Monday, December 20, 2010

Butt Before Nose

The weather gods have continued to bless us in Colorado.  At least in my opinion.  So far it has still been warm and pleasant enough to have my lessons every other Sunday (even if we are stuck in an indoor).  Usually by now we are seeing windy days well below 0F so I don't mind riding in 35-40F.

Last week I was told to stop working so hard, and I think I'm getting it, mostly.  As we started out I could tell I wasn't having to push Dexter as hard as I had been.  We worked on this a lot since the last lesson.  If I asked for a trot, I expected a trot.  If I asked for more trot I expected more trot.... simple I know.  i still feel myself tensing up the more I go along, trying to hold my position and his, but we will work on it.  Both Dexter and I didn't get at winded this lesson so its a move in the right direction. 

Now that we didn't have to work so hard, we started engaging Dexter's engine (butt).  Previously when asked to move forward, he ducked his head and quickened his stride.  Now that we have good contact with the bit I am working on not focusing on putting his head where I want it, but "driving" him into position. I know this works and I understand it's proper, but because I don't always get how it works I forget to do it and focus on "wiggling" his head into position.  At any rate, this lesson while trainer was explaining this strategy i really really focused on keeping my hands as still as possible and moving him with my legs (seat will come later).  And it seemed to work.  He kept his head down, but not in (not quite vertical either but that's OK), and felt more balanced.  He hasn't been diving into the turns for the last several lessons.... I almost forgot he used to. 

Another "Ah-ha" moment came during a serpentine exercise.  Trainer has been telling me to bend his barrel before his head when switching directions.  And I've been trying but haven't really gotten it.  I'd still end up "steering" with my reins.  But yesterday during one of the serpentines I was pushing with my new inside leg and shifting my seat and I felt his midsection move underneath me.  It was cool. (I get excited by the littlest things... you have to in dressage).  I thought "Oh that's what I'm looking for" and could feel that we had gotten it right even before trainer told us it was perfect. 

We also practiced a mock dressage test where trainer would yell out movements as we went around the ring.  It was super fun and was a good gauge for where we were.  And it was encouraging. He bent well and stayed steady.  The only disasterous parts were his canter to trot transitions and that was expected being as we haven't worked on them at all.  We've been busy getting a good canter first.

So homework for the next 2 weeks:  Stop staring and worrying about head position!  25% of the horse is in front of me, I need to start riding the other 75%.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dec 5th - Relax Your Hips - Don't Work So Hard!

Indoors again.... a brisk 35 outside, unfortunately for Dexter he is ready for winter so the indoor makes him sweat quite a bit.... even if it is only slightly above 40F.

So it was back to the basics this lesson.  No cadence, no shoulder-fore, no sitting trot.  Just re-training Dexter to go when I say go, and keep going until I say stop.  I say re-training because when I got Dexter he was very sensitive to the leg, and now, due to my bad habits of thinking I have to push him, he has let me take the lead.  Meaning, the minute I stop asking for the canter means its time to trot.  Which results in me getting very very tired and him finding every excuse to break or not go forward.  Like I said its my fault, but fixable.

So we spent the fist part of the lesson going around in circles at the trot, asking him to bend without me holding (in my hands).  And Trainer reminding me to relax my legs, hips and thighs every 5th stride or so.  I think its every time I half halt I forget to release all the way.  Plus I was trained a long time ago to use my hips and butt to maintain my seat so learning to relax those muscles is a subconscious battle.  I have a new mantra - (being that trainer said it 50 times) "Relax your hips!".

The second part of the lesson was working at the canter, again... no fancy stuff, just keeping him going without me pushing him every stride.  It wasn't the prettiest canter, but it was forward without being out of control.  He even went down the long side a few times without picking up speed.  I really concentrated on loosening my hips and legs and flowing with him.  It made it much more comfortable for me and it seemed like he was able to swing up and under better.  But, he thinks no leg means stop, so it was a fine balance of taking my leg off for as many strides as I could, but catching him before he broke into the trot.  I think the max was 4 strides, but its better than it was last lesson.

