Friday, October 30, 2009

Another catch-up post

I didn't get a chance to do a post about the horse show last weekend as I had hoped (yet another crazy week, sorry Tucker fans) but I will at least give a re-cap. . . . It was a cold, rainy, windy day and my man was WILD. Wild for Tucker means he jumps like there are springs in his feet. I've told you all how brave he is, stopping is not an option in his mind, but jumping the 2'9" Level Zero and the 3' Level One schooling classes like the are a 4'3" mini-prix is most certainly acceptable to him. He's too polite to buck anybody off, so I think he just tries to get his energy out by jumping as hard as he can. After watching Alicia do the first round and seeing even the woman with legs of steel get jumped loose, I decided she could stay in the driver's seat for the day. By the third round he was better -- there wasn't two feet of air between him at the top rail of each fence.

The day got me a little frustrated, because I honestly don't think I could have handled him as wild as he was. Alicia did a fantastic job, of course, of reminding him to do his job without stressing him out or escalating his behavior, and we want our trainers to ride ten times better than we do so we can learn from them. But it's tough to see your own horse and think to yourself . . . that's a situation I can't handle. By the third round though, it did look like he had settled and I probably could have gotten on and showed at that point. So maybe when he's that fresh and we can't longe, Alicia just needs to stay aboard until he returns to earth.

We went to The Ridge Farm's new location in Asbury, NJ, and I promised them I'd give them a plug on the blog. They have a whole series of schooling shows over the winter and if you're in the area I'd recommend it. It's a beautiful facility, with an outdoor grand prix ring, a grass grand prix field, another outdoor ring, an indoor, and space for tents and (!) a grass hunter ring. (Hunter Derby, anyone?) The people were very friendly and the schooling show, although there was a small turnout due to the weather, was well run. My only criticism is that I wasn't allowed to longe my horse in the rings and wasn't allowed to longe on the grass because it was so wet. In the end it worked out okay and it was good for Tucker to have to deal with not being longed. They did tell me that in dry weather there is longing allowed on the grass, but if you have a really green-as-grass horse that couldn't deal with you hopping right on, if it's wet out, you might want to skip this one.

We've made a bit progress with our flat work. Alicia has been telling me this and I've finally been able to accomplish it successfully: asking for a bit of a leg yield during the downward transition really helps Tucker stay connected and keep coming forward through his hind end during the transition. Dressage folks -- any thoughts on why that works? Also, his upward transitions are much more fluid when I spread my hands. Again, not entirely sure why that works but I'll go with it for now. I've got a list of questions to ask in my lesson this weekend, and I promise I'll report back.

One last thing . . . I have a new blog to introduce you to. It's called She Rides, I Pay. Cute, right? It's written by the sister of a new boarder at Whitmere. I think the moms that read my blog will especially appreciate it.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good solid flatwork

So my goal for this winter is to really delve deep into my flatwork with Tucker and make it right. Like all horses he is a work in progress, and since we've been training with Alicia his balance and self-carriage has improved by leaps and bounds. He understands collection now, which for a big guy like him is a huge feat. It's amazing the horse he has become since he first moved into Whitmere last winter.

What I'm working on now is acceptance of my right rein. We have left rein issues -- probably something that I unwittingly started and he has now taken and run with. I think it went something like this: He was a little stiff to the left, so I worked my left rein more, he became dependent on me using my left rein, and he now seeks the left rein contact all the time in both directions, to the point where he's very uncomfortable taking the right rein. Does that make sense to everyone? The progression has happened over a number of years, and now we're working on creating a more balanced Tucker, which of course has to start with me changing my behavior.

We worked on this during a flat lesson this past weekend, and I picked it back up last night. Basically, tracking left, I am using a counterbend to establish connection between my right hand and right leg, so that he's actually turning off my outside aids. It's so amateurish, but I have realized that I have gotten into the habit of turning him left with my left rein. And then his hips go right and he gets stiff on the left side. Tracking right it's much better. He wants to bulge through his left shoulder and lean on the left rein so I just have to create a wall and keep his hind end moving forward into my hand with both legs.

By the end of the ride he was much more accepting of my right rein and I tried to get a little bit of a left bend by opening my left hand without taking back on my left rein and asking him to move away from my left leg into my right hand. Moments of success but overall as soon as he thought there was something to lean on in my left hand he wanted to get a little flat and heavy.

Yet again... I seem to have stumbled upon a gap in my riding knowledge. Why is it so important for them to turn off our outside aids? I know that's what you are supposed to do, but why? Just for the reason I stated above, that otherwise the hips move out and they lose their bend or get heavy on the inside rein, or is there something more that I'm missing? And, how does it help me to counterbend, when what I want is acceptance of the outside hand on an inside bend? Is the counterbend just a means to an end? It does seem to help, don't get me wrong. By the end of the ride I could at least track straight down the longside (without a counter or inside bend) and see in the mirror that without any left rein contact his hips were square behind his shoulder and he was moving straight and forward and light. I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Ultimately I think I'll need to hash this out in my next lesson and hopefully I'll report back with a little more knowledge.

