Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Still Raining...but We're Smiling

We had a 7 o'clock lesson tonight.  The footing was still choppy so Debbie coned off two areas where horse's have been tripping up.  This was probably the best lesson I've had to date!  Why?  Because we're finally at a point in our training that we're now dealing with "finesse" of the aids.  I figured I was still a year away from working on finesse, lol!

I know this has been double the work for Debbie, simply because she has had to train me and my horse at the same time.  It has been interesting to experience going through the phases of training.  In the beginning aids are strong, exaggerated, almost over the top.  Getting G to respond was similar to pulling teeth some times.  He would always end up doing what was requested, but it was always a discussion.  So many aids had to be turned up a notch here and there to get his attention.  

So tonight it was about learning to give and take the rein in the halt - keeping G from going behind the bit (his fav thing to do at the halt) and the right amount of leg to ask him to come into the bridle.  Sounds simple, but with a horse like G he makes you work for every little success.   We had a couple of solid shoulder ins where he held the correct angle (of course I'm learning what I need to do to support it) and his canter transitions were super prompt with a lighter cue.  Only problem?  I didn't time my cue properly and he picked up the wrong lead.  Debbie's was so happy with this.  I'm like what?  Her response was that this was the most obedient to the aids she's ever seen G.  She said that he's now responding immediately which is correct, now that we have his response, I can work more on my timing.  Ahhh, so that's it!  She also added that what she is seeing is a horse and rider that compliment one another - that means that we're finally coming into our own.  Who would've thunk it 6.5 years ago. 

I'm truly learning the importance of the supporting aids, and how a little thing like softening the outside hand can lead the horse to drop a shoulder in a leg yield.  Feeling how to correctly use my thighs against the saddle for support during the shoulder in.   And the other great thing tonight is that I made a lot of corrections in G's position without even thinking about it.  Debbie commented several times that she noted I caught him drifting, or dropping a shoulder, etc.  The fact that I'm finally instinctively doing some of these things right as they happen, puts me in a place I wasn't sure I'd ever get to.  Hands up, thumbs on top, even seat bones, weight in thighs, elbows back, heels down but not bracing, centering my core, breathing out, shoulders back,  hands soft, elastic contact, follow the horse.  All this chatter that goes through your brain for a loooong time.  To finally have some of it "just happen" is just a great feeling.  I think I'm finally becoming a competent rider!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's Raining, It's Snowing.....

Thank goodness for an arena, which I had booked for 7. So although I felt lousy today I decided if anything a ride would be good for my soul.  And I was right.  G is getting stronger and it just seems to be coming together more and more with every ride.  Tonight we did our usual warm up, asked him to gait - got a wonderful head bobbin' flat walk and a moment of running walk before I brought him back to the walk.  I'm trying to keep his mind soft, so I don't want to push.  We did some circle work - spiral in, leg yield out and then worked on our canter transitions.  Man oh man did he leap into the canter tonight!  He came up and then dropped his head down and I got those rocking chair canter strides that are just so unique to the TWH.  

On our second attempt we were coming around the arc of the 20 meter circle and all of a sudden I felt him trip up.  He caught himself and took a couple of funky little steps, so I asked him to hoa and then walked him quietly.  He was fine.  This is the second time this has happened in the same spot.  The arena footing is getting deeper and now the center appears to have a crater working.  Last week when this happened I thought G had just lost his balance, but to have it happen in the same spot again, nope not balance.  I mentioned it to one of the boarders who was getting ready to ride after me and she said she had the same thing happen a couple weeks ago with her horse and then again yesterday.  Sure enough, in the same location.   Hubby hasn't been allowed to roll it all winter due to the cold and it really needs it bad!   I'm getting so I'm afraid to canter G in there anymore.  The two ends of the arena aren't so bad, but the footing is getting looser and I'm afraid of suspensory injuries.  Hoping we can get in there in the next few weeks and groom the footing properly.  Actually, if we could remove half the footing, we would probably be golden!  

Why oh why can't any one boarding facility be absolutely perfect?  If the trails are good, the arenas aren't.  If the arenas are great, the trails stink.  Or if you do find both the price is astronomical [heavy sigh] the one thing I don't enjoy about horse ownership.  I know, I know, I shouldn't complain, after all I have a place to ride in winter.  But when it comes down to it, I won't have an indoor arena when we move to Tennessee, so maybe I need to just get used to it.  Oh no, did I just say that? 

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Mounting Block Pick Up

I made a couple of short videos on Sunday to share with the GHS group.  One gal had wanted to see the Parelli "chicken wing/kick back" get the horses out of my space exercise; and since I'd noticed more than a few people mentioning issues with getting their horses to stand still at the mounting block, I wanted to share how Mark Rashid had shown us how at our clinic last October.  

It really is a small thing, but setting up G's mind prior to mounting up has made a huge difference in our sessions.  He hasn't lost his ability to move forward, but he's learning to wait for my cues prior to doing so.  It just keeps getting better.  
I'm not a great presenter, but I thought it got the exercise across.

