Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Moonlight ride

Only the ears because the flash kept blinding the poor girl! (And without flash she disappeared!)

We had a lovely moonlight ride last week before the crazy storm rolled in. It was so bright out that we lunged in a completely dark arena and could see fine. So she got a day of lunging in vienna reins- good for stretching the back after a packed weekend of lessons.

Afterward I hopped on her bareback and played around in the walk a little bit. I have figured out how many fun things there are to work on at the walk: clean halt-walk-halt transitions, circles, lateral work, etc. Most of these are especially fun to do bareback since you can really feel the body shape, the rythm, and the muscles.

I left the barn just beeming that night! It was such a treat to hop on her bareback. (My gelding is narrow and super boney, so her round muscled back was an absolute couch in comparison!) Plus it was just fun to be out there enjoying a quiet ride. Maybe its the trust building aspect, maybe its feeling the horse's muscles, I don't know, but it was just so much fun to have a bareback-moonlight ride!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dressage Lesson #3, Jump Lesson #1, Dressage Lesson #4

Friday- Dressage Lesson #3

No pics or videos this time...sort of lame, but sometimes you just want to wear the ugly t-shirt and not have to worry about a camera!

I had a really good lesson, we started to push her a little bit more, more sitting trot, more playing her neck back and forth in the canter, more straight lines in the canter.

Overall it was good!

Saturday- Jump lesson #1

So I take my jumping lessons with an eventing trainer, and since I'd only started with her in the spring (my other eventing trainer moved the prior fall) she had never met Lola! So I was looking forward to getting her opinion of her. I also had a young rider come to try her out the same day.

I started off the lesson, and warmed Lola up over a few fences. It was very strange to jump her again, she really sucked back and sort of "dumped" in front of the first cross rail. I never remember her doing that. She was so forward to the fence before that it was sort of a sit quiet, don't change, don't speed up feeling. A year of jumping can certainly change habits though.

We had a few really nice fences and I had forgotten how much I loved her jump!

Then the girl got on to try her out. It was so great to get to see a teen ride her and learn to figure her out. They really worked well together, and I feel like she was able to take the instruction, and then actually put it to use to make a visable change (more round, more balanced, more forward, not running through half-halts.) She had a great seat, and Lola looked fantastic jumping around with her! I think she felt like it was a lot of work to get Lola going really well- to be discussed in the next section. But good feed back to get.

AND the trainer thought she was brilliant. She said what I've been thinking. If for some reason I can't find a home for her, but I can find one for Bear, it won't be the end of the world. She's a fantastic horse.

Sunday- Dressage lesson #4 (Seriously busy weekend!)

I started the lesson out with some good walk work, and then a moving trot circle pattern (one at A, then straight, one at E,  then straight, one at C, and so on). The goal in our trot work was "minimal effort on my part to maximum effort on her part. I let my horses trick me into begging and pleading for every step. "Ride every step" should mean that I have control over every step, not that they stop trying the moment I stop driving with everything that I've got. So in the trot work I worked on using light leg in rhythm, and if she lost impulsion she got one quick correction with my leg to remind her that's her job. Same thing with the walk-trot transitions, I need her to be asking "When can I trot?" so that the slightest squeeze can ask for the transition.

I felt we made some good head-way, and it gave us a nice quiet warm up. Stacie has been meaning to get on her, but we've had such great lessons lately that we haven't stop my progress to allow time for the trainer to get on. Today seemed a good day. It was great to have her hop on to feel what's going on, and really fun to see Lola go with a rider that has higher standards! She looked great!

Stacie did a ton with her, lateral work, sitting trot, transitions, canter work, beautiful walk work, lots of bend and circles and straight lines. It really was a treat to watch her work.

She's decided that much of the issues that keep us from consistently going on the bit with correct bend stems from Lola carrying her haunches to the outside. That's what looses that canter in the back sometimes, that's what blocks her from lifting her back and really swinging in her gaits. So, new plan will be put into place, and we'll get trucking along shortly!

The fun thing is that Stacie also was raving about what potential she has to move up through the levels. Even if I kept Lola, I would still have a horse to compete with at 1st, 2nd, and (if I can ever get myself there...) 3rd!

Loving my little mare, and grateful for every ride that I get on her.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Doubling as a husband horse!

Since I was off work Wednesday I had it all planned to take my husband and my two horses out on a trail ride. We haven't had two horses for over a year, so it seemed like a good day to take advantage of the fact that I have one for each of us right now!

Except they live in different places...

