Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Forward but Not Faster

I’ve been thinking a bit about our move up to First Level next year and I’ve had a couple of epiphanies.  One is that we can do every movement in the First Level tests quite easily, we are just lacking quality lengthens.  If I just approach First Level as Training Level with some extra movements, more shoulders lifted balance, and a bit more energy, moving up seems a lot less intimidating.  As I said, the movements are all easy, the balance is pretty good, but then there is the question of energy.

I realized somewhere during the end of this year of showing at Training that I made a bit of a compromise with Jet.  As long as he was relaxed and calm he was allowed to be a bit low energy at times.  Just like going slightly BTV occasionally, the low energy was allowed when in stressful situations like spooky venues or on a super windy day.  Sometimes you’re not going to get it all, so you settle for the most important thing.  Everything starts and ends in relaxation.  This worked really well for us with some very calm reactions(judges stand blowing away!) and some nice comments about calmness and partnership.  But.  If we are going to show at First we have to have a more uphill balance and more energy.  I started working on the uphill balance with great success (and got rid of the BTV!) but the energy has been a work in progress.  Then I remembered “Forwards NOT Faster!” just like in the picture above.

Back in the Stone Age when I was a baby rider, I had the opportunity to work in various barns in the PNW as a working student and take tons of lessons and ride with some pretty spectacular clinicians.  Think Olympians that have multiple medals.  Anyway, in addition to all this H/J training, I also had the privilege of riding in clinics with a German Bereiter that we’ll call GR.  GR had ridden with some BIG names in Germany, had his Gold Medal, and Bereiter.  He was a super nice man, with limited English, who gave a very unique dressage clinic experience.  Essentially he rode the horse through you.  Everything was forward, figures, and transitions.  Your ass hit the saddle and it was on.  And when I say forward, I mean FORWARD, but not running.  One of GR’s favorite sayings was, “EVERY STEP YOU MUST RIDE!”  And I tell you what, you have never seen such through horses who found gears they never know they had.  There was a lot more to his methodology, but the base of everything was forward to the connection.  Sometimes the horses ended up looking a bit BTV and stressed, but the biomechanics of the hind leg and the back were superb.  And lengthens were not a problem.

I now prefer my horses to look like the bottom of the illustration but in my everlasting quest for energy I wondered if I could take all the things I like about Dressage Naturally like partnership, relaxation, a long neck, and softness and add in a bit of FORWARD BUT NOT FASTER to some of the work some of the time.  Not really using any leg, seat, or hands heavily, just having the mantra in my mind of FORWARD BUT NOT FASTER.  That extra bit of zoom.  Interspersed with freestyle and/or working gaits in whatever energy Jet offered.  And hit the jackpot.  More through the back.  Better transitions.  That feeling of an airplane taking off.  Canter steps with more jump.  If I rode Jet like this all the time, I think it would be too much, but by doing it some of the time between ordinary, slightly lower energy work, his general energy level is higher and the quality of his movement is so much better.  Interesting, how something from 25 years ago could be so helpful in the here and now.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Little Fix for the Dressage Rider’s Outside Aids with a Big Impact

Continuing on with my series of little fixes with big impacts, let’s talk about the outside aids.  Inside leg to outside rein. You know, another holy grail of riding like on the bit or through the back.  One of those things, that if you are like me, you have heard others espouse for years, but have never been able to achieve with any consistency.  

Anyhoo, while working on my lateral work this year using the Dressage Naturally video classroom, I learned that in order for the horse to stay on the track for shoulder-in, the rider’s weight needs to be shifted in the direction of travel. Think outside rib cage to elbow.  Very slight.  For haunches-in think inside rib cage to elbow.  Just a subtle shift of weight that tells the horse to maintain the direction of travel while keeping the position of the lateral work. Try it, you will be pleased.

