Wednesday, June 1, 2016

addressing the weaknesses

How is it June already? Ugh, blowing my mind. It doesn't help that I'm a bit far behind in posts right now. Sorry! I'll keep this one brief: just a few takeaways to remember and document.

Isabel and I finally had a dressage lesson with trainer C at TM for the first time in ~2 months. It pains me to miss her for so long, but it's hard to stay consistent with Sunday lessons in the summer. Maybe we can try weekdays now that I have more flexibility when working from home?

I gave C the big ol' rundown on what's been going on lately with Isabel (specifically: that our show jumping is a shambles). And paid particular attention to outlining any detail, coincidence, pattern, anything that could potentially point to a physical issue with the mare.

Yes, I've said before that it presents as a training issue and that the mare does not seem uncomfortable. Actually verifying that with a vet is not something I can do unilaterally tho, so I'm doing the next best thing: Asking ALL of the trainers haha. And C has eagle eyes - if there's something there, she is gonna see it. But nope, nothing there to see.

she loves her reflection haha
Trainer C actually theorizes that it stems from weakness in Isabel's back. Sounds like a pretty typical dressage-y type answer, right? But perhaps she's onto something.

My struggle is in getting the mare in front of my leg. I either end up just riding the front end and not getting enough forward, or we careen around like madmen - but still totally fast and flat with no real push from behind.

C wants to see Isabel wait more in her trot so she can carry more weight in her hind end. The word nerd in me appreciates that perhaps our issues could be solved with homonyms.

trot!
We started things off with Isabel voluntarily stretch stretch stretching it out on a trot circle for a good long while. Then right out onto the trot work. With C basically delivering instruction via stream of consciousness, something I've desperately missed haha.

She wanted me to focus on being soft in my hands and contact. Saying that rein contact is a relative thing and I have to find where Isabel's sweet spot is. That Isabel may be getting more specific in what she wants, and might not want or won't tolerate any backwards feel anymore. And that I have to adapt.

I need to use my legs to help keep her back lifted and pushing into my hand - thinking circles, serpentines and leg yields for this. We also did a TON of shoulder in - which actually went quite well. The mare really came out to play, and I managed to remember to keep the weight down my inside leg with a soft almost neutral inside hand, and use the outside half halt to get the angle.

canter!
We worked on SI up the long sides, changing direction via lengthened trot on the diagonals - something we haven't practiced in ages and was very rusty. C wants to see me taking more time to develop the lengthened stride rather than rocketing immediately out of the corner. Downwards felt pretty good tho.

And lots of canter transitions. Especially the right lead depart - always our tricksier depart and perhaps where Isabel's weakness is most obvious?

Anyway, while cantering I had what felt like a position breakthrough. If you've been following along for a while, you may remember that I've struggled to quit the quintessential hunter perch and learn to actually sit the canter.

C has long told me to not dig with my seat at the canter - that she wants lightness while sitting. That's been... hard for me to feel. But we are getting closer. She told me to ask Isabel for a stretchy feel even in canter, which maybe helped me be more accountable for my arms and upper body. Then told me to almost feel like I'm standing on the ground in my stirrups.

Which - you may recall - closely echoes what Stephen Birchall said in our clinic this past spring. I need to let the stirrups carry me, not my seat or legs. Allowing Isabel's back to stay up so her neck can stretch down and stay soft. My lower leg stretches down and around loosely to lift Isabel's belly up, with the thought of allowing her to go forward, rather than sending her forward.

And it'll shock you to hear that Isabel actually came up in her shoulders when I could get the feel just right. Definitely something to remember!

lots of pets for a hard working mare
So. It was a good, thoughtful lesson. I'm not sure what all it means for jumping - but if trainer P from OF is right in her hypothesis that the mare has lost some confidence, then building her strength and improving my position can only help. With that in mind, we'll be back for another ride with C this afternoon.

What about you - have you had any useful position breakthroughs recently? Or anything that stands out as being super useful in sitting the canter or promoting a better way of going in your horse? OR, haha, have you ever managed to solve a horse problems with homonyms? Bc I would LOVE to hear about that lol.

48 comments:

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    1. lolz right? we need MOAR tho ;)

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  2. Training With Homonyms - I see a book deal coming.

