Friday, February 26, 2010

Encouraging ride

I started off today by lunging Boomer at the w/t/c with the elastic rein on. Karin was in the arena working her 3 year old stallion and gave me a little feedback. She pretty much told me to get him up in to the canter and just keep him there until he starts to relax his top line and give at the poll. It took a little while, but he did try to drop down for a stride at a time, if infrequently. Though, when he would try to drop his poll he would sort of come undone in the back end and almost scramble for a stride. To the left he was much better and could relax down for a few strides at a time.

I got on to ride and Boomer was very good from the start. I really focused on a few things: toes forward, elbows back, and use the whole arena. I tend to lap the middle and not use the rail or corners (bad rider). Things went well, Boomer was a little resistant at first but worked out of it pretty quickly at the trot. I started working on canter transitions as soon as we were warmed up. I think I got 5 to the left and really focused on using his post canter energy to really wake up his trot. It felt awesome! To the right the first time I asked, I just booted him hard and made him jump into the canter before he had a chance to death trot around. After that he seemed more eager to pick it up right away and I got two really good transitions in a row and called it a day! He really did try and I could really feel him soften for the third transition to the right. After that I just let him trot a few more laps and then cooled out on the buckle.

I was very pleased with the progress today and really feel that the issue is mostly balance and not knowing exactly what to do or if he even physically can do what I am asking for. I think that lunging with the elastic rein will be an integral part of him finding his balance before carrying me.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interesting ride

The ride today was interesting. It started out really rough with Boomer insisting on being a giraffe. It took a good 15 minutes of trotting before he would give and come down. From there were were about 70%, which isn't half bad ;)

I was really impressed with the ride as we had continual improvement for the whole ride. I rode for over an hour because I really wanted to keep working out the kinks, and things kept getting better. Boomer was offering some really great swinging trot along the long side of the arena (straight lines!). Our left lead canter is getting much better. Boomer seems to know what I am asking for and tries. I am going to really make an effort to make as many canter transitions as possible during our rides. I am very guilty of cantering once in each direction and calling it quits. No more! Today I wanted 5 transitions in each direction. I got 5 to the left and each was better than the first. However to the right, I got one, then a whole bunch of fighting. He would slam his head up and start death trotting around, when I slowed him down he would suck behind my leg and jig instead of trotting. If he so much as felt a leg on him he would slide his hind end around like a car on ice. After working through all of that, I could use my seat and really get him trotting forward again, but each time I asked for the canter I go the same response. So, I gave up on the right lead (bad rider), got some good connected trotting, and got off. However, being stubborn, I hooked him back up to the lunge and elastic rein* and made him do 5 canter transitions. He still threw up his head and rushed, but not as bad. Towards the end he offered to stretch down and relax for a few strides at the canter for the first time ever. We called it quits after that.

*The elastic rein we are using is sort of like a chambon. It is a 6' long elastic cord with snaps at the ends and a sliding keeper in the middle. You lay it over the poll, thread through the bit, and connect to the girth between the legs. It can be tightened at the poll, as needed. The idea is that when he has his neck and head up, there is poll and bit pressure, when he drops down there is a release. It isn't so tight that it forces him to hold any given position and it is elastic and has plenty of give for him to play with while he gets his balance. My trainer has me lunge before riding in it to let Boomer feel where he is supposed to be before we start really working. I think it is a really useful tool. Today was the first time I had him canter in it and Karin wants me to start cantering him on the lunge before we ride to get him to start finding his balance. She thinks that will help with our canter issues under saddle.

