Progress with the Flying Changes! At least for the moment.

Riding is full of frustrations but right now Starlight and I are in one of those all-too-rare and wonderful epochs where we are actually making all kinds of progress. I almost hate to say it lest I jinx us.

The canter has improved immensely which makes things like Flying Changes feel so much more possible. Somehow the Changes have been a bit elusive – we would find them and then lose them somehow. But now I think we are going to get and KEEP them.

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Nice uphill canter in preparation for the flying change

We have spent months working on improving the canter. Lots of counter canter (not Star’s favorite exercise, but it was good for her). Lots of transitions trot/canter/trot. Walk/canter/walk. Shoulder-in and haunches-in at the canter. Forward and back at the canter (lengthen and shorten the stride). Moving the hips and shoulders around until I could control the speed, bend, angle, etc. fairly easily most of the time (notice the caveats – sometimes none of this works). We also worked to make sure she was quick off the aid to the canter (not needing to “think about it for awhile,” or requiring several aids to pick up the canter.

After establishing a nice collected canter, we do a half-volte (half 10 meter circle), and on our way back to the rail, half halt on the outside rein, move the shoulders towards the new lead, and ask for the new lead. These steps happen fairly quickly; if I delay, things do not go well. Sometimes things don’t go well anyway. Try, try again.

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The moment of the lead change, from right lead to left lead.

After the change, I immediately praise her verbally and pat her with the inside hand, canter a few strides, and then walk. She’s still new to it so she needs lots of praise and a short walk break to make the point of “see, what a smart girl you are! And wasn’t that easy? Now you get to walk, yahoo!” Hopefully she decides she loves to change leads (not just randomly, but when asked, one hopes).

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Starlight looking pleased with herself and thinking about that wonderful lead change.

Oh Starlight, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

We’ve had a long hiatus from horse shows (about 18 months, actually), we’ve moved from Northern to Southern California, and now Star and I finally went back to the show ring.

Our local ‘hood is San Diego, and in San Diego, that means: Del Mar Fairgrounds

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The Del Mar Fairgrounds is a famous racetrack as well as a showground. The weekend that we showed, they were training TBs on the track until 9:30 am, so for the first hour and a half, classes in ring three (which was next to the track) got to enjoy groups of young TBs blowing by at full speed. YEEHAW!!!

Yes, the track really is THAT CLOSE to the arenas. Imagine what it’s like to be asking for an extended canter as the TBs are running by (!) 

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Most entries scratched the morning classes, and the ones who didn’t…wished they did. The rides were dramatic, although the EMTs did NOT have to be called, thank God.

The warm up arenas are IMMENSE and rather exciting! That’s Star looking teeny (she’s actually 16.1 hds, it’s just the other horses are HUGE) with me in the green coat in the foreground.

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I wondered why Star was being difficult in the warmup until I watched a video my husband took. The giant bay horse behind me (not pictured here) was rearing and leaping about 10 feet behind me. No wonder Star was tense! She held it together, but it was distracting. All good training, though. What a good girl.

Below is the indoor arena. It is usually for FEI classes and some day we will be in there. Meanwhile, I enjoy watching the big boys and girls ride their tests. I’ve been watching some of the Master Classes and Freestyles held there recently and it’s been a blast.

Indoor Arena at Del Mar below: check out the Jumbotron hanging from the ceiling and imagine seeing yourself up there (gulp). Better have it together before you try to ride in there…

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P.S. And how did we do at the show? Well, we did o.k., not great. Star was quite tense the first day (tempi changes during the counter canter, really? It was funny), and I was a bit sloppy in my figures (I really should have practiced those 10 m canter circles, I’d forgotten exactly what size they are). Our scores were lower than we usually get but they were good enough, and by the second day of showing, Star was much more relaxed and felt like her normal self. So it was a very successful exercise in getting her used to a very stimulating show grounds, and she ate well, drank well, slept well, was relaxed in the stall and decent in the rings. We hope to return at 3rd level in late April, and in no time she will be an old hand at Del Mar…

A moment of peace…

Polka dotted mare changing out a bleached clipped winter coat for a (briefly) black summer coat. Black until she bleaches it again. The only alternative is never to let her outside. IMG_2952

Hard to believe this is a black mare, not a …what? I call it hyena color at this point. Still beautiful, of course. Always beautiful with that sweet eye and those elegant legs. Funny how the color change starts at the head and sweeps back slowly as she sheds/grows in the new coat.

