Monday, December 22, 2014

Creatures of Habit

Copper and I had a good time these last two rides.  It’s actually kind of boring – I don’t have any exciting updates or news to share. 

But I’m ok with that too – I’m getting to that stage in my pregnancy – 33 weeks – where the last thing you want is excitement with your horse!

Hwello again! - A Riding Habit- Loving this look: butt muscles, a nice topline, summer dapples, red coat, and hey! Just check out the length of that tail! (> ◡ <) -

We had a fun trail ride Saturday; once again, I super love hill work for really pushing Copper to work off his hind end and carry himself. All the soft up hill horses…  *grin*

It’s very cute, because I can tool around anywhere on him at a walk with the reins at the buckle. He’ll turn and even do a bit of neck reining for me. As soon as I pick up the contact though – he knows we mean business and that’s when Mr. Speedy comes to play!

There is no such thing as a quiet w/t trail ride for him. So we ended up working pretty hard.  We did loads of uphill trotting where I required him to remain soft and cadenced – not slow per say, as he fights that too much and it creates too much tension, but he had to be listening to my half-halts.

I find it’s so much easier if you bundle him up and let him really ‘charge’ forwards and release his energy up and out, rather than trying to bundle him up and keep him slow. He just fights that, and it creates much more tension than if you let him ‘run’ it out. When he is allowed to run it results in a more extended/medium trot (okay, I have no idea what kind of trot it is ‘cause I’ve never seen it from the ground – but it’s certainly big!) that is actually softer and easier to ride than a slow, tense, choppy trot. 

So we did lots of that and when he started bracing and getting heavy on the forehand (because all the sitting into the trot is haaarrrddd human bean!) we did trot shoulder-ins down the track. He had lovely impulsion!  Lol.  XD

How good is that view? - A Riding Habit

Then came our Monday ride, and we did some schooling in the arena.  I used our useful turn-on-the-forehand square exercise, (which I’m planning to do a training post on later) and some halt/rein back transitions to really get him light on the forehand before moving in lateral warm ups.

It’s interesting to me to note that we don’t need to spend as much time doing a walk warm up as we used too. I’m actually finding that if I spend too much time on lateral movements at a walk, he looses a lot of his impulsion and gets really “sticky” – behind my leg and slow. It feels like he is stuck in molasses!

Our warm up used to be 15-20 minutes at least, but now I think it’s more like 10 minutes?  This is a good thing. We have more time for working on his trot, and can even fit in some canter work sometimes. I suppose we must be making progress, because he comes in front of my leg sooner, and is able to start working through his lateral and longitudinal flexion a lot faster. This is super exciting to me! Yay! Progress!

 

Thewell-Praise

Anyway, we did some good trotting and I’m already seeing improvement from doing the strengthening (trail riding!) rides. He was more balanced on a trotting 20m circle, both reins – though we still struggle with wobbling around on the left rein. I really have to ride that circle or he’ll bulge out through his outside shoulder and get wonky.

One of the other ladies from my yard was having a lesson in the arena at the same times as I was riding, so that was good because I got to practise working with Copper when he’s distracted. There was a lot of ‘power’ trotting (- ヮ -)!, and we even did some cantering.

He wanted to canter and I let him think that it was my idea because he went to canter, but I kept it really balanced on a 20m circle. He did so well with it for 3 or 4 laps, and then stopped because balanced cantering is hard!  :P

The instructor giving the other lady’s lesson also gave me a titbit of advice. She said “Your horse is responding really well to your leg yield aid, but try to keep his neck from bending so much. You want only a little bit of flexion from the poll.” 

And I was all “Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” because that’s the first bit of advice I’ve had in over two years(?) or more and doing this dressage training thing by myself is hard

I think what was happening was that I couldn’t tell if he was crossing over on the back end enough, so I’d ask for deeper flexion with his hind end, but create too much bend in his neck because he was already crossing over enough. 

It’s little things like that which make me go “Oooh, I really need some eyes on the ground” because it’s such a simple fix. I’ve been over riding the leg yield aid and I simply didn’t know it.

I can’t wait until next year and I can finally have some lessons!

See ya,

Bonita

Monday, December 8, 2014

Things I will NOT do with my horse…

I think this is the first blog hop I’ve ever done, although there are others waiting in my drafts folder to be finished off!

Equestrian Journey asks “We all like to share on our blogs what we do with our horses and what we would like to do, but I want to know what you will NOT do.”

I was immediately intrigued to find out what is on other people’s lists of “Won’t do in a million years” with their respective horsey partners.

Will do this - loads of this! - A Riding Habit   - Will do this; loads and loads of this! -

Mine’s a fairly short list I think, and the absolute top, number one thing is that I will. not. teach my horse to rear.

Why?

Because he is never going to need to know how to do that. He is not in the Spanish Riding School, a circus or the movies. I basically hold the belief that teaching your horse that trick without a solid reason to do so is just asking for trouble…

Yes, it’s an impressive trick, but not that impressive when 14 year old girls are teaching their horses to rear while unbalanced and wildly flailing about with their rider on board. And all the yanking backwards on the reins… *covers eyes* 

Just no.

Yes, you can train your horse to rear in a controlled manner with good balance, and yes, you may have the kind of horse that would never turn dirty and use the trick against you, but not everyone can 100% for certain guarantee that your horse is always going to be with you.

Things happen that are out of your control – it’s called life. So what if your horse ends up in a home that is less knowledgeable and their new owner accidently triggers a rear command?

How is that ever going to end well for your horse? Why teach them such a dangerous trick that will only hurt the horse or the handler if not used wisely and carefully?

*sigh* It just seems like a really bad idea to me, although I know that there other equestrians and horse trainers out there that I really respect that don’t think so. And in that case, I want to agree to disagree. :)

If you want to really want to show off your training skills, however, why not teach your horse to kneel to be mounted or something along those lines? That’s far more impressive if you ask me, and it’s very useful skill for your horse to have that would improve his value. 

Nuzzles - A Riding Habit
-  *nuzzle nuzzle* -

Other than that, I won’t:

- Ride without a helmet.
(Maybe I’d take photos without a helmet on, but only because there’s no speed, just the height to deal with.)

- Encourage my horse to play with me like I’m a horse too.
(Buck at my head? Uh-uh – Don’t you dare!)

- Allow bad ground manners – no kicking, biting, rearing or threatening to do so.
(It all stems from one of my favourite philosophies that if you have the feet, you have the horse’s mind.
If you have respect on the ground, chances are higher that you’ll have it under saddle. However, you can’t really have true respect under saddle if you don’t have it on the ground.
)

- Feed treats without a reason to do so.
(I’ve seen too many horses develop begging or nipping habits from random treat feeding to want to do so without the horse knowing there’s a reason for the reward.) 

- Keep my horse in a stall 24/7.
(I personally don’t think it’s healthy for a horse to live like that, however I do know that some horses cope just fine with living in a stall permanently. And obviously, that doesn’t include medical reasons.)

- Ride/handle a psycho horse.
(What I call psycho, and what others call psycho may differ, but as far as I’m concerned, when a horse has no regard for your person, or it’s own personal safety, it’s a dangerous animal and I will never ride it. 
I think the kindest thing to do for a horse like that is to put it out of it’s misery so it doesn’t have any more chances to hurt itself or others.
)

- Medicate to show or compete.
(Yeah, I think that’s pretty self explanatory.)

- Buy all the fancy gadgets just to be trendy or in fashion.
(If I think it’s legitimately useful to my horse or myself, I will try it out, but I have to believe it will be worth the money!) 

So, what do you think? Agree, disagree, have more to say?  Chime in if you want to – it’s a fun hop!

See ya,

bonita

P.S. - I did have a ride on Copper yesterday and while it was good fun, there isn’t much to talk about. We did some great trotting, went to cool down, he thought 30mins of work meant he was done (shows you how frequently we’ve been having short rides!), I said “Nah, let’s do a trail ride now” so we went walking around the loop with J and her horse Rhythm, and that was it! 

I rode for longer than I have in ages – 1 hour and 30 minutes, and have nothing to say for it. Hah!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Silly Season Shenanigans

… Not on horseback thankfully!

