Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Focus on sitting trot

Ever since the September show in Tyler I've been quite focused on improving my sitting trot. When I watched the second-level tests from the show, I was aghast at my wobbly thighs! I was crabbing my legs upward, no weight in heels, unsteady in my core. Yikes. Clair doesn't have the easiest trot to sit -- it's not bad, but it's not the laz-e-boy comfort of Dakota's trot, or even Wylie's. I'm going to have to develop a strong, classical seat to get all I can out of Clair's trot. Her sire has a beautiful extension, and I can get a nice extension from her in posting trot, but now it's time to expect more from myself.

These videos are from a couple weeks ago.

I'm so much happier with how I'm sitting. Suzanne was kind enough to watch the videos, and this was her feedback:

Much, much improved in sitting (especially in canter and last trot video). Transitions are much better, too. As a side note, turn on haunch left is good. Right she didn't have enough bend in body and also stepped back. Much less curling overall (good stretchy), but would like her a bit more off forehand. I would warm her up in rising trot, but occasionally do a few half-steps sitting with lower leg on and long to drive hind legs under. Be sure to soften reins (without leaning forward) to see if she offers a moment of self-carriage. Then forward again rising. After that, stay sitting for forward trans. Also, think medium in lateral work. There has to be more "urgency" to it. Not "oh, OK, how's this?". Try to tighten core/abs even more as if you are trying to prevent rib cage from collapsing down onto hip bones - all with chest open and shoulders back. Great progress toward that end! You still actively move in sitting, but it is more proactive (driving) than reactive (collapsing).

So since then, I'm working on a bigger trot and a prompt reaction when I ask for half steps, then another prompt reaction to forward when I give. It's going great! I love the feeling when I tighten my core and stretch up and down, tall as I can, and Clair coils up like a spring. Then I drive with my seat and give a bit with the reins, and she moves out big. And I feel like I'm staying with her! Shoulder in is getting big and floaty. Now I'm trying to play around with the same feeling in canter. The next clinic is coming up December 10-11!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Some no-stirrup work on Wylie

My entire focus since the show has been working to improve my seat. Head up, weight traveling all the way down to the stirrups, toes in, belly pulled in. More than anything, I think getting my weight all the way down into my heels, toes in, has led to a big improvement. I'm doing no-stirrup work with Wylie because he's such a steady Eddie. Once I feel really strong I'll do the same on Clair (not quite such a steady Eddie).

Monday, October 3, 2016

More wisdom from Suzanne

I try to read and memorize every piece of email advice Suzanne sends me. In the run up to the show, and immediately after, I received lots of helpful suggestions! I was able to incorporate some of it into my rides at the show, and I've been trying very hard to remember all of it in my training rides since then.

Unfortunately, one-sided-ness is "the story of our life" as riders. Each side must be ridden a little different from the other. Just be sure to pump the stiff rein no matter which way you are going. Don't hang on too long. At the same time, sit down in the saddle. Open chest, tighten core (pull in stomach).

I hope the advice I sent yesterday helped your ride or at least gave you something to work on. Remember to stabilize the horse's neck between the shoulders. Keep it as straight as possible. That is the only way balance will be improved by half-halts reaching the hind fetlock.

I am glad to hear the halt is better.

Your position needs to be stabilized, too. Sit tall, but DOWN! Drape your legs along the sides of the horse and down into the heel. Too much bend in the knee, causes your leg to "crab up" and pop you off the saddle. For sitting medium trot, legs don't squeeze. It's all about balance on your seat bones - bearing down.

Send me any problems or questions or misunderstandings that come up this week. Hugs, Sue


Leg CAN come on in downward canter transitions - as in all down transitions (scissor action to maintain bend, with some inside seat bone, as in canter depart). Seat is for forward, legs for collection which leads to downward trans. Also, in the medium trot from the seat, remember to give her support with your hands. It should feel as if she is pulling on you a little more. Occasionally, you can "squeeze like a sponge" to keep her from getting locked up. In other words, more in the hand should not become stiff in the poll. You can see that this will only enhance her acceptance of the bit and prevent curling.

P.S. Timing, timing, timing! Get into the rhythm of each gait.


I think you are "right on" in your observations. Sitting trot w/o stirrups is fine, but then you have to be able to keep it up when you pick them back up. It's all about your core and bearing down and only bracing your back when your seat bones hit the saddle. Keeping shoulders back is important. You rarely, if ever, hollow your back, so don't worry about a slight curve. It would actually look elegant. Look up to keep your head lined up over your spine. Mykola used to make us look up at the rafters in the indoor!

Your lower body in general has too much movement. There has to be some control without tightness. It's more about turning toes and knees in. In other words, maintaining a position without clamping. Try to stretch your calf muscles, too.

I realized this week that if, while riding, I can see my hands and/or the pommel, my head is tipped too far forward. So I've been focusing on making sure my head is up enough at all times. I'm also playing with all sorts of variations in my sitting trot to try to improve it. I had forgotten how much no-stirrup work kills the abdominals!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First level bronze scores: check!

Clair and I competed at the Texas Rose Dressage Fall Classic I & II in Tyler this past weekend. It was my first rated show in a decade and Clair's first rated show ever. My goal was to get our first level bronze scores and to give second level a try--and maybe get those scores too, or at least see what the judges felt about our skills. Suzanne met up with us and provided such great coaching and support! She also brought along one of her students, L, who helped groom and provided moral support. My husband also came, so I had quite the cheering section.

