Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Batman, Revisited

McKinna was awesome on Sunday. Mom rode her a little bit and after watching I decided to hop on -- it is much easier for me to explain things as I'm doing them, rather than as Mom is doing them. Also, I was jealous because McKinna was going so nicely!

It's the first time I've ridden McKinna (well, a real ride anyway) since I broke my ankle. My mom laughs at me for the way I keep telling her that she's done so well with McKinna, but it's true. McKinna stepped forward into a springy, energetic walk, and happily gave me a nice working contact on the bit.

So she'd been having some issues with rushing in her trot circles. She would be fine for the first 1/4, then drop her inside shoulder and rush the next half, then straighten up the last 1/4. To fix it, I did this:

Prepare her several strides out with a firm half-halt: gently but firmly close hands and legs and sit deep for a brief instant, all to "check" her and let her know I need her to do something. I begin turning my head to look ahead on my circle; as we near our point of departure from the arena wall, I keep the contact of my outside rein firm (as this is what defines and holds the size/shape of your circle). At the same time, I open with my inside rein and squeeze with my inside leg, while my outside leg rests passive slightly behind the girth, ready to squeeze if she wants to swing her haunches out.

Positioned like this, we go into the turn. The moment she wants to start rushing (maybe 1/8th of the way through, or halfway through the first 1/4), I half-halt again. I'm not shy about it -- if your horse has no reaction to your half-halts, then you need to make your half-halts as strong as necessary to get a reaction. Since McK's been worked so consistently at the walk and trot, it didn't take much.

Here's the key: during these half-halts, I never let her off the circle I wanted to be on. Between my outside rein and my inside leg, she simply could not avoid my path. I checked her several times, each time doing so before she fell apart and started rushing. To clarify, by 'check' I don't mean a quick bump on the reins. I mean a measured whole-body pause, where I squeeze my reins and close my legs and sit up tall and deep. It's a smooth movement, but brief.

While this gave me a bit of a lumpy tempo (steady, speed up, check back/slow down, etc) and her head was a bit raised in response to my very firm insistent outside rein, it also gave us a smooth path and made it extremely clear to McK what I wanted. She tries to deviate from the circle, I force her to stay on it with my aids. She wants to rush, I half-halt and stop her. These two go hand-in-hand, since rushing often leads to dropping the inside or outside shoulder and thus losing a smooth path.

In the last quarter of the circle, she gave me what I wanted. She relaxed her head down, accepted a contact with my hands, and started truly pushing from behind. This was a very, very tangible change; I felt it immediately as her cadence steadied, her back rose, and the "air time" between her steps felt longer. My mom saw it instantly.

When this happened, I quit messing with her. Yes, she started going a little faster as this happened, but that was because she was using her hind end to push. The increased speed still had a steady rhythm, her back was still lifted, and she was still relaxed in my hands. My very steady hands, accompanied by a steady seat and steady leg. This is key. When she gave me what I wanted, I didn't need to half-halt, to hold her on the circle with my outside rein, or to constantly remind her to bend to the inside with my leg. She held the path. She held the bend. She kept her rhythm. All I did was give her soft, supporting hands, a supporting inside leg, and a LOT of verbal praise. You'd think she just painted the Mona Lisa, the way I carried on.

The next time we circled, it only took her half the circle to give me that feeling.

It's an amazing, amazing experience, let me tell you. To feel her suddenly shift her entire body, using it correctly, and moving in perfect communication with me, like a steady quiet dialogue was going on between the reins and my seat -- that was cool.

It's happened before, but never that easily.

So after I explained all this to Mom, she got back on and was able to reproduce that same sequence of events: prepare for the circle, hold her to the path, half-halt as often as necessary, and when she responds, go with her. It was really lovely to watch.

I'm very proud of the progress McKinna has made in this. It's truly wonderful to ride that feeling.

That being said, what is with the title of this post, you may ask?

I'm so glad you asked!

There's a Halloween schooling show at a local barn this month and one of the classes is a COSTUME CLASS. I bet you can guess where this one's going...

Yes, that's right, I am going to drag the Batman outfit (see post here) out of the closet. In fact, McKinna, as the Bathorse (did he ever have a horse? Don't think so, but oh well) will get costumed as well. Here are the details we've thought of so far:

A black sheet to go over her main body (like picture below). I want to put the Batman logo on the haunches.

Black dressage saddle and bridle, obviously.

"Warhorse" armor, made out of tinfoil that is painted black. Probably much the same pieces as on this horse from Warwick Castle:

i.e., a forehead-down-the-nose plate (probably not going all the way down the cheeks and all), scallops over the crest, and possibly a shoulder guard. It all depends on how difficult it is to make all of that!