But yeah, crazy times. Copper is getting another extended holiday because of all the things we have on… *sigh*

Copper chillin' - A Riding Habit- Hai der! I iz on “Hor-la-daiz”! -

But it is what it is.

I ride when I can, so we did a short trail ride on Saturday which was quick and fun. Then Monday I managed to hop on for 30 minutes or so and work on some flatwork.

Sometimes I feel like it’s really hard to make progress with him. I feel like our wheels are just spinning and going nowhere. I think it’s partly because of all the holidays, but also because it is rather hard to keep the long term goals in mind while also processing what’s happening in the moment of the ride.

I have to work really hard to assessing the feedback Copper’s giving me under saddle and adjusting our ride to fit in with what he needs – ie, stiff shoulders, shoulder fores/shoulders in; not enough impulsion, some transitions and rein backs to drop his croup and engage his hind end, etc. This is way you need a trainer…  *double sigh*  Oh well. We’ll keep trucking on.

So this ride we did some trot leg yields to get him carrying himself properly from back to front, and we also did a little on trot-canter transitions. The cantering definitely helped his trotting – he did a beautiful 20m left rein circle afterwards. He was really carrying himself, using his hocks for suspension and that resulted in a lovely, perfect bend on the circle – it was so good I stopped the ride right then and there!

Hai! I iz Sir Derpalot! - A Riding Habit 
- I iz gooood poneh! -

But his transition into the left rein canter was terrible. And I mean a.w.e.f.u.l. with a capital FULL! Copper was just trying to run into the canter – he seems to forget that cantering starts with his inside hind leg, and thinks that if he just keeps leaning and running he’ll fall into left lead canter. 

Which is true, but when he does, it is so rush-y and strung out that you just can’t rebalance that hot mess. So I try to remind him that when I am squeezing with my inside leg for the canter aid I want him to lift and push off with his hind leg and not just run faster!

He did get it eventually, and then it was a beautifully balanced canter, and really straight! It was so nice. I just hope he’ll remember how he did it, because then we might struggle less with it next time.

Copper’s actually pretty good like that – he likes moving properly, and tends to retain the muscle memory from what I teach him. He’s really got a great athletic mind. But that’s not to say it’s easy for him to overcome his bad habits, so we’ll have to keep working on that one for sure.

Do you have any tips for teaching a horse to strike off with their back leg for a canter transition? I know I’m not doing it the best way – I’m just trying to hold him together, but push him up rather than forwards.  So yeah, I am really holding onto his mouth and half-halting pretty dang hard.

I don’t like doing that, I know he doesn’t like it either, but my toolbox is empty with this one apparently….  I’ll do some research and see whether I can come up with something!

See ya,

bonita

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Strengthening Work - The Fun Way!

Which means trail riding of course!  I do love my dressage, but there’s nothing like hitting the trails for some fun and relaxation.

Actually, as a result of the last ride we had, I was pretty eager to get out and see what sort of ride we’d have. Copper has been pretty notorious on the trail, he wants to go, and go fast!

As a result I don’t do much trotting with him and hardly ever canter because I hate getting into pulling matches with him. Instead we do a lot of dressage out there - leg yields, shoulder-ins and the like, but slow-paced trail riding is kind of boring all the time. Time to see if we can kick it up a notch!


Family Photo: October 2014 - A Riding Habit
One, two, three and a half babies! -

True to form though, the first trot we had was Copper’s ex-racing Trotter trot! It was so fast and extended, and to keep up with his movement I was posting in a two point seat. It didn’t feel at all safe to me! I was thinking - “If he spooks or stumbles, I am so off over his shoulder…” so I pulled him back and was thinking I’d have to try something different.

This time I made sure to half halt and really get him in front of my leg, and held him together with my hands. He did so much better! His trot was still huge, and really forwards, but much more ride-able (and safer for a pregnant lady). ; P

Pony ears and wild flowers - A Riding Habit
Pony ears and wild flowers – nothing better! -

We went up hills and down hills at a trot. And while he thought he couldn’t trot straight down a hill and would swing his haunches out, his impulsion felt amazing at the end of the those down hill stretches! 

He really had his haunches under him, and I could feel him pushing from behind. The straightness is something we can work on in the arena, but the hill work is really getting him to work his haunches, strengthening his back and hind quarters.

I’m thinking this is what he needs to help him balance properly when cantering. He really isn’t strong enough to balance in a 20m circle and stay upright – so he falls into the “lean and zoom” method.

I’m planning on ‘strengthening’ trail work every other ride now. I usually don’t trail ride all that much because I like working in the arena, but I feel like this would be a really helpful step in his schooling regime as he needs more strength to handle the amount of impulsion I’m asking from him.

I’m keen to see how this plan works out, and I know we’ll enjoy it in the mean time.

See ya,

bonita

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Proof of the Pudding

I was so thrilled on Saturday this last week – but, oh! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dog walking herself - A Riding Habit 
-  Spot the husky taking herself for a walk  -

So what happened was that I was cooling Copper off and our husky, Amabelle, decides to take herself for a walk. I was calling and whistling, but either she’s so old and deaf, or deliberately dense (which she is smart enough to be!), so she was ignoring me and continuing to dog trot off down to the bottom of the jump paddock, and then down the trail that loops away from our yards!

I was just like “Uh-oh, if she goes down there, we’ll never get her back!”  I don’t know if she remembered from the few times I took her with me on a trail ride before, but because of the aforementioned oldness and deafness I knew that she just couldn’t go down that track by herself. We’d never get her back.

I ended up chasing her on Copper, and while I was focused on catching that darn dog and heading her back home, I couldn’t help but notice how supple and responsive Copper was beneath me. He just knew we had a job to do and he was the perfect team mate! His trot was so full of impulsion but so controllable – he was on ‘the aids’ like I’d never really felt him to be before.

In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a horse that felt like they were truly in front of my leg and listening to everything I was asking for….  This is very exciting for me!

It just proves dressage is great for improving your riding, and more importantly, improving your mount! I am having so much fun riding Copper, and the more we work at dressage, the more understanding we develop with each other and how to communicate with each other.  It really is too cool for words. I can’t even describe all the awesome.

Copper coming up to say hi - A Riding Habit
-  Hi there partner! -


Oh – the dog! Well, we caught up and overtook her, she was all “Whhhattt?  I’m innocent I tell you!” but turned around and went home easily enough. *whew!*  She keep looking over her shoulder to see if I was still behind her with the horse, but I was - so no escaping for that little doggy. :D

I was so glad I was on Copper though; no way I could’ve chased her down while 26 weeks pregnant! I can hardly walk without getting out of breath, let alone run after her.

So that was our weekend ride, and it had some awesome results, but I’ll have to write up that separately ‘coz this post is already getting too long. :D

See ya,

bonita

Friday, October 24, 2014

Saturday Post-ride Dissection

Circles are our new best friend and worst enemy. Yup, a geometric figure is my frenemy. Mostly because when we get it right, I really can feel the suppling and impulsion benefit to Copper on the straight, and mostly because when we get it wrong – it’s oh, so very wrong…

I’m struggling with that left rein circle - I do know how to fix it (close the outside aids, and ask for outside hind to actively come forwards and help carry weight) but it’s not an easy fix. All that wonderful lateral work to supple him is also wonderful for showing Copper exactly how to evade and escape from working properly!  *sigh*

You would think that the horse would consider bending and sideways harder than bending and forwards, but nope.  :/

Still, he is feeling better and better these days, and I’m starting to consistently find relaxed and rhythmical working trot from him. I even tested it a few times today by releasing both reins forwards, and he was keeping the same pace. So that’s been super exciting and really rewarding.

We also did a leg yield from center line to outside track! There is nothing that makes you feel cooler than a super fancy prancy horse daintily tracking diagonally across the arena(Left to right, fabulous – right to left, needs some work).  Half pass here we come! Lol – yeah right.  :P

His canter transitions are also getting better – I think being able to balance properly on a circle is also helping him to get his hind underneath for a quiet transition. Thus, it stands to reason that his left canter lead is way more explosive and messy than his right at the moment – I think I really need to focus on some left rein work and try to get him stronger and more supple on the left side.

