Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do The Shuffle!

Have I mentioned that McKinna's just kickass to ride? Because she's pretty kickass to ride.

I went to a jumping clinic on Sunday with a trainer I haven't ridden with before. Our club put on the clinic to help prepare for the show jumping rally, which is coming up in a couple weeks.

I got to ride with the Big Girls - the C-2s in our club - in the 3' group. McKinna was the only horse there who wasn't a dark bay, but at least she wasn't the only little horse. One of the other mares in my group is around McKinna's height and tends to be pretty similar: fiery, quick, and killer form over the fences.

The ride went great. I have lots of video thanks to my awesome parents, so I will put together a clip and stick it up here. The course included a four-stride, a five-stride, a two-stride, a single end fence, a single (BIG) swedish oxer, and a single skinny low brick wall on a turn. McKinna didn't blink at anything, including these really cool white vinyl herringbone fillers, an astroturf-covered brush box, and bright panels. In fact, the only issue we had was the first time we approached a fence directly on the rail: the ring is fenced and covered but open on the sides, and McKinna was so busy looking outside that she didn't realize there was a fence there!

So she stopped, said "Well why didn't you tell me there was a fence there?" and jumped foot-perfect the rest of the time.

On the other hand, it's now confirmed: McKinna has The Shuffle.

Both at my lesson with my regular instructor on Saturday last week and at the clinic, I heard some variation of, "It's impressive that she jumps so well and makes it look so easy when her canter is that bad!"


She does have rhythm, I know she does. McKinna is perfectly capable of picking herself up in a rolling, three-beat, balanced canter. But when she's nervous, or tired, or the footing is deep, she wants to just shuffle along with her legs flailing and her back not moving much. Then she pulls a textbook, beautiful jump out of that, then comes straight back to the shuffle.

(It's actually kind of comical to listen to the audio from the clinic. Almost every time I jumped, the trainer commented on how amazing it was that McKinna could be so effortless over the fences with THAT canter.)

But I know it's in there, so that's what we will be working on. At my dressage lesson with Leslie last week, we agreed that she needs more stretching and softening since she gets high in the front end and compact so easily. Lots of walking and trotting on a slightly longer rein, asking her to stretch down a little more - not peanut-rolling, but fully releasing through the base of the neck and her back. As for canter work, where she seems bent on charging into the canter if you ask for suppleness or else she just sticks her neck up, Leslie said to not worry too much about the transition for now. That will come with strength and relaxation in the canter.

So don't worry about the transition, just ask quietly. Do short periods of canter work, asking her to really supple and stretch down and lift her back, then back to trot to stretch and relax for as long as necessary. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I think that will work better than bullying her through the transition. Sometimes, a firm shove is what McKinna really needs because she's just being silly. But with this I think it is genuinely difficult for her, and when you force it she just gets anxious and flail-shuffles even more.

I did get a beautiful canter outside the other day. There is a three-feet-wide strip of grass that runs along the road to the outside of the hayfield fence, and it was mown the other day. It is on a mild uphill. So, on a hunch, I asked McKinna quietly for the canter. We cantered all the way up in rhythm, and she really stretched down and lifted her back. I think the incline helps balance and slow her, so she doesn't have to worry about it as much. Will definitely continue to try this.

I am also going to work in some canter cavaletti. My plan is: dressage work, especially up the hill, to work on softening/relaxing/stretching at the canter, not worrying as much about rhythm or picking up the feet. Jumping work over canter poles and canter cavaletti to work on rhythm and picking up the feet, not worrying so much about stretching and softening. I think asking for all of it at once is too much right now, but my hope is that by building up the pieces separately, I can eventually put them together. Part of it is a strength thing so this will come too.

