Dressage Lesson – How Does One Even Fancy Prance?

This is going to be a very text-heavy, Dressage focused post. I could have broken this up into 3 posts, but I didn’t want to torture you all with that. Apologies in advance for what is interesting content to me and probably no one else!

Last week, I texted NT and literally asked her, “Can I get on the schedule for a Dressage lesson? I have forgotten how to fancy prance.” Luckily, she understands my humor (or is just good at faking it), and put me on the schedule for Monday.

On Sunday, I showed up to the barn to a horse missing a shoe. This wasn’t totally unexpected. During the transition period of May to the new barn, she spent a couple of days out during the day, and she spent a good amount of that time stomping at flies on the REALLY hard ground right now. I had already put an SOS out to the farrier, and he was scheduled to come out on Monday afternoon.

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Old Random Photo 🙂

So on Monday, May’s feet were cleaned and trimmed up (and a hoof supplement was added to her smartpaks), and we were headed into our first Dressage lesson with NT after May basically got 4 days off. Whoops.

Given the heat and humidity, we decided to do the lesson in the indoor arena. I have to say that the shade of the covered arena combines with the breeze through the open sides REALLY made a difference in the comfort level of both May and me. NT gave us a simple directive, “just go ahead and warm up, and I will watch.”

Ummmmm ok. I can do that. I have been riding for 22 years. I can warm up a horse on the flat. Hah… hahahahah. Now, before I get into how our warm-up went, it is probably worth noting that I made a pretty significant change in our equipment lately. I have caught myself riding almost primarily off my spurs and in a way that had May completely behind my leg. As a result, I have switched to a Dressage whip and no spurs. The Dressage whip used to make May incredibly tense, but a lot of hacking out while carrying one has made it a mostly non-issue.

Our warm-up was… mostly terrible. I got her in front my leg, but she was definitely dull to any bending aids, and as usual, she wanted to continuously pop off the connection of my outside rein when tracking right. (i.e. the left rein) I did some loops and worked on moving her shoulders around to try and loosen up the middle part of her body, but she mostly just continued to shuffle along like a board. We did a bit of canter, with a turn on the haunches in between, and then I looked at NT for instruction.

“You need serpentines” was the summation of the explanation that followed. Basically, I was losing either May’s shoulder or her haunches around basically every turn.

“I do a lot of 20M circle exercises…” I tried to explain, but NT explained how, on a 20M circle, you can remain mostly straight and stay on the circle. She wanted us to really make TURNS that forced us to really BEND. 10 meter circles are really beyond us right now, but we could do serpentines with 10-15 meter half circles at each end, so that is what she had us do. She told me not to worry about getting the exact size of the half circles, as long as I got the correct bend and shape through May’s body. Cool! Our first attempt looked something like this:

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Basically, I just kind of threw May around the ring and tried to shove her around corners without ensuring I had the right balance first. I realized how badly it was going, and tried to sit the trot for the last loop. It seemed to help a bit, as I was able to better time my aids. Either way, by the end of that experiment, NT learned she needed to be SUPER literal with me. “I know I said you could do whatever size circle you wanted, but they need to be consistent. You still need to ride super accurately.”

During my second attempt, I sat the trot and implemented a solid half halt anytime I felt her balance slip. I rode my lines, and focused on really pushing her into the corner and my outside rein with my inside leg. It ended up looking more like this:

Better

By the end of the exercise, I had a horse that was much more connected in both directions, AND she was moving across her back and lifting through her withers. There will definitely be a lot more of THESE in our future. Now that we had (finally) established a real connection, something I had been struggling with for weeks, we wanted to add in some lateral work. We had a great connection, but the idea of moving off my inside leg was still a bit of a struggle.

The directive was simple, come down the quarter line and ask May to leg yield to the wall. Baby stuff! We started in the better direction, the left, and it was a total fail. Without my spurs, I was basically incapable of convincing May to move over. The closest I got to a “leg yield” was the shoulders sliding towards the wall and the head bent back to the left. I wasn’t even pulling on the left rein, but that is where the head was. “Do you want to try asking for that a different way?” My head snapped up at NT’s words. Do I need to reiterate that I have been riding for more than TWENTY years? Even the H/J did a lot of leg yielding.

None of this left my mouth; instead, I just meeked out a “yeah.” NT came into the middle of the ring and pretended she was on a horse. First words out of her mouth are, you don’t move your aids because you aren’t changing your bend. Wait… what? I kept watching, quietly, while she positioned her inside leg “at the girth” and moved her outside leg back to keep the hind end underneath her. She took a step to the right in the “leg yield” and then half halted by squeezing her thighs. (I really hope the cambox picked up all of this. I will have to check tonight.) She took another step, explaining how she was scooping the horse up with her inside leg and moving them into the outside rein and outside leg, which were allowed the horse’s body to move into them. WHEW!

