Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Working Against Resistance

Tango went to Tracey's for his second lesson yesterday and was an absolute saint. I'm loving the opportunity to learn a bit more with him even though I think I'd still rather be bringing Kat to these lessons. She'll be back in action in no time, I'm sure.

I don't really have any media, so here's a (long) video from my last lesson with Tango/Tracey wherein for the first time I feel like I look really good at the canter. Just skip to about a minute or two in and tell yourself, damn, that's a decent thoroughbred hahahah

Here's what I learned in this lesson:

-Keeping your hands behind the bit rings helps you to guide the horse to straightness from your seat
I tend to let my right hand come over the neck when I'm tracking left, and then when I get the right hand where I want it, my left hand sneaks up to the withers. I think I'm asking for more bend, but the correct thing is to shorten the rein so that a small movement to the inside of the circle takes a feel on his mouth.

If the rein is too long and I have to move my hand backwards, I'm going to change the balance and be less able to influence his straightness with my thighs and lower leg. I need to keep my reins shorter without thinking I need to post over them, I can keep my upper body away from my hands.

If the hands are over the middle of the horse, then all I'm doing is encouraging a twisted neck which does NOT allow the energy to come forward over his back and through the deep muscles of his neck.

-If you over-open your inside rein to help show the horse the bend you want, you can't just snap it back to central, be gentle

Tracey had me first ask for bend with my inside leg and a slight matching hold on the inside rein, but if that didn't work I moved the rein toward the center of the circle a few inches (without allowing the outside rein to follow the hand over the withers). Every time he really gave to me, lifted his withers and bent to the circle, I'd snap my hand back to 'home' and he'd sort of fall out off the circle because I wasn't careful in putting myself back to central. 

I also need to keep my reins shorter in order to facilitate this more soft movement between over-showing the horse and riding in a more correct place.

-Ask for a bit more than the horse wants to give you, because you're not building muscle unless you're working against resistance

Now this was damn near philosophical. I'm paraphrasing, but essentially she said, "we build strength by working against a bit of resistance. If you're in the gym and the weights are too light, you won't be building muscle. If you're just going along the way you like to go along, it might be nice, but it's never going to change anything." 

This is the Thoroughbred in question, in case you've forgotten in this wall of text
-Timing in the transitions is key if you want to maintain roundness

This is related to a more overall reactivity I apparently have when I'm riding. If you sort of wait until a problem has already happened, it's harder for the horse to understand you don't want them to do it. We did about fifteen thousand walk trot walk trot transitions all in the sitting trot in this lesson, and you have to stay really focused and feeling in order to ask them to do these transitions correctly.

As in: a round, soft, carrying transition doesn't just happen with repetitions willy-nilly, you have to sort of show the horse how you want it done, then do it that way a bajillion times until it becomes either more natural for your mind to explode when you do something you've literally done since your third riding lesson or the horse starts to create the new habit.

-To better sit the trot, carry your bear-down deeper into your pelvis

I consider myself a pretty fit person, I ride a lot, I should theoretically be pretty riding-fit.


But in all seriousness, it's very easy to get a bit sloppy when you've got four more horses to ride in a day. You sort of conserve yourself - but then you start to coast, and you need to work against some resistance to improve, and if I am able to reach the end of the day not really feeling terribly physically exhausted, I'm cheating.

So when you cough, or clear your throat, or hiss, or growl (go on, try one of the four. I'll wait.) you engage the deeper supporting muscles of the core, but you'll also do a much better job of toning the muscles closer to your ribcage than to your groin. It's human nature.

You have to extend that engagement deep into your pelvic floor (while remaining relaxed) in order to fully support your body in the sitting trot.

And as Tracey pointed out, the horse has to stay round and bending and forward while you focus on this.

-At any point if you leave an aid on for more than five steps you've forgotten what the aid was for (but you can apply an aid once every step for 5+ steps as long as you know what you're trying to do)

-Keep my head up and my ribs down to better feel the horse and remain in vertical balance

-Tango's forehead needs to draw the circle, so I need to bend him and then soften and then ask for the bend long before he comes off the circle

I mentioned this earlier, wherein I'm a bit reactive in my riding and just need to catch the changes when it feels like the muscles are just beginning to think about coming out of where I want him, not when he's already in motion.  I also love to draw 20-meter circles full of fishtails, this is related.

-Keep both seat bones on the saddle and your mid-line over the withers in order to help the withers come to vertical

Let's say the horse is leaning to the left. I just picked a direction, it's probably not the direction my horse leans.