And finally we worked on serpentines, like I said the basics.  Keeping him forward and bending without me holding him.  I also noticed during our walk to trot transitions after each break that I really have been getting soft with Dexter.  I try to bring him back to work easy after a short break, but this has translated into having to convince him to trot.  It was very apparent in this last lesson when I'd have to squeeze really hard and still no trot.  I had to wake him up with the whip before he believed me that it was time to go back to work.  So I'm going to have to remember to be more deliberate with my aides.  Not, beat him if he doesn't respond in an instant, but if we are going to get anywhere he needs to understand that every time I move my hands or legs I am asking and expecting a very specific response.

I seem to have let him trap me into working too hard.  Being a perfectionist I keep trying to fix every little thing at once and end up holding him in position, with my seat, legs, hands, everything.  Its exhausting :) and not the purpose of dressage.  So we are going back a few steps. I will get Dexter to understand self carriage, I will not position him every stride, I will be consistent and deliberate with my aides, and I will remember to keep my seat fluid.  These are my goals, Dexter has no homework this week.  He is a smart hard-working horse.  His only fault has been to follow my lead, at this point if I can fix my tendencies, I have no doubt Dexter will respond well and follow suit.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lesson Number 8-ish Video


video
Since it's been a while since my last lesson, I thought I'd share some video from one.  I'm hoping to add some more as we go to compare our progress.  It all depends on how often I can talk my husband into coming to video us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

10 - Shoulder Fore & Cadence!

Back in the indoor due to below freezing temperatures.  So it took Dexter a while to relax and get focused.  He doesn't particularly enjoy the indoor, I'm not sure why, he seems more hesitant of the footing and the size (even though it is plenty big enough). 

So we started with a long session of trot getting his top line relaxed.  I've noticed the more Dexter is coming together the more we are working on my position, which is great, I am a bit of a perfectionist and hate the idea that I'm holding my horse back.  So we practice staying back, not posting forward but up and half halting while still riding so he doesn't get confused and think I'm asking for a downward transition (as he so often does).  I have to remind myself to lossen my back and hips.  I've noticed when I do a half halt with my seat my thighs tightened up and forget to relax. 

As we continued at the trot and worked on the half halts to get his hips underneath him, we started to get a more elevated trot.  And trainer said the magic words - "Now we have cadence."  For me that was music to my ears, when I bought Dexter I could see whispers of a beautiful trot and hoped I'd learn how to bring it out of him.  My only wish was that I had the trot on tape so I could match the feeling with the look.

We moved on to the canter work and I was super excited to show Trainer how Dexter had finally figured out how to canter in our practice over the last few weeks.  And going to the left he did great, he kept his nose in, he wasn't rushing, I relaxed my legs and opened my hip and he just flowed along, well a few strides here and there anyways.  There is still some give an take while he figures out exactly what I want.  Going down the long side he didn't stress and his turns were straight ( I know that sounds funny but I mean he didn't swing his hip or shoulders out to avoid the bend).  Going to the right is still a bit of a challenge, we worked on getting Dexter to move independent of my leg aids.  Right now I have to push him every stride, and its my fault in that I thought I had to in the beginning so now he things as soon as I relax and use my seat he can trot.  We had to keep cantering until he stopped breaking when I took my leg off. The rule was I had to ask for a trot, not just let him run into it.  But otherwise he is looking much better.

