Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shoulder in! Renvers! Leg yield! Travers!

Our last session with Alfredo focused on getting Taran to be more mobile with his shoulders and haunches, and hotter off my leg. As Alfredo pointed out after I'd switched my whip for the 20975th time, Taran doesn't respect my leg unless I have a whip to back it up. That's all fine and good until you ride a test where you don't get to carry a whip, and then you're screwed (ahemGAIGchampionshipsahem).

We worked on the new, slower warmup, which seems to do good things for Taran:

Hellooooo, gorgeous stretchy trot. Where have you been all my life?


And then we transitioned to doing shoulder in to renvers on a circle. The difference is bending, which sounds easy, but it's challenging for me to rearrange all my body parts quickly so that Taran can make the transition from one to the other smoothly and without losing the trot. We've done this exercise with Alfredo before, but I admit that I don't practice it much at home. When I do, I'm not asking for the level of bend and obedience that he expects... because this kind of smooth, obedient movement is a whole new thing for us:



I really liked the feel that I could put Taran's body anywhere I wanted and I would get an immediate and BIG response - that goes with being more demanding of both myself and him. Plus, it's much harder to do shoulder in/haunches in on a circle than it is on a straight line (which is what's required in all the 2nd level tests), so if we can can do these movements well on a circle, we shouldn't have any problem when we have to do it down the rail. Plus it's easy to see in the video how a half pass could come out of these movements, if I just placed it slightly different, so that's exciting. Who knew Taran had so much crossover in those short little legs of his?

Finally, we did an exercise down the long side where we stared in shoulder in, switched bend to renders, then flipped to face the rail in leg yield, then changed bend to travers. Sound confusing? Try riding it! I messed it up the first few times, but eventually we kinda got it right:


Whew, I felt like I needed a translator! These movements (except SI) aren't really automatic in my head yet, so it takes me a moment to figure out what each one needs and then ask Taran for it.

We've definitely got our work cut out for us, but I got a lot out of the clinic. My biggest takeaway is that I really have to be more demanding of us both... Taran can do the movements, and do them big, and I need to push for that. We don't have fancy gaits to help us out with our scores, so it's important to ride every step for 110%. I'm excited with all that we accomplished in just a few short days, and am really looking forward to working on everything at home. After all, our first show of the year is just 2 months away!

Monday, January 9, 2017

A more effective warm-up & riding for better scores

The second day of the Alfredo clinic, we worked primarily on more shoulder in and renvers. But what stuck most in my mind about this lesson was what Alfredo had to say about warm-up.

At home, we usually take a short trail ride to the field where we do most of our work, so we have a 10+ minute walk warm-up. Then I do some trot and canter on a long rein, take a bit of a breather, and then consider us ready to get down to business.

Alfredo's suggestion was much different. Instead of doing long stretches at any one gait, he had us do perhaps a circle or a half circle of one thing, then a circle of walk, then pick the reins back up, do something else, walk, etc. Essentially it was a lot of very sort bits of bending and flexing, working lower and then asking for a few steps of collection, working lower, back to walk - just lots of gentle transitions, gentle flexing, and gentle laterals. I posted the trot the whole time to let his back warm up (I normally do a lot of posting so that wasn't new).

Longer rein at the beginning of the ride

Asking for him to come a bit more together

As the session went on, we asked for more sustained stretches of collection, more angle in the laterals, more bend, and a faster response off the leg. Again, Alfredo's method is very short stretches of good work, followed immediately by a walk/reward break when the horse does the exercise well the rider does the exercise correctly.

Flexion left with a bit more collection

Really asking that hind leg to come through

The trot near the end of the ride

I can certainly see the benefits of shorter chunks of work, especially with an older horse, but I do worry a little about building more fitness and also the horse expecting that he only has to work for short periods of time (ahem).

We did have one fantastically excellent spook when a pitchfork that was leaning against the side of the arena slid down the wall and onto the ground...

Thank goodness for saddles with ginormous thigh blocks! 

Another super interesting thing Alfredo said was about getting better scores on a movement. If your movement starts well, then the judge is likely to have in their heads a 6.5 or a 7. If you ride half of it well and then it falls apart, you might end up with a 6.5 or a 6, depending on where you started. BUT, if your movement starts off really badly, the judge might have in their heads a 5, and even if the second half of the movement is great, you're unlikely to score more than a 5.5 or a 6. So it's really important to set up the movement well and make that good first impression, even if it falls apart later. Easier said than done, of course!

Meh

Better

THAT's what you want to come out of the gate with!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

"You need to be more demanding"

Hubby and I are attending another clinic with Alfredo this week. As usual, Alfredo insists on good work, and in our first session, about halfway through he said something that really stuck with me.

"You need to be more demanding."

He's right. At second, judges want to see a sharp, workman like test. The halt needs to be trot-halt-trot, not trot... walk a step... halt... stutter back to a trot, like was acceptable at first. When I work on my own, I try to make my movements correct and precise, but there's a whole 'nother level of accuracy when someone is yelling at your in a lesson. Everything needs more bend, more expression, more obedience, more precision.

