The Ever-rising Bar

I rode with Gary Rockwell this weekend, in a clinic organized by Gray Horse Dressage.  He is one of a handful of 5* dressage judges in the USA and he judged at the Rio Olympics this year.  He has an excellent eye, notices everything and is very exacting.

I had good rides, and still have a long way to go, and while I get frustrated with myself and my seeming lack of progress, I was able to remind myself that I do keep raising the bar.  My hands are still terrible in the posting trot, and still need work sometimes always.  I still let my reins get too long, I’m too active in my seat…but, with all my faults, I am improving, at a glacial pace, but still…improving.  My horses are happy and I do enjoy it.

Gary said “She is very agreeable” about Bali, and that is so true, and he also said that he thinks there is a lot nicer movement in there, I just need to learn to ride to allow it.  Oh…and I ride half-passes very well, there was definitely lots of encouragement.

Some themes that were consistent throughout the clinic.

  • Recovery – Have a plan to recover, no matter what goes wrong, don’t go flying off, taking too long to recover.
    • If your horse falls out of the canter and you have been doing walk/canter work, don’t let him trot around and pick up the canter from the trot, immediately walk and from a good walk, do a correct canter depart.
    • If your horse is spooky in one area of the ring, catch it in the first step, have a plan to catch that at the first step, not 5 steps into the spook.
  • Straightness – overall, Gary wanted to see the horses straight
    • There is no bend in a canter depart.
    • Not too much bend in shoulder in
    • Keep the horse straight on straight lines.
  • Accurate lines – This was part of the exacting standards he holds.  Look where you are going and stay accurate.
  • Hands – the outside hand needs to allow the bend, the rider needs to really feel the connection in the outside rein.

Then I have my notes on various elements that showed up in rides.

  • Tempis – ah…to be riding these…someday!
    • stay centered in the saddle
    • just use your legs, not swinging your whole body, just squeeze at the girth with the inside leg to change.
    • Look up and where you are going.
    • Don’t be in a hurry, get the horse straight on the diagonal before starting.
    • Work on straightness in canter departs.
    • Counting – on the two’s he said 1 -2 – and, 1 – 2 – and,  with the AND being a half beat.
  • Spooking
    • When the horse is spooking at something on the left, when going right, think leg yield left, to the spooky thing, don’t let him spin left, and don’t let him look left, keep turning right.
    • Look ahead and soften your reins.
    • When riding towards something the horse is scared of, you need to give up some control, loosen the rein down the shoulder to still influence.  You cannot be facing something they are scared of and hold too tight a contact, the horse may rear.
    • Correct after the FIRST step, immediately, not halfway across the arena.
    • Do not turn them toward the spooky thing, it will escalate.
    • As long as you are moving, you are safer.
    • When on a trained horse, if one area is spooky, when you give up some control with the reins, the horse is trained to stretch down and relax, and that can help reset them.
  • Half pass – the exercise collects, don’t try to collect before the movement begins, think forward.

My observation…changes are hard.  Even the advanced horse and rider pairs had to return to basics for the changes.

On riding through the corners with proper bend. “The rider ends the corner, not the wall.”

On using your leg for forward – “One bang, not 1000 tickles”.

Exacting? If the walk/canter transition has a single trot step, do NOT canter. Walk and repeat the transition until it is crisp.  Everything is precise, don’t accept mediocrity.  Just stay correct and repeat until you get the correct response, and then reward.

There was a lot of encouragement to all the riders to use their voice to praise, I think a lot of riders are so worried they’ll forget and use our voice in a show that we are too silent, I know I often say too much so I’m often the opposite in lessons.

If the opportunity arises, I will definitely try to ride with Gary again.  Excellent clinician, for riders and auditors alike.

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Dressage clinic with Lisa Wilcox-Day 1, part 2

Day 1 part 1

Since I had gotten to watch almost 2 rides before mine, I had mentally prepared myself for the likely expectations.

As with many clinicians, the first day is spent on basics, usually with the clinician’s methods of getting the desired result.

The way Lisa wanted the rein action on half halts and flexion was different than I have learned.  In my first ride, I was floundering a bit on exactly what she wanted.  She did demonstrate with her own hands, and I was getting close, but it felt awkward and like too much work, so I started playing around with slightly different ways to move my forearms to get what it looked like was wanted, got the desired effect, and did not feel like I was working too hard.  Then, the rider after me, she got on the horse and I was able to watch what she was doing, and I had a better picture in my mind.