I moved Bear out to my parent's property for a little post-season pasture vacation, so I needed to pick him up, then get Lola, then do the drop off back to both locations, which basically was going to take the whole day when you added in the actual trail ride. Its not far apart at all! Just that all that running around adds up.

My husband ended up with a lot less time, and I had plenty of other things to do that morning, so we switched plans. I borrowed a friend's horse, and my hubby rode Lola, and we stuck to the trails adjacent to the boarding facility.

 It went so well! Lola was a star! She lead some...
 She followed some...
 They even got a little too far behind and my husband trotted her to catch up! (Secretly I think he had slowed her down on purpose to have an excuse to trot!) They were perfectly relaxed and in balance, so I was pleased. See my husband has only ridden a about 15 times, and he hasn't been on a horse in a year! So I am impressed with both of them.
After my husband posting the trot, the second most impressive thing was Lola keeping her cool even when the horse I was on didn't. He is an OTTB, and while he was very cool and quiet on the trail, it doesn't take much to push is YIKES button. Even though he shot forward from a duck flying out of the reeds, Lola kept her cool and walked on like it was nothing. When he lept over a hole in the ground while right next to her, she gave him a dirty look like, "What are you doing? Was that really necessary? We're walking here!"

Such a good girl.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lesson #2

We had a phenomenal lesson on Sunday. I am having so much fun with this mare! I'm glad I left off at such a positive place in Bear's journey, or I'd be feeling really guilty for having so much fun cheating on him!

We got some video since I'm trying to get current video to send to potential buyers. Sadly we had the same issues with light, but I'll share anyway! You also get all the fun commentary from my trainer on every weird thing that I'm doing wrong! Yes, its is true, I can't sit square in the middle of the saddle, especially in canter left. I can't keep my sneaky right hand up, pretty much ever. My inside leg is rarely far enough forward, my outside is rarely far enough back, and let's face it, following asking with your inside seat-bone and doing anything else simultaneously is just an absurd expectation!

 Enjoy feeling better about your own riding by comparison! ;p

Trot work with canter, then working on getting that stretchy trot again. She's not a easy to get stretched going to the right but still had some success. Then work trot-walk transitions.

Canter departs until I finally get them right.

Canter work to the left, including finally nailing the idea of "collect, collect, collect THEN trot" downward transition. (Had judges comment on needing that on Bear too.)

We also threw in leg yields at sitting trot. I think I laughed when she told me! Lola is actually great at lateral movement, she naturally is better than Bear. BUT we hadn't done them at the trot before, and I hadn't SAT the trot on her before! So this was our first go at both!

After the video I stopped and we chatted about it since I really didn't feel like I was tapping into what Lola could actually do. She re-phrased it a bit. Instead of thinking push her over with my leg, it was use the sitting trot to push her over with my seat. Basically use the minimal so that if I needed to correct her haunches not stepping enough I could use my leg to escalate the directions. It worked so much better!

She also had me keep sitting the trot all the way around the short side and only posting when I pushed her back into a bigger trot across the diagonal. This got us a bit more pizazz  trot steps. I still felt terribly floppy sitting the trot, so what does that call for? MORE sitting trot! We worked on transitions within the trot: collecting to something more "sit-able" then pushing it out, then collecting back, etc.
It got better, and Stacie even snapped a cell phone photo of it before we finished the lesson with one last attempt at stretchy trot. We finally nailed that! I was so pleased. She really loves free walk, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that stretchy trot is growing on her so quick!

Man do I appreciate my horse for letting me make mistakes and learn from them.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dressage Show Success!

Clipping ears- CHECK!

Trying button braids on mane- CHECK!

Taming the pony fluff on the top of her tail- CHECK!

Surviving the rainy horse show- CHECK!

Scoring well despite only having her back a week - DOUBLE CHECK!

 I'm very proud of my girl! We did great, and the best news is that I really feel she could do even better. She was too tight and hollow on show day, but at least she still had good impulsion and a great attitude. Bottom line the show day was not nearly as good as our lesson before or after!  If I could get that same work out of her on show day, we'd could be scoring in the 70% for sure! So pleased.

 A few pictures from the day! Thanks to my parents who came out to hold stuff and take photos, I have some lovely shots. Sadly the lighting was against us since it was in the indoor arena with a bright backdrop.
 I just can't stop looking at her awesome tail! I REALLY have missed that with Bear's "nothing-ness" broom tail. Its so flowy and full...
 Love her walk.
 And her carousel-horse canter
I will probably say this 100 times, but I really was so lucky to find a lease-home that put so much time, energy, and love into her! I will be so sad when she finds a new home, but I'm feeling super lucky to have her back for a little while.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Trail rides at dawn

Heading to the pasture...