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    1. we are accepting submissions!!!!! lol

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    2. haha i guess i'm gonna have to come up with more on my own since nobody else wants to play ;P

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  3. Yay I am glad you had such a great lesson and I hope it helps put you and Isabel back into a working relationship over fences!

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    1. trainer C definitely has the magic fairy dust to get mare moving well and feeling great. we will see what happens!

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  4. So my new instructor is really good at telling me what small parts of my body I should be using. Like the seatbone or thigh or hip etc. And now that I'm actually using them, it's beginning to become second nature. I actually feel like I have a collection of body parts to use vs. just a singular body. It's really interesting to me!

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    1. that's super interesting to me too, and i think i know exactly what you mean. like - that first time i can identify a new unique body part and learn that it can do THINGS haha. crazy feeling but i kinda love it! that's a little bit like what it felt like figuring out how to redistribute my weight such that i'm still sitting the canter, but not putting all my weight into the seat...

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  5. I wish I could match the homonyms...that made my inner nerd grin from ear to ear.

    I've had the roughest time sitting the canter as well, especially after the whole broken ankle crap. These last couple days I took lessons with a former 4* rider who regularly lessons with a Grand Prix dressage rider. She had me stick my hand under my rear end to feel my seat bones and told me to make sure those remained in contact with the saddle. She also focused on my hands. I tend to carry my hands waaaay too low, and with the reins way too long. So by shortening them and also carrying them (about belt-buckle level), it prevented me from pitching forward. I successfully cantered like 5 circles each direction while sitting the entire time (and without losing my stirrups- win) and it was fantastic.

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    1. we neeeeeed moar homonyms!!!! haha

      seriously tho, the stirrups losing struggle is real, i definitely relate! carrying my hands up higher and being taller in my torso definitely helps - i think that's what the idea of 'asking for a stretchy canter' did in this particular instance. i know what you mean about keeping the seat bones in contact with the saddle too - but i think i went too far in that direction and am digging too much now. need to practice keeping them in contact but more lightly. i guess it can't ever be easy haha

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  6. The biggest thing that helped me is the idea of reclining in an armchair (to get the shoulders up and back) and think about pulling my elbows down and close to my sides, that also gets the shoulders back and down and really lets me get a consistent contact. Penn responds immediately as soon as I get it right- it's something you can tell when it's right (so easy to practice on your own).

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    1. yea isabel responds immediately when i get it right too. definitely helps! and yet... i have been practicing on my own multiple times weekly for, um, years and we still don't quite have it. haha. just gotta keep working, i guess!

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  7. You put what I have been struggling with into words. Thank you. I'm really not any help sorry, but I think you might be onto something with the strength thing.

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    1. glad i could write something that sounds right to you too! (boom, homonyms). seriously tho, back strength is apparently the root of all things mystical and dressage-y.

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    2. I'm loving all the homonyms! My current answer to everything is more hind end strength and more topline... Oh he sneezed he needs more booty... Oh he pulled his pull on bell boot off=needs more topline...

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    3. haha yup, pretty much!! and i think our creatures may be similar in that some of what we are dealing with is their essential conformation maybe not helping. but perseverance will pay off!!

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    4. man... just realized i missed a real opportunity there... back strength is the root of all things mystical and dressage-y, and the apparently ROUTE to our salvation. damn. too slow, emma!

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    5. Since you failed to act on the opportunity I guess we will have to ax you...
      PS it took me waaaaay too long to come up with a response. I'll stick with numbers. :)

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  8. The only recent breakthrough I have had is making more push but making Mia slow her tempo to really get her going but onto her hind end. Homonyms though... <3

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    1. yup i think that's exactly what we are working towards too. wait more to get more weight. yas.

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  9. I can totally relate to finding the right light seat in canter! Especially with Boca's back issues, he really couldn't tolerate me sitting deep, digging in or driving with my seat. But I also couldn't half seat, because of his propensity to dive on the forehand.

    I'm still learning the right balance for the light, strong seat with supporting leg, but it feels so good when I get it right! I don't always feel it at the canter, but when we finish cantering, I can feel how lifted his back is.

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    1. that makes a lot of sense, and that's pretty much exactly the type of feel i'm trying to develop too. it's surprisingly difficult!!