Hey ma, where’s my cookies? #horsesofinstagram #cookiemonster #may

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She explained how I was losing the shoulder because I wasn’t half halting, and that made it impossible for May to move her body over effectively. Oh, and sit with the bend. Yup, sit with the bend. I have ALWAYS sat on the outside of my saddle. In a leg yield, I will practically throw myself off the outside of the saddle in an attempt to get my horse to move with me in the direction. No one had ever told me I should be sitting on the inside (or with the bend).

Part of me was shrugging my shoulder at this. Part of me was tempted to ask if I could just go get my spurs. It didn’t even seem like this new set of aids could work, but what I was doing right now wasn’t working. I figured I would at least try it. We started tracking left and came down the quarter-line. I shifted my weight SLIGHTLY in my left seat bone, I kept my left leg at the girth, and I moved my right leg back. I half halted with my thighs, and then, I thought of scooping up May’s body with the entirety of my left leg and moving her one step to the right… and it worked. I half halted and asked again, and it worked again. Pretty soon, we were cruising right along from left to right. May was straight, there was no fighting with her head, and we ended the leg yield with an EVEN BETTER connection. Magic. (Below – old footage of me asking the “old” way, outside of a lesson, and thinking I was doing amazing)

Starting to go laterally! (Which #may finds super hard) #dressage #draftcross

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The right was definitely the more difficult direction, so May lost a lot of power through the leg yield. However, they remained straight and correct. NT explained that strength and flexibility in that leg yield will come with time. Sounds good to me. We walked for a bit so that May and I could recoup, given the heat. Then, NT asked me how our shoulder-ins were. I almost laughed, but I gave her a pretty diminutive, “not good.” She nodded and explained the movement to me again.

Again, the concept didn’t change. The inside leg stayed at the girth to keep the bend, the outside leg stayed back to steady the hind end, and my weight stayed on the side with the bend. Cool. This time, I would look to move as if we were going to make a 10 meter circle, and I would ask her to hold that shape while going straight. It was pretty rough. I REALLY wanted to swing my inside (left) leg back and the outside (right) leg forward to try and push the haunches towards the wall and the shoulders against the wall. Shockingly to no one, that didn’t work. May’s left shoulder popped on the inside, and the loss of bend and balance meant she was basically running away with me (albeit incredibly slowly).

❤️ #may #palomino #draftcross #ponylove

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NT reminded me to fight the urge to give up on the inside leg to outside rein, and she reminded me to half halt. Half halt? We are barely moving. Again though, I suspended my disbelief and tried it. I kept my inside leg on, my outside leg back, sat to the inside, and then, I turned her shoulder just to the inside and half halted. She took two steps of great shoulder-in before coming off the rail a bit. I half halted again, and we got three good steps. And then, I got another nugget of wisdom from NT, “the moment you feel her wanted to come off the rail, that is when you need to half halt.” However, we didn’t want to drill the exercise, so we took a walk break before going in the other direction.

To the right, things were a bit more difficult. Granted, this is May’s more difficult direction, so I wasn’t sure we would be able to do it at all. We would get straight, I would ask for the shoulder in, and May would throw her head around. I was told just to do a 10M circle and try again. I tried again, and I got the same response. “STOP PULLING ON YOUR INSIDE REIN!” I heard from the other end of the arena. From more than 100 feet away, NT had seen something I hadn’t even noticed I was doing. I shoved my inside rein forward, and we suddenly had a small, but correct, shoulder in. We did one more line with me riding like someone who has done this before, and then, we gave her another break.

“She really tells on you when you’re pulling on that rein,” NT joked. Then she asked if there was anything at the canter I wanted to work on specifically, since we didn’t want to do much of it in the heat.

“My transitions suck.” I explained how, in my last real Dressage lesson, May had been completely incapable of picking up the right lead, and that, since then, I have basically settled for letting her throw her head up and then just shuffle her way into the canter. NT made a comment about seeing that in our warmup, and she told me to pretend that I was asking the stifle for the canter.

“Take a deep breath, let it out, swing your outside leg really far back, and ask for the canter.” No… there is no way that is going to work. Hah… hahahahaha.

I picked up the trot to the left, got the connection, started sitting, took a deep breath, let it out, and swung my right leg back. And good Lord, that mare just threw that right hind leg under the body, rocked back, and picked up a canter. It was uphill, it was connected, and it was prompt. I looked up at NT with a MASSIVE grin on my face. We did it one more time, and decided to switch to the right. To the bad direction.

I had a bit more trouble reestablishing the connection on this side after our walk break. She really wanted to throw her shoulders to the right, but I got it. Then I sat, then I took a deep breath, I let it out, I swung my left leg back, and she gave me the best canter transition I have ever gotten. On any horse. We came back down to the trot, I let her stretch, and NT said we should just be done on that. It was a 9 transition, and there was no point to trying to “train” a tired horse to do something it already did great.

