Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Very Dressagy Christmas!

Like most horse people, I tend to get a lot of gifts geared toward my horse-habit. This year was no exception!

First up, I joined in Fly on Over's awesome Blogger Secret Santa program. My Secret Santa was the awesome Karen from Bakersfield Dressage! She sent me a huge box, complete with festive wrapping paper and an incredibly sweet card. (Karen! I think the card was my favorite part!! Thanks so much!)

Christmas in a box!!
Karen's a fellow dressage person, but she's just starting to experiment with the outside world of "color." I'm still pretty conservative, and she nailed it by getting us a nice black saddle pad and a set of lovely white polo wraps! I can't wait to debut everything at a clinic or a show. Pig looks lovely in white wraps, but the pair I have for him are way to big. This pair are the perfect size!

At family Christmas, my husband and my mother went together and ended up getting me the expensive Weymouth I talked about in this post. I'm so excited about this gift. I can't wait until Pig is back working well enough to introduce it and see how he does!

Now I just have to decide on a bradoon.... help?!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Happy Update

I want to thank everyone for their comments over the last week or so. Reading each one meant so much to me. Knowing you guys understood just how terrifying that experience was helped make the whole situation a little less surreal.

For the first couple of days after the accident, Guinness' condition was somewhat touch and go. While his attitude was good, I couldn't get a good handle on managing the swelling in his legs. The amount his legs were stocking up was worrying to me. I was pretty confident he didn't have a soft tissue injury, but the amount of swelling made me second guess myself. Plus, my inability to reduce the swelling made me worry about the possibility of developing cellulitis.

Is there a leg in there? I can't tell. Looks more like a red log.

Moving stiffly, Pig wasn't helping matters. Even though he was turned out in the big pasture, he wasn't moving around much. He basically stationed himself at the round bale, and would shuffle from there to the auto-waterer. I hand walked him daily, but it didn't make a dent in the swelling.
Handwalking the elusive mud-yak in it's natural habitat... the rain.
Finally, I resorted to doing compression wraps with Sore-No-More on him for a handful of hours every day. The wraps would bring the swelling down some, but not all the way down to normal.

Swelling down somewhat, legs still feverish and puffed.

The holidays forced me away from the barn. Keeping an eye on a horse from afar might be one of the most stressful things in the world. My BO would only send me texts when his legs were swollen badly, so I assumed that's what they looked like all the time. I did end up driving back one day to wrap Pig, after my BO sent me a photo of his legs looking more like tree trunks than legs. Apparently after that wrapping session, his legs did go down significantly. A friend helped me out by hand walking Pig, which also brought his legs down every day.
Normalish legs! It's a miracle!
After 8 days, Guinness finally seems to be out of the woods. His legs aren't stocking up as much, he's weaning off bute, and he's totally sound. The totally sound part is the best part, because yesterday I hopped up and got to glimpse the world from behind two perky red ears again. From up there, everything finally feels like it will be alright.
Doing rehab rides back the safety-first way, by hacking my hyper horse bareback down the wet road. Yep.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Yesterday was true horror (long post/graphic photos)

This post contains some truly horrifying photos, and they might upset some of you. I think it's important for me to share them, but I understand if you can't look at them.

Let me preface this post by saying this: Everyone is going to be 100% okay.

Yesterday, we had a trailer accident. Driving down the highway, we hit a patch of black ice. The horses in the back (two of them), must have shifted in the trailer because it started to fishtail. The icy roads caused the whole situation to escalate quickly. Truck and trailer fishtailed all over the highway for approximately 600 yards. Several times I thought I had us straightened out, only to lose the trailer again. The roads had no traction to speak of. Finally, the trailer jackknifed hard into the truck bumper, popped off the hitch, and flipped onto its side.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TOABH - The History of the Horse

Beka over at The Owls Approve is celebrating her Archie's 18th birthday, and asking all of us to get in on the celebration. With a question letting me rattle on about Guinness' history, how could I refuse?!

