Wednesday, June 22, 2022

There’s Something About Mary…Wanless Part III

I’ve written before about my love/disillusionment/love relationship with Mary Wanless’s  work.  Since my new coach is a MW devotee and I’m finding that the concepts are pretty easy for me and working almost immediately and visibility for Cruise, I thought I would explore why that is a little bit.

First off, I am really familiar with all the concepts and visualizations from Mary’s work.  I might not have been able to put it all together, but tell me to shorten my back armpits, use my thighs like a lever, or pretend to lift beanbags with my toes/knees and I am your girl.  

Secondly, Feldenkrais has given me so much more body awareness than any other modality I have tried before.  And everything in Feldenkrais is supposed to be exploratory and effortless.  This has led to my being able to switch on a muscle with nuance, not just on or off.  I think in previous attempts at MW’s ideas I was trying too hard, doing things at a 10 instead of realizing that there is a scale from 1-10 and a lot of times a 2-3  could be what is needed.  Bearing down is good, but if done at a 10 when a 5 is needed, it can shut the horse down.

Thirdly, having an experienced instructor who communicates with concepts and visualizations you are familiar with AND can pick the three most important things to work on is invaluable.  SW is a talker but more importantly she hones in on priorities pretty well as is evidenced by some pretty rapid improvements.  My husband even commented that all of her stories really relate to something I am doing at the moment and that if one explanation doesn’t work for me she wheels another right out, bless her.  Also, the value of having someone give suggestions in real time cannot be overrated.  

Fourth, SW recommended Dressage Training TV a Mary Wanless subscription service that has webinars, courses, and tons of information about all her concepts.  I haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s available but it’s a great resource and refresher as I dig deeper into all this stuff.  It is much more user friendly than the books and the groundwork course is superb.

Add all these things together with my foray into natural horsemanship and also clicker training and I feel like I can appreciate MW’s work much more and apply the concepts (with the help of SW!) much more accurately.

Time will tell!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Four Lessons in with SW

I just had my fourth lesson with SW and I thought I’d do a quick recap of things so far.  My first lesson I hauled Cruise in, he was good but a bit looky/nervous, and we concentrated mostly on my biomechanics.  My list included pushing back against an imaginary hand(to sit more upright), shortening my back armpits, and pretending I had beanbags that I needed to lift on my toes and knees(to add more tone to my thighs).  Steering needed to be more like a bus and posting trot needed to be to the top of the rise with pelvis neutral.  

I continued to work on all this stuff with Cruise and also came back to SW to ride a school master a couple of times to solidify things.  We also added in not rocking side to side at the walk, keeping my carousel pole vertical through transitions, a bit more refinement on steering, and playing with what true bend feels like.  I found it really helpful to have a couple of check in lessons while also riding Cruise and practicing on Jet at home.  Lots of opportunities to play with my biomechanics and get feedback from different horses and also input from SW.

For my fourth lesson I hauled Cruise in again yesterday and he was a star.  Quietly walked around the ring, same with lunging, we did a little groundwork with input on refinement from SW and then I hopped on.  His relaxation was excellent so we worked on rhythm at the walk.  Making my reins a touch longer and popping my hip flexors to lift his back worked really well.  Then we did some halts and worked a progression of stopping from my seat and if that didn’t work passive resistance and then if that didn’t work a slight lifting of the hands but not backwards.  Cruise figured this out really quickly and we got some beautiful halts.  Then we went back to rhythm at the walk with him lifted in his back and on to trot.  I have to tell you having rhythm at the walk led to the loveliest trot transitions for the most part.  Who knew?  Anyway, we worked on getting rhythm at the trot and sitting a few steps here and there when his back was up.  We also did a few trotting to almost walk to trot on to get a half halt at the trot.  It worked like a dream!  We ended on that great note.

The plan is that I will haul Cruise in every 2-3 weeks until the weather gets awful.  I chatted a bit with SW about showing rated and my ultimate goal of getting my bronze and she was very positive.  She offered to ride a horse sometimes during my lessons to get Cruise used to working with other horses around which would be super helpful.  She also might host a ride a test sometime this year, which again, would be super helpful.  From just wanting some off the farm mileage before actually heading to shows, I feel like I have fallen into a great learning experience.  SW is a USDF Bronze medalist but more importantly, she is an experienced horsewoman in the middle of the Mary Wanless teacher training.  Her communication skills are superb, she has yet to give me a biomechanics or young horse correction that didn’t work, and there is a ton of back and forth communication.  I think I got really lucky here folks and I am excited for the next few months of growth!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Circling Back to Mary Wanless in Cruise’s First Dressage Lesson

This past Saturday we hauled Cruise out to his first dressage lesson.  The instructor, who I’ll call SW, has a facility about an hour away.  Cruise hauled like a trooper, got off the trailer a little up but deal able with and we went to the indoor to start targeting stuff.  I chit chatted with SW while I did some groundwork, which went ok, then tacked him up and put him on the lunge with side reins.  She commented that he got serious as soon as the side reins went on and I lunged him quietly all over her arena, which is I think a standard dressage court.  He was still looking out open doors at horses and trees but was maybe 70-80% focussed on me.  I put on my big girl panties and got on him for about a 20 minute under saddle lesson. 

