Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lesson Recap

When I take up contact from the free walk, it's time to work.  Do not let Licorice fuss and balk and generally screw around.  Use inside rein and inside leg to move him into the outside rein and tilt his nose in.  Then straighten.  Then do outside bend.  Then straighten.

If I ask Licorice to move off my inside leg, I MUST get a reaction.  I'm totally guilty of just doing it and then going ahead with whatever I'm working on, without checking to see if he 'actually' moved off my leg.

We worked a lot on bend and straight lines and we got way better about not falling apart when we change directions.

Then it was time to work on sitting trot.  Ugh.  I told L that I had been practicing my sitting trot and that it wasn't working.  That I was stiff and Licorice was stiff and we were a hot mess.  She had me start sitting the trot and gave me some pointers.  Sit taller.  Allow your hip joints to go down and up when Licorice goes down and up.  Relax you arms.

But mostly she said that I look fine and that sitting trot is best learned by sitting the trot.  And then sitting the trot.  And then sitting the trot some more.  And realizing that you ARE going to bounce because it's a bouncy moving gait and that the trick is to go WITH the bounce and not fight against it.

We then moved on to working on canter transitions.  Licorice still wants to run into the canter and I fall apart.  So every time I asked for canter, if he sped up we went back to moving off my leg and coming back to a reasonable trot.  If he was tense, I would spiral in and then spiral out until he came back to me.  Then ask again.

It took about four times but then MAGIC!!  A lovely canter transition EXACTLY when I asked it and with NO tension!  Yipeee!

I still am having a hard time finding the elusive spot between crazy ass canter and crazy ass trot.  Licorice doesn't believe me when I tell him that he can canter balanced and prefers to barrel along.  When I half halt him, he just goes into a spastic trot.

Since I'm riding again with Brooke in a clinic the weekend after this, I think I will spend some time trying to work that out.

Licorice was a very good boy for our lesson.  After our lesson, when I took off his bridle, he was a pig.  He turned his head and walked off, so I had to grab him with just the reins around his neck.  Then he turned his head and lifted it to look at someobody else.  Because all the horses were eating dinner and Licorice wanted to know why HE wasn't eating dinner.  I finally managed to wrestle his halter on, but it was practically a workout.  Phew.

Tonight, I'm going to see Cavalia. If you haven't heard of it, it's like Cirque Du Soleil but with PONIES!!!! It's supposed to be amazing and I have VIP tickets which mean free food, free wine and fantastic seats.  So excited!!!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Stop Yer Bellyachin'!

Yep, Licorice had another tummy ache.  He was out with his buddy and started rolling, so they took a carrot out to check on him.  He didn't want the carrot, so he was brought in, hand walked and given some Banamine.  This one was minor and we think it was a gas bubble, but this is the third time since October that he's had tummy problems.

Currently, he's on Smart Pak SmartDigest Ultra.  Before that he was on Succeed.  As far as I know, at his previous barn, he was on nothing.

It could be that he gets sick when the weather changes.  He got a gas bubble the day the weather went from rain to snow for a hot minute.  At this point, we're just trying to figure out what the cause might be and what the best way to manage it is.

He got sick on Saturday, so he got Saturday off.  I gave him Sunday off too, just in case.  Tonight, I'm going to go ahead and ride him.

What am I going to do with my sensitive boy?
Mooom - Stop it.  Stop trying to take my picture!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Let Goooooo!

Last night in our lesson, Licorice and I were KILLING IT at the posting trot.  He was listening so much that I had to be reminded to not over ask.  He was doing every little thing I asked.  He was bending and forward and when I thought about walk, he would come back to me.  If I could have,  I would have patted myself on the back.  Yeah, you know where this is going.  Don't pat yourself on the back, especially while in the middle of a ride.  Save the congratulations for when your pony is safely tucked back into their stall or pasture.

Thankfully, this isn't a horror story where Licorice loses his mind or anything like that.  It's more like an endless re-run of a bad television show.  We went from posting trot and leg yields, to getting ready to canter.  The idea was to not change anything.  To just quietly sit, think 'walk' to get the half halt and then canter.

I sat.  That was where our train first edged off the track.  Licorice immediately sped up.  So, I sat and sat and tried to relax and get back our happy, soft place.  Many circles later, there it was.  Okay, we can do this.  And, canter!  Head goes up, feet go spastically forward into his Standardbred racing trot.  Wheeeee!!  My arms stiffen, my legs stiffen, my breathing gets shallow.

