Thursday, February 8, 2018

1/28/2018 - Adult Camp Lesson 2

My lesson Sunday morning was with LH, and she also focused on keeping the quality of the canter and frustrating Penn while he builds the strength to keep his hind end under him instead of trying to splat in the counter canter.

While we warmed up, she stressed he needs to be straight: If he’s not straight he gets flingy (as noted in yesterday's cavaletti lesson). He needs to be super straight on the outside aids.

She also stressed the quality of the canter: If you’re asking for collected canter, right on. Make sure you can still drive forward. Keep the jump in the canter no matter what. Lots of inside leg to outside rein.

Look! The sit! Too bad it wasn't quite what I asked for and he ended up stuck.

She also said now is not the time to be subtle with my canter cues- once he’s confirmed I can be subtle. I need to make sure my seat and leg are very, very clear. 

She also said to stop asking for backwards when he wants to stop, but he can send himself backwards. Tap him forward. Don’t ask for rein back or anything that resembles backwards for a while (not that I was planning on that, haha).

So stuck in the canter. Must spin in. Must back up.

Basically, we’re picking apart the changes and making them better and he thinks that’s horrible. As we got rolling into the real meat of the lesson, I tried to bring him along to the changes the way GP Trainer and I did, half pass to the change. The half pass was ok (haunches leading, a new problem for us), but I lost the jump and he hopped instead of changing.

I got the canter back, and LH recommended not doing any movements, just canter on the 20m circle, and over x, change to counter canter on the adjacent 20m circle. So that's what we focused on the rest of our lesson!

Find the counter canter, and spend the first circle just keeping counter canter. Next, flop around a little bit, but keep the counter canter. Slowly start changing the bend, working on left bend in the right canter, all while keeping the counter canter.

He got all flustered when I started changing the bend and trotted, but LH praised me for keeping a very cool head when he started his halt/rein back nonsense and simply going back to it. We did some more counter canter as I tried to change the bend and he broke to trot, then tried to quit, to which LH said, “Horses are great, horses are great, dressage is fun, dressage is fun!” Just keep going!

She said that he’s not wrong in breaking, being uncomfortable and knowing something is going to happen. The counter canter on the circle is about him letting me in and me being able to adjust the canter or flop around as desired without him changing. Eventually, when I can counter canter and move around and adjust the stride and bend, and I finally do ask him to change, he’s going to leap at the chance to do it because it’ll be a relief and easier than anything else we have been doing. And it will be beautiful and lovely.

But look at this very smart walk- counter canter transition!

We took a break, then got our wires crossed about which direction to go next- LH wanted the left lead, but I heard right lead, which made sense to me since the right lead is weaker, and he did this lovely agreeable CC circle:

We went the other way, and had to work through his halt/rein back shenanigans, and got the left lead rolling. She had me keep the regular counter canter for a circle, then start bending him right. He wanted to lay on me and lean, and I had to fluff him up off the rein. She got after me to keep the jump coming, and to open my inside rein to say, “hey, over here” and he had to maintain the CC. His stride got a bit open, and when I went to collect it, he quit.

We got the counter canter back, and she reminded me to keep his poll up. “Don’t even ask for a change until he can counter canter with his poll up, in the opposite bend, with his hind legs under his body. When he can do all this and not give you the middle finger, and not stop and back up, then you can ask for the change."

In his last CC on the left lead, she had me really change his bend and sit down, and he just got stuck but never quit trying.

She encouraged me to keep going through this struggle, because he will be so much better on the other side.

I found this lesson to be super helpful, and I actually have a single half hour clip from this lesson, so here you go. Bad blogger with a too long video I know, but I've cued it up to the right lead canter work.

I videoed J's lesson for her, and we got everything packed up to go home. It was a great weekend of learning!

Penn staring longingly out his window. He and B didn't really want to go home.
Penn and B with matching sped-heads in the trailer cams.
Penn is usually mean in the trailer, but he and B seemed to be genuine friends!
The sunset was SO PRETTY. (don't worry, J took this pic, not me!)

Of course it was dark (but not too late!) by the time we got back to the barn, and we hadn't had anything go majorly wrong... so I fulfilled that by almost jack knifing my trailer. I had to aim it around a truck to get it back to its spot, and I misjudged everything and got my truck stuck in the mud while wedged between the trailer and a fence. *facepalm* Why didn't I turn on 4wd? The truck can't turn as tightly... and the fence was already a problem. So I had to unhook right there and move the trailer another day when the ground was frozen again. Sigh. At least I didn't actually jack knife it!

So close to disaster.

I found this weekend so worthwhile, cavaletti work and more homework to make the changes better. I also really liked getting 4.5 lessons (we'll call the cavaletti a .5, lol) in January. I've already noticed a big difference, so I'm trying to work out if I can financially do this camp again in February. We will see!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

1/27/2018 - Adult Camp Cavaletti Lesson

After my first lesson, I went to lunch, which had two special speakers. One was a PEMF (Pulsed electromagnetic therapy) company, and the other was for Tribute Feeds. I can't say I heard much from either company, they started talking before I got there, but the PEMF company was offering discounted treatments for riders who were in the Adult Camp.