History of the Horse
Before you met, where was your horse?  Who bred him/her?  What do you know about his sire and his dam?  What do you know where he came from?  Tell me about the time before he had a trainer.
Lucky for me, Guinness is an OTTB with an easily readable tattoo, making his history easy to find!
Guinness was born "Logic Lane" in 1998 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England. His breeding was arranged by Mrs. T Brudenell (Also known as Amanda Skiffington, or Amanda Brudenell... because England) and Campbell Stud. He is Irish bred, by the Never-Bend grandson Lahib and out of the Mill Reef daughter Reflection.
Lahib (Riverman (by Never Bend) x Lady Cutlass (by Cutlass))won several Grade 1 stakes. He seems to have sired many moderately successful racehorses, but was not a standout sire. He and his sire both do seem to stamp their progeny. Guinness gets his looks from this side of the family, for sure. He's almost a carbon copy of his grandsire, Riverman.
Riverman (Never Bend x River Lady x Prince John)
Reflection was bred by The Queen of England (Seriously. True story.). Her sire, Mill Reef (by Never Bend, making Pig a double Never Bend great grandson.) was a stunning racehorse. Crowned European Horse of the Year, Champion 3-Year-Old in England, and Champion Older Horse, he had a record of 6 consecutive Group One (similar to Grade One in the states) races. His record stood for 30 years. By Never Bend and out of a Princequillo mare, Mill Reef was a fantastic sire. 
Mill Reef (Never Bend x Milan Mill x Princequillo)
Despite her breeding, Reflection never raced. Her other foals were a mixed bunch. It appears Guinness did have one full brother, but records on him are very slim. I don't think he lived long enough to race. Since the mare was immediately put back to Lahib for Guinness, I assume Pig's full brother died before he was a year old. One half brother of Guinness, Shaft of Light (GB) by a Caro grandson (and bred by The Queen), did go on to a successful career, winning over $100,000 on the track.
It appears that Reflection was sold or lent to Mrs. T Brudenell shortly prior to Guinness' breeding. With the royal blood passed from both of his parents, it's really a shame he didn't turn out to be a more successful racehorse. Maybe the double Never Bend/Princequillo lines cancelled each other out?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Steps to the Changes | A Better Canter (final version)

(Blogger kind of screwed up this post, and didn't publish it correctly. Here's the final version!)

My last lesson with Nancy focused on the canter I'll need to aim for the changes, and I ended up with a huge list of positional issues to improve before we move forward. For the most part, most of these changes have to do with my riding, not with Pig. While he is the Captain of Evasion, his naturally fabulous canter makes the majority of this work easy for him (when I get it right).

The problems I brought to Nancy were 1) Pig constantly falls on his right shoulder, in all gaits, and 2) We keep flubbing the right canter depart, and I wasn't sure why. Here's a video example of our right canter depart flub...
Did you spot the issues? I couldn't. It turns out, they were pretty hard to spot, but obvious once pointed out.
  1. Instead of pointing my inside hipbone forward and up, I was putting it forward and DOWN. Basically stopping the movement up that the canter depart required.
  2. I'm collapsing my upper body to the right, again stopping Pig from being able to lift up and move through with his body. Oops.
  3. My right thigh is STILL creeping up to my ears. God. Why?
Solving all those problems takes a lot of positional awareness on my part, and is proving to be difficult to do on my own. (Remember, I only see my trainer once or maaaybe twice a month. All my work is on my own.) My upper body collapsing to the right is something I do in my daily life. (Spoiler alert: I'm doing it right now!) It's hard for me to feel when I'm doing it, and harder to correct it without throwing the rest of my body out of whack. My trainer tells me to "lift from the armpits," which helps me lift and straighten my torso without losing the elastic elbows and relaxed shoulders I've been working hard on.

Once I get my torso up, I feel Pig take a bigger jump in his canter. Next thing I know, up comes my right thigh. It starts creepin' up towards the pommel of my saddle, like it wants to be besties with my belly button.

No thigh. My stomach wants no part of you. Stay down.

I fix the thigh issue by taking my leg off my horse, shaking it a touch to relax it (having a spectacularly lazy horse is useful here!), and thinking about pointing my knee at the ground. That lengthens my thigh, brings my heels up a little, and places my lower leg back where it's supposed to be.

Now with my leg in the right place, I realize that my hip bone has started pointing down instead of up again, and my seatbones have lost contact with my saddle. So I think about pointing with my hip up and in the direction of where I want to go. Leading the canter with my hip, if you will. At the same time, I locate my seatbones and make sure they are actually sitting, not hovering.

Now I've dropped my hands in an effort to manage contact, and instead totally losing my pony's cooperation. So, up come my hands and down and uber bent go my elbows. That usually offends Pig, so on go my legs to keep him moving into the contact.

My leg coming on hard will push my thigh back up. In the process of fixing that and keeping my hands up, I forget to keep my torso engaged and up. That means I can't keep impulsion going with Pig. So I pony kick, put my legs where they go, find my seatbones, and shove my torso up and through the space created between my arms.