Stay with it, stay with it.  I'm chanting this in my head.  I might even be chanting this out loud.  First my legs let go and Licorice slows down a tiny bit.  Then I breathe, think walk and shake the tension from my arms.  Licorice slows down more.  I remember to tilt my shoulders a little forward and look between his ears and not around the circle.  I'm bending him, he's listening again.  Okay, we're okay.

And, canter!  Licorice responds with 'Okay Mom!  FASTEST TROT EVER!'.  It's like a game of Can You Sit THIS Trot?  Oh, how about THIS trot?  L is yelling HALF HALT! HALF HALT!  My elbows are flapping, presumably to help me fly since my butt is so tense that I'm hovering over the saddle.  I grunt and groan as Licorice dives into my hands.  I feel like Scotty from Star Trek "I've giv'n her all she's got Captain and I cannae give her no more."

L tells me to breathe and to insist that he bend and then LET GO.  Oh right.  Let go.  That's always the trick for me isn't it?  To let go.  Let go of the breath I'm holding in.  Let go of the tension.  Let go of the inside rein.  I let go and then ask again and it's a tiny bit magical how Licorice responds so quickly.

I would like to end this post with how we then had perfect canter transitions and Licorice pooped rainbows and glitter, but we actually spent most of the lesson trying to work the frantic out of the trot and Licorice had anxiety poop instead of rainbows and glitter.  Licorice just really wants to run into the canter.  It's what he's always done before and he doesn't see anything wrong with it.  Seems we both have issues about letting go...

The lessons I'm learning are super valuable (aren't they all, though?  After typing that I realized what a stupid statement that is.  ALL lessons are valuable, even if they seem insignificant).  We may not be making progress in leaps and bounds to the outside eye, but we're in it for the long haul.  Also, I'm taking a bit of the cheaters way out and having a few training rides put on Licorice so he can learn how to canter from a regular trot with a normal person on him.  Then we'll work out how to have him do it with ME on him.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mini Lesson

Despite my fantastic realization that I don't have to improve anytime soon and that any pony time is good pony time, I found myself on Sunday bouncing around on Licorice like I was on a pogo stick.  I was super focused on keeping my shoulders forward and lifting my upper body up, which meant the rest of my body was ramrod straight and stiff as a board.

Licorice took this opportunity to let me know that this was unacceptable and even after I relaxed a little bit, he took the bit, put his head in the air and just plowed around on the rail in a super rushed trot.  I was trying to wait him out, like I was supposed to but I was getting thrown around a lot and it was getting uglier and uglier.  Poor Licorice's only escape was to try to outrun my bad riding.

Thankfully, one of the women from my barn (who also gives lessons but is not one of the owners) helped me out.  I was getting frustrated and asked her if she had any tips about how I could get past this.  My BIG weak spot right now is that I don't know how to practice and I get off topic and frustrated super fast.

At the clinic, Brooke had told me to make sure that when I pick up the reins, Licorice is ready to work.  He picked up the bad habit of fussing with his head and trying to trot as soon as you pick up the reins.  She said to pick up the reins and make him walk into the contact.  Once he's going nicely, give him a long rein again.  Repeat this until he understands that picking up contact does not mean trotting.  So, this was my plan when I went out on Sunday morning.  It was a good plan, but I accomplished my goal in the first five minutes.  Huh.  So I had to move on.  I chose to work on sitting trot because neither Licorice nor I are particularly good at it.

First we worked at making sure Licorice was listening.  Much like T.Meyers had suggested, it involved coming back to walk or even a halt if necessary.  So when I tried to half halt, if Licorice was in another zone I would bring him back to walk.  Then we'd walk a few steps, pick up the trot again.  Right away, the minute he decided to start zooming off, I'd bring him back to walk.  Over and over and over.  After a dozen times doing this, I was then able to almost come to walk but keep on trotting.  Licorice may be a brute sometimes, but he is a quick learner for which I am grateful.  He got it right away and we had some lovely trot steps.

Once he was no longer rushing around, it was time to work on myself more.  I tried dropping my stirrups but I was not effective at staying balanced and keeping Licorice from reverting back to his runaway trot.  Mostly I worked on keeping my core engaged but relaxing my arms and letting my hips move.  For every twenty crap steps we got a good one.  So that's progress.

Then, we did the same thing with cantering.  If he's blowing off my aids, bring him down to a walk and rebalance.  Then, right before I ask for canter, think walk.  Licorice threw his head up at the last minute BUT his body stayed underneath me better and our canter was more of a canter and less of a gallop.

