Friday, May 29, 2009

Lessons and Training

Wow, you would think I have been doing nothing lately, with the lack of posts! :) Quite the contrary! I have been very busy riding and taking lessons, but of course my job right now is out of control busy!!!! So while I have been doing horsey things, I have had no time to blog about it. I teach twelfth grade English and I was the prom adviser. My kids are graduating on June 7. Thankfully prom was over on May 16, but now I am in the midst of final grades, senior week activities, overseeing senior exit exhibits, and helping with marching practice. As a matter of fact, I am sitting here in my classroom at the moment, waiting for a student to do her senior exit exhibit at 3:45. Only a half hour to sit around and wait for her....then she presents for an hour. That means I get to go home by 5PM today! That is better than yesterday, when I arrived home after 6PM.........ah the joys of teaching!

So after the NEDA Spring show, I knew I had a lot to work on to improve our connection. I have taken lessons on both Saturdays since my show, and I have another one scheduled for tomorrow morning. We have been doing lots of bending in my lessons as well as lateral work to really get Dreamy into my outside rein. Even though I know the adage, "Inside leg to outside hand" there are times when just getting through the test takes precedent. That to me is the double edged sword of showing. I show in order to test my skills and see where we are in terms of our training. But sometimes the pressure of a show can make things fall apart and I end up riding the test, not the movements. This is similar to teaching, where instead of teaching for content and knowledge and improvement, you "teach to the test" such as the SATs.

Because my next show is not until June 19-21, I have been able to take some time to just train. No worries about riding Training 4, no worries about scores, just plain old classical riding and training. This time without competitions has allowed my instructor to push us into a different comfort level. For example, we started working on walk-canter transitions. We tried this last fall, with spotty success. Dreamy is not 100% sure what I am asking, since she is so "well trained" to expect the canter cue when trotting. As soon as I sit the trot, shift my weight, and bring my outside leg back a smidgen, I can feel her gathering herself in preparation for the upwards transition. But when I do it at the walk, she moves sideways. :) She expects a lateral movement at the walk.

So we tried it. And it did not go very well. But that is OK. I much rather have things fall apart at a lesson than at home. I think truly Dreamy was frustrated because she is not 100% sure what I am asking. She went right into her bucking routine.

DISCOVERY #1 - My horse bucks (quite well actually...) when she is confused. As my instructor said, she is giving me the big middle hoof. Why, yes, that would be exactly what my diva mare is doing. :D This is something that started during our clinic with Linda Zang, which loyal readers may remember. Linda thought she was sore and suggested I use a raised pad under the cantle.

DISCOVERY #2 - My horse is not sore. Nor can I use a raised anything under my cantle. I already use an Equigel pad all the time, which is wonderful. It provides just enough even cushion and my saddle fits her perfectly. The reason I am very confident saying this is because I rode a handful of times at home since the clinic with a black foam Cashel pad, exactly like the one pictured here. It makes the saddle flaps stick way out away from her sides. Tacking her up, I knew right away this would not work. Sure enough, near the end of our walk/trot warm up, my saddle had slipped literally over a hand's width backwards! I had to dismount and fix the saddle.....tried it again.......and finally just took the Cashel off. My saddle does NOT BUDGE because it fits her so well. It was awful using the foam pad! And then the next time I tried just the Cashel foam pad without the Equigel, but it was the same thing.

So, I am sticking with what works. My horse bucks when she is confused or upset. And that only happens when I push her too far. Now, there is a fine line between challenging your horse and moving to the next level, and then pushing them too far and frying them. Dreamy has a very thin line. The nice part is that when we totally fried her brain with asking for walk-canter transitions, and she began doing her best to get me OFF her back, we were able to give her a walk break and go back to what she already knows well: the trot-canter transition. And she was fine. She was tired and slightly cranky, so it was not our best ever canters, but it was doable. There was a time when she would have been so peeved that we would have had to go back to just trotting or something equally as easy. So I am proud of her for keeping her cool. Judy (my instructor) encouraged me to try the walk-canter transitions on my own and told me I would know if it would be OK to do so. So far, so good. The day after this lesson, I did our normal routine of warm up, lateral work, bending exercises, and then asked for the canter like I always do...from the trot. She was fabulous.

