Monday, December 4, 2017

Wonderful week of training in Louisiana!

The ponies and I returned to Lubbock Saturday evening after traveling 1200 miles round trip. That was my first long haul solo, and it went just fine. Dakota loaded like a trouper at both ends. Both kids are great travelers, not even seeming to stress much. It was fun to be able to see them munching on their hay nets via the wireless cam.

I took lessons on both horses every day for four days, except Wednesday when I just rode Clair. We introduced Clair to the double bridle, and it could not have been less of a big deal. She is such an oral horse; two bits actually make her happier, I think. She'd probably take another bit stuffed in there for good measure. I'm still refining my technique of holding the reins in the French method. Clair has also gotten extremely sensitive to my outside leg in the left lead canter, so we experimented with where my right leg should go to not trigger her irritation. We made good progress and got many happy left-lead circles. Quirky mare.

Further proof that Clair has an oral fixation? Here's what her trailer tie looked like when we arrived in Louisiana:

Dakota worked his little butt off. He showed off shoulder in, haunches in, baby half pass, and trot lengthenings. Suzanne was thrilled with him in every way. He may go third level before too long as well! Sorry I have no video, but my videographer/husband had to stay behind this time.

Coming up on Sunday -- another Blarney Stone dressage schooling show. Trainer Gwen is judging, and Suzanne is coming along to give me a couple lessons while they're here. Woo!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Beautiful butt rope, captivating camera, double debut

The key to consistent loading by Dakota? The butt rope. I don't know why I didn't pull one out sooner. The first attempt with the rope he lashed out with double-barrel back hooves a couple times, then jumped on board. The second attempt he jumped on board as soon as he felt the rope touch his back legs. The third attempt he took one look at the rope lying on the ground and just walked on. As long as we have it out so he can see it, he now loads quietly. Sometimes the old methods are the best.

My amazing husband got me a wireless camera so I can see the horses in the trailer while I'm driving. He thought of this gift, purchased it, and installed it all without me even knowing. It's AWESOME! So comforting to see quiet ponies on a nine-hour drive. It also doubles as a backup cam that helps me see the gooseneck hitch and the ball in the bed of the pickup. It ALSO has night vision. I love it!

[night-vision pony butts]

Dakota, Clair, and I had an uneventful drive to Dubach, Louisiana, Monday. We got a late start and arrived around 9:30. Trainer Gwen helped me unload, unwrap legs, and tuck the horses in, and also helped get the hay and grain bags situated. I was in bed by 10:30 and slept like a rock.

Yesterday we introduced Clair to the double bridle. The Weymouth bit I ordered is a bit too wide, and we need to punch a couple holes so the bits ride higher in her mouth, but even so Clair took right to it. Suzanne has me holding the reins in the French method, with the snaffle rein running over the top of my index finger and the curb rein running under my pinky and up my palm, with my thumb over both reins. This allows me to use the bradoon to elevate Clair, and then while she's up, if she needs it, I can lightly apply the curb to ask her to give in the poll. It worked like magic. We didn't work her too long, but I got nice walk, trot, and canter with no resistance or stress. She had crazy amounts of foam, too, which she doesn't usually. A splendid debut!

Dakota, too, was wonderful today. He was a little tense with everything going on around the farm (many lessons in multiple rings, and a pony named Truffles shooting by the arena randomly). Also, Clair and he were hollering back and forth. Even so, Suzanne was thrilled with his progress. She said he's really showing a nice trot lengthening now, which we've been working on, and we even did a little half pass. Mustang got skilz!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


On Monday I'm off to Louisiana for a training week with Suzanne. Clair will definitely be coming along, and I'd love to bring Kota if he'll get on the trailer. I have been sadly remiss in his remedial trailer training. I worked with him today and got both front feet on board -- gave him some soaked alfalfa to eat as he stood like that, and called it a day. I'll work with him again tomorrow. He's supposed to get trailered to the vet (along with Clair) on Friday for their health certificates, so if he doesn't get on the trailer on Friday then he's not going to Louisiana, which would be too bad. My fault, though, for not working on this all year. I need to start taking the truck out when I work the horses, hitch up, and make Dakota get on every single time I'm out. He's not one that you can pressure into getting on. He sulls up and the mustang in him comes roaring out (tight spaces are not his thing -- BLM trauma). I need to give him him the time to let it be his idea.