From a PEMF website:
"PEMF therapy "exercises" the cells with a pulsing magnetic field, bringing them back into electrical balance while increasing nutrient circulation and oxygen flow. When cells are properly charged and functioning, soreness is reduced, inflammation is decreased, range of motion is increased, stress is reduced, and the body's restoring abilities are accelerated allowing the horse to perform at its personal best."
I like to test all kinds of treatments. Penn works hard, he's built downhill, and while dressage is easier for him than it was for Mikey, it's still hard. I am willing to give him any chance to train better and feel better.

The people from PEMF didn't recommend using it before a ride on a horse that tends to be lazy since the treatment can make horses VERY relaxed and even lazier. I wasn't worried about that, Penn has an excellent motor. They didn't have any more spots for after our cavaletti lesson (and there wasn't enough time Sunday morning), but they did have a spot to do it immediately, then Penn would have an hour before our Saturday afternoon lesson. I opted to have that done, and so I missed most of the Tribute Feed talk (I don't have control over what kind of grain Penn gets anyway, unless I want to buy it myself which I don't).

Penn LOVED his treatment. He was a hair suspicious about it since it was a big coil of plastic, but one "hit" of it and he was totally on board. He was exceedingly relaxed and the crossties were holding him up. At one point he started swaying and his front legs buckled a little. I'm pretty sure Penn was their best reaction of the weekend. Every other horse who was treated at least stayed awake, if not skeptical (J's horse, his skeptical face is hilarious).

They had a chair that both J and I sat in, and all we can figure it that it finds tension in the muscle and works on just that. We couldn't feel it in places that didn't already hurt.

Sleepy time while feeling good.

On to our cavaletti lesson with LH!

LH holds cavaletti Sunday every week, and I've always wanted to take a lesson, but it just hasn't panned out. If I make the 5 hour drive to GP Trainer, I want to take two lessons with her, not one and a cavaletti lesson.

Tried to get a pic of all his matching navy LeMeiux stuff.
I failed. You can't even tell the polos are navy.

We showed the horses the poles (Penn snorted and arched his neck over the blue poles down centerline), before moving on to tackling one section of poles at a time. It was kind of like a group jumping lesson, tackle all the bits and pieces, then put it all together in a course. The below pic has the poles numbered with directional arrows, but that's just for the final course. As we practiced each section, we ran through it on both the right and left rein.

The "Course"
Colors may not be accurate to real poles, lol

We started with the easiest, the two purple poles on a circle, with two trot steps in between. Penn likes to trot the poles then hurry off- LH was adamant that Penn stay straight and not hurry while lifting his forearms UP, and that I stay very upright and really hold him to a slower tempo while still sitting with my core. The idea being that he takes slower, loftier steps over the poles.

This entire lesson was very helpful for my ineffective posting trot. I have trouble keeping him up and not rushing in posting trot and this was an excellent lesson in posting, but keeping my core engaged. I noticed it carried over to being more effective in my warm up at home.

We moved on to the blue poles on centerline- two sets of two trot poles with two steps in between. I had to work a lot harder to keep him straight and sitting. Not too difficult though.

Next was the red fan, and I struggled with it. It really highlighted how I let him sneak out the outside shoulder ALL THE TIME. The first time through, I let Penn go with his tendency to get forward and running and taking bigger steps.

Weee, shoulders falling out the outside!

LH had me aim a bit more to the outside of the middle of the first pole, and then keep bringing his shoulders around. That worked a lot better for me

Better, no falling out!

For the final piece, we did the orange set of 6 trot poles. This was a big test of my ability to keep Penn straight. If he wavered at all, I'd lose any sit I managed to gain.

The final course: The orange 6 poles tracking right, the red fan tracking right then turn left and go over the green fan tracking left, the two purple poles tracking left then turn right, go up centerline over the blue poles, then turn right and go back to orange 6.

I was SO EXCITED to be part of a "group jump lesson" again! I have to say, remembering the course was initially a bit daunting because I'm wayyyyy out of practice. LH made an interesting comment that I think also pertains to jumping: Going through poles in a group gives less confident horses confidence.

We wanted to take the horses for a short walk after our lesson, so we invited the girl who shared our cavaletti lesson to come with us. We stuck B between Penn and the third rider, but he still got a bit fussy. I told J to run him up Penn's butt if he got moving. B did try to pass Penn on one side, so I cut him off by turning Penn that direction and putting Penn physically in the way. It worked, haha. We've gotta get J and B out on the trails! Overall, we had a nice walk though.

As for the PEMF? I think Penn really enjoyed getting his treatment, and it made him happy. He was very relaxed before, during and after our cavaletti lesson. He was a bit on the forehand for lesson, which goes back to, one, he already worked that day, and two, the treatment could make him lazy. He felt good the next day, and I'm sure it helped him deal with 3 rides in 24 hours (sorry bud). I do think the Pulse Treatments he gets at home are longer lasting and overall more effective though.

J and I finally dragged ourselves back to our hotel and got dinner before passing out by 10. It was a long day!!

Next up, our final lesson and the drive home!

