Friday, February 26, 2016

Horses as Characters: In which Guinness is shown to really be Emperor Kuzco...

You know when you watch a movie and think to yourself "Whoa. This character is just like so-and-so!"? Well, I'm sure we've also had that moment with our horses. For me, that moment came when I described Pig's flying changes currently as feeling like an "inverted llama running down a hill."

And that's when I realized it... my horse is actually Emperor Kuzco from The Emperor's New Groove.

No lies. Check it out:

1. He can't deal with wet footing.
2. He likes to show off in front of others.
3. He believes others only exist to serve him.
4. I have to check him regularly to make sure he hasn't killed himself.
5. He would rather you simply exist around him than touch him.
6. He's a supremely picky eater.
7. Though he plays the flirt, he has nothing but disdain for potential field companions.
8. He does not believe he should get less than his way in the riding arena.
9. Flying changes are kind of terrifying...
10. He clacks his mouth on the bit incessantly, annoying everyone in earshot.
11. He's initially suspicious of people, but warms fairly quickly.
12. He is a really nice dancing dressage horse when he has his shit together.
13. But, he reacts poorly when I explain he cannot move so crooked in the dressage arena.
14. And when I finally make him straight he grinds his teeth in protest for the first 5 minutes.
15. And he overreacts when I'm crooked.
16. Which leads to every trainer ever yelling at me.
17. But he and I are always up for a proposed gallop session.
18. And he's always excited to go on trail rides.
19. So am I, because this is literally the only spook move he has.
20. And he is supremely confident when he arrives in new places.
21. Overall, I think he's just a cool horse with a big royal ego who prefers to do things his way.

What movie character is your horse most like?

Monday, February 22, 2016

More Ride Recap Haikus

The last couple of weeks have seen my rides start to transition over from strictly conditioning to a combo of conditioning and schooling. We're starting to incorporate more 2nd and 3rd level movements and collection into rides. This sort of thing is making haiku ride recaps a bit harder to compose, but maybe that's for the best. I find they force me to really distill the important parts of each ride!

February 7
Slightly frozen ground.
A short walk up frozen hills,
still muddy beneath.
February 8
Finally relaxed,
A sound and straight horse at work,
Pushing while withers lift.
February 10
Sticky stifle hitch.
A stiff rider looking down.
Tooth grinding tension.
February 12
Early frozen morning.
Quiet arena, quiet brain.
Hard work, happy horse.

Bareback riding helps
Identifying hollow spots.
Damn horse throws me left.
February 14
Stupid cold morning.
We excel at manning up.
Also stellar ride.
February 17
Holy crap half pass!
Great both directions and gaits,
Even half halts left!

Also, two changes.
Inverted and rushed, but clean.
Maybe hopes for bronze...
February 18
Gave last estrone shot.
Maybe why this ride was rough?
'Cause going left sucked.
 February 20
Transition Hell Day.
Right lead canter departs sucked.
Now suck slightly less.
Conditioning ride,
In fancy double bridle.
Support for tired horse.
February 21
Happy forward horse.
Surprisingly quite supple,
and good in bridle.

Tracking right today,
Needed more left thigh contact,
Keeping shoulder-in.

Tall friend hopped on Pig.
Her legs so long she laughed,
Kicking him in the stifle.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: The Fairy Tale Fog

What happens when 2 feet of snow meet a warm rain? An epic fog right out of a fairy tale story...
Visibility was down to 100 yard maximum. But the sunset was still trying desperately to get through...

I already feel creepily separated from the rest of the property in the evenings. The fog made that more apparent. There should be a big barn, lit up for night, and rolling pastures here...

Seriously. I expected to be set upon by the spectral hounds of Annwn and the rest of the Wild Hunt... 

My car. The last hold out against the encroaching land of Faerie.
Though they appear calm, the horses were definitely on edge about the whole thing. I'd like to think Pig was telling Mary Jane spooky stories from his Irish homeland...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shortening your reins, how do you?

While I'm working on slowly building up Pig's strength, I've been doing a lot of thinking about more advanced movements. Of course, I can't really ride many of them right now, which is kind of depressing. So instead, let's talk about something so simple every single rider has had to do it at least once a ride: shortening the reins! (Bonus! Summer photos!)
Shortening reins one-handed in a double bridle? Level = Expert.
When you were first learning to ride, shortening your reins probably took a lot of effort. You had to think about not letting go. (Especially if you learned to ride on a western horse with split reins! Omg. Anyone else always dropping those suckers?) You also were probably concerned that shortening your reins would change how much or how little control you had over your horse's steering. 