We get a great big leaping and gorgeous canter stride.

Then my hip bone forgets to stay up. And the whole process starts over again... yeeesh.

Things to do: Shoulder's down, torso forward, hips up, seatbones on, thighs down, legs on softer.
Pig? You just keep doing what you're doing, horse.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Arthritic Horse: A Late Season Follow Up

Earlier in the fall, I discussed Guinness' worsening issues with arthritis lameness. We're almost to the end of the transitional season and into deep winter (whether it feels like it or not!), and I wanted to update on his condition.

It's a little better.

At the start of fall, we had a few big changes that effected Pig's soundness. First the weather, which anyone with an old achy joint could appreciate. Wet and cold weather has a unique ability to make everyone feel creaky. Secondly, with the cold and rainy weather also came the time change, which pushed us out of our glorious outdoor...

The glorious outdoor...
 ... and into our slightly rocky and hard-as-a-rock indoor.

The not-as-glorious indoor.
I know I'm lucky to even have an indoor and work year round, but the indoor footing backed Guinness off more than I even realized. We worked in the outdoor all weekend (sleety mist be damned!), and he was so much more fluid and forward. The deeper and softer footing out there really makes a huge difference. In the indoor he takes 15-20 minutes of warm up to start going nicely. In the outdoor, he's raring to go almost immediately.

His obvious discomfort inside causes me to keep our cantering/trotting work to a minimum. I also unconsciously stop pushing him to be correct or stay on my aids. That allowance needs to stop. If he's achy and creaky, that is even more reason to collect up and stay off those front fetlocks. That said, it can be hard to tell when Captain Evasion is doing his thing, or when Sir Ache is expressing a legitimate concern.

Luckily, the barn did drag the indoor some last weekend. The difference in the footing is subtle, but enough for Pig to be noticeably more comfortable. Maybe I can stay after them to keep it fluffed?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Winter Doldrums: A Photo Journal

Truth moment here, guys. The thing I really want to work on this winter? Teaching Guinness changes. Unfortunately, we aren't quite there yet. We're hovering on the edge of being there, but I have some serious work on myself to finish before we can get there.

That's kind of frustrating.

Add to the hard work of fixing my position the nasty hovering-just-above-freezing-while-dumping-gallons-of-rain-on-me weather we've been having, and going to the barn is just an unpleasant thing right now.
I mean... Do you want to walk a half mile through shin-deep clay mud to get your equally disgusted horse?
I'm kind of over being an active person. Can't I hibernate like a bear?

Fun fact: Bears can eat as much as they want and don't get diabetes. Seriously. I want to be a bear. Or a little dog, she has it pretty easy...
Even though I don't like napping, I have to admit they've been looking pretty tempting...
"But why such long claws, Grandma?"
Being myself, though, the activity has continued. The dogs are still being run, even in the oppressive rainy dark of ... 5pm.

Misty sleet. 40 degrees. Mmmmmhm. Horrifying.
The horse and my position woes are still being worked, though some of our barn etiquette might have been completely relaxed.

What? You don't let your partially clothed horse freely wander the barn and snarf out of the hay cart at will? One of these days, that horse is going to bite down on a napping cat. That day, things will get real.
And some days, we take a much needed break at the local pub for a pint or two.

Yes. My local pub allows dogs. They are sort of local celebrities...
Will someone do a frozen dance to the weather gods already? I have had enough of this crappy warm, muddy, rainy, inconsistent winter! Give me frozen solid mud, deep white blankets of snow, and consistently cold temperatures! Please!
I'm dying for a good snow-ride!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Inside to outside always, right?

Inside leg to outside rein. That's one of the tenets of dressage, right?

The idea being to have the horse lift off the your inside leg and shift his balance into the outside rein. With his weight to the outside, he can then bend and turn to the inside without losing his balance. In addition, you have a great half-halt ready in the outside rein.

Well in my last lesson, inside leg-outside rein was turned on its head.

See, in the shoulder-in to the right, my horse likes to fall onto his inside shoulder. No amount of half halting will get him to lift. No amount of pushing from behind will, either. He just rushes, and falls harder. I've ensured that I am pushing him into the outside rein, and am maintaining the bend with the inside leg. Still he falls in.

He's protective of his left shoulder, see. The barest of touches with the left rein, and his shoulder will dart over. He's quick to throw a fit rather than lift up his right shoulder and have to fill up his outside left.

