Friday, November 30, 2018

Move Those Green Shoulders!

Trainer: "Why don't you think about trying a little shoulder in with him?"
Me: "Hold my beer..."
I love lateral work!
If there's one thing I've realized I'm pretty good at in the dressage training world, it's lateral work. It helps that both my horses are short coupled and ride like little sports cars. Still, something about lateral work just clicks in my head.

Pig and I spent a lot of time hashing out the shoulder-in. Neither he nor I took to the work all that naturally and spent hours and hours figuring it out. That stubborn old red horse built up my toolbox to an incredible degree, making training Bast that much easier.
Thanks best friend, for making me love shoulder in and half pass so damn much.
Since day one, Bast's training has been focused on moving parts of his body individually. Plus my own strengths are in moving the shoulders. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that when I asked Bast for shoulder in during a recent lesson he easily figured out what I was asking and made several solid attempts.

Going to the right things were relatively easy to start. However, in the way of green horses, going to the left was a total different experience.
Can you see how shoulder in helps build strength for collection in the hind end?
To the right, I simply sat up, put my outside hip towards the inside shoulder, turned my upper body very slightly to the inside, and put my inside leg on to hold the bend and straightness. We wobbled for a few steps before Bast dropped in his hind end and really figured out where all his parts should go. I tested him several times by giving the inside rein, and he stayed within the box my body defined for him and on my outside rein. Magic!

To the left I repeated the aids. Only instead of shifting his shoulder over and sitting behind, Bast responded by stiffening to the outside rein and blasting forward into canter off my inside leg. Uh. Whoops.
The look on my face says it all. "Hey man. This is not remotely the shoulder in I asked for. Wtf are you thinking?"
I've finally realized the issue stems from Bast not knowing how to bend and sit on his right hind when it's on the outside. Honestly the issue has shown up in all our work, but the shoulder in question makes it much more apparent.

Slowing down the movement makes it much easier for his brain to handle, so I brought him back to a walk and worked there for awhile. Once he had the idea I asked again with good results.
"Oh! Like this?" -- Bast, probably
He's still not even on both sides, but he's coming along. We worked on some turns on the forehand off the left leg recently that required him to slow down and think about placement and weigh bearing on that right hind. I think those exercises will prove very helpful moving forward with the little guy.

I've found this horse to be such a trier. My goal in training him to keep from overwhelming him, and instead do my best to equip him with all the tools necessary to do what I ask. Keeping things easy and positive seems to be the key to having him enjoy his work and keep thinking and offering answers.
Good boy.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Saturday Snippets: Vol 2

Whee!
This week, I go for another fun "Saturday Snippet". This one harkens back to September of this year, on a visit with Jan. I put Jan on Pig, and myself on Bast. We headed out into the field to both enjoy a ride in the cooler shade of the upper pasture, and to get some fun video and photos of Bast galloping under saddle like a pro.

The fact that it was about 900 thousand degrees outside probably helped me get Bast galloping without too many losses of control. The hills probably helped, too.
But honestly he's just been so much more solid since recovering from his ulcers. Even when he does bolt, he's easily brought back and put into work. He's even so much better, I've contemplating teaching him some eventing!
First XC jump!
I did do a lot of work out in the field before Jan came out, though. I needed to make sure Bast would be sane. He impressed me from day one. For a reformed bolter with separation anxiety issues, this is a huge accomplishment!
Seriously just the best little horse.
But, of course. I had to make Jan go galloping, too!
Go Pig and Jan!
Can we talk about how awesome my baby horse is doing? Jan canters away on Pig, leaving Bast alone. The only thing he does is wiggle a bit. Absolutely no tantrum throwing. Again, the heat of the day probably helped, but I was so tickled!
#gogalloping #withasterid

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Saturday Snippets Vol 1

I have all these video snippets from the last few months, but haven't posted them for some reason or another. I'm trying to rectify that, so I'm scheduling out some random Saturday posts where I just fill up your blogosphere with gifs and video clips. Let me know if you guys enjoy!

Back in May, I was spending a lot of time teaching Bast and Pig to pony with minimal drama. My barn mates found this work hilarious, heckling me at all opportunities. My friend Eddie set about videoing my attempt at trotting with both for the first time, complete with hilarious commentary.