Take our walk-canter transitions, for instance. I thought they were decent (I mean, we didn't have one like 3 months ago), but decent - with a step of trot - is not enough. THIS is what he wants:


Ignore the part where I push his haunches to the inside the step before the depart and look at how awesome my horse is.

We also worked on improving his gaits, especially the trot. We did a lot of renvers on the circle (ok, I tried to do renvers on a circle, but it's hard and I'm struggling with timing and body position).

I really need to step in the direction I'm going and get my hands right. But Taran is trying hard and the sky is so pretty!

But when we go straight after a few steps of renvers, this magic happens:

All the time like this please.

But riding that uphill, balanced, expressive wave is hard, and it's all too easy to get a little quick and on the forehand:

Half-halt needed. 

So, I gotta be more demanding, of both myself and my horse. Maybe that's my mantra for 2017?

What about you? What's your biggest struggle right now?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What I hope will happen in 2017

Goals with horses are a tough thing. They get hurt, they don't stick to timelines... sometimes they progress by leaps and bounds and sometimes they plateau for months. Those things are really out of my control, so that makes it hard to set goals. Plus there's me... sometimes I get new concepts quickly and sometimes it takes me forever to retrain my body to do it right. Combine those things and it makes me wary of setting goals.

Having said that, I'm kind of a goal oriented person. If I have shows on the calendar, I'll be damn sure to get in all the lessons and ride 5-6 days a week and have A Plan. But at the same time, I don't want to expect too much, you know? So this year I'm breaking my goals down.

Absolute must:
  1. Keep Taran sound, healthy, and happy!
Hopefully Pretty Doable:
  1. Qualify for Regionals at first level again (need 1 more score)
  2. Qualify for Regionals with a first level freestyle (need a freestyle)
  3. Get my bronze medal scores at second 
Stretch:
  1. Qualify for Regionals at 2nd level (2-3 looks impossible right now, ack!)
  2. Qualify for Nationals with the first level freestyle (last year I think 4 of the 5 first level freestyle riders in Region 9 scored over a 68%, so maybe there's hope?)
Oh but hell, while I'm at it...

Really crazy:
  1. Figure out how to do flying changes
  2. Ride a 3rd level test 
NopeNopeNope:
  1. Get bronze scores at 3rd level

Oh and if you're wondering about how I did with last year's goals? My one big goal was to memorize my damn tests. I only went off course once in 2016, so I'll consider that a success!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The best and worst of 2016

On one hand, this year has been a set of incredible highs. If you'd told me on January 1 that I'd be taking Taran to Regional Championships and bringing home a ribbon, I'd have thought you were crazy. But it's also been a year of loss - both Cash and Brego. Cash was not unexpected - he was 28 after all. And while I was saddened to lose my first heart horse, I knew it was time. But Brego's loss left us in shock - he was so young, and so seemingly healthy - I still don't think we've entirely processed it. Some horses leave awfully big holes behind.

Anyway. Instead of looking back month-by-month, I decided to pull some highlights of the year. These are the posts that I look at when I'm bored (does anyone else do that?), and smile to remember.

Reader's favorite post
How much were Brego's shoes? Brego got a set of custom heart-bar shoes after his hoof resection. Readers guessed at how much they actually cost... $600 for a set of two, in case you were wondering.

We still have these.

My favorite post
Back to square one. Again. This post basically sums up the entire struggle of dressage for me.
...When you start something new (like, say, coming back into work after being a pasture puff for a couple of years), your horse is in disbelief. He doesn't want necessarily want to work ("I could spook instead!") and it takes the better part of an hour lesson to convince him of what his job is and that he has to do it. And then, maybe the last 10-15 minutes of your lesson, he starts to really put in some quality work - like a nice, connected trot. And just when it's starting to feel awesome, your time is up. You've been through the wringer (how much inside leg can you possibly NEED???!?!), and your horse looks like he's just run the Derby. You despair at how hard that was and how you'll never be any good and how COULD HE PLEASE JUST TROT LIKE A NORMAL HORSE and jeez. Why do you do dressage again?...

Funniest post
Sh!tt!iest Valentine's Day Present Evar! Yup, husband bought me a manure spreader for Valentines Day. It's been almost a year and I still LOVE this thing. It makes my life so much easier!

Yassssss

Best shopping experience
Austrian tack stores: SO DANGEROUS. My credit card still hasn't recovered, and I really want to go back.

I WANT ALL OF THESE!

Worst ride
Requisite sh!itty pre-show ride. What happens when you expect too much and don't give enough.

Best ride
Lesson with Grand Prix Trainer. I learned a ton, and Taran was so light and balanced and responsive. I'm hoping to ride more with her (as well as my regular trainer) in 2017.

Taran complains that doing it right is HARD.

Worst show
Sort of second level. We definitely weren't prepared (and still aren't).

Needs to go back to Intro and learn square, on-the-bit halts.

Best show
Regional Championships, Day 2. Because satin.

Love.

Worst pic
That epic moment in our first second level test when I asked for a canter-walk transition with too much hand and took my leg off, and poor Taran slammed on the brakes. Too bad you don't get bonus points for sliding stops in dressage.


