Tuesday, January 9, 2018

riding in the dust, visualizing greener pastures

The only nice thing about taking lessons in our 20x40m indoor arena (and please don't take this as me complaining about the indoor bc I really am truly grateful to have it in the first place!) is that Charlie's fine to jump in his plain loose ring KK snaffle.

So I've just been putting his PS of Sweden dressage bridle on with the jump saddle. Meaning we only have one buckle to contend with (the flash) -- much appreciated in cold weather! Compared to, say, his Mark Todd Dy'on-style jump bridle. Which... also has a flash. And the standard throatlatch. But also a curb strap, plus double reins, and also a BoT crown pad...

It's.... There's a LOT going on with this bridle, it's kinda a monster. But. Ya know. Brakes make life better haha. So we make do.

pictured: an elegant face with a whole fuck ton of straps
photo by Megan Kiessling, from Fair Hill last September
Back to the point tho, we don't need all that hardware and strap-tastic nonsense in the small indoor - Charlie has a healthy respect for not running into walls and falling down in corners (this is apparently a learned skill tho), so he's pretty easy to ride inside.

Which is useful bc we had our second lesson with upper level event rider K last week. Part of me is a little concerned that she's going to get this one fully formed idea of what Charlie is and how he goes based on how he has been in the indoor.... And that the whole paradigm will be upended when we get back outside again and Charlie's more, gung ho about life.

ok here's another pic by Megan... bc he's so cute <3. shorten your reins emma! lol...
That's ok tho. All in good time. For now, we ride inside and we work with the horse who presents himself. Which is, honestly, a pretty good boy.

Trainer K so far hasn't really said anything about our flat work. We did grids again this lesson (it was just a private this time) and she used the time I spent warming up to build up the grid components. I kinda prefer a jump trainer who will make comments about the flat work too - esp bc the best jumping is essentially flat work with obstacles. But we're still getting to know each other, so perhaps we can talk more about that later.

Anyways to warm up I just did more of what we've been doing in frigid weather: Lots of walking, with as much suppling exercises as I can fit in to the walk. This typically takes the form of working in leg yields down the rail at the walk - with Charlie's nose on the rail and his body on a bit of a diagonal, moving on four tracks down the rail. We only ever get one or two good steps at a time, then praise, straighten, and try again on the next long side. But Charlie's figuring it out and really learning to step under with his hind legs. Repetition here helps.

ooooookie dokie i think i just got sucked into a nostalgia vortex
Plus the exercise has the added bonus of him thinking a little more carefully about each foot step, instead of just shuffle-dragging himself around. Which consequently means he's a little more engaged and soft over his back, which then means he's a little softer to the bridle and can at any moment step into a nice, round-ish trot transition.

I've been interspersing this walk work into all of our breaks, or whenever I feel like the trot has gotten stale or stagnant or too stiff. After a while focusing on all this walk or trot, we just popped into a canter for a lap or two in each direction and were ready to get started on the grid.

the grid, ridden toward the camera: trot pole to cross rail, 18' to oxer, 20ish' to oxer. width of oxers was more important than height for this exercise - want horse jumping up and across
Per usual, each element of the grid is introduced incrementally and in stages. First just the trot pole to cross rail, then the second element is slowly built up. Then the third element. Then they all reach their final forms: in this case, oxers.

Trainer K had felt like last week's bounces didn't quite get the response from Charlie that she had wanted. He was more careful, sure, but didn't quite get the lift and height up front in his form that the bounces were intended to invite. Rather, as he traveled down the exercise he would kinda get lower and lower up front (last week's video here), where as she wanted him getting more lifted and rocked back.

grid from opposite direction, with added charlie chin. grid is set on center line of a 20m wide arena, so it's the same turn as in dressage tests: a 10m half circle
So this week she did one strides instead of bounces - feeling like there would be more time in between each element to help both me and Charlie reset and lift. Including giving me time in each space to "lift" with my hands to encourage a higher head in Charlie. Not a backwards feel, but just a bump up.

ok back to more fun pictures. this one isn't from Megan, but is of the same day. look at all that green grass and those short sleeves! summer i miss you! also, charlie, you a badass buddy <3
Likewise, she had some good input on how I rode the turns up the center line. In my mind I was riding off the outside aids and trying to corral that outside shoulder.... But in reality I was relying too much on hands and not enough on leg.