In other news, Clair LOVES canter poles. If she gets up a head of steam as we head toward one, she always leaves out a stride and leaps like she's jumping the Grand Canyon. I've been moving away from approaching them on too long of a line. We did have one exciting day where I set up three canter poles together. She left out a stride and threw herself over the first one; I got a little left behind and bumped her in the back, so she bucked over the second pole, and then during the buck she farted, scared herself, and bolted halfway around the area. I rode it out in front of the pommel. Another time she overjumped the pole by about three feet and I ended up hanging off the side. She politely stopped and let me pull myself back up. I'm keeping at it because I can get the flying change to the left about 85% of the time over a pole. The change to the right is starting to feel smooth as butter. I need to work on canter half pass -- that'll probably help the change to the left too.

I just ordered a double bridle and bits for Clair! Having it shipped ahead to Louisiana so Suzanne can help me fit it. The double is optional at third level and required at fourth, so it's time to introduce it.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Dakota's situation has changed. His previous leaser, R, gave up the lease at the end of October. We will both miss her! R hooked us up with a possible new leaser, J, who rides Dakota very well. She has an extensive riding background in h/j with a sprinkling of dressage. J has taken a couple lessons from me that went great, and she has ridden Kota on her own a couple times. She has to have a medical procedure in a week that will keep her from riding for a month or more, but I think there's a good chance she'll pick up at least a half-lease as soon as she's able.

I've been riding Kota quite a bit, and he's just delightful. He's very sensitive and reacts honestly to everything the rider does. Shoulder in is very good, and travers is coming right along. I've started working on walk-canter-walk. He's starting to get the idea of lengthening the stride in trot. Canter lengthening is great! Canter in general has improved so much in the last few months.

I've been working hard on canter with Clair as well. The left lead has always been the weaker lead, so I've been doing my best to strengthen her on that side. We don't have a reliable flying change right to left yet (I'm sure that's due to my lack of experience putting in changes). On the plus side, the change left to right is basically confirmed! We need to improve our extensions in both trot and canter. Will we be ready to try to get our third level scores in April? Fingers crossed!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Wisdom to ride by

  • From nothing comes nothing
  • Don't hold more than you can drive
  • Leaning back is a false driving aid
  • Fix it forward
  • If you don't like what you're getting, change what you're doing
  • Give the horse a chance to show self carriage
  • A half halt is not complete until you give
  • Bend in the body leads to giving at the poll
  • Keep hands close together
  • Keep toes in
  • Transitions test throughness

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dakota shows first one and first two

As I mentioned before, Dakota got a 65% on first one and a 63% on first two. The main things to work on with him will be more prompt canter departs, more relaxation in canter, and trot and canter lengthenings. Everything else went great, especially considering I had barely ridden him for a couple months. Now that I'm riding him three days a week, we'll be more in tune with each other. I've been messing around with walk-canter-walk, and it's pretty good given how new he is to it. Walk-canter especially is going to come quickly for him.

He is just such a fun, honest ride!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

SO MUCH has changed since my last post. All in good ways.

I quit my job in publishing. My last day was August 31. I've been in book publishing for more than twenty years. I was at this last job for three years and four months. My prior job, in Oregon, ended when a new asshole of a CEO came in and decided the book team, while profitable, wasn't profitable enough. Without even discussing it with me (in fact, I never even talked to the dude), he cut my team from six to two. They told me I could stay or go. I felt so angry and betrayed (I had worked at that company for eight years) that I decided to go. I was out of work for six months, and even dabbled with the idea of going pro with the dressage thing, but then this most recent position became available, at a press I had worked for before, and it seemed like a great opportunity. So my husband and I moved to Lubbock, Texas, and I started work. It was not good basically right from the start. I wasn't told the truth about debt the press had incurred under the previous director. I wasn't told that the subsidy would be cut by a third right off the bat. I was forced to lay off several staff in an attempt to balance the budget (which was unbalanceable given the meager subsidy). I was continually hounded for not finding a magical way to balance the budget. Through it all, I and my most excellent staff worked our butts off to put out some great books -- and no one at the university seemed to care at all. I was anxious and stressed all the time, and I finally got completely fed up. If I sound angry and betrayed, it's because I am. I quit, and again, no one at the U seemed to care at all. Since I left, two more of the staff have found other positions. Prior to my departure we were at seven, now they'll soon be down to four.

