Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Put your left shoulder-in, put your left shoulder-out..."

I'm stuck at home today, as the 5" of wet snow froze overnight, making side roads impassable ice traps. I hope you all are out there riding, so I can live vicariously through you! I hate going a full weekend without seeing my horse!

If only the shoulder-in was as simple as the Hokey Pokey!

As I discussed yesterday, the shoulder-in is an extremely influential and important movement in the development of the dressage horse. But, it's a movement that requires a build up of strength and balance. So, how do we get started introducing the movement to our horses and ourselves?

Hello shoulder-fore! 

Think of the shoulder-fore as a mini shoulder-in. It introduces the idea of the movement to your horse, asks more out of your connection, but doesn't require the dynamic level of hind leg support that a full shoulder-in does. A good way to think about the shoulder-fore, is riding the horse's shoulders just slightly off the rail. Your horse won't be moving on three tracks, but he'll still be starting to flex his abdominal muscles and learning to flex and respond to your inside and outside aids without losing his balance. In addition to helping develop the shoulder-in and collected gaits, the shoulder-fore is an amazing tool to help straighten your horses. This is especially true at the canter!
Lilly and Tessa show a slight shoulder-fore. Note how the shoulders are off the track, and how Tessa is stepping laterally with her inside fore. Tessa's neck is straight, but she has a slight bend to the inside. At this angle, her inside hind is not having to step under her with as much power as required in a full shoulder-in. Click here for a for another look at the full shoulder-in.

The aids for the shoulder-fore are the same as for the shoulder-in, but you will not require the same amount of angle as in the shoulder-in. When learning this movement, it's important to keep your horse fresh. This is hard work, so praise a step or two of correct work and let him rest and think. It's not going to be feasible to achieve more than couple of correct steps in a row at first, and that's totally normal.

Let's break the whole thing down!

To ask for the shoulder-fore/shoulder-in, you want to make sure that your horse first understands the lateral leg aids. Does he move away from your inside leg, and into your outside rein? Can he leg yield and maintain contact through your outside rein to keep himself straight? Can you, as a rider, keep your weight balanced and both legs and reins on during lateral movements? If yes, then you are ready to start. (If no, is your name Austen?)

The easiest way to see and make sense of the shoulder-fore/shoulder-in is along the long straight wall of the schooling arena. Here your horse is helped along in his straightness by the wall, and his angle is easier to judge.

Think of riding the movement the same way you would ride a circle. You want to ride the horse forward, with both legs on. You'll catch the outside shoulder with your rein, and move it off the track, as if you were going to make a 15m circle. Your shoulders should turn slightly with the horse's, allowing you to keep a straight line of communication through the bit. Your abdominal muscles will start to mirror your horse's contracting on the inside and stretching on the outside, as you keep your hips facing forward and asking the horse to move forward and straight along the track. Your eyes and head face forward, looking at your direction of travel.

When starting the movement, I often visualize myself picking up my horse's front end and placing it on the inside track. Meanwhile I keep my hips grounded and sitting, pushing him forward. Be sure to keep your contact light. Pulling back on the outside rein will cause your horse to slow, and the forward momentum is what will keep you from fishtailing all over the place. Keep your leg on and your hands forward and supportive. I often find it helpful to vibrate my outside rein to keep my horse mouthing the bit, instead of leaning into it. Your inside rein should stay passive. You do not want to pull your horse's shoulders over to the inside. That will completely destroy his balance. Instead think of pushing him over with your outside rein against his neck, and supporting him with your seat, thighs and shoulders.

I find it useful to feel my inside thigh lying flat on  the saddle, shifting my inside hipbone forward (as if slamming a drawer when my hands are full -- thanks Nancy!).That hip pressure keeps the horse's hind end straight and pushing forward. The hip movement should follow the movement of the hind leg, encouraging the horse to step forward and under himself. Make sure you do not collapse your inside hip and core, as this will weight the horse's inside hind and keep him from being able to step forward and under.

