Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Back to Basics | Adjusting the Plan

This past weekend, I was supposed to be taking a step back and schooling my First Level tests and working towards really coming up with a good plan of attack for the upcoming show season. While I did some of that, it unfortunately didn't work out that well.

What's that they say about the "best laid plans"?

One thing did hold true for the weekend, Guinness and I went back to basics. Things started looking rough on Thursday, when Guinness came into the arena with a poor work ethic. He wasn't forward, and ignored my legs and whip so badly I finally had to smack him once - hard. He was much better after that, though still slightly behind the leg. No lameness, but his resistance was still troubling to me. A friend was working a tiny pony, and that managed to unnerve him. So, we ended up riding for the better part of an hour and half just trying to get some calm but forward work. Afterwards, I did his feet -- just in case those were bothering him.
The horses next to the arena were playing so hard in the spring weather!
Friday night he was again lazy, and completely reluctant to take right contact. He would lean on the inside left rein, and completely hollow his right side. No amount of weighting the right or use of the left leg would push him into my hand. The majority of the ride was done at the walk, trying to get him to come on to the right rein without flipping out and spinning backwards or rearing. Finally, I did get some relaxation from him on the right rein and we schooled through 1st 3. The schooling rides were terrible, but he seemed to relax and go much better after the tests were through. (Honestly after watching video of Friday, the test run thrus are much better than any of the rides from last year. But compared to where we were working a week ago, they are awful.)

Saturday's early morning dressage school was better than Friday, but still resistant. I didn't ask for a lot of work, stepping way back in my expectations and just reaffirming confidence in the bridle. I did get a lot of good work on the right rein, though I had to constantly "massage" or "pulse" the right rein to keep him on it. He also demanded quite a lighter bit of contact that he's been taking recently. He's been putting about 1-2lbs of pressure in my hand, Saturday he demanded we carry no more than a light touch or a 1/2lb - max. That's a difficult level of lightness to keep without pulling back or allowing slack in the contact. However, it does require me to ride with constant vigilance as to my rein slipping habit and my flapping chicken elbow habit.

The change of plan on Saturday was hard, as we've been improving so rapidly over the winter months. It's a good reminder to listen to my horse, and give him the ride he needs on the day rather than the one I had planned out. We have all the time in the world, and reestablishing the basics will serve us better than trying to push through.

After our dressage school Saturday, I headed out to run 5 miles with the huskies and think about more about my training issues. Post run, Guinness was tacked again for his second ride of the day, and the dogs and I enjoyed a second trip around our 5 mile block. Here's to hoping a bit of time out of the ring and a confident ride on the right rein is all it takes to restore my little thoroughbred worker bee.

Guinness says, "Where the F is the barn?!"
Dogs say, "Whee!!!!"

Saturday, March 8, 2014

7 Deadly Sins | Blog Hopping

Also, this Unicorn. Ermagherd.
I absolutely love this Blog Hop idea from Viva Carlos. The posts by everyone in the community have been so interesting to read. There's an awful lot of pre-show-season introspection going around, you guys.

Seven great things/strengths in your riding life
  1. Putting in the time and effort to get better is easy to me.
  2. Stickability, I has it.
  3. I'm fit and able to ride without making physical compromises.
  4.  My horse is a good mover, and able to succeed at our discipline.
  5.  I have really good body awareness.
  6.  I've learned how to get any horse to accept and understand contact. (Thanks, Guinness...)
  7.  I don't suffer from fear or anxiety when it comes to riding.
My horse has mad ups, and I don't care who knows it! 
Seven things you lack or covet for you or your horse
  1.  I envy girls with thin calves. I'm tired of trying to track down wide boots, and getting stuck in breeches. (It's hilarious. I fall down taking my pants off all the time.) There's lots of support for girls with body curves. What about leg curves?!
  2.  A black sheepskin half pad, so I can stop getting my nice white one filthy.
  3.  A nicer and more powerful truck for towing. The current truck is approaching the end of its useful life.
  4.  A medium-weight blanket without any current holes. (I know rip-proof is impossible with my horse.)
  5.  A younger horse to start bringing up the levels as Guinness and I advance.
  6.  I envy those who keep their horses close enough to a trainer that they can lesson more than the once a month (or less!) I'm able to get.
  7. Money so I can enjoy my horses without completely sacrificing everything else. (Hey, all I want is some beer money ...)
(I also envy people who own horses that don't get this nervous about getting in the trailer...)