Today, I am sore. My abs hurt from all the sitting trot. My inner thighs hurt from all the half halts, and my back muscles hurt from making sure I was sitting as tall and balanced as possible. However, I feel like we are fancy prancing better than ever before!

As for the cambox, the instructions are in French, so I am fumbling my way through learning how to use it. Also, I am learning how to use my Mac at the same time… anyone know how to get a video from iMovie to my iPhone, so that I can put it on instagram??

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05.13.18 Horse Trial – Dressage (and May’s Fan Club)

Let me start my saying, my horse is a magnet for attention. More than once, I found myself surrounded by multiple girls, as they asked questions, petted May, and even gave her kisses. The horse, who is usually so aloof, really loves all this at shows. Go figure.

Our day got off to a bit of a rough start, as a scheduling conflict at the barn meant that we couldn’t get on the road until 9AM, vs. the 8:30AM I had been planning on. Luckily, the show venue was maybe 10 minutes down the road, so we weren’t in danger of missing my 10:06 ride time. I did, however, change into my boots, my hairnet, and my helmet while we drove.

As soon as we got to the venue, I sent my husband off the office to get my number and whatever information he could glean from the staff there. This was the same place we had went to for XC schooling the prior week, but I wasn’t sure where everything was set up for the actual competition. While he was gone, I pulled May off the trailer myself. For some reason, she isn’t a fan of my trainer’s 2+1 trailer, but she was patient as I worked out how to get her off of it myself.

The husband arrived back in time to help me finish tacking up, and then May decided to be a total beast to get on. Now, my husband is not a small man, and May full body shoved him out of the way as I was swinging a leg over… I guess It’s truly time to get serious about the standing at the mounting block thing at home.

I then wandered aimlessly around where SJ and XC were, trying to figure out how one gets to the Dressage arena on the other side of the pond. I finally found someone to ask, and it turns out you had to go down what looked like a private driveway, take a right onto a dirt path past a hot walker, walk up into a random field and around the fence line to the dressage arena. I am not going to lie, being lost like that and on a bit of a time crunch really stressed me out.

Whew! When we finally found the Dressage warm-up, it was broken into two areas: a big grassy field that was mostly flat, and an actual dressage court. I rode around in the field for a while before the Dressage court emptied. Then, I moved to the court. Of course, as soon as I got in there, someone else, let’s call her Competition Crazy (CC), decided she needed to run through her WHOLE test in that little court multiple times in a row. Maybe I am naive, but I feel like there is no scrubbing a test right before you go in. Practice the movements to get your horse as connected and tuned in as possible, and then go into the ring. (more on CC later too)

With a couple of riders left to go, I just let her walk around in the shade for a bit, hoping that would help relieve her of some of our combined tenseness. As I was watching the last rider go before me, a couple of girls came up to pet May. It’s amazing how just talking to people about my pony helps keep my nerves at bay. The rider before me wasn’t ready, so I happily agreed to go a bit early.

I wandered down to the arena and gave the judge and scribe my number. ANNNND they couldn’t find me. They asked for my name, and I gave it. They said my number didn’t match my name… cool. Then I gave them my horse’s name, and they were like “OOOHHHH. We thought YOU were May”. I may be a bit short, a bit round, and quite pale, but I am definitely not May.

We got it sorted out, and I got to trot a bit around the arena before they honked the horn, and we headed down centerline for the first time in 2 years. Below is how it went.

(a copy of the test can be found here, I am just going to give the scores and comments for each movement below)

Movement Scores

  1. 8.0 – No Comment
  2. 8.0 – Nice Energy
  3. 7.5 – Slight Head Tossing
  4. 7.0 – Could Have More Balance
  5. 7.0 – Slight Loss of Bend
  6. 6.5 – Could Have More march
  7. 8.0 – 2-3 jiggy steps, but very nice stretch (This was VERY generous)
  8. 6.0 – Could March More. Slight Tension
  9. 8.0 – No Comment
  10. 7.0 – Could Have Been Cleaner
  11. 6.5 – Losing Bend. Slight Loss of Balance
  12. 7.0 – No Comment
  13. 8.0 – No Comment
  14. 9.0 – No Comment

Collective Marks:

  • Gaits: 7.0
  • Impulsion: 8.0
  • Submission: 8.0
  • Rider: 8.0
  • Overall Comments: Well Matched Pair. Lovely Test. Work on Canter transitions and tension.
  • Final Score: 24.1

So my thoughts? The scoring was CLEARLY generous, but it was equally generous for everyone. I was happy with how May stayed connected and engaged throughout the trot work, and I thought the canter work was a lot less scrambly then the last time we competed. However, the tension in the walk is definitely something we need to work on, as it comes up at home too.

The score was good enough to put us in 4th place out of 19, so that was very encouraging. Either way, we had about 2 hours to cool off. Then it was going to be time for jumping!