At first, your horse is going to feel stuck to the wall. This is common. It's so much easier for the horse to go along the straight track with his haunches slightly in and his shoulders sliding along the wall. Coming off the wall is hard for him, so make sure to reward any effort by him to move off your outside aids and bring his shoulders to the inside. If you're getting a really stuck feeling, I find it useful to add more inside leg to push the horse more into the outside rein. You want to be careful that you aren't always riding the movement by pushing the haunches out, as that won't give you the same gymnastic effect as moving the shoulders in. Instead, you'll be disengaging the hind end. However, for a horse that really doesn't get the aid, it can be helpful at first.

I also find it useful to ask a sticky horse to do a 10m circle from the wall, then try to keep the circle's bend for a few steps along the straightaway. Be very aware of how your hips guide the movement here. On the circle, your hips should guide the horse between your arms to move into the angle you set with your shoulders. Once you get back to the wall, you'll want to keep your hips moving straight, against the angle of the shoulders.

Give it a try! Tomorrow we talk about common evasions, and their causes and fixes. Do any of you have anything to add? Anyone use different aids?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shouldering the Collected Trot

Second Level dressage is a funny place your first time through. The work is more advanced, and often something you haven't felt before as a rider. The concepts seem ridiculously finicky, and often impossible. It's a difficult dance to figure out what's-what.

Nothing is harder to determine than when you've achieved a "collected" gait, as opposed to a working one. No drastic change can be felt, no one cheers, and absolutely no balloons fall from the sky (thank god, can you imagine?). So, how does a new rider even realize that she's riding a collected gait if she's never truly felt one before?

Enter the shoulder-in. The gloriously elusive training movement, the one everyone thinks they know but most people aren't doing properly. The one I've come to see as the defining pinnacle of Second Level training, summarizing the balance, feel, and strength that Second Level is striving to show off, and the one that can only truly be executed if your horse is capable and showing a collected trot.
Lilly and Darius show off the shoulder-in during a Nancy lesson.
So, let's start off with a definition. The shoulder-in is a movement collecting suppleness, straightness and strength together. It is shown by bringing the horse's shoulders to the inside of the hindquarters' line of travel, so that the horse's footfalls form three "tracks" when viewed from directly in front or behind, with the inside foreleg on one track, the outside foreleg and inside hind leg on the middle track, and the outside hind on the last track. The horse is to bent slightly to the inside, using his abdominal muscles to hold the bend on the inside, but lengthening them to continue moving laterally down the track and maintaining straightness through the neck. The shoulder-in can be shown on either a circle or the straight track, with the circle being easier and the straight track requiring more gymnastic suppleness from the horse.

Whew. Got that? 

In theory, the shoulder-in sounds simple. You just ask the horse to sort of come off the track and keep moving straight. In reality, the movement requires a lot of strength from your horse. Often this means that they will try to evade the movement in a myriad of ways. The rider must stay supportive with the aids and balanced with her weight, or the horse cannot maintain his balance and will not be able to show the movement properly.

In addition, the way the inside hind leg must step under and forward in the full shoulder-in is so dynamic, it is impossible for many horses to maintain without conditioning and work in the collected trot. So, going out and asking your average training level horse to shoulder-in isn't going to go well. I like to compare this to asking an average person to go out and do 10 pull ups. The ability is in the person, but the strength just isn't there. Just like the person, horses must be gradually strengthened and suppled for the exercise to be able to be executed.

The shoulder-in will test your contact, and your horse's response to your outside rein. It will quickly tell on you if you rely on the inside rein, or if you are uneven in your seat or legs. It's a barometer of training like nothing else I've come across, and a foundation for the lateral movements in the upper levels.

Now, I'm not just going to sit here and wax rhapsodical about the movement (well, I am today). I think it's important to share the beginnings of the training, and how its progression feels. It's such a difficult movement to truly get, and one that sets the stage for your horse's training further on. So, I'm starting on a series on the shoulder-in. Next up is the shoulder-fore and the aids for both. See you tomorrow?

