Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Horse Does All The Work

It started with a search for the center...
trying to get my stirrups even...
...the center of the horse, that is.
Coach noticed that my right leg wasn't carrying it's fair share of the weight.
So, she took a series of photos...

Centered on the horse, but not in the saddle...
I tried to do some adjusting, and found myself here:
Oops! Overshot it!
Oh, the trials of a roly-poly horse!
Finally, I found a relatively happy medium.
As good as it gets, for now...
My right leg still wasn't cooperating, but it was better than before.  My heel came down *most* of the time...

After I finished my work with Cricket, I switched over to the Fancy Pony for a serious dressage ride.  I built on my spiral tool, which we had been incorporating in our daily work.  My Pony is getting more supple as well as quieter in the bridle!  Coach just sat back and watched our warm up without a word.

I moved into canter work.  Once Fancy Pony felt calm, loose, and relaxed, I cantered her into a spiral (our first attempt!).  Coach jumped right in to help:
  • Keep your weight more to the inside.  When your weight come toward the outside, you lose the bend.
  • Sit back and sink down into her back!  She is strong enough to carry you, now.
  • Send her more forward!  Don't lose the energy!
I could feel the inside hind getting more active! I could feel Fancy Pony exploring a new facet of her athleticism!
So, I tried to carry that canter down the long side of the arena.  At the other end, I gathered her around the corner then sent her down the other long side with more power while trying to maintain the same speed.  After one more short end, we rode a shallow canter loop, and she didn't try to switch leads! She felt so flexible!
I packaged her for a downward transition that was mostly successful (we can't have it all and all at once, now, can we?) before taking a well-deserved walk break.  Then, we played the game the other direction.
Chatting and theory ensued during afore mentioned walk breaks, and I was trying to describe the incredible feeling of Fancy Pony's naughty  passage-like trot...
Then, I had the thought...  Why not try to get it on purpose?

I gathered the pony and added energy to the walk.  We marched right along as I packed her shorter... shorter...  just a little more...
I sat back and asked for the trot.  She stepped into it.  It was almost "the one".  I asked for more energy...  Shorter package... She lifted me and tried to oblige...  Then, Coash's voice broke into my concentrated effort:
"You need to work her more in this frame!"
You mean, I'm not asking too much of her?
"She can do it, so start asking for just a little at a time.  Every ride."

Under a watchful eye, we explored the more collected trot to her current potential.
"When she resists, instead of giving her more room to stretch out, send her sideways."
We went down the rail on 4 tracks!  Her neck wasn't overbent; she was filling my outside rein.  We couldn't maintain THE SAME angle, but we could maintain a consistent feeling.
We cantered from this trot, and it was GLORIOUS!  Balanced!  Cadenced! I was riding a rocking horse!!
When the cantered tried to fall apart, I still sent her sideways - and she would pull it back together!

The hardest part was the transition back to the trot.  I would start to ask, and she would try to just fall down into the trot, so I would have to send her forward in the canter again before she could finish the transition.  I had to make enough room for her to step down without giving her so much room that she fell on her face.
We finally found the "good enough for now" place and came down to the trot, then the short marching walk... Then, we walked it out.  And walked it out. And geared ourselves up for the other side.  Because we can't go around being all awesome on one side and not on the other...

We both were sweating.  When I allowed my seat to get too light on one side, I felt a distinct 'squish' when I corrected it... It came across as just another sensation in my tiny space that was full of sensations...  I was asking Fancy Pony for some seriously tough stuff.  I had never asked her to hold it together this much for this long.  And she was completely game to play along!

We played with the downward transitions.  It got ugly a few times as FP inverted and I sent her briskly forward to pull herself together before we tried again...  And, then, we went for it: Trot to Halt.  We actually got a halt with no walk steps that wasn't abrupt! I squealed!  I saluted!  I praised and walked out!  I called it the end of our ride, because, really, where do you go from that??

Coach insisted on documenting my sweat marks after all of our collection work...
because the horse does all the work, right?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Another Fine Day

"There are some days when I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction." -Salvador Dali
On another Arabian...
Don't you just love this view?
When the ponies feel as happy to be riding as you do?
Sometimes, they even show their good side for the photo op!
Yes.  An overdose of satisfaction, indeed!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sonny Can Be Caught!

Where Sonny learns about the clicker...
He *CAN* be caught!
My friend asked me to keep an eye on her brand-new-to-her horse while she was out of town.  She divulged that he could be difficult to catch...
Well, the other night, I noticed while I was riding that he was still in the turn-out.
When I was finished riding, he was *still* out!

