Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why, yes . . .

My videographer was a fencepost.

Sorry. I was hoping to get a clear view of Willow's new, improved frame, but we are far and wee in this video. If you blow it up to full-screen-size, it's slightly better.

I think I can make out that Willow's neck is up and rounded, and she is less on her forehand. She felt really good today, and there was very little left-side crookedness.

I'll try to get someone to shoot a better video soon.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The great outdoors, part deux

The construction on the outdoor arena has been done for several weeks, but one thing or another has kept me from using it. Today Willow and I finally schooled in it. To get there, you follow a little path through a woody area. It's very secluded from the rest of the property. Willow had the snorties at first, so I had hand-walked her around the arena a few times until she settled. Then I mounted up, and off we went.

Willow sure does love to work outside. Her gaits were big and bouncy. We're still working our up-and-out-with-the-inside-rein exercises, and she felt great. My web reins have stops, and we're now easily working at a stop I was beginning to think we'd never get to! And I've been sneaking past it, too. To the right, she felt awesome, especially the canter. Y'all will be happy to hear we executed several balanced ten-meter canter circles to the right!

Working on the shorter reins to the left has exposed a lack of straightness on that rein. Once upon a time, I would have found that frustrating, but nowadays I'm always happy to discover the truth, so to speak. What's been happening is Willow doesn't want to step far under herself with the left hind (too hard!), so she tries to either go on the circle in travers, or else she swings her haunches wildly outside and tries to leg yield out of the circle, or else she canters.

After it happened the first few times, I had to stop and think about what was going on. I was pretty sure she was just trying to get out of something that felt hard for her. So, first of all, I kept very aware of how long I was working her on the left, and made sure to give her plenty of breaks. When she'd swing her haunches inside or outside in trot, I'd go to low and even on both reins and push her forward on a twenty-meter circle with almost no bend. If she cantered, I'd push her very forward in canter. I think I'm on the right track with these fixes, because the crookedness is cropping up less and less. Today in the outdoor she only tried her left-side shenanigans twice.

A big benefit to working in the outdoor is the awesome new footing. It's a sand mix, and it does make them work. I could hear Willow puffing more than once.

When we finished, I rinsed her off (for the last time this year? maybe), banged her tail, and went to town on her overgrown mane. I took it down to about three inches, and it looks very nice.

On my way home, I stopped by a friend's acreage. She's out of town for two weeks, and she told me to harvest her vegetable garden as much as I wanted. I think I picked thirty or forty pounds of tomatoes today. I blanched and froze seven quarts, and will take the rest to work to share.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A new exercise that works

So, after obsessively critiquing both myself and Willow on our latest video, here's what I'm happy about: Willow is forward, relaxed, rhythmic, and mostly straight, and her gaits are pure except when I mess them up. What I'm unhappy about is her frame: still too much like training level. We could probably sneak through first level and maybe even get our scores, although I betcha more than one judge would tell me she's too strung out for first level.

As I've mentioned on more than one occasion, Willow has a very long neck. As long as I continue to let her carry it in a training level frame, she's never going to be able to shift her weight back. My conundrum has been shortening the reins without feeling like I'm riding her front to back. Whenever I've tried to really shorten the reins, Willow channels all her tension into her poll and throatlatch area, and everything falls apart. In my dressage career I've mostly ridden horses who were very light to the bridle, so this has been a new challenge for me.

Leslie, the assistant trainer at the barn, jumped in and saved me this week. She, too, rides a big horse and knows what it's like to break up tension in such a large beast. She advised me to put Willow on a 20-meter trot circle, shorten the reins, and do the following in rising trot: 1) Keep my outside hand very low with a strong connection, 2) Bring my inside hand up and out (not back) and keep a definite, playful, vibrate-y connection, 3) With my inside leg at the girth, continually ask for bend, almost to the point of leg yield, but not quite, and keep her moving very forward on the circle.

I have to say, it was almost like magic. I've used an opening inside rein before, but something about the up and out really got Willow to unlock her poll. Suddenly the shorter reins didn't feel so short, and Willow was up in front with a pretty, arched neck, and an even bend through the spine.

We did the same exercise in canter with a similar result. AND, boom, canter-walk was easy. Next we tried it in walk, and after Leslie pointed out my tendency to get too strong with my leg and seat aids on a shorter rein in walk, we had success there, too. (Must remember: quiet, following seat in walk, even with shorter reins!)

I should mention that even though we had success that first night, there was some unhappiness and resistance from Willow at all three gaits until she realized I wasn't going to drop the connection. Once she got that, she changed her way of going, and voila!

Leslie recommended this exercise for the next two weeks. She said to keep Willow on circles and serpentines and limit my straight lines until this habit of resistance in the poll starts to go away. Today my ride was so much fun. I worked on lots of transitions and could feel Willow not dropping onto her forehand. It was floaty goodness.

In other news, yesterday I went to my small town's annual wiener dog races. Never in my life have I seen so many dachshunds. They must have been coming in from 50 miles in every direction. There seems to be a law of wiener dog races: in each heat, there were five dogs, and every time, two would come flying out and actually race (the sprinters) and the other three would wander out, sniff noses, and visit the audience (the minglers).

A dachshund running flat out is never not funny.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A new Willow video!