Snowy Interlude

It's snowing like crazy here, and I'm not sure I'll make it to the barn today. I'm working on a great training post, but I'm not sure it'll get out today. Instead, here are some lovely photos of my morning away from the barn to distract you...
My drive to the gym. So grateful for my car. It's a five-speed, snow-eating, all-wheel-drive, snow machine of a Subaru. 
Who doesn't want to work out more with that gorgeous view to keep you company? Plus, the gym was deserted. Just the way I like it!
Sonka Snow-Face
Lyra Worst-Sled-Dog-Ever

Follow me on Instagram (NorthFuzz) if you like photos of fuzzy snow dogs and red horses. Leave me a link to your Instagram, I'd love to follow you guys.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who Put the Bomp? (... in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?)

(well now that song is stuck in your head ...)

I don't know what it is about winter that has brought the spring out of Guinness' step, but I'm loving it. The last few rides, he's been an amazingly uphill and springy mover. His trot is bouncy. Not in a jar-you-outta-the-saddle kind of way, but more of an amazingly flowing and gorgeous way. He feels collected, and light, and connected. His relaxation has been off the charts (for him), and his willingness to tackle hard work is surprising me with every ride.

Who is this horse, and what has he done with my Guinness?

The bad part for me has been trying to learn to ride this newly animated trot. My core strength feels as though it's completely gone away, and I can feel myself collapsing a bit when he really pushes from behind. Must. Stay. Upright. And. Supportive...

One thing that I think has really unlocked this trot is a new warm-up routine I've been using: namely to trot and canter and establish more forward earlier (after just a couple of laps of forward free walk and connected medium walk), then doing a few "brake-checks" or really effective half halts, and finally going back to the walk to establish lateral flexion and obedience. After that, I can launch right into hard work without much of a problem.

Yeah, that's right. After 3 years of serious dressage work, my horse and I are finally settling on a warm up routine that seems to be working for us. We're obviously fast learners.

Tonight I'm debating whether or not to even ride. The temperature was -3 when I rolled out of bed this morning, and it's looking like it will only be in the mid teens by the time I would be getting tacked up tonight. Luckily the weekend looks warmer, but snowier. Cold vs. snow. The eternal winter dilemma!
Double blanketing, or "a Pig in a blanket."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 5

Last day! This was so much fun, and I loved reading everyone else's answers. It's back to training updates tomorrow, so enjoy the fluff today.

21. Favorite classes to watch
Easy, FEI freestyles! Even in Indiana we get a couple of FEI rides at each show, and occasionally even freestyles. Seeing these from competitors I'm familiar with makes them much more approachable. Plus, the quality of the ride, gaits, and connection are so much more evident in person. It really makes you think about how much work a freestyle or even just FEI (ha, just FEI!) ride really is. It's so far beyond my ability right now, I just get glimpses of how fast a rider has to think and how much they have to hold in their head for each movement. Whew!

22. What’s in your cooler at horse shows?
Well, Jen outted me! I like to pack three things for a horse show.
1) Water, frozen with mint leaves in it. And a lot of it.
2) Wine or beer for celebrating, or commiserating, or just general friend-making.
3) LICORICE! (You guys knew this was coming, right?)
23. One thing about showing (or riding in general) you wish you could change?
I wish more shows were closer. The United States is at such a disadvantage. We are so huge, and our shows are so spread out. It's hard to make it to many without blowing most of your savings on filling up your rig's gas tank. I'd love to go to Europe and experience what it's like to have a show in your backyard almost every weekend. That is so amazing.

24. Your ringside crew:
Always? Me. While I'm lucky to usually have an entourage of supporters (my mom lives just 30 minutes from my main show facility, and I tend to make friends volunteering and from my childhood in the area), I can't always depend on having anyone ringside who can help me out. Having a strict plan on getting ready, and enlisting someone to read for me are my biggest goals. That and chowing down on enough licorice to keep me chugging forward!

25. Best prizes:
Ha, I have to say that some of the prizes at my local and rated shows can be pretty good. However, my favorite show winnings have come from either volunteering or from shows when I was younger. I just retired a dandy brush I won as an 8 year old at a Dan Hobyn Stables schooling show, and I adore my Harmony in the Park baseball hat. A shoulder sling backpack I won at IHSA was another favorite. The day I win cash will be the best day...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 4

I have some fun updates on training to share with you guys about Guinness, but for today let's continue with the Five Day Challenge!