I really appreciated how low key SW was while I went through my regular routine on the ground and then under saddle.  She talked with me the whole time about my background, what I had done with Cruise so far, and my training methodology.  While I walked around a bit on him, we talked about my familiarity with Mary Wanless concepts.  Then she gave me a few powerful biomechanical corrections at the walk:
*To sit up she had me pretend someone was pushing between my shoulders and I needed to push back.  Immediate vertical upper body.
*To close my back armpits to make my torso even.
*Then to keep from tilting side to side at the walk with my seat she had me think about keeping my cereal box/torso level at the bottom.  Harder, but when I got it Cruise stretched out his neck to the contact.  Hmmmm…
*Then to take a little weight off my stirrups and more into my thigh, she had me relax my leg then pretend I was lifting a beanbag with my toes and then my kneecaps.  This really changed the weighting of my stirrups, thigh, and seat. 
*We talked a little bit about steering more like a bus and some Mary Wanless concepts about steering which we played with a little.

Then I asked if we had time for a couple of short bursts of trot to work on my posting mechanic.  I tried to put all the previous corrections into play and picked up the trot for a circle or two.  SW said she thought my posture was basically correct but I was tilting my pelvis forward as I landed.  Hmmm…tried the trot again and bingo, my post finally felt right.  We played with all the concepts and talked a little bit about how when he come up to look at stuff or loses focus, I tend to shorten my reins and instead I need to keep my framework, not let him change me, widen my hands and keep on keeping on.  Hmmmm…

I was so pleased with how Cruise handled being at a slightly busier facility.  He listened, he followed prompts, and even though he had a couple of spooky looks at things I never felt he was way over threshold.  We did close a couple of arena doors, stick to the “safe” end of the ring under saddle, and didn’t walk around a lot outside.  We can add on stimuli later but I thought it best to keep it simpler this time.

I was also thrilled with SW.  She  is low key and friendly, just like I remembered, willing to let me show her where we are and what I am comfortable with and then gave me super effective corrections.  She was very clear in her explanations, I think, thrilled that I am conversant in Mary Wanless, and very positive in general.  She suggested I might like to come take a couple of lessons on her school masters to lock in some of these basic position corrections without having to also think of the green bean.  I am totally on board and scheduled that and a haul in lesson for Cruise in three weeks.

All in all, a super positive experience.  Much exceeding my expectations.  I think I am going to concentrate on lessons with SW, riding outside on the grass, and hauling to EW’s indoor ring every couple of weeks until my ring is built(in July now???).  Then maybe a couple of non show or in hand shows in the fall if possible.

 Excited to see what progress we can make over the summer!  What are your summer plans?

Monday, May 23, 2022

Making Progress Sloooowly

As we make our way through a wettest spring in a while, with no all weather arena on the horizon, progress is still being made.  Even though we are limited to my tiny indoor, grass fields when it is dry enough(not often!), and hauling out to an indoor once a week or so, Cruise’s transitions under saddle and on the lunge are improving.  His canter is getting much more balanced on the lunge.  Under saddle he is much straighter and weighted to the outside going both directions, even at the trot!  The last time I hauled out last Saturday he did serpentines, 20m circles, 15m voltes to reverse, and some figure eights all at the walk and trot.  Also some HQ yields, shallow leg yields at the walk, and a few nice square halts.  We did Intro A again and this time trotted ALL the trot parts with no steps of walk!  It felt like a really nice test, pretty straight and rhythmic.  I petted him and got off after the square halt and let him know what a good boy he was.  He seemed pretty pleased with himself!

My original plan was to start showing him in hand this spring at a schooling show series about an hour and a half away.  After some more thought I think he needs an in between from my small quiet farm, hauling out to another small quiet farm with an enclosed arena, and a busy show series with multiple rings and lots of action.  My goal is to never make too much of an ask with him, so everything is a graduated series of steps.  I think I asked way too much too soon with Jet and he had trouble trusting me at shows and in scary situations. Way too many situations way over threshold.  Trying to avoid that this time around. 

So…the in between I have found is a dressage trainer who is about an hour away with a smaller barn but more atmosphere than either place I have been currently  riding him.  The trainer is a USDF Bronze medalist and more of a Jack of all trades type that I have chatted with at various warm up rings while showing Jet.  She is a nice lady, seems really down to earth, and has a background in Mary Wanless biomechanics.  I think she is someone I can take more of a collaborative approach with.  Not a my program or hit the highway kind of person.  I’m looking to make sure I am on track with Cruise and not missing anything.  I also want a polish up my biomechanics. Hopefully, if we like each other, I can haul to her every 2-3 weeks for the next few months and get some quiet travel miles on the boy as well.

Our first lesson is Saturday and I’m sure it will be interesting.  I really hope she is someone I can work with.  I’ll post all about it next week!