 If you move to the left in order to better put your leg on the left side, you are only going to increase the leaning situation. But if you sit in a centered way and then remind the horse to come up underneath you, well, that is just going to be so much easier than you'd ever imagined.

(Dammit the problems with my horses remain my fault: why can't I just blame them for being bad?)

-Slow down a lot to allow him to get more clearly cadenced

Tango has a QUITE forward trot (read, quick) that feels pretty decent. He's responsive, he's maneuverable, he's light in the bridle, he's basically round, but there's a trot hiding in that wonderful thoroughbred body that has some real suspension. Not a lot, not world-beating amazing, but it's there. And to get him to build that trot, I cannot push him past it, tempo-wise.

I have to bring him to a much much slower trot without allowing the energy to dissipate (western crossover event horse?) and ask him to be straight and bending and round in that slower trot. And keep my reins short enough to actually use them.

-When the horse is using their body, the base of their neck fills out

Tracey described it like a fire hose that fills up in the base of their neck, and you have to build the tone and engagement in their hindquarters and gently push it forward through their neck without losing balance/tempo/letting your reins get too long

-There is a difference between a moment of strength and a moment of rigidity

We let Tango have quite a long break between cantering one way and cantering the other way, and when I gathered the reins up (but make them shorter Kate honestly you've mentioned the reins thing six times in one blog post) Tango did not really want to come back to play. It was over 90 degrees and he's already sprouting a coat so he was pretty tired. When he flipped up at me I pretty strongly closed my hands and put my inside leg on - get off my legs and yield to the hands.

But I did it too rigidly - and I need to think of remaining fluid in my motions even if the muscle tone has to get really high for a moment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sivewright's "Thinking Riding"

"It is almost a truism to say that he who would influence others must control himself. He must have a quieter and more impartial mind than those whom he would restore, he must make allowances for this, and sometimes put himself in their place. He must not either command or reprove until he is fully acquainted with all the circumstances of the case. He must convey the impression that he will listen to the voice of reason only, and not be moved by entreaties, that he remembers and does not forget, and that he observes more than he says. He must know the characters of those with whom he deals, he must show that he has a regard for their feelings when he is correcting or reproving them. The great art is to mingle authority with kindness; there are a few, but a very few, who by some happy tact have contrived so to rebuke another as to make him their friend for life. Kindness and sympathy have a wonderful power in this world; they smooth the rough places of life, they take off the angles." -Benjamin Jowett

Molly Sivewright, founder of the Talland School of Equitation, wrote this book as a manual of sorts for the student instructors at her school, but it comes across as a wildly valuable manual for instructors globally.

There are three sections in the book: General Notes for Instructors, Doctrine, and Early Riding Lessons. All three are PACKED with information, but I particularly loved the first part. It's possible I am influenced, as I'm a riding instructor.

Sivewright has a very clear vision for what an excellent riding instructor looks like and she has no hesitation calling people out for lazy instruction (notably allowing students to fall through corners and ride lop-sided ovals in their early lessons, or pushing jumps bigger rather than expanding the base of understanding with more complex exercises over small jumps).

She writes extensively about the mental aspects of learning to be a riding instructor, that we must become calm, thoughtful, forward thinking persons if we are to take over the education of either a rider or a horse.

She advocates careful and consistent training of our horses, while not insisting that all the lesson horses in a program be paragons of virtue.

And perhaps most importantly, the book is filled with advice on executing the basics, on improving that foundation upon which we all must build our performance.

Even flipping through the book, looking for sections I wanted to expound upon, I found sentences and paragraphs I hadn't fully absorbed the first time through, and the ideas in the book are plentiful. I reckon this is a book I'll be reaching for again and again in order to both find new things to work on with my students or even to inspire me to reach for a higher overall standard of education.

Do I recommend this book to everyone? Certainly not. It's a bit difficult to read at times, and contains much of the same information available in more modern, scientifically up-to-date books.  However. If you teach anyone at all about horses, I think it's an invaluable add to your library if only for the first third of the book. Sivewright is acerbic and tough, but entertaining nonetheless.

Here are some sections of the book that can give you a taste of her writing style---

Words to a potential student-instructor:
"A career or a life with horses? Usually they are one and the same, for the equine species tends to be extraordinarily time and interest consuming. Although there is an endless list of specialist and non-specialist jobs available, the scope of a riding instructor's career is boundless for he should be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of them all! Being a skilled rider he must be dexterous in his work with horses both in the stable and outside. Pupils and horses must thrive in his care. All this proficiency will only come about with training, practice, and experience.

