Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lesson Report

Have I ever mentioned that I love lessons?

Lately I have been a bit rut-bound with the horses, which is to say that Pandora and I seem to be spinning our wheels without getting anywhere. Between sickness on my part and minor injuries on her part, we have yet to really "get going" again this year. My mind is bursting with ideas, from cool jumping exercises and long rides over terrain to cavaletti and work on getting comfortable in a dressage ring. But the situations haven't quite caught up yet.

So it's difficult, because starting up again always requires more than a little bit of energy just to overcome the inertia of plodding around. I am a goal-driven person and, unless my goal is to simply plod around and enjoy (I have no problems with this!), I need to be going somewhere. So our slow re-beginnings have been dragging on me. I question everything. Sure, she's got the best mind ever, but her movement really kinda sucks. And she's so stiff in terms of bending. And can she really jump that well?

You get the idea.

Thankfully, lessons help kick this worrying habit square in the pants, mostly by virtue of getting me going somewhere. I had a fantastic lesson on McKinna last night, and I'm really hoping that when I take Pandora in two weeks I will start feeling more positive about our rides again. Next week, we have a jumping lesson and then a jumping schooling show, where we will undoubtedly only ride in a few low-key classes. I accept that we're getting off to a slow start.

Anyway. I had a great time riding McKinna last night! Unfortunately no pictures, but I promise I will get some (or have some gotten, really) next time.

We worked more on asking McKinna to soften. I'd been worried that I was just fussing with her mouth, which prompted her to fuss back and tuck behind the vertical. The solution? Shorten my reins and go forward. What was actually happening was that she was bouncing around, trying to find a contact, and slowing down while doing it, thus going behind the vertical (and generally being counterproductive). By keeping my reins shorter, I gave her a steady contact to rely on. She is by no means allowed to lean on the contact, but it needs to be there. And by pushing her forward, I make her "fill up the space I've created" with the softening and suppling, which makes a lot of sense viscerally, feeling it as you're on the horse, but a lot less sense when I write it here. Those things solved the fussing and kept her much steadier.

So we spent most of the lesson working on similar things. The mare learns so fast it's not even funny. First lesson? Had to really use some firm hand squeezes to get her to give, and I had to do it pretty much constantly. Last night, at the walk at least, I can just close my fingers like I'm gently wringing out a sponge and she softens, and she can actually hold it for several strides. Last week, barely any softening at the canter. This week, a couple strides at a time. Then she goes "OOF THAT'S HARD WORK" and either braces against my hand or wants to break to a trot, which is understandable - it is hard work. So we make progress in bits and pieces, a few strides here, a few strides there.

The rule is that she doesn't get to brace by pushing forward with her chest and neck and nose. She can relax, she can stretch down, she can take a break -- she just doesn't get to brace against me and make me hold her up. I got some beautiful stretchy-trot at the end of the lesson. Keep her supple, keep the contact, but soften and allow her more rein: she just chewed the reins right down and stayed balanced, steady. It felt great and I bet she enjoyed it too.

Trotting needs to be faster than I thought. I felt like I was bobbing up and down on a pogo stick at the rate I was posting, but Leslie and my mom both said it looked just right, and when I glanced in the mirrors it looked like a good pace. Interesting how things can look so different than they feel. I had to work a lot harder last night too! It is like a cycle to go through, and by the time I get to the end I've forgotten the things at the beginning - hands low and wide, ask her to soften, keep the contact, steady outside rein, keep the outside shoulder turning, but keep a slight inside bend in the ribcage, don't stick my toes out because we aren't trying to catch chickens, more forward, don't lose the forward, stay straight in the saddle, keep the hands low and wide, ask her to soften....in fact, I am so ridiculous that I might actually record myself saying all of this at appropriate intervals and just listen to it while I ride. It's amazing the way you forget to do things that you know you should do, just because there's so much else to concentrate on.

It was a great, positive lesson. I felt much better showing up in my (nice, SOFT!) Thornhill dressage saddle than in my jumping saddle last time! And sitting the canter is definitely easier in a saddle made for doing so. After the lesson we went through the barn and met all the (huge, fancy, all warmblood except for the Anglo Arab) horses. They were all very nice. Quantro, Leslie's horse, who they call Q, is an absolute sweetheart. Very playful.

My mother is of course thrilled because now I'm practically obligated to ride McKinna more. I don't mind, because she is a lot of fun to ride! At the same time, I'm cautiously optimistic for my lesson with Leslie on Pandora. I have gone a long, long time without consistent dressage instruction and I am very ready for that to change. If we can make progress at HALF the rate McKinna's been going, I will be thrilled. I just want to be...going somewhere. I think I will feel much better after I take Pandora to a lesson.


In other lessoning news, the little jump lesson I taught on Monday went very well. We ended up jumping outside, which got a little sketchy for light reasons towards the end, but it worked out okay. The girl rides a cute QH mare, a very sweet and extremely willing horse named Lola.

