Monday, July 17, 2017

Trot Lengthen and Counter-Canter Fixes

We've been a bit stuck the last few rides working on improving trot lengthens and counter-canter.  Just not able to make progress with either movement so they actually look and feel the way they should.  Until I had an epiphany.  About energy.  Again.  Basically, I have two different horses in one right now.  The fired up, slightly tense horse is Jet at a show.  Energy is not a problem.  The slightly behind my leg, slightly slow off my aids horse is Jet under pretty much any circumstances at home.  Relaxation is not a problem.  All the Dressage Naturally and TRT Method work has been super to produce a much more relaxed horse BUT I have let the energy slide in some of the basic work at home.  Don't get me wrong, I love the new, much calmer Jet, but since relaxation is almost a given, the energy and quick  response to my energy has decreased.

What does energy have to do with counter-canter and lengthens you ask?  Well, if your horse is pretty balanced and relaxed but low energy, how is that transition from trot to canter?  How high quality is the low energy canter that comes out of that transition?  How does that canter work out for the counter-canter?  Also, how is that transition from low energy working trot to lengthened trot?  Now traditional dressage would tell you to add lots of leg/seat/stick to get that much need energy.  Which usually results in the crammed together look seen all over in dressage.  Dressage Naturally has a different approach that emphasizes a whisper instead of a shout.  On a loose rein walk the rider coils up her energy like the kitty pictured below and sends it forward into a trot.  If the horse does not respond 100% the rider can tap the horse behind the leg, tap his boot, or a variety of other gentle scoot forward reinforcers.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Basically, over time, you will tune the horse to listen and respond to your energy using this exercise and the horse eventually moves almost off of your thoughts.  It is amazing stuff that looks something like this for every transition.

So, right now we are focusing on having the correct amount of energy BEFORE every transition.  Low and behold Jet's gaits are better and it is much easier to shift his balance back and/or slow his tempo.  This of course helps make a nice balanced canter that makes counter-canter possible and a slightly coiled up trot that can lengthen a little as well.  Just by focusing on this one thing but doing essentially the same exercises, problem solved.  Relaxation, Energy, Balance, are the three legs of the Dressage Naturally Sweet Spot and I find myself going back to them over and over when we get stuck.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

One of Those Rides

Today I had one of those rides.  You know when you walk out to the ring to warm up, the pony breathes deeply with his head down, and everything from there on out  is "Yes Ma'am, what would you like Ma'am?"  When the halts from the seat, the hind quarter and shoulder yields, the leg yields, and the counter bends are great.  Even better though, when you move on to harder things like 10 meter trot circles, walk-canter-walk, 15 meter canter circles, and lateral work, these go great as well, and even better yet, the pony is so relaxed he asks to graze (and is allowed to!) under saddle between the hard stuff.

Now don't get me wrong, some of the higher level work is not perfect.  The lengthens still need MORE and the counter-canter is very much a work in progress.  Still, the relaxation and try on this horse after just a couple of rides more focused on gymnastic work at 1st to 2nd Level is just amazing.  To be able to get quality, energetic, difficult work but then transition to a stretched out trot easily (or a quick graze!) is still just astounding to me.  Never thought I'd get there with this horse.  Thank you Dressage Naturally.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Disappointed Yet Excited


So, the dressage schooling show Jet and I were supposed to do last Saturday was cancelled.  There was a massive day of rain on Friday and basically the venue was too flooded for a show.  A bit disappointing, especially as I wanted to get another trip off the farm under our belts and make sure the first show wasn't a fluke.  Also, I have been focusing on ride-ability in all sorts of stressful situation to the detriment of moving to harder things gymnastically, so in some ways I feel like I have been wasting good weather to work on showing Intro, when I really want to be working on lengthening, counter-canter, and etc..  Granted, this is a good problem to have, I just feel like I am on two training tracks that don't always converge.

Don't get me wrong, Jet needs to show Intro until he relaxes a bit more at shows, but the time spent working on that limits the time we can work on the things that really interest me and will polish up our First Level tests.  You know, things that are not throwing my kid in a chair in the bed of a truck, hanging flapping stuff all around the dressage court, setting up a mock judges stand, and making Jet deal and do his test in a reasonable manner.  When he has done this well, the last thing I want to do is challenge him gymnastically and work on his harder stuff.  Not much of a reward when he is good for the spook training.

That said, since there is no immediate show on the horizon, this week I have had a couple of rides just focused on gymnastic development and it has been eye opening.  I've let a couple things like 100% energy response and a truly swinging back in the harder work slide, in the name of having a calm cooperative horse in the made to be very spooky ring.  I know what I need to work on to improve the First Level work, things like the energy response and more swinging First Level figures(and a lot of them!) but if I take the time to do that I won't be putting in the "spook" training that Jet needs right now to be successful going off my farm to show.  What to do and which is more important to me right now?  Entries for the next show on July 15 are due Friday, so we shall see!



Monday, June 19, 2017

Hilltop Dressage Show Thoughts


We did our first dressage show in a few years on Saturday and I was so pleased with Jet.  He scored 69% in Intro A with a second place and 62% in Intro B for a third place.  He was definitely tense and distracted yet kept it together enough to do some very nice work intermittently.  The judges comments included things like "tense", "could cover more ground", "allow horse to go more" which were totally accurate at moments, but also things like "much to like", "adorable horse", and a string of 7.0 and 7.5's in test A.  Overall, for not being off my farm for at least two years and not doing a dressage show for something like five years he really tried to hold it together well and even seemed to enjoy himself at times, especially when my husband fed him pancakes with syrup between classes.

The funniest and coolest thing of the show was at the start of test B.  Something wound him up and he honest to God started to passage as we entered the ring.  I just went with it and kept riding and about half the test was done in passage, not working trot.  It felt like passage to me and at the time I couldn't believe it, but when I looked at the video his tail was held out and he was doing a pretty good basic passage.  He has never done passage under saddle before, and I bet the judge has never seen THAT at Intro before!  He stayed obedient and listening though, and relaxed enough eventually that I could lengthen his stride and go back to working gaits.  I guess all that lateral work and beginning collection has made him a bit stronger!  A good problem to have with your $800 auction pony.

Anyhoo, much to like and much to work on.  The TRT Method ground work was amazing.  I got him off the trailer a bit fired up, put him through the "horse yoga" in hand and within 1-2 minutes he had his head down licking his lips and sighing.  I looked at my husband and said, "Holy S%}# it really works!"  Every time he got wound up we went back to the TRT stuff in hand or under saddle and it helped him so much to relax and keep it together at a pretty busy and spooky venue.  I was also pleased with how I spent the 2 weeks before the show working on scenarios like a mock judges stand, riding by my kid in a chair in the bed of a pickup truck, and lots of other scary/stressful set ups.  I need to do more of the same and also work on having him tense/distracted and not just get him around the test(that's a good start though!) but also get him focused on me a bit more for more consistency in the test.  Maybe with the basic alignment exercise or some shoulder-in?  

Next show is Saturday at a different venue, so stay tuned!