Move. Over.

So as May and I have been upping our fitness lately. There is one aspect I have let go. Lateral work.

After getting May’s teeth and joints squared away and getting our fitness back up to a respectable level (still not where I want it, but much closer), I figured it was a good time to see where our lateral work stands. If you read this blog at all last year, you know that, without a jumping saddle, almost all of our lessons were Dressage lessons where there was a strong focus on lateral work. Why? Because as my trainer describes it, May is a body builder… not a ballerina. She needs more yoga before we can achieve real collection.

It makes sense to me, and I did see a lot of progress in her way of going throughout last year. So, I started with the old 40 degree angle, nose to the wall, at the walk exercise.

Dressage Exercixe 1

This one… Black is wall, yellow line is horse (who should be straight) and arrow is direction of travel.

She was really good. She moved off my left leg, held herself mostly straight, and finished the move by straightening out and marching forward through the end of the arena. Awesome. I repeated it a second time with the same results, and then we switched to the other side.

I got nothing. I set her up for the move, closed my outside rein, but my outside (right) leg on, and she threw her hind end through my leg and snapped into a straight line along the rail… No.. not what I asked. I made a small 10M circle,and asked again. Same result. She got a tap with my spur and reluctantly moved her hind end over. Eventually, we mostly got there, but she was still a bit of a pretzel. I didn’t want to drill the move, so I moved on to walking leg yields.

I thought about my trainer’s advice last year. Ride the horse like a table. If you had a table around you, and you picked it up and moved it along the diagonal, without turning, the legs of the table would trace the line your horse’s hooves should follow. It’s a weird visual, but it works for me. Again, I started with having her move off my left leg. We started with the quarter line to the rail, then the center line to the rail, and it was something sort of magical. She kept her body straight, moved at the angle I requested, and I could simply hold the contact with the outside rein. She got a big pat and lots of praise.

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Old media, you can see how much this helped us last year.

Then, I reversed directions and asked for the same from the right leg. Again, I got no response. Cool. I rolled my spur into her, and she moved on her front end. Even more cool. I tried to hold her with my outside rein, but she sucked her neck back, popped her shoulder further to the outside, and twisted her neck to the right. Ugh. Mare. I straightened her out, rolled my spur into her, and asked again. Same response.

Of course, I didn’t have my dressage whip with me (which only really makes her tense and might not have helped anyway), so I reached back and patted her just at the hip. It was meant to be a “hey, you need to move this part too”, and was definitely not hard enough to cause any pain. However, May took serious offense to the whole thing. She flung her head around, threw her body sideways, and gave me a giant huff. Maybe I just surprised her? I have no idea. It mostly seemed to work though, and I was able to get some correct (albeit very shallow) leg yield off my right leg.

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Still pretty though… I gotta fix those hands!

The rest of the ride continued in mostly the same fashion. She moved easily off my left leg and tried to ignore my right side. (This is probably the root of my issue of getting her on the outside rein and was probably exasperated by the wolf tooth) I think the issue is still likely related to some general stiffness issues, so I am adding in some carrot stretches and her Back on Track sheet to see if those help. I am also going to continue with the pony yoga to see if it improves.

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Something like this for our next ride?

I think my next ride (hopefully tonight) will focus on stretchy circles where we leg  yield in and out. I think that will help with the stretching and moving over issues. All the mud probably doesn’t help any stiffness of muscle soreness either. -.- In fact, it is supposed to rain 10 out of the next 15 days. Pretty sure KY is going to float away at this point.

ADDED: Found an awesome resource on some carrot stretch exercises and information: https://vetmed.tennessee.edu/vmc/EquineHospital/Documents/EPR/UTCVM_LACS-EquineCarrotStretches.pdf 

Some Days – We’re a Drama Llama

One thing May has really lacked as we have bumped up her fitness is true connection. Sure, she’ll put her head down and look cute, but the back end wasn’t taking on the workload like it should. Part of this was likely the soreness of the hind end that has since resolved with the injections. My original plan was to do a long and slow walk on Saturday, when the weather was supposed to get up to around 50, and then do real work on Sunday when it was going to be a bit cooler.

Instead, about 40 minutes into our long and slow walk, I realized something. I had no breaks. She wasn’t “running” away with me, but any aids I gave to halt were met with straight up refusal. The head got flung in the air, and she just barreled on. No mare… That’s not how this works. So I spent the next 20 minutes establishing a halt, and I decided that we probably needed a few minutes of actual work.

Might have been cold today. But the sky looked like art. #may #horsesofinstagram

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I hopped into the outdoor arena and began asking her to move off each leg, and I was met with… nothing. I swear some days this horse puts in ear plugs, decides that she knows how to be a trail horse, and that should be her true occupation. Today, however, I had my Dressage whip in my hand. So after she ignored my rather wrong leg aids, I gave her the slightest tap with end of the whip just behind my leg. Cue May flinging herself sideways and throwing her head around like I was beating her to death. The yield got rewarded, and the dramatics got ignored.