Has your rein shortening technique changed since those early days? Have you even thought about it?
Remember when figuring out how many fingers should be over the rein was the hardest thing? Or, maybe it still is. No judgement here!
In dressage, how a rider shortens the reins can be very important. The connection between the horse's mouth and the rider's hand is of the utmost importance, so obviously any alteration in the contact effects the connection and how much the rider has their elbows flexed to absorb and hold the contact. But rarely can we just pick a length of rein and have it work for an entire ride. Many times the our reins end up getting long, and our elbows end up super engaged and often behind our back in an attempt to hold the contact. That's not a great place to be, since you've restricted your elbow's range of motion. We know we need to shorten our reins fast to maintain good contact.
Reins too long. Cannot touch mouth consistently without engaging elbows way too much. Additionally, this is the least flattering photo of both of us in history. You're welcome.
However, abruptly shortening the reins can also negatively effect the contact. Most of the time, I think of this when picking up my reins after a free walk or a stretchy trot. Being abrupt can cause the horse to retract his neck, get tense, drop the contact, or slow down. These aren't correct responses, but are understandable when the horse suddenly comes up against a much shorter rein.  
"No, lady! Please be nicer with the rein shortening!"
Luckily, the issue with shortening the reins can be helped by the rider shortening the reins "appropriately". Namely, without dropping or changing the contact. A better way to shorten the reins was something I hadn't considered until riding Glory, the Grand Prix mare in Florida. She was extremely heavy when I didn't have her together.
So fuzzy. So heavy.
Her heaviness pulled the reins out of my hands, making them seem to grow in length every second. With each attempt to shorten the reins, I felt that Glory became even heavier. It was at that moment my trainer offered a brilliant bit of advice.

"Shorten your reins without letting go."

See, what I had been doing was kind of shuffling my hands down the reins. I would pinch the rein between my thumb and fingers, and scoot my hand down the rein inch by inch. This sort of shortening caused my hands to move a lot, creating an inconsistent contact that would back off my own horse and cause a heavy horse like Glory to take advantage of the slack by bearing down.
Such wishy-washy rein shortening is impossible in a double... Obviously I had to get my act together!
So what I was supposed to do instead?

My trainer proposed I shorten my reins one at a time. I was to bring my hands together and reach over with my left hand, gripping the excess rein just behind my right hand. Without changing the contact, I was then to slide my right hand forward the full length I needed to shorten. I repeated with the left rein. While the movement was more drastic, it actually created less movement in the contact and fewer weak spots for a heavy horse to take advantage. It also made keeping my reins even much easier.

With my contact more steady when shortening my reins, I was able to work to keep Glory working in the contact and get Pig more confident in the bridle and working more through when I got home!
Good rein length, and a happy and forward Pig.
Of course, shortening the reins unobtrusively isn't all there is to the concept. Follow through is important to help a horse work in new shorter rein space. 

To begin, the rider has to quietly shorten the reins, as well as continue to add leg. Sometimes a highly sensitive horse may need a light wiggle of the ring finger while each rein is individually shortened. In this way, the horse is reminded to stay active in the contact while also made aware that something is changing. The active leg aid reminds him to engage and step into the newly smaller rein space.
Pig often takes quite a bit of light finger wiggling!
Additionally when the reins are shortened, the rider must make sure to allow their elbows to relax. It's imperative to allow the horse a relaxed contact to work with, instead of a restrictive death hold on his face. That sort of thing isn't nice, plus it's nearly impossible to hold the horse in that sort of a constricted space with just super short reins and biceps of steel.  
Relax those elbows! Otherwise, you can also have a horse with a constricted neck and hilarious expression!
Now, tell me all about how you shorten your reins. Have you put this much thought into the process? Does your horse react negatively to what you're currently doing? Have you worked through something similar? Or do you just ride tend to ride around with your reins super long and your elbows behind you like me?
Whee! Elbows behind me!! At least my heel is down?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Haiku Ride Recaps

With my recent rides mainly focused on building strength and condition rather than training theories, I've found it harder to keep up with my daily ride journals. Have you ever had that issue?

One thing that's helping me is insisting each journal is written with at least one short haiku. It's both fun and challenging to distill a single ride into one three line poem, so the process has become something I look forward to. Sometimes I find myself composing lines while I ride, which an enjoyable mental break.

As such, I give you my ride journals from our first full week back in work...

January 30
Solid work in ring.
Dogs join later for trail fun.
Deep snow works those joints.
January 31
Long ride through deep snow,
then a bath, drugs, and clipping.
Still needed a twitch.

February 1
Spooky basket case,
started beautiful and soft,
alone, dramatic leaps.

So much frantic leaping.
Where is my quiet old horse.
This shit is real dumb.
February 3
Fairy tale mists fell.
Forbidding weather portents,
hot explosive spooks.

Tense and sensitive,
Slightest changes upset his,
glass case of emotion.
February 5
Time limits early rides.
Must make a difference fast.
Half halts and leg yields.

Cheerful red partner,
executes with precision.
Effective half hour.