The other confounding issue is saddle fit, grumble, mutter. Her jumping saddle fits quite well I think and tends to stay where it should be. Her dressage saddle, while it fits her wonderfully, wants to ride forward. Her girth groove is pretty far forward and tends to just suck the saddle up onto the back of her shoulders, which of course would irritate her when she's trying to use her range of motion to canter. So I am experimenting a bit. Dressage saddle with my Thinline half pad and regular square pad tends to slide. Dressage saddle with regular square pad and sheepskin half pad I borrowed from Leslie tends to slide. Next to try: Dressage saddle naked, dressage saddle with just square pad (haven't done that in awhile and can't remember if it works), dressage saddle with just sheepskin half pad, dressage saddle with square pad and some sort of non-stick something. Maybe those grippy rubber things you use under bathroom mats? Thin, likely to not affect saddle fit, might help.


The shuffle aside, McKinna has been just so fun. She's so easygoing about jumping now. I don't know where or when it happened, but she is steady to fences. All I do is sit there, get a decent canter, and chill out while she finds her distance, doing the occasional half-halt or adding impulsion down a line. I love it.

Pandora has also been doing well, though she's had quiet a few days off due to finals and such. Lesson last night went very well, and we have had some interest in her from the ads we've put up. Update for her soon - I will be back on a regular posting track now that last term is over! I pulled straight A's for the term and now that I'm done with OChem I have a huge weight off my shoulders. Next term: no class on Fridays. Awww yeah.

Dressage lesson with McKinna tomorrow, then Thursday I'm hauling her over to another Pony Clubber's place (the one in my group with the other little mare), where we are going to work on canter poles together since our horses need it!


Sarah said...

I had a lot of daft issues with my dressage saddle sliding around on this one particular Arabian I rode in lessons. If it wasn't the saddle, then we'd end up with the saddle pad completely out from underneath the saddle. It drove both of us crazy.

I finally resorted to year-round fleece pads. (Mine were white! That's just the first example I saw.) They stayed put. My saddle stayed put. It was probably a bit warmer for the horse's back than the thinner ones, but it did work...

manymisadventures said...

Heehee! I can just see myself riding McKinna in a hot pink fleece pad...

Seriously though, I'll give it some thought. TOTD actually had a beautiful saddle pad a few days ago that had fleece at the wither/pommel area and at the back of the pad, but nowhere else, and I thought that would be almost perfect. Unfortunately they weren't dressage-sized, and the jumping saddle isn't the issue.

I will keep an eye out for some fleecy compromise ;) Thanks for the tip!

manymisadventures said...

Something like this, maybe. Except I am not a big fan of shaped dressage pads.

Ah, I will experiment. I'm also envisioning finding a way to stick some sort of firm roll of something (rubber, a rolled up something?) to the saddle pad just in front of where the front of the saddle should sit. That way it wouldn't interfere with saddle fit, but it would block the saddle from sliding forward. As long as the pad stayed put, which it usually does.

Ah, the options...

Sarah said...

Yes, the one I had was shaped. I want to say it was this one, maybe? Only I seem to recall I specifically sought out one of the ones where you had velcro like this one, because I kept ending up with the little thin quilted one that had the one strap that a billet went through underneath the saddle, the strap still happily attached.

Leah Fry said...

Great that you and McKinna are doing so well, and that you've had some nibbles on Pandora. And no classes on Fridays next semester — it's doesn't get much better than that!

Anonymous said...

I like your approach to getting McKinna to stretch through her back. The longer hill work certainly will improve her lift and show her how to use those muscles better.

Val said...

Please check out these open-cell foam pads by Skito.


This company will custom cut shims to raise the front of the saddle, saving your horse's shoulders. If you call the number the dealer will give you lots of great information.

These pads were a lifesaver until I was ready to purchase a new saddle. Unfortunately, a disappearing pad means that the saddle does not fit the horse.

An angled girth is also helpful if your horse (like mine) has a forward girth spot, but needs lots of room between the shoulders and the saddle.

Good Luck! And congrats on no more O' Chem.

manymisadventures said...

Val, I hadn't thought of angled girths. I wonder if they make them for dressage saddles?

We're not having pad-spitting issues...the pad is actually staying in place quite nicely. The saddle itself is just sliding forward a couple inches.

Which does seem to indicate a slightly too-narrow tree. But the saddle looks like it fits her so well when it's sitting in the correct place!

Hmmph. Will continue with experimentation. Mutter, grumble, I hate saddle fussing.

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