy. We'll get it.
So there it is - dressage isn't black and white despite our glorious show clothes :), it's shades of grey sometimes.

Friday, May 11, 2012

So much to do, so little time...

A lot has been happening. Doug and I went to Mane Event in Red Deere (across the country from us), to research products for the horse facility we're building. While we were there we went to visit Spruce Meadows to see how it was laid out and managed - not that we're building anything like that :) - but you can learn a lot from seeing a well run facility at any scale. If I ever get the pictures downloaded off of my phone I'll post some. While at Mane Event we watched a Cindy Ishoy clinic (who I've clinic ed with this winter) and various western clinics. It was fun!
Back home, I'm riding four or five times a week, which is pretty much a commitment of a whole day if driving from home, and if I stay down I work on my computer from my trailer. When I'm not staying in my trailer, Doug often stays in another trailer at the building site (one of us has to be home to look after the horses, dogs and cats at home), so it was nice to get away together. I work on the site when not riding, so it's all out nose to the grindstone but crazily enjoyable.
Back to riding - we've been working on improving all of our basics, but the canter has been a bit of a thorn in the side. When he does it, he does it beautifully, so balance isn't an issue. After my week away he tried running off in the canter again, refusing to canter (for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, backing up, whirling, etc.), constantly taking the wrong lead, and generally making things difficult. Irritatingly (to put it mildly), I know I could resolve this more quickly and even greatly reduce it if I had more finesse in setting up the canter and riding him into it with balanced hands once going (I still tend to hold the inside too much if not vigilant). I'm writing this because I want to remember it and how I dealt with it. At my teachers instruction, when he refuses to canter and backs up, etc. I just keep asking. Kicking and a few whacks with the whip come into play too. If he gets heavy and tries to run off, pull him up hard. Pull him up if he even tries to get strong. We have to get him past the running off concept.
Anyway, we got back on track and the last two lessons he went really, really well.
Two lessons ago we did trot / canter / trot on a circle and although it needs a lot of work it was a very good exercise. I was pleased with Rogo. We did some walk / canter / walk too, and he seems to find this easier oddly enough. Maybe my aids get too muddled at the trot? We finished by focusing on me not throwing him away at the end of a lesson - falling to of our last canter and then slouching into a walk where he snatches the reins and I give them. Sounds very sloppy as I write it, but I slide into that very easily. So we did several practices for ending the ride - nice, engaged transition to trot from canter, staying on the circle, same with trot to walk, and then slowly feed him the reins after he's walked forward in a balanced manner.
I want to recount yesterday's lesson in some detail, as I learned some new things and got great responses from Rogo. It may sound like things I've written about before, but they came together in a much improved way.
Jane was teaching us and she had us do lots of trot / walk and trot lengthen and shorten. She is really good at picking a key element you need to work on and working through it in the lesson. In this lesson I began learning to give much lighter aids to Rogo. I'd ridden Savanah a lot more lightly than Rogo, and I noticed when I could manage to ride him with light aids he went much better, but I wasn't able to get him there most of the time. Jane reminded me to keep my knees off of him in the down transition from trot to walk and to LIGHTLY resist, increasing hand resistance and using my back as needed. He's so forward and strong that I had often had to really grab and pull to get a down transition and as you know, that is wrong. I'm learning a new style of riding, so bear with me if this sounds very elementary. I'd been told to half halt the outside to bring him into a down transition, but Jane had me use both elbows (not hands) as lightly as possible and only increasing the pressure if I need to . This seems much more natural to me than trying to bring him down with a strong outside rein. It only took two or three repetitions and Rogo was coming back to a lovely engaged walk as light as a feather. He'd already mastered the walk trot from a quick light aid in our last lesson with Jane. Once Rogo was responding quickly, in a relaxed manner in the trot walk transition, Jane had me prepare for the light walk aid, then instead of walking to very lightly and with the same relaxed leg / knees (no gripping)  put my outside leg back and ask for canter. It worked every time - transition into a nice canter on the correct lead with no fuss. All of this is stuff most people know - light aids and half halt to prepare (in this case thinking about preparing the walk aid worked very well for our canter half halt). The way it was explained and executed yesterday really brought it together for us though. Rogo had begun to anticipate badly once the canter work started. After fighting with him to canter, he'd canter nicely, but then wouldn't do his other gaits. One canter and that's all he'd want to do. Any attempt to trot or walk was a series of hitching hops as he continually asked "should we canter now". I know he was trying to be helpful and I didn't get mad at him about it. I just couldn't fix it. I did try mixing in a lot of other things, doing trot walk a lot between canter, walking on a long rein after the canter, but it didn't seem to help. Yesterday there wasn't any anticipation. He'd walk, trot and canter when asked, without trying to figure out what was coming next. I loved it. He probably did too - no gripping legs muddling the messages and lighter hands on his mouth. Horses are very forgiving!
After this Jane generously spent time teaching me feel in the contact. I can keep Rogo round most of the time now, but she coached me in doing it more lightly. I need to keep my hands still and push him into them. I had been doing a lot of outside half halts to get him into contact. I'm still somewhat confused by this and what to do when, but it will come. She and Sue tell me we're transitioning to a stage in Rogo's raining where the aids can be lighter and it's a learning curve for me to keep up with the changing feel. So many things to learn, so little time...