16. One thing you’d like to change about your horse:
You would think this would be an easy question, I'd take away his advanced fetlock arthritis, right? Well, I don't know. I've learned to manage it, and it's not really detrimental to our riding right now. What actually does seem to be hurting us is Guinness anxiety issues. So, actually, I think I would vote to make him a little less anxious and more comfortable under pressure. When he goes into full nervous breakdown, it's almost impossible to pull him back out.

17. Your horse’s future:
If you'd asked me this two years ago, I would have said that Guinness and I would make it to Second Level, and then I'd be leaving him behind with a friend or retiring him to pasture somewhere. Now? That future seems silly. Sure he's 15 now, but he's sound (SOMEONE PLEASE KNOCK ON WOOD!) and happy with his work. I see no reason that we can't work towards Third in the future. He's not going to to win any championships, but he's my perfect teacher.

18. Your worst show ever:
Hm. There are so many shows that can take this cake ...
I am going to go with the first show of this season, the IDS Schooling Show in May. The weather was gross. My horse was STRESSED. I was behind. Our scores were almost in the 40s. It was bad. Really bad. However, I didn't let it get me down. Instead I came up with a plan of attack for our next show and really buckled down on training. The result was a much more relaxed show season, and scores in the 60s that count towards my USDF Bronze. I guess it can't be all that bad ...
Yeah, that's not tension. Nope, not at all ... oh, god.
19. Favorite horse show venue:
I have to give a shout to the Kentucky Horse Park. I haven't personally shown there, but I've been down there so much for other people's shows, Rolex, and the World Equestrian Games that I feel like I could have. I'd love to show down there in the next year, but I don't think finances will allow it. It's a dream, though.

20. Your show day routine:
This is something I've worked really hard on, so I have a super detailed answer. Prepare your boredom meters for overload!
• Get to show grounds at least 2.5 hours before my first ride, if it's a morning ride. I arrive by 7:30 if it's an afternoon ride. I also pray it's a morning ride.
• Feed Guinness and administer Ulcerguard.
• Quick groom while he's eating (He's super clean, and I bathe the night before. Usually he barely needs a brushing.)
• I set up all my tack so it's ready to go, spot clean if necessary.
• After Guinness is done with his grain, I'll take him for a quick walk around the show grounds to stretch his legs.
• Braid.
• Change into my riding clothes 1.5 hours before my ride. I "borrowed" a set of scrubs from friends that I wear over my clothes to keep them clean while I bustle around. They pull right off over my boots, so they're great!
• Run through my test in my head. Then again. Then again. Then ... you get it.
• Remove Pig's standing wraps and Sore-no-more his fetlocks. Check for any inordinate heat. Trot him out or take him for another walk if there's a lot of stocking up or heat.
• 40 minutes before my ride, I tack up.
• 30 minutes before my ride I try to be mounted and at the warm up ring. This is usually delayed by me forgetting a) my whip b) my gloves c) my stock tie d) the bridle number e) all of the above.
• Warm up slowly, focusing on getting Pig's attention, contact, and lateral flexion at the walk before trotting and cantering to warm up the rest of him. Walk breaks are frequent to check mental well being, and maintain a calm pony. Any signs of nerves are an immediate sign to walk and try something easy.
• Head over to the ring for my test just as the horse before me is getting started with their test.
• Try to have a nice relaxing ride, and maintain the same softness I was working on in the warm up.
• After the ride I will either school a movement we had difficulty with for a minute, or head back to the barns to give Pig a quick bath and put him away.
• If it's my last class, I'll start packing and try to be out of the grounds. If not? I'll visit and relax until my next class. Showing is one of my favorite times to catch up with people I only see at horse events!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 3

After a long weekend of baking, making presents, and playing in the snow (Sadly, only at my house. No snow to play in at the barn!), I'm ready to dive back into the Five Day Challenge!