Monday, February 5, 2018

1/27/2018 - Adult Camp Lesson 1

One of the barn ladies (we'll call her J) approached me a few months ago and asked if I wanted to go to the Adult Camp that GP Trainer's two assistant trainers were holding on 1/27-28/2018. I looked it over- $150 for: a private half hour lesson Saturday morning, lunch & lecture, a half hour group cavaletti lesson or private lunge lesson Saturday afternoon, overnight stabling, breakfast on Sunday, and a half hour private lesson Sunday. I thought it was pretty good value, especially since I'd have someone to haul down with and split some of the costs of gas and hotel.

I knew we'd have to leave super early Saturday morning since the first lessons of the weekend were in the morning (our lessons were at 11:00 and 11:30), and it's a 5 hour minimum drive down (it has taken me as long as 7 hours to make the drive home). What I didn't bank on was having to be awake by 2am, leaving my house by 2:45am to pump gas and get breakfast and be at the barn by 3:45am, to leave for VA by 4:30am. Umm.

I did make the good decision of taking a half vacation day to go to the barn Friday and clean tack, pack, and make sure Penn was bathed and spotless. I was home by 7 and in bed trying to sleep by 9! I was proud of myself.

My truck's radio. I was running 15 min late, this pic was supposed to happen at 2:45am!

We were on the road at 5 instead of 4:30 due to a grooming mishap... I tried to do a quick mane shortening with a bot fly egg removal knife so J's horse wouldn't have a hobo mane (it was too wet from his bath to do the day before). I may have sliced my pointer finger open enough to drip blood all over the barn on my way to the bathroom. That really slowed me down in getting Penn ready (you try wrapping legs without using your pointer finger while trying not to get blood all over everything).

Did you know that when you wake up at 2:15am in the dark and get your day rolling, that at about 7am, you start to wonder why the hell it is still dark and it suddenly feels like 10pm? Yea. J and I both had the same feeling around the same time, "For the love of all, WHEN IS THE SUN GOING TO RISE?!"

We got to GP Trainer's barn at 10:15am, making really good time even though we had to drive the slow windy roads in the dark. We got Penn and B off the trailer and in their stalls, then the tack room emptied in record time. We had to hurry and slap some tack on Penn, but then I was ready to ride!

Let me give some background on GP Trainer's two assistant trainers: LH is a silver medalist and Traditional B Pony Club graduate who worked for the the Hanoverian Verband in Germany, and LF is a bronze medalist who has been with GP Trainer for almost 3 years now.

I really wanted both of my lessons to be with LH because she's much further up the dressage ladder than me. I didn't get my wish, they had so many riders sign up that they both taught at the same time Saturday morning, splitting the huge indoor in half (which still left two huge squares to work in). That worked out though, I got to know LF better and she has a depth of understanding I did not expect from someone who only showed 3rd in 2017. I mean, that's a perk of being at GP Trainer's barn 24/7! She definitely gets an A+ and I'd recommend her to anyone.

I briefly went over what GP Trainer and I worked on the previous weekend (canter half pass and flying changes, then general obedience), I did a quick warm up, and we went straight to work on the canter and flying changes.

The first thing LF had me do was push the canter forward and back, being able to collect it with just my seat and have Penn go forward again immediately when I asked. Unfortunately, I don't have her commentary because she was using a headset from the other side of the ring, so here are some clips of us doing stuff to work on sit and go and sit:

10m circle on a 20m circle exercise, ending in a canter/walk.
It felt like he was sitting so much more than he actually was... why is that always the case?!

We didn't touch the easy change (left to right), but instead worked on ways to make the right to left better. I was able to get it from counter canter into the corner, but Penn would always be late behind.

I mean, at least it was pretty? Stay in rhythm, he didn't buck, he didn't drop much, why does it need to be clean too?

Then Penn just stopped picking up the counter canter altogether. We switched to tracking right and he kept picking up the left lead. *facepalm* We eventually got the right lead while tracking left, and LF had me maintain the counter canter, then put Penn in renvers while counter cantering. (unfortunately this is when my randomly selected fellow adult camper left the ring and stopped videoing)

Me: Walk on, then counter canter.
Penn: I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request.

Ohhh Penn did not like that one bit, he got hoppy and jumpy and oh so frustrated. Why wouldn't I just ask him to change already?! The goal of the exercise being: keep him up and hoppy while keeping him collected, and most importantly frustrated that he has to do all this hard work so that when I finally do ask for a change, he goes, "OH THANK GOODNESS, YES I'LL CHANGE!"

We never got back to trying a change, but more importantly we worked on keeping the quality of the canter.

LF got to see his naughty behavior too, "No, [Penn stomps horsey foot] I will not keep going!" She said something along the lines of, "He's so sweet and cute, and GP Trainer always says what a delightful horse he is when we discuss lessons, and she didn't say anything about him this last time. I did not expect this from him!" I joked that he showed her his naughty side last week, so he didn't earn his delightful horse comments!

