December 9, 2013 5 Comments
The training journal of a re-rider learning dressage with a couple OTTBs
December 7, 2013 1 Comment
Last winter, prior to his surgery, I barely rode Derby. Our November and December weather here in northern IL is typically marked by wild temperature swings, and he was tough for me to handle. He was spooky and reactive, teleporting across the arena when a door opened and spooking at invisible gremlins. I loaded him him up with calming supplements, swaddled him in quarter sheets, and muddled my way through the coldest months.
We did a lot of ground work. That’s no way to live.
Fast forward twelve months, to this week. The temperatures have been crazy – on Wednesday night, it was 55 degrees, and Derby got a bath after our lesson. Two days later, the lows were hovering near zero. And we’ve been riding through it all, and it’s been great.
What’s the difference? My riding, pure and simple. The frustrating months spent battling my knee and rebuilding my everything appear to have paid off. I’m keeping Derby connected and through, working over his back and one the aids. I can’t begin to describe the monumental change this made in my ability to keep Derby focused. His behavior has been stellar. And I can put him on the bit right from the get go, and for the most part, I’m keeping him there.
On Thursday, we rode through an old intro test, and I was astounded at how well it rode. Christy commented that it better than she’d ever see us look. All of this gives me hope, because I know unequivocally that I wasn’t riding him well last winter, and at shows where we had problems. He wasn’t on the aids and connected. He was able to spook and evade and be ridiculous, because I allowed him to do so. I’m learning to manage the ride, from start to finish.
Today we had another breakthrough. It was cold – really cold. As in about 15 degrees. While I have not been giving Derby calming supps this year, I do use a quarter sheet (and a Back on Track pad) on very cold days.
Derbs was chill at the outset, but then got really behind my leg, and started to hint at some stupidity. I thought to myself “I need to get off, take off the quarter sheet, and pick up a whip.”
So I did. Like Linus giving up his security blanket, I was a bit trepidatious as I took the sheet off, but thought “What the hell,” and went back into the arena. Anything is better than fighting a horse that is behind your leg .
At the first sign of balking, Derby got a crack with the whip, and he gave the right answer, snapping to attention and getting to task. The second half of our ride was really nice, and we had good energy.
I closed out the ride working on my left leg, which is still persistently unsteady. It just needs to get stronger, and it is, but not fast enough for my tastes, which is why I’m starting private Pilates lessons next week, and am looking into Feldenkrais work too.
We’re going to have a great winter!
November 25, 2013 Leave a comment
My riding – both in lessons, and when I’m left to my own devices, has continued to dramatically improve, and I believe this is due to the confluence of several factors, including:
Anyway, she’s lovely and gets some beautiful work out of the Derbinator, as you can see here:
Okay. So back to my progress. As I mentioned previously, the pressure was on, due to the impending weather and inevitable frigid temperatures. So, between the imperative to get my sh*t together and ride, I made getting Derby onto my aids my priority.
And you know what? That works pretty well.
Keeping Derby on the aids requires me to ride every step and every moment. I’ve written about that in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly ridden that way, moving from a connected walk to a connected trot and fixing problems as they started to crop up, not when they were full-blown. I’m actually able to feel changes in the horse, now, and feel when when I have good contact (versus a bulgy under-neck), and best of all, I’m learning to make the quick little adjustments necessary to keep Derby’s attention from straying, and to keep him connected and working over his back. Here are some of the highlights:
Christy posited – and I tend to agree – that the last few months, while they may have felt like steps backwards, were actually spent filling gaps in my skills. I’m using my new tools, she says, and am riding more consistently and correctly than she’s ever seen me do. I’m happy with the progress I seen on the video, but I’m happier still with the feel – and the feedback – I’m getting in the saddle.
November 20, 2013 1 Comment
It’s been more than a two months since I’ve updated the blog. Mea culpa! Life has been busy – busy enough, in fact, that it’s impacted my riding. And frankly, blogging falls by the wayside before barn time. So does bed time, for that matter.
My knee is feeling great and overall, I know my strength is more symmetrical, though now that I’m so self aware, I can detect some lingering weaknesses. Rome wasn’t built in a day, however, and I’ll keep chipping away at building more strength here and flexibility there. It is, as they say, a process.
We’re entering my least favorite time of the year. The days grow shorter and shorter, and I hate how the darkness encroaches more and more upon each day. And the temperatures drop, some times varying dramatically day to day. Derby gets a bit looney during those first couple cold snaps – which means that my seat needs to be SOLID. Additionally, as Christy has pointed out, I need do be doing a better job of keeping Derby on the bit and on my aids. ”Contact isn’t something you maintain for the sake of maintaining it, ” Christy told me recently. ” Contact is feedback, and you need to listen and respond to it.”
On Monday, it was windy and cold, and I was apprehensive. Christy had me start my lesson with reins short and legs active, asking me to put Derby on the bit and keep him there. Now, the fact that I generally *don’t* do this is the root of many of my problems, and I know this. However, thinking something and doing it are different things. Howeve, with Christy’s coaching, we had some lovely contact and subsequent walk work, but I struggled putting it all together at the trot.
I tried again yesterday, and did a bit better, but the real breakthrough was tonight. It’s been months since I was able to get Derby to stay round and connected, with good contact, but I got it done tonight. I have another lesson tomorrow, and will try to get some video. It felt great, and I want to see how we look!