After a few more leg yields each way, with less and less drama and definitely no more of the whip, I asked her to step into the trot… And I got “ER MAH GAWD, RUNNING NOW!” I just concentrated on keeping my body still and slowing the front end. Slowly, the weight rocked back, and we finally got some solid work in.

I added in a couple of minutes of canter. (the canter was really nice, and we we were over the dramatics by then.) Then, we went back to walking for another 15 minutes, and we sprinkled in some really nice, soft halts. See the math? Ended up being an hour and a half ride… because she didn’t want to halt.

I did end up getting some (rather poor) media from this. May looks mostly the way she felt, which is a good thing, but GOOD LORD what are my hands doing? Definitely putting more of on emphasis on bending my elbows and riding her up into my hands again. However, I am really happy with how well she is doing with trot poles. This has to be the clearest point of improvement for her after injections. Before, she would try to stuff an extra step into the poles or even just knock them around. Now, she is properly pushing through them, even when she comes in under powered.

Does your horse ever have days where they prefer to be in charge?

Thankful Thursday

Amidst all the driving back and forth to the barn, I have had an opportunity to reflect on what I am more thankful for in my riding career. However, the thing I am most thankful for, is the mare that turned out to be much more than she was ever supposed to be.

I have talked a lot in the past about how May was a complete impulse buy. You can read the full story here: A May As Well Purchase However, I am not really sure I ever explained what I was expecting. Originally, when I bought her home, we joked that I had overpaid for her. After all, she couldn’t even do a 20M circle before she popped her shoulder and ran in the opposite direction, a canter took nearly 20 steps of trot to pick up, and I quickly learned that she had never seen a gymnastic.

To be honest, my original thought for buying her was that, if she didn’t work out, I could recoup most of my money and just sell her as a trail horse. She was sane, and sensible, and had color. All the things trail people want. Right? I mean, she could comfortable carry a larger rider for miles without discomfort. Then, we went to our first CT. It was a W/T Dressage Test and 18″ stadium round.

And we had SO MUCH FUN. She was a champion, and I finished with a giant smile on my face. I was hooked on competing this horse, and I think the man in this situation finally understood what it was all about. She never was supposed to be as cool as she is, but gosh… she is really cool…

 

I think she has turned out to be really cool… And I can’t wait to see what more she has to show me.

You Know Nothing, Adult Amateur.

The wisdom of ignorance is a ridiculously important part of doing this thing we call “learning to ride”. I think many of us that rode as kids can think of a time when we really felt like we knew how to ride… like if we had the right horse and enough money of COURSE we could make it to Rolex or the Olympics or wherever. Then, we get a bit older. We get introduced to the “greats”. We read books, we watch clinicians, we LEARN. And somehow, in learning, we learn how little we do know.

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Recently, I was reading one of my favorite blogs. I real OG in my book. A Enter Spooking (If you EVER had a clinic in KY, I need to be there.)

I am not a Dressage rider. My only real Dressage training has come from Eventing riders and that only began in late 2015. During my first Dressage lesson, the trainer asked me to ride the horse into the contact, and I couldn’t do it properly. It was the first day in many days in which Dressage makes me feel like a total fool.

However, I had felt like I had started to grasp how this whole Dressage thing works, at least on a basic level. Then Megan makes a comment about how “the rider should kneel into their thigh”. What…. WHAT? I stopped. I blinked. I read it again. Dressage riders should not sit on their butts. They should kneel into their thighs. Oh… Oh well… That actually makes a ton of sense. So now I was staring at my screen, and I realized that I didn’t even know how to properly sit in a saddle, much less ride in one.

sunset-trot

But riders do not let our inability to do something stop us from trying. The first time you sat in a saddle, I bet that you couldn’t even make the old schoolie trot… or even turn. The first time you jumped, you probably had no idea where your horse would takeoff. And the first time you went a trail ride, I bet you had no idea how to get your horse through that one damn puddle. However, you worked at it. You read books, you tried different things, you sought instruction, and you got better.

Each time we peel back another layer of the “riding” onion, we realized another skill (or set of skills) we do not know. But now, we have something that we know we can learn to make us better. So we try, and we get better, and we master more skills… and learn how much more we don’t know and can’t do. 🙂

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Walk the Walk

Sunday the sun rose and it was… a livable 27 degrees… as a high. Oh well. It was good enough to get to the barn. I had plan for a w/t and maybe even c hack. I was going to focus on quiet aids and a relaxed horse. I even put on my Dressage saddle and tall boots. I was ready. May greeted me with bright eyes and looked as ready for me to get some work done.