Oh, we get foam almost every ride now! Yay!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A few days off

I decided to give Boomer a few days off to relax and refresh himself. I rode him on Saturday and there was a lesson and three other horses in the arena and Boomer did very well handling all of the activity. Once it calmed down and there were only two other horses in there was when I finally got some good work out of him even though he was still a little frazzled from the traffic earlier. He really did try hard to keep things together though! Luckily, my super awesome husband offered to come out and film us! Yay John!
This video gives a pretty good look into what we are working on. Mostly we are getting the contact pretty well and working on consistency. From the video, I can see that we need more forward- especially around corners, and a little more roundness on the bit. Also, I need to get my elbows back and sit up, this comes from my nervousness and not wanting to give away the reins, so I try to give with my arms and keep the reins to myself. Karen keeps getting on to me for having my toes out instead of forward and I am trying to work on that too. There are a few moments where you can see us struggle to get on the bit and I think that Boomer has shown great improvement in terms of resistance.

I gave him Sunday and Monday off and just did an easy day on Tuesday. Boomer was much better than I expected after having two days off. He got right down to business and did a very good job ignoring the snow sliding off of the roof! Good Boy! We worked on a little trotting, but mostly focused on getting constant contact at the walk. Our walk/halt/walk transitions are getting much better. There is a real rhythm to it that I am trying to figure out. Boomer is sensitive about rein pressure during this transition. He prefers to stop off of my seat, take up light contact to round him over the bridle, give slightly as we start forward, but take back up before he comes above the bit. Very give and take and very rapid. I haven't figured out exactly the finesse I need for that yet. It was a very good ride and I was happy with the day.

I spoke a little to my trainer about 'days off' and she said that she has heard from both sides of the issue. Some people say to school every day, some people prefer to give lots of days off. She said that with smarter horses and smarter breeds they seem to do better with a few days off after they 'get' a concept. Almost like they get annoyed with drilling something they already understand. Makes sense to me! I am going to think about that and consider riding Monday-Thursday, giving Boomer a 3 day weekend every week. I don't know yet if trail rides will replace one ride a week or be an extra ride day. Not that I will have to think about that any time soon (grr! winter!).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lesson Report #5

Lesson #5 went really well.  I had hoped to work on cantering a little, but Boomer was Not Quite Right when I got him out of the pasture (more on that later).  He is (and was) fine but we just did trot poles on a circle and got some really great quality work out of him.  I was really impressed and I got him to keep the feeling of reaching forward with his stride in the trot for a whole circle after the poles.  It was really cool.  Karin said that he has really nice reach and was very happy with his progress!  We also worked on the halt/walk transition.  One thing Karin pointed out that I had never noticed is that he always steps to the right  before straightening out.  That was really hard to correct and will take a bit of work!  I had to stare down at his shoulders and really focus on keeping my right leg on him.  The first try, he stepped straight with his right leg, then tried to cross right with his left leg.  The next try we got him to walk off straight.  I had no idea he was crooked coming out of the halt!  Oh, the things you learn with a pair of eyes on the ground!  

About Boomer being NQR, when I went to catch him he was pooping, but acted hunched up like he was straining.  Then when I haltered him up, he didn't want to walk and was balking and wouldn't walk forward.  I listened to his gut sounds and they were there, but light.  I lunged him at the trot for about 10 minutes and he pooped and passed a lot of gas.  After that his gut sounds were really loud and normal.  His skin tent was fine and his gum color was fine.  He rode fine and pooped a number of times during the lesson.  After ruling out colic, I started to think about it behaviorally.  I have been riding him 5 days on/2 days off, which is a big change from riding MWF.  I also always ride in the afternoon and I got him out of the pasture for the lesson in the morning, right after hay had been thrown.  So, I started to wonder if he as getting a little sour.  I think I just caught him at a bad moment when he was having a little gas and he was also a little grumpy about coming in to work.  I went out Thursday because it was an amazing 50 degrees and sunny.  I got him out of the pasture and he tried balking again.  This time I was ready and really got after him with the end of the lead rope, swinging it behind me to pop him on the rump.  He came right along after that, but balked again at the barn.  I decided to get him out in the round pen for something different.  Even though he lives outside, he seemed thrilled to be working outside.  He was very excited and had a ton of energy.  I worked him doing trot/canter transitions and reversing directions until he calmed down a little and started licking his lips.  After that, I worked on him walking next to me, stopping without a lead rope, turning, and backing.  I think it was a good change of pace for both of us.  I am giving him three days off to relax a little and hopefully he will enjoy the vacation and comeback refreshed.  