I try to work both sides evenly every ride, but I think for a short while I should almost be working the left side exclusively during the main schooling portion of our ride to really build him up.  Of course, we’ll warm up and cool down on both reins, but I’m going to stop spending so long on the right, and just get *right* back to the left for a while – sort of like a left rein boot camp for the both of us!

Here’s some more schooling footage from today if you are interested:


And yes, this is now a thing. Because honestly, just working on my hands and shortening my stirrups alone have already made such a difference to Copper; I swear he looks twice as nice as he did last Saturday, and my position looks a ton better as well.

My leg still needs work, but I’m almost thinking I might need a dressage saddle. Or maybe it looks worse than it is because Copper’s so round? I don’t know. One moment I think “Yeah, my leg is right underneath me and inline with my shoulder and hip. It must be alright then.” and then I’m all “Ugh, I don’t think it IS underneath me! I look like I’m in a chair seat again!”

So I’m vacillating between good and bad and don’t know if I should be trying to push it back even further. I hesitate because I don’t want end up to pitching myself onto the fork of my pelvis. Oh, well, I’ll try it out next ride and see what happens I guess.

See ya,

bonita

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Much Needed Eq Check

Copper and I are on track now, and I’ve been pleased with the progress we’ve been making.

We are ready to work on our circles and yesterday managed to turn out a nice 20m walk & trot circle on the right rein. We struggled a lot with the 20m circle on the left rein – he bulges out through his right shoulder, and swivel his haunches in, so he is not bending through his body correctly, or carrying his weight on his hind end properly.

His right side is stronger than his left, so I think he finds it easier to evade rather than to carry his weight on that left inside hind. I discovered that by using strong outside aids – a closed outside rein, and activating his hind leg by using a driving aid with my outside calf – it forces him to bend around my inside leg by closing the outside ‘escape hatches’!

I know that this will improve in time though. His lateral and longitual flexion have improve his ability to work through over his back in so many ways, and I am so happy with the softness that’s coming into his work now.

We are steadily improving on rhythm and relaxation, and we even find some connection and impulsion for a few moments when we get that perfect flow between him and I. Doesn’t happen very frequently, or for very long – but I get subtle whiffs of where we are headed, and it makes me so chuffed!  I get the biggest grin, cheer like an idiot and praise and pat my horse profusely.  This is why I’m addicted to dressage. 

If you want to make your eyes bleed though, I do actually have some footage of our schooling ride on the weekend. : P  It’s not very good because I had to set up the camera at the corner of the arena, so I’ve cut a lot out from where you couldn’t see us at all!

Also, Copper has some nice moments but avert your eyes from the rider… Pllleeeeeaaase?  I just took one look at the footage and went *groan*….


My hands, which I’ve been working so hard on, need more work – they are too low still. And what the flip is up with my elbows? You can see 3 feet of daylight between my elbows and sides!  *sigh* 

I would love to chop off my lower legs and relocate them – permanently. Studying the footage I can see that my lower leg is braced reeeaaally awkwardly - particularly when rising to the trot and in the canter. It makes sense as to why I’ve been coming away with some ankle and knee pain depending on how hard/long we’ve been working.

My initial thought is yes, my lower leg is somewhat better when sitting to the trot, so I don’t think it’s a problem with my hips/seat. I actually think it’s a problem with my horse’s round build!! Not only are we having trouble with saddle fit, the roundness of his barrel also affects my position, because when I lower my stirrups to the length I like I can’t keep my calves in contact with his sides. So then I end up twisting my toes out in an effort to maintain contact, and this pushes my lower leg forwards and I brace against the stirrup.

Solution? Raising my stirrups a hole, even though I feel a little bit like a jockey. Heh. This actually helped our ride a ton on Monday, Copper was a lot more relaxed because I wasn’t braced weirdly, and my leg aids were much more effective funnily enough, because my leg was back under me where it belongs and sitting in the right place so my toes didn’t turn out so much.  So yay for equitation fixes! 

Please ignore the giant baby bump in the middle. My core looks so clunky, but I can’t fix that just yet.  Get back to me after three months or so. 

I think I need to video every weekend in the mean time to make sure that my position keeps on improving and doesn’t go backwards, because I can’t have lessons at the moment (as no instructor is going to want to teach a 25 week pregnant lady - hello liability!). At least some form of eyes on the ground helps, and I can check our progress against something more tangible than just feel. :)

See ya,

bonita

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Seriousness of Eye Injuries in Horses

A little while ago I noticed Copper had some cloudiness on the left-hand outside edge of his right eye.

I’ve kept a close eye (ha.) on it, but couldn’t decide whether or not I should call a vet out to look at it. As it turns out, I left it too late...

horse eye by nicole zeug 
I was chatting to one of the ladies at the horse yards, and found out that she’s had similar experiences with two of her horses before. She was saying that you can’t leave eyes – ever.

Any sign of an eye injury and the horse needs to go the vet ASAP.  The tiniest scratch or scrape to the cornea will often ulcerate and cause a cataract to develop.

I then remembered that a while back Copper had a half-shut, puffy, swollen right eye – I had manipulated it gently to see what was up with it and a small flake of dried grass had slipped out. He seemed to have immediate relief, and opened his eye up straight away.  The swelling subsided the next day and he seemed normal.

But apparently all was not well. It took quite a long time for the cloudiness to show up, so I didn’t put the two and two together. Until now.

Swollen, puffy eye + hay flake = scratch -> cataract.

But I didn’t know back then that my standard “Wait & See” principal for minor wounds cannot be applied to eye problems. Never, ever, nuh-uh, no-no-no. You can’t necessarily see if there’s been any damage and of course, you don’t want to risk an ulcer or a cataract.

It’s too late for Copper now unfortunately, but thankfully the cataract that developed on the edge of his eye doesn’t seem to be affecting him too much. I have noticed that he does spook more when we are out on a trail ride, and he certainly gives stuff that he might have ignored previously much more of a closer inspection.

But he’s still forward and bold, so I think he’s adjusting quite well to the impairment of his eyesight so far. The changes in his behavior have been hardly noticeable, so I’m confident he will be fine, though I really wish I had caught this earlier. It might mean that we can’t do much jumping, like I was hoping to, but I guess we’ll have to see how that goes.

One thing for sure, from now on I will never ever let any slightly suspicious eye action go without an immediate visit to the vet. 

See ya,

bonita

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tack Changes – Moving to a Myler bit

Copper used to have a really simple set up gear-wise, but recently I have made a few rather expensive purchases to change his tack arrangement.

 

Myler-Bit - Myler bit upgrade -

 

While I do feel a little silly about this, I think this is a good thing, and I’ll explain why.

First off – I have a “Simplicity and solid training is the foundation to all effective horsemanship” kind of view.  I don’t like following tack trends, or using certain pieces of equipment just because such-and-such famous horseperson said I need too.  *coughParellicough*

So ‘upgrading’ Copper’s tack can sort of feel like I’m buying into the “My pony is sooo shuper shpeciallll! He needz all the fahancey matchy tack and polos or he can’t jumps/dressage/hacks, etc…” thing that seems to happen a lot out in internet land. 

But there’s another part of me that recognizes that the cheapest isn’t always the best kind of simple, and sometimes you get what you pay for.

For instance – Copper’s bit. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but it was not the best bit for my horse.

 

French-Link-Snaffle - Copper’s old bit; Loose Ring French Link Snaffle with a thick middle link -


I used to ride him in a basic Loose Ring French Link Snaffle – (Joey used to ride in a French Link Eggbutt Snaffle, but when I tried that on Copper he hated it) and I can’t remember why I got the idea that I should try a different bit, but I did.  I think somewhere along the way it finally clicked that Copper has a super thick tongue – lift up his lips and his tongue is bulging over his bars type thick – it completely fills his mouth. I was reading that in that kind of situation, a thinner bit is often more comfortable for the horse than a thicker bit. 

This was a new idea for me – I’ve always thought that thicker bits were softer and gentler that thinner ones – which is true, if your horse doesn’t have a thick tongue!