Once again, I'm so grateful for the barn that I'm at and the support I receive there.  And K (the woman giving me tips) said it was nice to teach someone who was far enough along to actually be able to fine tune things.  She usually teaches raw beginners, so for her I was an advanced student.  :)

I hope you all had a great weekend with your ponies!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Going Nowhere....Fast

Today was warm and windy and Licorice was in another world.  We had about five minutes of good stuff and about thirty minutes of head above the bit, choppy trot, me stiff as a board with my arms straight out in front of me.

But you know what?  It was good.  It was good because I rode.  It was good because we had five minutes.  Alright, they weren't even five consecutive minutes but they were still good!

It was good because I like my horse and he likes me.  It was good because when he got tense and above the bit, I focused on relaxing all my tension.  Which takes twice as long to get through to him, but I've got time.  TIME.  I HAVE TIME.  Not time to ride every day.  Not time to put in hours of riding.  I mean that I have time because I don't have any goals that require me to fix anything by a certain time.  In fact, I don't have to fix anything EVER.

This blew my mind.  I'm drunk with power over this realization.  If I NEVER learn to sit the trot without bouncing around like a giraffe with rigormortis, it's okay.  If I never learn to canter without hunching and slouching and throwing my arms out like crazy chicken wings, it doesn't change anything.  If every day I have rides where we don't accomplish anything, nothing about my world is different.  I don't have to improve.  I really mean this.  If I don't have anywhere to go, then I'm right where I want to be.

If I have a great lesson once a week and progress in millimeters instead of miles, I will still have a great horse and a great barn and great people to work with.  If I can't afford lessons, I still have a great horse and a great barn.  If I never jump anything every again, I can still enjoy my pony.

If my life with horses is one where I own a horse I adore and we ride really terrible ovals in the same arena, day after day, with my stiff arms and his stiff trot and only 30 seconds of correct what?  Licorice doesn't mind and as long as I'm grinning from ear to ear about how fun it is to ride a forward trot, I can let the rest go.

Sometimes, not having goals is a beautiful thing.

p.s. this does not mean that I don't want to improve or that I won't keep looking for ways to get better, it just means that where I am is exactly perfect at any given moment.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Runaway Train

Finally got back out for a lesson last night.  Licorice was not happy to have his dinner interrupted and tried to hide in the corner of his stall with his head buried in hay.  I found him anyway.

We did lots of good trot work, trying to maintain even contact in both reins.  It's nice that he's going forward.  BUT (there's always a but isn't there?) Licorice has a new trick up his sleeve.

When Licorice canters, he likes to go along the rail  in a long, flat frame.  His canter has no jump and he doesn't do much in the way of steering.  At the clinic, we started working on getting more jump and making sure I'm steering.

At my lesson, we were trying to do some spiral in using the outside rein and leg at the canter.  Licorice was barreling around the circle while I ineffectively tried to half halt using my outside rein.  There were two other horses in my lesson AND a young horse being lunged.  Our arena is NOT big (70x120) and Licorice is not balanced or very adjustable at the canter.  So at one point, there was no way for us to continue trying to circle so we headed down the long side.

Licorice felt like this would be a good time to show me his racing skills.  He barreled down the long side like he was headed towards a cross country jump.  He took the bit firmly and went for it.  It wasn't scary, just flat and fast.  I tried to half halt by sitting up straight and engaging my core.  He flew around the corner and headed to the next long side.  It wasn't a complete runaway, but he was large and in charge.  I sat deep and used a strong half halt on my outside rein.  Instead of slowing his canter, he fell into his speediest trot complete with hollow back and dragging hind legs.  Ugh.

I relaxed my arms and took a few deep breaths and within a few strides we were back to a lovely working trot.  Then it was back to canter.  We managed to get a reasonable few strides in canter on the circle, but again, it suddenly got crowded and I had to take the long side.  It was like a racehorse seeing the finish line.  For Licorice, the long side on the rail smelled like freedom and he was going to go for it.  This time, my half halt got him into his awful trot much faster.

We weren't able to completely work out the problem.  Though I was able to consistently bring him back to a trot and I got much quicker about getting him back to a good trot, I was not able to get his canter back to me.  I know a big problem is that my insides turn to marshmallow when we canter.  I'm trying so hard not to be stiff in my legs and butt that I just sort of slump there.

Today, I'm going to try to find the happy medium between relaxed and effective and useful.

