Friday, June 29, 2012

The Secret

I think I have finally discovered the secret to good lead changes. Of course, its something Sarah has been telling me all along, but I finally found the key in my body. Ready for it?


You guys hear me talk about seatbones all the freaking time. I suppose I dont "obsess" about it, but I do consciously think about it a lot, and am always frustrated by it was well (as you also know). Remember last summer when Sarah added a shim to my saddle under the left seat bone? I still have that shim on my saddle. And I have noticed especially when I ride bareback that the shim helps tremendously to level seat bones. But, one of the benefits with working on my seatbones, and lead changes, when bareback, is how greatly I can feel how proper setting of them really effect Milo.

I think about our lead changes all the time. I break it down into the three-beat stride, that perfect moment at the end of the three beats when three legs are on the ground, that moment when I am deepest in my saddle during the gait, and achieving lift, straightness, and correct sequence of aids. In this last week though (finally!) it is starting to come together in a fluid and more "natural" manner - without my having to think about each part to much (much like the automatic positioning of two point when going into a jump). This is only something Sarah had been telling me for well over a year now, but it finally is sinking into just coming naturally.

So what is my epiphany? The secret I have discovered? Might sound simple, but its just utilizing those seat bones. I realized last week sometime (and I believe I posted it on here) that I have been trying to force the lead change without lifting the seat bone of the desired new side. I figured I needed to change the direction of my hips, but didnt take into consideration the weight of each seatbone. When Milo subsequently wouldnt change, I could spur him resulting in sometimes an ugly change, but mostly a kick out, pinned ears, hollowed back, and certainly no change. I realized (bareback, I think) I needed to be much more aware of the heavier right side and needed to really lift it up and sit down on the left to get a lead change to the right. Not a really dramatic off-centering of the seatbones (not sitting off to one side), but enough.

Once I figured this out, we have had consistently one good change after another. And I do a lot of changes on the rail, to the counter canter, to a circle, on the diagonal, whatever. Sometimes they are a little elevated or poor-timed, but with more practice I will probably find that perfect moment to ask for the change when Milo is best set up for it.

I read this great article in Horse & Rider in the June 2012 edition on lead changes. Actually, Ive read it about four times - I find more useful things from it each time. This time, I got most from it that the position of the lead change, on a pattern for example, is not as important as the timing in the horse's stride. The article used a western riding pattern as their example, where the pattern might depict a lead change exactly between two cones, but what's more important is that the lead change is asked for when the horse is prepared, be that  a foot away from the "exact spot" if needed. This, obviously, works for a reining pattern too and something important for me to remember when coming across the center between two circles. Just because I am "right at center" doesnt mean I need to change right there. Granted, I shouldt go another stride or two, but to use the time and space to get a clean lead change when Milo is ready.

I also watched a video of a reining lesson given on youtube (I know, great resource, but it really was quite helpful) that suggested that there is a huge line in the center of the pen that you need to latch on to each time you come through your circles. Keep this line firmly etched in your mind, and you have an entire length of pen to prepare and get the lead change from! This has been a great thing for me to wrap my mind around that I not only have the small slow (or whatever circle is before the lead change) to prepare with, but I have a  whole straight line to get my horse straight and lifted. This same video also mentioned that the circles should be a little more rectangular than perfect circular, which is more of a mental thing to remember than really circles being rectangles, but it allows you to mentally break it into a few parts and get the needed straight lines out of the circles. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Online Forums

I have a hard time posting personal things about Milo and I on open horse forums and have tended to give up and just browse. I hate posting things for a variety of reasons; its too hard to explain the training that Milo and I are at and what we do and dont know (and it seems everyone wants to talk to you like your incompetent and dont know how to ride), people only have a video or photo to reference you from and again, dont know you personally to have a true opinion of, and I end up just defending myself and my horse (I get my feathers all ruffled because people accuse you of not knowing stuff or worse, your horse is in poor condition). I try not to get defensive, but people misconstrue what you say and I end up having to back track....not to mention the original help I am seeking never seems to even get a solution.