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Kind of Like This 🙂

Then I walked into the indoor. It was a bit colder in there. No worries. As I always try to do in winter, I hand walked May around the indoor a bit. I always feel like it is a nice opportunity for her back to warm up before I hop on up there. Then I felt it, under my feet. Frozen footing. Then super soft and deep footing, then frozen footing, and back and forth. Well, there goes my plan.

So what to do? With 3 inches of snow on the ground over at least an inch of ice, going for a trail ride around the property (my other go to) was also out of the question. I started off just walking around the indoor on a loose rein, but after 20 or so minutes of that, I needed to do something else for my sanity.

downhill
Let’s Face It… This is What We Want to be Doing

So we started working on some lateral work. I pushed May’s shoulder away for a few steps, then straight a few steps, then the other direction for a few steps. At first, she totally resisted, as this isn’t something we have worked on since November. Then she started to get loose, and I could tell the pony yoga was working. So I transitioned into moving the haunches away. The same pattern persisted: resistance to enjoyment.

Next, I reiterated the idea of moving away from my leg laterally in both directions in a super controlled way. We turned down the centerline and went 4 steps to the left, then straight, then 4 steps right, all the way down the centerline. It keeps her paying attention and holding herself, so she doesn’t just throw her shoulder over and fall out through my outside aides. Once I felt that we had warmed up properly, I asked for some more difficult stuff.

too-cute
Ah! Yeah! Movin’ That Body!

First, we worked on haunches in. All I looked for was 2 steps of proper haunches in before I moved the shoulder back into line with the haunches and gave huge pats. We ended with no sweat, but definitely a warmed and more stretched out horse. How are you dealing with this RIDICULOUS COLD?

Life Update! (and Lesson Recap)

It has been almost exactly one week since we signed the papers, and we are officially all moved into our new house! It is substantially larger than our old, little apartment, so it is empty and a bit bare, but oh so perfect. We’re staying in saving money mode so that we can afford to buy some furniture for it, but we are in no rush. My plan is to fill the place with things I love for the people I love. It also needs paint… I’ll include a few pictures below but basically every main living space is either lime green or yellow with gray molding.

Supervising Her Kingdom
Hello Lime Green
Hello yellow! (and boxes… so many boxes)

What does this mean for May? Well it has meant a lighter riding schedule lately. Moving a house does not leave a ton of time for barn time. This weekend was spent gathering essentials, unpacking boxes, hanging curtains, cleaning our old apartment, and actually taking some time to spend with my husband and dog. (Also, it was in the 30’s this weekend, so I wasn’t so heartbroken about not being able to get to the barn. May LOVES the cold weather, but I am just not mentally prepared yet).

It also means that I can start actively looking for a saddle again. Stubben is having a sale on November 1st, so I am going to see if there is anything that fits my (very specific and rare) criteria. If not, there is a local saddle that I might get to try, and I spotted a saddle at a popular consignment shop that might work as well. The journey definitely continues!

I did, however, get a lesson in during one of the warm days last week. A Dressage lesson (again). However, we worked a lot on the flexibility of May’s hind end and her willingness to isolate that part of her body. We started with baby haunches in at the walk down the straight line. Moving the haunches, then the shoulder when she straightened out, then the haunches again.

haunches-in
Picture from This Website

It’s definitely hard for May and not something she can hold, but this alternating between moving the haunches and moving the shoulders has made a big difference for her. Originally, she would snap straight as soon as I asked the shoulders to move straight, and if there is one thing I know about May, it is that I cannot simply shove the hind end over again when this happens. So how do I help her understand what I am asking? By asking for more isolation in a way she does easily understand. And guess what, she has started holding the haunches in without an argument or meltdown. Good mare!

When we moved into trot, it was more of the same with some leg yields. At this point, May simply moving off my leg is not quite the name of the game. I need to be able to dictate depth, speed, and trajectory of the leg yields. The best way to do this? At the sitting trot and using my seat. Now, sitting the trot on a horse like May is SEVERELY different from sitting on a thoroughbred. I can use the weight of my seat to encourage her to loosen her back muscles and as this looseness happens, she gets more swing (and dare I say even a bit of suspension) in her step. It’s a bit of an odd sensation, going from sitting on something rigid, to encouraging that rigid thing to move, but it clearly helps. It also meant I spent most of my lesson in a sitting trot and was rightfully nearly crippled the next day from soreness. Oh well, something to work on during No Stirrup November! (I have like no media, but this series of Laura Graves doing clinics on specific movements is amazing stuff)

Once May was swinging and in tuned to my leg aids at the trot, it was time to move into the canter… and combine the walk work and the trot work into one exercise. Now, May has developed a really wonderful canter leg yield in both directions off of both legs, so we were back to this concept of isolating parts of her body to improve flexibility and engagement. Great. So how’d we do it?