So she would literally tell me when to release with my hands and push forward with leg (it's a tricky balance bc the horse cannot be running here). And the release always came a step or two before I would have done it myself. I've been thinking about my lessons with dressage trainer C, particularly all the square turns we do and how she's told me that I tend to quit a stride or two early before we've fully completed our turn...

But I think these two instructions from the two trainers actually do sync up. Both want to see me finish my turn, but K pointed out that esp when there's a jump ahead of us - I can't be doing so with just my hands. Needs more leg, always more leg.

ha yes, but that's Sir Badass to you, plz. 
Anyway it's simple stuff, but important. And Charlie, for his part, executed the grids very well, very consistently. He did not just make the same mistakes over and over again (not saying anything about myself there tho lol), but did maintain corrections. He also, on our last pass (by design) really jumped the SNOT out of the middle oxer. BIG lift and rotation in his shoulders, while still traveling across the jump. Boom, that's exactly what K wanted to see.

She talked a lot about what people mean when they say their horse is "too careful" for cross country. Namely, that the horse jumps too high up off the fence, but isn't covering enough ground. I had assumed this would become a problem for jumps with more significant width, but actually her point was that it becomes a problem in related distances. If your horse isn't jumping across enough, you can't make the striding.

Charlie, for his part, doesn't have that problem. He's basically just cantering everything anyway, as opposed to actually using his body to jump. He's making the distances lol. But.... we do need a little lift too, buddy. Haha. So that's apparently our grail: Help Charlie use his body better to attain more height and roundness in his technique -- without losing his ability to jump across the element simultaneously.

Sounds good to me! Have you ever done exercises intended to improve your horse's technique? Whether to encourage jumping more across, or jumping more up? Does your horse gobble the ground up too fast, or not quite get there?

23 comments:

  1. Lol she just called out Chimi in the to careful department! He's very talented at jumping higher to get across a jump instead of low and wide...but damn horse is so athletic that he can still make the striding or compact himself and make the short stride perfect too! But we're also just going Novice with no plans to make it to Advanced so I think we're good? Though teaching him to jump wide instead of up is a big part of our lessons :)

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    1. lol yea that's the same story for my friend and her horse too, tho that horse does sometimes have a penchant for adding in an extra stride despite being 17h too....

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  2. It's so hard to get the large horses to actually rock back and jump up and across instead of just casually flinging themselves across obstacles. For Ramone it took objects with decent height (3') and riding him to the base of everything for him to start using those glorious ass muscles, then it became muscle memory after doing it 5 bajillion times.

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    1. yea i suspect that'll be similar to how it plays out with charlie. the thing that worries me is if we rely on height alone to force the question of using himself, what happens when he gets complacent at each new height and stops being impressed by it? but like you say, muscle memory should hopefully help us out there!

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    2. Yeah essentially you train the muscles into just taking over (and if you think about it deeply) the conjunction of training him to jump up and over instead of just across casually, the flatwork eventually also really improves because the horse gets stronger and learns to sit more, so if the height becomes less impressive you should be able to use your flatwork in between the fences to get him lifted through the shoulders and onto his butt and that's where he'll have to jump from anyways.. whether its the base or the gap. Of course at this point in big horse training (omg it felt like it took Ramone forever and even then it was just the beginning/scratching the surface by the time I sold him) its good to recognize this is where its going to go even though you aren't there yet (you will though and there is no rush!)

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    3. yup! it turns out that when the horse becomes more trained and more schooled, it's easier to do stuff with them!

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  3. That's really interesting about the striding, and makes a TON of sense. Basically don't shortchange the jump stride or you'll be left scrambling elsewhere. Neat way to think about it!

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    1. yea it really is. it shows up in basically every jumping discipline - like in hunters where a missed distance can really create problems in a seven stride line set for the full 12' distances.... but can apparently get pretty problematic on cross country esp with horses that can be a bit impressed by the fences. good food for thought tho!

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  4. I swear Charlie and Rio are brothers from another mother LOL.

    I have to focus on keeping Rio's head up to, and I lightly bump up with my hands, but not back. If I bump back and up, it shuts him down. I also have to think about lots of legs and a forward flowing hand in the turns, and again, only an upwards motion to re-balance. It felt really weird at first, but now I'm mostly used to it.