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  10. Lesson sounds fab, I love the team of trainers you have surrounded yourself with and how they compliment each other and help you work towards your goals by phrasing things differently & targeting things that all slot together like the best puzzle ever!
    I needs to get my greedy little mitts on fab outside insight like you!!!

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    1. ha i pretty much live for outside insight ;) these trainers have definitely brought me way farther along than i would probably get all on my own lol

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  11. Sounds like a fabulous lesson! I love your recaps of these lessons - I'll forever have trainer-envy. (Especially as I continue to struggle huge with finding someone that isn't a half-day trek away from me.) I shall continue to live vicariously through you...

    I wonder if Isabel will be like Griffin...when he develops a problem in one area of our riding that I can't seem to resolve, I just drop that aspect like its hot for a month or two and focus elsewhere. Every time I have revisited the former problem area, he's remarkably cured. Jumping shenanigans traded for lots of flat time, return to jumping with a much better beast. Trail shenanigans traded for lots of ring work, returns to the trail way more fun. Flatting shenanigans traded for jumping, return the the flat with a horse volunteering more self carriage than you can shake a stick at. So, stopping in jumping, here, mare, have some dressage! You're so gorgeous at it, why don't you just prance awhile and then you can jump after. Eh?

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    1. ha yup - mare doesn't wanna jump the hay bales? bail her out with fancy prancing instead! (boom. homonyms lol). that's definitely an approach i've used too and it seems to work. tho i guess i've typically tried to do it preemptively, rather than waiting for a problem to develop.

      we already include a lot of variety in our work (hacking out, trail riding, jumping in the ring and out, flatting in the ring and out, randomly playing... pretty much whatever) but it just is what it is. i think the mare needs an opportunity to feel like she's good at something and can get the answer right. we'll see!

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    2. Book is writing itself!

      She's a gorgeous jumper, too! But maybe she feels like a teenage girl who can't help but think she's bad at something when she's really actually amazing. Hopefully she graduates to her mid-20s and confidence soon, haha!

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    3. ha maybe you're right. she's disgusted by the messy jumping when really we just need to discuss it, smooth it out. perhaps these insights will incite her to a greater degree of confidence soon?

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  12. Dressage has a way of making you feel like you just rose from the ashes smelling like a rose. Or not. YMMV.

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    1. that's why i hire all these coaches. trying to get us higher up that training pyramid!!

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    2. Someday I'd love to say "hi" from high atop that pyramid!

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    3. me too... alas instead i'm drowning myself in ale to help forget about the movements (or jumps, as it were) that ail us!

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  13. Ever think life could be better if only we could just bribe mares for forgiveness with carrots like some men buy off their wives with diamond carats?

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    1. or if i could just bribe the judges with my mare's fancy gaits and our tenacity out of the starting gates... all while ignoring our inability to climb over stadium fences in any clime, temperate or otherwise?

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    2. Any kind of bribe is good. Anything that keeps you from getting hoarse from yelling at the horse or needing a draught to help you mentally relax from piloting your suddenly wannabe draft.

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    3. It sucks when your please pleas aren't heard by your herd.

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    4. so true... here i am trying to buy my way into a decent ride, but all isabel can say is "BYE FELICIA!"

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    5. Bahahaha Austen you're an absolute legend of punage

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  14. Gotta love the shoulder in for it's ability to raise up the front end. It's like shining the rays of the sun in on your collection.

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    1. That's why the shoulder fore is one of my top four favorite exercises!

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    2. oh but definitely! i'm adding that tool to my cache of neat and effective dressage exercises, all of which i've obtained from my trainers recognizing a cash cow when they see one!

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  15. I'm slightly brain dead at the moment so no clever homonyms from me (but I loves them!) but it's so great to hear about positive progres! And back strength is so vital and so tricksy. I just had my boy's SI injected, and one of the symptoms was his jumping style. He's as honest as the day is long, but was finding it hard to round over the fences. Which was actually reflecting in our flat work too. Now, happy SI means happy round pony on the flat and over fences (as long as I ask him right!)

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  16. just love C! So glad it was another good ride and hopefully keeps the upward (see what i did there) trend going!

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  17. Love the last picture!! Such a great partnership!!

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  18. I'm def in the struggle bus for my position

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  19. I love that trot photo of you two!

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