And what’s more, a shaped mouthpiece is even better for conforming to the shape of the horse’s mouth and not causing undue pressure across the roof of the mouth, tongue or bars. So that’s how I ended up looking at a Myler bit. 

I read a lot of stories about how good a Myler bit was for so-and-so’s horse, and I was drawn to the thinness and shaping of the mouthpiece initially. Then I was talking to the tack shop assistant and found out that purpose of the Wide Barrel Loose Ring Comfort Level 1 Myler Snaffle design sounded like just the thing for Copper. The shifting of the loose ring combined with the rolling action of the barrel joint is engineered to help to ‘destabilize’ the bit, making it harder for your horse to lock his jaw against the mouthpiece and lean on it.

Since Copper has a strong tendency to either lean, or curl up above or behind the vertical (which locks up his neck, his shoulders, his back, and you get the picture!) I was hopeful that the new bit would help soften him enough to get his listening to my aids rather than just ignoring me. (More of the trials and tribulations of retraining an ex-trotter…)

Wonderfully enough, this has been the case.

Copper liked the feel of the new bit in his mouth from the very start and was a lot softer through his mouth, jaw and poll when I picked up contact. I also quickly discovered that when he did start boring down on my hands in a trot, I could wiggle one rein to get his attention and stop him from trying to lock his jaw around the bit and take charge.

It took a few repetitions, but he soon figured out that leaning wasn’t going to work any more. From then on, our trot work has continued to improve consistantly.

I’m able to take up a steady contact with his mouth that he is much more receptive to – probably because he is much more comfortable in his mouth now. The bit has stopped becoming a point of battle for us – he can’t use it to take charge any more, so he’s stopped arguing over it with me and has become much more accepting of my rein aids.

I’m glad I’ve found a bit that is more comfortable for him, and I know for us, the Wide Barrel Loose Ring Comfort Level 1 Myler Snaffle has certainly helped to dispel tension and leaning problems.


 

Loose-Ring-Myler-Comfort-Snaffle - Copper’s new bit; The Wide Barrel Loose Ring Comfort Myler Snaffle -

 

I can finally focus on riding the back of the horse, and leave his face alone! (Which I was trying to do before, but it was really hard when Copper would make our rides into a discussion of who was controlling the speed of our gaits, and which gait we were going at - all through locking his jaw either on the bit, or against the straps of a Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle!)

While I could go into all the ins and outs and discuss why I continue to ride with a bit when Copper obviously didn’t like it in the past - even if he is more accepting of it today - I think that’s really another topic for a different post all together.

So that’s the conclusion to Part 1 of my posts reviewing Copper’s tack changes, and the biggest part too. Part 2 will be looking at his new girth and breastplate. And that’s really it for now. So maybe it’s not all the fancy like I was thinking.  Certainly not by tack-ho standards.  ;D

See ya,

bonita

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with the Myler Bit company – I bought this product and chose to review it because I like it. All opinions expressed about the product are my own.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mental Health Day – or - Time to Trail Ride

I’ve had three rides on Copper after spraining my ankle. He had two weeks off over that time, so I’ve been taking it easy with him. He’s so unfit right now, and all the unexpected holidays certainly don’t help.

But the gentle rides have been good for Copper’s brain, and for getting him back into it. I love hill work for making him sweat! And it’s so great to get him really working from behind (in fact, I call it my dressage “hack”), as I always say – never underestimate the power of solid walk work!

We went on a group ride today with two ladies from our yards; they rode their horses, Faith (mare) and Darby (gelding).  What I found interesting was that Copper wanted to be the lead horse – in fact, had to be the lead horse!

The other two didn’t mind, they wanted to follow him, but it surprised me because Copper is definitely one of the lowest ranking horse in the herd, but the other more dominant horses just trailed along after him. And it wasn’t because he was more confident than they were - he was more spooky and look-y about new parts of the track and new bits of rubbish, but he just forged on and kept going.

I think it’s simply his competiveness. He wants to be first! The other two horses were also lot slower in pace than Copper, so of course we ended up 15-20 meters ahead of the others, and then we’d have to stop and wait.

But it was lots of fun, and a really lovely sunny day. I really enjoyed it and I think Copper did too. We don’t get to ride with others very often at all, so it’s super awesome to get out in a group and go for a ride in places I wouldn’t take Copper by myself. 

I really miss riding with my family – we all used to go down together and ride either taking turns with one horse, or taking turns with two. We did have three horses as well at various points over the years, but mostly two.

It’s so cool to have people to talk too, and swap horsey war stories with. I miss that a lot. It makes me even more grateful for the rare times I do get to ride out with others though.

See ya,

bonita

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Your Significant Other Should Be Trained In Basic Horse Management

TLDR version: Make sure your significant other can do basic horse care and management just in case you have an accident and cant’! There’s nothing like having backup when you need it.

I think you all know where this is going right?

I dismounted off Copper yesterday, and I think I some how landed in a small divot I didn’t see under the grass.  I came down on the side of my foot and twisted/sprained my bad ankle (the right one which I had severely sprained back in May).

This ankle has been unsteady for the last three or so odd months, I keep wrenching it, stepping on that foot wrong and semi-twisting it due to all manner of incidences - standing on Duplo (almost as bad as Lego. For reals…), half falling down stairs, falling into little potholes, you know – normal clumsy stuff that is not at all helped by the fact that I’m now 20 weeks pregnant and have a butt-ton of relaxin hormone loosening up my joints and muscles and turning me into the biggest klutz (No, seriously. I never drop as much stuff, stumble, trip and fall over as I do when pregnant. :/  But my OB is okay with me riding, so we are all good. :D )

Conformation shot - 21-09-2014- Conformation shot: beginning of spring… Is there any muscling improvement? I think so -

Anyways, enough back story, onto the good stuff – what I think happened was just fine, what I felt was ALL. THE. PAIN.  So I’m standing there, hanging onto the saddle for dear life as I’m fighting not to pass out right there and then. When my head stopped spinning I dropped down on the ground. The Pon-Pon was all curious and all “Hey, Human, wot you doin’? You ‘kay? Okey-dokey, I eat grass now…”

I just lay there, then I tried to get up and had to sit down again. Copper munched away, but he kept on ‘checking’ on me which I thought was cute! What wasn’t so cute was that I had a horse and a toddler to wrangle away from the arena and back to the yards.

I had Theodore (my three year old son) with me. Usually he plays, and I ride, and we are all good. At this point, he was happily playing with his diggers a couple of feet away from me, but I knew I had to get him, the horse, and myself somewhere safe so that I didn’t have worry about the horse or the child in case I did actually faint.

So I’m organizing the child, making sure Copper doesn’t step on his reins while grazing (the last thing I need is a broken bridle!) as well as trying not to pass out or stand on my right foot.  I helped Theodore pack up his toys, then we walked (I hobbled obviously) to the gate where I had to direct Theodore how to go under the fence when he has a big bag of toys in one hand and a giant stick in the other!

Theo finally got through and out of the way, so I could bring Copper through safely and follow behind. I just didn’t want my little guy anywhere near Copper when I was in so much pain and there was no way I was able to be alert enough to prevent accidents or stop Theodore from doing something silly.

Thankfully, Hubby had arrived by then to pick us up, but while I’m hobbling over to the car I’m thinking “Why on earth haven’t I trained Copper to support me if I do have an accident?” in between having to stop and rest on his neck to keep from keeling over. He won’t walk on with me hanging onto him, but gee, I sure wished he would at that point!

To cut the saga short, I manage to get over to the yards, call Caleb (Le Hubby) and gasp out what happened, then I  had to lie down and direct him on how to untack Copper - although he knows most of what do to already which was sooo handy, because there is no way I could have done it, and I wasn’t in much of a state to be able to do much direction.

I was glad Caleb already knows how to do some of the simple stuff, but I really want to step it up a bit after this event. If he could mix feed and groom well enough to make sure the saddle mark is all gone, that would be good too…

Yeah. My horse got turned out for the first time ever with the saddle sweat patch still there. Not a good look. :S  But at least he got turned out ‘coz there was no way I was going to be able to make it out to his paddock to do that!

Coppergram

Whew. What a story. If you got this far, well done!