The other option, of course, is to make her a My Little Pony. She is white and cute and would look phenomenal with pink [mane, tail, hooves] and glitter all over with glittered hooves and the like. Mom wants me to go with this outfit (and I can't deny that she would be unbearably cute, especially with wavy mane/tail) but I really can't decide. To be badass, or to take the perfect excuse for getting her all girly and pink? Either way I'll figure it out soon and I am excited to get all dressed up!


Leah Fry said...

OK, I'm big enough to admit that until we got to the costume portion of this post, I have mostly no idea what you're talking about. Someday...

The glitter pony sounds a whole lot easier than the badass pony costume.

Stacey said...

Oh man Klein and I have really worked on our circles lately. She's got them down now. It's a constant learning process for her though. I have to just remember this is the first time she has done any of the things I do with her since I broke her to ride. She does so good with everything that sometimes I forget about that part LOL.
I like the Batman Costume! She would make an adorable My Little Pony though! I think Klein looks like a big My Little Pony. Long mane and all. I've already had ideas for making her into a Rainbow Brite Pony when she turns white :)

SquirrelGurl said...

I think both costumes would be AWESOME. But, do you have the time to make all the armour for the batman? And if you decide to go with the My Little Pony theme are you prepared for her to potentially stained by the paint?

Equus magazine arrived in my mailbox today and there was an awesome article about costume classes and tips on how to dress up your horse. One of the tips was to use tempera(sp?) paint, though to be careful with light colored horses, especially when using colors like red and pinks b/c they can stain.

I also saw in the magazine, that they now make bright pink equine glitter paint! I think they make it for both hooves and body... if you go with My Little Pony you definitely should get that!!

Can't wait to see pics of whatever you choose!

rhinestone said...

Though we haven't gotten as in sync as you and McKinna have, Blue and I have been experiencing much of the same success. Half-halts are officially my best friends. When they are working from behind and you feel all that power being channeled in whichever direction you choose - it's a great feeling!
On the sillier side, we're going to have a costume class at our home schooling show and my friend and I are entered as a pair - we're thinking a Hawaiian theme! The real concern in the equation is her horse - I don't think Blue will care as long as I try it out at least once beforehand.
Good luck with your costume prep!

Stelladorro said...

Go BA, be batman for the day! I'm going to try your circle work on Stella, except at the canter. Stella likes to throw her shoulders out and fall on the forehand, I think the half halts will help her a lot.

Meghan said...

I'll have to remember to try that the next time I ride. Although I should probably work on my outside rein contact first, as I have quite a problem with that, and it's only a little important to dressage, LOL!

As for the costume class, it sounds like a lot of fun. I always liked watching the costume class at the county fair horse show. And I think you should totally go for the Batman costume.

manymisadventures said...

Those of you that are trying the circle work, let me know how it goes! Outside rein is your friend ;)

I still haven't decided but am leaning towards Batman. Mom and I will have to discuss it tonight. I promise there will be PLENTY of pictures once it happens!

ORSunshine said...

I vote Batman! Original, creative and there's bound to be other My Little Ponies at the barn.

I just bought Casey a spiderweb design tail bag for Halloween. Hubs was supportive of that, but not putting my black gelding in pink! What's up with that? lol!

Ok, Many, I have started a blog. I've linked it to my user name here and you are on my blog roll. It's not just about horses, but I will feature stuff with Casey as we rehab and go along. Now, I must get off my butt and go write something of interest!

ORSunshine said...

Ok, it's linked through my profile. You can find the blog by clicking on "My web page" in case you're interested.

FD said...

A question; do you think the enforced layoff possibly had anything to do with that sudden click moment?

My biggest single breakthrough ever came as a result of a serious injury (my upper back/right shoulder basically got pulled apart) and during the recovery process, once I started properly (not counting hacking in a sling and strapping - I lasted three weeks before I was doing that - schooling took a LOT longer) riding again, I found that the process of adapting my riding to the new limitations (possibly coupled with a lot of reading while laid up) made me more, mindfull somehow, of what was happening under me. And being unable to really carry any weight in my right rein drastically changed my understanding of riding leg to hand - and forced me to develop leg to seat.
The first couple of rides were OW! OW! OW! (cue much omg-argh-I-can't-do-it-my-life-is-over internal flailing) but once I accepted that the very strong ram your horse up to the bit and hold it there style I'd been taught was not going to work for for me anymore; well, I never looked back. But I honestly don't know that I'd ever have found that insight, without the injury.

manymisadventures said...

Okay, Batman it is ;)

FD -- yes, that definitely had something to do with it. Not only have I been observing other people and how their position affects their horse, I have been very focused on what I am feeling from the horse, rather than what I am seeing from the position of their head. This, along with enforced back-to-basics due to my slow return to riding, has definitely made a huge difference.

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