"If he still falls in after you've brought the shoulder around with your outside rein, don't be afraid to take that outside shoulder out slightly." That's my trainer, full of excellent advice.

I guess when inside leg to outside rein fails you, it's okay to think out of the box and create a new training tool.

So here's what I do...

The minute I realize inside leg/outside rein isn't working, I increase the bend in my outside elbow and carefully take my outside hand OUT. The feeling here is one of guiding the outside shoulder down the line, and widening the front feet.

"He's past pushing into that rein. If you push more with your inside leg, you're going to push him past your outside rein, and past his balance point."

Huh. So no extra inside leg, just outside rein. Interesting...

Guinness reacts to a leading outside rein by straightening slightly, then shifting back to take his balance off his front end. With his weight shifted back, he takes a bigger and wider step with his outside front. Finally, he fills up the outside of his neck and is able to step forward with the inside hind and flex nicely through his poll.

The big thing to remember here? Make sure to keep the inside leg on. You don't want to take it away completely, just not increase its push. The inside leg should stay long and draped on the horse, asking for the bend to stay and the haunches to stick. The other important factor is your weight aid. You'll want your weight more on your outside seatbone. In Guinness' case this can sometimes be so dramatic that I lean off to the outside. A less stubborn and crooked horse will need a less obvious aid. Experiment as needed.

So, using the outside rein independently to place the shoulder. Neat! Another tool for the box.

To apologize for a lack of photos illustrating this post, please enjoy this sequence of photos demonstrating me being awkward mounting from the ground.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Auditing Gems

Yes. That's a Norwegian Fjord stallion. Yes, he's adorable.
I love auditing clinics with "big name" trainers. I'm too poor to shell out to ride with one at this stage in our training (maybe if we were looking at showing FEI, but my trainer has done an excellent job on her own so far!), but I think there's a lot of great knowledge to be picked up from watching other riders. A lot of people struggle with similar problems in slightly different ways, so many times I'll find a solution to an issue I'm having with Pig, a new exercise to work a weak point, or a better way of looking at a training problem. So, when I got notice that Luis Reteguiz-Denizard was coming back to town, I made room on my calendar.

The best part about auditing this clinic is that Lou is my trainer's trainer. That makes his teaching style incredibly accessible to me, as it is so similar to my trainer's. Many times I have audited a clinic with Lou only to have a bit of Nancy's teaching come through a little clearer. Plus, it's always fun to see your trainer get a lesson. Right?

Here are some gems I picked up from this weekend's clinic:
  • Honesty off the leg means the horse reacts to the leg with correct movement in the stifle and hock, not with speed. Make sure when you're applying your leg that the horse is stepping out correctly, on both sides. The horse in question was very one sided, lazy on a right hind. Lou was helping the rider feel what equal action in both hind legs felt like.
  • Short sides are just shorter long sides, and should be ridden just as straight as a long side. (I'm absurdly guilty of forgetting this.)
  • Don't forget the outside hind in the shoulder in. You have to make sure he is sitting and supporting with that leg, or you'll push him into a leg yield. Support the outside, push the inside.
  • Presenting a horse in a double tells your instructor that you are ready to increase the level of feel and responsibility needed to ride in a more advanced way. You, as a rider, have to be more aware of yourself and the horse.
  • "You've gotta want more out of him, because right now I feel like I, as your instructor, want more than you. And that makes me cranky." -- This is a great thing to remember, no matter who you're lessoning with. If you aren't ready to ask your horse for more (acceptance, obedience, bend, impulsion, understanding), why are you in lessons? It's not fair to your horse or your instructor.
  • Don't work your leg out of rhythm with your seat. (Another big problem for me, and probably anyone who rides a lazy horse).
  • Know the difference between an engaging half half, and a disengaging half halt. You want a low neck (more horse in your hand)? Stifles are more disengaged than engaged. You want a higher neck (horse off your hand)? Stifles need to be more engaged. The need for engagement was demonstrated by a Fjord stallion with a tendency to get heavy in front and lazy behind. He needed more engagement to pick up the front of himself. The need for disengagement was demonstrated by my trainer and her Friesian/Dutch gelding, who tends toward overengagement (think constant piaffe instead of walking, or cantering). Disengaging his stifles lowered his head/neck and kept him in a rideable and thinking frame, rather than being so engaged he could barge through half halts.
After the clinic I headed home to ride my group of green ponies and Pig. The clinic inspired me to try working on Pig's canter collection a bit more. Lou warned against keeping a lazy and claustrophobic horse in collection too long, which resonated with me. So we worked on 3-4 strides of super collection followed by 5-10 of a more working canter frame. This exercise really amped Pig up, keeping him solidly in front of my leg. In fact, we had to have a few discussions about what I actually meant by "half halt." Whoops!