Then it occured to me...  Perhaps he wouldn't be caught...
Since I still needed to check in on him, I put my kids away and headed out with a halter, a bag of treat, and a clicker.

He has not yet been primed to the clicker.  This could get interesting...
After walking back and forth across the back corner of the pasture, he waited in a certain spot to let me approach.  As we stood together, enjoying a breeze, I clicked and treated when he looked at me.  He seemed to like this game.  However, when I picked the rope up off of my shoulder (seriously, I only raised it an inch!), he said to me, "Oh, **HELL** no!  I can't do it!" and walked away.

We paced back and forth again, then came together on the other side of the corner.  This time, if he put his nose on my hand, he got a treat.  When he got bored, we walked apart.

And we came together again on the first side of that corner.  As you can see, there was lots of walking involved for both of us!  This time, I asked him to let me scratch his jaw.

...more walking...
...other side again...
Scratch the neck?  Well, maybe...  Clicks when he lets me (followed by a treat, of course).  Nothing when he doesn't let me.  Suddenly, we're standing side by side, my shoulder at his jaw, just hanging out.  I reached under his nack and scratched behind his ears!  *click*treat*
I turned around and slyly, smoothly, lifted the lead over his neck.  Once it happened (and I'm sure he knew exactly what was going on, but he was more comfortable if we pretended we were sneaky), he was cool with it.  "OK, " said he, "I'm ready, now!"

We left the turn out and he just grazed on the end of the lead while I chatted.  Whenever he came up for breath, he would ever so quietly touch his nose to my hand.  And I felt obligated to *click*treat*, because I had already taught him that as the first step to being caught.
You see, I talk with my hands, and one would just end up out there to my side, as if it was waiting for his nose!  He decided that he liked that game!

It has been determined that Sonny has trust issues.  However, we think this clicker approach will help clarify our expectations and ease some of his worry as he learns *exactly* what we are asking him to do!
The game may have taken 25 minutes, but Sonny wasn't stressed when we got done.  I consider that a serious win!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trend Setting

I am making a statement!
That statement just happens to be, "I can't stand the thought of pitching a comfortable pair of breeches..."
After most of my 17 hours in the saddle for the St Jude Ride-A-Thon,  I slid off to enjoy a piece of cake. And my Wintec emblem caught my favorite breeches and put a hole in them.  Oh, was I sad!
So, I put a patch on it!

Hello, kitty!!

I decided it was time for a new pair. I bought a pair of tan pants for everyday schooling. The first day I wore them, I hopped off at the end of my ride, and the emblem grabbed my pants AGAIN!!
OH, was I MAD!!

I literally growled at my saddle.  I went for my scissors and started trying to ply the emblem off before I realized it was riveted to my stirrup leather keepers.  At that point, I took a deep breath and considered my options.  Do I really need my stirrup leather keepers on a synthetic, changeable gullet dressafe saddle?
So, I cut those offenders right off, threw them in the trash, and never looked back!

I mourned my no-longer-new-even-if-I-pretend breeches...  Then, I put a patch on them!
I'm thinking of starting a customizing service!

Doesn't that butterfly look lonely?  I was thinking a whole slew of them should just fly up and around my hip!  What do you think?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Biggest Celebrations

In my last session with Coach, she gave me an incredible tool.  Spirals.
Now, I’ve had spirals in my tool box, but I was not utilizing them to the highest potential.  You see, I was using them to increase precision of geometry.  Coach had us increasing bend as well as increasing activity in the inside hind leg!  This maneuver is proving to be powerful!
Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product  -Eleanor Roosevelt

As we spiral in, I have to focus on maintaining, or even increasing, the bend through the body.  Fancy Pony must respect the outside aids, because these are the aids that bring her in from the larger circle.  At the same time, I must lift her shoulders with my inside thigh while I bend her around my entire inside leg.  My opening inside rein shows her exactly where to go without interfering with any of her forward momentum.  The benefits I can take away from a well-ridden spiral are multi-faceted.

We can ride straight with a more connected pony who reaches up and over for the bit.
We can increase bend without a change in direction.  This will definitely help me correct the occasional “counter bend” while riding long and low!
We can ride straight out of any part of the spiral and create a more active leg-yield with more crossing than we have previously shown! Bonus: I have more control over how many steps we take in leg-yield!!