My husband picked up a job driving a school bus to keep us in insurance. Our main source of income (we hope) is going to be flipping houses, starting with the one we're living in. We've done a LOT of work to it, and we hope to have it on the market in two to three weeks. Then we'll do another move-and-flip, hoping to turn that one around in three months. We'll probably do the move-and-flip thing a few more times, and then our hope is to be able to have a permanent residence and flip other houses. We're also available for home renovations. Ted knows how to do almost everything and has all the tools, and I'm pretty good at probably 70% of the tasks (my father was a home builder for much of his career, and I picked stuff up through osmosis). We're thinking about eventually looking for an acreage property outside of town and starting with a tiny house.

I've also decided to once again see if I can find some dressage students. I've had one nibble so far. I'd been planning to go pro once I got my bronze medal, but given the situation, I'm forging ahead on it now. Unless things go terribly wrong I should be able to get my third level bronze scores in April at Texas Rose Horse Park, and April isn't all that far away. So, when I renew my memberships I'll be changing categories to pro.

I am so HAPPY since I quit. I haven't been this happy in years (since before my father died, in fact). In the mornings I go to the barn. I ride Clair five days a week, and Dakota three days a week. Then I come home and work on the house. Projects progress quickly when you have most of the day to work on them! Last weekend I hosted a clinic with Suzanne May and Gwen Packman Swanbom on Friday and Saturday and then managed a schooling show on Sunday (and also rode both horses in both the clinic and the show). It all went great, and I didn't have to go back to work, utterly exhausted, on Monday, so my stress level stayed low. Clair and I got a 58.9% on third one (still lots to work on) and Dakota got a 65% on first one and a 63% on first two (such a good boy). So proud of those kiddos.

I'm blessed that my last job compensated me very well and allowed me to pay off a lot of debt. My mother has been very supportive both emotionally and financially, so we have a cushion if the flipping business doesn't take off immediately. I hope we can make a go of this, because I feel so fulfilled with the current arrangement. And to be frank, I'm twice-bitten from working for "the man" and would just like to be my own boss. I haven't had a good boss I could respect and trust since 2006 (I'm looking at you, Noel Parsons)!

I'll have another post soon with video from the clinic and the schooling show.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Willow's filly at three months

She's a monster! Willow is 17 hh -- wonder if this girl will beat that?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dakota at the Suzanne clinic, day two

R works some canter and some shoulder in, and Gwen gets on.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Clair at the Suzanne clinic, day two

I get the sticky change myself! Twice!

First Gwen gets on and gets it, and a little trot extension to boot.

My turn:

Since then, I've gotten that change over a ground pole several more times. Without a pole (like at the schooling show) we don't quite have it yet. So we'll keep working over the pole for the foreseeable.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A red and a blue for Dakota at the schooling show

Dakota was a superstar at today's little show. He was tense in his first test, and I missed that he picked up a wrong lead until far too late. He also seemed to forget that he really does know canter depart. Overall, though, he was such a good boy. We got a 59 on first-one for second place and a 64 on first-two for first place.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Third one at another schooling show

The judge didn't like it much -- 54.8% -- but I was super pleased with just about everything. We didn't get the sticky change, but she did change in front so that's progress. The other change was fine. Half pass needs more consistent bend. I'm starting to get a real medium trot, so that's wonderful. Overall, just really happy with my Clair mare. I'm riding Dakota in first one and first two tomorrow.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dakota at the Suzanne clinic, day one

Lots of great trot work, much improved canter departs, and trainer Gwen gets on.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

At the Suzanne clinic, trainer Gwen gets that sticky flying change!

