Friday, April 21, 2017

Equestrian Bucket List


Susan, over at Saddle Seeks Horse just did a great post about equestrian bucket lists.  I have always had a wish list percolating in the back of my head but have never really written it down or made it explicit.  I am such a goal driven person that I tend to focus on things I can do in the here and now, so bucket list items seem more like dreams instead of goals.  


Putting aside definite goals and going more into the realm of dreams and one day, with enough money and time, maybe, here is my list:

* Attend a world Equestrian Games see here(actually possible ??? with the games in Tryon in 2018)
* Spectate the Cross Country at Badminton see here
* Go for the whole show at Aachen see here
* See the equestrian events at the Olympics
* A dressage riding holiday in Either Portugal or Italy(this one has already been mentioned to the husband as a landmark birthday gift)
* combined biking(husband) riding(me) holiday in France hitting the vineyards and old Roman roads
* Train a horse to do all the Grand Prix Movements myself
* train a horse to go in a neckrope only doing a lot of the dressage movements
* Buy a fancy purpose bred dressage horse and ride it well(the ride it well is the kicker here!)
* Go fox hunting with the local hunt
* learn to ride sidesaddle 


As I started thinking about my equestrian bucket list I realized I have already been truly lucky to do some pretty amazing things:

* learned a style of training(Dressage Naturally and the TRT Method) that makes me and my horses happy to see each other and always making positive progress
* had my horses at my own cute little farm for over 20 years
* bred two foals and watched them grow
* got to spectate for Rolex cross country day and see William Fox-Pitt, Mary King, and Mark Todd up close and personal
* kept my old show horse in Comfortable retirement(she is 27 this year and still a complete pia)
* had ponies in my backyard for my kids and turned out both kids as kind riders
* Evented my old show horse(when she was young) and won an unaffiliated event at starter/novice
* Showed my old show horse through 2nd Level dressage
* trained my old show horse to do pretty advanced liberty work in a large arena
* cliniced with an Olympian-Kevin Freeman
* Jumped a 5' fence
* won a couple of circuit championships at 3' hunters at a local(Bend OR)schooling show series
* rode as a working student for an A hunter trainer and rode some very high $ horses
* took lessons on a retired PSG horse who was also a top six finisher at the 1978 Eventing Worlds in Lexington
* Rode said PSG horse in a neck rope only, doing correct two tempi's(one of the most amazing things of my life!)
* had many mountain/back country day rides in Oregon
* Ridden on the beach on the Oregon coast
* shown saddleseat on the A Morgan circuit including regionals 
* shown singles driving on the Morgan circuit
* helped start many babies under saddle and in harness on the Morgan farm
* worked as a show groom for an A barn
* spent large portions of my childhood on the back of a pony trail riding in the boonies with my childhood BFF

Looking at that list how could I ever complain about the things I might not get to do?  What is on your equestrian bucket list and why?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Threat Level Rainbow


Lately, Jet and I have been trying to ride a bit outside between rainstorms.  Usually the transition between riding mostly inside in the winter to riding mostly outside in the spring can be a bit dicey with Jet.  Some wild spooking and lack of relaxation have been pretty much the norm in past years.  The threat level would vary from red, to orange, to yellow but there was usually a lot of tension involved and thoughts of wearing a safety vest for the first couple of weeks.  This year has been a bit different though, because of a combination of the techniques of Dressage Naturally and the TRT Method. As I was riding around outside the other day I jokingly thought to myself, "If he had a threat level it would be set at rainbow."  It's a really nice feeling being at rainbow.  I thought I might never get there with this particular horse.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Searching or Enjoying


But what happens if you are always looking?  An interesting side concept came up when delving into why my working gaits weren't quite right.  The idea that when training the rider needs to be either searching or enjoying.  Always.  Clearly.  When searching, the rider is trying various different things to get the effect that is desired.  An example would be alignment aka straightness on the figure.  The rider wants the horse aligned, so tries various strategies to get there including going to the other place of crookedness supported by forehand and hindquarter yields, and different helpful figures.  When the horse does get aligned, there needs to be a period of the rider going into active neutral, keeping the desired effect for a moment or three, and giving a release/reward for the horse hitting the target.  Then the cycle starts again when the horse goes crooked, the search starts again, until eventually the horse holds himself in alignment because it is the easiest, most neutral place to be.  With minimal effort from the rider.