On another note, my family is going through a loss right now.  My 100 year old great grandmother is nearing the end.  She is a wonderful lady who has given me memories I will always cherish.  

Friday, February 12, 2010

We have foam!!!

Thursday and Friday were both really good rides.  They both started out a little shaky, Boomer has been really on edge lately because of the snow sliding off of the roof.  Both rides he seemed to settle pretty quickly and I started right away getting him on the bit.  Once he is there, he seems to stay there for the most part!  How exciting!  Friday especially, he was just ON!  He was light and forward and seemed to really be enjoying engaging and moving out in the trot.  We have started working on some straight lines making a big X across the arena, using the short sides as a half circle to gather him back up.  I think he is doing very well and he feels much straighter to me.  I did a few passes around the whole arena on Friday but that seemed to be a lot for him and we did have to make a few small circles to get him back on the bit and connected to my hand.

The release discovery I made with Flanny in the last lesson seems to be a real breakthrough for me.  I have started using my elbows to give rather than opening my hand and Boomer seems much more apt to stay on the bit. 

Bonus for Friday- We got a great trot/canter transition on both sides!  I have really been focusing on walk and trot work and haven't cantered much at all in the last month.  He was so ON Friday and was really enjoying moving out so I put my outside leg on for a few strides, made sure I had him in hand and asked and he thought really hard, put his ears sideways, and PUSHED up into  the canter without rushing at all or raising his head up!  It was awesome!  He was a little fast and lost some steering, but I was after the transition, not gait quality.  To the right, he raised his head slightly, but gave the same big effort!

  Double Bonus for Friday's ride- Boomer was foamy on both sides of his mouth equally!  On Thursday he had a little foam on the right side in the corner, but Friday was totally foamy all the way around!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lesson Report #4

Wow!  What a lesson!  I got to start by riding Karin's Grand Prix horse.  In the levels of dressage, Grand Prix is the highest level of training and is the level performed at the olympics!  Olympic level horses might have scores in the upper 80's to low 90's for the Grand Prix level of training.  Karin's horse, Flanny, has scored a 58% at Grand Prix.  So, he knows all of the movements and is a VERY well trained horse!  I had a blast on him.  It was so cool to really feel him pick up when I asked him to and to give more power when I asked for it with my seat.  One interesting thing about him is that he is very patient,  but can be a tattle tale.  Karin had us doing leg yields and I could get them to the left, but to the right I got a haunches in, then a half pass, and then the leg yield.  So, he was really tattling on me and showing both Karin and I that maybe Boomer's problem with the leg yield to the right isn't him.  Karin also introduced the half halt on Flanny.  Honestly I didn't really get it.  I mean, I could stop my seat for a stride, then push him forward the next stride, but it just didn't feel connected for me.  It was more like tempo changes, rather than recycling energy.  

Just as I got on Boomer the snow started sliding off of the roof and pretty well kept up for the next half hour.  He actually handled it pretty well.  I stayed with him and got him stopped within a few strides and Karin said I did well to hold him together.  I was glad to have her there for confidence as I probably would have quit early if I wasn't in a lesson.  Once Boomer was on contact and feeling it, when he would spook, he would come right back down and seek the contact on his own.  

One major thing I figured out on Flanny and transfered to Boomer was that I am giving the release too much and at the wrong time.  With Flanny, I had him on the bit and bent him inside a little and he would drop right down, I gave on instinct, and he pulled forward and out.  I realized that I gave too much.  I have a tendency to open my hands and push my shoulders forward to give and I get taken advantage of by both a schoolmaster and a greenie.  So, I worked really hard on keeping my fingers closed at all times and giving only with my elbows.  This really helped with my reaction time.  With Boomer, I had been giving this huge release as his head went down, but I couldn't be fast enough to get the contact back if when he popped back up.  So, With keeping my hands closed and giving with my elbows, I could give as he went down but keep him 'captured' and not allow him to pop back up.  It actually made a difference. 