I have always learned to ask for flexion at the poll with a turning of my thumb out, and this works, but when you take the entire hand in towards the wither, a tiny bit of a diagonal movement is how it felt and looked to me, and hold the outside rein in a position that allows the bend, you get the flexion, and not too much tilting of the nose.  This also made the entire under-neck relax.

This first day, with the rides I saw, Lisa wanted close hand position, not wide.  I have been riding a few young horses lately and have been using a wider, opening rein a lot, and perhaps more than I should on Bali. All the rides I watched Saturday were on either schoolmasters or on horses in a double bridle, so this seemed an appropriate expectation.

In the early part of the lesson, my pesky hands were called out.  Unfortunately, instructors almost all want to talk about the hands, and my engineering brain needs to have the elbows and shoulders following as the issue, because hands can only rotate on the wrist and when told to hold them still, they get WORSE because I lock my shoulders and elbows, but I now can tell myself to tune out  hands and just replace that with “bend my elbows”, and then it gets better.

A tiny video clip.

I also get too loose in my torso, I follow too much.  Andrew worked with me some on this with Neuf at the walk.  I need to keep my core muscles more engaged.  At the trot and canter this almost feels like I am being too hard on the horse’s back, but it does not seem to look like it, and Bali is fine with it…this self perception is why we all need lessons!

Here is some canter work.  There is a bit of walk initially.  Dressage is boring to watch.

Not sure if that video is embedding.  I am writing this on a tiny tablet, while riding in the car.

Lisa also had a lot of lifting the entire leg up and off the horse. Both at the same time.  On a normal width horse, this is not usually a problem, but on Bali, that is close to hip cramping.  This lifting the leg up and away serves two purposes, one to not block the horse with your thighs, and also to get more forward.  If you get the horse off your leg, they will go forward when you take your leg off, and you do not need to actually kick.  On Bali, this will be a stretch goal.  Actually, I am working on not working so hard when I ride.  Let my horse do a little more of the forward part at least!

I may come up with more when I re-watch the video clips, but I’ll include that in Day 2 write ups.

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Dressage clinic with Lisa Wilcox-day 1, part 1

I took the opportunity to ride with Lisa Wilcox, an accomplished dressage rider and competitor.  She has represented the USA on the USET for Dressage, on medal winning teams, at both Olympic games and the World Equestrian Games.

I took Bali, as she is my dressage horose and has been getting neglected because Neuf has been getting all the time in lessons and shows.  But, I have been continuing her training and conditioning, so she getting stronger.  I am working on all the 4th level elements with her, and still hope to earn my USDF Silver rider medal eventually.

On to the clinic notes.  I noted the age and type of horse in my notes because it puts them in context.

When I arrived, someone was riding a 7 year old Hanoverian, and I took notes.  This horse was stong and reminded me a bit of Neuf.  Lately Neuf has been balking with me, and this horse was balking, so this was good stuff.

  • Correct before the balk – with leg
  • Don’t throw away the contact when using leg
  • This rider had a double, so was asked to not use curb, but bridoon.
  • Once it was fixed in the walk, went to sitting trot.  Keep even contact , don’t let the reins get too long.
  • The horse has taught the rider to give away the connection (I am guilty of this!)
  • Too much time with voice – not physical aids…I get chastised for talking to Neuf too much.
  • For naughty/not forward and not turning, Lisa had the rider use a shoulder tap on the outside, with the whip.
  • Using too much open/inside rein causes locking of the neck
  • When patting the neck, one pat on the neck on the inside, keep outside rein contact.  One pat is enough.
  • Cannot fix balking issues with a curb.
  • Have to finish when a horse gets stuck.
  • Lisa did not like allowing the horse to rub bridle on his leg at end.

The next rider was on a 23 year old Arabian/Oldenburg cross, an Intermediate level eventer who is switching to straight dressage.

  • Long leg, soft eyes
  • inside rein at the wither, outside rein on the mane and more forward of the inside, riding the neck in. She has you use shoulder rotation to accomplish this somewhat.
  • attemtping to eliminate and loosen the underneck.
  • Lisa demonstrates half halt as using aids coming closer together, this was in my lesson too, but I was not fully clear on what she wanted until after I watched her riding a horse after I had ridden.  More on that later.
  • When the rider accomplished the aids, the horse’s underneck muscle was completely relaxed and the topline muscles were engaged and working. This was a dramatic change from the ground.

Then I left to go get Bali ready for my ride.  This is getting long, so will require multiple posts.