We started off with some flatwork, but moved pretty quickly into the jumping since she's got a show at the end of the month and she will be doing hunter hack. I set up four trot poles, which she went through perfectly several times. Then I added a small cross-rail a few steps away.

It did not go particularly well. For whatever reason, Lola was not a big fan of trotting that cross-rail. She either wanted to stop - at which point I had the girl just make her walk over it, since pretty much any horse can walk over a crossrail backwards in their sleep - or she wanted to take a big deer-leap, which wasn't particularly dangerous but tends to be pretty uncomfortable.

I dropped the X on one side, which helped, but it just wasn't working. A bell went off in my head: if what you're doing isn't working, change what you're doing!

So I changed what I was doing.

I got rid of the trot poles and used one for a ground line, then I had her canter the fence. With most hotter horses like TBs or McKinna, I wouldn't do this, because adding more speed and less regulation usually doesn't help. But I had a hunch about this one, namely that she would be more comfortable with the added rhythm and impulsion and narrower takeoff option of a canter stride, and that she would figure out the distance thing on her own. (I also double-checked with her rider that they'd cantered fences fine before, which she answered in the affirmative.)

She was great!

It took Lola a few times to get her distances figured out, but I could tell she was way happier with this setup. I had the rider work on these things: a lot of steering by finding a good line early on and staying straight with the outside rein, plus steering straight AWAY from the fence without cutting the corner; finding a steady rhythm by counting out loud (made a visible and immediate improvement); making sure to keep impulsion at the base of the fence by supporting with leg when necessary; and, most importantly, staying OFF the back and OFF the mouth! Once, when Lola rounded the corner after a bit of an overjump, she humped her back and did a couple "dolphin bucks." (Hadn't heard that term before Mugwump used it but it is perfect.) They were tiny things and her rider got her under control pretty much immediately. Then I explained that, in my experience, good horses tend to do that if you hit their back on the way down as a way of showing their displeasure. I reminded her that on the last jump Lola had popped her out of the tack a little bit and she landed hard, so that was probably why she bucked. Not, I said, that it's an excuse to buck - just something to keep in mind.

Over the course of the lesson we gradually worked up to a two-stride line of a cross-rail to a vertical. They were doing really, really well - Lola found her striding perfect and smooth, her rider did a great job staying in a steady two-point and giving plenty of release but still remembering to steer, and everyone was happy. I really enjoyed the experience, especially problem-solving on the fly. I think in the future, if we continue lessons, I'll have to examine that trotting fences issue again. It may have just been uncertainty but I think it's necessary for horses to be willing and able to trot fences.


FINALLY, one more bit of good news! The barn owners are building an INDOOR HOT WATER WASH RACK.

I know this may not be too exciting to some of you (cough, Stacey who lives in Hawaii and can bathe whenever she wants!) but this is awesome news to us. Finally, a way to get our muddy horses clean before lessons or clinics. I love the turnout they get, but bathing McKinna with a cold hose and buckets of warm water from the bathroom gets really old really fast, and she thinks so too. I can't wait until it's finished.

Also, I'm off to the Pony Club ABC retreat this weekend, so expect lots of horse-mangement posts when I get back! I heard a rumor that they were looking for cadaver legs so we could actually look at structures in the leg, how cool is that? Very cool. It should be a ton of fun.

6 comments:

Sydney said...

Indoor hot wash racks rock!

manymisadventures said...

Say that five times fast! ;)

thenamesmarry said...

Hey, long-time lurker, here!

I totally get where you're coming from! My year has started off slow too, with sicknesses on my part and injuries on the mare's part, getting started just takes so much more energy. The lesson sounds great though. It's amazing what a dressage lesson can do to change your approach and your horse's way of going. I'm always having to be my own instructor and tell myself to remember to do everything at once. Especially the ride that follows the lesson - it always tests what I've taken away from my trainer.

Your monthly goal-writing inspired me to do some of my own, though, so thank you for that! Those goals and my dream to finally compete in eventing this year are helping me come out of this yucky-weather, winter riding rut. Good luck coming out of it with Pandora!

baileyslewbambicrash.blogspot.com

summersmom said...

I am so stinkin excited about the new wash rack!
The vet is coming out to give Miss Summer a lameness exam so hopefully we can get her on track to healing. And I am sort of stealing your idea of a training, except ours will be one detailing her "strengthening" training. That way we might be able to pinpoint a bit better what is triggering her limp if the vet can't find anything wrong. I miss riding so much!

summersmom said...

oops I meant training *schedule

B said...

I totally had those lesson epiphanies that you had in this post a couple of months ago! November maybe? I'll have to check the dates on my blog.

Shorten the reins? OH! That means I'm not snatching at her mouth trying to get a connection through the bridle. That made an immediate improvement in just about everything. Faster trot as well. I made the mistake of thinking that slower was better for "collection" but when we upped the effort, my mare's trot improved dramatically. Lots more springy action, and way more pushing through the hocks.

Love it! Don't get discouraged because things slowed down for you and Pandora. I think this year is going to be a year for great things.

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