Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, how California has ruined me

Hey all. Happy Thanksgiving! L. (quite possibly the best and most prolific equestrian blogger in the whole world) is doing 30 days of gratitude for November. I thought it was a great idea! And promptly didn’t post a thing regarding gratitude this month. 

To make up for it, here are thirty things I’m grateful for. (As a reader, you’re welcome to skip this.)

1) Los Gatos Farms. Sometimes the place makes me want to rip my hair out, and sometimes I sit up there, looking out over the mountains, wondering how on earth I got so freaking lucky. I look at the healthy, happy horses, and know that I am one of the few people in this world who can truly say I LOVE (and I mean love.) my job.
2) My boss. She lets me pretty much run rampant, do and say whatever I’d like, borrow her truck, drag jumps all over the place, and take over her farm every Saturday from 8 until like... 8.
3) My dog! Ohmygoodness I just love my dog. She’s goofy. And retarded. But I love her.
4) My family, who paid for this ticket home when I realized I couldn’t really afford it because I had to put new tires on my car.
5) My car! People break down on Hwy 17 all the time and I am super lucky to be driving a relatively new, very strong car. I do not always keep it neat (okay who am I kidding, there are people reading this who have actually been in my car) but that doesn’t mean I love it any less. It is my mobile home, my source of transportation, and I love that it starts every time I put the key in it.
6) Tangoose, because he keeps me thinking and motivated to get better in my own riding so that I can access more and more of his potential.
7) Camou, because even though he’s mysteriously half-lame right now and half-TOTALLY FINE WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM WHY ARE YOU ACTING LIKE THIS RIGHT NOW, he’s crazy fun to jump and scratch and play with. He’s super smart but he acts so dumb. Ugh. Horses. Why do I even like them.
8) Danny, who has such a propensity for collected work that it took me until I started working Tango to really ferret out our lack of true, self-contained straightness. Because even though you can do a lovely canter-walk and a pretty fun half-pass, it turns out you still have to have correct and even bend. Plus Danny’s just cute. Oh. And he gets in trailers.
9) Jimmy, who makes me laugh. Even though sometimes he thinks it’s fun to tuck his nose between this knees and crowhop after fences rather than cantering like a normal horse.
10) My students, who keep me reading, studying, and developing as a trainer. Who challenge me. Who help me laugh. Who make me sometimes cover my eyes in horror, but I always peek between my fingers out of curiosity. Who inspire me to keep trying every day to get better. Who surprise me. I love my students. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am one lucky son-of-a-gun.
11) Laptops on long flights
12) Coffee.
13) Small, adorable children making faces at me through cracks between seats
14) The hoard at Twelve Pines, including Reggie, Dylan, and Belle who sometimes make me feel like I’ve never ridden a horse before. Here’s to spending three weeks riding a horse before figuring out that someone trained this horse (and REALLY WELL, at that) to pick up the wrong canter lead from the correct aid. I will borrow Dressage Curmudgeon’s comment and say that if a five year old can’t get on your horse and get it to do something, perhaps it just isn’t all that well trained.
15) My recent discovery of Dressage Curmudgeon’s blog! It’s the funniest thing I have ever read. Seriously.
16) I love my life and I’m super grateful for it, but I’m having a hard time coming up with 30 things in a row I’m grateful for. So I guess #16 is music, for it’s uplifting and invigorating properties
17) Alarm clocks, without which I surely would have missed this flight. Because I went to sleep at 1am and woke up at 5am. Excellent planning? Why yes, I do think so.
18) Sweaters
19) Boots
20) Breeches, which I recently rediscovered why I wear them all the time. Turns out, if you ride dressage, you will chafe badly if you ride in jeans. So that’s a pro tip. You’re welcome.
21) Rain jackets. Because they keep you dry. Magically.
22) Kindles, which carry an ENTIRE LIBRARY in my purse. They even have book on riding, teaching, and training horses. Haha! It’s wondrous.
23) Parents who ferry their kids all over kingdom come and support this heinously expensive sport and have funny anecdotes for me when I need them
24) Lacrosse balls - thank goodness for knowing something about myofascial release and managing fascial tension. Flights like this would cause me such excruciating pain if I didn’t know how to manage it.
25) Did I mention my farm, my students, and my horses?
26) My sisters!
27) Bathrooms
28) Accommodating seat neighbors who don’t appear to begrudge me my repeated trips to the bathroom
29) That I’m almost to thirty things to write down
30) My education, previous and current. 
So now that that’s out of the way, how about that snow, eh guys? SNOW. That’s right. Snow. I used to ride in snow. It didn’t bother me. Yup. I’d just slap on some layers and a hefty coat and just go for a ride.

Now I get cold at 50 degrees and and I whine about it. 

Freaking California.

I blame California.

(As an edit, I actually arrived in Michigan and I prefer the cold here. It's bitter and invigorating and amazing. I don't mind it nearly as much as drizzly and 50 degrees. Weird.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Workout Wednesday: Exercises to supple

(Please note that the following post has almost nothing at all to do with exercising your horse, or suppling your horse, or Wednesday. I am currently on a plane and therefore you’re getting my unfiltered and rambling nonsensical mind. You’re welcome.)

When we look at our shaping scale of training new behaviors, we have the following progression: no response, basic attempt, obedience, rhythm, contact, straightness, proof. Using a walk-trot transition as an example, if my goal is for my horse to trot when I squeeze with my calves for 1&1/2 steps in balance, while staying round, using both hind legs evenly, and stepping under his body (are we beginning to see the depth to which we have to train?) the progression looks something like this. 

At no response, my horse will ignore my squeezy legs, and perhaps even kick at my feet!

