Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A lower frame

After working with a couple of trainers, I've had a concept practically shoved down my throat:
When I'm having a tough ride, I need to put Guinness in a lower frame and ride him much deeper until he relaxes and gives.

Let me start at the beginning because while this might seem advanced, it really isn't.

Guinness is built to carry his head and neck fairly high. It's lovely, and really ideal. His neck is tied in high on his body and is nice and long. With a good arch in it, his poll is the highest point and he is a lovely picture. Unfortunately, he isn't always strong enough to hold this frame and work over his back.
Here's an example... (I am so sorry for the quality of these terrible screenshot photos!)
See the dip in front of his withers and how his back is hollow? Sure, he's still stepping up nicely but that is just because he is a nice and athletic horse. I guarantee you this trot feels like crap and that he is NOT in the bridle at all. You can tell he isn't in the bridle because my hand is back and down, trying desperately to maintain some sort of connection with his face. (Note: not the right way to do that. Oops.)

I've always thought the best way to get him into the bridle and working through from this position is to push him forward into that frame, basically forcing him to lift his back and loosen up. This usually ends up with me chasing him forward into the contact; him racing forward, getting more and more heavy in his shoulders, and causing me endless frustration. A half halt is pretty much impossible here, too. His lack of connection makes a good half halt completely ineffective, usually resulting in him slamming on the brakes and throwing his head up.

So what's a girl to do? LOWER THE NECK.
Wow. Terrible quality. Try to focus on the silhouette, okay?
Note how his poll is no longer really the highest point? It's hard to tell in this photo, but his neck is also wider at the base and he's lifting and filling out that space in front of his withers. His back is much less hollow, and he's actually pushing from behind and into the bridle. This trot is amazing to ride. It feels like floating, is super easy to sit, and is slow yet filled with energy. It's not "collected" but it's a great working trot and perfect for warming up or loosening the back.

When I lower Pig's neck (similar aid to stretchy circle, you just don't stretch all the way), I make sure to keep my outside rein solid. Almost the moment his neck lowers, I can feel him relax and start swinging through his body. It's that instant.

He doesn't stay here long, though. Every couple of strides I have to remind him to keep his neck down. It's harder work down there, and he's constantly looking to go back to the higher-headed way he's used to.
Stay here....
Once I feel he's relaxed and comfortable in the lower frame, I ask for the same thing at the canter.
Nice and round in the neck...
Depending on the day, this work is either easier or harder at the canter. Once I get the lower neck and relaxation at the canter, though, I know I have it for the day. The key at the canter seems to be not letting Pig bulge out through the right shoulder and keeping his haunches under him while he sorts out the lower neck thing. He tends to want to swing wide behind to avoid actually lifting his withers and getting good movement through his back. Though, that swinging wide thing is probably also a symptom of his stifle issues.

If I find Pig is leaning on my inside hand to maintain his bend, I push him more with my inside leg at the girth and give for a step with my inside hand.
Giving with the inside hand, should probably be giving less with my whole damn body. Oops.
The moment of release tends to get him back on the outside rein and bending around my leg instead of my hand. I make sure this release is very brief. Too much use of the release and he stops trusting my connection and the whole endeavor is lost. He has to trust my connection to keep his neck lower and fuller.

There are a couple of things to remember when working your horse in a lower and deeper frame:
1. Keep the nose out in front or on the vertical. If your horse is prone to ducking behind the contact, this may not be the exercise for you.
2. Keep your hands steady. While making them a little wider and lower is helpful here, I wouldn't go overboard and plant your fists on your knees. The goal is to be able to lower your horses frame and ride him there with normal hands. In fact, I find lowering the neck takes my hands out of the equation. With a lower neck and more active back, Pig moves almost entirely off my seat.
3. Focus on relaxation of the poll and jaw to get relaxation through the whole body. When the poll and jaw are relaxed, the horse can move nicely through the neck and body without a spot of tension ruining it.