Seven things that make you angry
  1.  Poor horsemanship, and a demonstrated lack of care for it.
  2.  Instructors teaching obviously wrong information.
  3.  Name-dropping. (Newsflash. No one thinks you're important.)
  4.  Badly behaved dogs, especially if unattended (and especially if they're peeing on my things/attacking my dogs or horse/barking constantly).
  5.  Riding a horse with mud caked on it.
  6.  Bratty children.
  7.  Loud children.
If your children are bad, they will be fed to the dogs ... you have been warned.

Seven things you neglect to do or cut corners on 
  1. Keeping Guinness' mane the right length. (Let's just say I wouldn't feel out of place in a reining competition right now.)
  2. Cleaning my riding boots. 
  3. Rinse my bit every day / wipe down my tack daily
  4. Enforce proper standing behavior during mounting. (We are so bad about this ...)
  5. Properly close/latch stall doors when dealing with Guinness. (Last month I left in him a stall with the door wide open, and went for a 4 mile run. Lucky for me, he rarely leaves a stall when left on his own.)
  6.  I never thoroughly groom when my horse is wearing a blanket. (It may have been over a month since I've brushed anything but his legs...)
  7. Wash polo wraps regularly. (They may get laundered ... every couple months?)
Hm, I've also never brushed his teeth...

Seven most expensive things you own for your horse/riding
  1. Saddles ($500, $500 - provisionally sold, $1500 - for sale, $700)
  2. Horse Trailer ($2500)
  3. Tall boots ($250)
  4. Board ($210)
  5. Guinness ($3200 purchase price $8000 projected current value)
  6. ECP fleece pad ($150, gifted)
  7. Dressage show coat ($100, gifted)
Anybody wanna buy a saddle?

Seven guilty pleasures or favorite items
  1. Long trail rides with varied terrain and views. 
  2. The ability to do recognized shows.
  3. Drinking wine at said horse shows. 
  4. Jackets/coats/fleeces/zip ups for riding/working out 
  5. Wearing sandals to and from the barn on hot days
  6. Having my trainer able to come to my farm. (I used to drive 4 hours once a month for her. This is so much better.)
  7. My tiny video camera, and people around who don't mind using it.
I'm so lucky to be able to access trails like this.

Seven things you love about horses and riding
  1. A facility with 24/7 turnout.
  2. The sound of a contented horse quietly eating in an otherwise silent barn.
  3.  Doing my own horse's feet.
  4.  The way a chestnut coat gleams in the summer.
  5.  Seeing the world from between long red ears.
  6.  Holding the end of my horse's leadrope and soaking in the feeling that he's mine to take wherever I go.
  7.  Dat face, tho ... 
Love this guy ... 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Canter, Walk, Rinse, Repeat

How many of you out there are pros at picking up the canter from the walk? How many of you can calmly walk straight out of a canter?

Probably a lot of you.

Guinness and I have never been ones to transition easily. Quality gaits? Sure! But we have to work into them. The transitions have always been a source of contention. See, he's lazy and I'm impatient. These two do not tend to work together. 

But Tuesday, we had a breakthrough. Despite both Guinness and I's moodiness and laziness, we pulled something magical out of our bag of tricks -- a canter/walk/canter transition worthy of scoring at least a 7. It was magical. It was astounding. Best of all? I think it's possible to replicate it.

So, what did we do differently?

Basically, I sat down and thought about what drives a canter --> walk transition. Collection, dur. The hind legs have to step under the horse to support his weight while he steps down into a walk. That's the only way to keep the transition light and balanced. Obviously, the amount of strength the horse must have to do this properly is ridiculous. 

Luckily, I think we're doing okay on strength.

Collection at the canter comes easily to us, but I think I haven't done a good job of properly collecting Guinness before asking for the walk. Nor have I done a good job of asking him to stay collected through the transition. I think I've been dropping him, and blocking him with my seatbones. In short, my stopping aids were clunky and my going aids weren't there.