Next week I am going to ride Boomer in One of Karin's dressage saddles.  I was really amazed at the instant difference in my position.  I sat up so much straighter with no effort at all.  My legs were longer and my shoulders stayed back.  I could really feel the stretch in my hip flexors from being at a much more open angle.  I tried to recreate the posture once I was back on Boomer but it was hard to ride him and fight the saddle at the same time so I am excited to see if I can use my seat/core/energy better on Boomer in a saddle with a less forward seat.  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Student and Teacher

Recently I have started to see a real difference in my perception of Boomer due to training with guidance.  I have long held that goals are an integral part of any training plan.  I am the kind of person who thrives on lists and goals.  However, in the past four weeks of riding under a trainer, I have sort of been riding without goals.  Well, without goals in the sense that only the trainer really knows what we will be doing the following week based on how far we have come.  That is to say, my only goals for the last month have been to improve upon what tools I have recently learned.  It is improving for the sake of improvement.  

It is a real joy to be the student rather than the teacher.  In some ways, it is a relief after the past 18 months of being the teacher to allow myself to be the student.  

To be at this point that I can be a student on Boomer is really incredible to me.  I feel that Boomer and I are at a place where we are both learning together.  I am really proud of him for coming this far.  

Friday, February 5, 2010

Improved transitions

My lesson on Wednesday gave me so much to work on that I couldn't help but get back out there to ride the next day!  I usually take Tuesday and Thursday off, but I just felt like there was so much to work on that I couldn't waste the time.  Plus, lessons are expensive and I had better be getting as much out of each one that I can and that means doing my homework!  

Our ride went well overall.  It always takes Boomer a while to warm up physically and mentally.  Generally he is physically ready before he is mentally ready.  So, I like to lunge him for 10 minutes before I get on and then once I start riding I do 5-10 minutes of walking on a loose rein.  From there we collect up and start working at the walk, then up to the trot once he feels supple.  I sort of let him warm up into the ride as we go.  Sometimes he is mentally resistant for longer than other times and today was one of those days.  However, once he let go of the resistance, he was awesome!  He readily stayed down in the bridle, on contact and jaw relaxed.  His halt/walk transitions were really great today.  We even got a string of trot transitions that were really incredible.  We did halt/walk/trot in lots of combinations and he stayed soft and on the bit the whole time!  He didn't raise his head up once through this particular string of 6-8 transitions.  I could really feel him lifting himself through the transitions.  We were going on small and large circles as well as riding the diagonal.  I did notice that he is much more resistant to give to the left and I could sometimes feel the tension growing in my arm and shoulder but he still wouldn't give.  In those cases, I just took him into small circles and that usually helped.  If not, I would work him either to the right or just with a right bend until he gave and then straighten him back to going left. 

It is so cool to already see such an improvement in our riding!  It is so motivating!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lesson Report #3

We started out lesson by talking talking about what we had been doing the previous week and I had mentioned that Boomer was still acting somewhat resistant and while some rides were better than others, I still felt like he was fighting before softening his jaw.  After we warmed up a little, Karin had us do something new.  While staying on the circle, she had me get him on the bit, then bend his neck to the inside, straighten, bend outside, straighten, etc.  This REALLY helped him get contact and he actually started seeking and carrying the bit!  We worked at this mostly at the walk for a long time and he really understood that concept.  The bending makes it much more difficult for him to toss his head, as he can't really be inverted and bending laterally at the same time.  So instead of him fighting against my hand, I ask him to bend and he gives with his jaw of his own accord.  It almost feels like I'm tricking him into wanting to do the right thing!  So, then anytime he would start to toss his head up, I would flex him right and left and he would soften right away and held the contact after I straightened him up.  