Then our first real lesson with lateral work (intentionally anyways) - Shoulder-fore!  Dexter was a genius at popping his shoulder out or diving in to avoid work, so we have been on a strictly "no lateral work" diet for a while.  He knows how to leg yield but we needed to retrain him a bit so he only did it when asked.  So we started working on the shoulder-fore at the trot on the circle, I guess he would stress to much doing it on the straight away.  Its hard! We started on the circle then asked him to make a slightly smaller circle but kept him on the larger one with my outside rein and inside leg.  I have to say it was a lot to think about and he only got it about 25% of the time, but I ingrained the feeling, when he did do it right, in my head so hopefully we can recreated it at home.  I was getting frustrated because it felt like he was just making a smaller circle, and I was having to post (because my sitting trot is still sloppy) and I feel like I can't feel everything when I post.  But every now and then I could feel a shift, it felt more like a "haunches-out" instead of a shoulder-fore but I get that in the end it's the same frame. 

Still overall we had some more ah-ha moments in our lesson.  I love that I have such a smart horse (as most horses are.)  I enjoy riding because it challenges me and the horse both mentally and physically so when we work together and find that moment where it all click, its magic.  This is why I ride, and this is why I ride dressage, to reach that ultimate harmony, where I'm doing everything I can to help him do his best and he is working so hard to give me what I'm asking for, and we are doing it together.

Lesson 9 - Canter up, not out

Another lovely day outside, I know they will be coming to an end soon.  Today we practiced transitions within the gait, at the trot.  We rode a large circle and pushed him out then spiraled in and as the circle got smaller I asked him for a more collected trot.  The tempo changed a bit with both transitions but he was definitely shortening and lengthening his stride.  We are asking for more than we did in the last lesson, asking him to hold the collection and lengthening longer, until his holds it himself.  He is accepting the bit really well and has almost stopped chewing on it.  He now saves that for when he is really irritated, or tired, or irritated because he's tired.

The canter work made a big breakthrough in this lesson.  We have been working on tempo and impulsion for so long we finally were ready to start some collection work.  In the past Dexter was so stressed by the canter that as soon as I softened and asked him to come back he would break, he is finally moving well enough that we can bring him back, which is super exciting as it was driving me crazy letting him canter around with his nose sticking out.  We did the collection work on the circle, pushing him on then working his head to bring it in and giving him half halts with the outside rein.  He seemed to get it better going to the left.  But all of a sudden I could feel the difference, he was jumping up instead of reaching out with his front legs.  We did the same going to the right, a little more difficult as he is still unbalanced and doesn't want to turn.

Then one of our more awesome moments (in my option anyway) happened.  We went to work on the canter on the straight away, and coming back down the long side going to the left I did a teeny tiny bit of shoulder-fore and he just cantered along, not speeding up not lenghtening, not falling on his forehand, it was amazing.  Granted we didn't hold if for long but I was so proud of him.

We finished the lesson working on the sitting trot... why do we always have to finish with that?  This time she made me focus on swinging my hips with his back, it helped a little.  I still have to stick out my tongue to really concentrate on everything and I know I'm still trying to hold on with my thighs.  I just hate the bouncing, I feel like I'm not helping him at all, but he does do a really nice trot at the sitting trot so I must not look as bad as it feels.  Still we will work on it, I used to love the sitting trot, I hate posting, so I'm so glad I'm allowed to now.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lessons 4ish-8ish

As the weather started to cool we started to ride out in a larger arena (I failed to mention we were in a smaller indoor before).  This allowed Dexter to move more and get more impulsion without having to worry about hitting walls.  It also allowed us to get distracted by mules (Dexter thinks they are weird) and other horses running in the field, but its good because it gave me the opportunity to keep him paying attention to me. 

We have also made some adjustments to the bit and my saddle (getting a new one) that has allowed him to be more comfortable on the bit and allowed me to be more balanced on him.  In the outdoor arena we continue to work on the canter, he is now rhythmic and able to hold it through the curves and straight lines but is still very flat and moves very forward when going straight.  But by being able to stay at it longer I have been able to adjust what I am doing with my seat and see that I have been constricting with my thighs and seat.  As I relax his canter gets more fluid, and sometimes so much it becomes a trot.  But that's OK, Dexter is crazy sensitive to the seat and will be very helpful as we learn more. I also tend to lean on his mouth at the canter.   We have kept the canter work pretty simple, large circles with short runs on the straight away.  Focusing on keeping him balanced and discouraging him from either diving in or popping out on the circle.