So not that I got that rant out, here is what started all of this. I posted on the only online horse forum I am a part of (after not posting or being on for at least a year) about exercises that might help our stops and rollbacks. I hesitated to post the recent video of our reining class because I felt it didnt show where we truly are at - there were a lot of things that effected the performance of that particular run. I explained our situation and after a few commenters decided to post the video as some reference for readers. I explained some of the circumstances that I felt contributed to the less then spot on performance. I pretty much got told time and time again that Milo looks stiff, unhappy, and generally not 100% sound. Without totally going off on how these people dont know me or my horse and my responses have been greatly ignored, because, apparently, the $3000 custom saddle I bought, trainer, and body specialist, dont mean anything because these people think they know whats best for my horse and I

So my question is asking you guys, who frequently read our progress, some have been following for years, do you think Milo looks unhappy, unsound, stiff, etc? I know I have stiffness in my body and occasionally Milo does (and when he does I am quite aware of it and take the necessary steps to accommodate/fix it), but does he really look as bad as these people are saying he is...? :(

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sleepy Morning

I woke up at 7 am and finally made it to the barn around 11 after a couple cups of coffee and laundry started. Apparently, Milo wanted to sleep in on a Tuesday morning.

So did the Fjords...

Angie ran around for a bit, but it didnt phase Milo. 

He pretended to watch her to make her happy, but in reality he was still closing his eyes. 

Finally, after I sat down for a while, Angie decided she would lay down too

I scratched and loved on her

And Milo got jealous

Milo rolled to his side, and Angie went to investigate his grunting noises. She gave him a kiss. :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

After the Ride...

After I finished with Milo, I walked him on the ground and suddenly he tensed up. What are you looking at, Milo?

A terrifying...deer?

I think she's awful cute. 

Unfortunately, she emerged where Milo ALWAYS eyeballs. Now he can justify it, darned it!

We watched as she came closer

"Don't worry guys - just checkin' my mail"

and headed to the upper barn. 

Then another came out, and headed up to join her friend. 

Almost makes me feel bad that Boyfriend shoots these guys. 

Once they left, Milo lost his curiosity, and was ready to head back to the barn. 

I untacked Milo and put him in the grass paddock while I did chores...err took photos. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Schooling Video

Just a little video on some of our schooling work. Im still trying to find the best angle for the camera in the arena, but no matter what I do something is cut off!

I was mostly working on bringing Milo's shoulders up, and we did some shaping work. 0:42 is a good example visually when he brings his shoulders up, as well as 1:05 - you can notice he can only hold it for a moment or two before flattening out, but strength will come with time. There are times after watching this, that I realized I should have stopped and backed to reinforce lifting his shoulders, I tended to just pick at him like Sarah as warned me not to do. But thats the benefit of the video, I suppose. 

1:30 was some shaping work, watch the back legs so see his hip reach, really helps for the lead changes. I love to watch his trot - its so much stronger then it used to be! At 1:55, we are working on counter shape, in case you didnt know what was going on, :P 

There are some really nice moments in the lope where you can tell that not only the shaping work, but shoulder lifting are really benefiting: the lope departure at 3:45, 4:00, and some more. :) 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Left Seat Bone Rears its Ugly...?

I have been thinking and thinking about the horse show this last weekend. I felt bad about my post too because I felt like I was coming across as upset, which I wasnt. I really had a good show and was really happy with my horse. Only up until just going into reining did I feel stressed or pressured at all.

And yet, I keep thinking about what happened and why we didnt do as well as I know we can. We can get lead changes at home at any time: arena or trail, center of arena or wall, counter canter or not. So why couldnt we get them at the show?

I had mentioned to Sarah that I was having a hard time rotating my hips. I had said that rotating to the left in particular was most difficult and getting that lead must be the wrong one too. But here thinking about it again, I really was having more problems picking up the left to right lead. And it showed on pattern - we got the opposite lead (the one I thought was harder) and didnt do what I thought was the easier change (easier in that my hips rotate that direction more fluidly). Why was this?

I realized after two more rides at home on my horse now that I was approaching the lead change wrong in my body. On the trail Milo and I were loping along and I still had problems getting the lead to the right. When I schooled this morning in the arena too, although he changed both ways, to the right was harder...but thats the easier way for my hips to sit! Then I broke it down and thought about it... I sit deeper on the right seat bone when my hips are to the left (the less fluid direction). When I rotate my hips to the right, the right seatbone should lift and I should get heavier in the left one. But, it doesnt. Instead, my right seatbone continues to sit deep, but my hips rotate.

