Thursday, March 26, 2020

Coiled Energy in a Time of Coronavirus

The Coronavirus is taking up a lot of head space for many, including me.  My family is ok for now, we live on a small farm so we have space to get outside, and the horses are at home.  Financially we are ok, and none of us have any high risk factors for the disease, but it is still so scary to watch this thing progress.  I’ve had a hard time really thinking much about riding even though I’ve been keeping to my usual 3 or so rides a week.  Now that we can see though, that this thing is going to last a long time, I am making an effort to read the news a little more selectively and focus on some things that help me stay on an even keel.  Doing yoga and another type of exercise daily, getting outside for at least an hour a day on top of my ride days, and watching a Dressage Naturally video every day.  Small things but they work for me.

During my ride yesterday I was thinking about energy (the bane of my riding existence right now) and for whatever reason a snippet from a DN video came to mind.  Think of the gait you want being within the gait you are currently doing.  For instance, you’re walking along and want a nice walk to trot transition.  Instead of giving aids to trot you build up the energy to get to that feeling that you could almost trot but don’t.  You hold back the trot with your seat until you let it out and bam, good crisp transition.  The same hold for lengthens, extensions, and etc..  The above illustrates the coiling of energy.  When, before every transition, I thought of having the next gait within the current gait, I got some beautiful flowing work.  The same held true for my downward transitions.  When going from trot to walk, if I thought about having a nice balanced walk within the trot waited a bit and then did the transition, the walk was so balanced and uphill.  The older I get the more I realize just how subtle good riding is and how powerful mental images can be for the rider.

What is your go to image for transitions?

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Working Sideways

Jet has had three good seasons happily showing Intro through First on our local dressage circuit.  Much farther than I thought I would ever get with my spooky, reactive pony.  Reality is he is seventeen this year and a slightly downhill quarter horse pony.  He is sound though, happy in his work, and getting a lot of the concepts for Second Level.  The question is whether to push things to keep making progress or happily take what he has given so far and call it good.  My feeling is that Second Level is attainable but Third might be a push since I have only seen him do flying changes in the field 5-10 times over 10+ years(though all those times have been recently as he learns to “sit” more in ridden work).

So, since Second seems possible but I only want to keep going if Jet is happy in his work, I have been approaching this in a slightly sideways(see my pun there!) fashion.  Bareback work to refine my seat and balance which helps me in turn with helping Jet balance over his hind legs.  Bit less work to make sure I am using my seat to maximum effect.  Starting out each ride with working gaits to warm up, some stretches and flexibility work, but then thinking of getting to Second being less about showing something that sort of looks like collected work and more about something like deep knee bends that need gradually improved strength over time to get a more powerful jump.  After warm up we’ve been doing frequent walk trot transitions (think 4-5 steps)in lateral work to keep the inside hind leg engaged and the energy up, walk canter 5 steps walk transitions, and trot to almost halt to rein back to trot. Treating these exercises more like bodybuilding and adding reps each ride. Starting with 1 rep, not expecting the exercise to be perfect but to improve strength over time.  And with lots of praise and treats it has been working.

Jet has gone from uncertain about these harder exercises in very small doses, to happily doing them in larger doses.  Easily.  His collected trot has got a nice bounce now, his transitions are effortless, and his canter is much improved.  The interesting thing as well is that his working gaits are better, with more energy and cadence, and his stretches have a more shoulders lifted posture with his nose out to vertical like the picture above.  By not working specifically on the movements in Second Test 1 but on the essence of collection in tiny tiny increasing increments, the movements from Second 1 seem possible in the future with a bit of quality.  Our rides are short, the vibe is positive, and Jet is happy.  We will see what the future holds, but the work is fun and it is great to see his improved posture and carriage.

Have you ever improved a riding problem or challenge by working on something else or approaching it in a sideways fashion?  Details?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Pushing the Envelope and Learning Things

I grew up riding my little palomino pony bareback everywhere.  He was a “spunky” pony, so I developed a very good seat and a distrust of the dirty spook, spin and/or buck/rear.  Really, until Jet, I always preferred to school quite a bit bareback, even on my crazy Hanoverian mare.  She was awesome bareback in a hackamore, which should have told me something about my seat, riding tact, and much, much more.  Anyway, you would think with my history of 30+ years of riding bareback on everything I owned that Jet would be rock solid bareback.  You would be wrong.