Hallelujah! The right-to-left flying change has finally been gotten, three times in a row! Suzanne brought along trainer Gwen Packman Swanbom to this weekend's clinic, and I asked Gwen to see if she could get that sticky change. Using a ground pole, she did! I'm so relieved and excited. We also worked on some half pass. Tomorrow we'll see if I can get the change myself!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dakota shows off all he has learned!

Dakota is doing so well! R has been out of town getting married (yay, R!) for the past couple of weeks, so I've been keeping him going. He's such a fun little guy! I'm going to show him in a schooling show in ten days at first level (unless R changes her mind and decides she wants to ride after all). He's pretty solid on everything we need for first one and first two. In the videos below you'll also see the shallow counter-canter loop, shoulder in, and the start of travers.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Cow-kicking update

Suzanne viewed the videos of my problematic ride last week and sent the following:

Hi! Well, I was worried when I first read the email, but I was happy, for the most part, when I actually watched the videos. Interesting! Frame is MUCH better. This makes her more athletic. This can be used against you (don't they always?). Haunches-in on the circle is much better, too. Remember to stress he proper aids - inside leg and outside rein. In the canter, make sure you are not poking her with your left heel too far back. Think of taking WHOLE leg back from he hip. Almost picture bending your knee backwards (hyper-extending) to push your heel down and not bend at the knee to take leg back. She might be reacting to too much weight on that seatbone, too. Eliz's horse, Lita, doesn't like weight on that outside seatbone back at all. Left to right changes are clean most of the time. Nice trot lengthening. We will have to work on those right to left changes. Half-halt during change. Very distinct and strong aids. Lateral balance. Possibly have to even counter bend her, but keep her going left as in leg yield.

I see marked improvement and less problems!

For the next ride I made sure to sit over my inside seat bone in right lead canter, and to keep my outside (left) leg below the knee completely off. And not a single cow-kick! Suzanne is so good at pinpointing the littlest position problem and fixing it. I've had a couple cow-kicks since then and every time realized that I was sitting too much on my outside seat bone. Mares can be very picky.

Suzanne is coming for a clinic next weekend, and the following weekend there's another schooling show. I'm going to try third-one again with Clair, and I'm also going to show Dakota first-one and first-two. He's doing so well!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

One of those rides

Step right up and see: obnoxious behavior! a big spook! cow-kicking in canter! It was just one of those rides where we never really connected. I am most concerned about the cow-kicking, which has been happening off and on for a few rides now, always in right lead. The flying change right to left still isn't really happening for us, so I wonder if she's anticipating attempting the change and getting irritated? I've tried both putting my outside leg on more strongly and also backing it off almost entirely. I don't really notice a difference either way. I'm seeking wisdom from Suzanne.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Very first try: third level test one

We got a very generous 58% on our first try at third level test one! I'm so pleased. All mistakes were my own -- especially my choice to simply hand-walk Clair in her home arena once it was set up with judge's stand in place. She snuffled everything and seemed fine with it, but when I sent her down center line I could feel she was looky, unfocused, and just not through. I should have schooled her under saddle during the lunch break. Live and learn!

Half passes were too labored, trot and canter mediums and extensions were not defined enough, canter was a bit of a rodeo overall, and she jigged in extended walk. But we got our flying change left to right, hallelujah! And overall I feel like we look very close to being ready for third level. It's nice to have a third level test under my belt just for psychological reasons.

Yay, Clair mare! Love my girl.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day ride

Just throwing it all out there. Flying changes left to right are coming along swimmingly; the other direction is coming along not at all -- sigh. Patience. We've only just begun. Oh, and she tripped and almost went down at the walk for no apparent reason except a possible tumbleweed sighting.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! and a little baby passage

Clair and I had a BLAST during Suzanne's lessons. I learned how to ride with the whip pointing straight up, making it easier to give a pop on either side, especially when Clair is blowing me off. I gave her a good pop to wake her up, and then after that all I had to do was wave the whip in her sight line and she would give me lots of forward.