This lower-neck trot work is not just for warming up. It is also great for developing nice collection and thrust. I shorten my reins, keeping the neck low, and ask Pig to compress his frame. I don't ask for faster, but instead "bouncier."
So fancy!
His poll naturally will come up, but the work asking for a lower neck keeps his withers lifted, his back engaged, and his neck relaxed and happy. Meanwhile, he is able to engage further and really give me a great trot! If he later gets tight or nervous in this higher position, I ask him to lower his neck for a moment and see if that will reset him. Most of the time it will!

I have known about changing the frame for a long time, but for some reason this is the first time the exercise's use has actually sunk in for me. Maybe Pig and I had to be at the right place in our training to be able to effectively use it. Still, I think it's a great tool and one I'll be using a lot!

Have you guys ever experimented with changing your horse's frame like this?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Emma and I Explore (or a Gelato-Fueled Tour of Equestrian Statues and Other Fun)

Since learning I'd be moving to DC, I've been excited to get together with some of the fantastic East Coast bloggers I've gotten to know over the years. Emma, being from Baltimore, was a one of my first "OMG! Let's visit!" contacts, and last Sunday we made good on that plan. (Read her recap here! She isn't as big of a slacker as me and got hers out way faster than me!)

First, Emma met me at my barn where we saddled up Pig and went for a ride. (And proceeded to get almost zero photos!) I started off by warming up Pig. He was being a super good boy, and was nicely settled in the bridle and working fairly well over his back.
Look at that. Walking like he actually can move his back, and staying in the bridle at the same time!
Photo by Emma.
It was about 9000 degrees outside (Okay, okay. No. It was 99. And humid. So, you know, close.), and Pig had worked very hard all week. I didn't want to stress him out or tire him. I pushed him to quickly run through some lateral work and was so happy with his responsiveness that I ended up trying a couple of changes too! Those were a mixed bag, but overall better than they were a few months ago.
Straight. Not totally locked in the neck. Ears up. Captain, we are ready for flight!
Photo by Emma
There was a clinic going on in the indoor, so I popped Emma up on Pig and we headed out to the outdoor where I could torture her in the heat have fun giving her a little instruction on how to ride my little redhead.

Guys, Emma is just as much of a responsive and thinking rider as her blog has her come across. As she rode Pig, I could see her figuring out what buttons she could push and how her position was affecting his way of going. At one point she exclaimed "He's so sensitive!" I had to giggle, because, well, yes. He is! I gave her a few minimal tips, and she took them and fiddled until she had them working for her. I was so impressed! I can't wait to get her back out here and give her another "lesson."

After riding we headed out for more adventures, namely the aforementioned Gelato-Fueled Tour of Equestrian Statues. Fun fact! D.C. has the largest number of equestrian statues of any city in the world. (According to Wikipedia. Take that as you will.) We only hit a fraction of them, but had a total blast in the process. Hopefully I didn't bore Emma to death with my architecture nerding during our walk! I tried to censor myself!
Such excite! Much statue! Horse.
I think the heat might have caused us to slip into a bit of delirium, but that seems to be the way of life in the D.C summer! Hopefully Emma will come back and we can hit up more of the city and get another fun ride on Pig (And maybe some video next time! I am the worst!).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Seeing the way to humor during a bad time

My husband is a military doctor. An Army doctor to be exact. He works at a military hospital, on a base. Most of the time, his day is just like the day of a surgery resident in any other hospital in the country. He runs around, fixing problems, getting his hands dirty, and trying to make his stitches as tight and neat as possible.

Sometimes, though, the fact that he is on a military base comes into play. For example, when gunshots were reported and the whole base was locked down for most of the day. Or the day after the tragedy in Chattanooga, when the base leadership was on a mission to ensure all of those under their command were safe.

Those moments can be scary. Really scary.

I have a problem with fear. Namely, I feel like if you can't laugh at it, then it controls you. So I try to make sure I can laugh. Sometimes that leads to exchanges like this...
Let's be fair. There may have been reason to be concerned. I mean, I was being mugged...
Thank god for horses. Right?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Auditioning New Trainers (As explained through medieval memes...)

