Coming through

I thought we were still trotting but evidently not.

I thought we were still trotting but evidently not. It turned out for the best though – he finally got in front of my leg after this spook.

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.

Back to the Isabel – for now

IMG_9694 It’s been that kind of week.  You know the kind – when the fact that you brushed out you horse’s tail (oh, and it looked awesome!) for the first time in months, and you were too gratified – waaaayyyy too gratified – by the results.   It *is* looking pretty good.

In reality my angst was driven by the realization that my Albion saddle – with it’s deep seat, big blocks and sticky leather – has turned me into a lazy and less-effective rider.  I’ve pulled my old Isabel out, found a half-pad (a Mattes with ThinLine shims) that works for Derby, and put myself to work.

I’m still dealing with IT band issues on my right leg – that injury isn’t resolved – but as I’m working in the Isabel, I’m also working on my right-side weakness.  After a few frankly ugly rides, I was finally able to put things together somewhat today.   I got to the barn early and rode Derby outside, working in the deeper footing, and I was able to keep him round and engaged for most of the ride.  It’s progress. The Isabel works my core and helps me find my balance in ways the Albion doesn’t, as evidenced by the grossly ineffective ride I hand when giving the Isabel a shot a week ago.  I’m planning to keep the Isabel in the rotation, because it requires so much more of me as a rider.





Getting back in the swing of things

It was a gorgeous evening!

It was a gorgeous evening!

I’m back home (for a few weeks at least) and am getting back onto my daily schedule. I’m creaky, my bad knee is playing hell with me and I feel like a soup sandwich up there in the saddle, but nonetheless, enough good things are happening that I feel encouraged.

In my lesson tonight we were able to diagnose what I was doing that was causing some problems with left bend.  I love the fact that Christy makes “headroom” in lessons, taking time to think rather than just yelling “Bend! More bend! Come on, bend him!” as I’ve seen other trainers do.  At the walk, as we talked, I was moving Derby all over the arena, doing little serpentines, small circles and changes of direction from my seat and legs.  However, at the trot, I was a mess going left. We picked at it, and I realized that I was allowing my outside leg to creep forward, which pretty much negated my aids.  Once I repositioned myself, and made a point of keeping that leg long with the hip open, placing it a bit further back than my inside leg, things improved quickly for us.

My endurance is for crap at the moment but it’s getting a bit better each ride.  I’m hoping to be back at full strength soon.

In other news, over the last month, Derby has also had two chiro visits. Remember the awful canter video from a couple posts ago, in which he was swapping behind? I had Dr. Heinze of Fox Valley Equine see him, and he adjusted him, with immediate results.  The very next day Derby cantered comfortably both directions.  However, a few weeks later, he started showing signs of discomfort again.  I had Dr. Heinze back out,  and we’re hoping that Derbs will be able to go longer between adjustments, especially as he builds strength on his right side.

It should be pretty nice this weekend.  If I have time, I know two stinky horses that are at risk for bubble baths!

I ended the evening watching Christy ride Austin bareback.   She was having a great time – his gaits are smooth and very comfy, and according to her, his back is soft and comfy too.  Both definitely enjoyed themselves.

We also found out this week that this cute red boy can jump like the dickens.  He’s a cute and versatile horse and looks like he could be a cute children’s hunter, pony club wonder horse or a fun mount for an ammy who wants to dabble in everything.  He’s also for sale, but I get the sneaking feeling that Christy wouldn’t mind to much if he hung around for a while. 😉

My Schoolmaster

derby and me

He’s as good as Christy at diagnosing what I’m doing wrong.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and since I’ve ridden for that matter.  Between travel for work, and a nasty cold, it’s been more than a week since I last rode.   And when more than a few days passes between rides, I tend to fell pretty out of whack.

“Out of whack” has been a recurring theme for me lately, as we’ve been doing more work on my position.  We also determined that my hands have become unsteady, causing Derby to object stridently. So regaining some semblance of independence in my hands has been at the top of my list.