I realized this when riding today. I got on bareback so I could really focus on my hips and Milo's responsiveness. What I really need to be doing in the lead change is making sure that the correct seatbone has just a little more weight in it, and that not just changing the direction of my hips is what is influencing the lead. So...although its easier to sit towards the right, its harder to get the lead because the right seatbone is still heavier.


Stupid left seat bone is still absent...even a year later now after adding the left seat bone shim. There must be something else I can do to find that seat bone.

It really isnt Milo's fault, and I wasnt trying to blame him. I just knew that there was something else involved that was effecting our ability to get the leads better. And at the show? Well, driving and working harder wasnt the answer and simply trying to force my hips into rotation with no emphasis on the seat bone wasnt helping either. Just another thing to be aware of and work on.

Monday, June 11, 2012

WSQHA's All Rookie Show

Sunday we hauled out for the Washington State Quarter Horse Association's All Rookie show. Yes, Milo is a Paint, but the QH show was offering some All Breed classes and Sarah was taking her clients to the show and encouraged me to go for a couple of reasons: 1. The judge is NRHA carded and would be a really valuable person to not only judge us, but to take some lessons with (whom Sarah also plans to take some of her babies to, and I could then go too) and she believed being judged under him then have a lesson from him would be an invaluable experience - I agreed. 2. Not only would this be a good experience at the Breed show level, the show was geared for all Rookie and Novice competitors, so I would get a taste of Breed show level, at a rookie environment. Sounded like a good idea to me.

Based on the last schooling show, we decided to put Milo into two classes before our reining one. Although Milo has shown at this venue many times now, we thought that a couple of classes (rail and pattern) would be a good way to get stupid out before reining. Sounded like a good idea...

Well, we arrived at the show with no issues and I got Milo into his day stall, unpacked, and headed to the show office. Boyfriend had to run an errand since we were on that side of the bridge, and I contemplated which classes to go into. I chose All Breed Western Pleasure Walk Jog 18 and Over, and Horsemanship Schooling Walk Jog, Lope. I decided on these two because it would give us a low key pleasure class to start out the day with, then move into not only a lope class, but a pattern one, and to hopefully, get stupid out. Then we would have a break before going into All Breed Reining.

When Showmanship and Halter were finally finished and the thirty minute break was nearing an end, I got Milo ready and headed to the warm up arena. The show pen was still open for a little while longer to school in. Milo was doing great, although there was a lot of traffic, he schooled well at the walk and trot. I focused on keeping consistency in his jog, and didnt want to lope in the crowded arena (besides the fact that we would be seriously lapping those western pleasure lopers). He was unfazed by the arena as I expected, so I headed to the outdoor warm up to get some loping in. I didnt need to lope him long and I was really happy with the gaits he was offering to me that day. He was keeping his shoulders down, but other than that the pace was good and his back was lifted, I figured since elevating his shoulders and withers were something we were still schooling on at home, I better just be happy with the effort he was giving me - no sense to try and school at the show.

We headed into our walk jog class and Milo had been schooling so well on our transitions and speed in the warm up, I didnt have any butterflies. We entered the ring and they asked for the jog. We jogged about half way around the pen when Milo decided he was tired of jogging and broke to the walk for about a single step before I corrected him. We went about another hundred feet and he broke to the walk again, this time for about three steps. After that I made sure my mind was on every stride and to keep him going at the slightest inclination of slowing. Unfortunately, that seemed to compromise our consistent pace I was striving for. He sped on the straight-of-ways then would slow to a crawl. It wasnt awful, but it wasnt what we had had out in the warm up pen. We placed sixth of sixth. But I wasnt too upset, this was a practice class and it gave us the opportunity to work in the show pen. I was actually really happy with the performance my horse had been giving me so far. I looked forward to my horsemanship schooling class.

The wait between pleasure and horsemanship was a lot longer than I had anticipated and the schooling class was held at the end of all the horsemanship classes. We found a nice spot to park in the shade for a little bit and I later felt guilty thinking I should have gotten off Milo and given him a better break, but hindsight is twenty-twenty.

