Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lesson in Lightness: Mark Russell Part 1

Sometimes when you start with a horse (this being my first) you tend not to start at the very beginning. After all, your horse understands your rein cues, most of your seat and leg cues, so what do need with all the in-hand work?

I received Mark's book yesterday and dove right in. Like Mark Rashid, he drew me in immediately. In chapter 5 we begin with "Working in Hand". Although I've done ground work, mostly Parelli based games based on pressure and release, this is the first time that I spent time encouraging G to stretch his jaw and TMJ. I've often thought that part of G's issue with not finding and holding a sweet spot on his own, was twofold. One his lack of relaxation, and of course my hands trying to hold his head in what I thought was a "sweet spot".

Mark begins "Teaching the Exercise" with the following statement: "Relaxing the jaw may seem quite simple, but it can be difficult for many trainers to accomplish". Because he uses a slight vibration on the inside rein and absolutely no pulling whatsoever, horses that are not light don't get it right away. I know, I spent 15 minutes vibrating the rein until G finally released his jaw, licked and chewed. The very moment you feel release you release. It took another 10 minutes on the other side, but it's progress. We spent the next 15 minutes at liberty just walking serpentines back and forth across the arena. G pretty much kept his head long and low for most of it, and you could see how relaxed he was. When we stopped I gave him a wonderful neck massage and called it a night.

Back in the barn he got himself a small warm peppermint mash - his favorite! Tomorrow I'll work on relaxing the jaw again and if the trail is dryer take him out for a nice relaxing trail ride. If its wet, we'll tack up with the sidepull and do serpentines and circles at a walk in the arena.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feedback from Video

I sent a copy of the video clip to Liz Graves and heard back from her this afternoon. Thankfully she was brutally honest (love this about her) and she put in writing some of the things I knew from watching the video but didn't want to say out loud.

Although G has developed more muscle and more strength, by overdoing lateral work and keeping too much contact with his mouth, we've hindered his back to front impulsion; he's not using his abdomen or back muscles properly and I'm using too much seat and leg on him. I truly have been so focused on contact and sideways movement that we've lost any ground we gained in the gaiting department. I watched this video a zillion times today, and I replayed in my head what was different between this and the work we did with Diane Sept a year ago. Diane had me bring out G's running walk with wonderful impulsion, which is so lacking today.

So what changed? I stopped focusing on "centered" riding as Diane teaches it and followed the more German art of dressage. I took up more contact, brought my hands up (sorry I wrote down by mistake) asked for too much contact, stopped stilling my center. Ugh, it makes me want to go back to simply riding the trails and enjoying the ride. No, that's not totally true as this did teach me a few valuable lessons. Prior to this I was an advocate that a good riding instructor doesn't need to know the gaited horse in order to advance the horse in its abilities. I now don't believe this is true. A good riding instructor can assist the rider in becoming a better rider; but not necessarily on a gaited horse. At least not one that needs work on its gaits. If someone doesn't understand how a horse should be using it's body in order to produce the proper gait, and only thinks "frame" well it just doesn't work. Regardless of how much they read. I love Deb to death, and I owe her a lot for the skills she has taught me, but not only did Claudia pick up things in the first 15 minutes that we were doing wrong, but a horsewoman who's opinions and knowledge I respect 100% picked up all the problems in a 7 minute clip.

Now we begin again....tomorrow we'll spend 20 minutes in the arena doing some suppling exercises and I don't care how cold it is, we're going to work on the outside track and work on gait. Root of the neck up, nose slightly in. I'll throw in some roll backs and maybe take him to the trail head and walk him up and down the hill for ten minutes.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up into the details of something that we lose sight of the big picture. Thankfully through Claudia coming to work with us and Liz being honest I can see the picture more clearly.

Oh, and this is another trainer that was recommended to me (by Liz) as he is a student of classical dressage rather than germanic. The funny thing is Mark Russell used to live around here! I'd heard his name but wasn't into dressage at the time. So I went to his website and found that he had two clinics here in New England the past couple of weeks, argh! I ordered his book Lessons in Lightness yesterday and am excited to see that he's now in Tennessee and not too far a drive from where we'll be living. Hopefully by then I'll be ready to start up anew!

