Monday, August 10, 2009

Magic trainer dust

I should have posted this last night, but I got home pretty late and was too tired. Besides, today I had more video fun with iMovie, so you get to enjoy a movie with transitions and everything!

I had a FABULOUS jumping lesson with Paige over at Coraggio Hunter/Jumpers. I swear, she had magic trainer dust or something. Although you can tell from the video that we're still getting some big spots, I felt like we were really much more together than ever before and that I rode him better to the fences. Big progress.

The first thing I really took away from the lesson are that I have got to WAIT for Saga to get to the fence. Galloping the last two stride will not help (funny how it always seemed to work that way with Cash!) Saga has a big rhythmic stride, and he can get me to the fence if I just wait for it to come to me. Easier said than done, because my instinct is to say GO!!!, but I will learn.

The other huge, huge thing that I took away is that I need to get my leg more forward over fences. I've always had a problem with it slipping back, and Paige had me bring it forward almost to the point where I felt chair-seated. But once I was in two-point, I felt like it didn't move much at all. And watching the video slow-motion, there were only a few fences where it really budged. So: must keep leg more forward. How often do you hear that?

Other things of note: I kept overshooting the turn coming around to the green plank fence (you can see it in the video). I think part of it is that he tends to fall out on his left shoulder despite the best efforts of my outside leg and rein, and part of it is that while I look at the fence from quite early in the game, I then look away, and then I lose my line. It's not like I'm going to run into anything in the arena, so I need to look at my fences early and keep looking at them. I did that on one of the left-hand turns (not on the video) and it was really nice.

I asked Paige about my position - I feel that my lower back is really arched over fences. She said that, coming from the H/J world, she thinks it's fine but she can see where it would be tiring on a 5 minute XC course. So I'll need to find a happy balance, but I think that will come when I'm doing more jumping.

Also regarding position - I watched some of the videos in super slow-motion, and I can see that I'm sometimes jumping ahead (usually when we take a big spot) and I'm somewhere up on his neck, and also that I pop up too fast on the landing side. There are a couple of fences where my butt hits the saddle and his hind legs are barely over the pole. I need to talk to Paige about this, but I think I need to focus on staying further bent at the hip for the entire landing stride rather than just until the front feet hit the ground. If I don't, we're going to pull rails like nobody's business.

Oh, and yes, my Reactor Panel dressage saddle is quite comfy for jumping, thank you very much!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Brilliant, I am

Today, I am brilliant. Not because I had a particularly brilliant ride (it was good but not spectacular), but because I have finally figured out how to use iMovie to edit and piece together video clips. So instead of posting loooong clips of relatively useless stuff, or a bunch of super-short clips of occasionally decent stuff, I can actually make a short movie that shows the good stuff (and the bad stuff), but not the boring stuff.

Wow. Technology!

Anywho, we had a nice ride in the outdoor arena today. I set up a single X in the middle of the arena to warm up over, and then set it to a vertical. It's the first time we've jumped since we went cross-country schooling oh-so-long ago, and we need to start to get back into jumping if we have any hope of competing in a horse trial in early October.

I worked on a steady rhythm and uphill gaits. Our spots were not so great. My position was not so great - my lower leg kept swinging back and I am really arching my back, especially over the top of the fence, which you can see in the videos. I just look stiff. Although our approaches were generally fairly uphill, Saga really went bridle-diving on the landings and was SUPER heavy on his forehand when I tried to rebalance him (witness the head shaking bits).

I think our last fence was pretty nice, but we have SO MUCH work to do. I've scheduled a lesson with Paige at Coraggio Hunter/Jumper for tomorrow evening - it's a bit of a haul to her place, but she gave me a lesson on Saga when I was looking at him and I really liked her teaching style and the things she had to tell me. All of her suggestions were spot-on and really helped me improve my position. So, I'm hoping we can continue that, and perhaps even make it a regular thing.

After riding, FuzzyPony and I went over to one of the local tack stores and I picked up a copy of 101 Jumping Exercises. Since I'm mostly working by myself at this point, it looked like a super-useful book to have. It includes all the distances for trot and canter poles, plus gymnastics exercises, which is SO helpful since I have a hard time remembering how far to set a one-stride for a trot versus a one-stride at a canter. I'll be reading it in the next week or so and making use of it as I prepare for the show season this fall.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Left foot calling right foot... come in, right foot

I had another mostly lovely ride last night - the trot work was great, and the canter departures were good even if the canter itself was rather sprawly and rushed. My husband took some video of our warm-up, which is pretty embarrassing, but frankly during warm-up, I usually just ask my horse to go forward in a more or less straight line and be fairly rhythmic. My idea is to get them loose and moving and that's pretty much it. So that's pretty much what you see in the video. The rest of the ride was much, much better, but it was too dark to shoot any video by then. Of course!