We wrapped up, and J came in with her horse, B. J was a bit nervous, she's only had B for 6 months, 3 of those were at our barn where she realized how inadequate her "instructor" was at teaching and preparing someone for horse ownership (I've found her last "instructor" likes to keep her clients in the dark about horse ownership options). B was sold to J out of the lesson program, and he was supposedly a good traveler (turns out he's a wonderful traveler, as advertised), but J hasn't taken him anywhere. I ended up hanging out for a bit in the middle of our square as moral support, which was cool. LF got her moving and working again, and eventually we were able to wander back to the barn. J had a good confidence building lesson and was much more comfortable by the end!

Next time, PEMF treatment and a cavaletti lesson!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

1/21/2018 - Day 2: You Have an Attitude Problem (only it's a good thing)

I meant to share this in my last post since it was from Saturday's lesson.
It's a screenshot from a video, but I just thought it was so pretty.
"I expect teenage cheek. I actually cherish it, because generally speaking I’ve found a connection between the thing that makes a horse tell me to go pound sand at 7 years old is the thing that lets them piaffe 15 steps with no whip when they’re 12 years old. And of course whenever a horse I’m riding starts behaving in a resistant faction, my first point of action is always to make sure that he’s 100 percent healthy and sound, and also that my aids are 100 percent clear and 100 percent fair." - GP Trainer (from one of her online articles)
Penn finally found his teenage cheek! Maybe not a "go pound sand" level of cheek, and at almost 9, not 7. But seeing as how he started real work at 6.5, we'll call it meeting his timeline, just late! It took me this weekend to realize he's been conning me with his teenage cheek into thinking he can't do something. Penn is doing well physically right now and I just had his saddle checked and reflocked. I tend to assume I'm screwing up, or it's not fair to ask more of him because he's not strong enough, etc because I am an AA who rides without eyes on the ground A LOT so it's more than likely my fault. I needed the lessons this weekend to help me work through this hump we've met: "No, I can't half pass at the canter" and "No, I simply can't do a right to left flying change." And in our second lesson of the weekend, Penn continued to give cheek under GP Trainer's watchful eye, who helped me keep my cool and methodically work through it without escalating it in the slightest.

But I'm ahead of myself.

He got a stall with a run again!
Yes that's his dinner AND breakfast sitting outside with him.
And yes, he refused to eat it after taking a few bites.
#frustration #whydoibotherfeedingyou

GP Trainer stopped by while I was putting Penn's double on and was like, “Yay! Big boy bridle!” before making a few adjustments to my curb chain (tightening it a link, sorry Penn).

A brief note on GP Trainer's double bridle methodology: Keep generous loop in the curb rein- the mere presence of the weymouth is enough for majority of horses to go the way she wants. Don't let it become a band aid, but certainly give it a try at this point.

Oh, I thought we were in for a better ride Sunday since he’s been so polite in the double. Penn was very relaxed when we got to the ring, he felt good. We walked and trotted with very little resistance, repeating the trot/walk/trot from the evening before and mixing in some SI to renvers. It was all much better work. Then we cantered a little- the right was nice, prompt and uphill into the canter, hop within the canter, but a mediocre transition to walk because I did not prepare well. I changed to the left and just wanted to canter a few circles before moving on to whatever GP Trainer wanted to address… well, remember the 7 year old 3rd/4th level horse that had tantrums at our December clinic?

Penn was having none of it, though not as bad as the horse from the clinic. He offered a few crappy running transitions, then got stuck in the canter and didn't want to go forward. I wanted a walk/canter transition, no trot steps with an agreeable canter on a huge 25-30m circle. You would have thought I wanted brain surgery. We spent the first part of my lesson simply getting to that canter. He did not want to stay on the bit AND go to canter, so he would simply stop. I’d nudge nudge nudge until he started moving again.

Eventually, GP Trainer had me pick up my super long whip (I hadn’t worked out how to carry that and use 4 reins), and then when he would stop, ‘tap tap tap’ his hip until he decided to go forward again. No emotion, no beating, no kicking. Just be annoying with the whip and spurs and keep my hands and seat where they were before he put on the brakes. If he decides to back up instead, that’s perfectly fine. Keep his poll up and back up for as long as necessary. After 10-15 steps, take a big breath and see if he stops backing up when you relax. If he doesn’t, keep backing up until he’d rather go forward. No pulling or kicking, just an unemotional, “OK, let’s back up.” Give him endless chances to make the right decision, even if he needs a second or two to think through it.

A bad decision beginning.
A chance for a good decision, but nope...
Yay, a good decision!

It's the thinking of: I'm sorry you don't like this, but I am not going away or changing what I'm doing and I will wait for you to be done. Then we'll carry on like you never had an outburst.

And that’s basically what we did all lesson. The double shut the front door a little bit more, and he’d rather be lazy than sit, and we were addressing the lazy the day before, and so it culminated at a wonderful time where I had someone to coach me through it. Days like this, you don’t get to work on much. The work is in fixing the attitude and rewarding a good work ethic with breaks and praise. This is a fight worth having.

We got the left lead canter I wanted in my warm up, gave him a break, and then GP Trainer said, “Put him back to work. Do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter. This is about asking him to do things and him making good choices.”