As for the ride itself; it was good, but we are still muddling a lot. My current thoughts are that I might be too concerned and fussy about Copper’s frame – how he is or isn’t carrying himself uphill and forwards (not head set – I try not to think about that at all, because I know it will come in time!).

I think I need to stop trying to put so much pressure him to be super light in front and do more work on relaxing his back and producing as much uphill as he can manage while also doing some figures. He is really light while going around the outside track, but we really need to get stuck into our circles and serpentines now, because he tends to dive onto the forehand again when asked to bend. Which is not so good.

You can’t have a half light horse… It means he isn’t truly balanced or carrying himself. So that’s the next step in our training. Transitions and bending. Transitions while bending! Apparently walk-trot transitions on a 20m circle are hard. 

But I’m going to stop now before you all choke on the giant lumps of text.

See ya,

bonita

Monday, September 15, 2014

Working Through The Muddle

I think we are working on something good; every ride feels like an improvement, but it’s still a big muddle.  We teetering on the edge of an upgrade – I can sense it, I swear!

 

Cartoon-bouncing-trot 

So, quick notes for the interim while we chip away at this:

  • I love the new Wide Barrel Loose Ring Comfort Level 1 Myler Snaffle I recently purchased, and I think Copper does too! I think he finds the mouth piece much more comfortable than the French Link Loose Ring Snaffle he was in, as it is thinner as well as shaped.  Boy, that horse has a really fat tongue.  He also can’t lock his jaw around this new bit so easily which means less running off against my seat/hands. A very good thing.
  • Loads of transitions and longitudinal flexion has turned out to be a natural progression in terms of his schooling; not the step backwards that I thought it was. He is eating it up and behold!  The back has been discovered!  This has resulted in some moments of honest-to-goodness throughness and connection over his back. Yippeee!

All in all, I am super happy with the new direction our rides have taken, and I am so keen to keep exploring this. A level up definitely looms ahead!

 

Derpy-&-AJ

 

I might actually be able to start working in circles again!  Haha!!  Only an OCD Dressage Diva could possibly be thrilled about riding on a twenty meter circle, but there you are. :D

See ya,

bonita

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Exercises to Supple Your Horse’s Back and Topline

There are two kinds of suppleness a horse can have:

– Lateral suppleness which is activated and improved through lateral exercises such as leg yielding, shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, renvers, travers, etc.

A very helpful article: Lateral exercises at the walk and trot   

Lateral Work Diagram

- Longitudinal suppleness which is the activation of the horse’s topline through the lift and swing of his back

“Longitudinal suppleness is reflected in the horse’s adjustability. He will be able to lengthen and shorten his stride while maintaining his rhythm. Frequent lengthening or shortening of stride helps to create longitudinal suppleness if done properly by maintaining forward motion and rhythm. Longitudinal suppleness is demonstrated by looseness in the horse’s haunches, back, neck, poll and jaw.

Lateral suppleness refers to the horse’s ability to bend his body and neck and is reflective of the horse’s ability to balance. This is especially true when performing the circle. The horse that has lateral suppleness can bend comfortably around the rider’s leg in an arc appropriate to the degree of the circle. The horse should be able to bend without falling in on the shoulder or swinging out of the haunches. The laterally supple horse is able to move his hocks, stifle, shoulder, back and neck. This is generally achieved by performing movements like the leg yield and the shoulder in.” – Excerpt from The Training Pyramid – Relaxation with Elasticity and Suppleness

Your horse can be laterally supple, but still have a stiff and hollow back – as most easily seen when incorrect extension work occurs.

Extended Trot Correct vs Incorrect

Or like this:

Incorrect vs Correct

“Longitudinal suppleness refers to the relaxation and stretch of a horse’s topline from back to front. For a horse to achieve elastic self carriage, he must be free in his back. To be able to perform the increasingly more demanding movements as a horse progresses up the levels, he must have full use of his back, not tensing or stiffening the topline.

‘Lateral suppleness’ refers to the side-to-side relaxation in a horse’s body where as ‘longitudinal suppleness’ refers to the relaxation back-to-front in a horse’s topline. Both are important to enable a horse to carry himself in a relaxed and balanced manner. When a horse is stiff, lateral suppleness is often the first problem. If the horse does not want to flex in the poll and is heavy on the forehand, he needs to work more uphill in front of the leg and be suppled laterally to release the tension in the back.

When a horse carries his poll as the highest point but is short in the neck, it is indicative specifically of a lack of longitudinal suppleness. Horses like this must be taught to reach for the bit and unlock the back longitudinally. All horses can benefit from the following exercises for encouraging longitudinal suppleness.” – Except from Longitudinal Suppleness by Dancia Yates

A tight back in a horse’s work can manifest in different ways; one of those being that it is difficult for the rider to post to the trot. The horse’s back has no swing, so there is no ‘upward’ motion to push the rider out of the saddle.

It can also mean that your horse is unresponsive to seat aids, and/or rein aids. Your horse may lock his neck and jaw against the bit, and pull away from the contact, and by shortening his neck, effectively work above the vertical, or behind the contact with the bit.

BTB, ATB, OTB 
Either way, a crucial component of correctly training dressage is the ‘schwung’ – or swing – to the horse’s movement only achieved through the relaxation of the topline.

Schwung - Sometimes people are described as having a certain spring in their step, and the same combination of physical and mental implications are contained in the German expression 'schwung'. In general, it describes a containment and redirection of energy that allows forward movement which comes from the whole body lifting itself out of the restraints of gravity for a split-second with each step. A well-trained dressage horse gains increasingly more forward implusion from his hindquarters, and this, together with a well-developed topline, allows him to swing through his back and therefore move his limbs freely and efficiently, almost like a puppet on a string. His athletic power, losgelassenheit (looseness) and subsequently, 'durchlassig' (submission – soft) attitude allow him to submit all his energy and ability to the demands of the task that the rider is setting, gaining ground with elastic, bouncy steps and eventually giving expression to his energy in the grace and suspension of a passage or the concentrated power of a canter pirouette.

Free movement allowing energy to flow and create elastic power is essential.

“We want the horse to demonstrate a good, lively, but not hurried, walk, which should be ridden in such a way that we can, at any moment, immediately trot or canter on. And the trot and canter must be ridden so that any transition can be executed immediately. We should have the feeling that the walk is lively enough so that we could urge the horse fluidly into the trot using only a slight pelvic tilt (this is the concept of the concerted efforts of both gluteal muscles, seat bones, and coccyx) and increased pressure with the legs (this is another concept of the concerted effort of the thighs, knees, and calves) .

With all of this, it is important to pay attention to giving the aids in a well-balanced way, so that we don’t push the horse into the trot with strong, exaggerated aids. Once the horse finds itself in the trot tempo that is correct for him as an individual, we ride him back into the walk with active haunches. Shortly thereafter we pick up the trot again, and so forth. In this way, the horse develops Schwung almost invisibly. Only when these two transitions are harmonious, fluid, and full of Schwung should we begin to lengthen and shorten the steps of the trot. The two-beat nature of the trot must be maintained as both the frame and the length of the horse’s steps become shorter. The hindquarters must simultaneously become even more active. The horse’s energies are gathered up in a way that uses hardly any strength, so that merely by yielding both hands forward slightly, we can encourage the horse to lengthen his frame as is required (this happens throughout his whole body).  Only a few steps later, this Schwung is captured by means of a light restraint with the hand and the deepening of the heels (the increased weight that the rider puts in the saddle when he deepens his heel is felt clearly by the horse in his back). Sitting too heavily will be uncomfortable for the horse and cause him to drop his back away. Merely deepening the heels also bulks the calves and drives the hindquarters under so they can take more weight off the forehand.” – Excerpt from “Schwung – Expanding the Frame” by Walter Zettl

So, how to unlock a tight back and develop longitudinal suppleness?  Start with basic lateral suppleness; circles, serpentines, leg yields and shoulder-fore. This is the beginning for developing looseness in the horse’s back, by allowing the shoulders/fore legs and sideways movement of the haunches to introduce elasticity into the horse’s motion.