Link to video:        The Mounting Block 

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Rear Cinch

Until I met this gentleman over the phone while purchasing one of his beautiful saddles, I used to keep a rear cinch loose.  Why?  Cause that's the only way I'd ever seen them, especially in western classes.  Once I got my ATH home and cinched it up as he shows in the linked video, the stability of our saddle was very noticible.  I just stumbled upon this short video and thought I'd share it here.  David is the maker of the Black Rhino, and now AboutTheHorse saddles.  He's also one of the original designers of the Crates Tennessean saddles made years back.  Not trying to say David is old, he's not....just want to share his knowledge of saddles with everyone I know.  Enjoy!

Link to video:      The Rear Cinch and its True Function

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lesson - Saturday 2/6/10

Another wonderful lesson!  I love when Debbie attends trainer clinics, as she always comes back with a new "pearl of wisdom" to share with her students.

Lendon Grey shared some tips on the rider using their core to stop their horse more square and to help riders work on their position.  As part of our warm up at A, B, C & E she asked me to do a situp with my abs, squeeze my thighs and let out a large breath as I said the word whoa, and only use rein if needed.  Since G will whoa on verbal command in the arena, I asked her if I could just breathe out instead, and she said okay.  G was super!!  He stopped square without me touching my reins on the second attempt, and the third, fourth and fifth!  About the sixth time I did slightly squeeze my outside rein to help keep him straight.  Boy was it a cool exercise.  Seems simple, but to be able to feel yourself sitting taller and your body aligning shoulder/hip/heel was neat.  Having G stop more square and walk off with his hind leg first 90% of the time was even better.  He used to always start off with the front leg.  Getting your horse to stop with their hind legs underneath them is the key.  The squarer the stop, with the horse rising in the withers; means walking off from the stop correctly.  Debbie said of the three students she worked with that morning, G was the best student of them all.  She was so pleased that he "got it" so quickly. 

After working shoulder-in  (which he also did great at) and leg yields we began to work on canter transitions.  So picture the arena is 28 degrees, the wind is blowing, the arena doors are rattling; and then the farm truck pulls out front to pick up hay.  That's when I lost G's concentration, and I felt him starting to get rattled (G is all about food - farm truck = lunch hay).  Before I knew it he spun out on me.  Not once, but twice.  I rode them both out without losing a stirrup or my seat.  Debbie was so pleased ~ not with G's performance, but with mine.  She said the two spins G delivered would've unseated many riders.  So woohoo, that means my seat is getting better and those core exercises are helping.  I actually didn't think the spins were so bad, but I guess when you don't lose your balance they aren't such a big deal, lol.  We decided at that point that we would forget about the canter and work on some relaxation exercises.  Working 20 meter circles, spiraling in and leg yielding out. It made a big difference and G came back to me in a matter of minutes. 

Another successful lesson under our belt! 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nice Workout!

We had a really nice 45 minute workout last night.   I generally come home tired, but last night I came home with a huge grin on my face, and feeling energized. 

We did our normal warm up.  Stopping square before and after each corner; leg yields off the quarter line toward the rail for 4-5 steps, then straighten for 3 and yield toward the centerline 4-5 steps and straighten at the end; followed by shoulder-in on the long sides in both directions.  Its a nice easy warm up and definitely helps free up G's shoulders.  Then we worked on the walk, lengthening and shortening the stride, and then we went to canter transitions. 

I'm working hard at my position, as I know this is a huge part of either getting a good transition or not.  When we're in balance, it's wonderful!  So we continued with this, working in both directions for about 8 minutes and then I took him large again and asked for gait.  This is where the big smile came from.  He gaited like a champ last night and I'm noticing that his ears are beginning to relax.  He used to always hold them straight forward.  Now they're pivoting here and there.  Then he gets that chug-a-lug breathing sound he makes in time to his gait.....but the best part came off one of the corners where I felt his shoulders rise up and felt the pull as well as the push from behind.  It only lasted about 6 strides, but it was pure raw power!  A true running walk absolutely, positively; and the best he's ever delivered.  Needless to say G was duely rewarded with praise, hugs, and pats. 

Had Liz Graves been in the arena I woulda hugged and praised her too!  As it was her pearls of wisdom about relaxing walk work being the key to unlock G's gaits.  Any time I've felt the need to go faster, I repeat what she has told me a couple of times...."this type of work is like watching paint dry - but it's worth every moment".  She is sooooo right!!

We finished off our session doing a 20 meter circle in the center of the arena, and as we come off the rail, we leg yield outward along the long arch, back to the rail and continue the leg yield on the opposite side of the circle.  We do this about 3 times in both directions.  The key is keeping him relaxed at this point, as this exercise is about softly stretching the muscles we just worked.  

When we got back into the barn aisle, G was rewarded with some home made oat/molasses treats.  Awesome, awesome ride....and I'm still smiling this morning!!

p.s.  When I got home I curled up in my pappasan chair and finished "Out of The Wild" by Mark Rashid.  What an awesome story, and it is filled with great training insights.  I highly recommend it all my horse friends.  I'd lend it out, but since its personally autographed I don't want to risk losing it. 

BTW - I know we all like to save money, but did you know when you buy books from the author only receives 3 cents per book?  Crazy huh?  So if you want to support Mark (and your other favorite clinicians) please buy your book directly from them.  It's like downloading music for free; artists are not duly rewarded for their talents.  Okay, off my soap box.