The other thing we are working on is downward transitions. He wants to get heavy/stiff and I lose the hind end in the very last step of the transition. It's a very subtle thing but something that could really use improvement. Walk to halt start off badly (he just wants to lean through them) but then he gets it and I can get really nice halt transitions off just my seat and leg. Trot to walk are getting much better, but it seems that he really doesn't understand what I want at first. ("What? I walked. That's what you said. What's the problem now?") I have, in lessons, gotten a few really nice trot-to-walk transitions though. So I know that it's possible.

Canter to trot, still haven't been able to get a transition that I'm happy with (sort of an emergency brake, horse falls out from underneath you type of transition). It has improved to some degree though, because his trot is well-balanced and soft right away, instead of heavy, too big, and overreaching for five strides. I've had to learn to keep my leg on through them, that helps a lot. And stay relaxed and tall through my back, sink deeper with my seat. Those things help. I sort of query what I'm supposed to be doing with my hands though. Reader thoughts on downward transitions?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mid-October already?

Whew... sorry Tucker fans, I've been totally slacking! Can it really be the middle of October already and I haven't done one post?

I was travelling for part of this time (slight excuse). And I did have the best of intentions for a few good posts. Such as:

1. I have learned that spending a good 10-20 minutes at a working walk at the beginning of our ride makes a world of difference. I always get on and walk for a few minutes, but really making him work at the walk for an extended period of time, instead of just wander around, makes a big difference. Years ago, a dressage instructor told me that the most important thing you can do for a horse is get on and walk for 10 minutes before you start working. I'm going to make sure that no matter what -- hacking, lesson, horse show, etc. -- that I get on and walk for at least 10 minutes from now on, preferably 15-20 minutes if I can. Helps him loosen up, get ready to work, start listening to my aids, and sets the right tone. Then by the time we're ready for the first walk-trot transition, he's already in work mode. Seems pretty basic, right? But amazing how many people just get on and pick up a trot.

2. We had a great lesson outdoors a couple weekends ago, in which I learned that I can ignore Tucker gazing sideways out the side of the ring two strides away from the jump, and Tucker will quickly realize that he needs to pay attention. Even though his stargazing makes me want to micromanage and force him to pay attention, it's also just as effective (if not more so) to let him learn for himself. I also learned that when he doesn't want to keep his left bend and is seeking the left (inside) rein, I need to counter-bend, get him accepting the right rein (with which he's not as comfortable), move his haunches left, and then he'll wrap around my left leg and bend left without us having a battle over the left rein. So he'll give on the left without me taking the left. Interesting.

3. While I was away for a week, I realized that I miss Tucker the way people miss their kids or their significant others. I was in Colorado for work and I was actually getting teary-eyed just thinking of his face. I couldn't wait to go see that sweet face, expressive eyes, and big goofy ears when I got home. I'll never get sick of that face.

4. Tucker has autumn fever. He's been wild for the past week! I got on him last Saturday and his trot was HUGE -- I'm talking heels clicking together, hind end fully engaged, locked and loaded huge. And when I reached forward to pat him on the neck, he SPOOKED at the, um, wall. Which is obviously terrifying. This behavior was followed by a just delightful canter full of squealing and scooting and tail-tucking and general sentiment of "omigod mommy I'm soooo sorry but I'm soooooo fresh I toooootally can't help it. . . ." I did my best to stay patient with him, but it wasn't easy. On what I thought was going to be our last canter circle, he lept into the air in a move popular with Lipizzaner stallions. Needless to say, that was no longer our last canter circle. Sorry Tucker, leaping through the air will buy you another 20 minutes of work. Every time.

5. Tucker lost a shoe on Sunday morning (probably pulled it off with his teeth when he heard that Alicia was going to be riding him to emphasize that the aforementioned behavior is not desirable) so I taped up his foot and took him out grazing while I pulled up a chair to watch one of our new boarders -- a very handsome 4-year-old TB -- take a jumping lesson. Hanging with him for the afternoon by the ring was probably even better than having Alicia school him. Reminded me how sweet and delightful he is (every so often between clover patches he'd come put his head in my lap, gently groom the top of my head, or otherwise shower me with love and affection like the overgrown labrador that he is), despite the antics from the day before. It's always good to get a reminder that when they are fresh or naughty, they aren't being "bad" on purpose. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that. It's good to remember that even when they're misbehaving, they're just being horses. And they still love you, even though sometimes they leap through the air.

6. Yesterday, I was having a totally rough day. I had a dentist appointment and was planning to work from home for the afternoon. After the appointment, I got in my truck and just drove to the barn, in one of those "I must see my horse right now" moments. And then I stood in the aisle and watched him get his shoe tacked back on. And everything was better. I loved watching how patient he is for the farrier. What a lovely, well-mannered horse I have. It was a gorgeous fall day, the air smelled sweet, and the sun was just starting to set and turning the trees bright orange behind him out past the barn doors. And suddenly everything felt better. Horses are amazing that way.

So, hope you've enjoyed the recap. Sorry I've been MIA! It's good to be back.