Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A deeply biomechanics lesson

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about Mary Wanless over the last several months, and we all know that MW is a big proponent of ‘Biomechanics’ to the exclusion of nearly all else. I teach all my students about the three toolkits and describe Mary as the world’s foremost expert on the first toolkit. Except for... possibly... a trainer in my area. I guess she’s been working with Mary for 18 years, which is super cool.

I’ve been teaching for 14 years now, and one of the first books I checked out from the library was a Mary Wanless book. I’ve been teaching the woman’s words for a very long time. But riding with her and being held to the standard is absolutely a different thing, and exploring other human-movement modalities with the sole purpose of improving your first-toolkit teaching skills is yet another thing. All of this to say, Trainer Y is an absolute genius, and I teach aspects of my lessons with her on a nearly daily basis.

I was so excited to ride BGT with her because she recently rode an Andalusian to a 79% at training level (a test I got to watch and it really was spectacular, my sweet and horse-ignorant partner asked me if she was riding at a higher level than my 3rd level rider that weekend).

I started by lunging BGT in the chambon, which is my lunging accouterment of choice for a lot of reasons that I can get into on another post if you’re interested. The wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping by the minute, which makes most horses a bit extra spicy. 

Once mounted, he was a very good boy. We walked a bit in both directions before Y pulled me in and asked which leg I felt like I could stay more over the top of. I know that my right foot desperately wants to live in front of me, but also that I’ve spent a lot of time corraling that sucker back underneath me, so I remain convinced that my left leg is stronger overall but that my right leg is the more organized one. The photos she took and showed me led me to bemoan how much BOTH of my feet were too far out in front of me, so we started out by tackling a very global front-to-back line. I’ve taken a fair few lessons with her, so she pulled me in after maybe half a circle and traced the outline of my thighs on the saddle after she adjusted them and said to me that she wanted me to focus staying within those outlines, that I had to fill the outline evenly from my knee to my upper inner thigh, though absolute preference was given to the upper thigh.

My more-behaved leg is too much out in front of me and a hollow is slightly visible here
Then we started to tackle the fact that I’ve developed quite a hollow low down in my back, I’m not traditionally hollow with a lifted rib cage, but I do take several of my lumbar vertebrae way too far forward. By working relentlessly on staying over my thigh and filling the low back out, I started to get an entirely new feeling for the words, “imagine that you are the prow of a ship.” 

As a further result of years of working on my right leg, I am able to keep my right thigh significantly more stable along the horse’s back than I am my left thigh. Y had me work on a few things to snug up my left thigh, then wanted me to work on both keeping my left thigh against the saddle as snugly as was my right thigh, AND I had to keep my lower back completely filled out. You’re kidding me. Not possible. Too many moving pieces. But, like dripping water on a rock, I kept plugging away at it throughout the ride and produced some weird feelings in me, such as a bar from my left knee to my low back and as I snugged the left knee in I was able to use that bar to push my low back out, or feeling as if I was using my core to HOIST my pubic bone up, or the muscles around my seat bones and into my butt working double-time to knit the back of me up. 

Working on snugging up my upper inner left thigh
Once we moved into trot, keeping kneeling through my thigh, both thighs snug, weight down the entirety of my thigh, we started to tackle the fact that I need to get all the way to the top of the rise and think about pausing up there, slowing down the ascent AND the descent, not simply pausing at the very bottom, to start to encourage him to LIFT all of his body up underneath me and carry me along.

All this work surrounding getting into my thigh, posting over my knee, and then I started to sneak my sternum too far forward, Y said it wasn’t as much a concern to her as I felt it was, and looking at the photos I can see overall what she means.

Here working VERY hard in halt
I cantered a little bit on each lead and she told me that BGT reminded her of a horse she had in her barn and that she’d meditate on how to translate what she does with him to the way I ride and to the way my body is different than hers. I appreciate all her thought and all the help. 

Be gentle if you watch that video - there's a strangely large amount of fluidity of motion that appears to disappear when you're overly focused on too many things at once. BGT shows off his right drift, his lack of understanding of the go aids, and that he literally doesn't go on the bit at all yet unless tricked. 

