Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lackluster Spins ... No More?

We all know that probably our greatest weakness in our reining patterns is in the turarounds. Some might argue the stops, but I feel that the spins are what need the most work.

I work on spins almost every time I ride. I certainly dont drill, but I do work on them. The last week or more I have been focusing on perfecting the small circle (and by small I mean small, not reining pattern small) to encourage Milo to be more on the outside rein and in a true arc in the circle. I have been trying to keep his inside hind to the inside of the circle, and his body arced (but obviously not overdone) for the circle and turnaround. With focus on this area I felt we were getting somewhere. Then when we went to the show it all blew out the window - our turns were pretty poor (especially from what I knew we were capable of practicing at home) and what I felt it really came down to was that Milo just wasnt trying very hard in the spins.

Naturally, the show environment changes how I ride and my horse performs (and I will get to a post about the show, Im waiting on an upload of video from Boyfriend's phone, which has since caused some problems). I didnt think a whole lot specifically about the spins and then I was cruising YouTube and found this video:

What first caught my attention was what he said a lot of people tell him; "My horse will spin but not any faster". My ears opened up a little more. He explained that the whole time they are spinning the rider is pulling on the reins and kicking with their foot. While I like to think that I ride better then what the average person is doing, I knew that that was the scenario Milo and I were playing. Throughout the turnaround I have to ask him to keep going and once I stop asking he stops. Seems logical, but this guy was emphasizing making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. He said that "the horse is looking for the stop," and that feels like the boat Im in with Milo. 

If you watched the video, you saw that he didnt keep asking for the turnaround. When the horse stepped out, he put pressure on it, but when the horse did what he wanted there was no pressure. I really liked this idea and it made more sense then what I have been doing. 

I tried this simple exercise with Milo yesterday, and I tell you what it works. But I was surprised to find that it didnt take long for Milo to catch on, in fact, I think I had been doing this to a degree, unknowingly, at least at home. But at the shows I throw it out the window and ask for more more more. 

When I tried to turn to the left, our good way, within moments Milo caught right on and spun spun spun with no pressure on him at all. It was pretty cool. But the test would be to the right where he not only drags in the turnaround, but also tries to turn on the outside foot. Initially, Milo was just figuring out to stay in the spin with no pressure, he fell out, I put the pressure on. It was working but he was on the outside leg. So when I could feel he was spinning but on the wrong foot I lightly bumped him forward, if he stepped out, he got pressure to go back in. Once he changed to the wrong foot again, he got bumped forward, if he stepped out he got pressure back in. 

We worked on it for a few minutes, keeping him in the spin and on the inside leg. There wasnt speed, but there was correct cadence, and Milo was freely turning around without my asking for each step. I was really happy. I got off then and he licked and chewed. I hope to get video of our second try at this exercise so you guys can see too. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Circles and Stuff

I've always felt that I do plenty of work on circles and actually need to spend more time on the rail or on straight lines. So when I saw a post from Dressage Mom on her lesson with Phil and they worked on various circling exercises, I didnt think too much of it pertaining to Milo and I. Then I got to thinking that one exercise in particular might help with cleaning up the neck reining, but boy did it open to my eyes to a few other things besides the intended goal.

The exercise is simple; working along the rail, do a ten meter circle to the inside, then continue along the straight-of-way for a stride or two, then circle again, and repeat all along the length of the rail, so in my small arena it was about six or seven circles each direction. I worked in my lifter bit one handed, and still kept in mind (as I have been since my last post) about driving forward with my legs into the bit. And for the circles, using my body, legs and seat, to maintain the correct arc and complete the circle.

I started circling to the right, which I wasnt surprised to find that the circles were really hard to maintain. This is the same direction in our turnarounds where Milo doesnt move around freely. It was really good to work on these circles this direction, at a walk and trot, and to help Milo stay on the contact of the bit, and keep his shoulder up and crossing over in a nice arc - no diving down into the circles, no leaning out and making them larger. I really had to focus on the subliminal cues I was giving him too - just how much seat pressure, keeping my leg in the proper arc position, but not holding him up, and all the while keeping the energy coming from the rear. I felt that the exercise was really good for the both of us.

When we went the other direction (changing across the diagonal, which I have been working on the change of rein coming from the position of the ribcage, something I read about in my new Reining book, but also something Sarah mentioned to me when I last rode Wesley), I was surprised to find that the exercise was not as easy this direction as I assumed it would be. Although Milo turns around more freely to the left, in his circles he didnt have a problem with drifting out the shoulder, but he did have a hard time holding it up and maintaining the arc.

I didnt do this exercise at the lope as the ten meter circles are too small, but when we did get to the lope and make larger twenty meter circles I saw just how important it would be to clean up the exercise at the walk and trot to help with the lope. But before then, we still need to establish what my bumping legs mean at the lope. He wants to interpret it as a speed increase, rather then coming into the bridle from the rear. There are a few tiny moments when he does it, but for the most part at the lope he isnt driving from the rear.

Just another reminder on how much work is still yet to be done! But at least I am now aware of it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Drat those Run in Patterns!

I've still been working on maintaining my drive from the rear and soft feel in my hands and body, my rides with Milo have been good.

Right now I am waiting on my farrier for Friday, Milo is about 2 weeks overdue and one of his hind shoes is slipping crooked, so I havent been riding. Bad Mom award for that one, but I couldnt get the farrier out until I was paid. :(

In the meantime, I am wrapping my head around the two patterns I need to execute next weekend at the Finals ins - of course! Things to work on...once Milo has new feet.
Open class and Non Pro Championship...I think I will go into Open only and use as a schooling round before the Non Pro class.