Okay, easily fixed.

I started by cantering 10 meter circles until I felt Guinness was really rocking back and using himself well. Then, as we approached the wall on the circle, I half halted him even harder than I had been to ask for the collection. As his front legs went forward, I put on my leg aid and simultaneously asked for the downward transition with my seat.

Boom. Canter -- > walk. Balanced, lovely, happy. I can't wait to school them a little bit again tonight.

The solution was so simple, but I just couldn't see it while in the saddle. This is why I need a trainer. Is she back from Florida yet?
March Conformation Photo.
"Guys. I'm fat..."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

February Analysis | March Goals

Goodbye February! Hello Spring?
February Goals

1. Keep a more regular schedule. I usually try to ride 4 days a week, but the snowstorms and winter doldrums have been making it tough to get out regularly. I want that to change in February.
Mostly success. Though I started the month with a mysterious death plague, I managed to make every other week count and get out and ride the right amount of times. Plus, each ride felt really productive and like an improvement over the latter. Even though the weather is still uncooperative, I don't feel like I have to push myself to get to the barn regularly any more. This is good.

2. Refine the shoulder-in. Try to keep angle constant, bend consistent and be able to pick it up with confidence and speed. Try not to have to "work into it."
Success! As I posted about earlier this month, our shoulder-ins have really been getting better and better. Right now, I'd say they are probably going to be one of our highlight movements in our Second Level tests (right along with the counter canter). It's crazy how the two movements I had the most trouble with have ended up being two of my best.
I also love how the shoulder-in has increases Guinness' strength in the trot. It's really a fabulous exercise, and I use it all the time.

3. Increase responsiveness to upward transitions. Working off seat, not leg aids almost exclusively.
Mostly success. I think this is something I'll always be working on. I still need to refine the canter depart, but the halt/walk, halt/trot, and walk/trot transitions are really pretty nice. Mainly, I struggle to remember that I don't need to boot Guinness with my leg to get him to move forward any more. It's a mental thing, really.

4. Increase responsiveness in downward transitions, keeping forward engagement. Start getting more prompt halts from walk and trot. Get prompt walks from canter. Keep neck long and relaxed.
Success! Our halts have been getting fantastic. While they're slightly cocked due to my issues sinking my right hip, they are prompt and very forward. Guinness is also starting to really internalize the difference between halting and backing up. He no longer seems to suck back as much as he used to! His neck and back have started staying softer in the downward transitions, especially the canter/trot transition, a difficult one for us.

5. Increase Guinness' confidence in backing. Keeping him relaxed in up to three steps.
Total success! I wouldn't say we've eradicated all tension in our backing, but I can now successfully ask for a back of a few steps without him disintegrating into a worried mess. In fact, I think the backing requirement at Second won't be too much of a problem for us!

6. Run through 1st 2 and 2nd 1 at least once. If possible, video to review later.
Success! I ran through 2nd 1 several times, and even captured it on video! I didn't run through 1st 2, but I did run through several aspects of the test, including the problematic leg yields. I'm pretty confident in our ability to nail this test.

March Goals

1. Increase the quality of our canter. Go braver and bigger in our medium, and more engaged and connected in our collected.
2. Improve canter/walk and walk/canter transitions. They need to be smoother, and more relaxed. But, they also need to be more prompt. I think this might be a strength issue, and a "butt in seat" issue.
3. Work the medium trot. I need to practice lengthening my leg and sinking into my seat while still asking for the lengthening of the gait with my seat. Might need to do some yoga to open those hip flexors more. Guinness will need work to hold the medium longer across the diagonal, once I learn to sit it properly. 
4. Run through 1st 2, video. Run through 2nd 1 again. Compare video.
5. Start working on the haunches-in. 
6. Explore turn on the haunches.

Personal March Goals

1. Increase running mileage to 15 miles per week.
2. Turn in a respectable time at a 5k (I'm looking at running sub 28:00).
3. Get all memberships in order for show season.
We're ready for this!
4. Go through show stuff and get it cleaned/organized/ready for show season.

Bring it March! Let's come in AND out like a lion!