Volume on for this video!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Flashback Friday: Trot Evolution

I'm all about that bass trot. We gon' take it to a whole another level...
It's been a year and 2+ months since I brought Bast home, and a year and 3 months since his last race. With that in mind, I wanted to take a moment today to look at how his training has changed him, with a special focus on his trot. Let's start from the beginning now...

September 2017
First week of retraining. 
Bast's trot has always been his best gait. He's overtracked nicely since the beginning and had an uphill balance. Hard to see when his head and neck are extended like a giraffe trying to reach a topmost branch and his mouth gapes like a fish out of water. Understandable if it wasn't obvious then. At this point in his training, his biggest issues were a complete lack of a half halt and a tendency to brace his whole front end against me, pulling me right out of the saddle.

Cool.

Early October 2017
1 month into retraining
After a month under saddle, Bast was starting to figure a few things out. He had the start of a half halt, when paying attention. He still pulled against me, but less often. He had no concept of pushing into the bridle. When touching the bit, he mouthed the bit to an absurd level.

He was starting to elevate his steps already. Unfortunately he was also developing a hell of a bolting problem, which made me defensive and him a ball of nervous energy. Good moments were good, bad moments were common.

Early November 2017
Lovely balanced working trot.
Developing push from behind.
Beginning to learn "stretch".
Two months into retraining, and I was in love with Bast's good moments. He was starting to figure out how to accept my leg (when not bolting from it) and figuring out contact enough to start to stretch. His mouth was still open a lot, but he seemed content to work on pushing into a bit a little. Because of these things, I was able to start working on the concept of loading his hind legs more and asking him to push. He was still very wiggly, and lacked basic control of his parts.

Improving.

February 2018
5 months into retraining.
Behind the bit.
Behind the leg.
By February we were still struggling with Bast's issues. He swung violently from one extreme to the other. For example, during this ride he bolted and sliding stopped into a fence. He also put in super work in the ring. Volatile was the name of the game, and training was falling by the wayside.

With all this difficulty, Bast's outlines veered between either behind the bit or behind the leg. Thankfully he is rarely both (I'm looking at you, Pig!). As long as he wasn't trying to actively kill me, I was kinda fine with both.

March 2018
6 months into retraining.
God he was so good on this day.
On the bit, losing the hind leg and back.
The above photos were taken the same day Bast sprang a splint on the outside of his front right. This injury was more devastating because his attitude had seemed to settle in the previous few weeks. He was so good, and was learning to push into the bridle. I had stopped being a bit afraid of him, and things were progressing. He wanted to be behind the vertical, but was still pushing from behind very well and not completely escaping the bit. Behind the vertical felt like a young-horse appropriate strength issue. When he would come "on the bit" he tended to drop his back and lose the power behind. All of this is normal and just takes time and work to develop. I was so ready to tackle it, but he required time off for the injury.

Early April 2018
7 months into retraining.
Bast came back from his splint at exactly the same training point where he left. I was thrilled. For a full week we kept hacking away at his "on the bit" "on the leg" connection. As this photo shows, we were starting to get there.

A few days later he t-rex'd right through a pasture fence and everything came screeching to a halt. Ugh.

Late May 2018
8 months into retraining
Pushed beyond his natural pace, but engaged!
Ugh. Rooting. Still in front of his balance.
Bast finally came back to work in May. Having mostly recovered from his fence attack bruising, moved facilities, and nearly completed ulcer medication, he was a different horse. He had also lost quite a bit of strength and needed to back up a bit in training.

I made the mistake of allowing him to motor along at an overly fast tempo, for the sake of engagement. While it helped me establish contact with the bit, it did not help him develop balance or confidence in bend. Oops. He often lost his balance forward, due to being pushed past his gait. This resulted in a lot of rooting and pulling. For a horse with a short neck, this is a big no-no.

August 2018
11 months in retraining.
Tempo too fast. Braced in neck.
Overbent. On forehand. Starting to lose right shoulder.
Some magical combination of nearly all the above faults in one photo. At least he's not overbent?
While show photos aren't exactly representative of where we were in August, they're what I have and what I'm going to show you! If you'd like, imagine Bast about 70% less tense over his topline and you have an approximation of what things were like at home.

August was the month Bast really started getting put to work again. I was once again introducing him to the idea of "being in a box," like I had been in April. Only now I was using a slightly different tactic, and not worried about his bolting into the next county. As a result we were actually going somewhere.