Then the rider can begin focusing on exercises that create schwung, and relaxation of the topline, resulting in longitudinal suppleness.

Training Tip: Exercises for Longitudinal Suppling

Cavaletti asks the horse to compress his joints to lift his legs and engage his back – all good things for suppling and engaging ‘schwung’. An instructional video for dressage training with cavaletti:

 

See ya,

bonita

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Arrrghh!!! Rant on a OTSB’s Trot

Today I am going to be posting Playing Around With Tack Changes, a rant. 

/Rant Begin/

So I have been blogging over, and over, and over again about Copper’s trot and how it’s a gosh-awful ex-trotter OTSB bullet train for disaster* (don’t remember? Try here and here and here).  I’ve tried buying him a new saddle, changing my riding techniques, buying him a new girth and bit (more on that another time…) – I’ve tried longer walk warm ups, lateral work, spirals, circles, no circles, cantering, not cantering, just about everything I can think of, and to date, I think I’ve only managed to unlock his back successfully at a trot all of, oh, twice.  In the ten + years I’ve been riding him. TWICE!!!

To be fair, most of that time, I had no idea what I was doing or trying to achieve with him. All I knew is that he was hard to ride, and his trot was always “uncontrollable” for me. My Dad could ride Copper just fine, but I always struggled.

It’s really only been this last year or so, when I sold Joey and started riding Copper properly again, that I’ve really been delving into his trot work – the hows, whys and wherefores.

But for all the rider breakthroughs and ‘duh’ moments, like, yes, he really does need a new saddle, I still haven’t figured out how to get his back moving in the damn trot.

Which is only like the second gait. We haven’t properly worked at his canter for years! I started cantering him a little bit more recently to try and improve his trot but he’s gone back to his motorcycle hooning days because he is not balanced in the trot so he can’t freakin’ balance in the canter… ARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!

I seriously am so fed up right now. And the whole reason for this is that I asked an innocent question on a FB Dressage forum I’m a part of which ran along the lines of “I can’t seem to post to my OTSB’s trot so I spend most of the time doing a sitting trot – is this a training issue or a rider issue and do I need to fix it right now or wait for his trot to improve?”

Some people were all “No, it’s okay – it’s great you’re doing sitting trot” and others were asking if he was pacing, but the clincher comment and the one I immediately recognized as hitting the nail on the head was this one -

“It may be that he's too tight in the back - there are different side effects of tight back and too smooth to post can be one of them. That means he won't have any kind of swing and will keep his body still while just legs move - very possibly something useful from the track while pulling. If you're going at a quick tempo you should slow the tempo and work on balance which will help and allow swing.”

And I went Yes! That Is Our Problem!!

And then instantly fell into a spiral of doom, gloom and depression because….

I’ve been freakin’ trying to slow him down and balance him for what feels like a century. AT LEAST over a YEAR…

I can’t post to unlock his back and let it swing, because he leans into the bit and charges around on the forehand like a freight train at full speed.

I can’t slow him down posting or even in two point because he doesn’t listen to my seat and previously mentioned bullying through the rein aids and locking his jaw around the bit.

I can’t do spirals and circles to slow him down because all the handy lateral work has shown him how to evade through his shoulder and he basically shoulder-ins out of the circle and turns the whole things in a- ugh, I don’t even know what.

And, and, and…

Well, I just don’t know what to do with him at this point!! I’m at my wits end, so of course I’m going to go Google exercises to unlock a horse’s back at the trot and get it swinging. I don’t know if I’ll find anything useful.

If I don't, I guess I’ll try trotting poles. He at least has to use his back over them even if I still can’t slow him down.  *SIGH*

Dem Depressed Feels. I haz a sad.

/End Rant/

bonita

Monday, August 25, 2014

In which I learn my lesson

And that is:

Ain’t nobody going to make it happen but me

Mario Facepalm 

- Mario’s facepalm seems to add the appropriate “Duh” factor here -

And by that I mean; I missed all the rides for the last two weeks.

Ugh.

I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up the three-rides-a-week routine, but this (at the risk of sounding like a whiney, grizzly, whingy toddler – hey, have you met my toddler on a bad day? ;P) is pathetic.

The stupid thing is I could’ve had at least two rides over that time if I had got off my butt, called for someone to babysit and just gone. out. riding.

So there. I’ve learnt my lesson. I really need to work harder if I want ride regularly through the week. And yes, I need to think harder about the child care aspect. I’ve been relying far to much on my Mister (who works from home – so he has the bacon-bringing-in work to do, and actually has to NOT be stuck on baby duty during the day).

This worked when we had one child; said child would sleep for three hours and Mama could go riding. This doesn’t work so well with two, and certainly won’t with three…

Oh yes, there’s this as well -

Baby-3-Annoucement_smll
I’m five months pregnant with number three as I write this – where did that go?

Oh, that’s right – under a haze of influenza, winter colds and house moving. Hah.

I’m glad I got any rides in at all!

I’ll be working for it this week though. I’d like to see two rides happen, but I’d be happy with one as you’ve got to start again somewhere. :)

See ya,

bonita

Saturday, August 9, 2014

3rd Ride

What the what?? Yup, make that a total of three rides this week, which is the most for one week since I don’t know when – January probably!

Celebration!

Copper's New Tack - Copper with his new matching breastplate and saddle cloth. All the matchys! -

Actually, I was sort of wondering what I’d do with myself and how we’d go with yet another ride this week, but I did formulate a plan, and it worked.

So my idea was to really try and listen to Copper to see which exercise would benefit him the most and build on that for our session.

I start off by bringing him in from the paddock and before I even touched him with a brush, I started to palpitate his back to see if I could find any knots in his muscle.

Sure enough I found a few around the top of his shoulder blade/base of his withers, and started to work on them with the heel of my palm.

Copper gave me an immediate reaction of pulling a face, and twitching his top lip while leaning heavily into my hands.  I used a circular motion and he would move around and lean in saying quite clearly “Here please, a little bit up, ooooh that’s the spot! Harder!” 

It was quite cute and funny, and he was happily licking and chewing. I think I did the one side for five-ten minutes, then swapped sides.  The reaction wasn’t as obvious on the right side, but that doesn’t surprise me as his left side isn’t as supple as his right.

He was quite relaxed and dozy for the rest of the grooming and tacking up which I thought was a really good start!

As he told me quite clearly his shoulders where stiff, I made sure to work on them first thing in the warm up.

We warmed up with lots of swing and forwards from his walk; I didn’t just let him pick his own pace. He’s got quite a good walk I think, so I tend to just go with him rather than asking for more energy.

I think I need to change this habit, as his walk work and lateral warm up was a lot better with the more active pace. (Duh…. As I write that, it sounds sooo obvious. :P )

I tickled his ribs with my heels, one side at a time as his barrel swung back and forth, to encourage him to lift his back and that worked really well too.

I didn’t do any no stirrups work this time in the warm up and I think that helped him, though maybe not me. I have to figure out some way to use the no stirrup work without having that problem.  But that’s by the by.

We shoulder-fore’d down the long side, and had some lovely quarter-line to outside track leg yielding, resulting with a supple, bouncy, freely moving horse. Yay!

Next we went into the trot work and straight away I focused on relaxing my seat and blowing out (details here). Then I discover yet another posture fault – I pinch with my inner thighs when Copper starts trotting to fast.

I also swing my calves away from his sides. Another bad no-no. Ugh.

So I relaxed my inner thighs, and draped my lower leg around his barrel. Et voilà!  Achievement Get - Soft Relaxed Lifted-Back Trot Award!!

It was good.

So good I finished our ride after only 20 minutes – 15 of warm up and 5 of trotting!

I could’ve just been done then, but being a little bit greedy I decided to take him on a trail ride instead. That was a whole ‘nother ball game, and yes, we most definitely need to work on our relaxed trot when hacking out!

Suffice to say, I had to work really hard to keep from getting tense, and his energy was really up. I think I succeeded in not getting into a war with him over going slow, but it was hard and boy, oh boy, did he ever have impulsion and forwards!

I was happy with our trail ride in the end though, and it is definitely good practice to be working with him when his energy is so high. It was basically like at a show, expect maybe not as tense. So yeah, good practice. I’ll keep chipping away at it.

