Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Saturday, May 29, 2010

In the Arena #14

Dressage is the return of freedom to the horse under the rider.  Herman Koopman

Wow... Val and I had a super pleasant ride this morning. Nothing special in terms of what we did, but more about how we did it. Nice, calm, free movement... willing turns and transitions, reaching and stretching down and a happy playful attitude the whole time. Such a pleasure.

I believe there are a couple of reasons why our ride went well:

We tried out the new girth I ordered this week. I read about the Le Tixerant Dressage Girth in a blog I follow (Thank you Grey Horse Matters!). After researching further, I thought this girth might help with some of the issues I've been having with Val, which I hoped were physical rather than behavioral. I have definitely had trouble with saddle placement, both deciding where to place it, and keeping it there. On the rides where Val has been a bit resistant, even offering to buck occasionally, when we untacked after riding, the sweat marks showed the saddle had slipped forward, probably impeding his shoulder movement / pinching his withers. When I would tighten the girth up enough to keep the saddle in place, it was likely too tight.

The Le Tixerant girth is designed not to pinch or constrict breathing and movement, as well as to keep the saddle in place - front to back and side to side. Val was extra sweet and affectionate after we rode... I swear he was letting me know how good he felt. We heartily recommend this girth :)

Aside from the new equipment, I had an epiphany about how we train. From now on I resolve not to have any agenda for our sessions... not to be goal oriented. I will go with the flow - staying in the moment - so that my decisions are appropriate for both Val and for me. It's all about the process. I knew these things intellectually but have failed to put them into practice on a consistent basis. Having my horse enjoy himself so much today really helped this lesson sink in.

Enjoy the holiday and thank you to everyone who serves or has served our country in the military.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

At the barn #9 - No good deed goes unpunished

This afternoon was spent helping hold horses for vaccinations. While we don't have a local equine vet, our small animal vet is kind enough to do vaccinations, coggins and fecals. He only comes to our island every other month, so you don't want to miss his visit. To add to the urgency, there have been several cases of rhino nearby in the last week.

What I imagined would be an hour tops, burned up the whole afternoon. Val's shot was done before he knew it - he's such a mellow guy :) And my other charge Honey Bee was good as gold - five minutes and we were done.

Our neighbor Cowboy was a different story however. I held him for the dentist last week, and I guess he might have remembered that it was not such a pleasant experience. Two shots of Rompin (sp?) didn't really take the edge off and he whacked the dentist in the face with his head. The dentist retaliated in a forceful way and I was caught in the cross fire. I asked him if he thought that Cowboy would remember that lesson considering how doped up he was?! Far be it from me to judge. If I made my living handling horses I might feel differently...

Anyhow, we struggled to vaccinate Cowboy safely. I had to hold him (while several times removing needles from his neck) as he reared and bounced away from the vet. Eventually we succeeded. I feel strongly that it is the owners responsibility to have their horse behave for the farrier, vet and dentist as well as load. Did I mention Cowboy is a problem loader?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gettin' jiggy with it...

Today was our first ride outside of an arena in nearly six months. My friend Sue and her Banker pony Honey Bee went to the beach with us.

I have to admit that the first few minutes had me wondering whether to go on. (There were two unanticipated dismounts our last time out...) Val was tossing his head, ducking and breaking into a trot... seeing monsters behind every bush. He was certain that the (very distant) guy with surfboard was super dangerous and god forbid anyone should carry beach towels or play horseshoes. Meanwhile I focused on staying on my seat, relaxing and the judicious use of the fire drill (my trainers way to halt without getting into your horses mouth).

Overall, I'm super happy that I resisted the temptation to quit and was able to sit out Val's nervous rushing until he/we calmed down. I also resisted the temptation to dwell on the fact that on our first two beach rides were very calm. As my trainer says - you have to ride the horse you have today. Glad we have crossed that bridge - I'm sure it will go even better the next time.  :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

In the Arena #13 - Our task is called leadership

Confidence - great if you're full of it, but what if you're not?

How do you project confidence when you don't feel it? Horses know when you're faking. How do you balance confidence with common sense? How can you maintain confidence while also keeping your mind open to instruction?  It seems paradoxical... and is something I have to address (often) when working with horses.

One good thing is, (unlike most humans) horses live in the moment. They really aren't thinking "oooh - the last time we did that I heard a scary sound and jumped straight up in the air". If we think that type of negative thought however, they can absolutely feel it... get ready for the self-fulfilling prophecy. So it's our responsibility to show some self control... not always the easiest task.

"Horses need and respect leadership. The most essential aspect of our being the leader of the partnership is to have clarity of purpose, and to be decisive in carrying out our objective, even if we do not feel entirely sure or confident. We must make up our mind, put our program into the computer, and go for it! To fulfill this, it is crucial to get responses from our aids right now, today, however crude or inept we might initially be. Because only when we begin to get some kind of response (large enough that we ourselves notice it!) from each and every request will we then, through practice, gradually improve the way in which we achieve those responses. When we are hesitant, indecisive or irresolute, the horses either ignore us or quickly take over the decision-making role, which is seldom a pleasant or useful experience."  Eric Herbermann A Horseman's Notes

Val and I had a very productive ride yesterday. While we're not flowing smoothly on the left hand, there has been a vast improvement. Nearly immediate response to my requests and just off of my leg. Interestingly, we were a bit sticky going to the right. I think we're about through this issue now (as does my trainer). Yea!

