Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lessons from September

At the start of the month I texted my trainer asking her to put me down for two lessons a month from here on out. I need the eyes on me, badly. With Bast at a critical stage in training, not to mention being the most experienced rider at the facility (without mirrors!), having good feedback is going to be key to putting good basics on Bast.
I'd like him to develop with as few training holes as possible, thank you very much! (Though I know he'll have some!)
At the moment, he's going great. While not as accepting of the bit as I would like (Close your lips on the damn thing, horse! Mama wants some dressage slobbers!), he's learning to accept pressure and aids without reacting. Every ride, I see his little mental wheels turning as he thinks through the situation. I love watching him get more confident and smart within the game we call dressage.

I love the way my trainer approaches our lessons. She and I both love how hot and responsive Bast can be. However we would like him to learn to not only think before he reacts but be able to accept minor mistakes. Let's face it, I'm not the world's best rider. I can and will make mistakes ... often. He can't lose his cool just because I lose my balance for a second. Our focus has been on slowly building up Bast's mind to broaden his definition of aid responses, and to tolerate a bit more "noise" from his rider. At the same time, she's on me to ensure I'm being very clear and correct with my body. We both have to be more accountable.
By accountable you mean don't completely collapse in my right ribcage? No way.
Specifically we started working on canter transitions. As you guys saw in the write up from our last show, they've been a little bit wild. This is due to some significant contributing factors: anticipation on Bast's part, my wild positioning in the aiding, Bast's lack of balance, an overall lack of suspension in the trot, and Bast's tendencies to try to squirm out of my closing aids.
Wiggle and squirm, my lovely little weasel.
To address all of this, my trainer suggested I try to sit the trot into the depart. When I explained Bast has been interpreting any loss of balance or sitting to mean "OMG CANTER NAO", she clarified.

"No, how about you sit the trot, like until he listens." ... oh Jesus.
Sitting the trot be like... 😂
I plopped down into the sitting trot, and we immediately experienced some initial canter attempts and wiggling issues.

"You need to sit on him more. Sit him like an FEI horse. You need to feel your seat bones more, and he needs to feel your weight. He's ready and old enough. He can start to learn how to deal with it."

Yeah. Okay. Sit him like an FEI horse. Sure. Do you know how long it's been since I sat the trot of an "FEI" horse?
Years, okay. It's been years. And his trot was never as nice as Bast's will be. (Plus he never made it FEI, shhh.)
Needless to say I was huffing and puffing in no time. Nothing but sitting the trot in this way can work the those sets of abs. I mean nothing. Mine are woefully out of shape, and I was so sore after this lesson. It worked, though. Bast actually picked up his back and found his balance under me much easier. He also stopped randomly leaping in the canter without an aid.

Now we moved to suppling the horse. As he has a tendency to brace and wiggle against the aids, we worked on a lot of counter bend. Horse wants to fall on his outside shoulder? Bend to the outside and ask him to step inside with his shoulder.
Example of wiggling/bullying with his shoulder. An extreme example, but the more subtle ones are harder to see in photos.
In our first lesson of the month, our corrections were more obvious uses of counter bend. In our lesson at the end of the month, we worked on more subtle corrections. Instead of fully counter bending, we tried catching him more with my outside leg. I would press my thigh and knee into him when he bulged, moving to my lower leg if he ignored. Further disobedience resulted in counter bend.

It's amazing how much this has not only suppled Bast, but also made him much more responsive to the aids. It's as if he now is beginning to understand the complexity of leg/hand.
You mean leg and hand work together to communicate with the horse? NO WAY!
Once we had him straight, I would give the aid for canter. By this point he was soft and thinking and the departs were getting so much better, if still slightly disorganized and lacking strength. Even now, they've improved so much but I would not call them "good." Basically my goal is just to get something not explosive for now. From there move on to into the contact and straight. From there add more uphill tendency and suppleness.
So much improvement, though.
When we started on this the depart would get less leap-y (technical term), but the resulting few strides after were still weasel-level wiggly. After more work at the sitting trot and with counter bend in the canter to teach him he could move straighter in the gait, the depart could actually begin to strike off with more quality in the gait itself.
Getting there. One tiny step at a time.
My main homework is going to be to practice canter departs like this in every single ride. That's the only way these are going to get better. I also need to make sure I hold myself accountable.