I did a little trot tour- half pass right from the corner to X, 10m circle right, shoulder in right down centerline to C, medium across the diagonal, half pass left, 10m circle left, shoulder in left on the centerline, medium trot on the next diagonal. I think that’s similar to the 4-1 trot work, but that really wasn’t my end goal. I just wanted a bunch of things to do to possibly trigger a reaction. It certainly wasn’t a beautiful tour- he thought about stopping a bunch of times and curling and was flinging his shoulders and hind end around faster than I could contain them. But he did keep going, which was the end goal, “Try harder.” I got to practice fluffing his front end up, which helped the second medium (“Yes! Get his head and neck up so his shoulders have somewhere to go and lift!”)

He got a pat and a break for being so smart, then I gathered the reins and tried to canter right.

He started making poor choices again, and for 2 minutes before we even got to canter, he simply objected to being on the bit in walk and stopped and backed up. I just needed to wait him out... and back most of the length of her indoor (but hey, that rein back is going to be very smart looking!).

We got the canter and moved on to the 20m circle with 10m circles at the points, and we got so many “Super!” from GP Trainer for his sit. He was trying his guts out, and gave a few honest “I can’t hold this anymore” breaks to trot. He let me put him back to canter and go again. I can see the pirouette canter coming, and how his normal collected canter needs to build from it (same uphill, a little less sit and more forward). I was thrilled to finally be able to show GP Trainer something I have been reliably able to get on my own at home!

Look! The sit! I pushed him out before he got too stuck, but he stayed more up after!

As we were wrapping up the right lead, he started making poor choices again. He needed to make one last good canter/walk transition when I asked, then he could have a long rein and a break. Poor boy, he just could not even. He’d canter/halt, rein back. We’d walk on and canter again. He’d canter/walk, then root or jig in the walk. We ended up doing trot/walk to get him to a spot where he could have a break.

The left was good- He got right on the bit, picked up the canter, and sat. It was incredible, she said to find places I could release the rein, and I found I could put loop in the rein in the 10m circles, and maintain the sit with my seat. He gave several honest breaks, and GP Trainer pushed me to get a full 10m circle of canter so he could be done.

These were the exact lessons I needed: Penn had talked me into not pushing him through his stickiness in the canter and half pass. I really didn’t know how to push through it either without escalating the situation and I wasn’t sure how much it would escalate or if I could finish the fight. I also wasn’t sure he was the true problem, it could have been me. Reflecting, he’s been quite passive aggressive for a while.

GP Trainer has a very unemotional, low blood pressure method of dealing with young horse shenanigans. I really like the approach because it doesn’t rapidly escalate as long as YOU keep a very cool head and can immediately move on like nothing happened. It basically amounts to: I’m sorry you don’t like it, I am not going away and I will wait for you to be done with your tantrum. After you’re done having a fit, you can decide to move on and keep going forward or you can have another tantrum, which I will patiently wait through again, after which you will have the same choice again. If you decide you want to go backwards, we can do that until you think you’d rather go forwards. If you go forward, I will tell you how you are the smartest horse on the planet and leave you alone for a little while.

I did decide to bring him home instead of leaving him for a week (we're driving back this weekend for one of their Adult Camps- 2 private lessons and a cavaletti lesson, which is why leaving him was an option). I'm very comfortable working with the issues he presented this weekend, and I'm pretty sure I can keep my cool and work through them quietly. Plus, if shit hits the fan, I can always leave him next weekend and come back for more lessons!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

1/20/2018 - Day 1: You Have a Canter Problem

Ahh, I had much needed lessons this past weekend!

Throughout December, most of my rides had been “OMG how did this horse ever get through 3-1, because I couldn’t get him through T-1 right now” and “I think I’m going to give up dressage and take up goldfish keeping.” They were filled with despair and I wanted to just send Penn away for training until he could horse properly again. I came across GP Trainer’s “Embrace the Suck” article she wrote a while back when I was paroozing one of my FB groups. It helped remind me that this too shall pass… eventually.

Walking on the bit is super hard, so he does half steps instead...

And then he balks a good bit and gets a "pony club kick" to get him moving forward again.

In the meantime, we made some improvements like saddle fit and body work, but I still sent GP Trainer an email that went something like this “Despair, horses are stupid, I’ll be at your farm two weekends in a row and was wondering how much it would be for Penn to sleep over all week and one of your assistants can school him?” The price to stay for the week with training rides Tues-Thurs wasn’t bad, but it was still more than I pay for a month of board (after I work off part of my board), so it would cause some hardship. I told her let’s see how our lessons go, but I’ll make sure to bring everything he needs to sleep over all week.

This weekend was beautiful for hauling and it was warm, so yay!!!! I really lucked out on the weather for this trip. So much weather misery in the last few weeks and then it was 60+ degrees at her farm.

I just liked this walk.

Penn came into our Saturday lesson a bit frayed; he had what felt like a pony trot- quick and short, not what he normally does. We went through our warm up of walk and trot on the serpentine, then added canter and simple changes (which were much better and I need to remember to sit down through the entire downward- I’m popping up before he’s actually walking and so he takes a trot step). GP Trainer said, “I’m not seeing disaster. I know you want him more uphill, so would I, but he’s much more engaged than when I saw him a month and a half ago.”

