Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The right tools for the job

I like to think I'm generally a pretty fast learner, but this week I'm feeling like an idiot. I've been struggling for months now with letting the reins slip. I've been using web reins with stops, and try as I might, even when I'm holding a stop in a death grip, Willow manages to pull the reins through my fingers, especially in canter. I've been thinking to myself, somewhat vaguely, "I guess I just need to strengthen my grip," and "Someday Willow will be lighter, and this won't be such a problem." And, of course, holding the reins in a death grip has been doing nothing for relaxation through my arms and hands.

So, late last week, I had the epiphany that you're probably all shouting at me through your screens: rubber reins! I visited Tack N Up and found standard web reins with stops, but they have rubber woven throughout. They're great because there's no added bulk. I also bought some extra-grippy gloves they had.

Five minutes into my first ride with my new equipment was when I realized what an idiot I've been. With no effort at all, I was able to maintain my rein length. After ten minutes Willow realized pulling the reins through my fingers was a no go, and she stopped trying. She was lighter and more put-together at the end of my ride, and my arms and hands were fatigue-free.

Think I'll get a second pair to use with the double bridle.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A little desensitization

Now that it's full-on winter and the horses aren't getting out very reliably, I'm back in lunge-before-I-ride mode. Which means I'm also in full work-in-hand mode. I was starting to get a little frustrated at Willow blowing off my half halts, but I decided she really was getting herself all in a twist about me touching her with the whip. So I've been working on desensitization for the past week. I've been asking Willow to stand, and then touching her all over with the lunge whip. I've gotten to where I can lay the lash across her croup and ask her to walk, and she doesn't go into orbit. I also can now stand her by the wall and touch her with my work-in-hand whip, and I don't get eye-rolling panic. I want her to respect the whip, not fear it. I hope that this work will also lead to a little less mareishness about the whip under saddle.

I've shortened the side reins, and my new mission in life is to keep Willow from leaning on them. It's transitions, transitions, transitions. A few times this week, in the midst of a volley of walk-trot-canter-trot-walk-trot-canter transitions, Willow has offered walk-canter, pretty as a picture.

Due to holiday madness, my next lesson with Leslie won't be until January. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Picking nits

I'm a publisher/book editor by trade, so publishing mistakes tend to jump out and hit me over the head, even when they're not ones I'm responsible for. I'm irritated out of all proportion by the Solutions page in the latest Dressage Today (the last interior page). On this page, the guest trainer recommends learning how to sit the canter better by imagining you're sitting on a swing and trying to make it go higher. That's a great visual/muscle memory appeal; I'm totally on board. And in the accompanying illustration, the artist helpfully draws a phantom swing under the rider to reinforce the idea. All good. But then she has gone and drawn the horse in trot! Come on, editors! That's is a pretty glaring error! And now your illustration is meaningless, and possibly even harmful, since sitting like that in trot would not be correct.

Oh well, at least it's not my fault.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Welcome to New Siberia

I had three, count 'em, three snow days this week, plus a half day where most of us went home early as freezing rain threatened. Ahem, I moved away from Nebraska precisely because I hate this kind of weather. The horses can't get out, and they've all been put on half rations of grain so they don't knock down their stalls. I lunged Willow Monday, Wednesday, and tonight. I guess if this weather continues (and they're saying it will) I will have to toughen up, put on the ski tights under the breeches, and ride in spite of it all. I dislike riding when my thumbs and toes are frozen and my nose is running like a faucet.

My lungeing this week has focused on spiraling Willow in and out from 20 meters to 8 meters at both trot and canter. I've also been working on very sharp transitions between trot and canter at about 12 meters. Willow has been quite agreeable -- probably just happy to get out and about for a bit.

My dogs are the only ones happy about this weather, because the snow days have kept me at home, and they do like having a human at home all day. I don't believe I've formally introduced my canine companions. Say hello to Marko the vizsla.

I got Marko as a puppy, and he's now twelve years old (a little arthritic, but doing fine otherwise). He loves to give people hugs and lean on them. He also selects and brings me a shoe every morning.

This is Sam the GSP.

Six years ago, I was managing a dressage competition in Nebraska, and Sam came barreling through, much to the displeasure of the judges. I caught him and turned him in to animal control. No one claimed him, so I took him. He was about three at the time, and now is about nine. Sam loves to have his chin and throat rubbed. Squirrels are his nemesis.

And last but not least, here's Abby, the beagle-spaniel (?) mix.

I adopted Abby from a shelter when she was about one, and she's now about eleven. She was terribly timid when I got her but has really come out of her shell. She still goes catatonic when she hears fireworks or thunder, though.

They're all good dogs!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow day!

Overnight we had an ice storm followed by five inches of snow. As a Nebraska native, normally I scoff at the "winter" weather in this part of the country, but this weather is the real deal. Plus, we're supposed to have lows in the mid-teens and highs in the upper 20s for a few days--rather hard core for the Willamette Valley. My office was closed, so I stayed in and finally watched the last few episodes of Battlestar Galactica, bringing me up to current on that series (OMG! Earth! What the frack?).

This evening I ever so carefully drove over to the barn, going about 10 mph the whole way. The road was a sheet of ice, but on the plus side I was the only one on it. I just lunged Willow, but I worked her for a good bit. She's back in the snaffle again; I realized I wanted to ride my first lesson in the snaffle, and now I want to apply what I learned without changing variables, so in the snaffle we'll stay for awhile. I rode Saturday and Sunday and feel like I had good success. Willow is more than happy to soften on the right rein, but she really likes to lock on the left in both directions. Something to work on.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A good first lesson

My first lesson with Leslie Thursday night went very well. I told her of my despair re: ever getting Willow soft in front in the snaffle, and she agreed that that was her main priority. Her advice: a short "snap" of the outside rein whenever I feel Willow lean into the bit; basically just a rather stern "Hey! Stop it!" All the time keeping a steady inside rein. Steady hands are the ultimate goal, of course, but for now Willow is using the steadiness against me too much.

Also, we worked on collection in the walk. I need to stop letting Willow amble with her usual giant steps.

Willow's thoroughbred brain short circuited a few times, but we had no overt panicking or bolting. It's good for her to get her cage rattled and get over it.

I'm off to the barn this evening and we'll see how much I remember. I hope we can duplicate the good feeling we had at the end of Thursday's lesson.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The rest of the week

Willow continues to behave herself. I rode Saturday and Sunday in the snaffle, and Monday and Wednesday in the double. I had kind of forgotten about riding in the double regularly; there's nothing like a mad gallop around the arena to make you think, hey, yeah, maybe I'll get that double out again!

Monday Willow didn't want to go forward in the double, so I got off and lunged for a bit, and then she felt super. Wednesday I lunged before I got on, and again she felt really good. I think I'm going to keep her strictly in the double for a couple weeks to get her really accepting it. She's so much lighter in the canter in the double that it's tempting to hang up the snaffle for good, but my goal is always to have a horse that's rideable in the snaffle at any level, so my plan is to keep swapping back and forth. We have to get our scores at first and second level in any case.

I had planned to ride last night, but I forgot about my company Xmas party. And tonight I am just beat. There's a Volker Brommann clinic tomorrow, so I'm going to watch two lessons right before the lunch break and then ride during the break. Same thing on Sunday. My father is visiting starting tomorrow evening, so my riding next week may be a little spotty. Although I really need to try to get out as much as I can, because I have my first lesson with Leslie on Thursday. Wow, I haven't ridden in a lesson since August, 2006.