For my first ride back (yesterday) I spent a lot of time in two-point, reawakening my riding muscles (and garnering a protest from them this morning.)  Then, once I was warmed up, I started to build some connection by not shortening the reins, but by working on riding Derby out and down into contact.  By keeping my hands where they belong, above his withers, I was able to create contact that Derby could start to trust not to jab him in the mouth.

Any time I erred, and started to draw my hands back to my hips, my schoomaster would let me know immediately, by inverting and flinging his head.  As soon as I would push my hands forward, back to where they belong, Derby rewarded me by rounding and moving nicely.

Today I was able to accomplish more.  I could feel things clicking into place and we had some nice work.  Best of all, the work on my position has paid dividends, in the form of more effective aids.  In addition to moving forward nicely, Derby is also responding very well to my requests for lateral movement.  Christy has commented that it’s our job to create the space we want the horse to fill, and I’m starting to experience that first hand.

I have one more ride tomorrow night before heading out of town for a few days, and I have more travel coming up over the next couple weeks.  Things will be spotty for a while, but the feedback from my schoolmaster makes getting back on track easier!


Unfinished business

My plans with Derby have come to a halt for the time being, as he’s busy brewing an abscess in his right front.   The hoof is warm, and getting warmer, and it’s clearly tender.  So as that situation resolves, I’ve been riding Manny and Tucker, and they’ve been giving me invaluable feedback on a bad habit of mine – allowing my hands to creep downward and back, instead of keeping them up over the horse’s withers.   It turns out that Manny and Tucker, with their shorter, higher-set necks, are the perfect schoolmasters for this particular problem.  They also helped me do a better job of using my inside leg to ride the horse out into the contact, another sticking point for me.

I started tackling the problem while riding Manny in a lesson.  Christy caught me pulling his head in, instead of riding him out to the contact, so she had me focus on sitting up and carrying my hands correctly, keeping them quiet, while at the same time using my inside leg to encourage Manny to bend and soften.  As I did so, Manny responded positively.  His back came up and he really engaged for me. The lesson for me was “less is more, but ‘less’ has to be correct.”

I also had a very redemptive ride on Tucker recently.   He’s well trained but he is really hard for me to ride.  However, using some of the tactics from my lesson on Manny, I was finally able to have a decent ride on Tucker.   What both rides really showed me is that I am very hands-y, and am over reliant (and flat out incorrect).  I have rides on both slated for later this week – I’d like to get this bad habit fixed for once and for all before I get back on the Derbster.

Getting by

Stall rest for Derby continues, but so far he’s handling it well.  Christy tells me that he’s quiet during the day, and though he’s a bit grumpy now and then, for the most part, he’s pretty laid back.  We’ve started doing some hand walking, so I’m able to get him out of his stall for a few minutes at least.  I’m also doing as much as I can to provide him with entertainment and distraction in his stall, including using small-hole haynets to make his hay last a bit longer and equipping him with a couple different LikkIts.

Solitary confinement.

In the meantime, Ive been riding Tucker, who’s made a few appearances on this blog previously.  He’s a fancy little Quarter Horse with a lot of training.  I’m still feeling a bit out of whack on him still – he has an entirely different build and way of going than Derby.  We’re getting more into synch, and Christy tells me we look okay, even if I still feel out of balance and ineffective.    I’m trying to ride a few different horses while Derby is laid up, and get the most out of this time as I can.



Real sitting trot!

In my defense, he’s hard to put together. Derby doesn’t have ideal conformation for dressage. He’s a thoroughbred, and is built downhill. (Nice badonkadonk, though!)

Today I had a real breakthrough , and it was totally unexpected. We achieved real sitting trot. By “real” I mean connected, round and working back to front. And it was amazing. More specifically, it was an epiphany!