We also worked on Clair's very first flying changes. She was SO good. She didn't get excited or on the muscle. We didn't get a clean change in either direction, but both ways we did get a couple late-behind changes. I was thrilled with these first attempts. Such a good mare. Also, she gave me a teeny bit of baby passage when we stopped to switch directions. Fun!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dakota starts counter canter

Suzanne May was in town for Mother's Day weekend to meet up with her son, who is considering moving here from Minneapolis. We didn't have a full-on clinic, but Suzanne taught three lessons each day. Everyone did so well! R and Dakota started learning the shallow counter-canter loop from first-three. To the right they really got it! The left still needs some work, but isn't that always the way? They had some gorgeous trot work as well.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Willow had a filly!

Do y'all remember Willow? The mare I purchased in Texas and took with me to Oregon? And then had to part with due to my struggling finances? She found a home with a nice young woman in Texas who decided to breed her last year. Willow had a baby as a three-year-old, the year before I bought her, and is now sixteen, I believe. She had a beautiful filly! As yet unnamed:

The sire is Allerbester the Hanoverian:

More Allerbester information.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wherein I judge a schooling show

The barn I board at is h/j focused. R and I are the only ones who mainly focus on dressage. It's a great barn with great care and plenty of places to ride, so we're both very content there. The barn owner/trainer decided to put on a little schooling show with the morning reserved for dressage. After casting about for an available judge (we're in West Texas; they are few and far between) I decided to offer myself up. I'm qualified enough to judge a schooling show up to first level, which is what this one was. I've scribed dozens of times and watched probably thousands of hours of dressage. So I offered, and they said Yes. I've never judged before and was hoping it didn't prove to be overwhelming. It really didn't! I felt comfortable, and most of the scores ended up in the low sixties, with the better riders scoring mid to upper sixties. It's funny -- as a novice judge you throw out scores for each movement and hope the overall percentage is appropriate for the ride. I'm sure experienced judges have a much better sense of where the percentage will fall.

I also judged dressage seat equitation and sport horse under saddle. Luckily I felt like there were very clear differences between first, second, and third, so I didn't have to agonize.

R and Dakota made their first-level debut and had two very respectable rides. The trot work is lovely; Dakota gets a little tense and distracted in the canter. Once Dakota and R find their harmony in canter, I'd say they'll be ready to try first level at a rated show, and start their journey towards a bronze medal!

Just before the very first ride of the day, one horse spooked and bolted out of the indoor into the outdoor, which in turn caused a little girl's horse to spook, dump her in the gravel parking lot, and high-tail it for home (about a quarter-mile away). With an Arab, they quite literally high-tail it! The little girl (maybe seven years old?) was tough as nails -- there were tears for about ten seconds; then she took a deep breath and said she would go ahead and ride just as soon as they collected her horse and walked him on back, which took about ten minutes. Then she went in and rode both her intro-level tests like a champ. It was her first show away from home and her first fall; I was impressed with her grit.

I most definitely do not want to be a full-time judge; but I would love to do it every so often. I had a good time.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Suzanne May clinic videos: day one

This clinic actually took place the week before the show, so I'm posting out of order, but whaddya gonna do. It has been busy. Was a great clinic!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Second-level bronze scores: check!

We are home from the Texas Rose Dressage Classic, and utterly exhausted. I've never shown three days in a row before. My first schooling ride, Thursday evening, was challenging. Clair was pawing and cow-kicking all through tacking-up, and then some more as I mounted, and then she was a live wire for the first ten minutes. I don't know why my brain shuts down at shows, but it does. I realize now I should have just pushed her forward, and then more forward. But instead I tried to contain her, and I'm sure I just irritated the crap out of her. In any case, we settled into a decent ride after a bit, and I was pleased.

My two rides on Friday were pleasant and obedient, but not nearly forward enough. I deserved the 57% and 58% I got. Trainer Suzanne hadn't arrived yet -- she would have gotten me forward right off the bat. She arrived Friday afternoon and helped me school that evening. Forwardness achieved!