It is funny.  Each time we work on a new level of performance, we bring it all back to the baby basics.  I revel in a powerful, yet relaxed, trot down the long side of the arena that features nothing more special than my horse reaching for my hand.  While I explore the possibilities of these improved basics, I also feel what higher level movements will be like when all the pieces come together!  It feels like sitting in the present, the past, and the future all at the same time!

So, this week, I am celebrating that tiny little thing I shall call “a better spiral” and praising the Fancy Pony profusely for each tiny step in that direction that she takes correctly.  Who’s with me?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Someone Else's Adventure

I finally got CG hooked up with a lesson with Coach!

I have it on good authority that they jumped...  At the canter!

Way to go, CG!
 I really wish I could have watched these girls ride together. Instead, I shall relay the story as told to me by the Young Rider pictured on the Fancy Pony:

"My lesson on Whisper [aka Fancy Pony] was awesome! We warmed up with Madi [aka Cricket's Girl or CG] and Cricket (and then demonstrated posting trot to a beginner that Bridget [aka Coach] was teaching) and then we started to go through our course. We let Madi and Cricket go first and it was awesome (Cricket was a bit wary of one of the crossrails though). And then it was Whisper's and my turn. We trotted everything first and Whisper said "this is easy" and we finished with no problems. Madi and Cricket went again and were awesome but had some trouble getting deep into the corners. After that, Whisper and I cantered the course no problem. Madi then went and I went again (this time Bridget bumped everything up to verticles.) Whisper had no problem but I really had to think about supporting with my inside leg. Whisper thinks "oh yeah, verticles...this is more like it." At another time that we were doing our course, I noticed that I didn't even have to think about the course anymore... WHISPER HAD MEMORIZED IT!!! Madi and Cricket did great and even cantered their crossrail. The last course Whisper and I did consisted of an 18" vertical another slightly larger vertical and a 2' oxer! Whisper was a rockstar."

Love those smiles after successful rides!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

All the Words!!

All the words in the world will never demonstrate something the way that **actually feeling it** will!

Step One:
Teach Cricket that "forward" is always the answer.

Step Two:
Teach Cricket's Girl that "forward" is always the answer.
I admire CG's determination to ride her horse as well as she can, and this week, she pushed herself to her limits and beyond!

I strung together some exercises to set the pair up for success.  They looked something like this:

1)  Walk.
All the walking.  CG tends to get "tired" in her arms and lets them rest on the pommel of her western saddle.  Of course, there is no pommel like that on her english saddles, so the jusy kind of get stuck in her lap...
So, I asked her to "carry her hands" at the walk.  Cricket responded by walking more freely.  CG said to me, "I can feel her back legs really pushing me!"
I got pretty excited about that!!

2) Bend a Little
I asked CG to practice bending Cricket through her body without leaving the rail.  I actually found that she picked the idea up faster when we practiced the bend on the straight line before asking in the corner.  We talked through how much leg and how much rein and how to evaluate if Cricket just moved her neck or involved her ribcage...  And, suddenly, they were doing it!  They flexed for a couple strides, then went to neutral.  Then, they could do it on command!!

3) Pivot Squares
There are 2 ways to pivot, right?
I started with the easier aids for the rider - 90 degree pivot on the forehand in each corner.
CG really had to focus on how much hand to use, when to release it, and how to REALLY push her mare off when they were done pivoting.  They even managed on for 180 degrees!
She struggled with the pivots on the haunches.  It requires a little more "go" without actually going anywhere.  After many, many attempts, they got a real one, and you could see CG recognize it as the right feeling as they walked off to the next corner!  We tried not to drill it too hard.  The point was to show CG how to influence just the front end or hind end and start to develop some of that muscle memory.

It was, indeed, a very long ride, but much of it was at the walk.  Finally, things started getting exciting!
I laid out a hunter course of ground poles...

4) Hunter Course of Ground Poles
The pair trotted around on the rail as they explored the different trots that Cricket has to offer.  (Previously, we were lucky to get ANY trot from Cricket, so there was only 1 option.)  CG found a trot she was comfortable with where Cricket was moving free and relaxed, and away they went to trot the course.  There were some small bobble, as you would expect for your very first course ever.  Ground poles or jumps makes no difference when it comes to remembering where you are going...
They tried the course the other way with smashing success!
A girl and her horse...
5)  Put Your Hands Forward!
We've all been guilty of this right?  Going along, you suddenly realize you need more go...  So, you hang on to the reins and kick with all your might!  Aaaaaand... nothing happens...