I am so thrilled about our arena work today though. Yes, I do think it was in part because it was the third ride of the week, but I think it was mostly due to me figuring out some more keys to Copper’s relaxation. It’s a long list!

  • Soft shoulders. Rolling my shoulders back and down keeps the muscles between my shoulder blades soft and giving.
  • Elbows bent and close to my ribs.
  • Hands up.
  • Core tucked in and supportive for the front of my pelvis so my seat doesn’t roll backwards/pitch forwards thereby closing my hip angle.
  • Soft inner thighs. Sit IN to Copper’s soft spot behind his withers. Find that cradle in his back and plug your seat in.
  • Draping contact with lower leg – this is actually really hard for me to do due to the shape of his barrel. He is really, really round and it’s hard to keep your lower leg on. But I MUST because if I don’t, I pinch. And I’ll never be able to use effective lower leg aids for lateral movements if I don’t.

  • BIG ONE: Never, ever, ever skimp on a thorough warm up.
    I think I was far too blasé about his warm up last ride and hurried through the leg yields – not to mention completely forgetting about suppling his shoulders. It cost me. Copper needs to be loose and supple before he can even think about a faster gait. Quality walk equals quality trot equals quality canter. I mustn’t ever forget that.

So yes, pretty much it’s – ride correctly or your horse will be tense every step of the way.

He sure doesn’t make it easy. He is not a giving horse to ride at all. Forgiving – yes. He’ll do it right if you do and he certainly doesn’t hold grudges, but a giving ride? 

nop-nope-octopus

Nope, nope, nope, nope…. 

I guess it’s worth it if it helps me to improve. :)

And no, I’m not going to complain if I can’t ride him the same amount next week. It’s just a goal, and it’s one I have to continually work towards.

I am super glad I did have the chance for this much riding this week though, it gave me an encouraging boost to find that we can improve. I also loved the chance to solidify what we were working towards.

It might not be as good again, but for this week, it’s been really, really good.

See ya,

bonita

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mid-week Ride. It Happened.

Just after I was having a good ol’ pity fest over being a weekend rider, I rode yesterday (Wednesday). There’s no photographic evidence, but I swear it happened! And it was epic. Well, being able to ride was, the ride itself not so much…

Copper is super fresh still; there’s a ton of green spring grass and clover coming up, so he’s all “Weeeeeee! Running!” and I’m all “Gah! Slow down! Can’t we have one ride where we’re not bolting around every two minutes without having to walk the entire time??”

Seriously. He’s a hard horse to ride. You have to work for every stride, every minute you are on his back. Not that he is spooky or silly, it’s more like, if you are not constantly working on releasing his tension or your own tension, you won’t get any softness with him. Not a single bit.

He can be soft, but you have to work *exceptionally* hard for it.

It’s much too easy to disintegrate into a pulling match with him. He is all too ready to tense up if you so much as twitch a hair out of a soft, correct position, and then he takes off, and you tense up, and he tenses up even more…. And there you have it. It’s a war between horse and rider. Nasty.

I try like anything to avoid this, but it still happens occasionally. Like yesterday. We started off ok, had a normal walk warm up and some good walk-trot-walk transitions.

I like to ride without stirrups for the first ten minutes or so, but I am not sure that that was helpful for Copper yesterday. As soon as I picked up my stirrups I noticed he had really stiff shoulders, and a tight back behind his withers.

So I spent the next half an hour trying to get him to release his back while trotting. We did the most awful spiral-in circles; no geometry or even full circling to speak of. We went up, we went down, I tried to post from my hips but couldn’t even get my butt out of the saddle?? I did the head flexion trick, but that only loosened his shoulders for a short while, and not his back, so he was tight again almost straight away.

We even did leg yields successfully! And yes, I was right. He did only need a seat aid, not a leg aid as well. D’oh. But we’re leg yielding at a trot now, yay! 

Too bad the yielding only activated his hindquarters, but still did not loosen his back. Ugh. So frustrating. He can be tense and work through his butt. He is the master at using all different parts of his body while still holding tension and blocking in others. 

His back is a tricky place to release. I’m not even sure how I got it to relax in the end, but something clicked. I did a lot of reaching forwards with the inside rein to allow a place of softness, and I tried dropping my shoulders down and back to release that muscle between my shoulder blades, (under my bra strap). I also blew out through my mouth and concentrated on releasing any tension in my seat.

So like I said, something- I don’t what- clicked. He lifted his back, and suddenly I could post and sit to his trot comfortably!  He was blowing and snorting, and his back was swinging and soft. Best of all, his gait was also rhythmical and cadenced. We did walk-trot transitions and it was still soft and relaxed. 

Finally, I had some quality trotting from him.  I don’t know how we got there, but I’m going to keep trying to do it again and again – without the battling in between!

He’s so tricky to figure out. I just hope I’m actually improving him and myself, and not muddling the both of us up. I miss having lessons.

I suppose I just have to keep on trying to listen to his responses in the meantime. One thing is for sure, he’s not at all shy about letting me know when I have it wrong!

See ya,

bonita

Monday, August 4, 2014

One more ride

IMG_0204 
At the moment we are on an “Once a week” ride schedule. And yes, it sucks.  Ugh. I’ll try not to complain, at least I get to ride.

So this week: I went shopping!  Yay!

Actually, it was important. I had to pick up a breastplate because last time I rode Copper, his cantering was really wild and unbalanced, and the saddle decided to relocate several inches over to the side. Thankfully, he was still sensible enough to stop when I asked him too.

He is so round and I can’t really tighten his girth much more, as he has pectoral scarring from old tears, so the only solution I could think of was a breastplate.

When I walked into Horseland, they were having a sale. Uh-oh!  Lol.  I end up buying him a Stockman’s breastplate, a navy Roma saddle pad with red & white trim (all the matching fhansay! *dies*) and a navy Dublin winter polo and navy fleece jumper for myself. Yup. Our color is navy.

IMG_0269

- Plain, very serviceable, but suits the both of us quite well -

Anyway, enough distractions of all the shiny - on to the ride!

His walk was a bit restricted, I think he was feeling the interference of the breastplate in the forward reach of his shoulders, but I hope we can work past that. And his leg yields are getting pretty snappy!

His trot was mostly feeling good. Really swinging from my hips, and focusing on keeping my shoulders back and soft seems to be helping a lot. It’s like we’ve found the gate for the road to good trot work and now all we have to do is walk down it! (Ha! That sounds so simple, but I know it isn’t…)

As we worked I felt like we had some good moments of connection, but honestly – I don’t really know for sure. I am positively dying to get some video footage to see what’s really going on, but that seems to be another impossible at the moment. Ugh. Frustration again, but I have just deal.

His cantering was still wild and crazy. It seems like he’s forgotten everything he knows about cantering and is back to his hooning, *I’m a motorcycle!* impersonation days.

Take away: The breastplate did help and the saddle didn’t slip as badly. In fact, I think it would be just fine if he wasn’t running around like a ninny! I still want to look into a new contoured girth to see if that helps as well. It also might help him relax through his shoulders more which is always a good thing for an ex-trotter. 

He needs to activate his inside hind leg so that he can bring it further under him while cantering and balance properly. That means spiral in & out circles at a trot. And I’m slowly working at bringing in leg yields at a trot.

Currently he flips out and bolts off every time I shift my legs back to ask for the yield, so I’m all like - maybe I should try just asking with my seat first? *face palm* He probably does not need a leg aid at all. But we’ll see if I’m right!

And it’s time to school canter transitions. In the past he has struck off fairly nicely, but at the moment there’s a lot of leaping and flailing around which is not helping with the controlled balanced canter issue.

I am also hoping that practicing transitions will get him off the forehand enough to re-establish that crucial balance needed for nice cantering.

So there’s all that.

If only I could get down sometimes during the week - that would help too. Yes, I am feeling a little despondent about the complete lacking of riding time I seem to have. I positively hate being a weekend rider. It’s hard on me, but worse, it’s harder on Copper. I can’t really expect him to improve without putting in the time. And I really want to be able to do that… *sigh*

While I don’t have the answer yet on how to get those rides in, I am working on it, and I guess that’s the best I can do for now.