We started on a 15 meter circle at the canter. We then asked the haunches to come into the circle, while the shoulders stayed on the 15 meters. We rode the haunches in for 3 – 4 strides, then asked the shoulders to come in and join the haunches on the smaller circle. Then, we leg yielded out a couple of meters to reestablish the bend and the outside aids. And May did amazing. She immediately picked up on the idea of moving her haunches over, easily swung her shoulder in to match it, and obediently leg yielded back out to the desired circle size. It was awesome, but definitely exhausting for her, so we only did it a couple of times each direction before calling it a success. Maybe this means I will eventually have enough control of the hind end to do lead changes? One can only dream…

A Whole Lot of… Not Horse Stuff

First off, I want to apologize to everyone for the sparseness of this blog. Life has been crazy and riding has been mostly boring (which I have learned can be a totally good thing!)

Let’s start with life. I got married!! (Special thanks to Tav Images Photography for taking such WONDERFUL photos!)

My wedding was everything I could have asked for. I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun! And I got to celebrate with all my family and friends, including those I hadn’t been able to see since we moved to KY. Overall, just amazing.

Then, we were supposed to take a break in life. Instead, we found a house and fell in love and are under contract. Keep your fingers crossed as it is UNDER 15 MINUTES FROM THE BARN! My current drive is between 35 – 45 minutes, so being that close would really be life changing for us.

As for May, she is doing great. Her mohawk is slowly growing back out, so I will have to pull it soon to make it look like a mane again. For the winter, I am sure she will appreciate having some mane back. She also got front shoes put back on. the feet looked great, but with the ground as hard and it has been, she was sore even in boots in a freshly dragged arena. It just wasn’t fair to ask her to continue to be uncomfortable.

The craziness of what is going on right now has forced most of our rides to be short, and occasionally tackless:

STILL don’t have a jumping saddle. Fat Buckskin in a Little Suit can commiserate with me on this one. If I needed a 17.5″ saddle or a medium tree, we would be in business, but apparently, there are very few 18″ wide tree saddles around? So odd to me. I have also found that what a lot of brands consider “wide” wouldn’t even fit an average warmblood. And anyone that has been under contract on a house before knows that throwing thousands of dollars around on something like a saddle isn’t something banks love to see.

As a result, I am sitting tight and waiting. I had a WONDERFUL experience with a Stubben rep, and I would LOVE to buy the saddle she suggested. However, I just do not think that will be in the cards. At a purchase price of nearly $5K, it just seems so irresponsible. Especially when you consider that used Stubbens (other than the monoflaps), only really go for $1,500 – $2,000 MAX. Oh well, I will find a solution. It just might take a while.


In my Dressage boredom, however, I did end up jumping some 1′ jumps the other day. They were set TINY for a VERY GREEN horse, and I figured I could do that much in my Dressage saddle. May could care less and just kind of hefted her body of them. I think she is bored too.


We have been having some lessons but, between my crazy schedule and my trainer’s show schedule, they have been few and far between. Maybe a total of a dozen this whole summer? Kind of a bummer, but we manage to make good strides in between lessons. Canter leg yields? We have them now in both directions, which is a huge accomplishment. Her canter feels so much better that I really cannot wait to see what she feels like over fences. Real fences. That require jumping. Not 1′ fences that she just steps over while I enthusiastically throw myself into a half seat.

We are having some serious difficulty with installing the haunches in. We get the shape all great through a small circle, but as soon as I ask May to hold the shape on the straight line, she snaps straight. We didn’t get to work on it much in our last lesson, other than just introducing the idea, and we haven’t had a lesson since (it’s been about 3 weeks). Hopefully, I will have more of an update after the next lesson.

May also went through an interesting period of being tense. Every ride was an argument. I was told she was being “difficult” and just needed to “get over it.” Now, this horse can need a dose of “I am more stubborn than you are, and I won’t give up until you at least try to give me what I am asking for,” but that is typically when we are doing something new or she has had an extended period of time off. This wasn’t either of those things. It was ENTIRE RIDES of her flipping me the hoof, dropping on her forehand, and barreling away. Not only that, but I wasn’t able to get a lesson during the entire period of this happening.

So I had to find my own solution. I decided to spend a few rides doing nothing but hacking on a loose rein. There will be no picking up or putting her together. There will be no insistence on perfect transitions, even if it means doing them 20 times. There will be no leg yield, haunches in, shoulders in, spiral in, spiral out, leg yields at an angle, etc etc etc. There will just be calm relaxed hacking on a loose rein, where calmness, rhythm, and obedience are all rewarded and bad behavior is simply ignored.