My second-one test Saturday went really well. I had the same judge as the day before and he rewarded our new energy with a 63.4%. Second-level bronze score number one achieved! My second-two test was going sort of ok, and then I went off course (it was really windy, I couldn't hear my reader, and even though I had the test memorized I forgot where I was), and then things fell apart. 54%.

On Sunday I decided to scratch my second-one test since it was in front of the same judge as the day before. Plus, Clair and I were tired. So we put all our eggs in the second-two basket, in front of the toughest judge at the show. The test went really well, with just a few small mistakes. None of us was at all sure it was going to be good enough. We went to lunch, and I asked a friend who stayed behind to text me with the score, no matter what it was. As we were waiting to be seated at the restaurant, the text came through: 61.5%! Second-level bronze score number two achieved! And there was much rejoicing in the Mexican restaurant. I really have to give so much credit to Suzanne, who coached me Saturday and Sunday and fixed enough of our issues to get us our scores.

Third level, here we come!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Less than two weeks to Texas Rose Dressage Classic

Clair and I are going for our second-level bronze scores in Tyler April 7-9. I'm feeling fairly optimistic. Unless Clair acts very different at the show, we should be able to squeak out a couple 60%s. Trainer Holly will be debuting at fourth level! She's bringing a couple of her students so we'll have a group to hang out with. My only real concern is day one, Friday, when I may not have a reader for my tests. I have second-one memorized and know that I can do the same with second-two, but my brain is also famous for fizzling out under pressure. That would be embarrassing.

I liked Clair's work today in spite of her being little miss spooky. I can't really blame her -- the West Texas winds were howling, causing lots of strange buzzing and banging in the arena. We have a clinic with Suzanne next weekend so we can work out any kinks.

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:).

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Texted wisdom from Suzanne

Every so often Suzanne drops a dressage theory bomb on me via text. I love it! I love theory and truly believe that there is no "dressage mystique": if you know your theory and apply it correctly, you and your horse will improve.

I wanted to save the last two theory bombs both so I don't lose them and so others can benefit from her wisdom. Here they are:

I am home. Therefore, you may be subjected to random thoughts, such as the following: Due to all my lessons of late on lengthening and extensions, I've been thinking a lot about what is logical to us humans is often the antithesis of what it means to the horses. It is so true! We see it in bending them away (shoulder-in past the "monster") from what scares them rather than facing it. We see it in using legs (driving) into collection and downward transitions rather than pulling. Also, holding into upward transitions AND EXTENSIONS! More leg for less forward (but more activity) and less leg (but more seat) for more forward and extensions. Yes, there are half-halts, and softening has it's place. However, to think about all these things simply as the opposite of what might be expected could be an effective rule of thumb. I didn't connect those things sufficiently in lessons, I don't think.

Suzanne May

I've been thinking about hands a lot. I was pretty easy going about it before, but the more I think about it, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that the hands need to stay close together. Maybe it's because everyone's getting their horses past the "baby stage", or maybe it's because logic dictates it. Also, I have noticed a distinct lack of success with wide - and often low - hands. It really came home to me when someone asked me at a show why she couldn't keep her horse "on the bit". She proceeded to show me how he came down in halt with her hands wide and low. As soon as they moved, he was gone. It was a "trick". He was not accepting her hand. I realized that the horse could "bounce" between the reins. I have also seen a lot of "one-rein arguments", usually (exclusively?) on the stiff rein. What do they accomplish? Not much! It becomes like "resistance training" for both you and the horse! Both get stronger! The neck bends, but the poll never gives, the half-halt goes out the bulging side of the neck, and throughness never improves. It also is usually the result of temper. Instead, if we keep our hands together AND keep contact on both reins AND use them together - either to the right or to the left - the neck stays stabilized between the shoulders. The only place left for the horse to give is in the poll. As I've said before, these rein aids can be strong, but not long. This will help prevent the horse from opening its mouth, too. Goes without saying that the rider must support all rein aids with seat and legs. If the horse gives in the stiff side of the poll, it also has to take a little more contact on the soft side of the poll. Voila! Two birds with one stone!

Suzanne May