So, I've been taking lessons from a few trainers to try to find the best fit for Pig and I. This process is about as fun as prying off all your fingernails. Let me explain. 

Step 1: You start off riding around the ring while the trainer watches you warm up. You barely make it around a whole 20 meter circle before the trainer has watched you make so many mistakes that her eyes are bleeding and she has to chime in with some helpful tips...

Step 2: Trainer watches you make some more mistakes before pulling you into the middle to ask you WTF you even think you are doing out there...
Step 3: You manage to stumble out to the trainer what your current level of training is, and what your horse knows. Trainer looks you up and down critically...
Step 4: You head back out to ride while the trainer gives you a few instructions that make you think a game of drunken Twister might be an easier and more enjoyable hobby...
Step 5: Trainer tries to politely tell you that everything you have ever done are doing is wrong.
Step 6: You resolve to give all the trainer's directions a solid try, and magically they seem to solve all of your problems.
Step 7: All of a sudden your horse is going along like he's a goddamned Valegro impersonator, and you are doing your best to just keep up.
Step 8: Your muscles begin protesting all the weird contortions and extra work you've been making them do...
Step 9: As time goes by without a break, you begin to wonder if maybe the trainer is taking some kind of weird pleasure in watching you suffer...
Step 10: Finally, you can't keep your shit together legs on any longer, and you collapse. Your horse goes back the crooked and inconsistent pretzel you started with.
Step 11: But as you walk your horse out, you realize all the people on the sidelines keep applauding you for how awesome you looked. You start to feel like maybe you can do this damn dressage thing after all.
Step 12: Trainer asks if you want to try anything else today. You are so sweaty and exhausted you can't even answer.
Step 13: The lesson ends, and Trainer tries to ask if you want to set up another lesson. You aren't ready for that kind of commitment yet, and are starting to feel pressured, so you blurt out...
Step 14: You untack your horse and thank him for once again putting up with all your bad riding without completely embarrassing you.
One more successful trainer audition in the books!

**All images taken directly from the Medieval People of Color blog. If you have any interest in history, illuminated manuscripts, snarky medieval memes, or people of color, do yourself a solid and give that link a click.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Trail Riding: It's good for the brain

In lieu of doing a detailed lesson analysis or anything actually difficult today, I wanted to share some photos of recent trail riding adventures. Enjoy!
The whole team ready for action!
My dogs are welcome at the barn, but must be on-leash on barn property. That's okay, as I already had devised this hellishly-unsafe method of leashing wayward huskies. Once we hit the proper trails,  I just unhook them and go!

A branch in the trails...
The trails themselves connect fields and farms through the woods. While the paths around the fields are typically lovely mowed galloping paths (some with cross country fences!), the wooded paths are quite narrow and rocky, with a ton of water crossings.

Want to find water? Just follow a dog...
In the summer, these guys are water magnets!
Unlike the dogs, Pig despises water. He will do anything to avoid getting in it, or being in it long. Usually that means coming to a stop and making ugly faces at the stream, or dancing and rearing.
"Please no..."
Luckily, I have met a ton of people who love going for trail rides and have trustworthy water crossers! This has lead to hours of fun exploring the nearby properties and splashing through creeks.
It's feels good to have a horse who will both lead and follow without complaint!
Of course, we do usually find our way back to the farm, where the lanes are the widest and the prettiest...
Run happy dogs! Run!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

If it's not one thing, it's another...

While I'm happy to say that Pig's rain rot is clearing up (no new scabs for several days!), it seems he has found another way to annoy his back legs...
I am so jaded. You'll notice I didn't even bother to wash the blood off before wrapping him and riding.
 I came out on Monday to find this little laceration and swelling around the right hock. It looks like a kick, probably from the youngest gelding trying to regain control of the field. The joint doesn't have much heat, and the cut is very superficial, so I wasn't too worried. Plus, when I took Pig for a jog down the lane he was incredibly sassy. I had hopped on him bareback to trot him (easier to feel unsoundness than see it when you have to trot the horse yourself!), and the cheeky bastard attempted to buck me off and bolt!