At basic attempt, the horse is at least trying to solve the problem. Pressure motivates and the release of pressure trains the horse. So the horse has decided that my vice-like grip upon his sides isn’t exactly comfortable. If the horse shifts forward at all at this point, I will release and scratch his withers. The first transition to the trot is our basic attempt! 

The horse has reached obedience when 9/10 times I use the light aid (a gentle squeeze with my calves for 1 and 1/2 steps my horse moves into a trot. Do I mind if the horse shuffles into the trot? Not really, not as long as they’re responding immediately to the aid. Sharpness will develop. Is it a great trot? Who cares! We’re trotting! 

At rhythm, the horse will maintain the trot with no further input from me. We’ve got cruise control, baby! Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for me as a trainer?) very few horses ever really confirm this step in the shaping scale. So when it comes to our go response, I’d argue that few horses ever truly reach the proof level. 

At contact, the horse is moving in an outline. Note that the outline is gradually shaped through the turning and halting aids, not through holding hard hands against the horse as they perform an upward transition or through a wig-wagging of the bit. Especially when training new behaviors, too much fussing around will serve only to confuse the horse. 

(On a bit of a rant, this is one of the biggest reasons the wastage rate is so high in equine sport! We get on our dressage horses and wiggle waggle the bit every which way and we never leave him alone to just figure out what it is we want. We’re kicking and fussing and insidelegging and outsidereining and we never truly reward the horse with a quiet, supple seat. Or we never break each element down and ask ourselves, “does my horse really, truly understand this foundational step? But the depth of this is a rant for another day.)

At straightness, you could point the horse at a tree three miles away, put your leg on for 1 & 1/2 steps and keep your hands steady and the horse should trot straight into that tree! No need for insidelegging and outsidereining because the horse has been trained to travel in a straight manner. He uses both his hind legs evenly. Even better than cruise control!

And at proof, the horse performs this prompt, straight, powerful walk-trot transition anywhere, any time, no matter what. In mud, in rain, at a show, on the trail, any part of our arena at home... no stickiness. 

Horses are remarkable at associative learning. 

Okay, Kate. This is a training tangent you walk down all the time. Why is this a preface to a workout? A suppling workout, at that?

I write all this out because, dear italics, training doesn’t always progress that smoothly. If we keep performing our walk-trot transitions willy nilly all over the place, the horse isn’t automatically going to climb his happy butt into proof. We have to develop a feel for straightness, and we have to know how to ask for it. 

In my experience, you can’t really get a horse straight until you can tie them in a pretzel. 

Excuse me, what?

That’s right, Mr. Italics! You have to have control over all the parts of a horse before you really can expect them to be straight. If you cannot correct the horse, you can’t get him straight. 
We can also rely on the more traditional training scale, which progresses like this: rider’s position and aids, rhythm, relaxation, suppleness, contact, straightness, collection. Which means that if we’re jumping straight to suppleness we have to remember to stay balanced ourselves, keep an internal eye to the tempo and rhythm of our ride, make sure we’re not surprising our horse with sudden jerks or changes of direction so he can stay relaxed, and then look at the exercises for our suppling. 
I’ll jump back into this debate later, but for now, let’s look at what a good workout consists of. 
I’m an eventer, so the idea of good fitness and conditioning is pretty paramount to me. My horse’s training sessions generally look like this. 

0-7% - warm-up
8-20% - schooling the problem of the day
21-35% - conditioning/strengthening exercises
36-60% - schooling the problem of the day
61-65% - total break
66-80% - conditioning exercises
81-92% - schooling the problem of the day
93-100% - cool down 

So if my plan is to ride for an hour, and I want to focus on improving the response to the lateral aids (I’m working on half-pass with Tango, so that’s my obsession at the moment), his workout will look something like this: 

4 minutes at the brisk walk, plenty of halting and rein-backing to make sure I’ve got brakes installed
7.5 minutes warming up turns on the forehand & leg yields, progressing to ten meter figure-8s and finishing with one or two attempts at half-pass
8 minutes trotting briskly forward over poles or on a large figure-8
8 minutes ten meter figure-8s and more half-passes with plenty of rewards and scratches for improved responses
3 minutes standing around on a loose rein, thinking about what we’ve done so far and how I want to finish it out
8 minutes cantering tiny sets (2 minutes canter, 1 minute walk. Trotting for two minutes at the end)
6.5 minutes working on the half pass, being effusive with praise and being sure to practice in different parts of the arena. I don’t generally work on only one thing at a time, but when I do focus entirely on an exercise like half-pass for an hour, I’ll try to up the complexity at the end and make sure we’re getting it. With Tango it’s been maintaining the bend in the halfpass during a transition from walk to trot. 
4 minutes at a brisk walk to cool him out. 

How precisely do I stick to my schedule during a ride? Pretty much not at all. But if I’m introducing something the horse has never done before, you can bet I’ll only work on it in the final schooling session of the day and let them sleep on it before devoting a whole session to it. I do work in sets of three “schooling focused” bits because I find that’s the best way to allow a horse to learn and remember things the next time we ride. It takes (my students know this one... how long? any guesses) 2 minutes for the glycogen to recharge in their brain, which allows for optimal information retaining. 
Alright, my app tells me I’m 1,100 words into this post and I haven’t even tackled any suppling exercises! 

So, to those of you designing your own workouts for your horses, I’d like you to keep these percentages in mind:

~15% of the workout is just warming up and cooling down
~30% is spent doing conditioning exercises
~5% is spent sitting around and thinking
~50% is spent focused on the training problem of the day

So for a very stiff horse we are planning on riding for one hour, one that really needed suppling, our workout would be thus (yes! finally!)