The trot work has moved on to the proper connection with the hands.  As the bit is more comfortable, he is now leaning on the bit and I can start to bring him back.  He tends to lean more on the left than right.  we spend a lot of time on the circle to the left getting him on the outside rein.  And a lot of time going to the right keeping him straighter.  We are doing figure eights to keep his attention and to clearly define the difference between the expected inside and outside rein contact. 

We have also started the collection work at the trot, asking him to move out and come back at the same tempo.  Trainer has shown me that if I ask him to move out and extend his trot without him being in the proper frame he will avoid the work and go faster and pull on the reins without getting that extra length.  Once he "melts" into the contact, if I ask him to move on he does so without changing his tempo, its really quite cool.  Same with the collection, wait for him to get settled into his trot and frame then start to half halt him back into collection.  My difficulty is that I seem to ask to hard and he walks, or slows down.  I haven't gotten the collection with elevation yet. 

We are also getting into sitting trot.  Its a little difficult on a 17 hand horse but with his trot more collected its is getting easier.  I am also having to re-learn it.  When I rode years ago I was taught to hold on with my thighs and seat to get a good sitting trot.  Trainer constantly reminds me to lean back and "open" my hip, and melting my legs on instead of squeezing.  It makes me feel like I have no control but I can feel I am balanced and Dexter moves well so I must be doing OK.

Lessons 2-4ish

Being that I started these lessons back in August and am just not getting around to documenting them, I don't exactly remember when each lesson occurred and what we learned in each, but here will be my attempt to sum up what we've learned so far and what exercises we have been given.

We continued to work on forward, pushing Dexter out to the bit.  When he still got deep behind the bit I used my inside rein to lift him up, correcting him instead of rewarding him with no contact. We stayed on the circle for a few lessons, then started doing straight work.  We then found out that Dexter doesn't like to go straight, or at least he isn't used to it.  We did some straight to curve exercises to help him with his balance from that transition at the trot.  One exercise was to go around the arena and do a 10-15 meter circle at RSV&P.  Another was to trot down the center line, 10 meter circle one way at I and 10 meter circle the other way at L.  Eventually I could feel that instead of pulling Dexter around the circle I was pushing him.

We worked a lot on getting his body lined up on the bend.  He was very good at avoiding the bend by either swinging his hip out of popping his shoulder out.  At this point we didn't focus on contact much, just balance.

At the canter we continued with forward movement.  And also with straight lines vs circles, although we didn't do 15 meter circles we did more of an egg shape around the arena.  Dexter still allowed his back end to fall behind on the straight away, causing him to use his front end more and really run hard.  He went around the arena with his head up and back end way behind him, I'm sure it was a pretty sight, but the majority of the work was to get him fit so we could start to shape the canter.  He went from being able to do half a circle before having to break to being able to do several eggs. 

We also worked on stretching down at the beginning and end of every lesson.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Our First Lesson

After a bust on the first trainer we went looking for a new one.  We found one that was a little more younger, a little less experienced and a whole lot nicer.  She was more patient with Dexter and me and was willing to teach me, not just him,...sold.

Our first lesson consisted of us trotting in circles getting more impulsion.  We learned something new the very first lesson.  I had been holding him back, all my transitions had killed his engine, the opposite I was going for.  The more I pushed him forward in the lesson the more he reached for the bit, not perfect but better.  We practiced keeping a even tempo.

The canter work was short, being that he and I were terribly out of shape.  Because his back end wasn't engaged at all he could only canter for a short while before he left it behind completely.  Trainer(that's what we will call her) had us push forward and focus on the rhythm, not the speed or collection.  She said when we feel a even 1,2,3 beat to reward him and let him rest.

I now know she was starting us at the bottom of the dressage training pyramid - rhythm.