However, the biggest issue of the night was my right foot. It was ALL OVER the place. I couldn't keep my heel down to save my life, to the point that my right calf was cramping. Every time I thought about it, my right heel was up. It was super-frustrating.

I think that I may need to shorten my stirrups one hole to work on getting my weight back in my stirrups. I've been reaching for them a bit with both feet, but definitely with the right more than the left. Since I got my new saddle, I've been riding with my stirrups slightly longer than I normally would. So, perhaps I need to shorten one hole, I don't know. Certainly some time on the longe line where I could focus on my position would be a good thing, if I can talk someone into holding the other end of it.

And while we're on the subject of feet, my left foot has been tingling again. But I'm starting to think that it may have something to do with my paddock boots, in addition to possibly being a pinched sciatic nerve. I started getting the tingling sensation just after I got new boots. They're a bit higher around the calf than my last pair. The reason I suspect my boots is twofold: last night on the drive out to the barn, my foot was tingling more than usual, and after I rode and was getting ready for bed, I noticed that when I pressed on a certain spot on the top of my left foot, it tingles quite a bit. So maybe it's my boot that's causing the problem. Next time I ride, I think I'll try my old pair of paddock boots and see if I have the same tingling problem.

Anyway, after I rode, my husband got on Saga and worked on his trot. He had a really great ride and got a very steady rhythm, then worked on making it faster and slower, just with his seat. I snapped some pictures of him at the end of the ride. Handsome, aren't they? :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Dang, I have a nice horse.

Our workout tonight was all in the arena; we did a lot of walk on a long rein for warmup, and talked to a new boarder who rides 3rd level dressage. She seems very nice - just graduated from Baylor and moved to Austin. We traded a few stories, then she went off to work on half-pass (I wish!) while I picked up a nice working trot. Which lasted for about half of the arena, at which point they started bringing several new mares with foals at side into the barn. As chaos ensued, with both of the owner's stallions going nuts in their stalls and the babies running up and down the aisle, Saga proceeded to throw his head and act like a moron. He only sort of tried to bolt once (read: he threw his head and took two huge trot steps and then thought better of it when I have him a really strong half halt) but spent the rest of the time charging around like an OTTB headed for the in gate. (Aside: if you have TB who's raced, you have an OTTB, but what if you have a QH who's raced? Do you have an OTQH? It just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?). So we worked on a steady rhythm and new-fangled concepts like paying attention to the RIDER until the chaos calmed down.

After a walk break, I picked up the reins and got to business. We had some absolutely fantastic trot work both directions, and I worked on getting a good forward rhythm but balanced and not rushed. Because of all the excitement, he was really up in front and felt very light, which was nice. At first we had trouble with counter-flexion in both directions, but I worked on 12-15 meter circles and asked him to stand up and move away from my leg, which he did. We moved on to the canter and I made sure to get a super uphill trot before asking, and wouldn't you know our canter departs were nigh on perfect both directions (that is to say, we didn't rush into them and fall apart. The canter itself wasn't much to write home about, as he tried to charge around a bit, but it's a work in progress). It's really amazing what happens when you ride right!

The problem with our work was really our downward transitions. We'd start out OK, but then I would half-halt and he would dive down into the bridle and everything would just fall apart. So I took a walk break to think it over, and almost called it quits for the night. After all, everything had gone SO WELL, I was a little hesitant about pushing it.

Well, I'm glad I did push it. I gathered up the reins again and started on walk-halt-walk transitions. The upward transitions weren't too bad, but the downward ones were just a mess - bridle-diving galore. And I'm just not strong enough in my position to really sit him down and make it happen (yeah, I know, my position needs work. Desperately.). So I started thinking about how I collect him in free walk with my seat, and used that sort of "settling" into the saddle motion, stopping the flow of the walk with my seat, to try to get the halts. I also tried to remember to keep my leg on him, something I am very, very bad about in the downward transitions. And because of his build, he would be very happy to let his hind end trail out into the next county on the downwards.