4 minutes at a brisk walk
7.5 minutes walking & trotting big, broad serpentines, wherein we focus primarily on what it feels like when the horse changes bend underneath is, wherein we see which side is more flexible and how much resistance is being given to us
8 minutes cantering, broken into 2 minutes one way at the canter, one minute walking. Change direction. 2 minutes cantering, one minute walking. Two minutes trotting a big loopy figure-8.
8 minutes suppling on our 20-meter circle, using primarily our +1+7 exercise** before spiraling in and spiraling out a few times. 
3 minutes standing around on a loose rein and doing absolutely nothing at all
8 minutes trotting over poles, halting and backing up, and more trotting over poles
6.5 minutes riding smallish figure-8s, executing the +1+7 when necessary, and then working on a serpentine that is as shallow as we can get it and still feel the horse change bend
4 minutes at a brisk walk to cool him out

**What’s the +1+7, you ask? My lovely trainer Anne introduced me to this one, but I’ve since discovered it’s a Jane Savoie thing. When the horse’s neck is totally straight, his chin is in front of his chest, he’s at 0. When he’s bent one inch to the inside, he’s at +1. When his nose is bent seven inches to the inside, he’s at +7. You ask for the supple by turning your inside hand so that your fingernails are on top, then rotate your arm across your body as if you’re going to do the UGLIEST indirect rein across the withers that your trainer told you never to do. And the effect we create this this, where his shoulders stay on the path of travel and his neck is bent around is exactly what we’re looking for -- and exactly why your trainer told you never to do this when you were trying to find a more effective way to steer. We do this in sets of three. Trotting our circle at +1, inhale, +7, exhale, back to +1. Repeat twice more, then trot straight on. Does the horse feel uneven through the reins? Was he resisting the action to bend and twist his neck? Did he throw his head up or did he stretch the outside of his body down, elongating stiff and over-strong muscles? The answers to those questions will help you decide whether or not to do another set of three +1+7s. 

So these are some pretty basic exercises that pretty much any horse that can steer could be asked to do. What about the more advanced horses? Do they just trot around doing serpentines and then one day magically bang out a beautiful Grand Prix test? No. But generally for them, suppling doesn’t require an hour of work. These are flexible and strong athletes that know their job and need to be suppled only to prepare for the questions of collected work. 

All of the lateral exercises are great for suppling as they require abduction and adduction of the limbs. I knew a trainer in France who would warm up with lots of cross-gait transitions (think halt-trot and walk-canter) and then the suppling portion of his warm-up was to doing 15-20 steps of piaffe, move into a medium trot, then sit back into another 15 or so steps of piaffe. “Oooh la la, it works evereee muscle in ze horse, Kathreeeeeeeen.” I mean, yes. But how many of us are going to just real-quick supple up our off-the-track thoroughbreds with a liberal dose of piaffe? That’s right. 

None of us. 

Ugh. Riding masters. 

Anyhow. I want to encourage everyone who’s working on creating a more supple partner to not hang up on their horse. This means that while I expect my horse to respond PROMPTLY to a leg aid, I also don’t want to have to keep my leg wildly off them in fear of their electro-crazy response to my calf. I want my horse to halt when I take a firm, unyielding contact on the rains, but this also means I don’t want to have to ride with loopy-long reins for fear of my horse practicing his best reiners-stop. 

There is a middle ground, and it’s both lighter and more enjoyable than you expect, but while you and your horse figure it all out, it’s likely that your horse will lean on you in the contact or require the crop to back your soft leg-aid up with. And that’s okay. And that doesn’t mean that we get to drop our reins, or forget about trotting in the first place because I didn’t really want to anyways. If we do these things, our horse is successfully training us. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wofford's On Grooming


Buy a small grooming kit, and keep it well stocked and clean. At a bare minimum, your kit should contain a curry comb or a curry mitt, body brush with soft bristles, dandy brush with stiff bristles, mane comb, hoof pick, hoof dressing, fly spray for summertime, antiseptic salve for minor wounds, and a clean rub rag. 

Stand your horse in cross-ties in a clean, level, well-lit place. Pick out his feet, sweep the dirt off to the side, and dispose of it. Start the grooming process on his near side with the curry comb in your left hand and the dandy brush in your right. Place the curry comb behind your horse's ear, and use circular strokes to dislodge dirt, dander, and dead hair. When you use the curry comb, press your weight into it. You are trying to reach your horse's pores and dislodge any dirt that might be in there. Every ten circles draw the dandy brush across the curry comb to strip out any dirt that the curry comb has picked up. Continue this action along your horse's body until you have reached the left hind leg. Switch sides, chance the curry comb and dandy brush into opposite hands, and work your way down your horse's off-side. By the time you have finished this part of the process, you will be a little arm weary.

Take a deep breath, move back to the near side, put the body brush in your left hand and the dandy brush in your right, and start drawing the body brush down his neck, starting behind the left ear. Again clean the body brush with the dandy brush every ten strokes. While you used a circular motion with the curry comb, you should only work with the grain of the hair when using the body brush.

Put your shoulder into the grooming stroke with the body brush. You should feel as if you are mildly thumping your horse when you start the stroke with the body brush. The intensity of the stroke should vary according to the location on your horse's body. You can press harder on his neck and hips than you can over his loins. This causes blood to rise to your horse's shin and improves his circulatory system. It also produces healthy skin oils.

Use the body brush all the way down to the coronet band on all four legs, and then take another deep breath. You will need it, as by this time your arms will feel as if you have been working out with Muhammad Ali. Your horse is not the only one who will benefit from daily grooming; your upper body strength will improve markedly after a month of daily exercise like this. Stand in front of your horse, and carefully use the curry comb on your horse's head. Repeat the process with the body brush, remembering to clean the body brush with the dandy brush on a regular basis.