We took a quick break and then got right to the meat of the lesson: I was having a lot of difficulty with his right to left change, and with the canter half passes.

GP Trainer: OK, go to the canter and show me your half pass.
Me: Ok great.  **Goes to right lead canter**
Penn: **Responds beautifully**
GP Trainer: What’s wrong with that? It was beautiful.
Me: Nothing. He usually does the first one well, and then gets stuck in the next one and it goes downhill from there.
Penn: ** does three more good half passes**
Me: …
GP Trainer: Straighten and flying change!
Penn & Me: …!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
GP Trainer: I see, usually when people say they’re having trouble with the half pass, the haunches are leading, which yours aren't. You don’t have a flying change or half pass problem. You have a canter problem. The same canter problem as before, just in a new and horrible manifestation of anti-self-carriage in canter. (Ok, so I may have pieced a few sentences together from throughout the lesson for effect, lol)

No issues with this half pass.

This is where things started to deteriorate a bit, which is good. This work is hard, and Penn finally is voicing his displeasure over things being hard. GP Trainer: “He’s been a pleasant and mostly agreeable creature for a long time. You were due for this.”

Nope nope nope. I will not lift my inside rib cage, I'll swap leads and go the other way instead. 

I bought myself a very long dressage whip after GP Trainer was here in December, which I made sure I carried in this lesson. She had me keep it in my left hand for the half pass right, but when he started getting stuck and shutting down in the half pass, tap tap tap on his left hip to keep the left hind leg coming, which would keep the half pass coming. We’re not beating him into it- it’s an annoying tap tap tap. I also needed to “hook him” under the right rib cage in the right half pass in a “Lift this rib” way.

Keep the left hind coming! 

Something else she had me do was to think about adding a tiny amount of space under my thigh- that really helped Penn relax into the half pass and then…


Once we got the half pass moving again, she had me straighten and try to do a R-L flying change again after the half pass right. He did give me that change, albeit one stride late behind. He got praise and could walk. GP Trainer said she wanted him doing the change out of the half pass to limit his ability to launch into/out of the change like he wants to (see above gif of frustration, lol).

We picked up the left lead and did a nice half pass to centerline, straightened, then sat and did a clean change to the right lead. GP Trainer was happy with it even though it had some wobble. Back to the right lead!

The walk is small, but he's really sitting into the transition. 

Not the best half pass left, but I did get a clean change after! 

I would cue for the right to left change after the half pass and he’d simply trot. She had me tap him once in the change to keep the canter when I asked for the change because trotting instead of changing is unacceptable. He’s basically conning me into letting him trot when I ask for it. He must try harder to give the right answer!

He wasn’t always giving the change, so she had me CC him into the corners, then apply whip with the change cue. The first time I asked like this, he changed up front and then changed behind a few strides later. He got to walk and catch his breath, but he had to stay on the bit. She had me put him back in right lead canter tracking left (CC), and it took me the entire long side to get him back to the CC. He fussed and danced and pulled and picked up the left lead. She wanted me to change at C, but he ended up breaking, I kicked him on, and he picked up the left lead. She was in the process of telling me to trot and CC when I somehow kicked him into changing to the CC. She was like, “OK, carry on! Don’t stop!”

bad changes

We had some more bumbling problems and took a quick walk break to reset, and had an interesting conversation about the problem. I’m having trouble with this change mostly because I was afraid of him ducking down and bucking, which he is prone to doing and has gotten more aggressive in his bucks lately. So instead of finding self-carriage in the right lead (which would prevent bucking), I’m holding him up and not giving him anywhere to go… so he’s not changing and if he does, I’ll probably end up MAKING him buck because he’ll need to to get his hind end swapped.

GP Trainer: You have to release the reins a bit and make sure he’s carrying himself on the right lead before you ask for the change.
Me: But I’m afraid he’ll end up on the forehand and get his head and neck down and then buck me off.
GP Trainer: I’m glad you said that! You have to be able to let go of that inside rein to give him somewhere to go. He has to be free to make the mistake and tumble onto his head. Sit up like the Queen of England and kick on!

Once I let go, checked the self-carriage, sat up like the queen, and tapped him on the butt with my cue for the change, he started offered a smooth, one stride late behind change. He promptly ran off with me, but GP Trainer said to praise him for the effort and let him walk.

A better change even if it was late behind... And he ran off a bit after lol

Basically, in the half pass and the changes, I have a self-carriage in canter problem, not a half pass or change problem. He gets stuck in the half pass because it’s hard and he’s talked me into believing him when he says he can’t do it, and same thing in the right to left change: he’s talked me into believing he’s not strong enough to even keep cantering, then he talks me into holding him up. She called him very passive aggressive in his naughtiness, lol.

We did a lot of canter in this lesson, and gave him a break before touching the trot. By this point, he was a bit frazzled from all the tap tap tap I was doing and so the trot was tense and quick. GP Trainer said, “Ok, let’s do trot/walk/trot transitions within SI and half pass, zero rein aid.” He was not having it. I had to use a rein reminder the first few times to say, “Hey, you can’t blow through me.” Doing the transitions within the SI and half pass really kept both of us honest about the reins, and gave the transitions constructive places to go. They were also super hard, haha.