See ya,

bonita

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Aha moments again

IMG_0205Pudgy Pudden Pony; with no top line to speak of… Conformation shot: mid-winter -

Copper hasn’t been in regular work since the beginning of the year, between his collection of lamenesses (tendons, fistulous withers) and my own sprained ankles and ‘flues, we’ve been a regular bag of six-legged, hobbling illness and woe.

However, I’m thankful for any chance I do get to ride, and somehow, despite the absolute lack of constant progress we’re still getting along with his training. Mostly due to me figuring out how to ride him better! And happily enough, this is getting us places.

The latest breakthrough is at the trot – yay!

We worked in a walk and canter yesterday, and he was a fresh as the green grass that’s sprouting everywhere – and no wonder – trying to bolt and buck all over the place. (NB – I find it very amusing when he does try this; he’s so transparent that you can feel exactly what he’s thinking and stop him before he gets anywhere. It’s actually something I love about him; he’s too open to be dirty!)

Actually, we still managed some okay trot work somehow! I don’t know whether it was due to the canter work I’d just done, but when I went to trot I finally* twigged that my shoulders where tipping forwards just before I started posting.

Thinking it over, I probably do that to lighten my seat, and start the movement of the rising. But of course, when he’s fresh, Copper takes off like he’s back on the track and just starts bolting. I know that seems hardly possible, but seriously, OTSBs can bolt at a trot. It’s so uncomfortable and really hard to stop them or slow them down. It’s also incredibly unbalanced and quite dangerous if you have to turn sharply.

So I went – ugh, that’s not good! Try again!

I focused on dropping my shoulders back and down, holding my core upright (but not tense) and traveling forwards with my hips only.  The difference to Copper’s gait wasn’t like night and day, except that it sort of was.

He felt so much rounder and through, and swing-y. Still full of impulsion and GO, but softer. So that was good.

I feel like a bit of a dumb-nut though, I’ve always been able to ride his trot so much better at a sitting trot than rising. It’s never been easy to guide his rhythm or soften his pace while rising, I’ve to do it sitting and battle to replicate the same results when posting.

Not that I’ve been able to figure why. Stupid. To sit trot you have to hold your shoulders and core back or you’ll bump right out of the saddle. Yet I somehow never picked up that I close my hip angle, and pitch forward when posting. Only the teeniest tiniest bit, but it made a world of difference.

I already know that as soon as you close your hip angle a smidge with Copper he stiffens up and takes off… Gah. Now I finally put it together and figured out one reason for his race-y trot.

Only another little reason, but it’s one step closer isn’t it?

It gets better one step at a time…

See ya,

bonita

* After, I don’t know – years of riding…  :S

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Saddle


Uh - I actually bought a new saddle in, like, November 2013!

lil-wayne-money

- And this is what I felt like walking into the store when the shop girl said “How can I help you?” and I’m all “I want to buy a new saddle.” …Got swag yo! - 

I forgot to blog about it, but it is an important “Duh!” moment, so I thought I'd come back and write about it now.

It all started when I decided to get out a saddle fitter, back when I couldn’t figure out whether my saddle didn’t fit me properly, or it just was the wrong saddle for what I was wanting to achieve. I wrote a bit about it here, in a huge dump where I was trying to figure out how to improve my seat.

Saddle fitters are expensive, btw - $85.00 per session! – but I figured it was worth it. And it was, even when she looked at my saddle, and the first thing she said was “Uh oh.”

Well, maybe not exactly, but close! The CAIR air panels (which this saddle had instead of traditional flocking) - were in a word – toast.

The back panels were completely flat, and the front panels had only a little air in them, but were definitely past their use by date. No wonder I felt like my saddle had been tipping me backwards!

Plus, the front of the gullet had cracked across the arm, and she wasn’t sure how safe it was any more. Which meant I was potentially looking at replacing the entire tree, as the gullet and tree are cast all as one piece.

Yup, that’s pretty much the entirety of my saddle’s innards being pulled out and replaced. All for the sum of $600.00 or so dollars. Ouch!

Add to the fact that it’s a 16 1/2” seat rather than the 17” she thought I needed, and that I can buy a new saddle with the changeable gullet system as well as extra flocking shims for $899.00.  Or I could wait around and try to find a second hand saddle.

But the thing was I had to spend money either way, and I really didn’t want to pay $600.00 to fix my old one, only to find out that it didn’t fit me. Or the horse!

Octavia Shut Up

Apparently Wintec has redesigned their saddle trees to fit the wide-sprung barrel that the majority of horses have now a days. It makes sense; new breeding types, new shape for most horses and a new saddle design is needed!

Because Copper is most definitely widely sprung through his barrel, I had my suspicions that a new saddle would fit him better as it always looked like my old saddle was too small on his back.

It really came down to a simple choice – buy a new saddle, or find a second hand one.  

Second hand saddle buying is difficult in Australia, no one really sells on consignment, so you pretty much have to buy the saddle and hope it fits unless the seller is really nice and will let you have a trial. That doesn’t happen very often though. It is a rather difficult process that I didn’t want to put myself through. And in the end, I really didn’t want to wait around to save myself only a couple of hundred dollars, especially when the gullet system and shims that I would get for free with a new saddle were worth a couple of hundred dollars by themselves.

I used the money that I got from selling Joey, even though that was earmarked for The Perfect Dressage Horse fund. And when you sell an equine friend, why does it always feel like blood money? Or is that just me? 

I needed a saddle though, so I bought a Wintec 500 All Purpose saddle.

Wintec 500

And oh my word, has it ever made a difference!

Copper moves much more freely over his back, which is hardly a surprise. I’m not fighting maintain my position any more, and we generally have a much more harmonious ride.  It’s much easier to get Copper to relax and soften now in his trot and I think he is generally much happier to work.

I had previously noticed that Copper had some white hairs coming up through his coat on his back – indicative of nerve damage, and the positioning of them makes sense now, because the seam where the panels overlapped would have been pressing on his back and causing pain.

I am annoyed with myself that it took me so freakin’ long to figure out that his saddle was a problem, but I am glad I did. I now know that CAIR panels have a life span of 10 years, and then they need to be replaced. They may need to be replaced sooner, but it is hard to tell that when you look at them.

Even my completely-flat-as-paper-thin panels felt firm when you poked them or touched them.  To test their actual structure, you need to turn the saddle over and massage or knead the panels with your fist for five minutes or so. If the panel is still firm, then it is ok. If it is no good you will find that it is flabby, saggy, or in the case of my saddle, has no air left in it at all.

I was so surprised when I saw that, but I finally understood what was going on and why it took me so long to work out the problem. Basically, the saddle looked and felt fine, but after five minutes of sitting in it on Copper, the air would have squished out, and the tree would have been digging into his back.

Joey would have been having the same issue, which in hindsight, explains why it was so hard for me to activate his hind quarters, and why he suddenly started to feel really funny in the canter. I thought these were all baby horse problems, but nope. The saddle was hurting his back.

Joey was a lot more stoic and had a quite a different reaction to this than Copper. He slowed down and wouldn’t work through himself, whereas Copper - while also disengaging his back end - would run around like a mad thing, pulling through his shoulders.

nop-nope-octopus - Nopederpus says it all “Nope nope nope nope – not doing this today!” -

And Bonita learns an important lesson. Even if you have checked your saddle and think it fits, think again. Even if your saddle looks fine on the outside, think again. Even if you bought a new saddle last year, think again!

Tack really is THE first place to start checking as soon as your horse starts to have ANY problems. Whether it be a change in gait, attitude, or ability to work, just check your tack! It might cost you $85.00, but it might save you years of niggling little problems that you just can’t seem to get around, but aren’t outright causing issues.

Each horse will react differently, some horses will object more than others, either way, the moral of the story is ALWAYS CHECK YOUR TACK.

This saga was bought to you by Bonita’s Duh Moment of the Year. :P

And the letter “D”….   For Duh.

 

See ya,

bonita

P.S. – Sorry, not sorry, for all the gifs. I never get to use these! (◉ Д ◉)

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