Bridle on, still dark enough for her to give me stink eye about the flash.
Fully light by ride time! Mainly because although I carried my tack to the pasture to save time, the first girth was too short, so we ended going up all the way back to the barn, then back to the trail exit gate by her pasture. Too bad this last pic didn't get the colors, it was all pink and lovely still.

Great way to start the day!

Friday I hope to find time to finish clipping since I didn't get to her fuzzy ears last night. We'll see! So many other things to do! I should have started with the ears since they are the fuzziest. Instead I clipped the low parts, ie the ones I could reach without the step stool. Then found I had run out of time! So she has clipped legs and jaw, and shortened mane (but not thinned). Just too much to do for show prep!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dressage Lesson= Tools for Communication

We had major success tonight, and I rocked my eval!

Although, she wasn’t quite the same horse I evaluated the day before! She wasn’t “motoring” along quite the same. Might have something to do with it being a pleasant 60 degrees and sunny instead of cloudy, damp and in the high 30s!! (Amazingly enough I actually left work in enough time to be ON my horse at 4pm! I should get an award just for that!)

Stacie confirmed that she also thinks that she is stiff left and hollow right, although the lead in the back seemed to happen both directions, so that is another issue. We did see confirmation when doing some leg yielding that she was indeed carrying her haunches more to her hollow side. Our yielding to the right was great! Our yielding to the left needed much more support to get the haunches all the way over to the stiff side.

So we really did work on some of what I thought would help! Lateral movement at the walk, stretchy trot, and half halts in a creative way. What I would have been missing is the eyes on the ground to fix my position errors (hands too low, or uneven, legs not active enough and seat too active, or too active when I should be using my seat). I know it! I just haven’t fixed it yet. The biggest improvement was our communication. I know what I want, I even know what exercises to help get to the goal, I just don't always seem to be able to communicate all this to the horse!

Stacie had me start a pattern of aids: strong inside rein directly back for more bend, with a slight allowing rein outside, followed by lightly taking that outside rein back up, then pushing for more impulsion. This series would take several strides, but created a predictable pattern to start over exactly at the time that we needed more bend again. Lola immediately got it! We had some great trot work!

 Our canter improved immensely when I really started to ride it. I think I was trying to sit neutral and not interfere, when really I needed to put it together. So when I rode it like I was trying to do something with it, the collection and shape came together more. She also quit swapping leads in the back when I kept her haunches in on the circle. I think she just was swinging them out farther and switching to balance. By keeping the bend we kept all four feet on the correct lead.

We also started working on the stretchy trot! So pleased with this part of the lesson, because I knew it was what I would want to work on with her, but wasn’t sure how to get the results I needed. Working though it in the lesson was great because we got pretty immediate success having someone with so many tips and tricks guide from the ground. Lola got it pretty well going left, but wasn’t as good going right. So Stacie had me get some good stretch going left, then try to keep it as we smoothly changed through a serpentine. As we lost it we shortened back up to a working trot for the rest of the circle and switched back to our left circle on the serpentine to get the stretch back then switched back to right to see how long we could keep stretching. Great results!

So bottom line:
I have good ideas, but I’m glad to have help with the execution.
Lola and I built up our communication skills and got much better results.
Now she and I are on the same page on a few things, I can really feel what a great horse I have under me!

It also helped that Stacie was raving about how good her muscles look, and what nice impulsion she has. I am so lucky that the girl leasing her took such great care of her and put so much time into her conditioning and training. She really has come a long way in a year.

So proud of her!

Lesson prep

For a while now I’ve been struggling with the idea of creating the same success I get in the lessons. Basically, how do I think as a trainer, and affect my rides of my own accord, instead of only relying on the outside influence? Two points always stand out: I need to demand more without some saying it, and I need to stop and think/plan for results instead of just trying to get a better trot for 20 minutes (without much result). More and better. How? Thinking, not just doing.
So before our first lesson I’ve put together my eval of Lola. (This idea comes from a recent USDF workshop I audited.) The layman’s version of this is to: evaluate the horse, come up with a plan for the rest of the ride, and come up with longer plan for the next few weeks of rides. All horses (even FEI level) have a tendency to be stiff one side, hollow the other. The goal is to have them even obviously, but to do that you have to feel and change accordingly. They often are more “accessible” at a certain gait. 

