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Changing Things Up

March 14, 2011

Many things have happened since my last post in both the dressage and hunter world.

Carly and I have been working hard at dressage and plan a schooling show in two weeks.  We’ll do Intro B and Intro C, which has a little canter in.  I think we have the basics of a intro level dressage frame and forward impulsion.  We did a practice test at home and scored a 70%.  We need to work a bit more on flexion and picking up canter.  All good things to work on in the coming weeks.


Our issues with responsiveness have been ongoing.  Using the whip to back-up my leg has only induced bucking (which she never did under saddle until about 9 months ago, and will do now almost every time I use the whip).  She finally acted out like this in a dressage lesson and my instructor suggested I hold the whip like a driving whip and whoosh it above her ears.  Worked like a charm – she cantered with great enthusiasm around the ring.  I took it one step further and ditched my spurs.  Now, just holding the whip this way can induce canter.  In fact, we accidentally did a halt to canter transition the other day!


In the hunter world, I am the one with the problem.  I find it difficult to switch between dressage and hunters and the different types of contact.  I have been working hard at remembering my trainer’s number one rule: knuckles to her neck.  I did well with implementing this today and Carly happily loped around the jump course with clean and easy changes.  Again, no spurs!


I have a few other things that I am working on:  a better two point position is high on my list.  I have been working on squatting down in the saddle more and letting my butt move up and down and keeping my shoulders still.  I’ve been working on two point with stirrups to improve this.


To sum it all up, lots of things are going right for us now and we plan to keep on working on all these things.





It’s All There

September 5, 2010

I rode Carly, for the first time, in the dressage group lesson this morning.  Usually, I go for the jumping group – I don’t want to lose those skills while we work on improving our flatwork.   Our biggest challenge today was forward.  I am just starting to learning what forward truly means and how to get it.

The past few rides, Carly has not wanted to canter, and bucked when I tapped her with the whip (although she did canter after this).   I suspected the problem was rider error – not forward enough and fidgeting with my hands too much in an effort to get round.  She did buck once when I asked for canter this morning – and then, as we continued to work on forward – I got lovely transitions.

I have two things – both related – that I need to fix in my position to help us be forward and improve our transitions.

1 – No boobs.  I should not be sticking my boobs out when riding.  Neither should Carly,  I stick my boobs out, and she sticks her chest out and falls on to the forehand.  Both our chests need to be up.

2 – Flat back.  Don’t arch my back, tuck seatbones under and think of back being flat like I am pressing it against a wall.

“It’s all in there,” the trainer said at the end f the ride.  You need to work on keeping your back flat, and just using your legs to push her forward.  Don’t mess with your hands -you need to have a receiving hand and just use both reins, like a half halt to get her round.  But it is all in there.”

She makes it sound so easy – it probably is much easier than I am making it.

The Hind End

September 5, 2010

We spent today’s lesson focused mostly on the hind end and keeping it straight.  When tracking left, Carly likes to let her hind end fall to the right.  She doesn’t like to put her right hind leg underneath her.  When her hind end falls to the right, her barrel bulges out against my leg and her left shoulder drops down falls in.  So we spent our lesson working on keeping straight from the hind end to the shoulders.

This issue came up when I told Barbie that Carly was very stiff on the left rein, and when I tried to use this rein to supple her, she would toss her head up.   To fix this, we actually turned our attention to first her shoulders and then her butt.  The first thing I learned is that I need to look at Carly’s shoulder to see if she is straight, not at her neck.  She may be looking to the right, but it is most important that her shoulders are even with each other.  I can then look behind (at a halt) to see where her butt is.