Anyone else audit a clinic recently?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Expensive bits, are they worth it?

Thanks to everyone for your comments on my post about introducing Guinness to the double. We're a week in, and he's still doing great. Some of your comments, along with Pig's reaction to the bridle, have given me some ideas on what bits I want to buy for Pig's own bridle.

For the bradoon, I'm not looking for anything special. He seems to do fine with the loose ring double jointed bradoon. This surprises me, as he hates a loose ring plain snaffle. But, maybe in conjunction with the curb it doesn't move as much? I've decided to stick with a double jointed bradoon with a lozenge instead of a French link, and I have my eye on a couple. For the bradoon, I'm looking for a thickness of 12-14 mm. No thicker. (Pig's regular snaffle is only around 14mm, so he's used to, and likes, thin bits.) Luckily, these are fairly affordable and easy to find.

For the metal content, I'm interested to try a copper-heavy metal. I've mostly schooled Pig in only rubber and stainless steel bits. He has been doing much better with the introduction of sugar to his bitting and riding routine, though. The sugar is helping him accept the bit even more. Maybe the copper would do the same?
Cheap and easy to find. My favorite kind of horse equipment!
The curb is something I've waffled on. I know, for certain, that I need a curb with far less or zero port. So, I've been looking at Mullen mouthed curbs, specifically thin ones. The thinness requirement has narrowed down my options to the Neue Schule Thoroughbred Weymouth and a plain stainless steel Mullen mouth.

Thoroughbred Weymouth
The Neue Schule Thoroughbred Weymouth -- 12mm thick, tilted at 45 degrees and curved for tongue relief. Supposedly designed for the narrow and sensitive thoroughbred mouth. Runs around $210.

Stainless steel Mullen mouth Weymouth. Also 12mm thick. $40. Zero mention of magical properties in the ad.
My question to you is: Is the expensive Weymouth worth it? What has been your experience with expensive bits? Have they been worth it for you? Anyone used this particular type of curb?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fitness and Dressage

As I sit here, hamstrings and glutes screaming from a recent day of weight lifting, I can't help but think about the connection between riding and fitness. More specifically, the relationship between dressage riding and fitness.

You guys know I'm pretty serious about my fitness work. I run somewhere between 15-20 miles a week, no matter the weather, I typically try to get into the gym a couple of days a week to lift heavy things, and I do a yoga routine 2-3 times a week.

Lovely winter gym!
What you may not know, is why I run. I'm an asthmatic, and have been my entire life. The running gives me stronger lungs, with a better ability to clean themselves out and keep me from getting sick. It helps me build up respiratory strength and endurance, something incredibly hard for me to develop. I attribute my lack of bronchitis in the last few years directly to my running. Running is totally non-negotiable with me, and I'm lucky that I love doing it and that my body holds up to it very well.

My trainer, however, hates the fact that I run. See, running (and cycling and sitting!) acts to shorten your hip flexors. To get technical on you, the hip flexors are the long stringy bits of muscle around the hip and upper thighs that allow you to lift your knees up towards your face. When not regularly stretched out, or tight from overuse (read: sitting all day, or running all day), they easily overtake the abdominal or glutes. Tight flexors also act to change your posture, causing your butt to stick out and your lower back to overarch, also known as pelvic anterior tilt. A bad thing in riding. In dressage specifically, a shortened hip flexor can make riding with a long and relaxed leg impossible. Instead, every time your abs engage, the hip flexors will shorten and your leg will involuntarily come up. Hello immediate chair seat.

So running sounds pretty bad, but it alone doesn't contribute to riding issues. In fact, a lot of strength exercises end up working against dressage riding.

In dressage, you want a perfect relationship between a relaxed and allowing body and the stability needed for good contact, balance, and clear communication. In other words, you don't want to be just flopping around up there, but you can't be so rigid and stiff that you're squeezing the life out of your poor horse.

"I don't know how you do that! I wouldn't have the strength to ride like that. One horse, and I'd be exhausted for the rest of the day!" This from my trainer after watching me ride her training horses for the day. This was not a compliment. I was using my body against myself. Using all the strength in my legs to hold on to the horse while trying to use my ab strength to shove my upper body into position. I can't even describe to you how hard it was, but because I'm incredibly fit it seemed doable.