Trot walk trot half pass

I briefly mentioned near the end that I had tried a double on my own and it has been going well. We’re both much more polite to each other. The saddle fitter that fixed his saddle also does some double fitting, so I had her look at him to help pick the right Weymouth. She was like, “Great! Next time, bring it and we’ll use it.” I was like, “Well I do have it here, but we’d never talked about using one…” She said, “That’s fine! Use it tomorrow. I encourage students to try them out and see what happens. Some horses go better in them, some don’t. Some you think won’t tolerate them do well, and some that you think will be great in them go absolutely horribly in them. Some horses are so strong in the snaffle that they need them [her last GP horse and a previous FEI horse who is now an absolute saint needed them]”.

She gave me a big warning about if he gets strong in the double, there’s really not much we can do to fix that. There’s no bigger bit and I need to be super careful. I assured her I do not want it to be a band aid. Mikey’s double was a bit of a band aid. I want it to be a tool that helps and adds to the picture. I’ve only been using it once a week or so to make sure he continues to respect both it and his snaffle. Basically, I’ll stop using it if he stops respecting the snaffle. In my head, if you use a big bad piece of equipment and when you take it off and go back to normal equipment, if the horse isn’t improved from before the big bad, then your big bad piece of equipment is a band aid, not a tool. So far, Penn has been improved in the snaffle while maintaining respect for the double, so once a week it is.

Does not appreciate the heaters after a bath. 

We worked almost the full 45 minutes, with minimal breaks, and since it was 60+ degrees, Penn was dripping sweat. Like, he was sweating from above his eyeballs and his girth was a foamy mess.

I got him hosed off and dry (thank goodness I brought a cooler even though it was going to be warm! He was shivering after I hosed him), then put him in his luxury stall for the night... lucky duck got a stall with a run, which he completely adores.

Next time, we have our first lesson in the double with GP Trainer! 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Battle of the Neue Schule Bits

NS Thoroughbred vs NS Transform

I took two weeks to trial the Transform from the Saddle Fitter vs the Thoroughbred that Austen so generously lent me.

They are both 5.25" wide mouths with 12mm mouthpieces with 7cm shanks (mouthpiece to middle of the curb ring). They both have 45 degree angles... but in different directions. That's the only difference between the two, which apparently makes a big difference.

NS Thoroughbred
Screenshot from the website.

NS Thoroughbred: (from the Neue Schule website) "Does your horse suffer from bar sensitivity? This mouthpiece traces out a subtle convex arc angled forwards at 45° to the cheek shanks resulting in gentle even pressure over the tongue and a reduction in bar pressure. Promoting comfort for breeds such as Thoroughbreds and Arabs who usually possess thinner skinned, more sensitive, angular bars. If a horse is not taking the contact forwards, a thicker bradoon may be employed in order to encourage the horse to stretch into the contact lengthening the neck."

NS Transform
Screenshot from the website.

NS Transform: (from the Neue Schule website) "Is your horse overactive in the mouth? Is he inwardly fixated on the presence of the doubles and not focusing fully on the rein aids? This design is often beneficial for the “short smile” (small distance from the corner of the lip to the muzzle), the busy mouth, tongue evasions or horse’s that experience difficulty in breathing and swallowing when in an advanced outline. The NS Transform depresses the whole of the tongue, much further back, creating larger airway enhancing the horse’s ability to breathe and swallow. An indication of a restricted airway may be a tense horse that is over salivating or even making a gurgling sound. Also beneficial if tongue evasions are habitual as there is a lot less room for the horse to successfully draw the tongue back, push down on the mouthpiece or get it over the top."

It's hard to tell from those two pics, but they are each tilted 45 degrees. The 360 view wouldn't work on my computer, and was a hair difficult to use from my phone. The Thoroughbred is tilted forward, the Transform tilted back.

Transform on the left, Thoroughbred on the right, both viewed from directly above.
The horse's nose would be to the right.

I'd been using the Thoroughbred exclusively until I met with the saddle fitter. I was happy with how Penn felt, and he seemed happy too. The mouth fussiness he had originally had gone away, and he was happy to go to the bridle and work.

I tried the Transform, and immediately liked the sense of 'up' it gave Penn. I had read somewhere that the transform was good for horses who like to lean, only I can't seem to find it now. Either way, Penn was not going to lean on my hand whatsoever. He became very fussy in the mouth, but I wasn't sure if he was frustrated by not being able to lean, or unhappy with the bit. More time was needed.

Penn on a cool morning before heading to a show in summer 2017.

The next thing I decided was to ride twice with the double, once starting out with the Transform and switching halfway through to the Thoroughbred, then again starting with the Thoroughbred and switching halfway to the Transform. This seemed like the best way to test the bits since Penn isn't always the same horse every day and I had limited time to test the bits. This way, both bits got a shot at the "good Penn" (Penn before we take a break) and the "bad Penn" (Penn after our mid-ride break), but they both saw him on the same day.