Silly horse. I had to laugh at him. He was so very proud of his sassy self.

While he was great for the ride (and didn't give me a hint of unsoundness!), the swelling didn't go down much at first. I ended up giving him some bute, scrubbing out the cut, trimming the skin flap, and cold hosing the hock some to take the heat out. On Tuesday morning the barn manager sent me this:
Well that's less good...
The hock was HUGE. They gave him more bute and offered to cold hose for me. I got out there just a couple of hours later to find it much the same. Pig was still sound, so I rode again. Riding plus cold hosing managed to finally reduce the swelling some, confining it to an area at the lower part of the hock. I felt better about that.

Wednesday morning the barn manager checked him again for me, and reported that it looked better than Tuesday but was still pretty swollen and a little hot. I headed out and tacked him up for a lesson during which he was a perfectly sound gentleman, and was happy to find that the riding had finally taken down the swelling considerably. After a good deal of cold hosing, I finally felt better about the injury. I poulticed the leg to try to keep the heat out of it some more, and left him out again.

This morning I got this photo...
So much better!
That little bit of improvement meant Pig got to keep today as his day off (a horse needs at least one day off a week, right?! No? Maybe just I need the time off!), and I actually got to work on applications for a long bit of uninterrupted time.

I'm hoping the leg looks even better tomorrow morning. The swelling is bothersome to me, though his continued soundness makes me think it's probably just a bit of simple bruising that will resolve with time. Keep your fingers crossed! If it's not better, I'm thinking I might need to have the vet out to evaluate and possibly do a round of SMZs or something. I don't want this to turn into cellulitis.

It's a damn good thing I'm no longer neurotic about injuries, or this horse would have done me in years ago!
"Who me? Accident prone? Why I never!!"
... let's not even talk about that hoof bruise on his white foot. That a whole 'nother thing!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Friends and Congrats at the Pan Ams

I have to brag a little bit today. See, Luis Reteguiz-Denizard, my Indiana trainer's trainer and friend, just finished up as the sole rider for Puerto Rico at the Pan Ams in Toronto.
This photo and following video taken from Facebook
I want to spend a moment sending Lou and Robbie (Royal Affair) big congratulations for their small-tour performance. The highlight of their trip was definitely the 70.211% in the Intermediate I, which placed them 5th out of the small tour riders and 9th overall. They finished the competition tied for 13th overall (including against competitors showing big-tour like Stephen Peters and Laura Graves!). This included a 70.725% in the freestyle, which is a huge accomplishment...

Robbie is a super hot horse. At the Central America Games, he lost his brains when the music came on for his freestyle. Lou has worked incredibly hard to desensitize Robbie and try to make the freestyle a place where he can stay relaxed and work. It's paying off!

L1000161
I1 Freestyle at 2015 Pan Am Games Individual Championship. My horse Royal Affair (Royal Diamond x Donnerhall x Prince Thatch xx by Donatia) ridden by Lou with the good graces and sacrifices of Lou's wife, Marie. Robbie's mpeccable grooming is Lindsay's doing. Lou’s West Side Story music theme was produced and enhanced with original music by Curt (curtschneider.com). Now begins our Grand Prix journey supported by too many to name including but not limited to Randy, Carlos and John. Thanks to all of you for contributing to the success of Team Robbie. (If you hadn’t guessed, my wife Sandra really makes this all happen by allowing my passion to flourish.)
Posted by Charles Schneider on Tuesday, July 14, 2015
(Yes, the Puerto Rican rider did his freestyle to West Side Story. Yes, I am still giggling. Also, watch for the major blip in the canter work and see how Lou calmly responds to it to get Robbie back. LOVE! Can't believe the score even with that mistake!)