11. Critique your horse’s conformation:
Hm. Conformation critiques, I love these! Anyone familiar with Jen at Cobjockey has seen her fabulous handle on conformation, and she and I love to trade photos of horses (typically racetrack rejects) back and forth and rip them apart. She's way better than me at spotting issues, but I'll do my best!
Nov. 2013. Please excuse the blurry shot, 
Starting at the front, Guinness has a nice and proportional head. It's a very masculine head, and not delicate and typey like some thoroughbreds. That's a look I prefer, so I'm sold. His throatlatch is nice and clean, making him a breathing machine, and easy collection. One small quibble? His mouth is very small. That makes bitting and fitting nosebands difficult. I've also heard that a small mouth (short mouth?) can cause issues with a horse accepting contact. I'm inclined to believe that...
Neck: On the shorter side, but proportional. I like the tie into the shoulder. It's a pretty good angle for an eventer, and honestly high enough to make him quite capable of a decent dressage frame.
Shoulder: The angle could be wider, and his withers could be set back further, but for a race-bred thoroughbred, I'm not complaining about what I have. His range of motion through the shoulder is excellent and highly capable of 3rd level movement. Additionally, his front legs are set on nicely (not too far back), and tie into the shoulder well. No complaints here!
Front legs: I love his short cannon bones, and short pasterns. Racing has left him with quite a bit of jewelry (read: windpuffs and arthritis galore) in the fetlock joint. I'd recommend that anyone looking at OTTBs take a quick glance at the front fetlock joint for any thickening. I'd suggest that any swelling in this area prompt x-rays on a pre-purchase. It's not a deal breaker (knock-on-wood, he's been sound on these almost all year!), but it is an issue that will limit jumping use and takes quite a bit of proactive care and management. I do love how straight his legs are, and how well balanced over them he is. He's slightly tied in behind the knee, but that's not really much of an issue, and looks worse than it really is due to his enlarged fetlocks.
Midsection: Nice flat back, and the withers, while high, do not dip exorbitantly into his back. This keeps saddle fit fairly easy. My biggest problem is how wide his back has become with our training. He needs a bit of a wider saddle for the back, but a narrow to handle his withers. Basically, we're on the hunt for a narrow tree with a wide channel. Anyone seen one? Bah! Also, notice our funky hay belly. This never seems to go away. I'm currently trying to supplement protein to see if I can get it to reduce some. A consistently negative fecal rules out worms, so I'm a bit at a loss.
Haunches: Nice and proportional hind end, and good angles back here. His lumbosacral joint is pretty optimally located (maybe a hair back too far, but that's really picky). His hind legs are just about as nice as his fronts. I'd argue that his canons are a bit longer back here, but not enough to really make much a difference. He's developing windpuffs on his rear fetlocks this year (uh oh ...), but so far those seem to functioning fine. In the picture above he appears camped out, but that's really an illusion. He's a hair out behind, but really pretty functional and steps under himself without a problem.
Overall? He's pretty darned capable. I'd easily take another horse built just like him. His body is a bit front heavy, but proper work is really bulking up his hind end enough to easily take the load.

To expand on this, I'd like to show how a horse can change through muscular development. Here's a photo of Guinness during my pre-purchase exam ...
November 2009
Being a thoroughbred, Guinness is always carrying some sort of muscular development. Once a horse (or person!) is in hard shape (like a career racer is kept in), it's hard to lose that base of muscle development. It comes back much easier, too. I completely advocate fitting up young horses (but not stressing them to the levels that race horses are stressed! Just fitting them up!). I think it helps make their lives easier as sport horses. The 2009 photo shows him in a soft and unworked condition. Here he had basically been in a pasture, and only pulled out for occasional rides. The 2013 photo shows him after 2 weeks of rest and a hard season of showing and dressage training.
The two things I want you to notice? The development of topline (the bulge of muscle in front of his shoulders along the top of his neck), and the rounding of his hindquarters. There are more changes, of course, but these are the ones obvious in a photo. Not shown? The drastic changes to his front feet. Wow.