Clair handled the whole weekend like a pro. She is such a self-sufficient mare. She settled right into her stall, and ate, drank, and pooped like a champion. She was a little difficult during the first test on the first day, but then she rode pretty much like her usual self. She wasn't a bit spooky; she's definitely an outdoor-arena sort of horse. I had some trouble with her picking up wrong canter leads, which she never does at home, but those mistakes were simply due to rider complacency. Overall I was thrilled with her attitude.

I got a 65 and 63 on first-one, which will count as my first level bronze scores, and got a 55 and 58.7 on second one (so close!). I'm not entirely happy with my sitting trot--you can see in the videos that my lower half has way too much motion going on. I also lean too far back sometimes. And I don't have Clair moving big enough. I'm going to start working without stirrups on both Clair and Wylie to see if I can't stabilize myself. I have all winter to work on my seat, and I'll hope to knock out second level at an early spring show. Clair can do it, no question. I mostly need to work on me.

This is the amazing disappearing dressage test. The humidity was 90% and the lens fogged over within seconds :)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Schooling show with Clair and Wylie

Last Sunday was the schooling show at the barn around the corner. I showed Clair second-one and second-two, and Wylie training-one and training-two. I didn't ask enough of Clair, and our scores were just mediocre. We got a 60% on second-one and a 63% on second-two. I'd never shown second-two before, so I actually wasn't too disappointed with a 63%. But if I'd had my head in the game better, I think we'd have scored five percent higher on each test. I cringe a little to see how far I'm leaning back!

I shared the videos with clinician Suzanne, and she responded immediately with a boatload of wonderful, specific advice. I thought y'all might be interested in watch the videos above and then reading the two messages and one texted exercise Suzanne sent me:

Message one:

O.K. I'm going to start with generalities. Clair seemed a little deep and needs to be more forward - more metronome-like, more air time. This all indicates a lack of balance. Half-halts are not making it thru to the hind fetlock. This leads to you leaning back too far in an effort to push her. It results, occasionally, in an "S" shape in your back. You have to sit up straight and bear down (tighten your core) and follow the movement but not try to push her. She just gets more behind the leg.

This got a little better as the test went on. Lateral work (shoulder-in and travers) looked pretty darn good, too. Also, counter-canter. She was very crooked in the rein back, though, stepped out in right turn on haunches and got a little "mouthy" by the end.

Half-halts really, really need to come thru. Everyone says it, everyone's heard it. I don't care if she throws her head up at first as long as she sits. Sometimes many steps of rein back help. Until she carries herself, she doesn't get much of a medium trot. I know she has it in her. We just have to get it consistently so it becomes the norm.

Wish I was there talking in your ear every stride! Hugs, Sue

Texted exercise:

OK! It's done in one end of the arena. Could think of it as a big circle or square. Trot, do a few steps of shoulder-in along the rail, use the bend to do a nice corner softening the inside rein and straightening with the outside rein. Another corner or part of circle onto the center line. Then lengthen or medium for a half dozen strides on centerline into a half-halt before turn and turn the opposite way. Repeat on that side. Can be done toward the short side or, later, away from the short side. Make sense? I used it with 2 riders with very different horses. One was heavy and strung out, but the other was forward and lighter. Worked for both. I thought about Clair and her tendency to curl and if this would help or hurt. Wish I was there to watch you do this and tweak if necessary.

Message two:

Exactly! Always ask a little more than she offers! One thing I want to mention because I have been clarifying it with E. Half-halts! Legs on for half-halts. Both hands ask. Keep the neck as straight as possible. We want to stabilize the neck between the shoulders. Remember when Wolf used to say to bend "in spite of" the outside rein? That's what he meant. To pull on the stiff rein over and over, for instance, without the soft rein acting as resistance, does nothing in the softening process or in getting the horse to take more hold on the soft rein. Give rather quickly, even if you don't think she softened much or at all. When you give, stop squeezing with your legs, too. Sit in instead (bear down, use your seat) with soft hands and legs. If it works, you will experience at least a few steps of self-carriage. If it doesn't, repeat!

I think I have been unclear when I say "outside rein along the neck and open inside rein". I just wanted to get across the idea of bend, but the bend is in the body. Anytime there is bend in the neck, the half-halt escapes to the outside of the neck instead of making it all the way through the body of the horse.

I can understand not wanting to do too much rein back. When you do it, make sure your upper body stays back and you block or push with whatever leg you need to keep her straight (she tends to overreact to the stiff rein sending her haunches the opposite direction).

When you do halt, drive her into it by closing both legs and pumping the brakes with the hands. As soon as she halts, drop the reins and soften the legs immediately. Just become a "sack of potatoes". Of course this is at home. At the show it will be the same idea but not as drastic. The halt really isn't as bad as I thought it would be. It's not frantic or gnashing or anything. It'll come around.

Hope this clarifies and helps! Hugs, Sue

P.S. The purpose of the exercise is to be able to change promptly and smoothly. Don't do anything too long or lull her into doing something from repetition or boredom.

I've had three rides after receiving this help, and wowza. Clair is moving big, and I'm staying with her in sitting trot. The biggest clue that something is more correct is that I'm getting a true stretchy trot circle with a connection over her back to the bit -- for the first time since I've owned her. I just sent in my entry for a show in Tyler, Texas, in four weeks, and I'm hopeful that we'll get our first and second level scores for our bronze.

I also showed Wylie, and surprise! We got a 76% on training-one, which was high point for the show. We also got a 67% on training-two. What a wonderful boy Wylie is! I could not be more proud of him going so well for me after just three weeks of riding him.

In other news, we had a little rain on Wednesday. This was the parking lot:

And this was the pasture:

Thankfully, we are already well on our way to drying out.