Thursday, February 19, 2015

Working on the boring stuff

Pick up contact.

Walk.

Halt.

Walk.

Halt.

Walk.

Halt.

Trot.

Halt.

Trot.

Halt.

Walk.

Trot.

Halt.

Walk.

Canter.

Welcome to our world. It's transition boot camp week. Two days in and I can already feel my horse starting to understand the concept of stepping further under with his hind, and lifting from the withers. I hate to say it, but our transitions are probably our most neglected area of training.

Too bad they can be so mind numbing.

Halting, plus all the flexion exercises!
One thing that is helping? My research into the development of the French school in the 17th century. I started the research as part of a paper for my Baroque art class, but am finding it fascinating as it applies to my horse. He exemplifies that hot temperament found in the early French school, and the training theory I'm reading is clarifying some thoughts for me.
 
Top of all of those thoughts is balance and flexion. Namely making sure the horse is in balance before asking for anything, and not pushing the horse out of balance. Flexion is a big key for me here, as that is one of the big ways I've found to get Pig to lift from his withers and loosen up through the poll and back.
 
During this transition work, my focus on balance has made me very careful to keep the engagement and lift even in the halt. It's paying off with a more responsive, but less stressed horse. Those two things are usually not separated, so I'm thrilled with how this work is going.
 
Of course, it's been negative temperatures for a few days so my riding time has been short. We'll see how boot camp continues this weekend...

14 comments:

  1. Kika, Nancy & I are heading for transition boot camp too. More responsive / less stressed is awesome!!!

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    1. that should be my mantra "stay calm! no stress!"

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    2. That needs to be on a t-shirt/poster with the crown hung that is so popular for whatever reason...

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  2. Hey you just described all my rides. I can feel him progressing, but yeah, the process isn't exactly exhilarating.

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    1. Not exhilarating, but it is nice when they're working calmly and nicely isn't it?

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  3. sounds like solid work to me!! nice point about ensuring balance before asking for anything. i often get stuck thinking, *must do such and such NOW* instead of doing it when we're actually best prepared

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    1. Me too! Especially if I'm practicing dressage tests. It's hard to remember to prepare, and instead get surprised by the transition, and then surprise my horse with the cue. Whoops!

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  4. Murray and I struggle with boot camps -- maybe you can help us with this. After a few sets of transitions (usually what I have to boot camp, but sometimes other things too) Murray starts to really resist and get angry as he feels me gear up for the transition. So as I lift my body to ask for a canter depart (trot-canter is our bread and butter, but walk-trot is a good one too) he will throw his head up and out of the contact -- and I think he's seriously pissed/angry about it. I don't think it has to do with fatigue because I try to give him lots of walk breaks, I think he's legitimately angry about having to do the same exercise over and over. Honesty, it's even worse with walk-trot. It's like there's a bell curve of transition quality: the first few are crap, then we get into a handful of good ones, then they start to go downhill. Writing this all out, it seems like I probably just need to stop with the boot camping and reward him more when we've done that handful of good ones, huh? (BUT I WANT TO DO MOREEEEEEEE)

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    1. Oh man. Yep! That sensitive tb brain kicking in! Guinness tends to get really geared up about transitions, so I try a couple of strategies.
      First -- Pig is easy to take offense if I'm stingy with the praise. He likes to feel like he's done something right, so really heaping on the praise can actually visibly relax him. If he does a good transition, I leave it alone for awhile and work on something else. I'll do another after we've taken a break. If that goes terribly, I'll work at it for a couple more times until I get something I can praise and move on again.
      Second -- if he gets hyped up mid transition, I try to calmly disengage him and go back to the first gait. So, say we are walking, and I go to ask for a trot. Instead of taking a bigger step behind and lifting into the gait, Pig might skitter, panic, and raise his head to launch into the trot. It's almost a fear response that I'll beat him for being too slow off the mark. I try to disengage that launch before it happens and go back to walking until I establish a calm and balanced walk. Then I check myself to make sure I'm not leaning at him or lightening my seat, and ask him to trot again with the quietest aids I can. If there's no response to those, I'll walk a few strides (staying calm and relaxed!) and ask again with a slightly bigger aid. Very slightly bigger. I keep at his until I get the transition from a calm walk. Then I heap on the praise (Again. Praise is key. He HAS to feel like he did good, or else he gets frustrated that he can't do what I want.).
      Third -- some lifting of the head is going to happen during transitions, and I try to allow it. But for me, it's been a big help to teach Pig he can stay supple in the transitions, and that he doesn't have to brace. I do that by flexing him (think pop the nuchal ligament) during and in the steps just after the transition. This is a process, and it'll take awhile. Starting from a relaxed gait will help a lot. So will doing flexions like that just before you ask for the transition to help loosen up the jaw/poll/withers.
      And Fourth -- a big thing is making sure I'm not throwing away my position in the transitions. I have a tendency to get left behind (I think we all do), and that frustrates and annoys my horse. If I make sure to be ready with my upper body and seat to follow his movement in a forward and uphill way, it helps him feel more capable of moving forward. Otherwise he's just like "Seriously lady? You're telling me to go with your legs and stop with your body. Stahp!"

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    2. Thanks for the tips Austen! I'm the opposite -- I throw myself forwards during an attempted transition but ultimately the end is the same: I have to stay forward and with my horse. Lots of good things to work on here!

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  5. That sounds like a great week! We've been working on transitions as well and I agree- the results are not mind blowing (but important!)!

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    1. So important! I need to raise my transition scores in the upcoming year!

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  6. Oooo transition bootcamp, listening to any music to quell boredom?

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    1. Just the quiet whisper of snow falling on the roof of the indoor, and my repeated mantra of "don't screw it up" ;)

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