On the road again!

Being from Indiana, I'm pretty used to drastic changes in temperature. This especially holds true during the "transition months", think February, March and April or October and November. As I'm sure most of you know, these months tend to be completely bi-polar while the weather tries to decide if it's really ready to prepare for summer/winter or just wants to stay frigid/hotter than hell.
Don't worry. Since we live in Indiana, it'll probably be sweltering and 70° by the time we  get back to the barn! 
This week has been no exception. From 50° and sunny on Monday afternoon to barely 20° with a frigid wind last night, layering up and keeping a strong will has been the name of making-it-to-the-barn game. Luckily, it is no longer oppressively dark when I leave work. That helps a whole lot.

Needless to say, last night I arrived to the barn determined, but already cold and uncomfortable. With Guinness off for over two weeks, I wasn't sure how a return to training was going to go over. Last Friday my polite attempt to ask for any sort of contact or work over the back was treated with complete disdain. It's not that Guinness forgets what I'm asking him to do, it's that he thinks I might have forgotten how to make him work. Lucky for me, a couple of stiff reminders (a touch of the whip to back up my leg, and a strong back/carrying elbow to hold his evasions) seemed to do the trick. I ended when he stopped throwing a tantrum and we went for a quick ride down the road. I was hoping that last night wouldn't be a repeat of the pony temper tantrums.

Luckily, whatever generous pony mood struck Riva the Diva appears to have been universal. From the moment I jumped on, Guinness was incredibly light and responsive (the spurs I remembered to put on might have had something to do with the 'responsive' part). He had work ethic to spare, and was very generous to my work to remember everything from our Nancy lesson (write-up still coming, I swear!).

The goal for last night was to actually work at haunches-in. I've been struggling with the idea of how to ride it, and thus how to train it. I've been just trying to shove his butt out, and meeting incredible resistance. Obviously not working. So, I did what any good student would do - I pulled out a book, The USDF Guide to Dressage (to be exact). I read through the exact description of aids for a haunches in, refreshed my memory just before I got on, and rode it beautifully all night long.

When I compare what I was doing before to what I was doing last night, I can't really tell you I was doing any one thing 'wrong'. Instead, I think I simply didn't understand how the aids were supposed to be working together to achieve the movement. Without knowing how everything interlocked to make sense to my horse, I didn't know what to emphasize when I met equine resistance. Instead, I would change my weight or move my outside leg forward. Neither of these things worked at all because suddenly I wasn't really asking for a haunches in any more. I was, however, getting really good at scooting Guinness' butt wherever I wanted, without any engagement.

So? What passage in the book really cleared things up for me? This one:
"Start by establishing a balanced, energetic collected trot around the perimeter of the arena. As you ride into the first corner of a short side, concentrate on maintaining rhythm and energy with your driving aids. As your horse rounds the second corner, keep sitting on your inside seat bone and using your inside leg to maintain the forward movement and the bend, but use your outside leg in a "guarding" fashion to prevent his hindquarters from coming back to the rail. Ride haunches-in for a few strides, then straighten him by relaxing your outside leg as your inside leg becomes more active to maintain the activity of his inside hind leg. Repeat in the opposite direction."
At first I was confused by the use of the word "guarding", but when I was actually doing the movement it made a little more sense. I'd have preferred the word "active", but it's all semantics. The book laid out the movement step-by-step and really let me think through every section of what I was doing. I love that.

Working on the haunches-in at the trot really helped me to clean up my 15 meter circles at the canter. I've been having a problem with Guinness falling in and swapping out several times as I flail around to get him to true bend. My lesson with Nancy really helped me here (and more on that later), but the use of the haunches-in helped me to keep the inside hind active. I started thinking "haunches-in" with one stride and "haunches-out" with the next. While I wasn't actually doing the movements, subtle changes in my position kept Guinness stepping up with his inside hind and set him up to really balance and turn with me, instead of falling in.

Next up? The dreaded 10 meter circle to 10 meter circle trot circles of First 3. We shall conquer you!

Now, some reading for the week:

The Chronicle of the Horse ran a fun little story entitled Nice Braids. In it, readers submitted stories of disastrous dressage classes and the somewhat amusing comments judges have left behind. As the recipient of a couple of these myself ("Exuberant lead change not required at this level" one example, and "nice mare" another. Cringe.), I enjoyed reading through. Oddly, this little article is making me look forward to show season!

How professional are you about your riding and your horse keeping? Me? I try to be pretty professional. I hate riding a dirty/muddy/unkempt horse, I don't like sloppily fitting riding clothes, and I try to approach riding as something to take pride in. Piaffe Girl refers to acting professional as "being proffy." In her words, "Being proffy isn't about “stuff” — it’s about having the grit to work as hard as possible so that you can be a credit to your horse, regardless of his breed, brand, and (your) bank account. And frankly, that’s the whole essence of dressage." I like that. Check out more on her philosophy. What do you guys think?


  1. Love the caption under your pic - sad, but oh so true! Let's hope our ponies keep up the happy to work attitude.

    I never thought of it as being professional, but I am a fanatic about grooming before I ride, cleaning up after myself, and trying to look presentable (really I think it is just part of my OCD!). But I will go with being proffy :)


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