When I’d had Jet for about a year and he was going well, I tried our first bareback ride.  All was well until we went by something spooky, he dropped his shoulder and did a nice big spin and dropped me on my head.  I was fine(helmet), got back on, schooled a bit, and called it a day.  And never rode him bareback again.  Many reasons for this, including small children under my care, deepening realization of how big that spook and spin could be, and also the thought that I was riding for fun and being worried about being dumped was not fun.

Fast forward to today, where I ride in a treeless saddle because it has a feel as close to bareback as I can get with a saddle.  Where Jet is much more solid about everything, even going bit-less, and much less inclined to spook.  Where I have, essentially, an indoor round pen to make things a bit safer.  Where I feel like I am missing out on ways to develop my seat, timing, and feel by not being able to school once in a while bareback.  So I gave it a shot.  Pushing the envelope a bit.

I deliberately chose a warm day, closed the doors to my teeny tiny indoor, and decided I would only go as far as I felt safe.  Even if that was just getting on and off or just taking a few steps.  I pulled Jet up to the sawdust pile and the look on his face.  He was really trying to tell me I forgot something.  So funny.  Anyway, to make a long story short, he was fabulous.  We did all our usual work except for canter.  He was a little tense, but I think more about the shadow from the doors being closed than the more full contact sensation.  I did a second ride a couple of days later with the doors open and he was tension free and we even did a few steps of canter.  Very pleased with him.

I already feel like I have learned a couple of things besides the fact that bareback is a WORKOUT and my balance is still pretty good.  Our first ride he was a bit tense so I didn’t ask for more energy.  This led to a compliant horse that was a little low energy, slightly BTV, with shoulders slightly dropped.  Sound familiar from my show recaps last year?  He gets tense, I feel a little insecure either because I am at a show or have no saddle for security and I let him tool around underpowered.  Nothing wrong with this in either circumstance, to keep things from devolving quickly, but something we need to learn to work through to get to better connection and gaits.  Much easier to ride bareback at home than haul out to endless shows to practice this.  The second ride I went in with the thought that if he was chill, I would think about adding energy even though I felt a bit precarious with no saddle.  Be a little brave.  He was chill, I did add a little energy, and we got nice swingy gaits with him reaching more to the connection.  I thought my legs were going to fall of by the end but I think this is going to be an excellent learning tool to add to my toolbox.  All sorts of things to explore.

Do you ever school bareback?  When and why?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Bit-less in 2020

I follow, more or less, a lot of the principles of Dressage Naturally.  I am not really a rigid follower though.  I do a lot less ground work, freestyle(loose reins or bridle-less), and bit-less work than many.  However, I think it is really important to check in with all of these periodically to make sure Jet is working mostly off my seat and energy, and in balance without being held up by the reins.  I use these things less as a training technique and more as a test of lightness and harmony.

I like to check in over the winter in my teeny tiny indoor a few times with bit-less to see how it compares to the current work with the bit and also because I think Jet enjoys the feeling.  I use the Micklem set up like above.  His face always cracks me up when I bridle him and the bit is gone.  You can almost see him smile.

Anyway, yesterday I did my first bit-less ride since last winter and WOW was it a surprise.  Our last bit-less ride in winter 2019 was fine but definitely much less balanced than with the bit.  Obedient but not as through, with stretches that weren’t quite as good.  I went into this ride expecting something similar, but to my surprise everything was just as good as with the bit.  Both ways.  Super stretches and thoroughness.  Great walk canter walks.  Possibly better halt rein back trots, with more energy because he feels a little less restricted without the bit.

What a nice surprise and validation of where we are in our dressage  training.  Mostly though, I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment that this sensitive, sometimes hot, little horse is so willing and works so hard for me even without a bit.  He is such a good boy.