While I stayed with my trainer at Lou's farm last winter, watching Lou work Robbie was a highlight. Robbie's hot nature reminded me of Pig. Lou's extreme patience, tact and grace in working through Robbie's hot-horse moments inspired me to approach Pig's frantic moments with a similar outlook. While Pig will never have a quarter of the talent Robbie has, I feel like watching Lou and Robbie has helped me access more of Pig's natural abilities and become a better rider of the type of horse I love.

Okay, this photo is mine. Lou working with my trainer and her friesian/warmblood monster of talent.
If you get a chance to clinic with Lou (he comes to Indiana several times a year, and is based in West Palm Florida), jump on it. I have audited several of his clinics, as well as watched him train and ride in Florida. He's a delight, and has a great way of breaking things down for all different types of riders. He's simple to understand and has a great sense of humor. His style is a mix of biomechanics and more horse-specific training. Don't miss out.
(For a quick bit of Lou's teaching, check out his tip on the half halt on the Horse Radio Network!)

Join me in extending cheers to Lou and Robbie for their efforts at the Pan Ams!

**link to scores**

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Promised Barn Tour

Fasten up your seatbelts because here we go! This is easily the fanciest barn I have ever boarded, and I am enjoying it so much. Join me on a day-in-the-life tour!

The Drive Up/Pig's Digs
My view (though, usually I am IN the car...)
Guinness is in the front turnout, which is awesome because his face often greets me as I drive up.
Obviously not running to greet me here...
Pig's companions are three monster-sized warmbloods of various breeding. The biggest one is an Irish Sport Horse, the black mare is a Percheron cross, and the other bay gelding, I believe, is Dutch. Don't quote me on that. Only quote me that they dwarf my little TB.
The view of the farm from Pig's pasture.
The field is complete with a nice sized shelter/mini barn, and when it is hot the horses are often found inside the barn and under the fans. (The fans are on a thermostat that turns them on automatically when the temperature hits a certain point. Super cool!)
Note the fans. These are very important, as it has been hotter than 9 kinds of hell out here...
The barn also has three stalls. The horses up here are fed individually. I like that, it seems to cut down on the snarky behavior and inevitable bite marks. The stalls can also be used in case of stall-rest.
The horses think it's hilarious to stick their heads in the tack room and beg for apples...
The other side of the barn has a cross tie and a tack room, which is where I store all my things. It's very bare-bones, but works for me!
This is an unhappy crosstied horse. Why? First, the ties are too high for him. Second, he has to pee.
Once Guinness is all tacked up, we leave the pasture, mount up, and head out for adventure...
There's this nice little walkway connecting Pig's pasture and the main barn. Plus side, it's on a slight hill, so we always get a little bit of hill training in daily!
When we get to the main barn, we have to decide whether we want to ride in the outdoor arena ...
Gorgeous views, a horse-eating gazebo, and crushed blue stone footing. Zero shade makes this an unpopular choice during the hot midday and afternoon rides. Also, horse-eating demons live in the woods, I guess.
or the indoor...
Impeccable sand/fiber footing and cool breezes make this a popular choice all the time. That often means this ring can be super crowded. It's also hard to take photos or video in here due to the contrast of dark interior with bright windows. 
or the sand ring (no photos) with the jumps, or on the lanes around the property, or go for a trail ride on the miles (and miles, and miles) of maintained conservation trails behind the property...
So lovely, and maintained, and lovely, and manicured, and lovely, and ... you get it.
Basically we are never bored finding a place to ride.

The main barn is beautiful. It's really geared for people who have the money to spend on a facility this nice and the detailed care that goes along with it.
Image from barn website.
There is a huge staff devoted to the horses and maintenance of the property. I've been impressed by everyone and the level of care at every turn. Each horse is looked over as if they were the treasure of the barn, and the staff talks as if each one was their own.
My favorite part is the wash stalls...
Of course, the walk from the main barn to Pig's little barn is kind of long...
The view from the main barn towards Pig's pasture. See my car? The little white dot? Yeah...
I'm not sure how much fun this will be come winter, but I think I'm up to the challenge.
Overall, it's an amazing place and I am so happy we landed here!