And it worked (video below, before shoes got put back on). I got a horse back that is far more rideable and happier in her work. It is so easy to drill a horse like May. She is so smart and picks up on concepts so quickly. However, she can get so concerned about what she thinks she should be doing, that she gets frustrated. It’s a delicate balance, but one I feel we are developing a system to deal with. Of course, adding jumping back in would probably help too. 🙂

#ponyspamsunday courtesy of lazy, low key hacks #horsesofinstagram #draftcross #palomino #may

A post shared by Emily (@may_as_well_event) on

So TL/DR? All is crazy. All is inconsistent. All is well. Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes well with our house, and maybe I will find a jump saddle by Christmas.

05.11.17 – Dressage Lesson: Sideways is the New Straight

During my first dressage lesson with my new trainer (NT), she was entirely focused on creating a steadier contact in the bridle. We worked on making the aids super clear and getting the back end properly engaged. That lesson was about 6 months ago. I am happy to report that May has become much steadier and more reliable in the contact.

As a result, it is time to move onto new things! More specifically, NT wanted us to work on gaining mobility through May’s body. In her words, “It’s a lot of horse, and you need to be able to move it with not a lot of work.” Fair enough.

The first exercise was to pick up a trot and trot down the rail in a straight line. However, I would want her head facing towards the wall and her hindquarters off the wall at about a 40 degree angle, like the below. (May is the yellow line)

Dressage Exercixe 1

It seems simple enough. The issue? As soon as I put my leg on, May threw her whole body weight into my leg. Making us look more like this:

Dressage Fail

My reaction? I immediately start messing with my hands, get tense in my seat, and take my leg off. This is also known as doing everything wrong at once, and as a result, causing additional problems like our inability to even travel in the proper direction… along the wall. This is where my trainer gets tough. To paraphrase her instructions, “if she resists your leg, you need to keep your leg, and possibly even get tougher WITH. YOUR. LEG. until she yields. Then release the pressure. DO. NOT. release that pressure until she gives and don’t block the rest of her body with her hands and seat.”

Well Yes. Ok. Let’s do that. Except at the walk. We started at the walk to give us enough time to get the desired response as well as to help give me the opportunity to property time the aids so they would be clearest to May. (I was trying to signal the outside hing leg to step over as it came off the ground.) After having a discussion with May about how she needs to yield to my leg. No it doesn’t mean throw your body into my leg. No its doesn’t mean faster. No it doesn’t mean backwards. She finally stepped over with her hind leg away from my leg.

img_3855
Shenanigans from another time 🙂

May got big pats and all pressure released. Then, we tried again at the trot. She had a much more appropriate reaction to my leg, and we were able to tale a few steps along the wall at an angle, straighten out, then move back to the angle again without any fuss. We tried it the other direction and has similarly good results. Smart Mare!

Once finishing the exercise, I noticed an immediate, positive shift in May’s response to my leg. Instead of nagging with my inside leg to get some resemblance of bend, I was able to just close my leg and she moved around it. Brilliant!

The next exercise took things a bit further… and into the canter. Canter leg yields have been notoriously hard for May and I. I find she just runs through my hand and half halts instead of actually moving over. This drill required us to start against the rail and leg yield off the rail to the center of the arena. NT asked me to keep her in a slight counter bend and allow her to lead with the shoulder. It looked like this:

Canter Leg Yield

Our first attempt was off of the left lead and was abysmal. May threw her head up, ran through my hand, and on the half halt, broke into the trot. UGLY. My trainer asked me to try again, but this time to really open the left (inside) rein to help her understand where her shoulder should go. It couldn’t be that simple right? It couldn’t be that my countless failures at leg yield at the canter could be solved by opening my rein.

It was… it was that simple though. We came around the corner, got straight, got the slight counter bend, and leg yielded over. We then came across and did it again. No issues. Well then, okay.

img_4895

We then switched to the right, which is May’s more difficult direction. so difficult in fact, that we didn’t even get a proper canter transition. NT wasn’t going to allow us to get away with that, so we came back onto a 20 meter circle and did a few more T/C transitions until they were clean and reliable. Then we tried the leg yielding. May leg yielded… she also threw her head around in the air as much as possible in protest. NT just had me keep my hands quiet and to continue to ask her to move over. Right now, we were just focusing on getting the correct response to my leg.

All in all, it was a great lesson that left both May and I tired and sweating. It also gave us a lot to work towards. Unfortunately, she came out a bit footsore in the left front on Sunday, so we ended up doing hill work on some softer footing than our current arena. (Due to copious amounts of heavy rain early in the month, our outdoor is quite hard now that it has dried out). However, the fields are quite nice right now, and in her hoof boots, May was comfortable.

Saddle Search Update:

The saddle fitter came back and recommended a Black Country, since I told her in no uncertain terms that $5K was out of my budget. She told me specifically that I need to make sure any saddle I try has upswept panels in order for an 18″ to fit on May’s back. This is actually a great article (for arabians but on the issues I am having).

I have a used Black Country I may be interested in, but I am taking a Duett Bravo jumping saddle on trial to check it out. Thus far, the team at Duett has been helpful and responsive, so here is hoping it works out!