Move to your horse's hind end, stand to one side, and gently comb out his tail with the mane comb. Any tangles should be picked out by hand. If you are pulling out tail hairs, you are going to fast and using too much force. A well-groomed horse has a full, clean, healthy tail that you can put your fingers into at the top and pull straight down without meeting any resistance or tangle. This will take some time with most horses, so work on this gradually.

During this process, you should have become aware of any minor cuts or scrapes and applied some antiseptic salve to the affected areas. Finish the job for the day with a coating of hoof dressing, and wipe your horse down with a clean rub rag before returning him to his stall. Remember to sweep the grooming area. A good horse-woman or horseman always leaves things cleaner and neater than he or she found them.

Shampoo gets dirt out of your horse's coat, but it is not 'grooming.' Grooming is the application of your very own elbow grease, applied liberally every day. A good horseman can instantly tell the difference between horses that are clean and horses that are well-groomed. A horse that is being groomed daily will have a bloom on his coat that no amount of shampoo, additives, or cream rinse will supply. By a bloom, I mean a bronze tint that your horse's coat will show in direct sunlight. It is easier to see a bloom on bays and browns, but palominos and greys get a bloom as well.

If you are diligent in this process, I guarantee that in thirty days you will have a new horse on your hands. Your horse will be healthier and you will be fitter, and those are both good things.

-James Wofford

I have a few notes to add to this. 1) Grooming like this breaks up fascial adhesions and acts as a minor massage every day for your horse - increased circulation reduces injuries, accelerates healing, and allows for maximal suppleness. 2) Grooming in this manner allows you to intimately know your horse. Were you doing a lot of collected work and now his hindquarters are sore? Not only will a good massage make him feel better, but it will allow you to know that today we shouldn't be jumping the big stuff, nor should we slowly amble up steep hills! There's a reason that grooms are so well trusted at shows - it's because they know the horses. You can know your horse too, and this is a great way to do it. 3) I do a thorough rub down with the cloth, which Wofford glosses over. I like feeling the shape of the muscles under my fingers, it allows me to hunt out pressure points or stiffnesses, and allows me to feel heat or hypertrophy.
On the note of hypertrophy? Hypertrophy is when, due to increased strain on the muscle, the fibers grow stronger. Hypertrophy is what a body builder undergoes to have such eye-poppingly large muscles. It's a good thing in our horses, but it also limits flexibility and traps heat in the horses body. This is yet another reason why thorough grooming is so important - if the fascial adhesions never form, the muscle is primed for full suppleness and full range of motion. This allows for heat dissipation and therefore keeps your horse running with energy for longer.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

A brief off the farm adventure

I was told this weekend that "something always goes wrong when we go out."

Uh, excuse me? I get the horses on and off the property in one whole piece and you're going to tell me something always goes wrong?!

Yeah okay, I'm beginning to see a trend.

Example 1) Going to see Alfredo Hernandez have a clinic. We arrive two hours after everyone has packed up and gone home for the day. Whoops.

Example 2) Going to JK Presents. I try to stuff my goosy horse in a trailer and he nearly rips my thumbnail off (only to later hop on the trailer with an innocent whuffing noise. "What? I do this every day. Why are you all laughing in hysteria?). Oh, plus the whole "my poor working student didn't even have time to warm up before her first show ever" bit. Another whoops.

Example 3) Going to the play day. Ol' trusty lesson horse Able freaked the ever living daylights out and dropped to the floor the the trailer, scrabbled around like a freaky 1000lb crab and then escaped to gallivant all over the farm.

Example 4) We load up a few horses to practice riding off the property, show up at the "Members Only" showground, and happily wave my passcard in front of the beeper. (Is there a technical term for that thing? I'll never know). Only to have the little light blink red and the gates not to open. "Uhhh try it again?" BEEP. Nothing.

BEEP. Nothing. BEEP BEEP BEEP nothing. I flip the card over and repeat my little dance.

We call the number so prominently posted for those having trouble. "We're sorry, this number has been disconnected."

Oh jeez you have got to be kidding me! Of course ms. Mechanical doesn't see it as a joking time, so she didn't reply.

Uuuuuggggghhhh. But we got onto the property (by parking somewhere we REALLY shouldn't have, acquiring a number of nasty looks for what I thought was the horses but later decided was the reeking and permeating scent of skunk billowing out of the truck, and then meandering onto the property).

And we had a fabulous time.

I'm going to say it was a success.

We decided to take Bert & Camou first because I had a sneaking suspicion they'd be the most difficult. I was right. Bert the Brontosaurus took one look at that rattling metal death trap and said "hell to the no, my head don't even fit in there" where he proceeded to behave like he'd never been led around in his life and could not comprehend how to turn around.

So then while Bert is all leapy and misbehaving, the aforementioned working student is holding the door to the trailer open while trying to hang, somewhat desperately, onto Camou. Now, Camou is nothing if not suggestible, so poor little idiot was thinking "THIS IS SO MUCH FUN WHY ISN'T SHE LETTING ME PLAY?"

Because rearing is not playing to people, you goober.

So we put him in the round pen to play it out while I beat Bert onto the trailer.

And in the process he got very,




I sort of tried to brush him off, as evidenced above. It only sort of worked. Maybe because I only sort of tried.

Anywho, after successfully getting Bertasaurus and Christmas Pony off and on the trailer a dozen times, we put them back in their stalls without ever taking them off the property. Take THAT, those who think you really should follow through on a plan instead of tackling only the immediate goal.

Then we took Danny and Jimmy off the property (they loaded without hesitation, the well-traveled four-leggeds that they are) and tralumphed about. It was great fun.