12. Horse’s favorite riding exercise
Hands down this is galloping with buddies. There is still a little bit of the stakes-level competitor in there! Beyond that, I'd have to say canter work and flying changes.

13. Favorite spa day products
I don't actually use shampoo on my horse unless I'm preparing him for clipping. So, my favorite spa day treatment is a good curry and rub with a rag. Sometimes I'll spray some Vetrolin Shine or Showsheen on the rag, but really only for shows or lessons. He's a very fastidious horse, and naturally keeps himself pretty free of mud and nastiness (this may be my favorite thing about him!).

14. Three best things about your horse
1) See above about the fastidious thing...
2) His lovey personality. He's very much a one person horse, and will follow me around (including escaping his stall at a show and wandering over to hang out with me, instead of running around like a fool). He'll spend an hour licking me and actually seems to enjoy falling asleep with my arms around his head. Silly horse.
3) He's the perfect amateur mount. He's safe and trustworthy, but is still opinionated and spirited enough to be really fun and challenging to ride. His occasional bucks and rears actually make me laugh, and I love knowing that I can take him from full race-gallop to collected canter with a snaffle and my seat.

15. Favorite picture of your horse
This was tough. Here's a few ...

On high alert at a horse show.
My snowy Secretariat-wannabe.

Pretty redhead.
Fancy boy!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 2

Well guys, we've had our first snow of the year! Sadly, it's mostly focused at my house, and not the barn. Still, the snow dogs are enjoying it!

6. Favorite equestrian book and movie
Book? This is really tough. I have a lot of favorites, but the one that I absolutely can't part with and still read is actually a huge compilation of stories, Roger Caras' Treasury of Great Horse Stories ( I was never much of a children's book reader (Exception? Really well done picture books. I still buy those ... for myself.), and preferred stories with engaging story lines that didn't feel like they were written for someone just learning the language. This compilation had great poetry and short stories. All of them absolutely have literary chops, but are delightful reads. Plus? A lot of the poetry and short stories are ones I've never seen in another collection. Looking for a book for your adult horse-loving friend? Seriously check this one out!

Movie? Easy. The Silver Stallion. When I was little I had a preoccupation with palominos (who didn't), and this was like palomino horse porn. (Hm, wonder what google searches will bring traffic here now...) However, my favorite horse in the whole thing isn't even a palomino. It's the chestnut stallion Yarroman. Holy gorgeous! Also seriously gorgeous? Young Russel Crowe as an Australian bushman. Ooooh yeah.
Yarroman. Looks kinda familiar, huh? Turns out I have a thing for pretty redheads...
(Did you really think I was going to put up a picture of Russel Crowe? Click here for those ... )
While searching for a photo from the film, I found that the whole thing is actually on Youtube. What?!

7. Most common riding misconception
"Oh cool, you own horses?! Where does your horse race?" Um, yeah, he doesn't anymore. And, most people don't own racehorses ... I honestly don't know why this one is so prevalent.

And also:
"Dressage? Isn't that expensive and just for rich people?" Well, yeah sort of, but actually about the same cost as any really intensive hobby. I mean, model builders have plenty of costs. People who show dogs have a lot of costs. It's not just for rich people, it's for people who have the drive to make their money work for their happiness.

8. 2 riding strengths and 1 riding weaknesses
Hm, strengths. Well, I would say that one of my biggest strengths when it comes to riding is my drive. I really want to get better at this whole game, and I'm not naturally a great rider. However, I really don't mind putting in the hours and the practice and the boring repetitive work it takes to improve. I actually thrive on that. In fact, that leads into my second biggest strength ...

I'm a good student. I love lessons, and I soak them up. I know that every time my instructor sees me, she can tell I've been working on my homework. Sure, everything isn't always perfect and I may not be ready to move on from the homework she gave me, but I know she can tell that I have been working hard and see improvements. I really work hard to make that the case. In addition, I tend to try to suck the last morsel of information out of my lessons. I like to sit and audit others rides, and I try to write myself a detailed write up of each lesson. I remind myself of key phrases, how my horse responded, what each thing felt like, and more. Each write up is like a moment in time, and going back to read them often reminds me of exercises or position work I could bring to the table to make my rides even better.

