Saturday, August 12, 2017

Super Saturday Show

Super dressage schooling show this morning.  Second show of the year at a fairly spooky venue and Jet was just so very good.  Looking around and a little wound up at first but settled right down with the TRT ground work.  He relaxed much quicker than at the first show a few weeks ago and totally seemed to get he was there to do his two easy tests in the sandbox and get lots of treats!  He was very responsive in both tests, willing to do whatever I asked however I asked for it, stood around like a trooper, and was basically good as gold.  So fun!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Neutral Spine

One of my big revelations this year is about neutral spine via DRT.  I have been through many iterations over the years about how to use my core, center myself, and etc. but this simple line up has helped my basic alignment and ability to stay with the movement of the horse more than anything else.  Dressage Rider Training has a great blog post and video explanation HERE and it basically tells you everything you need to know to set yourself up for success.  It is definitely a different way to think about using your biomechanics and I have found it to be super helpful.  Check it out!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Feel the Hind Legs

Is this not the truth?  Jet and I have been working on polishing our lengthens and counter canter and as we have struggled to not just do them, but do them correctly, a couple of lightbulb moments have happened.  Last post I talked about how energy was a component, but even with more energy something was still missing. 

After getting frustrated and hitting the Dressage Naturally video collection I finally found my answer.  You know how you can have your horse balanced, relaxed, with appropriate energy, and can do a nice Intro or Training Test but the move up to First looks like a First Test done in a Training frame/balance?  You can get through most of the elements of the First Tests, maybe even get a 60%, but it still doesn't look or feel quite right?  And forget about moving up to Second.  

What then is missing?  Your horse is relaxed, aligned, and forward.  Why then, even with more and harder figures and transitions can't you quite get him in a First Level balance and frame?  The answer my friends is engagement of the hind end.  You can do figures, transitions and lateral work until the cows come home, but if you are lacking that engagement of the hind end, the gymnastic effect of all of the above is much, much less.

Now some schools of dressage training emphasize the half-halt with a combination of seat/leg/hand to get more engagement.  Been there, done that, got the t -shirt.  Ended up with a tense, pushed together horse that was behind the vertical and running through my aids a lot of the time.  Dressage Naturally takes a different approach to hind leg engagement by having prerequisites that include relaxation, the ability to stretch at any time, and go/stop from the seat.  After you are in this Sweet Spot, where everything basic is effortless, the next step is to work on smaller figures, harder transitions, and lateral work.  None of this gets you very far though, without hind leg engagement.

Think of it like this.  You are doing a 15m circle at the working trot and it is ok, but kind of flat.  Then, feel the hind legs underneath you and try to get a little bounce under your seat.  Then sit a little taller.  Rinse and repeat.  Feel your horse grow taller in the withers, with more bounce to his step, while getting a little shorter in his body.  Occasionally ask your horse to move freely forward and stretch a little to check that he is not getting contracted or jammed up.  Do all of this while working on everything under the sun, but especially things that need more engagement like smaller figures and lateral work.  Feel the hind legs, sit a little taller, move forward freely occasionally and feel the beginnings of true collection without using your hands.  It's like magic!

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.