In addition to Derby, I’ve been working assiduously on my strength and position by grabbing additional rides on Tucker when I can, which is usually about three times a week. This is working well for me, as Tuck is a very sensitive guy, and gives me indisputable feedback about my position. If leaning one way or slumping another, he lets me know. Tucker is helping me improve my own straightness, because he refuses to ignore me when I’m crooked.
Christy has also wisely used this rebuilding time to work on quieting my hands, and her efforts are paying off. All in all, I’m much quieter in the saddle, and the horses are going better, because (at least I believe) I’m reducing the ambient noise my flapping arms and nagging heels caused. The work is a bit dull but there’s no question that rides like tonight are a satisfying payoff.
September 5, 2013 2 Comments
It’s been ages since my last update, and I really wish I had more earth-shattering news to share. The last few months have been frustrating and enlightening, to say the least. I’ve been struggling a lot in the saddle, overcoming that knee problem and building strength.
By accident I now also have a very specific understanding of and appreciation for saddle balance.
My Albion K2 became uncomfortable for my sore knee, as the knee blocks really put pressure and I think some torque on that leg. So I switched back to my old Wintec, with no blocks. The flaps are completely flat. My ouchy leg is happier in that saddle.
However, though it looked OK, the Wintec was too wide for Derby. His disapproval was subtle at first – he refused to go forward. And I was struggling like crazy to organize myself, much less him, in that saddle.
In retrospect, I should have spotted a big red flag when I rode Manny and Tucker in that saddle. On them, in that saddle, I rode well. Christy and I have concluded that it was a matter of saddle balance. We monkeyed with shims and gullets, and the difference is night and day. I had been feeling like I was fighting every moment to maintain my position while on Derby in the too-wide saddle. Now that I’ve reinstalled the narrow gullet, it’s much easier for me to just ride.
However, my problems (unfortunately) do not start and end with the saddle. Far from it.
Christy is working me through some issues with my position – in particular, getting me to stop pinching my knees. She demonstrated memorably for me a few days ago how a rider’s pinchy knee affects the horse. She was on Remy, and we were chatting about different aspects of rider position. She was moving around, demonstrating the different effects her biomechanics had on the horse. When she pinched her knee, Remy’s back dropped. He flung his head up and became hollow. Which is how Derby has been going around, apparently because that’s how I’ve been riding him.
When I mounted up, the first thing I did was to fluff my knees away from the saddle. Immediately this helped me wrap my calves around the horse, and as soon as I did it, Derby started to stretch and round. All righty then. Horse approves.
At the trot it’s still a challenge for me to maintain. I’m using entirely new muscles. It feels better and I have a more forward horse. Now I just need to build my endurance and make this new position my habit. Unfortunately, this part is a bit of a slog! But what’s the saying? Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it — gotta go through it. Or something like that.
August 7, 2013 1 Comment
Progress continues, but some days it seems painfully slow, while on others I can see improvement and am encouraged.
We’ve been working on reconnecting me to my inside leg, and also improving Derby’s response. While our lesson last Wednesday wasn’t anything to really write home about, we were able to achieve a degree of throughness after a couple spooks and after using simple leg yields to get my inner leg working, and Derby connected into the outside rein.
In addition to riding Derbs, I’ve also picked up a partial shareboard on my little buddy Tucker. We had a nice ride over the weekend, after I had one a fellow rider take a quick look and offer me some advice on how to get Tucker to stretch down into contact (he’s happy to give you a headset.) I did a lesson on him last night, and then rode Derbs (and then went home and collapsed.)
Happily, Tucker is telling me that my position and strength are both getting back in balance. He’s sensitive and has a lot of training. I got on him a couple months ago and couldn’t ride him in a straight line. My last two rides, while far from perfect, have been better. He’s not staggering like a drunk across the arena and I’m able to actually get him to go where I want to go with my seat and legs, which is a nice change of pace.
We’re picking at my position again, as I’ve started clamping my knees and closing my hips. Riding forward with legs draping, hips open and hands steady is the focus this week.
July 30, 2013 Leave a comment
Last week I hopped on Manny for couple rides, and admired the way he moved easily off my left leg. I mentioned this to Christy, who noted that my left leg, which is a bit unsteady, ‘nags’ at Derby’s side. She theorized that he’s dead to my leg on that side as a result.
So responsiveness has been on my mind. As my strength is coming back, I’m riding the horse more forwardly, and am correcting him when he stalls out and slows down. I’m getting better gaits out of Derbs, but lateral response can be best described as “meh.”
I also tend to second-guess myself, thinking “I must not have asked correctly” if Derby fails to respond to a request I make. However, Christy has proven to me repeatedly in the past that for love of all things good and holy, I know how to move a horse off my leg and bend. Zero response, she reminded me, is not an option. ”He didn’t even swish his tail!” she commented after observing one lame attempt.
So she set me to work, trotting laps down the long side, and abbreviating the end of the arena by turning deliberately before the end. She
asked told me to start down the long side on the quarter line, and to leg yield to the rail before getting to our turn on the short end. ”Do not turn unless you are on the rail. GET THERE,” she insisted.
The first couple attempts were ugly, and I dropped back to the walk to get my ducks in a row. After one “listen to me!” correction with the whip, Derby yielded nicely off my left leg. We picked up the trot, and things were immediately better, and they continued to improve. Derby became downright responsive, and as I gained better control over the inside hind, his gait quality improved too.
It was a particularly illuminating lesson, and very motivating. The results – improved responsiveness and better gaits – were pretty immediate, once I got the horse properly motivated. I’m going to be adding the leg-yield exercises to all of my warm ups. I now know where those buttons are, and I need to keep fine-tuning them!