After conversing with Liz some more, she agreed that taking him back to the sidepull might be a good idea. So last night I pulled out our sidepull, which was covered in mildew since we haven't used it in some time. Cleaned it up, and tacked G up. After doing flexion using my hands on the bridge of his nose and on his neck on both sides, I did some flexion using light pulses with my hands on the reins. After about the 4th request the light bulb went off and he began to soften. I mounted up and the first 10 minutes I just walked him around the arena on a long rein. We did 3 loop serpentines and some circles. When I took up the reins and slightly bumped him he proceeded to give me a beautiful soft flat walk. No issues with where to carry his head, he just hit his own sweet spot and nodded away. So much lighter! Hard to believe a horse can get softer in a sidepull, but he did. We're going to spend the next 30 days in the sidepull and work in the oval track or arena. If we get an opportunity to trail ride I'll probably put him back in his snaffle, but we'll see.

Liz had mentioned at one of her clinics at EA that some horses were never taught how to pack a bit properly. I'm thinking this could be part of G's issue. This may be the next step in our journey.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Equine Affaire 11/08

We started our day mighty early this morning. We call it "0 dark 30". I think we could've slept in a little but I didn't want to feel hurried in any way. I just wanted the whole experience to be a relaxing one.

G was his ornary self about loading in the trailer ~ I think I wanna - one hoof in, but no never mind, okay I'll try - two hooves in, but I don't like it. After the 4th or 5th request (I forget) he finally got all four hooves in and walked up to his manger for breakfast. Okay, so there is a reason to start early! Pulled into the Expo center at 7:45 to find out the office didn't open until 8:00. We opened up the trailer window and out pops this big ole head and he starts a whinneying ~ "Hey who's out there?" nothing, he calls again and this time he gets a response. I swear if he coulda climbed out of the window he would've. I got a bit nervous at this point as he really looked wound up and just kept calling and calling. We managed to get checked in and found the daily horse parking and when we opened the trailer doors we were overtaken by the smell of pee and poop! Nasty!! This is when it's really nice to have a groom with you All I can say is I was thinking straight when I braided and bagged his tail, cause "icky pooh" not pretty. I manage to take down his tail, brush it out and decide I should clean his rear hooves when I hear "honey, he's gonna pooo...." and with that I hear splat splat splat and at that point I don't want to look. Luckilly he only managed to hit the rear sleeve of my jacket; the bottom hem of my jods; and of course my right Ariat terrain. Yep, he's a bit nerved up. However he's happily eating hay, so I put him on a 12' lead and took him over to the grassy area to move him around before heading into a stall for 3 hours. Hubby snapped this pic....

Dianne the president of the NEWHA met us at the back door of the Stroh building to walk us to the stall. Now I'm aware that we will have to walk through the whole building to get to the stall so I'm preparing myself for a lengthy trip as he has to stop and stare and snort at everything....NOT! He didn't look cross eyed at anything; never stopped; snorted; or baulked. He just followed me right into the stall. Got him situated with hay and water and he did call out a few times, got an answer from a couple aisles over and with that he started munching hay. 15 minutes later he pooped, then pee'd and looked like he'd been in this place his whole life! 9:00 the doors open, and here come the peeps. Yep there's a happy horse mom.

Hubby and I stood back against a column that was in the middle of the aisle in front of the booth and watched as folks came up and G pretty much had to stick his nose out the bars to get a scratch or a pet. A couple times when little kids came by too short to see into the stall I opened the door so they could get a look and a pet. Having never watched other people as they approached horses, it was really fun to watch. It made me extremely proud to see women just falling in love with him as they stroked his nose and talked quietly to him and when they pulled away they had this wonderful smile on their faces. I know that look! I got it the first time I looked into those big soft eyes of his. And you could see that he was soaking it all up! Strangely enough I even noticed a few men doing the same thing, lol. Something I did notice however is that people would walk up, look at the sign that read "New England Walking Horse Association" and they immediately looked down at his hooves and then back up to his face. I truly wondered if they were looking for plantation or platform shoes, as I believe that's what most folks do think of when they see Walking Horse. I did have a couple people ask what kind of shoes we wore and that's when I opened the door and showed his bare hooves. They seemed surprised. More surprised though when I said I do his tootsies myself, lol.

Oh, and we met ADKMTN (Joan) and her husband (oops, I forgot his name) from New York, who stopped by the booth. Another real nice couple, so we talked about Walkers and trail riding and hopefully I'll get a chance to meet up with them again tomorrow when I go back.