We worked on hind end straightness by doing lots of little turns, and trying to make them square.  When turning left, I need to use my outside rein and think about doing a tiny turn on the haunches.  That helps her rock back and get her shoulders up through the turn.  At the beginning, it was okay if she was counterbent through the turn because of the contact in my outside rein.  “It’s okay, I did that for a whole year while learning to be straight!”  Barbie joked.  But once Carly really started making nice square turns, I started to use an indirect rein (this is where I pull my hand towards her withers  with slightly increased contact) to get her to bend slightly inside.  I have to be very careful with my left rein – too much contact will make her toss her head up, but simply moving my hand closer to her withers got us just the right amount of bend. When we did this correctly, I could really feel her sitting back and lifting up her shoulders through the turn. Before I knew it, she was coming down and rounding throughout the turn, rather than throwing her head up.  We of course repeated this exercise on the right side. She already is up in her shoulders tracking right, so I really didn’t need to work as hard to get her to sit back through the turns.  The difference when we got it right on this side was, also, not as noticeable because she is naturally straighter and more up in her shoulders on this side.

The hard part came when we tried to go along the straightaway.  Her butt flew to the right and her shoulders fell in.  Normally, I try to fix this by bending her to the inside and giving her a kick with my inside leg.  Barbie explained that doesn’t really fix the problem – Carly not only isn’t straight, she’s also on her forehand.  So when I use my inside rein alone to fix her shoulders, all I do is move her shoulders over, but her butt stays to the right and her shoulders stay too low (on the forehand).  The correct way to straighten her out is to use my outside rein, pulling back directly, to straighten out her butt.  Once that is straight, then I can use my inside rein indirectly, thinking of lifting her shoulders up and over, like we did in a previous lesson to get her straight.

Two of my friends were watching the lesson – “They have been through this, they know all about this. This part is hard, but you will get it.  You know when to release, you don’t hang on her mouth.”

And so our work continues.

The Magic Canter

August 15, 2010

Since my last dressage lesson, I have been trying to recreate that wonderful slow, collected, springy canter.  My hunter jumper trainer has been helping me continue to work on this.  While at the upper levels, a dressage canter and a hunter canter look pretty different, for right now, slow and springy is the goal no matter what discipline we’re working on that day.

In my Thursday lesson, Gina worked with me to create the perfect canter by first getting a slow but energetic canter, and then suppling her on the inside rein (flexing her jaw) while maintaining light contact with the outside rein.  I sometimes will supple her with the outside rein as well, if I feel like Carly is locking up on that side.  I supple the reins until she drops her head down and rounds up.  Then I sit as still as possibly, doing the minimum necessary to keep her shoulders up. It worked, and I recreated our lovely canter on the flat portion of the lesson. But I could not quite carry it over into the jumping portion – Carly got too long and we either left out a stride or she added an awkward half step right before each jump.

In today’s lesson, Gina reminded me how I got the perfect canter by keeping her slow and suppling her into a round frame.  The she left me alone to figure it out.  We got it!  It is hard for us to make it the whole way around the ring without her canter changing, but we’re getting there.  Even better, though, I find when I get her round and slow, I don’t need to do anything to keep her going. I just try to sit as still as humanly possible.  It is a fragile thing, right now, this magic canter and if I change anything in my body, Carly might take that as a sign to change something in her body.

In today’s lesson, we succeeded in finding that canter in between some of the jumps.  I would half halt her moderately hard, and then let go to remind her to keep her canter small and her shoulders up. The timing plays an important role here – if my half halt lasts too long and Carly feels like I am holding her, she will start to pull against me and fall down on her forehand. Today, Carly and I were in sync, and I had god timing.  As a result, we had a great canter in between our jumps. We were getting the correct number of strides and okay distances and  my trainer was hollering, “Yeah, yes, that’s it!” (which is always a good indicator).But also, in between the lines I felt the slow uphill canter that I usually feel only right after Gina has done a training ride on Carly.   Getting Carly to canter the same way the pro does is success!

Now that I am getting this canter, the trick is to keep on getting it.  Each ride, I think (hope)  it will come a little easier and feel a little better.  A lot of things are changing for Carly and I – we’re transitioning from being the pair that can hardly keep going even when I kick and whip and cluck to the pair that keeps going with me just sitting there quietly, enjoying each and every step.