We were trying to set up a few jumps. Turns out that standards are heavy and I'm a huge wuss, so we only set up two jumps.

I'm already looking forward to going back! Membership card not working, whatever! I can break in and I've paid my member dues anyhow. 

The above is the full video of Camou being a total dorkus. Be warned, this video is accompanied with my irritating attempts to put the BrontoBertasaurus in the trailer. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Memorizing jump courses

In the hunter ring, the first thing to do is to memorize your first and last jumps. The goal of the course is an easy, flowing ride, so if you know where you start and where you stop you're off to a good start. I've also noticed that last jumps can be easily forgotten!

Look at the ground lines, look at how the arena is set up. It's very rare for an oxer to lead to a vertical, so you can pretty much bet that it's that outside vertical leading to the oxer.

If I were memorizing this course, I'd look at the inside line... then tell myself it's inside, diagonal, outisde, diagonal, outside. Generally I'll name them a little bit. For example, inside purple, single diagonal, short outside, other diagonal, finish it outside. I develop a little bit of a chant. Then I draw the course while actually looking at the jumps, visualizing the route I'll take.

And then I'll walk over to the other side of the arena and draw the course again with my eyes and fingers, looking for visual cues as to where I want to make my turns, identifying things to keep my eyes on so I don't stare at the middle of the stupid jump.

So for this one I'd give #1 a silly name of some sort and create a chant like this: "Blue inside, then the single oxer diagonal, then outside line, then across the diagonal, then my other outside." Of course reciting this while looking at the actual jumps helps a lot - text can only convey so much.

Jumper courses get a lot more complex - the goal is to test the rider's planning, flexibility, and the rideability of the horse.

Using the same jump setup as above:

You can see there's a lot more twisty-ness to it. Now this chant in my mind is about finding the questions the course designer has posed me. So just looking at this, I'd think to myself, "one, break the line, rollback to two oxer, cut the loop on the end to approach the lonely oxer at a good angle, next is the outside vertical, then the diagonal oxer, approach the other outside vertical at a nice angle to get down the center of the arena to the single vertical, lots of half halts to prepare for a steep turn to the oxer, maintain the bend to the end vertical."

And then I'd draw it with my fingers, looking like an idiot as I point at jumps and stand on my tiptoes. Then I'll jog halfway around the arena and do it again. I don't generally remember the numbers of jumps because I'm an eventer and we don't do jumpoffs. So that's my bad.

Take a picture of the course design with your phone for reference when you're on the other side of the arena - nothing worse than realizing you've swapped 7 & 8 in your head and have no idea how you'd approach that question now.

Setting up my own courses has been the best educator in terms of teaching me how to memorize courses... I learn what it looks like on paper and what it takes to actually ride.

Chunking works well too - memorize the first four fences and then the next four, and just don't jump anything backwards.

Honestly there's as many ways to memorize a course as there are to build them, so this whole post is just to put some ideas in front of you, and perhaps take some of the edge off - hunter courses are the easiest thing on Earth in my opinion. As long as you know where to start and where to finish, you're golden. Diagonals almost always follow outside lines, so if you're cruising down from a vertical to an oxer you know you've just got to continue across the short side and then mosey down the diagonal.

Take a look at that video and see if you can parse out the course from the video. How would you memorize it? What would your internal dialogue be?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

SFTS Blog Hop: The horse that made me

The horse that made me? I've learned so much from working with different horses throughout the years, but I think the horse that suffered from most of my experimentation had to be Stork.

When Stork arrived at Whispering Valley Ranch he was a five year old, green as grass beastie.

He took a saddle and a bridle, he bucked every time you asked him to canter, and he spooked in a gigantic fashion at anything that seemed spook-worthy.

A teenaged version of myself made this

I also had no idea how to develop him, how to bring him along. All I wanted to do was gallop through fields of grass and jump anything I could talk him into jumping.

We got him accustomed to a great many scary things simply by falling off around them a lot. He learned to tolerate snowmobiles because we rode him out onto the snowmobile trails and then just hung out for a long time while they screamed past us.

He gave a lot of riding lessons. He was the first one I tried clicker training and natural horsemanship on. He earned his keep. He was congratulated by everyone who ever dealt with him regarding his calmness, his sweetness, his kind eyes...

Stork came to college with me and helped keep me a bit sane.

He experimented with free-jumping.

He refused to get onto a trailer in any version of a short amount of time.

But he did anything for me no matter how poorly I asked.

I leased him out for a short while and his lessee loved him as much as I did.

This is largely why it didn't work out - I was stressed over my horse. So he came home.

Then I put him up for sale because I was living 800 miles away and he was just hanging out in a pasture. I looked up the ad just now because I couldn't remember if I'd properly advertised him as "my best partner and a wonderful horse."

I didn't, of course.
Additional Comments:Some dressage training, mostly ridden on the trails and used for beginners riding lessons. This was my go-anywhere, do-anything horse. I played around a lot. Knows lots of little tricks but it was never really consolidated. Safe on the road, calm in company, rides out alone, good on a longe, polite in the barn, bathes, etc. Jumped to 2'6" but never more than 18" courses. Not the smartest horse around but not difficult to train. Located just outside of Ann Arbor, MI. $3000. 
An adult amateur bought him and later decided that he was too much for her (he was sort of buggy sometimes about jumping, I guess. He never really acted like that with me, but it'd been a while...)

Then through some crazy stroke of luck, he ended up with one of my all-time favorite students from Ann Arbor.

I was blessed enough to teach the two of them a few lessons before my move to California. Unfortunately he apparently spooked while farting over a jump (yeah, seriously. Horses are so strange.) and when she fell off she broke both her ankles.