Our first homework assignment - GO!  Go forward and push, I had been pulling Dexter back because when he went forward I felt out of control, but I was just unaccustomed to such a large gate.  So we went forward and we cantered fast and loose.  It was a little unnerving because it felt quite out of control but I trusted my trainer, even though I had just met her.

June-July 2010

Me and Dexter had made some progress, but mostly in just getting to know each other and adapting to the new environment.  Dexter was used to riding in an indoor, so being out in a field there was lots to look at.

Then we/I hit a major setback.... the ground.  One ride we were out in a field in my makeshift dressage arena and Dexter spooked, it was right after a heavy rain so the ground was slick.  He took off and as we were running I weighed my options, if we turned he would quite possible slip and fall, hurting us both.  His whoa wasn't working, so we just ran towards the fence.  He stopped, I didn't, I fell smack into the mud and as he was sliding around his foot hit my head.... luckily I was wearing a helmet... always wear a helmet.  Other than scared out of my mind we were both fine.  I knew he had been higher energy since he came to his new home and thought it was because he was getting alfalfa, but it didn't bother me as I prefer energy over lazy.  But this was a little too much.  This was my first fall in a long long time and it shook me up.  It took me a while to get back out into the big pasture and even longer to canter again.  Ok maybe a few weeks. 
But I had started to have second thoughts about my new big horse, I was too old to fall and not brave enough to deal with that kind of spunk.  I put him up for sale, for way more than I bought him for.  I didn't really want to get rid of him but needed to think about my options. 

I started looking seriously for a trailer, one big enough for Dexter and affordable (he's 17 hands).  It took a while but we found one that was older but in good shape.  I wanted a trailer so we could start taking lessons.  Dexter was still avoiding the bit, and now the bend and while his canter was in more control all my transitions had convinced him he would never have to canter a full circle so his impulsion was gone... I needed help.

The first trainer we took him to was extremely knowledgeable and well certified.  She had actually worked with Dexter before with his previous owner so already knew kind of what he was about.  She immediately took off my saddle and bridle and put on hers and put all sorts or side reins and driving reins on him and started working him on the ground.  She did some awesome work and got him to start to reach out to the bit.  But I had none of that stuff and would have never been able to recreate what she was doing at home.  There was some good work being done, but not by me and I wanted someone to teach me how to train him so we could continue to work at home, not just at our lessons.   And that's why I consider this lesson #0.

The second trainer was a much better fit and I will go into that on the next post.

I end up not selling Dexter by the way :).

Introduction

I have been riding and training my Friesian Cross Dexter for ~8 months now.  We have learned alot and progessed quite a bit.  But as we continue to learn more I am concerned we have forgotten soem things.  This blog is simple designed to document our progress and exercises we have been doing so I have a place to go back to and reference. 

March -May 2010

At the beginning of March 2010 I bought Dexter after several rides.  He had good natural movement but definitely needed more work, especially at the canter.  I was on my own, I live out in the country, with no trailer and no trainer close enough to come work with me.  But that was ok, at the time I didn't think there was anything I couldn't handle. 

Dexter had a really insistent habit of chewing and biting at the bit.  As soon as it was put in his mouth he would go the chewing on it.  I tried all kinds of bits with the same results.  I figured it was nerves from being at a new place and he would get over it.

So we started training,  I knew he was strung out at the canter, so much so that on a curve, his back legs would often slip out from underneath him. So we did a lot of transitions to get his back end in shape.  Walk-Trot-walk-trot-canter-trot-canter-walk... etc.  The problem was he refused to take contact with the bit, his nose was always behind the bit, throwing of his balance in anything we did. 

After a while I took a closer look at his mouth and found he had a wolf tooth.  We got it removed and saw some improvement on his bit chewing, at least at the walk.  He still didn't want to take contact, but I thought maybe he still associated the bit with pain and would get over it after a while.  Plus, to be honest I never dealt with a horse who avoided the bit as bad as Dexter, I had no idea how to fix it.