Suppling and Transitions

August 9, 2010

I have been struggling with getting Carly round and on the bit for the past few weeks. In a previous lesson, we had discussed moving shoulders and using the inside rein to ask her to move her shoulders up and over, while coming on to the bit. But it recent rides, when I asked her to be round, she ran around with her nose in the air and hollow backed instead of coming down on to the bit and using her back. With much patience, I did eventually get her in to the shape I wanted, but it was a slow process with many ugly moments in between.

I of course had this problem during warm up, so when Barbie asked me what I wanted to work on, I told her that I couldn’t keep Carly on the bit and get her shoulders up.

“Show me,” she said.
We went around and she quickly pinpointed our problems. “She’s not straight and she’s not supple. So get her straight -her right hind is leaking out, so take up a little more contact on that right rein. Ok, now supple her down.”

Oh, suppling! I had somehow gotten into my head that I was not supposed to do that … Barbie clarified that you need to do this when warming up to soften your horse. Once theyare softand supple, though,you keep them on the bit with a half halt on the reins.

It took a lot of work to supple her down. I had to use a lot more hand than I like to use (I just want everything to be soft and flowy all the time and am learning to be firmer when needed so I can be softer later on. I also needed to spread my hands wide and low, down by my knees while suppling. She slowly softened to where I could put my hands back in neutral and get her round with just a half halt on one rein. Once we got the straightaways, we finessed our corners. I needed to make sure that I conntinued keep her forwards with my legs and maintain contact with my outside rein to keep her round through the corners. I love the feeling of when she is balanced and through with her body – we are together, fluid, and beautiful.

We weren’t done yet, though, and our lesson kept getting better. Barbie next challenged us with transitions. “When making an upward transition, think about keeping the body still, but making the legs move. When making a downward transition, slow down the body, then slow the legs, so it’s still active.”. Thinking about which body parts needed to move or slow down helped our transitions enormously.

Then she asked us to canter. Sigh. This rarely goes the way I envision. She doesn’t go forward when I ask, I start squirming around to try and ask for the canter with a firmer aid. Then we do get the canter, it’s not forward enough and when I tap with the whip, we go slower and we break. Yuk.  The canter did start off par for course with the wrong lead.  “Her right hip is flying out! Don’t let go of your right rein.  Do a little shoulder fore … ok, ask now.”

We got our sticky lead, hurrah! Barbie noted here that I am used to letting go to get Carly to go forward and I need to learn to keep my contact while getting her to go.  I suppose that is the “keeping her body still and making her legs move” part of the upward transition.

“Okay, make her round, on the bit!”

We got that, hurrah!  I think we broke to a trot in there somewhere, but quite honestly, I have blocked it out of my memory, because what happened next was so wonderful.

“Slow her down!” (I always get her going a bit too much).  “Think of a little shoulder fore!” “I love your seat right now!” “That’s wonderful!”

When we started dressage lessons 9 months ago, I could NOT sit the canter.  I couldn’t get her round, and I couldn’t keep the canter.  We changed reins, and went on to our right lead, the easy side.  We got a nice trot, stayed on the bit in the upwards transition … But about halfway around the ring, she felt slow.  I was determined that we would not break.  So I added more leg. “Stop! Why did you do that? You had a lovely canter, and then she went flat.”

“I thought she was going to break.”

“No, that is the canter you want.  That springy canter that you get right before she breaks is the perfect canter.  When you put too much leg, she just falls flat. When she is round like that, you don’t need to worry about her breaking. Do it again.”

So we did. We got our slow springy canter and I really really wanted to use some leg and get her going a bit faster.  But I didn’t. If she breaks, well then, I can tell Barbie that she is wrong.  I did an occasional teeny tiny shoulder fore to keep her shoulders up.  As we gently sprung around the ring, Barbie asked me to collect her a bit more.  I very gently put a little more leg on and very cautiously squeezed the reins. I got an equally cautious, but adequate response.

“I’ve never seen her canter like that before! That was great!”