The horsemanship pattern seemed pretty straight-forward: jog to and past Cone A to Cone B, then pick up the left lead and lope a circle to the left, ending facing Cone B. Perform a 1 and 1/4 haunch turn to the left, back four steps (this part I seemed to completely overlook and didnt realize it was part of the pattern until I saw others do it), then lope on the right lead to Cone C, halt. Exit to line up. I schooled our lope in the warm up, and it certainly isnt a horsemanship/pleasure lope, but Milo was moving off my rein nicely and every other element of the pattern we schooled well with. Milo had no problem picking up his leads.

Just before the schooling class was All Breed Horsemanship 3 Gait 18 and Over. I thought maybe I should add the class, we were schooling well. Then I decided against it because I didnt care about being judged in Horsemanship, I would probably get dead last anyways and I didnt need to pay another $12 for a class I was just wanting to use as schooling for reining. So I opted to remain just in Horsemanship schooling. We entered the pen and lined on the rail. The judge exited and the announcer said he would call our gaits after everyone completed their pattern. Wait...? This is a rail class after pattern? Oops...I didnt get that memo. Oh well, chance to lope on the rail. 

HAHA, the class was hilarious. Milo jogged nicely but had no steering apparently at the lope to the left, we lapped around three times before I was happy with it to move on (once even going wayyyy over the other end of the cone). I totally didnt know that we were supposed to back after the pivot, but he loped off on the left lead nicely and stopped well. I walked to the rail and watched the five other people school the pattern, all horsemanship professionals, apparently. They all did a whole lot better then we did, but still used it as an opportunity to school. Once everyone was done, the announcer called our gaits. When we loped Im pretty sure we lapped everyone at least twice, and used one end to school a good circle. I'm sure everyone else in the class thought we were a complete trainwreck - little did they know I didnt give a darn about how I would "do" in horsemanship - haha!

After the class was over, Milo was loping so nicely and finally was moving off my leg and rein beautifully in the show pen. I really wished we were going right into our reining class afterwards as he was totally warmed up and ready for "our" class. But, unfortunately, Hunter Under Saddle and English Equitation classes were to be run next, with another half hour break in between. Then they would run Western Riding and finally Reining. At least this gave an opportunity for Milo and I to have a break. I untacked him and let him be in his stall and I sat in the truck and shut my eyes for a while.

After the english classes were finished and the break over, I knew I would still have some time between Western Riding and my Reining class as mine was the last one of the reining set. But I wasnt sure how many people would be entered into the Western Riding classes possibly making those classes run faster, and I had only seen one other person I was sure would be in Reining so I wasnt quite sure how much time I would have in that set either. Because I hadnt worked on rollbacks, lope circles (hardly), spins, or lead changes, I figured I would need more time to school.

Milo started out well but after the first few lope circles it was apparent he was getting pretty tired. The leas changes asked for were only received about fifty percent of the time. I knew it was most likely from less control over his hip then normal (our "shaping" exercises help enforce I can shape him from one lead to another) but he was stiff and reluctant to shape his body from just the walk. I also could tell that my hips just were free enough to easily rotate from one direction to the other, further diminishing lead changes. I started to get frustrated and schooled, schooled, schooled. My initial plan to school lightly and keep "enough horse" for the show pen was starting to fade. But I couldnt enter the pen with only fifty percent lead changes!!

Sarah came over to me and encouraged me to continue working on shaping, and to not school the lead changes. She also reminded me to sit lightly and lifted in the saddle because Milo needs to come up in order to change leads, but also reminded me to not lean forward. I also needed to find that rotation with my hips before going to the spur, as spurring when Im not in position only causes him to kick out. I was pretty frustrated by now and pretty much gave up on scoring well in the reining class (I know, I know, think positively...). One class before mine I realized the concho fell out on the back of my chaps. I called Sarah over who sent one of the kids' parents off to fetch some chicago screws. It wasnt coming together and the steward came towards us saying we were in the hole. I started getting stressed.

We did fix the chaps, and I did have a few more minutes to shape before going into the class. I knew my pattern at least and I knew what my horse was capable of that day, even though I knew it wasnt what we had at home. But I still had a pattern to go in and complete.

