Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Different Kind of Lesson

I know its been a while.  Due to shows, weather, pregnancies (mine and my trainers), lessons have been few and far between.  By now I know while I can still ride - a little, I know I can't handle a full lesson (I'm 6 months pregnant).  But I don't want to put Dexter in training, I have a thing about doing all the work, and I don't want to lease him out so I can't see him, and I don't want him to sit around and regress until I can ride again.

So what do we do.... enter lunging classes.  Yes, I know how to lunge a horse, what I wanted to do with my trainer was to see what tools and techniques to use to keep him in the frame we have been working on.  Originally I was hoping for long line classes, as I don't know how to do that.  But she hesitated thinking it may be too much and if Dexter freaked out I could get dragged around.  And being he has the habit of bucking and being an idiot every time I ask for a canter on the lunge line, I agree.

Despite my disappointment of not getting to work on the long lining, it ended up being a pretty productive lesson.  I learned how to use the side reins to keep a consistent feel on the outside, when I lunge him with nothing on he pops out his shoulder, counter bends and avoids any particular frame possible.  I leaned how to half halt using the whip and line and in general how to use the whip and line as my inside aides.

But I think the most value I got out of it was finally getting to see what he's supposed to look like.  When Trainer would say he looks great, instead of just agreeing I'd say " I think he looks good too but what specifically are you looking at??"  And she's point out the muscles on his back and sides contracting and his feet tracking up.  i thought about all the times I rode at home thinking he was going great just to get to the lesson and find out he wasn't.  I wasn't asking enough questions to get down to the specifics of what we were looking for.  Trainer would tell us when we did well, but I would focus on what his head looked like instead of his butt or something like that.  Since we would be working from the ground for a while I wanted to make sure I knew what I was looking for. 

I think we will have some good things to work on for a while on the ground.  Dexter is getting to learn how to carry himself and I'm getting to see what a good frame should look like.  Hopefully this will help us both in the end.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yeah! A Lesson

After what seems like forever (in reality maybe 6 weeks) I had my first lesson.  I was a little excited and scared.  First, I thought we have been doing really well, I feel like his canter is calmer and better and he is holding his head more consistently.  But I had this ultimate fear that since I had been un-checked for so long that it was all in my head and that we weren't as fabulous as I was imagining.

Unfortunately the latter was more correct.  We weren't awful and she did comment on on my frame being better.  But we didn't get off the 20 meter circle the entire time!! Bummer, I was hoping to run through at least one test since I have a show this weekend.

What I had been feeling as forward with his head in place was him running around on his forehand.  So we worked the entire lesson on half halting, getting him under me and getting his tempo to a manageable speed.  I also thought he was finally bending nicely to the right, nope... just popping his shoulder out.  And the great thing about a lesson is once she points something out it's so obvious, but I slowly forget it over time.  Shucks.

Still we did some good work that I think will help me in the show.  Getting him to listen and rock back with half halts will help me keep him focused during the tests.  She didn't use the words (she never comes right out and says what we are working on) but I know we were working on self carriage.  No more fiddling with my hands, he needs to drive into them.  I know, I sound like a broken record I talk about this every lesson.

We even worked on a lot of walk work, which I'm glad because we usually blow through it and it's obvious when he walks around with his head in the air during the tests.  Our canter work was, to be honest .... scary.  Not scary bad, just scary.  He was still popping his shoulder out to the right, and to fix it Trainer had me counter flex him on the circle.  Problem was, Dexter didn't understand and would start to head straight towards the wall.  Eeep!  But we never ran into it so all is good.  And all of a sudden my nice calm canter was out the window, we were barreling around the arena again trying to push him into the contact and get his hind end under him.  I'm thinking it will be a while before we get the nice collected lope I so enjoy.

Positives from the lesson - by the end Dexter was listening to my half halts and I felt a nice slow rhythm.  I feel I kept my position and body relaxed 90% of the time, which is much better than before.  Dexter is starting to get really nice walk-trot transitions without throwing his head.

Things to work on - Keeping him underneath me, if I feel like I need to lean forward he is pulling and falling on his forehand.  No more easy fixes, when he isn't paying attention or his head isn't where it should be start with my seat and work forward.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Trainer gave birth to a new baby last week so we will be taking a hiatus from lessons for a while.  Just in time for show season!  Awesome.  So posting may be a little thin for a while but I will try and at least record our show results.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Few Adjustments

This was our last lesson before the schooling show this weekend.  Still too cold and windy to use the dressage arena - Drat!

We hadn't ridden much since our last lesson so we pretty much picked up where we left off.  Still trying to get Dexter off his right shoulder.  I think we made some progress although it seems like I almost have to hold him there, so we need to work on self carriage there.  I did learn the less I focus on his head and make smaller adjustments, the more consistent his is with his contact.  This was a concern of mine for the show.  I knew he could get on the bit and in a nice frame, but I hadn't been able to hold it for more than a couple of strides until this week.  I'm learning to worry less and just ride. 

His canter work was super good and consistent.  Still a little loosey-goosey going to the left but he is carrying himself much better.  And I didn't even realize it until this lesson but he's stopped going around with his head in the air.  We hadn't spent too much time worrying about his head in the canter and it kind of just fell into place, isn't that awesome.  We did a lot of long sides and I'm getting the idea, as long as I do a slight shoulder in or ask for one anyways, he stays more balanced.  Trainer described it as trying to thread his inside hind between his two front feet.

We practiced the center line, doing 10 meter circles down the long side to prepare.  We did both turning down from the left and right to see which works better.  He seemed more supple turning down left, but seemed to blow through my aides and ended up about a foot from the center line with his butt swung out to the right.  Turning down from the right, I had to keep my aides on pretty strong but he stayed more straight and it looked better.  Not sure which we will do at the show yet.