After our initial ride, I feel that she is stiff going left & hollow going right. This evident up in her bending through the body, and that she has more push from the left hind (occasionally she’ll flip her lead in the back only when going to left.) 
Her walk is currently her best gait, and where she is most accepting of changes. She tends to be a little choppy and her impulsion seems to shoot through the front instead of cycling back. This is more evident in the trot, and she needs a longer connection over her topline, which should allow her to lift her back and swing through the trot more. I need to sort out better half halts to rebalance her and contain the energy. Her canter needs more consistent connection, although she has good moments of working on the bit and round.

Immediate plan- keep the neck stretched onto the bit in walk-halt, walk-trot upwards and downwards transitions, followed by half halt work at walk and trot. If this goes well, then work on change of bend in trot to encourage more connection/stretch in trot.

Next few sessions- Teach stretchy trot. Pole work for larger trot steps. Lunging in Vienna reins. Start some lateral work in the trot to redirect her energy to something other than forward through the contact.
We’ll see how my eval stands up to the trainers!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sunrise Ride

So my plan is to ride before work so that I can actually catch daylight. As I’m not a morning person, this has always been the “good idea that never happens”. I finally made it happen, and it was an awesome way to start the day! Got out to the barn by 6:15 and was leaving by 7:45 with plenty of time to shower in the office gym before starting work at 8:30. I feel very accomplished for even making that all work, let alone have a good ride!

Our second ride went much better. Less distractions + more daylight = better focus. We warmed up with exercises at the walk to change the bend back and forth, serpentines, circles, etc until she was really low and round in the next. Then after warming up at the trot and canter we tried our walk trot transitions with that same bending idea to try to keep a low and round connection in the upward transition. We got some success, and I felt good that it was a step in the right direction for her to understand what I’m asking for: more round, more down, ALL THE TIME!

I am very excited about our dressage lesson tomorrow. I think Stacie will help us remember what we’ve both forgotten. I have grown a ton as a rider this last year, but have been working with a very different type of horse! She’s come leaps and bounds in her training and body strength in the last year, but has been ridden by a very different type of rider.

I don’t think it will be long before we’re back to the success (on the bit and relaxed in the back) that we had at the end of last year. Then I think I’ll get to start to enjoy some of the experience that she’s been building up, especially over fences!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

First ride in a year

I got on my mare tonight for the first time in over a year. It was so weird to be on her again! Slightly familiar, yet so different. She is much broader than Bear, and all compact where he is lanky. Her mane is pretty unruly right now and since it’s splitting over the neck and running half-way down, I can’t see the shape and bend of her neck, just wild red hair bouncing about! That will need to be fixed ASAP!

She was very distracted, and wanting to look out of the arena at everything going on. But in general she was nice and relaxed and forward. I just spent some time trying to figure her out again. I forgot what a little motor she has! She just powers along at the walk! I LOVE that:  a walk with such a march to it that I actually need to collect it a bit.

All in all, a good first ride. We certainly didn’t just pick up where we left off a year ago, but that’s ok. She’s a different horse than she was. Some problems are gone, some are still there, some I think we’ve already resolved, but I can’t remember how I rode her to get the right results! I just literally can’t remember how to ride her to get the most from her. I don’t think it will take long to get back in our groove, and once we do, we will have more pieces of the puzzle than we did a year ago. When I can put her together again, she’ll be much more complete, and I’m looking forward to that!

We didn’t do much as it was getting dark (she’d had her massage first and that ran long), and I didn’t want her wet with sweat.

Monday, November 12, 2012

She's back...

She’s back!

Well it has been over a year since she left, and many months since I’ve seen her, but the Lovely Miss Lola is back! 

Her young rider jumped her for me when they brought her back so that I could see what they had accomplished. I was very impressed, and Lola was happy as a clam to jump around with her. She was landing her leads, and clearing everything with room to spare. (2’7” vertical, and 2’9” oxer, and we didn’t put them up higher only because the arena was hard.) Most important, they we're both relaxed and confident with everything they did. I am so pleased that they both had such a positive experience!

I can’t wait for our first jumping lesson. But in the mean time, we’ll working on getting to know each other again so that we can be ready for Saturday’s dressage show. Yikes! Only days to go!

Lola settled into her new pasture very easily. No drama or squealing! She just trotted around like she was putting her stamp of approval on it, then she settled in to graze with her new buddies.

The poor girl looks like a pony compared to her two 17h+ pasture mates!