Bast is only able to pick up the correct canter lead if I keep both seat bones in contact with the saddle. My right one likes to pop off somewhere into outer space at the moment. Trying to wrangle it back to earth is so hard, but the results are worth it. I'm working on that issue, and the keeping my torso from collapsing issue. Oh, and the carrying my hands issue. Oh, and the letting my legs drape issue. Oh and the ... ugh, you get the idea.
Such a good boy.
The ongoing homework is the fun of this sport, to be honest. I'm so much more motivated with goals and projects to work towards. Plus, it's been so fun to watch Bast bend his brain for good instead of evil.

I signed us up for another little schooling show this weekend. Excited to see if any of this translates to the ring yet. Even if he's just a touch more rideable out there, I'll take it!
He makes me smile so much right now. And that's really all that matters.
Anyone else trying to wrangle a horse-weasel or a wayward seatbone? What trending issues have your lessons dealt with recently?

Monday, September 17, 2018

How to Teach Your Horse To Jump

Step 1:
Jump the fence perfectly multiple times before your video crew arrives at the ring.
The slightly skinny jump in question.
Step 2:
The moment the camera starts rolling, completely forget how to ride and teach your horse how to run out.
Uh. Oops.
Step 3:
Proceed to perfect the run out, despite attempting the opposite.
.... sigh.
Step 4:
Reinstall ability to go over the center of the jump.
Good boy.
Step 5:
Jump the jump correctly.
So proud.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dressage at Twilight Eventing: The Test

I feel like this picture is an accurate representation of our test. Forward, but tense. Green, but willing. Also a touch off balance.
(All photos thanks to Brita!)
As promised, I wanted to show you and break down Bast and I's first attempt at a dressage test at August's Twilight Eventing show at Loch Moy Farm. The biggest thing for me at this show was making sure the overall experience was positive, which I think we managed. The test was really secondary in my priorities, and honestly just not that important to me. This young horse and I have plenty of time in the future to stress about our test performance. This year is just for building the base of relaxation and respect at shows.

That said, I still wanted to put our best foot forward. I was also very interested to see what parts of our training at home would stick around at a show, and what issues would be more apparent in the ring. Basically, this was an opportunity to get to know "Bast the Show Horse."
Horse Show Bast is basically Tense and Stiff Bast.
With that in mind, I was very pleased with how the test went. I'm beginning to realize Bast sees a dressage ring as his "comfort space." Every time we get in the little box his hamsters seem to calm down and he is there to work. All that early schooling at the dressage barn really helped set him up, I think. I'm sure the 40 minute warm up didn't hurt.

Let me start off by saying we didn't practice at all for this test. I cursorily rode it in a tiny corner of my home ring the week before the show... once. In that basic ride through I realized a few things.
1. Compared to third and fourth level this test was basically the easiest thing to memorize.
2. I had never done a trot/halt with this horse. Or a straight centerline.
2. Canter departs were going to be really difficult to contain in a small ring.

We schooled the halt transitions a few times, I reconciled myself that they would be an utter mess, and packed for the show. I don't remember schooling a single one in the warm up.
So yeah. Basically the centerlines and halt transitions went as well as you'd assume with zero schooling.
We ended up with a 5.5 on our entrance and the comment "HQ very left". I think that was a very nice way to describe the weaving entrance we made. I'd probably have commented "needs to be pulled over for a possible DUI." But, this is why I am not a judge.

Somehow we ended up pulling a 7 for our trot and 20 meter circle left. When first reviewing the score, I thought the judge might have been totally high in her box. What I rode out there felt a lot more like wrangling a herd of squealing weasels through a chute than guiding a young talented horse through a basic circle. But then I saw this photo and kinda understood.
Holy SHIT. Is that my horse?!
Moving on, my loosely united horse-shaped weasel family and I headed off to do another 20 meter circle (seriously, when in doubt in this test, just circle. It's basically just 20 meter circle after 20 meter circle out there). This time with a canter depart! The weasels Bast found this very exciting.
I mean. It's kinda uphill?
I love how you can tell I was 100% expecting this canter-splosion. I'm so in balance with him and ready with my outside aids to wrestle his butt back on our line. Oh Bast, I'm getting so wise to your weasel-ways.