So, with the seat-collecting motion, I was able to get about half of the transition, and by adding a very light half-halt with the reins at the end, I was able to get the full halt. It wasn't pretty, but it was much better than what we started with. Obviously I am riding the transitions from the hands too much and need to start with the seat (yeah, I know, DUH). So that's what I worked on - trot-walk transitions from the seat, transitions from a more collected trot to a more forward trot and back, trasitions to walk, all with the seat and minimal rein. Saga was AMAZING. He caught on almost immediately (again, fantastic what you can do when you use your body and ride right) and did 10 meter circles both ways, changes of direction, a few steps of (almost) lengthen trot, down to walk (with minimal bridle diving), back up to trot (with minimal hopping into the trot), etc. etc. I even threw in a canter transition in each direction, and he just stepped right off. We were so together I knew the transitions were going to be amazing before they happened, it was just like I knew where each foot was and knew precisely when to ask. Damn but that is an amazing feeling. Did I mention we even had some shoulder in, at the trot, in both directions? Seriously. And it wasn't a disaster either.

What a good boy. Now that we seem to be moving away from my leg better, standing up in the corners, and being more straight, the next step is the transitions. I have a little more than a month and a half till our first dressage show, and we have a LOT of work to do. But for the first time, I can actually see a training level dressage test in our near future. Maybe even first? Now all I need is a trainer...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lesson with Bobbie Paulk

I rode Saga lightly Friday night and again Saturday morning, and he was sound both times. So, I'm hoping the ankle issue is done and over with and we can get on with our lives.

Today (Sunday) we had a clinic with Bobbie Paulk, who trains one of the instructors out at our barn. FuzzyPony and I rode together, since neither of us were going to survive an hour lesson on our own. Neither of us have ever met or ridden with her before, but she comes highly recommended so we signed up for the clinic. Warning: I went a little nuts posting video for this entry, because Ziggy's Dad was kind enough to take videos and pictures of the clinic. I will probably post the picts later, but for now, you get video. :)

We spent a LOT of time walking, especially doing voltes in both directions. I've never actually done voltes in riding before as part of my training or warm-up, so that was new and very useful. This volte right is kind of a mess, but you can see at the end he really steps up under himself with his right hind.

We also worked on soft halts, which went not so well. We'd start off nicely enough but then about 50% of the time he'd brace against me and dive down into the bridle. Need more leg, anyone? We also worked on the concept of "pushing the saddle forward" in the gaits when we wanted the horse to come round - it seems to be the same sort of motion you'd use if you were to tuck your hips under you, but it's a different visual, and I found it very useful.

I learned that I'm asking Saga to walk way too fast, and that I am in fact mangling his walk by doing so, especially when we're on a long rein. He sort of gets moving so fast that his walk loses quality and he start stumbling over his front end. You can kinda see it in this free walk - yeah it's big, but he's on his forehand and I need to put him together more.

A bit of collection using my seat fixes this immediately, so we worked a lot of collection through the seat at the walk. That was a big breakthrough for me. We also worked on some walk laterals, and in this video you can see he's starting to get the shoulder in to the right, which is a big deal for us. So it's not even or any kind of straight, but he's getting the concept of lateral (please, ignore my position - I was using a LOT of inside leg and need to be more subtle about it).

We actually didn't work too much on trot, but we worked on a steady rhythm and straightness and coming through the back. I was really bothered by the fact that Saga wasn't very forward, but Bobbie kept telling me that he was really coming through and sitting down, and what I was feeling was his shoulders come up and him being light in the front. Ummm-kay... looking at the videos I could definitely see that he did NOT look slow and pokey, so I guess I need to get used to that when riding instead of this big open trot that I keep trying to get. It just feels really sluggish, and like I am having to work very hard to keep him going. It's also different from what Greta, my adopted horse-mom, was telling me the last time I rode him for her, which was to get him moving really forward. Of course, there's a difference between forward and rushing, and I need to learn where Saga needs to be.

The big, huge moment was canter. To the right, our transition usually isn't that bad. To the left, it's usually a running-with-head-up disaster where we completely lose all position, balance, and any sense of grace we ever have... exactly like this:

Bobbie had me really collect him and ask for a short, bouncy trot, THEN ask for the left lead canter. And wouldn't you know, the left lead canter transition miraculously fixed itself. :)

So, all in all it was a wonderful clinic and I really learned a lot. I am hoping that Vanessa sets up more clinics with Bobbie because I really liked her teaching style and she worked well with both myself and FuzzyPony together. It will also help when Saga's more fit, of course, and we'll be able to do more then. But we've got plenty to work on for now!