    I have also been doing gymnastics to encourage rocking back before jumps and lifting with the front end. I found that with Rio we had to ad some height into the equation before he took is seriously. Maybe Charlie is the same way?

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    1. i'm glad to hear i'm not the only one feeling a little funny about the "bump up." part of the issue is that in my desire to be *less* handsy, i kinda just drop my hands and plant them on his neck, which isn't really the right answer either. they've gotta be mobile, but also be soft and forward. like it takes skill or something, who woulda thunk.

      also agreed on charlie likely benefiting from more height. neither of my jumps trainers at this farm tend to do much height in the indoor bc the footing can be a little loose and taxing on the horse, not to mention the 20x40m size restrictions with tight turns... but this new trainer has kept the fences pretty anemic. i'm hoping that'll change as she gets to know us, or as she gets us outside!

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  5. The more lift he gets in jumping the easier his dressage phase will be as well because he will be using his hind end to 'push'. Carmen is built to push with her hind end but controlling that is hard and sometimes it pushes her on her forehand.

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    1. yep i think that's my favorite part of working on both jumping AND dressage -- people are always droning on forever about how the dressage improves the jumping (like that judge this summer who basically was like "uh, don't jump this horse") while ignoring the fact that jumping can improve dressage too. it goes both ways!

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  6. Ah, summer...what is that again? I have to be careful what I wish for, though, because summers in NC are just as miserable as winter.

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    1. at least in summer we have options tho, right?

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  7. B is more the careful type when it's 'new' and...yeah...it really messes up your distances. EC had us doing very similar gymnastics with the wide oxers to encourage B to jump across rather than 'up, also just a general mentality of attacking stuff - she'd set things on a half stride (usually 2.5) for us on purpose and make us go for the '2' ie flatter/longer approach. I guess you could use the same exercise for a 'flat' horse, asking for a bigger, shorter added '3' stride.

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    1. yea there's definitely value in schooling adjustability in the horses - whether that's asking them to stretch and lengthen, or compress and shorten. compressing is harder for charlie, so that's what we practice more often, typically by setting one stride grids at 18'-20', instead of the 14' that would reflect cantering in on an open 12' stride.

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  8. ... okay i read this post but all I could think of was: WAS IT EVER THAT GREEN?? AND WARM??

    O TO FEEL THE WARM BREEZE ON MY FACE :'(

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    1. it was once in fact that green!!! and it will be that green again!!! hopefully sooner than we expect!! the spring grass will sprout, the horses will fatten, and all the thoroughbred feet will crumble and fling shoes with abandon!

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  9. Savvy is too careful for xc, (lol, stop 'n pop queen) but I still have hope she can learn to jump across more with practise, grids, and maybe a dumbo feather.

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    1. ha dumbo feathers for all!!!! i think we'll give savvy a pass tho for still being green ;) my friend's mare who runs novice and schools training is having similar issues, she can be a little spooky and shortens and adds to the fence, then pops over while losing her forward ground cover. but. ya know. she's still actually pretty green too.

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  10. i had to rest up after reading your post (flu is tiring yall!) but I found myself nodding along.. Sally also has me do similar with my hands and Emily too and I always think oh i dont want to be handsy etc but viola it often works (UP and bump fine back and Remus Backs off so its a delicate approach and I am not delicate! LOL) I am glad Charles in Charge is doing so well. I am envious of your riding Emma so much already in 2018. I think I need a do over for 2018. :)

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    1. i doubt it's a coincidence that this trainer has a similar style or instruction to Sally - she has trained with Sally for years (i bet you've met her before, actually). luckily charlie's not quite so delicate as Remus - he's .... kinda a freight train lol. but trainer K also thinks there's something else i'm doing with my positioning and body that helps communicate to charlie what i want when i'm thinking of bumping with my hands, bc it really makes a big difference!

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  11. Have you read Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu's Divide and Conquer? It's a little pricey for sure, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the walk-work he suggests in it. I just bought the book. Read it last week. Have been teaching it to ALL my students and seeing awesome results.

    It's nothing you don't already know, I'm sure, but I am thoroughly enjoying the application.

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