"Before any young person decides to embark on a course of training to qualify as an equitation instructor he or she must embark on come serious heart and soul searching. A career with horses will not necessarily be a glamorous one - far from it, invariably it involves a great deal of very hard work, providing a never-ending test of mental and physical strength and stamina. Besides enthusiasm and all the other necessary qualifies listed later, a student-instructor will need a bottomless supply of energy and resilience."

The rider's rein-aids:

"Much has been written about the riders' hands, perhaps too much, and possibly this is contributory to so many riders guiding and governing their horses by means of their hands, to the detriment of the horse's mouths, backs, action and movements. A second yet greater reason for the predominance of the rider's hands when influencing his horse is that the human race has been ordained by Nature to do most things with its hands. If aspiring horsemen were to take up writing, painting, and basket-weaving with their toes perhaps they would then ride far better, with only minimum hand influence."


Thinking Riding is a dense, insightful book aimed primarily at educating future trainers.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Grinning like a fool

First and foremost, Kathy (not his real name) started a blog and this is my favorite post so far. He's ridiculous and hilarious.

Secondly, his dad came out to meet my horses and hang out at the farm about two months ago and took some photos of Kat and I jumping and I wanted to highlight the above photo because I find it a bit preposterous. What's an asymmetry? What does your upper body do over fences? Why am I so happy?

Oh well - it basically sums up my relationship with Kat. Her athleticism gets us out of trouble and I laugh a lot while we do it. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Integration Evaluation

The following list of questions I took from a book by Jill Hassler-Scoop, who proposes that answering these questions will benefit you after lessons, shows, and clinics. I can see that there would be a lot of benefit to this.

Chente was so committed to his nap that I actually gave him the day off
  1. What made you decide to attend the event?
  2. What did you expect to gain from this event and did you get it?
  3. What points or experiences do you want to be certain to remember?
  4. Did you disagree with any of the points or things you saw?
  5. What points from the experience would you like to learn more about?
  6. What points do you feel you will want to experiment with in your own teaching and how might you do it?
  7. How did the event spark your own creative thinking?
  8. Was the material presented in an open way that encouraged discussion and creativity?
  9. Was the information presented in an objective, even handed fashion?
  10. In general, did you feel positive about the information and procedures?
  11. What was the highlight of the event for you?
  12. Any last thoughts on what could have been different or better? 
  13. What are the three most important points from this experience?
What do you think? Do any of these questions make sense to systematically apply to your own lessons/clinics/shows/rides? Is there a question that really should be here that isn't?

Can't/won't stop giggling about this.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We're all effing insane (and I love it)

Other bloggers might write better recaps for this weekend than I will, so I will leave it to them. So you get this post from me instead.

I have gotten the chance over the last few months to better get to know SO many bloggers, starting first with Jen from CobJockey, then L from Viva Carlos, and Megan from A Enter Spooking, and Figure from Topaz Dreams, Olivia from DIY Horseownership, Emma from Fraidy Cat Eventing, and most recently: Austen from Guinness on Tap.

Outside the blogosphere, I know a lot of horse people. Comes with the territory, we all know a lot of horse people. I'm a trainer, so I'm in it deeper even than your average rider. I know horse people in many different states, I've trained horses and people in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California.

And here's what I learned, my readers.

We're all fucking insane.

And sometimes that insanity is WONDERFUL (like finally I've met a kindred spirit I'm not alone thank god wonderful), and sometimes that insanity makes me crawl into bed at the end of the day hoping that maybe the sun will forget to rise and I'll never deal with any human being ever again.

When meeting new horse people, you never really know where anyone's going to end up on that scale.

But every blogger I've met has been so awesome. Like I want all of you as friends forever awesome.

Why do I think this is?

No idea. Do we think more about our riding, or do we consider the impact of our horsemanship more, or do we just have a more intimate relationship with our crazy so we manage it better?

No idea.

It doesn't matter.

But thank you all for being the sort of crazy I love passing time with, and I really hope I get to meet more of you as time rolls on!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What do you want to work on today?

At my last lesson with Dumbledore he asked, "what do you want to work on today? What are you hoping to come away with?"

I bit back my first response, which resembled a less-eloquent version of, 'please just tell me what to do, I'm too tired, I'm paying you so I can feel confident I'm being led in the right direction,' but then thought about it a bit longer and asked to work on better balance in the downward out of the canter.

Unrelated: Chente is totally adorable.