I would have to say that my biggest riding weakness is how readily my moods and emotions can take over my rides. Sometimes I find it very hard to release tension from a rough day at work, or anger from something in my personal life, and move forward with riding. This can cause a lot of upset between my sensitive red-head and myself. It's something I've been consciously working towards fixing, and it has been getting better. However, this is probably something I'm going to have to be aware of working on for my whole life.

9. Least favorite thing about horses and/or riding
My least favorite thing about horses and riding right now is the distance from my house and job that my horse is. My barn is 30 minutes north of my town. That's a tough drive to get motivated for, and makes slipping in riding time impossible without planning it in. Those of you with horses in your backyard, or a 10 minute drive away? I envy you. Those with longer commutes? Let's cry about it together ...

10. What do you feed your horse?
Grain: Guinness gets a full scoop of oats and a pellet that I'm pretty sure is Tribute Essential K twice daily. In the evening he'll get a top dressing of a 1/4 cup of raw, whole, flax seed and a SmartPak with a reduced dosage of SmartFlex Senior Herb-Free, a full dose of Mega-Cell multivitamin for horses on high alfalfa diets, and one and half doses of Farrier's Formula Double Strength.
Forage: Pasture (when it's growing and not covered in snow ... like it is right now) and/or a round bale of a grass/alfalfa mix. When brought in for his evening supplement or riding, he gets a flake or two of pure alfalfa.

Just as a side note: I love feeding alfalfa to my high octane thoroughbred. I've never noticed him getting hot from it, and it's great to help him keep on weight. Plus? He loves nibbling on it enough to keep wolfing it down in the trailer and at horse shows. Anything that keeps Captain PickyFace happy and eating is great in my book!

Now, off to my town's Christmas Festival and a night of cuddling with snow puppies!
What I'll be doing tomorrow!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Five Day Challenge -- Day 1

I'm jumping on this bandwagon! I loved reading everyone else's 5 Day Challenge posts, and wanted to join in! Thanks to Tracy at Fly on Over for coming up with this. Check out her blog and join the Christmas Exchange, it's a fun idea. Friday is the last day to join!

1. The person who most influenced your riding?
I couldn't decide between two people, so you get hear about them both! The first is my childhood instructor. I'd been riding for awhile, but Trina is the instructor who pushed me to get serious about getting better. Even though I was just a lesson kid barn rat, and was only able to ride once a week, Trina was tough on me. I still hear her voice yelling at me to close my fingers every time I ride! She wasn't just tough, though. She knew how to push the envelope, and encouraged me to jump things I was scared of and stick with the harder horses. I was a pretty big chicken as a kid, and her pushing kept me from stagnating. I actually ran into Trina a year ago. When I whipped out my phone to show her a picture of Guinness she had two things to say, "I see you still have a thing for chestnuts" and "Your fingers are open." Some things just never change!
My other influence is my current instructor. She's been a huge help in turning me from a generic English rider to a serious dressage rider. I'm not awesome, or anything, but I feel like I can get on any horse and look like I ride dressage. She's taught me a level of awareness I didn't think was possible, and been a fabulous guide in the training and development of my horse. I wouldn't be looking forward to Second Level without her!

2. Piece of tack you’d love to splurge on?
This is easy! I'd love a really nice custom dressage saddle. I'm absolutely in love with the County Fusion, so that's probably where I'd be headed! I'd also love a nice shaped browband, though I don't want anything blingy. Turns out that's impossible to find.
Fusion | County Saddlery
Mmmm ... looks so comfortable!

3. Top 5 riding playlist
There's a radio at the barn that's constantly on when other riders are there, and it drives me nuts. Not that I don't like listening to music while I ride, but radio hosts of top hits stations blathering loudly is one of my number one pet peeves. When riding by myself, I prefer silence or some sort of folky style of music. Guinness has indicated a particular liking of Johnny Flynn, we tend to agree on that.