This was also a great exercise for me to start watching his shoulders and keeping them straight.  It is really easy for Boomer to push out one shoulder or the other and in order to keep him on the circle I have to really use my leg to keep him from over bending.  We also worked on a few smaller (8 meter) circles and I focused on his shoulders there as well.  That was cool to actually be able to look down and see that his shoulders are not necessarily centered with his neck, so I worked on keeping his shoulders straight with his neck.  

Next thing we worked on was transitions.  Walk to trot and also halt to walk.  The goal in W/T was to get him to give, bump him with my leg to make sure he was awake, remind him that he has to give, then bump him into the trot.  For the most part, he wanted to throw his head up, but we worked really hard on timing everything and got a few really good transitions from him.  It almost felt like he was having trouble organizing himself at first, like keeping things together in the front and adding speed in the back was too complicated, but he did get it!  Downward transitions were better and Karin said that she saw he was using his hind end to stop for the first time instead of falling down onto his forehand!  Halt/Walk transitions were difficult at first as well and he wanted to evade by backing up.  Karin had me reprimand him by giving him a kick, then trying again and he seemed to start to figure things out a little.  

The transition work really made me think about how connected all of the gaits are.  I have been trying to speed up Boomer's response to my canter aids without asking for contact/collection and I saw the same process with the W/T transition.  It doesn't just go trot straight into canter, there is a transition period where I must prepare him for the gait without allowing him to come up out of the bridle.  I can really see how asking for sustained contact from halt to walk and walk to trot can really pave the way for a smooth canter transition.    

Overall, we had a lot of progress.  I am really happy to have this new 'bending/flexing' tool to help me get Boomer to soften and seek contact.  It is really easy for him to fight and brace against my steady 'ask' but it really avoids a power struggle if I can get him to 'bend' into the contact.  Also, we got foam on both sides of his mouth!  More on the left than right, but he seemed to be starting a little foam on the right, too!  

For leg yields, Karin had us come off of the wall and yield down the centerline.  Anytime he braced or tossed his head, she had me do a small circle to get him soft and back on contact.  I can either circle and continue or I can circle and go back the other way.

Homework for next week:
Bending on large circle to get him to soften and seek contact
Small circles to help straighten shoulders 
Transitions and timing- halt, walk, trot 
Add circles to leg yielding to get contact without resistance

Bonus for next week: 
I get to do the first half of the lesson on Karin's Grand Prix schoolmaster!  The hope is that I will feel the response to asking for contact and will be able to transfer that feeling to Boomer.  I am super excited to ride Flanny.  He is a 20 year old Hannoverian/Thoroughbred cross and is totally cool!  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Between lessons

Boomer and I have been working really hard this past week at getting consistent contact.  We have had a few really great days where he is really on the bit most of the time and then we have had a few bad days where he was resistant and tossing his head, refusing to submit.  One thing I noticed happening lately is he is foaming much more while we ride.  He gets a really great lather going, but only on the left side of his mouth.  I mentioned it to Karin a few days before my lesson and she was so excited to have the 'clue' that he wasn't really 'coming through' on the right side.  I had always considered his right side to be his good side, but I think that it is the side with contracted muscles, so it makes bending left more difficult, but that doesn't mean that he is 'better' to the right, its just easier for him to bend that direction.  The foam on the left only kind of proves that he isn't really connecting on the right, he is just easily bending that way.

The other thing we are working on is getting him quicker to respond to my canter aids.  I have been laying my legs on him like I want the canter and thinking in my head, 'canter, canter, canter' then I ask after a few strides of preparation.  I can feel him tense up as I 'think' about it, but he canters as soon as I ask.  I am not worried about the contact right now, I just want him quicker to my aids.  I think once I can control the anticipation, the transition will be much smoother.  

For my birthday, I got John to come out and film my ride.  That day was an OK day, Boomer had been both much better and somewhat worse earlier in the week, but this clip gives a good representation of what I am working with.  He is still resistant and wants to toss his head and hollow out his neck, but he seems to be getting the idea of getting a more relaxed jaw and neck and starting to carry the contact for longer periods of time.  What I would really love would be to have someone film my lessons.  That would be awesome!