Friday, September 20, 2013

When Pig is bad he is VERY bad! And when he is good, there is no one to take video...

Tuesday, I hopped on Pig for our first real day back on schedule and in full work. He was having none of it. Every change of direction was met with complete stiffness, each tap from the dressage whip was met with bucking. Guys, it was bad. Baaaaaaaad. By the end of the ride, all I wanted was for him to bend off my left leg and fill up my right rein. Just a little.

According to Pig, bending off the leg and touching the right rein was illegal that day. I was using my left leg so much that I couldn't keep it down. Every couple of strides, I'd flick Pig with the whip to try to lighten him. He was so ticked off he kept trying to swipe my whip away with his back leg. It was very athletic, though he tended to throw himself out of balance by doing this. One plus? I was sitting up pretty darned straight. Anything else and I'd have been up on his neck. Bad pony.

Of course, my lovely friend Hannah was around that day. She'd agreed to video part of my ride. Thus, in the interest of hilarity and schadenfreude, I present this six minute video of the end of that awful ride. You're welcome:

Last night, I headed back out for another go. I was ready for more of the same awful reaction to the whip and resistance throughout. Luckily, I'd watched the above video about 1,000 times and had some ideas of how to change myself to get better results.

Here's what I tried:
  1. Give more breaks and ask for more of an active swinging stretch during warm up and during the ride. Ask for this stretch at all gaits (canter especially).
  2. Lift up my abdominals on the inside of my upper body. I'm thinking back to a January lesson with Nancy in which she asked me to raise my body under my armpits. but not to move my shoulder. Think, lengthen the torso on the inside.
  3. Turn hips inside the rein space to help guide the shoulders around the circles
"Magically" our ride was so much better. Of course, no one was around to video it! 

The stretching was tough, as always. I'd been using stretchy trot every day before our break, but had forgotten to add it back in. I'm glad I remembered so quickly. Introducing the idea of stretching into contact at the canter was an interesting process. It took a lot of leg and a lot of half halts to keep Guinness from falling on his forehand. We started our stretching on the circle, then would "lengthen" down the long side to really push his topline out. The whole exercise seemed to really relax him at the canter, which is awesome. Obviously we'll keep doing this (until I forget ... again).

Lengthening my torso was probably the biggest breakthrough. I always struggle to drop my right hip, which makes weighting the outside seatbone incredibly difficult and causes Pig to struggle to balance under me. As it turns out, lengthening my left side allows my right hip to drop significantly. The action also loosens my hips, which makes turning inside the rein space so much easier - and keeps my lower leg longer! Thank you inner tape-recorder for deciding to play back that particular Nancy lesson!

Here's to a successful weekend of riding for everyone!
A happy Pig, and a happy rider. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's next?

 The last week has been pretty quiet, filled with nights spent with friends, going to bed early, living in an exceptionally clean house and other perks of giving my horse time off. Guinness finally went back into work on Saturday afternoon, despite a ridiculous heat wave threatening to flatten us with oppressive humidity and temperatures in the upper 90's.

The work we've come back to is much different than the work we left. The basics are the same. We're still walking and trotting and cantering. We're still finessing contact, and working on moving smartly off the leg. What's changed is the intensity. You see, I've pretty much decided that our show season is over for the year. Finances being what they are, I'm not able to do another recognized show this year. That's okay. I know that I'm capable of easily getting the other First Level score I need for my Bronze next year. So, my focus has shifted from improving my scores at First to truly beginning my work on Second Level.

Whew, that's pretty exciting to write. Of course, all the work at Second is really built on a base of good First Level work. So now, we're working steadily on gaining the confidence to push for more. Part of focusing on getting good scores was not pushing too hard, for fear of disturbing the good work. Now, I'm not afraid to push for a greater degree of responsiveness to my half halts, or my leg. I have the time to finesse everything later.

With a lesson with Nancy on the horizon (Sunday afternoon) which will help guide my progress, I've been focusing on improving Guinness' reaction time and lightening him in my hand. He's developed a comfort level in my hand that is allowing him to fall on his forehand, making half halts (or even true halts) nearly impossible. This is a difficult task, as I don't want to alienate Guinness' confidence in my hands but I do want to encourage him to come up from the base of his neck and take more weight behind without leaning on my hands for support. We've been doing this by warming up very forward, and establishing a confident contact. At the walk, we do a lot of voltes to ensure Guinness is on both reins evenly and stepping off my inside leg. This also helps me warm up my own hips and legs and make sure I'm using them effectively. Finally, we do some leg yielding work, as a more advanced use of the leg/rein control and to supple him more. Then, we move on to transitioning between the walk and trot, working trot and lengthen, working trot and slower trot, slower trot and mini collection. Finally, we do some canter transitions too. We'll mini collection into the canter. We'll walk into the canter. We'll canter into the walk. We'll canter into a lengthen into a slow canter into mini collection and try to just step right into the walk.

All of this work is pretty demanding on the the half halts, and is making Guinness really work off his hind end. It's also making me really work on my balance, and on setting him up properly for each transition. We're starting to think quicker, and fall less and less into the forehand hanging comfort zone of yesterday.

Let's hope it stays that way.

Collection and transition work really makes those butt muscles sweat!