Well we signed up for a fifteen minutes slot at the small corraled area so he could stretch his legs. This is when our group from the barn showed up...a nice lady offered to take our picture. Left to right is JoAnn, G, Gina, Kate, Deb (my dressage instructor), Mary, Zeke and Hannah. (picture)

G just amazed me. He just loved meeting and greeting everyone as I answered questions about the breed and particulars about him. One woman asked if we do expos all the time and when I told her it was our first one she asked what we gave him. I'm like what? She said, "did you give him Quietex or something?". I laughed and said "nope, this is who he is". She was amazed. She then asked if he was "hot under saddle" cause that's what she's been told all Walkers are. So I explained that he really depends on the bloodlines of the particular horse; it's training and then the relationship between the horse and its owner. Yes, for the most part they are very forward thinking horses. And because their gait is faster than a normal walk some people associate it with "hot". G then fell in love with a little blonde girl in pink who was all of four years old. She showed him her stuffed pony; he sniffed it; she giggled; he sniffed her hair. It went on for a good 5 minutes. The little girls mom said "she's been raised with horses since birth, so she has no fear". I said it definitely showed and G was loving it. I wish Zeke had gotten a picture of the two of them, cause they were so cute.

And here I am the new poster girl for TWHBEA (or so hubby says)

Our shift was over at noon so Diane walked us out and since I'm going back tomorrow afternoon, told her I'd stop by the booth. She asked if I thought we'd like to participate in the breed demo next year as well as the breed pavillion and I said "yes! I think we will be ready". I can't say enough how proud I am of him. He took the whole thing in stride - even drank strange water!! Woohoo, lol. I know small thing, but after hearing stories about horses not drinking and getting sick, it's one of those things I worried about. We all had a long day; G was so happy to be turned back out in his paddock where he immediately rolled, and me? I spent three hours on the couch wrapped in my horsie comfy while I dozed on and off, lol. Little buckaroo had a busy, but a MOST EXCELLENT day

Dressage for the Gaited Horse (11/21/08)

The Sunday of Equine Affaire, I picked Claudia Coombs up in W. Springfield and brought her to our barn to work with four horse/rider combinations. Our riding instructor rode Reno (the walking horse hubby likes to trail ride with); our barn owner rode her 4 year old Walker; another boarder who strictly trail rides with her Walker and me and G. We all had different goals and issues to contend with, and Claudia tackled them all. Everyone gave me positive feedback, so I think we will be trying to do a clinic with her next spring.

Okay for me and G. We’re basically going back to some basic work. I was correct in my assumption that Deb was asking me to use too much contact with G, which is why he was going behind the bit so much. So back to square one....I need to find G’s sweet spot, as does he. The other issue was rhythm. We’ve been doing so much lateral work the past few months that we’ve lost both rhythm and forward movement. I never knew that you could overdo lateral work, but Claudia said it can effect forward motion. We spent and hour and fifteen minutes basically working the walk; working on the proper connection; and getting G to react to my leg aids. Jeeze I remember when he was so hot off my leg – too hot. Now we have the opposite effect.

I can’t blame it all on G as I know I’ve been at fault at not keeping him honest. Part of it I blame on spending too much time in the arena this year (the trails have been muddy or weather not cooperative) and we both get bored inside. We used to do a lot more gaiting work outside, but with the footing being so lousy when we did get out I just spent time enjoying being outside rather than working at anything. Bad me. But I’m glad when I hear people like Liz Graves and Claudia say, just because a gaited horse has “easy” gaits, it doesn’t mean they always come easy, lol. They like any other athletic horse need to be worked and worked properly.

I’ve also allowed him to either a fall out of gait without correction; and continued to canter when it’s fallen apart. So we’ll be doing a lot of transitions the next few months to better develop his hind end and balance. Claudia explained that you can better a walk or a trot by continuing the gait, but when you get a bad canter continuing it will not produce a better canter ~ it generally will continue to deteriorate. So lots and lots of walk to canter transitions. Get two good strides today, praise and try for three tomorrow. Having hubby video tape the lesson was so beneficial. Not only did I get to experience it on Sunday, but I get to retake the lesson over and over.

I will probably never show G in dressage, unless it’s local fun type shows but I do want to keep working on his athleticism. I’ve always known that he’s a bit small for my stature, but didn’t realize that like equitation, in dressage a poorly matched horse/rider in size deducts points from your overall score. So if I’m ever to compete in dressage I would need to go back to riding 16+ hand horses. Our barn owner’s horses would be the right size for me, where G would be the perfect size for her, lol. My calves fall slightly lower on G’s barrel then where they should for proper leg aids, but I love my smaller boy!