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.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Trip, Some Thoughts on 2019, and Onward to 2020

Just got home from a fabulous family trip to Stockholm.  The architecture, the sights, the museums and churches-what a great trip!

The trip was a lovely end to 2019.  I wasn’t as focused on riding this year because of various(good!) life events, but Jet and I still got out and showed at 1st Level with an average season score in the 60%’s, so not too bad for my quarter horse auction pony!  I feel like I met most of my fitness, and riding goals, so no complaints, especially in a busy family year.

My 2020 goals are a little more simple this year.  I’d like to show Jet at 1st or 2nd Level on my DLSC at least four times, but I will make a decision about level based on how he is going in April/May.  Basically, we can try to improve our scores at 1st into a high 60% average or aim for 60% at 2nd Level.  We shall see!

My resolution for this year is much more simplified.  Small changes that make a big difference.  This is more of a rolling resolution, in that as ideas come up I will try to incorporate them into my life.  Some recent examples would be: more drives and walks with the hubby, a second volunteer opportunity, purposely adding in more “fun days” for get the idea.  What are your resolutions/goals for 2020?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Lack of Responsiveness or Lack of Coordination

An interesting concept came up watching the Dressage Naturally Results in Harmony DVDs that I’ve never come across before.  When your horse is not doing an exercise precisely the way you want, have you ever considered whether the problem is lack of responsiveness or lack of coordination?  Depending on which it is should dictate your response.  If lack of responsiveness is the issue, abandon the exercise, get the isolated response you need and then come back to the full exercise.  If lack of coordination is the issue, for example with a new to the horse movement, keep doing the exercise and playing with the “recipe” of the aids/biomechanics to find the precision.

This sounds really confusing, so let me give an example.  Leg yields.  You ask your horse for a leg yield from the 1/4 line at the walk.  Your horse “sort of “ leg yields but it is not really correct.  He is not really stepping over and still going forward.  You can bail out, reinforce a sideways yield or reinforce forward with some trot steps or any other manner of fix for what you perceive the underlying problem to be and the come back to the exercise.  Your other option is to play with your weight/biomechanics/ coordination to find the precision within the exercise.  Depending on what is going on with your horse either is a valid training option, but you as the rider need to make a decision and not just fall into twist/pull/kick.

I have found this concept to be SUPER helpful with my slightly lazy quarter pony.  Once Jet is working in relaxation, he likes to give what I call the “60%” effort.  You know, doing it, but not really engaged, not quite forward, not quite right.  He sucks me into try to find precision within the exercise and twisting myself into a pretzel, while blithely going along on the minimal effort curve.  The idea that I can bail on the exercise, get sideways or forward or whatever in isolation and then go back to the exercise has been mind blowing and super effective.  All the sudden I don’t have to settle for sort of ok.  If I’m not happy or think he can do the exercise with more quality, I bail, reinforce (usually with FORWARD), and the come back to the exercise.  This has led to a lot more quality in all the work we do and the exercises stacking on each other so much more efficiently.  

What do you think?  Is this something you do automatically or is this new information for you as well?