Bast is clever and short in the neck, so he quickly figured out he could use his neck and shoulder to weasel his way out of the box. When pushed more forward than he should be going, Bast was easier to ride straight. But again, this was not helping his confidence. Slowing things down made him less likely to feel out of balance. The road toward straightness was starting to feel very long indeed. He bulged and wavered at every chance.

September 2018
1 year in retraining
This photo is really representative of what I was working with for much of September. Bast was learning to accept my leg, and not run through my hand. This resulted in a lot of behind the vertical, but also a lot of dropped shoulders. Nothing to do here but stick to the plan and insist on forward activity from my leg.

October 2018
1 year + 1 month in retraining.
Straightness and engagement. Behind the vertical.
More in front of vertical, but shoulder completely lost and tempo too fast. Also, why am I pulling on that inside rein? Ugh.
Coming back to work in October after a week off, Bast and I were not seeing eye to eye on straightness. He was getting very wiggly in the shoulder, and nothing I was doing (mostly pulling on the inside rein, go figure) was working. Trainer set me up with a lot of exercises to remind him to listen to my seat, and this helped a ton. Still, we continued to lose the shoulders a lot all month. This was especially apparently when his tempo got fast or we went to canter depart.

His mouth started to become a lot quieter.

November 2018
Oh. Hell. Yes. Er, I mean... 1 year + 2 months into retraining.
Forward. Balanced. Straight. In the contact. Over the back.
(Also tense in topline, a bit in front of his balance/downhill, and thinking about bulging through his left shoulder.)
By the start of November, the hard work was paying off. I was able to corral most of Bast's squirrely tendencies. I was starting to be able to catch his shoulders well enough to recycle the energy back into his wayward hind legs. We'd identified in September and October that most of his crooked issues stemmed from unequal push in his hind end. This made sense with his fence injuries earlier in the year, but it was time to really address these strength issues head on.

The change to the new saddle later in the month made his trot even better. In fact, he's become so much more confident now that my position isn't so tense and grabby. His topline tension has dropped considerably, and he now steps nicely into the canter about 80% of the time! We've been playing with bits of collection and shoulder-in, too. I can't wait to see what the next year of training does to the trot!

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Only Gloves I'll Ever Need

Everyone keeps writing about a list of things they spend money on, and things they are willing to keep buying cheap. I wanted to take this in a slightly different direction and do a review of a cheap product I use every day and can't live without.... My gloves.
Yes, I love a lot of the things in this photo. But today we're talking about only the gloves.
I'm cheap and picky about gloves. My fingers are slightly on the short side, so Roeckl's are supremely annoying to me. The fingers in that brand are probably awesome for those of you with elegant long-fingered hands made for playing the piano without struggling. However, on me the fingers have so much excess that I end up with floppy fingertips.

Guys, no one likes floppy fingertips.
No floppy finger tips. #winning
Heritage brand fits me okay, but they wear out absurdly fast. So do SSG. In fact, all other brands I've tried wear through in about 3-5 months of use. That's just not acceptable to me. I hate buying gloves that often. For years I despaired, sure I'd never find the glove holy grail. But then, it happened. The clouds parted and angels sung...
Can you hear the angles? Also, yes. I have tiny #6 hands. Don't judge me.
The Noble Outfitters Ready to Ride Glove is perfection. The glove is appropriately stretchy, fits my fingers perfectly, and only about $25. At that price I figured having to replace them a few months down the line wouldn't be a big deal. Only ...
Surviving and thriving through rides on Pig, and others
(Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
I used the gloves for 2 years.
Including lots of galloping in the double bridle.
(Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
No, seriously. The same pair for two years.
Keeping my grip strong for 30 miles of endurance terrain.
I rode so many times in this pair of gloves I can't even begin to estimate what that $25 works out to in per ride cost.
Even working great while jumping!
(Photo thanks to Liz Stout)
Over the years with these gloves I fell in love with them more and more. They're synthetic, so I sometimes would bathe my horses in them and thus clean them as well. They held up super well to this. They breathe so well I often forgot to take them off while doing chores around the barn. They also work with my touchscreens, which is a super bonus!
Loved them so much, I even bought a pair for showing! (Photo thanks to PVDA.)
I've kept using these gloves since my first pair wore out. I even bought a second pair when I had my horses at two separate barns, knowing I'd always find a use for a spare pair.
Super strong which is perfect with baby racehorses.
With Bast, I quickly appreciated the strength of these gloves. His tendency to bolt was mitigated by these gloves. I found I was able to hold on to reins, even through some of his more absurd antics.
How about we don't, though? Eh, Bast?
Basically, I love these gloves so much. They are the number one thing I recommend to people, and I have found most of those who take my advice also love them.
"I don't love that this post isn't all about me." -- Bast, probably
If you're in the market for great gloves, definitely give these a look. I don't know how the other Noble Outfitters gloves hold up, but for me these are the absolute best gloves out there. I hope they never stop making them.
Praise be to great gloves!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Pretty and Effective