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From Fear to Shaky Confidence

This morning I woke up feeling pretty good about the show. I headed over to the horse center and took Neuf for a walk around the jump arena, and then lunged him in the warm up arena before it was set up. He was calm, called for his friends a couple of times, but no naughtiness.

When his friend came down to the warm-up area as we were about to leave, he got a tiny bit upset, so I went back and lunged him again for a few minutes, just a little each way and he was relaxed.

He called again as we left, but it was ok. I put him away, and then came back to do our course walk. Then the nerves hit. I thought back to the recommendation to just let it out, so had a little bit of a cry, and it worked. Yes, I felt a little silly having a bit of a cry, but I assured Martin that I’d be fine, I was just getting it out. And, then I saddled Neuf and Martin got him bridled for me as I put my boots on.

I mounted there, and felt pretty good. I was able to ignore it when Neuf called a bit, and he just kept walking. Martin wants me to be quiet when I am nervous, NOT talk to my horse because he hears the tone of voice, so I’m working on that.

We warmed up nicely, Neuf was not as forward as yesterday and I wasn’t quite seeing all my distances as well, but it was ok. I felt good and we went into the ring and did our course. I think the first round was clear, but I had a couple of time faults, I got jumped loose at fence one, completely dropped my reins, so had to recover them and kick on to the next line. I was getting jumped loose at half the oxers, but by the end, I had found my center and was staying with the giant jump. When I’d miss, Neuf would still power over, and I needed to figure out how to stay centered with him. He was a good boy and did not buck when I bumped him with the spur when jumped loose, it helps that I have round nubs, no sharp edges.

Then, the second round I missed and pulled a rail, but I felt really good. It turned out there were no clears, so I went back to do a jump off and ended up with a blue ribbon! Woot! I felt pretty good taking some of the inside turns and asking for more forward.

Neuf was really good this weekend. I am glad that I took the cautious plan and excused myself from the ring yesterday, because that was a neutral experience. Nothing bad had happened when I stopped, and I’d just had good.

Overall, it was a good weekend. Planning on exhaling and taking a deep breath after each line really helped too. I am starting to feel like I have time in between fences. I am on a good path and just need to keep taking the baby steps.

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Facing the Fear Factor: Showing!

So I haven’t been keeping my blog up!

New Year’s weekend, I went to Southern Pines, NC.  I had Neuf and after posting my year end ride stats, promptly started the year off with two falls in two days!  Fall #1 was not sticking the landing when Neuf launched over a culvert on a trail.  No big deal and since it wasn’t naughtiness, it did not seem to impact my growing confidence.  Then on Jan 2, after a superb, 2 hour trail ride with 10 or so people, Neuf was great, I went towards the mounting block to dismount.  My friend Allie’s Jack Russel Terrier is trained to jump up with her on her horses from the mounting block and he saw a horse approaching the mounting block and thought I’d take him for a ride.  Allie called him, he jumped down, but Neuf was convinced that he was going to jump on him, went straight up in the air, spun 180 degrees and double barrel kicked towards the mounting block.  I saw the dog jump, then I was studying the Japanese Maple tree that I was using to soften my landing.

I landed on my feet in both cases, then fell back onto my butt.  No bruising from either, other than the ego bruise that comes with a 50% fall rate for the first two days of 2016.

Neuf went back to Martin’s in February.  They are at an indoor and he has been going to some shows.  He went to Lexington, VA  and Swan Lake in PA for jumpers in February.  The second time at Swan Lake I rode him!  The first round was shaky, the second better, and the third, one time fault, but a really nice round.

Then we are to today, the jumpers at the Virginia Horse Center, Day 1.

We arrived too late on Friday to go to the jumper ring, the jumpers are being held outside in the Northern Arena, so no schooling in the ring the night before. Due to the snow, the horses had not gone out the night before, so Neuf had two nights inside.

We got to the show grounds early, and handwalked around the arena, but the jumps were not up, they were propped, poles up for dragging and so no showing the fences to Neuf. We went back to the barns, and did the office, the classes I had wanted weren’t online, so I had to do the form for scratch/adds, then we tacked up and I walked him over to the warm up. Martin gave me a leg up and walked me around the warm up area twice. I was a little apprehensive, but Neuf was good and I was able to get his focus. With Martin coaching me (serious hand holding this morning) I got Neuf going very nicely. He was forward being outside, and I was ok with the forward! This was big.