The lesson was so technical and wonderful -- honestly, the best part of the day was when I came around the corner to pull him from his paddock and even just seeing him lit my face up. Maybe it’s irrational to put this much into a horse but I really am excited to have a horse again that really feels like mine, that really seems like a super reasonable option to put my ambitions into. I pulled a thoroughbred off the track last year who is wonderfully talented and I do love that mare so very much, but the reality is that the best way to help a horse transition off the track is to let them take the time it takes and while I don’t want to rush BGT in any inappropriate way at all - his issues are not necessarily the same as an OTTB’s and I’m hoping that he can physically and mentally handle carrying my ambitions and my dedication in the way that Moxie was able to carry all that. It’s a lot for a horse to carry, and I fully recognize that.

Monday, March 9, 2020

A first ride at home

As of the writing of this post, my creature doesn't have a barn name. I'm working on it, okay?

BGT (big grey thing) had an owner/trainer who sold him to me, and the trainer offered to come out and help me with my first ride.

I was leading him around the arena working on taking big exhales and helping him make a better posture while I did that when she showed up. I immediately felt terrible, I'd had every intention of being on board when she arrived, but he also took longer to settle than I had anticipated.

My education in terms of basic handling of horses has changed a lot, and soon I'll have to write about some of that because it matters a lot in the development of this horse... but the biggest thing for this moment probably is my involvement in learning about Anna Marciniak's work regarding Conscious Relaxation.

All that to say, the trainer showed up and told me to lunge BGT, which I did. He's a bit... explosive in the trot-to-canter transition, but pretty reasonable the rest of the time. Once I felt safe to get on him, I did.

She told me he needs to spend a lot of time in the walk, that sometimes she'd have a helper get on and walk him for thirty minutes before she rode him because sometimes he can distort the rhythm of walk and jig along, neck pushed back at his rider, a bit anxiously.


In trot, we spent a lot of time working on riding him across the ground, at a tempo that when I watch the video looks way too quick.

Tracking right, we had a gravitational pull at the gate, and all my normal tools to put the shoulder back into place didn't seem to work, and the trainer kept encouraging us to go forward, forward, which to some extent did help to sort out the shoulder at the gate. 

She stayed very on top of me not to pull, so I found myself riding with pretty much no contact for most of the lesson. I've been scolded in the past for overdoing corrections. 

When we moved to canter, I was coached to sit a few strides and kiss to him. I think that was helped out a ton because she was in the middle of the circle helping him along. 

Megan came out and videoed most of the lesson for me, so that's where these lovely screenshots come from. We wandered around the barn and chatted about a bunch of things after the lesson. I'd have to say that my main takeaways for this horse after that lesson was that he needs to be pretty onward bound in order to have some stability in the steering and that I was going to have quite a project ahead of me in terms of "leg means go." 

But seeing as I'm never one to overdo anything, I, of course, go on to schedule a bunch of lessons with a bunch of trainers over the next few days. Can't hurt to get a ton of input, right? 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Who is good with barn names?

Where have I been? I’ve been at work. I’ve been teaching and riding and learning about advertising and struggling to run a successful business when my definition of success changes all the time. What brings me back to my blog, now, all this time later? One, I miss it. I miss being able to review my thoughts and hear other comments and even to feel so much a part of this community. Two, there is a new thing to write about, so I feel better about coming back to this world to share what I hope to be learning in the future.

I have been on a horse-shopping adventure three times in the last four months. All three times we’ve come back with a horse after a more or less challenging hunt - one was for a lesson horse, one was for a client’s first horse, and one was for a talented Junior.

About a week ago, one of the first horses we sat on for Talented Junior called me up and said, “I’ve had a bunch of people come to ride this horse, but no one rode like you. I’m moving into high-end dressage horses, and this horse is going to take another year or two. If I’m going to put another year or two into a horse, they’d better move like an international-quality motherfucker. Do you want him? Let’s get creative.”