4. Most important aspect of your barn?
TURNOUT! My horse is on 24/7 turnout in a 30 acre pasture/wooded area. Being out 24/7 has its downsides (Wet horses on rainy days, constantly being coated in mud from the knee down, hiking a mile to get your horse only to realize he's in the other corner and it's pouring... really anything related to rain.), but Guinness' soundness has never been so consistent. He's a happy kid out there, too. Chilling out with his ladies is just about his favorite thing (besides apples).

5. Three winter riding goals
Whoo! I love goals!
1. Get comfortable with all the movements required in Second Level.
2. Go galloping in the snow.
3. Don't lose my boots or fall face first in the mud.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Finding the R gear

When we first talked about training the backing movement, I explained how I had tried to train backing out of Guinness as a response. His aversion to contact and quick flight reflex made him seek release from contact in unasked backing up. I'd mostly succeeded, and Guinness has come to understand that forward is always wanted and that backing is bad, bad, bad.

Of course, I need him to know that backing is okay, but only when asked for. At first, I was pretty intimidated by this whole prospect. How do you teach a horse that one behavior is not okay at some times, but okay at another? My mind, it felt blown.

Then I remembered, he's a horse. This isn't brain surgery, it's training. TRAINING. You know, the systematic and (mostly) logical teaching of an animal. I'm actually pretty good at training animals (I own huskies, if I couldn't train them my life would be way more hectic than it is currently!). It's amazing how easy it is to forget that this is all horse training is, a logical progression of teaching.
Learn! Damn you!
So, I've been approaching teaching the rein back in the same way that I would teach my dogs a skill. I see the rein back as a bit of trick, the same with lead changes. I think that's why they are trained so differently on different horses. These are "tricks" not so much natural progressions of forward like the trot lengthen or the collected canter. Maybe I'm wrong here, but it's working for me. Here's what I've been doing--

Step 1. Teach horse to reliably back with a voice command. 
This I already had done. I insist on ground manners and space from my horses, and learning to back on voice command is a big part of this. It started by teaching him to back by gently pulsing a pressure on his chest until he moved backwards away from it. At the same time, I repeat "Back" verbally. Eventually he associates the word with the action, and voilĂ 

Step 2. Establish a good halt/stand, halt/walk and halt/trot cue and response. 
This was also already done. I'd encountered some resistance to just standing at the halt, as my horse is the King of ADD. Any stray leg movement used to (and still almost will) send him moving off. However, we got it done. He understands to halt and stand in a frame, and halt/walk, and halt/trot and the differences between the cues. This was mostly just repetition and being very consistent with my cuing. 

Step 3. Decide on cues to use for rein back, and understand fully the differences between cues used for halt/walk and halt/trot. 
I've always asked a horse to rein back by leaning slightly forward, moving my legs back when I add leg, and closing my hands. I wanted to be careful not to pull back when training this, so I've tried to stay conscious of not doing that. I know some people do pull back for a rein back, but I don't think it's entirely correct, and mouth pressure is already something that has sent Pig into a tailspin in the past. I think it's best to avoid it and go completely off body cues. 

Step 4. Introduce rein back under saddle, using verbal cue with new physical cues. Eventually, refine this so that the horse understands the physical cues and the verbal cue can be dropped.
This is where I am now. I introduced my cues to Pig, who was very resistant to move backwards. The verbal cue was certainly necessary to avoid getting a panicked response from Pig, who was expecting me to get upset with him when he backed up. The first few steps were really panicky and crooked. Instead of trying to correct him, I just sat up straight and asked for a halt. Then I praised him. I wanted him to associate those cues with backing, and I figured the panicky stuff could be cleaned up later. 

So far, things are going well. I practice this movement every few days, and each time Pig is getting more confident in his response to my physical and verbal cues. He's stopped freaking out and paddling backwards, instead taking slow and measured steps. We're still a little crooked, but I want him to gain more confidence in going backwards steadily before I add straightening aids. We're almost to the point where I think I can drop the verbal cue. 

It's been a journey, but it feels good to make measured progress! How do you guys train the rein back? Am alone out here in treating it a little bit like a trick?