So Stork got passed along to a new owner. She's showing him a bit...

With his current owners!
And I can only hope that he's as loved now as he was with me. I'll always remember galloping him up hills and through snow, riding him bareback all over kingdom come, riding double on him and hating his withers, playing in lake Michigan, building jumps for him, giving lessons on him, reading to him, and loving him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mairinger's The Instructor

On Instructors

The greatest problem that presents itself to the riding instructor is the lack of variety in the subject being taught. If we teach geography we have the whole world to roam over in our lessons. In arithmetic there is an infinite range of problems. In riding, the pupil strives to improve his seat and, through this, his ability to train the horse. Of course there are different aspects to it, but broadly speaking we do the same thing all our riding lives.

The beginner makes quite rapid progress, and he can feel himself improving with each lesson. He learns how to sit and manage his horse, and he learns to ride at the walk, trot, and canter.

For the next two or three years he must slowly improve this basic work. He can begin jumping, but he is not yet ready for more advanced riding on the flat. The rider's progress cannot be more rapid than is the development of his mind and body. If this fact is not accepted, and the rider is taught beyond his capabilities, he will be forced into so many mistakes that it will be very difficult for him ever to become a good horseman. In all probability he will never make the necessary effort to overcome these bad habits.

This part of his riding career is one of hard work, of persistent and consistent endeavour. For a long time there is little apparent reward. The rider must achieve a steady and deep seat in the saddle to enable him to control his horse's movements by co-ordinated rein and leg aids, and to have full control of his weight. He must develop his feel so that eventually he knows exactly what his horse is doing under him... the list could go on for pages.

Many actions and reactions become instinctive. How does the rider achieve the instinctive reactions? Once learnt, it is always done like that, and quickly becomes instinctive. It is always done because it is uncomfortable not to do it. Why does the rider do all this hard work and apply this concentration? Only because he believes it will all be worthwhile, repaid by the joy and infinite satisfaction which will be his when he acquires the ability to ride a well-trained horse; when he appreciates its training and ultimately trains his own horse. The rider believes this through the inspiration of his instructor, through reading books, and through watching top riders.

But the rider must do the work. He must do the concentrating necessary to make these reactions instinctive, and he must do this without the inspiration of success, which is very slow in coming. After this we hope he will begin to feel the benefit of all his efforts. The rider will strive for an effect and get it, and know that he has done so. By then he has battled through the hardest stage.

The light dawns; our rider is no longer working in the dark just believing what the other fellow says. He has experienced some success as a result of his labours and he realizes now where he is going. The rider will still have his setbacks, but he will find where he is wrong and correct it, and before very long he will have felt the harmony and thrill of being one with a horse that is doing its best for him. He will come to the final stage and join the ranks of those who can never give up riding for as long as they are physically able.

Those of you who instruct carry a great responsibility. It is especially great because you are the teachers of our young riders, the riders who will carry Australia's flag one day.

...If you believe you can do it, and are prepared to produce the necessary effort (which is the price you have to pay) -- then you can achieve success. You will then have succeeded in making young riders understand that a horse is more, or can be more, than a mere object of convenience, and you will have succeeded in making the young riders understand their horses. Most of the young riders' difficulties will then be removed and you will be halfway to success. If you can lead your pupils to really understand their horses, you will have succeeded in producing a horseman and not a passenger, and this in itself produces a sense of responsibility and consideration in the young rider. It is therefore character-forming.

Furthermore, if you succeed in making the young rider understand, and thereby appreciate the fact that work comes before the prize, you will have developed more than an understanding horseman. You will have developed a very useful member of the community -- someone who deeply comprehends the fact that privileges carry duty and responsibility. With that knowledge young riders will have the essential requirements for a happy life and surely won't become the so-called 'drop outs'. I am convinced that riding can be formative in a great many ways.

... On my first day at the Spanish Riding School the Instructor said to me, 'the Instructor lives on in his pupils.' If you carry my thoughts to your pupils it will mean that when I close my eyes one day I will close them in the happy knowledge that I will live for a long time in the thoughts of my pupils.

-Franz Mairinger

Monday, November 17, 2014

Expert Opinion: Leg-Yielding

Welcome to my Monday Mash-up, where I compile lots of expert advice on a subject. Want me to hunt through my ridiculous library and aggregate some advice for you on a topic? Please comment!

Today's topic is leg-yielding - the applications, the aids, and the training of!

What's a leg yield? Only my most favorite of torturous exercises for my students due to it's versatility and overall handiness!

A leg yield is a diagonal movement wherein the horse moves forward and sideways - generally aiming for traveling at about a 45 degree angle. The horse is bent away from the direction of travel... but not too much.

I generally teach my riders by first practicing our turns on the forehand, then discussing how the reins can influence the horse to remain straight.

I have the student keep their reins short without acting backwards (my horses tend to quite willingly start to back up when the student clutches too much on the reins). I help them put their leg in the correct position (just slightly behind the girth) and encourage the student to use their hamstring to pull the leg into the horse's spine. Release with each step and pet the horse. If the reins lengthen while we're focused on the leg, the horse will generally move forward. We'll go both directions with our turns on the forehand before moving on.

We then move on to a spiral exercise, where the horse walks a very small circle and using the leg yielding aids the rider spirals the horse back to a large circle. And once I feel we've got that put together pretty well, we'll advance to leg yielding on straight lines.

The most difficult part for riders is to make sure that you use your outside rein to hold the shoulder straight without pulling back into your lap. I also warn against staring at their shoulders or head and instead turn to look along my path of travel. Look where you want to end up on the rail.

Leg yielding can get wonky because it's a single term for quite a few different movement. I fall prey to this myself, when I say such things as "leg yield through the corner." I do not want your hindquarters off the path of travel, instead I want the suppleness created from a prompt response to the leg.