Think about this.  How many times have you seen someone go round and round with a tense horse, always searching for something but never enjoying.  Because the rider doesn't have a clear idea of exactly what they want, the release/reward of active neutral is never possible.  Talk about a recipe for an unhappy horse that won't work for you.  But how many times as riders are we super cognizant of what we truly want, seek it by playing between things a bit, and then reward and release by going to active neutral as soon as we come even close?  How many times does the horse come close enough, but not get the release and get more and more frustrated?

This is one of those super subtle concepts that is really the foundation of any kind of animal(cough-cough teenager) training.  If the animal never gets a release why would he offer to try?  By starting with the concept of playing with different things to get a certain response and then going into the release of active neutral we are training our beast to always be thinking, "Is this what she wants?  How about this?  Ah, she stopped asking things, this must be it."  Think about how motivating this is to the animal over time and how they then become a true partner in the training.

I really think this is one of the key concepts of Natural Horsemanship, any kind of animal training, and obviously dressage training.  Many tiny steps of play, get the response wanted, release until it goes south, go again and again until skills are built up.  Obviously, the steps are very small but it is easy to see the progression from basic ground work to loose rein under saddle work to connected basic dressage riding all linked by the underlying concept of searching(asking for something achievable) or enjoying(cessation of searching into active neutral).  Basically, it all comes down to pressure and release.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Working Gaits Wisdom


So many things to love about this quote.  Not in a we'll never get it sense, but in a so close but not quite there way.  Take Jet's working gaits for instance.  Things have been moving along.  Relaxation, energy, and balance to make up the Sweet Spot all good with a nice walk, trot, and canter.  The flexibility exercises of spirals, serpentines, leg yields, stretches down and back up, and counter bending progressing nicely.  But a bit flat.

I started thinking about why I am having to do quite a bit of prep before every transition and came to the conclusion our working gaits aren't quite right.  Not wrong, but not absolutely correct, otherwise the transitions would take a little less effort.  Karen Rohlf's great definition of the working gaits-they are the gaits you can easily do stuff from-came to mind and I realized we are not quite there.  Something was missing in our Sweet Spot.

So, after some Dressage Naturally research I think I finally have my answer and I also found a nifty little exercise to help us out.  The theory is that the working gaits are supposed to consist of a poll high posture, combined with a bit of stretching posture, combined with self carriage. The poll high keeps the biomechanics correct, the little bit of stretch keeps the back swinging, and the self carriage ensures the horse is balancing himself.  So far, so good.  Pretty close to what we are trying to do with the Sweet Spot exercise.  But how about just focusing on poll high, slightly stretchable, and in self carriage?  What would happen?  Let me tell you, some really good stuff.

The exercise is to get on a 20 meter circle at the walk and/or trot and just work on having the horse poll high by looking to verify, stretchable by getting just a smidge of stretch(think 1/2 inch), and in self carriage by confirming with quick gives of one or both hands.  As you're circling you keep working those three things while thinking of adjectives like swingy, balanced, energetic, rhythmic and etc..  Whenever the horse feels great and fulfills the three main criteria you scratch right in front of the saddle(also doing a self carriage check!) and go into active neutral thereby rewarding the horse for hitting that yummy working gait.  Then rinse and repeat.  As you keep doing this cycle of either searching or enjoying, the horse starts to seeking the active neutral and begins to offer those great working gaits closer and closer together, until you have effortless working gaits in active neutral without much work at all.

It's amazing to me how quickly this exercise improved Jet's working gaits in walk, trot, and canter.  More swing, more bounce, better balance, and easier transitions up and down.  The feeling that lengthens are in there and that just a little slowing of the tempo will give baby collection.  Looking back, I think I was hitting everything in the Sweet Spot correctly, but I wasn't getting the connection between poll high yet slightly stretchable and in self carriage that leads to balance AND a swingy back.  Just that extra smidge of stretchabilty helps J swing much better, I think, which then makes his movement much bigger.  None of this is possible without the relaxation, energy, and balance of the Sweet Spot but is more like a refinement of all the ingredients.  Like freaking magic!