Licorice was steaming and dripping sweat when we were done, but that was perfect because I got to try on his new cooler!  He's so handsome.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hot Potato, Hot Potato

The weather here has been arctic (for the PNW) since Sunday so not only have I not been out to ride Licorice, but turnout was limited again due to the mud freezing over in the pastures.  When I arrived this morning, Licorice shoved his face into the halter and stood in the cross ties with his body trembling, his head straight up in the air and his tail up like an Arab.  I didn't bother brushing and just pulled off his blanket, clipped on a lunge line and went into the arena.  He was hot, hot, hot.

We had to have a brief discussion of why we don't run over our humans, even if we are super excited.  Then he took off on the lunge line and we had to have another discussion about why our human doesn't want to water ski on the arena footing.  He cantered and cantered and cantered.  Then he would try to buck, which was hilariously cute.  He would hunch his back and bring his back legs up a tiny bit while shaking his head.  He did manage to get a back foot up on one buck.  I think he surprised himself with that because he dropped back down to trot for a few steps.

After about fifteen minutes and both directions, I figured he was okay to ride.  But once we got in the grooming aisle, he let me know by spooking and throwing his head that he still had extra energy to burn.  Back into the arena we went, where he threw in some more attempts at bucking and generally had a good time on the lunge line.

Finally, I got on to ride.  It had been a solid five days since the clinic.  The thing that is frustrating about clinics or any kind of lesson is that I have the capacity to only remember three things.  So, though I know we did some sort of work off the rail that had to do with the proper bend, I can't remember what it was.  More inside leg?  More outside leg?  Counterbend?  Next time I will make sure my video camera is fully charged so I can re-watch it.
Even though it's blurry, you can totally see his funky knee on the left side.  When he stands it looks like he's completely over at the knee because he has a capped knee.

I did remember to tilt my shoulders more forward in the trot and the sitting trot.  It worked like magic and Licorice was nice and forward.  I also remembered to steer him and not let him pick where he wants to go.  And finally (the third thing) I remembered to soften when I came out of the canter into the trot and to soften in the sitting trot.  We had a great ride.

Every time I finally get my warm clothes on and make myself go to the barn, I am rewarded with a fabulous ride on my fabulous pony.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Clinics Are Exhausting In A Good Way

I was trying to explain to some non horsey friends about why doing a 45 minute lesson at a dressage clinic is exhausting, both physically and mentally.  The best description I could come up with was that it's like a private Pilates/Yoga lesson with an instructor asking you to adjust different aspects of your pose....while jogging on a treadmill that your body adjustments control the speed and direction of.

My lessons were fantastic and both days we worked a lot on position fixes.  It was exactly what I wanted.  The basic gist of what I took away from this was this:

We need more jump in the canter and then I need to steer.  Licorice is used to being a hunter lesson horse.  He will canter a flat canter, on the rail for hours and hours at his own speed.  I need to ask him to jump in his step and then I need to make it clear that I'm the one driving the bus.

I actually need to tilt more forward.  I think this is left over from years of being told SIT BACK and from having a horse that scared me.  My default position is leaning back with a death grip.  B had me tilt more forward with my posting which instantly freed Licorice up to move more forward.

Don't change my position when moving from posting to sitting and vice versa.

When I go from posting to sitting and everything goes to hell in a handbasket, do not give up.  I need to out wait Licorice who will use this opportunity to speed up, throw his head up, go sideways, slow down and generally try and get me back to our safe spot of posting.

Relax, relax, relax.  In sitting trot, let myself relax with the motion.  When Licorice gets fast and strong think about doing a walk transition by relaxing my entire body.  So much more effective than trying to pull him!

We also worked on how fussy he is when I take up contact.  She said that I need to fix that before moving on to trot.  I usually would just get frustrated and would trot right away and then go back and work on the walk later.  B said Licorice needs to learn that contact isn't scary and that he can settle right into it.  She had me take up the reins and then do nothing but sit there while he walked.  His walk got slow, but she said for right now to just leave it (unless he tries to seriously stop) until he stops fussing.  From there I can ask for a better walk.  As soon as he was walking well with contact, we dropped the reins and started over again.  In five minutes, I was able to easily take up contact without any fussing.  Again, I need to wait Licorice out.

There were also the usual body fixes for me.  Drop my knees.  Relax my forearms.  Look through his ears rather then into the turn for the jump.

I'm excited to go try out what I've learned at my lesson tonight!