I've been thinking about this a lot. It is reasonable for my trainers to have a lot of autonomy over what my goals are with my horses, after all, I am also a trainer. It is reasonable for me to have that ownership over my daily rides. I probably could not say what my goal is every day before I get on: I try to ride the horse I'm sitting on and not my preconceived notions for what the horse brings to the table. Generally they have a standard deviation of training/behavior and overall holes, but still.

Which brings me to my students. I have a number of students who own horses, and I have many more who don't own but are serious about their riding nonetheless.

I have a plan for each of my students, based on goals that they have given me (or we've developed together), and I know all the things we need to accomplish within those plans for moving toward the goals. Some days, sure, we abandon ship and play around or tackle some new questions or I re-teach the lessons I'm getting from Tracey because I don't fully understand it yet and breaking it down helps me.

Deviations notwithstanding, I generally have a good plan for my students.

At what point do I pass more ownership to their riding on to them?

Here are some arguments I'm having with myself.

1) When a student owns their own horse, it's not necessarily a given that they've ridden a better-schooled horse than the one they are sitting on.
2) It's possible that the biggest problem a student will be aware of is one that I've already started helping them to solve.
3) They have chosen to ride with me because of my track record with training riders (or my proximity or because their friends ride with me or their parents like me, but that's a business discussion, not a training one) so they must inherently trust the plan I've laid out for them.

I love my mountains.

Is it then my responsibility to encourage students to take more thoughtful ownership of their riding by posing them these questions and expecting them to have a realistic response?

I think so.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rainy Day Blues

This morning it rained. I woke up to the sound of it drizzling, and I felt puzzled. Almost wondered if I was back in Michigan.

And then I groaned, because I remembered I'd left one of my car windows open.

While driving to the barn, I ran into one of the guys who works at the barn on his way out. We paused at the bottom of the driveway to chat, and while chatting, someone on the other side of the highway lost control and went crashing into the median. His car was totaled. Like idiots with hero complexes, we went running across the highway, stopping traffic so this guy could get out of his car.

I went back to the barn to teach a lesson to new students and was shaken. I had a hard time remembering who had which name, and I couldn't seem to get my energy up to infuse basic figure-eights with excitement.

Then, while setting a grid, I get a text that Kat has cut herself.

Yuupppp, she really did a number.

I called the vet, texted some photos over, decided to have him come out and stitch her up.

And then I went to turn my car on and the battery was dead. I got a jump, a wonderfully kind client made it over to hold Kat for the vet, and I went on to my nannying job.

Pleh. Six stitches later, sounds like Kat's going to be just fine.

Monday, September 12, 2016

RDLA Horse Trial

Tango and I did a Novice horse trial this weekend. We absolutely, unequivocally, no questions asked won our division. One could even say that we dominated. 

It would be acceptable to ask yourself: did you dominate due to superior training, talent, and performance? Or, alternatively, did you dominate due to being the only rider in the division?

Alright. The truth is out. We won because we were the only horse/rider pair in the division. 

We had a hell of a good time though. 

Dressage: we did NOT have enough warm up time to get him totally on my aids. I maybe sat on him for seven minutes before we went in for our test. As a result he was a bit stiff, a little looky, and I hadn't remembered to shorten my reins up. 

Photos thanks to Olivia! THANK YOU :) 

Honestly looking at these photos there's so much I want to change: my mind was not in the game. Not that we put a terrible ride in, but I memorized my test like an hour before I rode it and I didn't really take the time to plan how I was going to ride it. Kat and her Lessee were having some trouble and my mind was 100% on that. 




I was just overflowing with happiness. Yeah, we definitely should have destroyed that jump we hit, but he felt really good. I loved it. I had FUN. I think that's what you're supposed to have with horses but sometimes I forget. 

Cross country: 

I was deeply distressed because it turned out that something had spilled ALL OVER my vest and I smelled like watermelon-flavored vinegar. It was terrible. I felt like I couldn't breathe. 

We hustled over to the course because it seemed like they might just let me go early, but then we did end up having to wait a bit. Maybe a good thing, as I slowly acclimated to the putrid stench of myself. 

And then, she counted down, and sent us on our way. I love those moments, and when we opened up to the canter...

Guys. This horse is a rock star. There were a few questions I felt he'd struggle with and I forgot to photograph but you'll just have to take my word for it, and he flew over them. The ONLY thing we had a hard time with was a funny sunken road-type jump where you jumped down, had one stride, and jumped back out. It was off a hard turn and Tango was surprised by it and we sort of flubbed to a halt. 

In summary? 