But first, let me tell you what we’ve been up to lately. Ofter the debacle at the last show, I told Christy that 2013 starts now. She upped the ante on me, and started to require work in two-point and without stirrups.  The last few weeks have been difficult, but interesting.  As I work new muscles, really getting into my hip flexors and abs in particular, I’m starting to see the effect my biomechanics have on Derby’s way of going.

The work in two-point is a case in point. Contrary to popular belief (or at least how I learned a zillion years ago) two-point isn’t simply a matter of standing up in the stirrups and resting your knuckles against the horse’s neck.

“Which muscles are you using?” Christy said as Derby and I tootled around in what would commonly pass as a two-point.

“Ermm. None?” I ventured.

“Right. None. And your horse is shuffling along on his forehand,” she said. “Now try this …”

With constant coaching, Christy put us together, and taught me that you can influence the horse while in two-point. But it has to be an effective two point, I’ve learned.  At first, I thought Christy was crazy when she got after me to put Derby on the bit, get him round and bend him – in two point.  But as she put us together, guiding me into a balanced version of the two point, Derby miraculously began to round and carry himself.

“See?” she said.  “It’s not about training the horse.  It’s training the rider.”

Unfortunately for my muscles, she’s right.  The work in two-point moved into a variety of no-stirrup exercises, and then we started to put things back together, applying the new lessons, as I posted.   I had a couple moments where I generated real throughness with the new position – and I wasn’t demanding it from the horse, as much as I was putting myself into the position that encouraged the horse to go there.  Experiencing this was a real revelation in and of itself, especially when Christy had me practice going back and forth between  “doing it wrong” and trying to maintain a correct position.

Again, the effect on the horse was immediate and noticeable.  As soon as I’d arch my back and stick my butt out (whether posting or in two-point), Derby’s gait would immediately slow.  Re-positioning myself into my more correct and balanced position fixed the problem just as quickly.  At first I resisted Christy’s suggestion of going back and forth between bad and good.  However, now I realize that she was teaching me to feel my point of balance, and what happens when I deviate from that point.

So fast forward to today.  I had done quite a bit of work and was taking a walk break.  Derby started to fuss, resisting contact by flipping his head.  When he does this, Christy has had me working on getting him forward, holding the reins, and letting his pulling anchor me even more deeply into the saddle.  Today, as we worked things out, something different happened.  When I kicked Derby forward when he was resistant, I closed my legs and deepened my seat, holding the reins steady and anchoring myself with my core.  I’ve learned from Christy that when I do this,  any pulling Derby was going to do was only going to make my seat deeper – and it’s now one of my most important tools.  He softened and rounded, and I got a nice walk for a stride or two. Then he popped into a trot.  Because “forward” was absolutely the right answer, I didn’t want to ask him to downshift immediately.  So we trotted, and I chose to sit a few beats.  In that brief moment, I applied some of the learning imparted from Christy and actually rode it with some purpose, drawing on and our work on effective two-point and without stirrups, and made a point of finding my balance and keeping my hip angles open.

Lo and behold, we wound up doing a nice sitting trot.  Derby was on the bit, round and his hind legs were engaged.  And it felt great!
“Christy.   CHRISTY.  Look.  Sitting trot.  His back is up. I’m doing it!!!”  I shrieked to Christy, who was also riding at the time.

“Wow, that looks great!” she replied, stopping to watch.  We went all the way around the arena, and then did it again.  Was this a fluke?  I tried it again.  And got the same good result  I switched directions,and had to work to put Derby together, but we got it done.  We did a couple laps that direction.  I experimented a bit, asking for a big bigger trot with my seat and legs.  It worked.  Derby stepped forward into a bigger gait. I think I’m going to be more effective once I master the sitting trot.

Needless to say, I was thrilled and Christy was happy too.  I was particularly pleased to have put the sitting trot together by myself, by paying attention to what the horse was doing under me, minding my position and using the tools Christy has given me.  I feel like I’m developing some independent competence as a rider. It was a thrilling ride, and I can’t wait to try it again!