The judge awarded us a 6.5, noting the depart was "tense" and we "need bend." How tactfully understated, madam.
Just before Bast took matters in his own hands and broke to the trot.
The test calls for you to transition to the trot between B and M. Having read the test, Bast thought he'd help out and totally quit cantering on me a stride or two just before B. As he was hanging out about a mile behind my leg, I was unable to keep him going and just pretended "I meant to do that." We received a 6.5. I attempted to explain to Bast that if he prefers to do the test on his own, he needs to make sure he doesn't lose his balance.
He was not interested in my advice. #motorcyclingforlyfe
Somehow what felt to me as the worlds most retracted medium walk scored a 7. The judge asked that I keep a softer rein contact. That's great advice, and I will totally follow it when I actually have rein contact. I'm unsure what either Bast or I were doing with the reins here, but it was definitely not "maintaining contact."

This really showed when we headed into the free walk. Without contact you can't expect a horse to stretch in the free walk, especially if this horse is tense. As the judge said, our free walk had "nice energy" but his poll was very high. (6.5)
The moment before he swung his head into the air like a periscope searching for land long lost friends.
I was very sure this trot transition was going to be a total explosion, so I barely cued for it and was rewarded with a prompt and fairly quiet transition. However, as we scooted off in the trot, Bast felt so proud of himself he had to trumpet his success to his people. As the judge remarked, this made his topline "tense". I would actually disagree. This did not just make his topline tense, this made his whole body go rigid like a 2x4.

This makes it more impressive to me that our next movement, a 20 meter circle of course, scored a 7. The judge wanted to see Bast more in my outside rein (so did I), but overall seemed to really like the picture. By this point he felt like he was starting to relax a bit and drop into the contact in the second half of the circle.
This photo is from the other direction, but, like, just pretend he's facing the other way. Okay?
Unfortunately we somehow destroyed any budding relaxation with our next 20 meter circle and canter depart (omg this test is so symetrical). Somehow Bast's truly impressive twisting and bolting weasel impression scored a 6.5.
I swear to god this judge was selectively blind.
While I knew what was about to happen under me, I was woefully out of balance and it took me most of the circle to get some semblance of control back. The judge commented that our depart and topline were both tense, but I feel that's only half of the story.
She must've really just loved his good moments to not give us a 4 on this whole movement.
His canter to B scored another 6.5 with the judge pointing out he needed more balance. I'd like to remark again that I tried to explain to him he needed more balance but he was more interested in looking around and ignoring my legs.

That lack of balance really came into play when Bast again decided to try to break to the trot before B, and I closed my legs to ask him to "please for the love of god canter 2 more steps, you dirty bastard."
"We stop. Now." -- Bast
My polite request must've been truly screwed up in translation. Instead of simply carrying on, Bast both discovered he had legs and realized he didn't know what to do with them all at once. The result was ... messy.
"I've got ... legs?" -- Bast
He wiggled, thought about leaping out of the ring, wiggled again, swapped leads, then stumbled to a trot. Sigh. Young horses. By some miracle the judge gave us a 6.5 for this (she had to have had her eyes closed...) with the request to please for the love of all that is good "keep straight".

I wish, lady. I wish.

Immediately we had to turn up the centerline for our final halt. Those centerline turns are so hard with green horses, but somehow we made it happen. By this point Bast was getting quite tired and had fully committed to the wiggle game.
This is the straightest moment of the whole centerline.
Our halt was even more disorganized and crooked than the first. Bast decided he was so tired he simply must rest, and cocked a leg in the halt. The judge gave us a deserved 5.5 for parking our hindquarters somewhere in the parking lot to the left of this ring, and we called it a test.
 
The judge gushed over Bast after our test. She was so impressed he was a thoroughbred, thinking him a baby warmblood. She ended up giving him a 7.5 on gaits, which is just ridiculous. She also gave me a 7.5 for my position and seat, which I think is the highest any judge has ever valued my position.
Overall we walked out of there with an insane 66% and several experience points. I can't wait to do this again! (Maybe with more practice on the actual test riding this time?)
They like us! They really like us!