These are the days that make you fall in love with horses all over again, when their humor and spirit infect you with buoyancy. When it feels easy, when it feels like a game. When you glance in the rear view mirror and see their ears in the trailer and your chest aches a little because of how full of the days experiences you are.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Struggle to Understand

Riding isn't precisely a spiritual endeavor but I sort of think it can't help the parallels it holds to a spiritual life: we seek balance, we seek connection, and we seek fluidity.

Balance in our transitions between movements, connection in our bodies and in our minds, fluidity in the way we execute.

Expression in how we accomplish movements.

Tell me you can't see both sides of this: balance in going from walk to trot and balance in leaving work and coming home to care for the homestead. Connection in the bridle, connection with our friends and family.

The other week I wrote about how the adult amateur is a powerhouse - to go out and deal with the other world and to still have the time and energy to step into this LITERAL arena -

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt

Perhaps learning to train and ride horses is an accelerated hothouse of spiritual learnings for me but only a quiet hobby to you. This too, is important for me. To not project my dreams and desires onto the horse, onto my students, to learn to buckle down and influence the only thing I can truly influence: myself.

I am learning with the horse that if I stay truly stable and centered, the chatter stills and we can focus on the most important improvements. I am learning with my life that if I am clear and unobstructed in my communications, we can accomplish our goals together more efficiently.
A rabbi once told me that God hides the truth from us and expects us to use our minds, the reason that God gifted us at our birth to uncover the truth. I find it fascinating that we have this itch in us to make sense of what is probably, ultimately, unsensible. It’s the pilgrimage, it’s the struggle to understand, that transforms us.  It’s not the answer. 
 And while "God" isn't in my daily vocabulary, it allows me to find meaning to say to myself "the truth is hidden beneath the chatter and spin and never-ending to-do list. I don't think I'll ever grasp at the 'truth', but it's the struggle to understand that transforms us."

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dumbledore Lesson Recap

As previously mentioned, I went up and had lessons with Dumbledore the other day - his sage advice is always intriguing. I've been thinking a lot about goals and business and whatnot, but those are thoughts to sort through as I go on.

I rode Tango first because lately I've been having SO MUCH FUN every time I get on him. One of my students has been schooling him quite a bit - I'm not riding Tangoose much. But every time I get on him, I'm feeling how much the work on Kat is changing my ability to ride all of my horses. And Tango is definitely a fun ride.

I blew through most of 2nd test 1 on him on Saturday because I like some of the exercises it asks you to do. I was fully prepared to pull him off it to school a movement or ask for more/less, whatever. But he was so good. Usually he'll struggle a bit in the shoulder-in and come above the bit before stepping through with his hind end to carry a bit more, but this weekend he was like putty in my hands.

The run down? The horse is trained. It's time to step it up.

  • Sometimes Tango's balance takes a dive for the worse in downward transitions. We experimented with transitions in shoulder-in, then with transitions in renvers.
    • Note to self: your renvers is a mess. Someday Tracey will yell at you for this.
  • Renvers was like magic for getting him to stay up through the withers in downward transitions. Tango was so light and carrying behind - so fun! 
  • Work on the counter canter to continue improving the quality and strength of the canter. Right now on smaller circles Tango needs some serious hand-holding, so he needs to get stronger overall. 
  • Work on lengthening and shortening the canter. When I mentioned to Dumbledore I haven't done much lengthening/shortening with Tango, he was a bit rankled. 
  • Keep my hands out in front of me - if this means adjusting the reins fifteen times, so be it. Don't let the hands sneak back. 
We jumped quite a bit and I got very little feedback. For what we're doing, we're doing very well. It's just more of the same - get him confident, calm, rideable. 

Kat felt tense to me, so I asked Dumbledore to ride her. She was tricksy for him, but settled well enough and I worked through some stuff before jumping some. I honestly don't have much notable to say about it other than what I've already written. 
  • I need to remain more serious about keeping her quiet before jumps. He suggests jumping EVERY SINGLE DAY, just two jumps. It's got to get boring and easy and simple. It's currently easy, but neither boring nor simple.
  • Sit up. Like strap your shoulders back or something because hunching doesn't do anything good for you or the horse. 
  • Dumbledore suggests the same thing as Tracey, pretty much only ask for the canter when she's quiet, soft, bending at the trot. We are to do this mostly by doing a ten meter circle and asking for the canter on the second half the circle. It works when I get my timing together....
Dumbledore suggests we'll be running prelim by next year if I keep up my work with her. He's taken many riders to that level so I know he knows what he's talking about, but I'm honestly not jumping her at all right now outside of lessons, so a conversation with myself about priorities is going to have to come out.