Off for an early morning beach ride tomorrow. The fates have conspired to open schedules and provide perfect weather. :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In the Arena #12 - The long and the short of it

I've thought for a while that our "arena" needed some improvements, especially after spending time working in the arena at my trainers farm. When Val gets stronger in his hind end we'll be able to work on tighter school figures, but it's not comfortable to him physically right now, it's distracting to me and harder for me to help him stay straight.

The left picture shows how I'm extending the boundaries and rounding out the tight corners. The one on the right shows what it will look like when I'm done. I spent Saturday clearing brush in preparation of moving the posts. Two more days work and we should be good to go.

Regarding work under the saddle - Val and I had a really nice ride this morning. I could tell that our lessons from last weekend had sunk in. When I asked for the trot however, I noticed Val's head was bobbing and he appeared to be pulling off of one of his front legs. I dismounted, checked him from the ground and couldn't find anything wrong. When I asked him for the trot again I got resistance and some bucks. He seemed to be hurting as opposed to refusing to answer my aides. After some head scratching, anxiety, and process of elimination, I've determined it was a saddle placement issue. If it's too far forward, it pinches and restricts him. Lesson learned. :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

In the Arena #11 - Loving every minute of it...

It would be hard to choose the best thing about our action packed long weekend at my trainer's farm (Val says GRASS!), it was all so rewarding and fun. Here are some highlights...

We had a good lesson first thing on Friday focusing on turning and halting. We have to get a halt and have a straight neck before we can do a turn on the forehand. I also need to make sure that there isn't too much contact for the energy. After our lesson Val had a visit from the horse dentist. His teeth and mouth are in great shape and we'll probably skip the sedation next time.

Later on Erin and I had Alexander technique sessions with a very talented practitioner. Part of the session takes place on a saddle, so we took our own. This was a profound experience. The  technique is so very subtle and interactive. It relies on bringing your attention to the areas that need opening and space. After the saddle part of the session I would swear my legs were longer. (Time to let down the stirrups a notch or two?!) My hips were really open and I couldn't wait to see the effects on my seat in the next ride. I highly recommend the Alexander technique for all riders but especially dressage riders.

Saturday morning - a quick trip to the feed store and then I watched lessons until it was my turn. We had a fantastic ride, building on the day before and I'm certain aided by my newly improved seat. I have never felt so at one with my horse and secure. Val was reaching into the bridle and seeking contact for the first time since I've been riding him. It's amazing how freely your horse can move when you are not blocking him. Things to remember from this ride are following with my hands and really allowing my horse the room to reach - in essence not blocking. Also, sending him forward resolves many issues.

Could it be Sunday already? After I lunged Val for a bit and got some strategies to handle when he tries to run out on me, Erin worked him. By the end of her ride, she had Val reaching for contact, using his back and increasing his stride length. Her feedback was that he has a noodle neck which must be stabilized... he doesn't really understand the leg aid very well and is super crooked - most likely a result of protecting his left hip (old injury). I was so relieved to find out that there is a physical component to our turning issues. Edited to add: Erin is not happy with her leg position in this photo - "waaaayyyy too far back" she said :)

Erin handed Val off to me and as I led him back to the mounting block he seemed to be shocked that the lesson was not over yet. We had a very productive ride and I now have a handle on where we need to go with our practicing. It was a weekend full of revelations and breakthroughs.

Val's take on our trip: Grass, excellent hay, friends - possibly one enemy, and a very comfy stall. We can't wait to go back!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

At the barn #8 - When it rains...

Something I'm learning about owning horses is that there are so many emergencies that can happen with a horses' health and when they do it's usually at the most inconvenient times. Here's what has been going on in our (tiny) horse community just over the last couple of weeks...

  • The local trail barn had a serious colic while on a trail ride - the horse fell out on the beach - revived with a shot of banamine so they could get him home. A couple of days later another horse at the same barn colicked so severely he had to be euthanized. A few days later the original colic case has to be rushed to the equine clinic (3 1/2 hours away) - he had a giant worm load that led to colic / peritonitis / internal bleeding. 
  • An elderly gelding was kicked nearly to death by his pasture mate for no apparent reason... the owners met the vet halfway and were sent to Raleigh - 6 hours away - to a better equipped veterinary hospital. The gelding is recovering at the hospital from a punctured lung and broken ribs. This happened after hours as well.
  • Another local gelding was spiking a fever combined with swelling in the groin and going off his feed... symptoms coming and going. He ended up with lyme disease, and is recovering at the clinic on intravenous antibiotics.
I'm super thankful that Val has been very healthy so far, and feel justified in my micro managing of his care. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!!

On a more positive note, we had a really nice ride on Thursday. We're preparing for a trip to our trainer's next weekend... I can't wait to get some feedback (of the human variety).

Congratulations to Calvin Borel and Super Saver on their Derby win today :)

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