:01 Nice, straight center line. I'm a little disappointed to see that Willow's frame doesn't look all that different from May, even though she feels much different.

:24 Decent travers! Could show a little more bend.

:35 Ugh. I'm still letting her get strung out too much. Half halt!

:41 I like the transition from travers to shoulder in.

1:13 Decent shoulder in.

1:46 Good medium! Just needs a little more elevation.

2:15 Still wishing she was a little more put together.

2:31 Watch the left side of your screen for Lucy the border collie puppy.

2:50 Canter is still big and boundy, but nothing like it was in May!

3:12 Watch our struggles with small canter circles!

3:49 Good simple change through trot.

3:58 Hey! Look at that! Some elevation! Even though she's a little above the bit.

4:27 I think maybe this is an 11-meter circle. Look at my outside leg! Busy.

4:43 I hope the simple changes through trot are this good when we compete.

4:50 Here I spend a little time on quick transitions to get her off my hand. You get to see just how much she likes the whip. And I'm only lightly touching her.

6:30 Some resistance, but I'm happy she's taking it up instead of diving down like she used to.

6:57 That, there, was a 10-meter circle. But the quality of the canter suffered.

7:09 Behold the elevation! Good girl!

7:22 Baby canter half pass. More at 8:00 after a brief argument.

8:28 Some mare-ishness about the whip. Again, just touching her lightly.

8:40 Baby trot half pass. More at 9:00, 9:20, 9:39. Watching this, I hear Wolfgang's voice in my head: "Get the butt! Get the butt!"

OK, everyone tell me if I'm just seeing what I want to see, but I see a more collected horse at the end of the ride than the beginning. Not yet second level material, but there are flashes that look pretty good from time to time. Willow's a big girl--she topped out at 16.3 1/2, with a long neck and back--and I just keep reminding myself that it'll take time for her to build the strength she needs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pushing her limits

The three training zones of dressage, from the horse's perspective: 1) No problem; totally got it. 2) Um, I'm not completely sure what you want, and it's making me nervous. 3) Ack! You're freaking me out!

During my last few rides, I've been spending a lot less time in zone 1 and a lot more in zone 2. For one thing, I'm making a conscious effort to use the whip a lot more (a light touch only -- Willow would go into orbit with anything more). Willow has always tended to respond to the whip not by going forward but by sucking back and threatening to buck. That response has conditioned me not to use the whip when I should. So lately I've been using the whip in leg yield at the walk to reinforce the sideways leg aid. That has seemed to loosen her up and let her accept light touches without resentment. It's starting to carry over into trot. In canter, I still expect mighty leaps whenever I use the whip. Hello, rafters.

In warmup I've also been doing a lot of simply shoving Willow's body sideways without worrying about what her head is doing. I go from leg yield to shoulder in to half pass back to leg yield. At first this definitely edged her towards zone 3, but now we're back in zone 2 territory. She can do all these things in zone 1 if I let her lean, but I'm making her do them without leaning, and that is puzzling to her. And when she is puzzled, she points her nose skyward. But after awhile she realizes I'm not going to fight her or pull on her, and drops back onto the bit on her own.

Tonight I loved where we ended up: big trot, on the bit without leaning, collection to medium to collection. And all this in the snaffle! Progress.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Various and sundry

I'm off to the barn in an hour or so and just realized I hadn't posted in a week. Bad blogger.

Yesterday the sweet siren call of the double was just too much, so I rode in it. I think I may switch to a Baucher bit in the snaffle bridle. I'm realizing just how much Willow isn't respecting her current French link snaffle. She's always been a heavy, pull-y girl. In the double, so many new things are possible! Even a couple strides of pirouette canter to the left, although I'm not pushing it because she's really not there yet.

Overall the ride yesterday was most excellent, but Willow did throw one temper tantrum when she tried to blow off a half halt and I really took hold of the curb. I think she may have done a capriole; all I know is I wasn't expecting it and I have a little bit of whiplish halfway up my spine today. But she came back to me quickly, with a new-found respect for the curb bit, and I was actually kind of thrilled with the pure athleticism of her antics. She caught some serious air!

I have another question for all you gardeners out there. What are these?

Lastly, I cannot believe I have neglected to post a picture of the latest bundle of fluff at the barn. This is Lucy the border collie puppy. I think she's about fourteen weeks old now. Specialties: tormenting Rocky, the other barn dog, and making off with wraps and gloves.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunday is double bridle day

After a successful week back in the snaffle, today was our day to ride in the double again. The intensive carrot therapy seems to have beaten back the ear phobia, so I had no issues bridling. It's a chilly, windy day, and Willow was very fresh, throwing in many ecstatic bucks during canter. She even switched behind during one buck, and I commented to her that she's halfway to a flying change.

I really do need to introduce spurs now. The only pair I have are fairly long, and they just won't do. I value my life too much. I'm sure Willow will accept the long ones at some point, but I need some short nubby ones to start, and even then I will screw my helmet on. Willow has always been a ticklish girl.

A major accomplishment in the last few days: Willow is now capable of pooping at the trot! For the longest time it took all my powers of persuasion just to get her to walk as she pooped. During the last two rides, however, she let loose during trot. Hurray! I choose to believe it speaks to a higher level of focus on her part. Perhaps one day she will realize she can poop during canter as well.