Look, my horse has two legs!

Best pic
Thank you Lauren for taking this... this is the best memory I could ever ask for.


Here's to a mostly good year, and looking forward to 2017!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Shoulder in is hard, and I suck at it

We've been breaking down the pieces of second level in my regular weekly lessons. Sometimes it seems like there are so many things to work on, we'll never get through them all and be able to put together a decent test. Last time it was canter/walk/canter transitions, this time it was shoulder in.

I don't know why SI is so hard. It's like a leg yield down the rail, but not, because you're on 3 tracks instead of four. So you kind of have to keep your outside leg on so that the haunches don't escape, but not too much or you'll end up straight. You need bend, but not too much or your horse will just fall on his outside shoulder, and/or you'll shut down the inside hind (and you neeed that inside hind because that's what's doing all the carrying work in SI). 

Speaking of falling out on his shoulder because I'm pulling his head to the inside...

Annnnd again...

Bonus if you pull on the inside rein to get that bend, because nothing shuts down the inside hind like pulling on the inside rein. In fact, sometimes it shuts down the inside hind so much that you just end up with the neck bent and the rest of the horse straight.

Like this

Or this

Nope, still going straight. ARGH!

Taran has just given up on interpreting my cues and is just trotting nicely because he's good at that.

Maybe a tiiiiny bit of shoulder fore?

The most common way to school the shoulder in is from a 10 m circle or volte. But tracking right, I often fail to ride the last quarter of the circle, so T throws his haunches in and shoulders out, which is basically a recipe for how NOT to set yourself up for success. So instead we did a 12 step program for shoulder in:
  • Turn onto the quarter line (because if we're on the rail, I forget to use my outside leg and let the rail do my job for me).
  • Get him straight. Straighter. STRAIGHTER. Maybe a step or two of leg yield to engage that inside hind.
A step of leg yield. This we can do.
  • When he is REALLY REALLY straight, move BOTH hands to the inside. Your hands control the position of his shoulders.
  • Turn your shoulders to the inside so that they are even with the angle of your hands.
  • (Note: the rest of this is theoretical. I sort of flop around and lean and collapse and flail.)
I don't even know what I'm doing here. Poor Taran.
  • Apply inside leg to keep the bend and engage the inside hind.
  • Apply your outside thigh to push his shoulders to the inside.
  • More inside leg.
  • MOAR.
  • Don't forget your outside leg.
  • Check your angle. 
WAAAY too much angle. Also, nice job leaning.

Still too much angle (4 tracks), but hey, Taran is straighter! (Unlike me)

STILL too much...

Nope.
  • Don't forget to straighten before you run out of arena.
I finally gave up and we went to a walk to try to get it sorted. I'm just not fast enough with all the body parts to make it work at a trot yet. It also helped when we changed direction, because he's WAY better to the left. I was able to feel what we were going for and then apply it to going right.

Straighter (both of us), AND (mostly) on three tracks. You can see how hard the inside hind has to work here and why you want to avoid shutting it down.

Getting the hang of it!

Maybe?

We need about a million more lessons on this so I can get the feel of what's correct, and I need a LOT of practice setting him up - and sitting correctly - to make it happen.

What are YOUR favorite tips for riding a good shoulder in?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A year of Taran conformation shots: How far we've come

This time last year, Paddy had just re-injured himself (soft tissue in RF), and Brego, who was my plan B riding option, had just ripped off a huge chunk of foot that we were going to have to wait for months for him to grow out. I wasn't about to not ride, so I pulled poor Taran out of the pasture and he became my primary riding horse.

He was a pretty rough customer, since he hadn't been ridden consistently in quite some time. He was muscled upside-down, and had no topline at all. 

December 23, 2015

After just a month, his topline had improved dramatically and his butt was starting to fill in.

February 1, 2016

By March, the giant muscle on the bottom of his neck was becoming less prominent as his topline continued to fill in.

March 6, 2016

He started looking more like a normal horse in April, although this particular picture looks even better because his neck is stretched out...

April 10, 2016

Our May pic was kind of awkward, but you can see that he's continuing to fill in. The area right in front of his withers continued to be a challenge.

May 22, 2016

He spent most of July with my trainer since I was out of the country, and she evidently fed him extra as well as worked him: 

July 16, 2016

I think he backslid a little in August (you can especially see it in the base of his neck) since I was trying to figure out how to ride him more over his topline and not doing a great job of it.

August 20, 2016

He looked a little slender in the October shots, but this was after four days at Regionals where he didn't eat very well. The top of his neck, right in front of the wither, STILL hasn't filled in much, and you can see the hollow right behind his wither too.

October 9, 2016

Since October, we've been working on a lot more collection and laterals in preparation for 2nd level. I'm finally getting the idea of fluffing up his shoulders and really riding him through (sometimes, anyway), so this has helped fill in the muscles behind his withers and the top of his neck in front of his shoulder. His butt is looking more rounded and beefy, too!

December 14, 2016

Let's just have one last comparison look, shall we?



Damn. He doesn't even look like the same horse, other than the cute, kind expression!