I watched the video of me riding him the first time. I watched the video the trainer had sent me of her riding him. I thought about it. I vetted him. He’s very sound. He is five. He is... gorgeous. He will never storm around a cross-country course with me, but everyone who knows me recognizes that my ambitions have drifted towards dressage for a while now.

I have a small army of mentors around me and this stunning creature.

When the trainer pulled him off the trailer and I looked at him again I was drawn to his eyes. His dark, liquid, barbie-dream-horse expression.

His trainer is coming by to give me a lesson today with him so that I can start to get to know him.

I intend to write about my journey with him because if he’s my horse I feel more comfortable sharing my journey. It might be worth writing about in more depth at some point, but as I’ve grown as a professional, my relationship with blogging has changed a lot. I don’t want to talk about my clients -- necessarily -- because I need to talk to them. Sometimes I think that they have important lessons that I might be able to summarize... I also think that I don’t want to blog as if I am being too patronizing, too “I know better than you” because honestly, I’m not convinced that’s the case. I’m a pretty good trainer of what I do - but I’m still learning. I’m excited to grow. I hope that this new horse is an avenue to a lot more growth.


This horse needs a barn name. 

Let's take a look at him.

He's incredibly cute, yes. He has a lot of hair.

Important to note that I have a strongly "The Little Mermaid" theme amongst my ridiculously large herd of horses. I have a 'Flounder'. I have a 'Sebastian'.

This horse is currently going by, 'Shark'. It's cute! But I don't want to keep it. Phooey with the assumption that it's bad luck to change horse's names.

He is a little nasty in his stall. I haven't gotten into any trouble at all, but he pins his ears when you walk past and he acts extremely menacing. He's eager to go to work, though, and completely cheerful under saddle.

The three most popular options for this creature are

1) Bruce (from Finding Nemo, the "fish are friends, not food" shark).

2) Gaston

3) Maximus

We'll have to do some pros and cons, right?

Bruce maintains some homage to this beasties 'Shark' heritage, and stays... sort of... along my nautical theme of equine herd. But it conjures an image of a dad sitting in an armchair to me, for who knows what reason.

Gaston is my favorite. I've been arguing the pros and cons of this character's story arc all day. He's an awful character, but the general consensus seems to be that no one ever motivated him to change by doing anything other than rewarding him for being awful. Also, he has a ton of expression, dedication to a goal, and he's fairly athletic... which is great for a dressage horse!

Maximus from Tangled... is actually pretty much the horse I have. The trainer who owned him told me that once he has decided to partner with you, he'll do anything to protect you and he's super brave. She told me that once out on the trail she came across a guy walking six collie dogs and this gelding started slinking toward the dogs like he was going to trample them. Plus, the expression of the cartoon horse devouring that flyer is the exact expression this horse makes when I walk past his stall. But the con is that I've recently known an Andalusian gelding named Max, whom I loved dearly, so I feel weird about a name which will inevitably turn into 'Max'.

Anyhow - I'm excited to be writing again in this Blogger window and I look forward to everyone's thoughts about what I should name this new era in my riding career! 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Flounder explores being fierce

The only thing I can promise is this: I know, with every fiber of my being, that Flounder thinks he's doing the same thing as Freddie.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Flounder investigates Scary Thing

Flounder notices something scary in the distance

Flounder bravely trots to investigate

Flounder realizes he's in over his head

Flounder gets the fuck outta there

Flounder investigates from farther away

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Flounder

I'm developing a reputation for half-told stories and a lack of follow through on this blog. My drafts folder will attest to this... Perhaps tales of a more modern horse will invite me to post more regularly. Goodness knows my friends heckle me enough about it.

So let's jump in. March 2017 I found myself needing a new lesson horse. Chente was... not sound, and hadn't been ridden since Christmas. I didn't have a huge budget, but I did have two clients horse shopping so I was already in the habit of closely trawling the many sites looking for suitable horses.

Something about this collage enticed me... or was it the age? The price? We'll never remember now
A horse named SharkBait popped up and he was a little young but sounded fairly level-headed and so my assistant and I hopped in the car and went to ride the fellow.