Non Pro pattern and Open Championship Pattern

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to Basics

Astute readers may have noted in my last post the mention of a lesson on Wesley last Thursday. Readers who know me and my writing style probably questioned why an elaboration wasnt made on that topic, especially since I have a specific label for those events, and further that I hadnt had a lesson with Sarah in months. Well, the story isnt elaborate or anything, but I really just couldnt figure out how to "sum it up".

I had one of the worst lessons I have ever had. Initially I left the lesson feeling like I didnt absorb any useful information, was yelled at, and I felt I really just didnt want to return. Granted, it wasnt as extreme as my emotions were making it out to be, but it was still a difficult lesson to hear.

I rode Wesley bareback and the main "goal" was to get him to lope without the aid of my leg. So, I had to figure out a way to ask him to lope through my seat only. I still was supposed to hold the correct arc for the lope departure, and could smooch all day, but could not use my leg - it had to come from the seat. Numerous failed attempts and I asked to watch Sarah do it. She got Wesley to lope multiple times without her leg. When I got back on, I still couldnt manage to get him to lope. I had no clue what the hell I was supposed to do with my body, my seat, to accomplish this. Sarah kept describing the movement and feel of that moment when they step into the lope, and mimic that with the seat. I just could not do it.

I left the lesson upset, with myself, and with Sarah. I didnt ride Milo that day, and when I did the following day, I tried this idea of loping from the seat. A frustrated half hour later and all we had accomplished was my horse ignoring my verbal smooch cue. I was fed up with the entire idea of it and didnt ride or think about the lesson for a few days because every time I did I got angry.

But one thing I did retain and continue hearing was Sarah saying that riders/horsewomen/whatever, need to hear the horses. Tail wringing, pinned ears, scrambled gait (all things she described of Milo), are all responses to the rider and the horse telling us something. We just need to listen to what they are saying.

Yeah, yeah, this is all stuff I have heard before. But one day this last week I was grooming Milo and tacking him up when I noticed the pinned ears and tension through the body. I stopped and took the time to put his ribs in place, if thats what it was, then decided I wanted to work some of the tension out of Milo, using some of the methods from Peggy Cummings. I did the spine roll (one of my favorites) and one along each side of the neck, encouraging Milo to relax and "telescope" forward. I then worked his TMJ on each side. Milo, true to himself, tried avoiding the tension in his body by reaching for the lead rope and finding something to chew on. Without forcing him to not grab it (ie, holding the rope, or tearing out of his mouth - all actions of tension and aggression), I simply kept working that part of his body until he would relax and release.

By the end of this, my horse stood differently, had a quiet tail, and soft eyes. I finished grooming him and put him up. But the thought remained that I needed to find that relaxation and release the tension that was ever present in myself and Milo. Initially when I left I thought I should just go back to some Peggy work, which I probably still will do, but without pulling the book out that night, I actually was given a different book.

Boyfriend's Mom gave me this large hardback book by Bob Loomis titled, "Reining: the art of Performance in Horses". I figured it would be a cool book all about reining and maneuvers. But once I started getting into it, I realized it is so much more about horsemanship and correct riding, all things that were coinciding with the exercises and frame of mind that Sarah has taught me. Aside from some other cool information in the book (and I'm only a few chapters in) was the mention on creating a "wall" on the reins and bumping the horse forward into it. Direct result - relaxed poll. Elementary stuff, I figured. But then I thought about the actual action and feel of it. Not steady pressure, not hard reins, not pulling, just a barrier that when the horse gets to  he responds to. More important, however, is the bumping of the horse into the bridle, creating a drive from the rear.

And this is where it gets really embarrassing.

I realized that I have never asked Milo to do that.

Seriously. I'm going to let that thought sit there for a moment.

An elementary, foundational piece of knowledge I have been apprised of for years, but have never actually done. Oh I have "softened" Milo's face plenty of time, got him "on the bridle" and flexed, but I had never achieved (consciously) that barrier with my hands that never snatches, pulls, or forces.

So, with that simple knowledge in my mind now, I went into a ride yesterday. Saddled up, outfitted in a snaffle, and had only one clear goal in mind: to never pull on the mouth. To achieve forward and lifted through my seat and legs alone and my hands were essentially never going to pick up on the mouth. I set my hands (although that wording still feels like rigidity) and waved, bumped, or moved my legs in any fashion that encouraged Milo to push forward from the rear and into my hand. I was ever present of my seat as well, as that was another thing Sarah mentioned that I held way too much tension in and still sat hard on the spine.

Without locking my legs, my seat, or creating any tension but allowing Milo to come up into my seat took conscious thought, but not a lot of effort, really. I was a much lighter and quieter rider.

When Milo did come forward off my leg and into my hand I remembered when Sarah held my hand and explained the "pull" between the hands as a metaphor for the reins to hand. Basically, and its hard to explain, but meeting Milo with the same level of contact that he offered me, and the melting into it. Not holding, not pulling, just meeting it there.

By strictly sticking to my goal that I was NOT going to ever pull on the face but to always bump him back into the bridle from my leg resulted in some of the best strides of our career. Some of the couple strides strung together at the trot particularly were phenomenal. Everything was so light and effortless, and really was what people describe as a dance. The longest we went like that was one length of the long wall in the arena, and only a couple of strides were we there in the lope. And the lope is a whole 'nother story. Its hard for me to ride quietly and as well as I can at the trot, but when I did release my tension, never pull on the reins, and bump Milo into the bridle (although a few times he just tried faster), there were a few moments that were perfect.

So...this is my new goal. I guess I'm starting from the basics again. And Im not mad about my lesson anymore. Maybe I can get Milo to lope from the seat eventually, once I figure out how to allow it in my body. But for starters, I am going to erase tension, pulling, and force from my rides, and really try and listen to the horse.