It turns out, relaxation is the name of the game. One day, my holding on muscles exhausted, I learned what it means to let my legs hang without holding. I noticed how I could now use my abs effectively, and easily communicate with my horse. Plus, Pig relaxed noticeably without me holding on so much. He started using his back a lot more. I joked with Nancy, "maybe I should stop working out and just get super flabby so I ride better." "Sounds like a good plan to me!" she shot back.

Another lesson learned.

The view from a recent run...
I've tailored my fitness routine recently to help my riding. I still run, a lot. I still lift weights, though now I am conscious to lift in a way that doesn't encourage my hip flexors to take over or tighten. And, I only do ab exercises on the machine that allows me to go past the horizontal, which disengages and stretches out my flexors. In addition, I follow up long runs with hip stretches and the use of a foam roller to relax and stretch my tight hip muscles. It's hard work, but necessary if I won't give up running. (Anyone else looking for stretches/exercises for this issue, click here.)

It's interesting to me how dressage takes such a flexible sort of fitness, compared to cross country/jumping. Has anyone else noticed this? Had to take action to make it work?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How To Clip A Pig

Step 1: Find a high resolution copy of the Guinness beer logo.
Step 2: Create stencil from logo.

Step 3: Administer silly drugs (Dormosedan gel is da best!).
Step 4: Draw lines on with sharpie.
Step 5: Commence hair removal.
Step 6: Admire awesomeness.

Step 7: Remember your quarter sheet matches your horse's new favorite treat, candy corn.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday -- The Gala of the Royal Horses

Early last month, we had an event come to my work. This time, it wasn't a music artist I'd never heard of or a sporting event I'm not interested in. Instead, it was a horse event!
Called The Gala of the Royal Horses, the show is loosely based on dressage, with a big dose of Spanish flair. Besides traditional dressage riding demonstrations, there were Spanish themed performances, and a couple of Lipizzans performed the famed "Airs Above Ground."
Parts of the show were certainly cheesy to actual equestrians, but the crowd loved it. In a talk with one of the riders prior to the show, he remarked, "Things are different in the performance than they would be in a show or training session. Sometimes I'll get bitten or kicked, or the horse will misbehave. I can't correct him, just grit my teeth and smile."
There were certainly moments where the horses misbehaved, and I enjoyed watching the trainer's face during those moments. While he had a smile on his face, you could tell he was bothered. How difficult!
Overall, it was a fun night. A big group of my riding friends from the area attended, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. My job for the night was to take photos for our in-house archives. So, enjoy my shots!
Here the trainer was demonstrating teaching the piaffe. They used 3 horses in various stages of learning the move.
At the end of a fancy Spanish-themed performance during which this horse carted around a girl with a big skirt draped over his butt, the rider turned the horse to leave the ring. The horse either spooked, or the rider spurred him unintentionally, because he bolted for the out-gate. It was a little dicey there for a second, and I caught this shot just before the group passed beyond the curtain. I'm not positive that girl didn't hit the concrete on the other side.
A couple of young Lipizzans doing liberty work.
The main trainer did a dressage demonstration with this Andalusian. It appeared to be mostly Third Level. The horse kept flubbing his lead changes, which really seemed to be starting to annoy the rider. Whoops! Like most of the show, this section made liberal use of the Spanish Walk. Does anyone else think the Spanish Walk looks silly?

Whatever this horse's failings at lead changes, he was a piaffe machine! Also, get a load of that TAIL! So lovely!
The start of the Airs. Here a Lipizzan demonstrates some Levade. Of course, I managed to catch a moment where he was hopping around... oops.

I have no idea what this movement is called, so I'll just call it "The Flail." The horse would rear as high as he could, then strike out with his forelegs.

See ... lots of flailing about.

The famous Capriole! These guys went SUPER high into the air to perform this. Much higher than I've seen previously. It was almost impossible to capture on film, though.

I was told this horse was originally selected as a prospect for the Spanish WEG team, but ended up not being able to mentally handle the training and was replaced by Fuego. I have no idea if that's true, but he was a really quality mover, especially when you consider he is an Andalusian. Here he is gearing up for a bit of extended trot.