My trainer brought me a saddle to try last week. I guess she'd finally had enough of trying to teach me while I contort my body like a drunken yogini. Whoops. In my defense, life is hard when you're trying to cram yourself into a slippery saddle made for the exact opposite of your body type.
Seriously. This saddle is kinda the worst for my leg, unless you're into having your knee stick out in front of the thigh block and leg panel.
You see, I have one of the longest hip to knee lengths out there. I'm basically absurdly long there for someone of my otherwise average height. Unfortunately, that means dressage saddles tend to fit me very poorly and compromise my balance. It's really tough to stretch your leg down and put it on at the same time, when your balance gets shoved so far back in the saddle you're sitting on the cantle.
For example, Pig's saddle used to put me so far in the backseat I was always thankful I didn't fall out behind. Putting my leg on used to squeeze me right out the back, because there wasn't enough room for my long thigh. To compensate I was always collapsing in the lower abs and leaning forward. Not great.
Photo by Liz Stout
While the saddle Emma generously lent me has been a godsend as far as fitting Bast, it's been doing me the opposite of favors when it comes to my position. In fact, every time I put my leg on in this saddle, my seatbone had to come off the saddle. This left me twisting frantically to try to make my aids make sense. It also left me struggling to keep my balance.
Note my twisting hips trying to keep my seat somewhat in the saddle while my leg goes on? Also my balance is so compromised my heels are jammed down in an attempt to keep me remotely with the horse. Also not great.
I've started to find the issues with Emma's saddle to be setting Bast's training back. My twisting and flailing in the canter departs couldn't be helped, because otherwise I actually couldn't stay with him. Unfortunately this twisting was very confusing to my green horse trying his hardest.
What happens when you have to choose either holding on with your legs or being able to balance your upper body...
My trainer is built somewhat like me, with a longer hip to thigh ratio. I hoped the saddle she was bringing me would work well for my body type. I also had hopes, because it's a Custom. I've always had very good luck with this brand's deeper seat and more forward flaps.
So far so good... Plus amazing gullet clearance!
Bast had been starting to shift shape and not fit Emma's saddle as well. I think he's getting wider. Somehow, he magically fits the Custom right now. The moment I threw it on him, I was astounded by how nicely it sat on him!
Can't ask for better than that for a blind fitting!
Of course, the saddle wasn't worth springing for if it didn't make riding easier for me. I had pretty high expectations and hopes for this thing when I swung into the saddle.
Leg on. Seat on. Miracles do happen, friends.
Somehow, this saddle does the impossible. It allows me to separate my leg aid from my seat aid without having to rip apart the space time continuum and force me to split into two separate people. In other words, in this saddle, riding correctly is easy.

I am pretty sure Bast breathed out a big sigh of relief as well. His canter departs have stopped being so leapy almost immediately. His movement is more relaxed more quickly into our rides. Plus I'm able to stick with him and make minute adjustments from just my seat, instead of throwing my whole balance to try to put my leg on.
No collapsing in my lower abs. No jammed heels trying to keep my balance. Easily dropped leg that can hug the horse. Magic, I tell you. All magic.
In fact, riding correctly is so much easier that my abs have been horribly sore from my last few rides in this new saddle. I'm treasuring that pain, as it means I'm getting stronger and more able to guide my goofy young horse on his dressage journey.

Anyone out there like me, fighting your saddles for years and years? Anyone else looking at finding something that fits you better? Or maybe you've never considered how much saddle fit can effect the rider? I want to know! I'm especially interested to hear from people with different body construction. How do shorter legs change your saddle fit needs? This is such a universal issue with such different answers, let's talk!
Finally able to do turns on the forehand, now that this saddle gets me out of my own way!