Anyway, I started thinking about this and how that slight shift tells the horse to stay on the track.  What if Idid a lesser version of the same thing on a circle?  Wouldn’t it put my horse on the outside aids?  And the answer was a resounding YES.  Like how the f#$& did I not know this?  I could have Jet nicely aligned and bent on the circle.  I could squeeze with my inside leg to my outside rein and everything was fine, but no magic.  When instead, I aligned him and then just pushed my ribs a smidge to the outside, consistent figures became possible.  Changes of direction with one straight stride became so smooth.  Spirals and leg yields were SO much easier.  Turns and center lines became so much more accurate.

Sit in your chair and play with this a bit.  Practice riding a straight line with an arrow of energy going straight forward.  Then practice circles left and right pushing your ribs very slightly to your outside elbow while still keeping most of your energy forward on the circle.  Then try some lateral work.  Feel the shift onto the seat-bone that tells the horse to stay on the line of travel.  Think of the outside aids as the horse shifted slightly in that direction,  while aligned and bent, thus helping him to balance.  Then go try it in your horse. You will thank me!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Dayton Local Show Circuit Year End Banquet 2018

The year end awards banquet was held for the DLSC last Friday night.  It was a great evening, lovely venue, with very good food, and it was fun to talk with people a bit without helmets on.  Jet and I finished Reserve Champions in Training Level Senior against 11 qualified for the division.  Our cumulative score for 4 shows was 66.182%, which I was pleased with, especially given that one of those scores was in the 50’s from the judge that did not care for us.  We squeezed by the third place competitor by .057%.  Talk about close.

Anyway, the evening was lovely, the ribbon large, the trophy shiny, and we won our very first nice leather halter.  A good night.  The DLSC does such a nice job with their Show Circuit, does not charge a membership fee(all you need to do is compete at 4 shows per year at the same level), charges very reasonable entry fees, and does very nice year end awards.  I feel very lucky to live somewhere with such a reasonable way to show a bit and compete without breaking the bank.  I try to always thank show management at every show and the directors at the year end awards for providing something so nice at the local level.

Now my thoughts are turning to showing at First Level next year.  There will definitely be some challenges in moving up and things to work on over the winter, but I feel like at least after 2 years I have a handle on how to prep Jet for a show.  Now to work on our lengthens and improve our canter work a bit.  Looking forward to 2019 with my favorite pony ever.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jet Meets Dr. Ron

Jet came up head bobbing lame a week ago last Sunday.  He worked under saddle fine Saturday but when I went to get him from turnout Sunday he was waiting at the gate(NEVER happens) and off.  I couldn’t find any heat or swelling anywhere and assumed he was brewing an abscess since he has a history.  The vet came out to see Jet the next a.m. and couldn’t find any real foot tenderness.  But when we started flex testing him it quickly became apparent that one hip was higher than the other and one of his hind feet was tracking weirdly to the inside.  The vet recommended that Dr. Ron the equine chiropractor take a look before we did anything else.

Dr. Ron turned out to be eminently qualified with a background of human chiropractic practice for 30+ years and equine chiropractic for 20+.  He is in such demand for equine work that he flies all over the country to the big show barns.  He’s also a long time reining competitor with many wins at the highest level.  Besides being so qualified, Dr. Ron is also a super nice guy, soft and quiet with the horses, and willing to answer any and all questions.  Jet had a couple of little things going on but the big one was that his SI joint was WAY out.  Probably from a slip in the mud.  Dr. R loosened him up with massage and then did some big adjustments using the hind legs and pushes the other direction.  You should have heard the crack when it finally gave!  Jet was surprisingly good and after every crack his eyes would get huge and worried and then all soft and the lip licking would commence. 

Jet is now day 6 out from being adjusted and totally back to normal if not slightly better in his collected work.  So lucky to have such a knowledgeable equine professional who is such a horseman.  Loved Dr. R’s general philosophy, quiet manner, and obvious love of horses.  Jet might possibly need a touch up sometime in the next few weeks, but if not, he will definitely be checked out before show season starts next year.