Here's another shot of the fancy Andalusian. He was my overall favorite. Just a gorgeous mover!
In case you were wondering, yes all of these horses were wearing body glitter. Whaaaat?! I know!! Is body glitter USEF legal? If so, I need to get Pig decked out!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Double Trouble

Achievement Unlocked: Train horse to double bridle
Yep, you're seeing that correctly. That's my finicky, opinionated, and delicate-mouthed horse sporting a double bridle. The idea of him in one has been so distant, this photo sort of feels like a dream.

As we've been starting work on 3rd level (shhh, no one tell Pig 3rd level is supposed to be hard!), I've been thinking it was a good time to start introducing Guinness to a double. It's not completely necessary, but I figure he's so sensitive to bitting and bridling changes it's a good idea to start as early as I can.

So I've been casually shopping for doubles, gathering bridle parts, and window shopping bradoons and weymouths. At the same time, a friend generously offered to let me borrow her double for the winter. Just to trial the whole thing out. She came out on Sunday to drop off the bridle, and we popped it on.

Apparently her PSG horse and Guinness are exactly the same size because we didn't have to change a single thing on the bridle. It fits just as is. Obviously it isn't a perfect fit for him (Ack! That bradoon hanger buckle! My eyes!), but it'll do for now. The one big thing I've noticed is that I will absolutely need to look for a weymouth with a much lower port. The one in this bridle is an average height, but obviously a little too much for Pig. Interestingly, he did just fine with the loose ring bradoon, despite not going well in a regular loose ring snaffle.

I kept our test ride pretty short and sweet. We ran through pretty much all of our suppling exercises, as well as some simple changes and lateral work. Even though I purposefully kept a loop in the curb rein, I noticed an immediate effect from Pig. Instead of taking 30-40 minutes of careful warm up to start really lifting his withers and collecting, he took 10 minutes. And his shoulders were very quick to move up and out of the way. I was really astounded at how much less I had to use the reins. In fact, I found myself riding even more off my seat. He was working so well through the back, he was definitely a little sore from it last night.

Though notoriously difficult in contact, Guinness never once dropped out of the bridle or fussed in the double. He was not sure about it (stood with his mouth gaping open for a minute after I put it on, obviously confused), but didn't reject it. In fact, the only thing I noticed was that he was about 10% lighter in my hand. He isn't a heavy horse at all, so that is a considerable amount of lightness. He didn't gape his mouth while working, or grind his teeth (his favorite way of expressing annoyance). I was so proud of him!

Right now, I'm planning on sticking him in the double once a week or less. I want it to be something he gets very comfortable with, and understands. I also don't want to pressure him with it. He's been so good in his snaffle, I don't want to undo any of that work by pushing too hard.

Still, that's my crazy thoroughbred ... in a double bridle. Whoa.

Now, anyone have any spare black cob-sized bridle cheeks, curb reins, or a bradoon hanger?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Methodical Warm Up (is the name of the game)

This post is inspired by a conversation Aoife and I had in the comments of both her blog and mine where I got into a vein about encouraging engagement, bend and flexion... enjoy!

In May, I asked Nancy for an exercise I could use when Pig completely threw in the towel. Something that we could work on that was simple enough for him mentally let go, and demanding enough that we were still working.

"Ten meter circles," she said. "Boring," I thought. But, as it turns out, they are anything but boring.

We've been living on some form of the 10-15 meter circle for months now. For my stiff and resistant horse, circles are his kryptonite. He can't fake me out on a circle. I can feel the moment he weights one shoulder more than the other, and the second he loses his push with his hind end. For me, they've given me a safe place to practice the juggling of half halts and exceptional feel I need to execute other movements.

Work on these circles has pushed Guinness and I to a new level of work. His flexibility and submission is much improved. Plus, they've become a safe place for us to retreat when something goes wrong in our schooling. Too many wrong answers in our renvers work getting him flustered? Back on the circle to chill out and reconnect. Blowing through my outside half halts while working on a canter medium? Back to the circle to increase respect and lift.

So here's how it starts...
Silly music used to hide the audio I forgot to scrub. (Video link for those with a reader.)
We start on an 8-10m circle at the walk. These can happen anywhere, though I usually like at least one side of them to connect to the rail. (If Guinness is going to blow a half halt, it's usually in an attempt to push his shoulder straight to the wall.)

My focus is on maintaining a solid contact on the outside rein, pushing the rein against his neck to guide him around the circle without pushing him over. Like always, I have to hyper focus on making sure my elbows are bent and the rein feels connected to my hips and core for an effective half halt. "Bigger L in your elbows! Raise your hands!" The half halts on the outside keep Pig from falling into the circle and weighting his inside shoulder too much. Little gives and pushes with the rein tell him it's okay to turn.