My instructor and I just beamed at each other, and I am still on Cloud 9 from that canter.  I couldn’t reproduce it in my jumping class the next day, but that’s okay, I know we can do that and we can keep working on it.  And thank goodness for barn friends, who all came up and complimented me on how far Carly and I have come.  It’s so nice to know that people are noticing our progress!


July 7, 2010

I participated in a clinic with Elaine Gibala two weeks ago.   In our lesson, we focused solely on shoulders and moving them around to help keep Carly lifting up and straight, without falling in anywhere.

The main idea wherever we went was to lead out or in with shoulder.  If we can control the shoulders, we can control everything.

Here are the various exercises we did to get her shoulers lifting up and moving over:

Go in 10 meter circle.  Make it bigger by leading out with shoulder and make it small by bending to outside and leading inside with shoulder.   Do this at walk, trot, and canter.

Serpentine moving shoulder out.

Leg yield by moving shoulder over. Open inside hand to get butt caught up.

Turn on haunches.

After doing all these exercises, the next day, in the jump lesson Carly was up in her shoulders instead of on the forehand with minimal effort from me.  I kept her straight to the fences and got our lead changes.  She seemed especially cooperative, but I think her mouth was sensitive from the previous day.  I kept a soft hand, but was persistent with my requests. She eventually settled down when she  realized that I was not constantly messing with her mouth asking her to move her shoulders over, and riding with light contact.   When she did calm down, I got the most amazing canter – soft, fluid, energetic.

Matching Ends

May 29, 2010

My head is once again spinning from everything I learned in my dressage lesson this morning. Definitely getting my money’s worth!

We started off having a discussion about me “grinding” and “doing the hoochie-coochie” on Carly’s back at the walk.  I thought I was doing the right thing by pushing with my seat, but apparently, I got a little too exuberant and overdid it. I think we were both happy when I stopped wiggling all over her like a caterpillar.

The overall theme of today’s lesson was to get matching front and back ends – her shoulders need to match her butt.  She was a little stiff today, so we started off working on suppling. When I supple her with the reins by taking a bend, she needs to lower her head AND step up with her back legs.  One way to make sure that her back end and her front end change together is by “bowing” her body, so from her poll to her tail she is in the shape of a bow.  I am not looking for the “Stevie Wonder” effect with her head lolling back and forth, I want her whole body to curve.  So for an inside supple, I need to use my inside hand and inside leg and my outside hand needs to stay neutral but with contact. It’s important to keep her moving forward as we do this, otherwise then I am just messing with her front end and her back end is not engaging.

As we went down the center line at a trot, I had to keep in mind this bowing to keep her soft.  If she seemed tight on one side, I would soften her by bowing her on that side.  This required a sense of timing and feel that I am still developing.  But we did well going down the center line, making half a 10 meter circle, and then going along the rail, and making another half ten meter circle. Carly’s head often came up in the turns – this is because she backs off and does not keep on stepping underneath herself in a turn.  So I need to push her forward and think of the bow shape (inside leg and hand) to keep her working through her back.  At the same time, I need to remember my outside rein and keep steady contact with the outside.

As we mastered this, Barbie asked us to go along the rail at a sitting trot and then go across the diagonal. “Now, ask for an extension!” I increased my leg pressure and Carly almost broke into canter. “Keep her together in front!” So, I increased my hands as I pushed her forward. It felt nice – smooth, energetic, powerfully marching along. She almost broke into canter once, but I held her back.”Lovely! Most horses can’t do an extension like that the first time.”

“Now that extension is where the upward transition to the canter lies.  We need her stepping underneath herself like that to get the upwards transition, so we’ll play with that a little.”

Carly was starting to get heavy in the front, rounding her head down too low, so started with some half-halts to get her front end up more.  After a few rounds of that, we cantered.  Not only did we canter without breaking, but I managed to keep her round most of the time in both directions.  Watching Jane Savoie’s video on half-halts helped quite a bit. Before squeezing my outside rein to get her round,  I made sure to use my legs first, thinking “surge forward” (Jane likes to say “Add, add, add”) and then squeezing my outside rein to get her round.

Progress! That is the best canter I think we have had yet.