We entered the arena, walking the perimeter to the center facing the left wall. I noticed right away that the judge was sitting on the wrong side. Thats weird....then I looked at the tracks in the dirt and thought, oh crap, I was supposed to enter the other way... it looked like the rollback tracks were set on the wrong direction. Oh well, I continued on the path I was on and started our spins. They were lack luster and I had to really push to keep Milo going, who wanted to stop after every half turn. I knew he could have sat on his hock better and not drifted, but what was done was done. We did four spins the other direction...oh wait, was that spin 1 or 2 now? Oh well, I ended up doing five. I dont think the judge noticed based on my scoresheet.

I prepared Milo for the lope departure, which wasnt horrible, and realized my horse felt somewhat put together, but I actually had a gas pedal, so I stepped on it and my horse loped a notch faster! I was really happy with our first set of two large fast - they were faster than normal, not out of control, and we stayed on our tracks. The small slow wasnt as slow or put together as I would like, and when it came time for the lead change it showed. I seemed to have forgotten to shape my horse in that last circle and he was completely un-prepared for the lead change. I also didnt sit lightly and I leaned forward. I ended up forcing the change just as we got to the wall. So much for that. Now that I forced him simply from balance onto the right lead, we careened out of the corner, losing all body shape. I knew speed didnt count if it wasnt correct, so I slowed him enough to get him more put together although by this point I could feel I was running out of horse. The last large fast was better and we had more of a speed change down to the small slow, but the small show was a little more sloppy then I'd like. I didnt focus on that, however, but heard Sarah tell me to sit up, sit lightly, and shape my horse in this last half of the circle before the lead change. He shaped just enough to get a lead change from front to back. I praised him verbally a few times and we headed into the first rollback. He started to pick up a little speed out of the corner, but I slowed him down knowing I would get no kind of hock action in the stop if he was strung out. He stopped ok, and was a bit slow in the rollback, but he picked up the lead and we headed around the corner for the next one. This stop felt much better, I credited it to being more put together then the first and not focusing on speed. He stepped out of the stop really nicely and we loped around for the final rundown. Milo must have known the drill and saw the center cone, just a stride past it he tried to put the brakes on, so the final stop was lackluster as we had lost our impulsion and drive from the rear, as well as a lift in the back. Our back up finally got good the last two steps.

Boy was I happy to be done. As we walked out of the pen I dropped my head and lifted my hands to the air - FINISHED!  (Boyfriend just didnt catch that part on the video).

Now I have a few things to walk away with knowing to work on and think about. Oh by the way, we scored a 62. -1/2's across the board for spins and circles, -1's for all the rollbacks and stops.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Good Ponies

Things still hectic here, but good. Cayenne did really well this afternoon when I rode her, as did Milo. I am preparing for the WSQHA Rookie Show in All Breed classes and after working in the wall reins on Saturday, today I wanted to go back into the lifter bit and give him a bit of a break. I noticed his back was a touch sore which I attributed to all the hip in, elevated shoulder work, and really working over his back (as well as counter canter work). So today I opted to work on a loose rein and just make sure we had good guiding from the seat and leg. We did, I was so happy.

Milo felt like he could lope for days going to the left. We linked onto our line in the circle every single time and his rhythm never changed. I could direct him with my seat and leg, (touch of the rein to his neck if needed) and hold his body together with my seat position too - he was really keeping his shoulder lifting and driving off the rear and it was so rewarding especially on a draped rein. I could direct him anywhere including the quarter line, the diagonal, and an easy and clean lead change.

Working to the right was a little harder - he was more stiff and didnt hold ground with his driving hock this direction. I have a tendency to feel less balanced this way too (probably from still sitting hard on the right seat bone). When I became aware of it I tried to maintain balance between each, and was then finding that my outside leg wanted to stay forward instead of back at the rear cinch, asking for the bend. Just another thing to be aware of, but Milo did well, considering. He was starting to get a little tired (we did a LOT of loping - I couldnt help myself!) and got a lead change on the third try (the first two were feeling rushed and unprepared for so I took him back to some hip in control, but didnt want to over do it with his back being tired of it). I got a nice change and loped only a few more strides before stopping.

All was well, I was really happy with the amount of control I had over my horse's direction, when I am actually in tune with where my own body is positioned. I was really happy with Milo, and really appreciative of how well behaved (and well trained if I do say so myself) that he is.