With the inside rein, I'm flexing. With a stiff horse, this becomes a practice in constant vigilance.
With every step I must evaluate how he is working. Is he lifting from the base of his neck? No? Flex with the inside rein, give slightly with the outside rein, and kick him up with the inside leg. Always that inside leg. The moment he steps up with the hind leg and releases with his neck, release the flex and go back to neutral and balancing contact.

With Guinness this has to be a seamless dance. Too much action in the hand, and he goes on the offensive. A fraction too late with the leg aid, and he's sucked behind the bit. Other horses are much more tolerant of this, I've found.

The leg and seat aids are key factors in encouraging more engagement and a loose back. In the circle, I have to guide the bend with my hips. My inside hipbone needs to point forward, very forward. I think of it as trying to touch Pig's shoulder with my hip. I find that pulling the outside shoulder back helps me get the inside hip further forward. I'm not very flexible, though.

At the same time the inside hip is forward, the inside leg needs to be down. Mine likes to creep up, sort of craving a chair seat position. I work at lengthening the leg to keep my calf on, but not tightening the leg. That's one of those things you have to feel to understand, and once you do you have the idea forever. Having my legs hang long and loosely allows me to give meaningful thumps to encourage forward with my legs without upsetting my seat (and thus upsetting my half halts and contact). That's taken some serious practice.

When we started the circle game, every aid of mine had to be comically over exaggerated. My guiding hip needed to be so far out in front of me, it didn't seem physically possible. My leg had to stay longer and kick more than I thought I could support. And my flexion aids had to be ridiculously huge to get a response (other than tension). After a few months of over exaggeration, we're thankfully beginning to refine things. That refinement is a whole 'nother process. One I'm still working out. Part of that work towards refinement is what you see in these videos.

When we have forward engagement and a nice loose neck and back, we move to the same exercise in the trot.
Often at the trot, it'll feel like starting over completely. That's pretty normal. Again, the name of the game is vigilance. I ask for engagement, and if I don't get it I insist with leg bumps. If he starts to fall in, I sit on the outside seatbone for a stride, and half halt with the outside rein. When he gets to straight and stiff, I flex and push my inside seatbone further forward while bumping with my leg.

It feels like dancing, and I suppose it is.

Once we're working together like a good team, we leave the safety of the circle and work on being our awesome selves. The flexibility and respect the circle work has given us then lets us go out and do things like this...
I realize its just a shoulder-in, but dammit that's our bad direction. And I'm pretty freaking proud of it, too!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Where we are

The jump to Second Level was pretty tough for Guinness and I, and I don't think that's a very big revelation. His confidence in the bridle and flexibility had a long way to go before he was ready to tackle the increased collection and bend required at the level. My communication skills, body awareness, and general feel needed to improve ten-fold, too.

The summer and fall have been quiet on the blog front mainly due to the repetitive nature and slow progress of our rides. For about 6 months, it seemed every ride with Guinness was a huge struggle. He resisted flexing. He resisted collecting. He resisted transitions. He even started resisting contact again.

In short, he was a difficult creature to coax into the work. Soundness was there, but the strength and mental fortitude was lacking. It was a completely new problem for me, and one that took a lot of thought and, honestly, strength to tackle.

At times, I considered his suitability for the work. I wondered if his brain just wasn't cut out for the exacting and repetitive nature of dressage. I thought maybe problem solving just wasn't in his tool box.
Still, we persevered. We trailered down to my trainer's farm once a month for extra rides under her eye, and worked hard at home every week. I rode tons of other horses with varying degrees of training to improve my feel and fill up my own tool box. I also took a serious look at my flexibility and physical shape and started to really put together a routine of stretches to help me better control my aids.

Very slowly, things got a little better.

Pig felt a little more flexible. He slowly stopped throwing constant fits. He started working confidently into the bridle almost every day. Collection started to feel real. He developed a trot I could sit. One day, the work just clicked for him. He had the strength to collect and push, and the mental fortitude to take a correction and keep trying. Every ride started to have positives. Suddenly the brambles were clearing from our path forward.

The biggest changes happened for me. My mindset of riding changed. I no longer see myself as a rider. Instead, I'm a trainer. My tool box is full of enough exercises and fixes that I no longer feel lost when my horse makes a mistake. That confidence is translating to my horse.

We're flying forward now, and I couldn't feel better about our progress.
Thanks to everyone for bearing with us for the last few months!