We finished warming up and I headed into the ring. Fence one was an oxer! But, that forward was there, and Neuf was jumping great, so it was good. Left turn to a bending line for 2 and 3, two verticals, then another line, I forgot to count the strides, but I called it the Maryland line (MD State flag colors), that was 4 and 5, then around to the right for 6a/b and 7, and it was 5 strides between 6b and 7…and we did a smooth FOUR. Like holy shit, we were going at a decent clip! Then, Neuf listened, came back to me for a tight turn to 8 and I almost got lost for another tight turn left to 9, the last fence. I took one rail, I don’t remember which one. I’ll have to watch the video again to see.

So, the second round was going to be great. Then Tori walked past the ring, just as I’d walked in, and she had Neuf’s stablemate. If she’d been 20 seconds later, it would have been fine, we’d have been going and focused, but I let Neuf getting distracted, distract me, and I chickened out. I never even cantered and excused myself.

I’m ok with that decision. I’ve been following a lot the advice in that book on regaining confidence and not overfacing yourself is one of the key tenets. And, I have to say it is working.

Tomorrow I go in the ring again and I know it will be better.

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2015 Wrap Up

2015 has been a much better year than 2014 was, I had one fall, instead of four.

The annual summary for riding at TerraOasis farm. After 10 years of tracking rides, I’m up to 4687 rides. The Riders at TerraOasis

Rider Total Rides Average Rides per Week
Mel 435 8.37
Suzy 85 1.63
Cameron 42 .81
Marit 135 2.60
Patrick 2 N/A

*Weekly averages are using the number of weeks riding in the barn. There were a handful of guests and helpers who rode as well, but I only tallied them into the horse counts. For 2015 on the horses, we had almost the full year with everyone.  Sadly we had to put Harold down in December.  And Zen rung in 2015 with a nasty hock infection that took him out of action for almost 3 months.

Horse Total Rides Average Rides per Week
Bali 225 4.33
Sparkle 81 1.56
Neuf 224 4.5
Harry 70 1.67
Zen* 48 1.20
Ernie 138 2.65

I am writing this from Southern Pines, NC again for a few days of riding around the Walthour-Moss Foundation and taking lessons.  I brought Neuf this year.

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Facing the Fear Factor: Developing positive memories

I have not been following the book’s protocol completely, even though it says that is the way to the best results, largely because while I’m afraid in a few situations, I’m not a fearful rider about almost everything. But I’m following the ones that I think will help me get rid of my fears. I DO get off when I am feeling worried. that seems to be helping.

I am also practicing visualizing fun, relaxing rides.

Jumping is getting fun again, Neuf is really fun to jump, so I jump him a couple of times a week. I’m mostly doing gymnastics, which are good for developing confidence. I’ve also done a couple of jumping lessons with Bali, and that is helping me feel more confident with the jumping. I’m remembering that I used to love jumping and was actually a lot better at that than dressage.

I am not scared on Neuf, but I’m also not completely relaxed yet. Yesterday, the plan was to have a jumping lesson, and if he was good, a short work today followed by a long walk. The plan had to be changed. There was crazy amounts of traffic on the road outside the barn, since the main road was closed for the Christmas parade in town, people were cutting through on the gravel roads, but that wasn’t why we changed plans. While warming up, we were doing fine with all the rattling traffic, but Neuf went on high alert and it sounded a little like a flock of Canada geese taking off, I stopped, listened and realized that a hunt was close by, and I decided to get off. That was a good decision. The first rider came galloping by moments later, followed by three more. The hounds were in full cry, all the horses in the fields were going nuts, galloping all over, we all just went into the barn. Neuf did pretty good, but he was up. I stuck him in his stall for a few minutes, then Martin thought the hunt was gone, but I decided that I’d rather Martin ride. So he did. And it was good for Neuf…the hunt wasn’t done so he was very nervous, had a few moments of naughtiness, nothing extreme, but given my working on only positive experiences, I was glad that I was not on him. While I can ride that, right now, I still am not confident in it, I would have not been the calm rider Neuf needed.

So, today we had our jumping lesson. It was good. Neuf was forward, which I felt good about. He did pull his evasive spin maneuver, with a buck, started to bolt when the other rider was approaching from the other way, and I rode through that ok. I wasn’t pleased with it, but I wasn’t scared I was going to fall. I circled, scolded him and went right back to our jumping line. The jumping was good. I had one line that was just right…unfortunately I wasn’t able to get that good every time and I had a couple of bad misses, but Neuf was a good boy and packed me over those too. The rest were all decent. We ended up going around the little course twice in a row so I’d start to relax into it.

I still am far from cantering relaxed out on our trails, but I am getting much better about being happy and relaxed a lot more often.

Each time Neuf is naughty and I’m ok, it also helps me regain my confidence.

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