I primarily deal with a nose-to-wall leg yield (wherein the shoulders travel along the rail but the hindquarters are toward the center of the arena) and a more direct leg yield, wherein the horse's body remains parallel to the wall.

Our dressage masters themselves have much to say on the matter of a leg yield.

Jane Savoie goes into wonderful detail in her books, but I'll keep it brief. She says that for a leg-yield over to the right, you sit squarely and balanced over the middle of your horse. You right leg is on the girth for forward movement. The left leg is behind the girth for sideways movement. Both legs are passive unless the horse needs to be sent either more forward or more sideways. In the case, the appropriate leg squeezes and releases. The left rein vibrates for flexion at the poll, and the right rein is steady and supporting to keep the neck straight.

Pg 152 of Dressage 101
I will say that on a personal note, I rarely teach the vibrating rein in there because I think students have a tendency to lump it into their automatic "okay now leg yield" rather than thinking about it. Do I need to apply this aid to increase flexion? Or am I leg yielding because we're already too bent and I need to straighten him out in motion? I think the legs we have to think about more (unless we're in the habit of nagging.... something I won't go into today) but young developing riders LOVE TO USE THEIR HANDS. And not in a good way, generally.

Richard Watjen suggests training and perfecting the turn on the forehand first. He says, "At the halt the rider puts his horse to the bit, maintaining a light contact with both reins. The horse has to stand quietly and squarely on all four legs... The rider's inside leg (in the turn to the right, the right leg) behind the girth drives the hindquarters step by step round the forehand... During and after the turn the rider prevents a creeping back through the use of the driving aids of his own back and legs. A proper rhythm and even steps are essential. As soon as the movement is finished, the rider should proceed on a straight line."

Watjen warns against practicing the turn on the forehand too often, as "it puts the weight of the rider on the forehand, but it is indispensable in the preliminary stage of training."

General Anders Lindgren generally agrees with Watjen, suggesting that "in every corner of a 15 meter square, the rider performs a quarter turn on the forehand." As a reader, I love the structure of Lindgren's books... he writes: "observe that the rider keeps the horse straight in the whole neck except for a slight position at the poll, that the influence of the outside rein keeps the horse from collapsing in the base of his neck, that the rider carries his whip in his inside hand prepared to use it on the horse's flank, that the rider through the turn keeps the horse's jaw and poll supple. Thus the rider has the feeling of wringing tension and resistance out of the horse like wringing a wet wash sponge at the sink."

Richard Davison says "for leg yield, step into your inside stirrup without leaning over - keep your body weight central. Nudge the horse over with your inside leg and control the bend with your outside rein and outside leg."

Carl Hester's summary of leg yields.
Racinet, generally one of my favorite masters to reference due to his eschewing of "traditional German" methods, actually doesn't mention the leg yield or the turn on the forehand, believe it or not.

And how about our jumping masters? Surely they thinks leg yielding is of some importance?

Margaret Cabell-Self, (whom I consider to be one of my finest trainers, even though she died thirty years before I was born) clarifies why Racinet doesn't comment on the leg yield. "The exercise recommended by German trainers helps make the horse responsive to the unilateral leg aids and prepares him for more advanced training... This exercise is not designed to flex the horse's whole body as does the more difficult and advanced movement of the shoulder-in, [instead the leg yield makes] it possible to mobilize the haunches at will."

Anne Kursinski stresses how the relative straightness of the horse is important in order to actually create the movement. "Keeping his haunches and shoulders in line is an important part of the work. As with your earlier bending work, you'll probably need some experimenting to find the hand-to-leg ratio that keeps him straight and produces the smooth forward-and-sideways movement you're looking for." She also says, in reference to her photos: "His neck is straight because my arms and hands are quietly in a connection -- not pulling or crossing over the withers. Nor am I dropping a shoulder or hips or my eyes. I'm riding with feeling; I go with him, trying to do just enough to keep him straight and no more -- like balancing a broom in the palm of my hand."

Paul Cronin notes that "many horses have one side that they yield to more easily. When first teaching any new lateral movement, consider starting on the softer side in order to introduce it more easily. Then tactfully emphasize the stiffer side." Cronin's three patters for teaching leg-yielding are:

  1. Leg-yielding from the quarter line to the rail; i.e. right to left: The horse is looking right and yielding left from an inside right leg. Before the end of the ring or sooner, if a resistance or a loss of impulse occurs, straighten and go forward.
  2. Leg-yielding from the center line executed as above.
  3. Leg-yielding on a circle spiraling out to a larger circle.
Anna Jane White-Mullen says for a nose-to-wall leg yield left, you aids are a left indirect rein, left leg behind the girth, right leg at the girth.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I had an itch

7:45pm. My lesson is over. My arena is lit haphazardly by my 4/6 lights that work on any given night. I have to ride my horse.

8:20pm. Good god. I'm exhausted by today. Can I get away with just this longing session? Nope. He needs the exercise.

8:25pm. He feels good. He's moving through his whole body, he's steady in the bridle. I'm focusing on my balance, making sure I'm not hindering his movement.

8:30pm. Our trot spirals have gone really well, and he feels incredibly supple. He's leaning on my inside rein a little, so I push him forward, focusing on the surge of energy, on keeping stable above him, on encouraging that hind to come under.

Suddenly it feels as if the whole world's sound has been dampened. I can't hear very well. My ear is aching. I want to scratch it.

Tango steps under with his inside hind, his trot developing a cadence that wasn't there a moment before. I half-halt again, asking for more. He's got more in there.

My ear HURTS. It pangs me.

