Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bitless Debate

Here's an interesting article on British eventer Mark Smith challenging the requirement to use a bit in the dressage phase of eventing, or I should say, attach reins to the bit. I'm of the opinion people should ride with what makes the horse happiest.
I don't believe bitless is necessarily more comfortable for horses, or vice versa. A lot depends on the horse's needs, the rider, the style of bit, or style of bitless bridle. I'd like to see people be able ride bitless if they want to though, in any competition.
Fairly recently (two or three years ago?), Equine Canada updated rules to allow snaffle bridles all the way through to Grand Prix, unless competing for qualifying scores. Before that they were optional in Third  Level and required from Fourth on. Perhaps bitless will follow.
Any thoughts on this? I'm curious as to what people think.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Before I Forget

I just came in from a ride, and I have to write this down before I forget.
  • If I want to do a canter / walk transition - don't just prepare with a half halt and then give the aid as his canter stride is high in front. Be patient and decide beforehand where I'll do it, then for at least five or six strides give myself over entirely to feeling his rhythm. Once I'm completely 'into' his rhythm, give the walk aid. He invariably walks, usually in a nice forward, uphill way, but occasionally he almost wants to halt which I don't want at this stage. Interestingly, as soon as I go into the 'feel' mode he starts to prepare himself with slight collection and a high degree of responsiveness to my aids, even though in monitoring myself I couldn't ascertain that I was doing anything. As I think about it now, I know that what I was 'doing' was completely relaxing and following, 'lisening' intensely but softly to him. This is the part I really want to remember - wouldn't it be great if I could develop that connection more and more?
Just to clarify, I always try to ride with an 'acknowledgement' of his rhythm. He listens to my aids to shorten or lengthen as I give them in time to his rhythm and I've finally gotten my hands fairly quiet and following in canter. This was something different that I just discovered. Of course I want to develop it so the aid can be given at anytime I want, and so that it's intuitive, but it was interesting to experience how waiting and totally relaxing into him made such a difference, and how his best response by far is to this almost imperceptible preparation. I think I often try too hard.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lessons With Joan

Warning - this post jumps all over the place - can't seem to get it organized. Also, there's some repitition from previous posts but it seemed context was needed...

Okay, setting the stage - I'm sitting at my computer looking straight out at our home riding ring (foreground) and the bay. The sun is setting and it looks like this:

Just had to share that as I feel so lucky to live here. Now, to dressage training :)
My riding has been rather sporadic for months. When Rogo was in the valley this past winter I was too busy to ride more than once a week for the last few months he was there. Sue Fraser, my teacher / his trainer rode or lunged him twice a week. Then, when I got him home there was so much rain that riding time was in short supply.
Then, for about a three week window I was in heaven - My old riding teacher Joan was able to teach me again!  She taught me as a teenager 35+ years ago, then gave me lessons for a year and a half on our draft cross Savanah when I came back to dressage after 30+ years away from riding. She didn't give riding lessons anymore, but for some reason she offered me lessons and I jumped at the chance. Here's a picture of me with the saintly Savanah, coming home from a bareback ride on the beach last fall:

[With Joan as our teacher, Savanah and I were Training Level high point champions for our Provincial circuit the summer we competed. I could write a book on Savanah and my admiration / love for her, but then I'd be off on yet another tangent. She belongs to Doug, my husband, and he went on to take lessons with Joan and also earn many first place ribbons with her.]
During this time while Joan taught me on Savanah she and I decided that I'd buy a young warmblood and together we'd train this horse through the levels - me riding, she teaching (Joan can't ride anymore due to arthritis). Well, that didn't happen. Joan coached me through a completely uneventful backing process and then life intervened. She had to deal with family health issues and there wasn't any time to teach. I floundered, trying to teach him myself (having never ridden a warmblood and just inexperienced over-all), I took bad lessons, I acquired bad habits, etc. 
We really didn't get into good lessons until the fall of 2011 when I took him to Fraser Equestrian Center (check out their camps - they're wonderful). We made a lot of progress there, but it's close to a two hour drive one way, and it exhausted me, especially with trying to work on our facility, so I brought him home in May. (We're happy that Sue and Jane Fraser will give clinics at our facility, and a teacher who was trained by them for many years will give lessons.)
But..... our facility wasn't ready and I needed lessons badly, so I turned to Joan, knowing her life was calmer now. She'd said she'd never teach again but I had to ask and she didn't let me down - she agreed to give me lessons again! She is a classical dressage purist, an inspiration, a perfectionist, a walking encyclopedia of dressage history, ... can you tell I'm over the moon?
Different people teach differently and learn differently and Joan's teaching style suits me very well. I'd describe it like this:
  • She talks to me while I'm sitting on my horse in front of her, explaining the background of the exercise. This can cover some or all of the following - the purpose of the exercise, what body parts it gymnasticizes, which riding master in history 'invented' the exercise, debates that have occurred about the exercise throughout the history of dressage, how the movement may have evolved, what movements it leads to, which 'schools' (i.e. German, French, Dutch) prefer which methods,
  • She explains the aids for the exercise in detail. She covers timing for the aids - when the aid(s) should be given in relation to foot falls, what the exact sequence of aids is and why (if there's debate about this in the sport she explains why she does it the way she does),
  • I practice the aids while sitting in front of her and she adjusts where needed,
  • I go ride it and she calls out corrections, 
  • I come back and she critiques and makes suggestions,
  • Lastly I'd note that she's an extreme perfectionist and very serious about dressage, but she's also very encouraging.
Some people learn better with other styles - being intensely instructed as they ride, being pushed hard, getting a lot of information about what to do as they do it. I find it difficult to process information that quickly and to develop my own feel. I completely understand and respect that others are the opposite. This would actually make an interesting post - learning styles and how they relate to dressage. I suspect most healthy type A dressage riders :) have at least a smattering of knowledge about different learning styles, but how does this relate to three D learning so to speak? Anyway, Joan and I are a good fit, and good friends too.
She is doing a review of the basics with me, which is great since I didn't have lessons for a couple of months and before that only rode once a week. We're working on my equitation. The main training focus is transitions, both within and between gaits. We're also working on half halts. Rogo and I have / had the habit of doing a little hesitation when doing down transitions. Joan is getting me to practice precision and timing my aids to get him to do uphill down transitions that are forward and that maintain his rhythm. Rogo is catching on quickly and I love how it feels. 
Part of our last lesson was spent practicing straight, square halts. Here are a couple of pictures:

 Stepping into it

 Straight, sqaure, motionless, on the bit and ears listening - good boy!
 Joan's explaing the finer points of the halt: "think forward motion"

 And a couple of random shots:


We're also practicing half halts and when to give the aids for up transitions. This is good work for Rogo. At Fraser's, thank God, Sue instilled forward as the basis for everything else (without it you can't do anything) and the work on transitions builds on that. It keeps Rogo busy and thinking and doesn't give him time to start 'plodding'. To be honest, he hasn't demonstrated a desire to go there anyway, even in the heat. This is the first summer I can say this. Maybe he's grown up a little?
I'm very happy with him. He could be further along as an eight year old (where did my baby go?), but considering we've only been in good lessons for less than two years he's doing great. 
Anyway, there we were, having wonderful lessons with Joan, when bam - horse fly season hit with a vengence week before last. They attack Rogo viciously. He gets huge, bleeding sores and they cover his girth area. This year he's started to panic when they appear. I've had to stop riding except just before dark, when I can sometimes sneak in a short ride:(. If anyone has a solution please tell me, but I've pretty much decided there is no solution.
That's my Rogo update. Here's a picture of our little herd I took on the weekend:


Coming soon - our new foal! Here's a sneak peak:

Bliss Point, taken last week at 6 weeks (by Bellisimo M, out of EM Diotima)