Enjoying a companionable moment keeping the grass trimmed at her boarding stable. Star tells me this moment is far too short.

Dressage on the Trail! Let’s have some fun here.

A long absence from blogging, although I’ve been back in the saddle since late September.

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My mare, Starlight, had a layup of some months because she kicked the pipe corral fence (very hard, and repeatedly), having objected to her neighbor. Sigh. No more pipe corrals for her. Ever. She is fine, 100% recovered, but it took quite awhile of walking and slow rehab. And it was all just too depressing to write about.

Meanwhile, we moved from the SF Bay Area down to San Diego. We love our new digs; Star especially loves the trails.  We have 60 miles of trails to explore, with hills and flat parts, and there is even just a lovely 10 minute walk called “The Butterfly Loop” that we take daily as a stretch/warm up before ring work. Star has a chance to limber up and listen to the birds, and I have a chance to relax and think about what we might work on.

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The Butterfly Loop.

Even when it rains, these trails stay pretty dry. You can see they put bark down on them. Today, several days after a big rain, our rings were still too wet to work in, so we trotted and cantered out here on the Butterfly Loop.

Dressage on the trail! Fun.

In fact, I’m a big fan of sneaking some dressage into a trail ride. Not enough to make it ruin the fun for the horse, but why not help the horse build good muscles while having fun?

For example, consider these exercises you could do on the trail to build better muscles:

While going up a hill, encourage the horse to reach forward over the back while remaining on the aids. Keep the head low, the neck long and reaching, the back round like a bridge (not hollow). The horse may want to rush or trot up the hill. Discourage this and maintain an even tempo.

When going down hill, think about a round back, half halting the horse, keeping him lightly on the aids and asking him to bring his hocks under him. Think round haunches, reaching under, like Piaffe! Try to keep the horse straight. If the horse is sore on one side (sore hock, for example), he may be a bit crablike down the hill, especially if it is steep. You may have to make allowances for an older, stiffer horse, but try to keep him as straight as possible.

Practice shoulder-in, haunches in, and going back and forth between them. Count the steps, if you like: five steps of shoulder-in left, five steps haunches in left, then straight five steps, stretch for 10 steps, collect again, and do it to the right.

Doing this at the walk, with no one watching, gives you plenty of time to think and feel what is going right (and wrong). I try to imagine I am some amazing Olympic rider and channel them: I am Gunther! I am Charlotte! How would they sit? What would their hands look like? How would they handle this evasion? Would they let the horse suck back? No, every problem begins in the hind end! Forward!

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O.k., here I am clearly not channeling anyone at all, just slouching along letting Star stretch although it does look like I might be beginning or finishing a lateral movement (see right hind crossing). And my reins are too long. As usual.

 

 

And of course, sometimes let’s just ride on the buckle and talk with a friend.

Or sing to your horse.

Or muse about problems…pray…plan… notice the scenery…enjoy the moment.

 

 

Back in the saddle at last

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It has been almost six months since I’ve ridden Star. 

Back in late March, Star decided she did not like her neighbor. Kicking the pipe corral fence separating them seemed like a good plan (to her).

Result: Bad news for us. A significant hematoma (bruise), swelling that would not resolve for many months, a small (fortunately insignificant) lower suspensory branch tear.

Many, many months of icing, walking, wrapping, lasering, ultrasounding the leg to check healing, etc.

The good news is that the prognosis was always excellent (full recovery). The bad news is that it took forever for that swelling to resolve. Horse legs don’t have very good circulation and she really whacked the leg hard (foolish mare). Healing took a long time.