So, I repeated - a million times - "Put your hands forward!"
Now, each time I said this, her hands went straight in front of her as if she were riding saddle seat.  I'm ok with this, for now, because it gives Cricket the room she needs to go forward!  We can refine it later!
They cantered round and round, and I noticed a trend...  When CG needs to steer or slow the canter, she brings her hands down...  Then forgets to put them forward again, so she just kind of gets stuck pulling...  So, Cricket obligingly stops.
I made a new association.  I said, "If I hear you clucking, I want to see your hands half-way to her ears!"
You see, it's hard to train "don't".  If you want to quit a habit, you will be much more successful if you replace it with a different one.  I try really hard to tell myself "Instead of , do this !"
Next thing I know, I look across the arena, and I watched CG bring her hands down to rate the canter and bend around the turn, then she put her hands forward again all on her own!  Wahoo!!
You could see both of the girls relaxing into the free, swinging motion!
I only saw one instance where Cricket swapped leads behind, and when CG pushed her forward, Cricket swapped back on her own!  BONUS!!

6)  Introductory Level Dressage Test A (and B, just for fun)
We worked out a great system for learning how to ride a dressage test!  CG's mom read the test while I coached between the movements!  It worked great, and CG really started thinking ahead.  At one point, her mom forgot to tell her the next movement (20 meter trot circle at E), and CG just did the circle all on her own!

I saw confidence.  I saw freedom.  I saw relaxation.
I popped Cricket over the 2' jump just so they could see how cute she does it (CG needs a little more stability before we send them over jumps), then handed the mare back to her girl for more unstructured playtime.

I guarantee Cricket was tired.  That girl rode the hair off of her, and Cricket (who is known for balking at halt-walk transitions) happily moved off and continued cantering round and round and round as long as her little girl wanted her to!

Fancy Pony was bored because we only did flat work, and it was only later that I realized... While FP jumped that 2' jump several times with other barn girls last night, she never did it with me!  Oops!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

There's a Click for That!

I've been a little quiet on the Cricket front, and I think it might be because things have been going so well...

Do you dare to try this? (Whisper and Splash - not Cricket)

She is learning to be brave.
When she sees something scary, there are 2 acceptable options:
 - ride on by
 - investigate it
Riding on by is working well in the arena.  Once we can ride on by, I will gove her a chance to investigate the scary objects.  If Cricket touches the scary object, she gets a click (she usually jumps at that) and a treat.  She is getting much more investigative!!
Yup, she's now bending in her body, as well! (not just in her neck, as shown here...)

Both mares have been exhibiting some resistance to bridling.  Cricket is consistently resistant.  Fancy Pony is usually fine, but has days where she has no interest in the bridling game.
I break this activity down into the tiniest of steps.
 - allow me to hold my hand on your nose (*click*)
 - allow that hand to hold the crown of the bridle (*click*)
 - allow me to raise the bit to your lips (*click*)
 - take the bit (*click*) (the treats come once the bridle is securely over the ears on this one.)

This approach results in a bit with gnarly treat-laden slobber all over the horse's mouth, but both girls are really looking forward to bridling!  I don't use the clicker every day, but if things start to turn sour, I don't hesitate to pull it out.  Fancy Pony will open her mouth in anticipation of receiving the bit!

I don't even click every step once the basic progression has been established.

I've also been teaching Cricket how to stand at the mounting block with patience (yes, using the clicker).  I figure these are skills that will really help a young rider out when they want to ride as independently as possible.
I feel like the clicker is helping to descibe exactly what behaviors are expected.  Understanding leads to success.  And Success leads to confidence.

In Cricket's last jumping adventure, two poles on the ground turned into 3, and that third pole was terrifying!! She didn't jump out of her skin, and she didn't run out of the line.  She slowed W-A-A-A-A-A-Y down, put her nose to the ground, and snorted at the pole... before trotting on over it!

She gets the idea, now, what jumping is all about, and I think each tiny jump makes her feel more confident about the next one.  I don't want to raise them too quickly, but I *loved* the way she handled herself over the 2' vertical!  I think it might be time to introduce Cricket to courses!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Greater Heights!

It's been a really busy week for me, so all of my spare time (and then some) has been spent in the saddle and late nights at the barn.

However, the dedication is paying off as Fancy Pony is comfortable and working again!
Cricket is getting much more laterally supple!

Both mares continue to get incrementally stronger.  And, while I wasn't looking...  Something happened to the Fancy Pony...
Her canter gained another notch of elasticity...  Somewhere along the line, she quit taking over in the gymnastic lines, and waits for my guidance...

