Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dakota the wonder horse

R was out of town for four days (wedding planning!) so I rode Dakota four days in a row. It was wonderful. I know I sound like a broken record, but R has done a superb job bringing him along. And as a bonus, he's just a smart, sweet, willing boy. He's starting to really grasp leg yield and shoulder in in trot. His canter departs are getting better and better, and the canter itself is showing a slower, more balanced cadence. He's fun to ride because he never tunes you out. Sometimes he overreacts, but it's always honest.







Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dressage truth bomb from Suzanne: leg yield!

Sorry about the random order of these, but that is how they seem to present themselves in lessons. This time it was leg-yielding: a movement, along with turn on forehand, taught early on in the horse's training. It is done with lateral aids ("baby aids") which are same leg, same rein, same side, as opposed to diagonal aids which are inside leg to outside rein. These movements are very rudimentary and have but one real goal which is to teach the horse to move away from the leg. The rein helps the leg on one side because whichever rein the rider pulls on, the haunches move the other direction. The rider sits in the middle of the saddle. It is not seat-yielding or weight-yielding. It is LEG-yielding. While the goal is to keep the horse relatively straight and parallel to the long side, it is still a movement bent opposite of the way the horse is travelling. This is a very important detail! It is precisely why the rider should NOT sit to the inside of the bend in leg-yield. Basics are the foundation upon which all future progress up the levels depends. We have all seen and heard stories of riders "hitting a brick wall" and not being able to move up the levels because of something done incorrectly in their basics. This is one of those things. It might help in the moment, but it will wreak havoc later when half-pass and other movements bent in the direction of movement are expected. The horse is totally confused when a rider first asks it to move away from seat and weight, and then expects it to move under the seat and weight in the much more advanced collecting exercises. Those exercises, if accomplished at all, become stilted and lack reach. Also, leg-yielding, done incorrectly, teaches the horse to "escape to the outside."

It is best to do it right in the first place and not use "tricks" to get it done. Don't use seat and weight to "push" a horse where you want it to go! That is not LEG-yielding. This has other consequences as well. Rider position suffers. And if I had a nickel for how many times a rider thumps on their horse and says it's because it won't listen to their leg. Well........?!?! I am aware that horses don't always cooperate, but could it be poor leg-yielding, perhaps? In a yielding to the leg, the inside leg and hand work together with the inside leg back. The seat is even and level and makes sure the horse gains the same amount forward as it does sideways. It is in half-pass (traversal) that the inside leg is forward, the outside leg is back and the weight is more into the inside heel without leaning or collapsing. The bend is in the direction of movement, and the aids are diagonal (inside leg to outside rein). It is a much more sophisticated movement. These two movements are very dissimilar even though they both go sideways and forward. Don't make more out of leg-yielding than it is. It is for controlling the haunches of young or green or messed up horses. Period.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Dressage truth bomb from Suzanne: hands!

This was an especially good one for me because I tend to overvalue harmony when I ride. I have to remember that sometimes you have to sacrifice harmony to generate some improvement in the horse's way of going.
Hands get a bad rap. It's ironic because so many riders "hand ride" anyway. All the fiddling with the reins (or even a death grip) without the proper support of the seat and legs is incorrect and ineffective. Yes, we must ride with our seat and legs, back to front. However, hands play a very, very important role. They "catch" the resulting impulsion and help shape the horse and facilitate balance. That is not to say they "hold" it. They must give for the horse to demonstrate self-carriage. Hold too long and the horse either resists above the aids or curls or has a fake "head set". Give too long, however, (especially early on in the training process) and the horse is back on the forehand. Their natural balance is more forward, and they push, rather than carry, behind. It is all about degrees, and these degrees vary from time to time and as the horse's training progresses. We all want to look good and not be too "busy". Many riders look especially good on a horse, but aren't really riding - not getting the best result from the horse. Others get a lot done but look as if they are working too hard. The sweet spot is hard to achieve. It makes sense, though, that the better the horse goes in training, the easier it will be to look good in competition. That is why Wolf often said that competition interfered with training. It is what it is, though! Competition tells us how the training is going. Another thing that Wolf often said was "from nothing comes nothing"! A rider must use all the aids at their disposal. None are inherently "bad". We have to remember, too, that horses don't often come to us without the baggage of some bad riding/training. Correcting this has it's own set of obstacles to overcome. The rider's scores in "Collective Remarks" include not only seat and position and harmony, but also effectiveness and use of the aids - ALL of the aids!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dressage truth bomb from Suzanne: canter!

This one is mostly about canter:
I've always felt that correct canter departs are extremely important. They affect a rider's true understanding of inside leg to outside rein, but more than that, they develop the FEEL (feel is everything and the only thing) for balance, throughness, and self-carriage. Maybe it's the impulsion that a canter supplies that allows or helps some of the rider's aids to succeed. I think we've all tried to bend and soften and achieve movements at walk that don't really succeed because we can't generate enough impulsion. Many times instructors say to trot or canter to regain forward impulsion before attempting some new movement or concept again. Having said that, a correct depart is very different than just achieving the canter gait. It is not running into canter or falling over the inside shoulder into canter. I guess it's because most of us didn't come directly into dressage but came through other disciplines such as h/j or saddle seat or just trail riding. Those other disciplines (at least at low or beginner levels) teach cantering from outside rein and outside leg back (kicking). This causes the horse to sort of leg yield into the canter and fall over the inside shoulder. The unintended consequence of this is that the horse uses its neck as a lever (and comes above the aids) in order to help bring its forehand back up. Then the rider has the more difficult task (or at least added task) of "packaging" the horse in the canter after the depart for proper uphill balance and "jump" and throughness, softness, and collection. The reason some of this happens is that in "falling" over the inside shoulder, the outside hind is left out behind the horse. It should be under the horse supporting the first stride of the canter. It should be the "one" of the "one, two, three" of the canter stride. When we allow the horse to fall over the inside shoulder, we are really kind of coming in on "two" (inside hind, outside front) and falling further to inside front.
Please bear with me. I know I am long and wordy, but I so want riders to get this that I maybe explain or "draw pictures" too much. Anyway, riders develop this way of beginning their canter from their previous experience and body memory and, frankly, from riding a lot of young, green, or messed up horses (rather than the ideal schoolmaster) where just achieving a canter at all is a success. Might get by with this at low levels, but as we move up the levels, more quality is demanded. I always say "inside leg forward, outside leg back, shove with the inside seatbone forward, hold until the horse lifts into the canter, and release thru the inside rein". That's already a lot to think about, but what's missing is timing. I know this but don't say it enough. Often, too, I think the rider released or "dropped" the horse too early, when in reality, the rider asked when the horse's outside hind is on the way back instead of on the way forward. It's a feel that must be developed. Too much else suffers from this one little oversight: bad things like coming above the aids at the withers, falling on the forehand, losing the back, total loss of uphill balance which, in turn, causes contentious downward (non-existent?) (crappy?) transitions. In conclusion (Woohoo! Yay!), you can count on me stressing this timing more from now on:).