Mostly I remember that he had a gravitational pull towards the mounting block, that I immediately liked his canter, and that when my assistant got off him she handed me the reins and said, "if you don't buy him, I will."

After analyzing the video, taking a bunch of unnecessary screenshots, and talking with my friends, I made an offer and he was delivered a few days later. Before he was delivered, my sister and I had quite the conversation about him.

"You can't have him be named SharkBait," she told me.

"It's bad luck to rename a horse," I replied.

"It'd be like telling a kid to go get WILD LIGHTNING or a horse named VISIT THE HOSPITAL."

She sort of had a point. Luckily for me, she also had a solution, and so he was affectionately dubbed Flounder.

I hated it and planned on decided on a different/better name for him immediately, but that didn't exactly materialize and I think we're stuck with the name.

Upon unloading, he pretty swiftly settled in and announced that no one had ever steered him before in the history of steering.

We knew he had no experience with jumping of any sort, but it also turned out he had no experience looking at the ground at all.

We also spent some time with him and discovered that he is the biggest lovebug and wants nothing more than to get in my car, find out what the heck it is I do when I'm not feeding or petting him, and sleep with me.

Generally located his feet and going where he was supposed to go continued (continues?) to be a problem, but I made the executive decision that exactly two weeks after we unloaded him at home he was going to a horse show with us to compete in the cross-rails division. As much schooling as a pack of teenagers can accomplish in a week led us to this stunning example:

At the show, he was a little nervous so I led him over all the cross-rails the first time, but by his second round, he was boldly jetting around in the way only a Flounder can.

But have no fear, persistence pays off! Flounder has gone on SO MANY adventures since that very first show.

From camping with my sister and her friend, to being the best bareback camp horse in the world, to being a freakishly aggressive friend with other horses,

being braided for the first time and looking HECKING CUTE,

to potentially starting to grow up a little, my baby Flounder has been in the background for over a year now.

Even going through the photos to make this post, he appears mostly trotting through the background in other horses videos.

Not that he has minded, no, this horse has thrived on MildNeglectover the time I've had him. He won an optimum time class last weekend and has placed in quite a few hunter classes over the summer. 

And pretty much, well, that's pretty much a Flounder for you. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

In a frame, round, on the bit

After a handful of trainers told me, more or less, that Moxie wasn't really "on the bit", it required a lot of thinking about what "on the bit" really is, and let me to ask such questions as: how do we take a horse from just-broke to dressage horse? How do we teach them to go "on the bit"? What does that phrase even mean?

I think that many people have different definitions of on the bit, and I also know that your understanding of on the bit can change pretty dramatically as your feel and education increase. I'd like to share some of my granulations of the concept to share what I've learned in the last year.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

In a frame is when the horse's nose starts to drop, closing the angle behind the poll. Sometimes this is a 'steady frame' (ie the height of the poll isn't changing, nor is the angle behind the poll) and sometimes it isn't.

Round is when a horse is taking steps under their body with their hind legs, and lifting their back.

On the bit is when you close your leg and the horse goes to the bridle, or when you reach forward with the bit and they follow it where you put it. In my mind, on the bit is both in a frame, and round, and a little bit more.

I see a lot of management of 'frames' in horses, especially in green horses who haven't quite figured out how to balance their steps without flinging their head about, but sometimes even in school horses with riders who sort of forget to keep a lid on the connection.

I think that frame-management starts to disappear as the horse becomes rounder, using their body in a healthier manner and controlling their balance, but you can still sometimes see riders with quite round horses go to push their hands toward the bit and ask for a stretch, and it all goes out the window with the horse shoving their nose up and against the hand.

A horse that is truly on the bit has activated all of the seeking reflexes and is bringing the back up into the rider's seat, is reaching from the neck into the bridle, even within collection.

Cool, right? Sounds awesome. I want my horse seeking the bit, softly swinging over his back, eager to reach downwards and forwards when I close my leg and gently push my knuckles forward. I'll discuss what helped me and Moxie with this concept the most in the next post, but I am curious - what are your thoughts on the distinctions I've laid out above? Do you use the terms differently, and if so, how do you define them?