We practiced training level test 2,  and since we had worked on the center line it was much better, but the stretch circle and diagonals weren't perfect.  Right now they are as good as they are going to get for the show and I'm not going to overwork and stress about it, the last thing I want is Dexter to anticipate and get nervous about stretching.  But we know what to practice for the next show. 

I did notice his transitions from the canter to the trot are better than I expected.  Trainer hasn't let us practice those because we have worked so hard to keep him cantering down the long side that starting to transition may erase a lot of work we've done.  We will get there eventually, but not quite yet.  None the less, the few we have done in the tests aren't total disasters.  He is a little on the forehand and rushes his first few trot strides but I'm able to bring him back pretty quick.  I was worried we would be half cantering for a good while before he could relax.

So this Saturday is the show.... wish us luck.  We may not be 100% prepared, but there is only one way to find out.

Picking Up the Shoulder - Delayed

Sorry! I've been pretty busy so this post is actually for my lesson last week.  I really really wanted to ride outside in the dressage arena to prepare for my upcoming show, but no such luck. 

We didn't do a whole lot of new exercises, just trying to fine tune what we have going on right now.  Dexter is still having some balance issues, rhythm is good now he just needs to hold himself up.  Dexter likes to dive in when going to the right and pop out when going to the left.  He always has and it's gotten a lot better but he still has some tendencies.  So we spent a lot of time on a 15 meter circle to the right trying to get him balanced.  He is good for the first 3/4s of the circle then loses it as we head back to the rail.  Trainer had to constantly remind me to ride from the back to front, I think I finally got it near the end of the lesson.

We did the same work at the canter, at least Dexter is consistent with his flaws.  We also practiced cantering down the long side and not barreling down the long side.  He is getting much better, he still gets strong but doesn't completely loose it.  We even made it down the whole long side, I know it doesn't sound like much but before we could only do half at a time before he would fall apart.  And I am finally able to relax at the canter.  For so long I would get stiff and push him every stride, now that he is getting it, I can sit back and make minor adjustments.  Now that I can enjoy it, he has a super comfortable canter.

We ran through Training Level Test 1 in prep for the show.  It wasn't a total disaster.  Things we obviously don't practice much - traveling down the center line, the stretch circle (although we do stretch quite a bit it takes more than a circle to get there), diagonals, and the working walk. So before ending we practiced some stretch circles.  It's interesting to see how far me and Dexter have come and what still holds us back.  He used to avoid the bit like the plague and now he leans on it comfortably.  But when we go into the stretch and I ask him to follow the bit down he gets confused and curls his neck avoiding it again.  Like I said, he finally figures it out after a while but I have to be super soft because any correction brings him right back up.  Not sure why he defaults to this, but we are working on it. 

We still need to work on his center line, he goes down it anticipating a turn somewhere. So it's more of a center wiggle than a center line.  But he was pretty pooped after all the canter work so we will save that for the next time. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sit Back.... Relax.

Ok, so there was snow on Sunday, but I was proactive enough to change my lesson to Saturday so we still got to ride.  It was a short lesson and we seemed to focus mostly me this time.  Oooh! and we got to leg yield.

So my new mantra is "Lean back and relax".  Trainer told me this about 100 times.  It seems I lean forward and try to hold onto Dexter with my thighs.  As soon as trainer says "Relax your back, bring your shoulders back"  I can feel Dexter relax his back and move more elevated.  So I know I'm hindering him, plus the sitting trot is way easier when I don't have every muscle rigid and I'm aligned right for the shock absorption.  I dont' know where I got the habit of leaning forward, but I know its been hard to break.  I swear I feel like this when she says I'm finally perpendicular.

So Dexter may have some easy rides this week where we just trot around while I remember to lean back and relax. 

We also worked on transitions within the canter... oh boy.  Poor Dexter, we have been working so hard on keeping him forward at the canter, that the thought of collection or slowing down is completely foreign to him. So most of our transitions within the gait ended up being canter-longer canter-trot-canter-longer canter-trot.  But that's ok, trainer swears we got one or 2 strides of a shorter canter just before he broke into the trot.  I'm not sure I believe her, but it gives us something to work on.

To finish up we worked on some leg yielding.  I was having trouble at the posting trot so we did it at the sitting trot.  This was good because it made me focus on a lot of things at once, also not letting me obsess with one or the other.

Dexter did really well at the leg yielding, we weren't crossing any arenas or anything, but we were getting a few consistent half steps over, without popping shoulders or just turning his head.  I think that was what we  were doing when I first got him and thought we were leg yielding great. 

One main lesson I got from this session was that Dexter is doing well enough that I really need to focus on myself now.  I'm holding him back and that's never good.  And the other main lesson was to accept small victories.  A lot of what we've done so far were the basics so I could see a major change, more forward, more rhythm, more contact, etc.  Now that the basics are set and we are getting to the more specialized things the changes will be sublte, we won't be able to go from an extended canter to a collected canter in 3 strides and leg yield from the center line to B.  I have to take it a stride at a time.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Please no snow, please no snow...

That has become my new mantra as I check the weather everyday leading up to my lessons.  We have been fortunate lately to have some clear days even through December.  But as the winter wears on I worry, I know at some point I'm not going to be able to fit a lesson in every 2 weeks.  And even though I take my lessons in the indoor, and could ride in the snow, the 48 miles to the lesson may get a little treaterous.  So my next lesson is on Sunday and right now we have a 30% change of snow.

Everyone with me now....

Please no snow, please no snow, please no snow.....