Everything was complicated by us being in the middle of moving from Northern California to San Diego, CA. Star stayed at the rehab center longer than I would have liked, simply because I didn’t want to move her twice and I knew she was safe there.

Two weeks ago, she arrived safe and sound in San Diego. Oh joy! And I rode her two days later. My, she felt much wider than I remembered.

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My daughter visited a few days later and took pictures. Star and I are both out of shape, but we’re getting our groove back on and it feels so good to be back together again.

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Forward into the contact: a continuing journey

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Horses are right or left handed, just as we are. They tend to lean on one rein (usually the left) and to be harder to bend in that direction.  

Starlight and I recently attended a Jane Weatherwax clinic where we worked on riding forward into both reins evenly. While it sounds like a simple concept, it’s one that we’re still working on as we train to show Third Level this year.

How hard could it be to keep the contact even? HA!

Looking at the “bad illustration” below, you can see Star is over bent in her neck (too much inside hand), resistant in her jaw (can you blame her?), a bit braced and hollow in her back and hence her neck is a bit high and braced as well.

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This is not a pretty picture.

Solution? Lower the neck, give with the inside hand, straighten the outside shoulder (don’t let it drift), make sure that inside leg stays at the girth if you are circling right (as I think I might be about to) and use your body to turn, NOT your reins. So simple, right? Oh, if only it were that easy. And ride forward to engage the haunches (engine)!

Star’s desire to lean on the left rein is made worse by my own decades long tendency to be rigid with my left wrist. My whole left side tends to have problems: left leg wants to creep up, hip collapses on that side, head tilts that way sometimes. Oh dear.

Star and I have worked out a co-dependent relationship: she will lean on the left rein and I will carry it for her with my stiff left hand.

Only I really don’t want to do that any more so it’s time to change the rules of this game.

Horses, God bless ’em, have long memories but also plenty of forgiveness (most of them). You can change the rules and stop hanging on that rein and pretty soon, the horse will start to carry himself as he figures out a new balance. Yes, this does actually work, I have felt it!

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Star demonstrates haunches-in. Note the mud-coated left foreleg (from kneeling to reach for tender spring grass under fence). My inside (left) leg should be further forward, on the girth, and my left shoulder could be a tad further back to be perpendicular to the fence.

Use suppling exercises such as:

  • shoulder-in
  • haunches-in
  • 10 or 15 meter circles
  • leg yield to shoulder in
  • shoulder in to half-pass

These are useful exercises for strengthening the horse and teaching balance.

Important: don’t hang on that inside rein!

Giving periodically with the inside rein checks that the horse is not depending on it for balance and remains on the aids.

The problem is remembering to keep the inside rein light along with all the other 2000 things we have to remember. And encourage the horse to move FORWARD (but don’t rush!) into the connection…

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Forward into connection with a nice outside rein connection

Starlight moves to Arriba Vista Ranch

Starlight has moved to a beautiful place of rolling green hills, trails, nice arenas, and she even gets to live next door to her half-brother. How fun is that? Yes, they get along well, no sibling rivalry (yet).

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The view from Starlight’s stall. You can ride those hills, and we will…

There are a lot of PREs (Pura Raza Espanol) horses here and some of them are half-siblings or cousins of Star’s.

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“Could we have lunch now? Or a carrot?”

Wouldn’t you know, we had a major cold snap the day I moved, with rain coming in the day after. Oh joy. Star was very full of herself and more of a handful than usual, but we managed. That chilly air on her freshly clipped skin felt so shivery, it was hard to be well behaved as she usually is…Here she is, wearing her new Rambo blanket.

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Above is the first arena I attempted to ride in today. It was a bit too open and breezy for a horse who was overly frisky today…so we went into the indoor arena. We’ll try outdoors again another day and it will be fine. Below is another arena for another day…So many nice places to ride, and I can’t wait to get out on the trail. Oh what joy! Trails restore my soul and Star likes them, too.

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New sand was going into the smaller covered arena today (yes, there are TWO covered arenas here), and I thought these birds wheeling in the sky looked lovely. IMG_0414.jpg

 

I think we will be happy here.