So then, after getting good canters in both directions, I gave her a walk break. I picked her back up and asked for the canter. I'll be damned, she picked up the left lead canter TWICE from the walk with no problems! It was super! I ended there, knowing full well that if I drilled her it may backfire in my face.

This past week has been tough for riding. It has been raining for three days, so she has had the last two nights off. Tonight I would like to ride, even if it is just an easy dressage hack, seeing as I will be taking a lesson in the morning. I did get to jump on Tuesday, which was awesome. Our upcoming show on June 19-21 is a big rated A show here in Maine. We are doing hunters, and seeing as it is not "our thing" I am not too worried about how we place. But I do want to do well in the over fences classes. The real reason I am even doing this show at all is because the manager wrote a Standardbred division into the show! So besides my breed division, I will also do the Easy Does It hunter division.

My horse is a dressage horse, goes in a dressage frame, and is used to working with full contact on the bit. A hunter is more stretched out, not in a "dressage" frame.....as much as I hate the word frame, it is true. A hunter goes with their nose poked out in front of the vertical, with much less rein contact than a dressage horse. So truthfully, a greener horse will look much more in a hunter frame than my horse will. I fully expect to be beaten by horses who are not as trained as Dreamy. This is OK. I have been training my horse for dressage, so I do not think we will suddenly be able to look like a hunter and place well. A good experience overall is all I want. Plus it is a great way to show off the breed and the NEW Standardbred organization that has started here in Maine.......

Here is a pic of a pony in a nice hunter frame. The pony is advertised as $30,000, so it must be doing something right.


And here is my horse is a dressage frame. She is a little too deep, but I was riding her that way since we are on the track. She becomes a fire breathing dragon at the track and I had to rider her deep to stay on her. LOL!


So my horse is not a hunter pony. :( And I fully expect she will be beaten by greener STBs who are not in any type of frame....except that they move with their noses stuck out and riders have looser reins. But it is all good. :)

Anyway, the other day when we jumped, I just wanted to establish good rhythm over the fences. I know in the Easy Does It division, we can either trot or canter. Even though Dreamy's canter is coming along very well, she is not ready yet to canter an entire course of fences. Nor is she really ready to canter around a 100x200 ring four times in an under saddle class......but we'll try our best. Right now, her canter is good for about 1.5 circuits on a 20 m. circle. That is all. So my plan is to trot the fences and keep a good rhythm. A hunter jump round should stay the same rhythm and tempo. I set up a cross rail on the edge of my "ring" and we just trotted around, going over the jump each time. I wanted her to get into a ho-hum kind of rhythm, nice and easy, where she was not speeding up on the approach or cantering like a crazy unbalanced race horse on the landing and get-away.

I was impressed that she trotted in, cantered one stride out, and came right back to the trot very balanced and rhythmic. I realize we will never be perfect hunter jumpers, but I am very happy with her. We did the cross rail about 5 times in each direction, just trotting in, jumping, trotting out, and back around to jump. It was exactly how I wanted the session to go. I also took her over a bounce gymnastic of three small fences. I set it a little long so she had to reach to make the bounces. Next time we jump I will try it a little tighter.

So life is good. Just too busy! After graduation on June 7 and then the all night Project Grad trip (yes I got suckered into that......BOOO!) I am a FREE WOMAN! Well, I am contractually required to be at school until June 19, but hey, that will be a piece of cake! :D

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post. Nice to hear that the Dream Girl is comming along nicely in her Performance Horse Career.

    I think I would rather a buck than the Airs Above the Ground that someone else we know and love prefers to do when he gets cranky. LOL

    Have a great lesson tomorrow and I am looking forward to seeing you guys later in the month.

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