She is beyond bored with cross-rails!
In fact, it took 2' verticals to convince her to stop playing the "how often can I switch my lead on a straight line" game...

So, we jumped our first attempts at 3'3"!
In case that one doesn't work, you can also see it here: Fancy Pony jumps 3'3"

Can I accurately convey just how excited I am!?

Monday, June 2, 2014

More Riding for St Jude! -or- Is This a Good Idea?

My dad usually hosts a "Saddle Up for St Jude" trail ride in October.  Last year, the government shutdown denied us access to the trails we usually ride on.  So, the ride was rescheduled for May.

I couldn't get a ride for Whisper or Cricket to the next state to participate, so I thought I was going to have to sit this one out...  Then, my Aunt contacted me and said, "You can ride my horse!"
A horse that hasn't been ridden since the last time I got to work with her... 8 months ago...
Sure!  Why not?

Oh, by the way, (I discover) she's never been on an actual trail ride!
Well, in 10 miles, she will either figure it out, or she won't...
...she doesn't look amused...
First, we asked her to take the HUGE step onto that trailer, then she ends up in this strange place.  She doesn't know where the home herd is...  She doesn't know where home base is...  How can she know where to run to try to get out of work?  Where is the safe place?

I bridled up and climbed on in a grassy area (in the shade!).  She jigged when we pointed back to the trailers, so we walked away.  We doubled back and again headed toward the trailer - until she started to jig...
Third time is a charm, and we walked quietly back to the rest of the group to stand in a different area of shade.  We practiced being chill.  She's a natural!

During the first 2 miles, she felt the need to charge on ahead, so we soon found ourselves second in line.  I didn't want to make her first trail ride a traumatic event, so I set her up for as little fight and fuss as possible.  Besides, I'm ALWAYS happy when they go forward!

By mile 3, we were relaxing into the rhythmic, ground-covering walk that is the mark of a true trail horse.  So, we all stopped in a field for a photo shoot!

Take note of the chestnut horse...  His story is coming soon...
By mile 5, we could fall in lie anywhere, so we practiced bringing up the rear!  Some horses feel awfully insecire when they are last in line, so I was pleased to feel her accept this position in stride.

Best Groupie Ever!
At mile 5.3, we played in another field where we explored canter!  I think the grass tickled her belly, so we had the tiniest of bucks in the initial canter strides.  So, I put my hands forward and gave her more room to canter.  She couldn't decide whether to go toward the 3 horses by the treeline or the 2 horses galloping away, so she finally gave up and just went where I pointed her!  Great Paint!!

At mile 6, that chestnut horse (you remembered him, right?) decided that he was just done.  He couldn't walk anymore.  He just stood in the middle of the trail while everyone else walked on...  I noticed, so I stopped and waited for him to catch up.  My mount stood quietly while the horses in front of us disappeared.  The chestnut still didn't move...  Finally, I decided to try to pony him.  Paint Mare has never been asked to do anything like this, but that other horse just wasn't going to move!  I took his left rein by the bit and asked Paint Mare to walk on... She headed off, and the stubborn gelding still wouldn't move.  She tipped me an ear, so I told her to just keep walking...  The pressure increased on the gelding, and he finally started walking.  Reluctantly.

Each time I let go, he refused to walk any further!  I ponied him until we caught up to the group, but he was not walking without some other form of motivation!  After a rider switch, Stubborn Gelding resumed walking without a pony, but he remained as reluctant as ever.  Rider persistance got him to the head of the line, and we ended up second again.

Heading up a steep incline, probably around mile 8, Stubborn Gelding stopped again.  This time, Paint Mare just charged on past him, not wanting to give up her own momentum, taking the lead in the process!  She led for a good while, like a proven trail master.
She lost her confidence when the sound of motorboats on the lake crept into the trees, but she carried one with one fearless leader ahead of her.

After we exited the trees, we crossed a field back to our trailers.  The trailers were in sight, but a woman on foot stopped us to ask about the trails.
All of the other horses kept walking.  Paint Mare stood quietly.  We wrapped up our conversation after the rest of the herd had reached the trailers.  So, we walked on.  A couple times, she took it upon herself to trot, as if asking permission.  A touch on the reins, and she dropped right back down to a walk.  Again - like a proven trail master!

Was it a good idea to take a horse that hadn't been ridden in 8 months on her first ever trail ride cold?  And 10 miles at that?  Maybe not.  But it turned out beautifully in this case!
All for the kids at St Jude, right?


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