I sit Tango back even more, coiling energy for a nice lengthening. I'm still trying to ignore my ear. He's going so well, just one more good lengthening and then we'll walk and I'll itch it.

The world comes into focus again as he lengthens, surging forward with long and wonderful steps.

I sit him back. I leg yield a step into my outside rein and ask for the strike off. His shoulders rise in front of me and we rock along our circle. He tries to come above the bridle and I ask him to remain round, even though it's harder.

And then my ear itches again. Without thinking, I drop the reins and itch my ear. The itching makes it hurt even worse. I don't really know what to do. I think that maybe if I rub my whole head on my shoulder that'll make it better, so I do.

And then I remember that I'm riding a horse. We were doing a dressage school. He was going wonderfully.

Not only am I riding a horse, I'm riding a horse that two months ago would have been charging about the arena, had I dropped the reins. But instead of charging, Tango decided to stretch his nose down and drift off the circle, keeping a nice and quiet canter.

Good god, I love my horse.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Courage for the challenges ahead

Yup. That's a tiny kid in a tinier western saddle riding a retired hunter/2nd level warmblood. Ooohh retirement.
I'm taking at least seven - perhaps as many as nine - kids to a horse show the first weekend of December. I see it as a sleepless celebration of shiny horses and well-dressed kids, but some of my students are struggling more with it. What is it about shows that sets us back so much? Why do we have nightmares of falling in front of our judges, in our lessons we seem unable to perform basic tasks, and upon talking about 'what classes are you riding?' our mouths go dry?

I don't seem to get nerves like that anymore, but I'm seeing it in full force among my students. They're nervous. Maybe that speaks to my training, maybe they're not as well-prepared as they could be. But I've seen the other route - the paralyzing, every hair in place, total arresting fear after years of preparation - and I prefer mine. No one is going to get hurt. I don't have any kids showing for the ribbons. We're all going out because we like jumping, we like our horses, and it's an excuse to get off the farm for a day. This is a learning experience.

I repeat this at my kids again and again and meet only blank eyes. They nod and say, "yeah, yeah, Kate, we know..." but there's something I'm not saying, I'm somehow not meeting them halfway.

And so I turn to my books. I read about show nerves and the recommended paths of action "make sure you set your trailer up a week before headingout," or "visualize the show going well." Good advice, but does it strike at the fear in our hearts? The unspeakable "what if I'm not _____ enough?" You can fill that blank with: good, pretty, talented, athletic, amazing... or you can leave it blank. Heavens know I've said it to myself. Maybe I'm just not enough.

I keep reading.

And then I read about shame. Shame is a strong word, yes, but I believe it captures what I am after. Brene Brown says:
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Pg. 69, Daring Greatly
The emphasis on belonging is mine. I sense that my most fearful students are worried about this show because they might not feel like they belong in the show ring.  They might be worried about letting the farm down, of not being enough.

To those fears I reply: Recognition and success and approval are not our guiding values. Doing the best we can to allow our horses to make it in this human world, being courageous, and being bold are our guiding values. We are being courageous by facing this fear and showing up. By showing.

We lay the groundwork every day to build trust with our horses, to whisper with our aids, to express our sheer joy at becoming a centaur. And these trials by fire, these things we call "shows" allow us to experience something new with our horse. The horse is sometimes made nervous by the loudness and largeness of the facility, and our own nerves run rampant. And then we emerge. We're dirty. We're exhausted. We're shaken. But we emerge with a stronger partnership and a keener sense of what we can do to improve at home.

Edit: Upon further reflection, I realize that I neglected to specifically mention my students' fear of being judged by the other riders at the show. I give the same answer to those fears that I do to the earlier fears, and add (also adapted from Daring Greatly): if we see someone struggling, do we use this moment to confirm that we're better than she is? She's stuck in ways we are not? Will we roll our eyes in disapproval and walk by? Our other choice is to flash that rider our best, "you're not alone -- I've been there, sister" smile because we know what she's feeling. Yes, empathy requires some vulnerability and we risk getting a "mind your own business" look, but it's worth it. It doesn't just loosen things up for her. It loosens it up for us the next time it's our horse refusing a fence, rolling with his saddle on, or our forgotten last fence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some oddness with Tangoose

Mr. Tango has been doing pretty well, overall. He's rather quiet in almost all dealings with him, and the only reminder (most of the time) of the fact that he used to be a charger in the canter is that if your half-halt is too weak before bringing him back to the trot he drops into this jaw-rattling speedy trot.

I've been introducing him to the tarp (which he now wears quite... well, happily isn't the word, but he wears it now.)

I've been working on teaching him to stand still for grooming and tacking.

He's doing a ton of shoulders-in, spirals at the trot and canter, lengthening and shortening. He's getting stronger and more obedient pretty much every day.

All these positive things to say - he tried to buck me off on Sunday. There was no rhyme or reason to it.

We're blaming Bert.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Another great weekend

This weekend was filled with some pretty great lessons. The highlight had to be when I explained the mechanics of the sitting trot in extreme detail to a new student and turned away to watch another rider for a moment. When I glanced back, there he was, cantering down the rail. I stared for a moment, wondering why I was confused by this. He sat perfectly still, the only evidence of his green-ness the heels that crept upwards... and then I remembered that this was his second riding lesson EVER.


But hey, he did a great job! There's something to be said for being very very fit.

On that note, I have to remember how very unfit Tango is for how energetic  he is. He has so little muscle, but he is so willing and eager to work! But he is certainly looking better. Every day, he rides more through, respects the bridle more, accepts the bit.

Did I mention that he jumped the other day and didn't even act like he was 100% out of control? Yes. I did. I'll mention it again.

I had a point for starting this post, and now I can't remember! Alas!