Test Ride 1: Transform First, Thoroughbred Second
I started out thinking ugh, I don't like the Transform at all! He's so fussy. He wanted to curl a bit in the walk and then a hair in the canter. I loved the trot work though. Overall, everything was more "up". I swapped it out to the Thoroughbred, and he was definitely happier, but he curled more and didn't want to come up in the canter. I thought this was a 'second half of the ride' problem, so I decided to do test ride 2 for an even playing field.

(Between Test Ride 1 and Test Ride 2, I implemented Charlotte Dujardin's "yeehaw" method at the canter, and applied some rein fluffing that GP Trainer mentioned to another student whose horse curled. Both methods applied together made the canter infinitely better in the snaffle.)

Test Ride 2: Thoroughbred First, Transform Second
We started out and I had to work to get Penn 'up' while keeping him focused and on the bit. He fought me a bit in the TOH work, but was happy enough to do all of his work. We had some great canter-walks, some nice lateral work, and in general, everything was good. I had to work to get Penn up, but I figured that was because he had a lovely school in his snaffle the day before. I swapped out the bits and hopped back on. Penn was NOT HAPPY. He wouldn't lean on the bit, if anything he didn't want to be on the bit at all. I pushed him forward to meet the bridle and gave him some half halts, and he eventually went on the bit in walk. I had eyes on the ground, and I had her confirm my curb rein wasn't too short, and she commented that he was much more up in the shoulder than with the first bit, and he mostly looked pissed about having to work properly. I was able to do both TOH, with less struggle about bend. I went off to trot and WOW. He was way up in the shoulder, very light, and was very hard to sit (yay suspension!). The canter was good- I used the yeehaw to get more sit, and did a few of GP Trainer's collection exercises. I even asked for a half pass, straighten, position the new direction, and then cued for a flying change. He stayed up, listened, and did a change where I could actually feel him step up with the new inside hind and skip into the new lead.

Verdict? We're going to keep the Transform as Penn's weymouth. He's pissed about it yes, but we'll keep working on strength and it should get easier.

A side note, in my trial of the Thoroughbred vs Transform, I realized in the TOH right (and left), I need to really sit on my inside seatbone... like, a counter intuitive amount. When I do that and keep my inside leg timed with the inside hind, he steps wonderfully in the TOH.

The setup! Now to buy a new double bridle because Mikey's is way too big for Penn's face!

I'll be traveling to GP Trainer's barn this weekend coming up, I'm just trying to decide if I have the guts to bring the double to lesson! It's just we've never talked about when to switch to a double bridle, and I don't know her "rules" for switching to one. It seems all of her own horses go in a double at 3rd, but I noticed not all of her students go in doubles at 3rd/4th. I'm sure she won't be mad, as she's said, this isn't a dictatorship!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Double Bridle!!

Penn started working in a double bridle!!

Big boy bridle!

Horses can use double bridles at third and above. So far, I've kept Penn in his snaffle because I felt like he would never ever be able to go in a double. There's a lot of metal in a double bridle, and I figured it would back him off the bridle and he'd be afraid of it. I didn't think he had enough push from behind to work well in the double.

It's always been in the back of my mind to try it- I tried it once over the '16-'17 winter with Mikey's bits and Penn was like "Holy hell, I can't do this" and couldn't even canter. I put the double away (plus GP Trainer finally had me understanding he wasn't ready for Third) and was content to work in his snaffle all year long. We did get to Third by July 2017, but thoughts of the double weren't in my head at all.

A spontaneous visit to Austen's house in December sent me home with Guinness' weymouth bit, a 5.25", 5" shank, NS Thoroughbred. When the time came to try the double again, I knew I wanted to try her weymouth because it is so much thinner than Mikey's was (12mm vs 18mm), so she sent me home with it!

First up was recovering Mikey's double bridle.
It had been living in the school horse tack room with the pelham.

First Ride


I meant to write this post a long time ago, so I can't remember the exact details of our first spin in the double (it was about a month ago, Dec 17-19). But I do know both Penn and myself were excessively polite to each other. He wasn't afraid of the bit and would meet it. I was afraid of the bit so my hands became very very quiet and I paid so much more attention to how I used them and where they were. I was afraid of over facing Penn!

No matter, I had a set of eyes on the ground to make sure I didn't creep up on my curb rein (a favorite pastime that I did to Mikey... my goodness that horse was a SAINT), and off we went. My set of eyes reported politeness, not too much curb contact, but Penn was a bit fussy in the mouth. I think that's to be expected, it's a lot of metal. I also gave Penn a mint while he had both bits in and he couldn't work out how to chew it... so I know he was sucking on it instead. We kept the ride short, sweet, and positive. Overall, I got a very good feeling from working in the double. The double requires a big motor behind, and I finally felt like I could say, "Let's roll!" and really push him up to the bridle without his first reaction being, "Let's dig a hole to China with our face!"

He foamed in his first ride in the double!

Second Ride
I had a vacation day to burn at the end of the year, so I took a half day on one of the last beautiful December days (12/21/2017) and went to the barn to ride in the double outside, which let me use my new SoloShot3 to get video! More on the camera later, but in short, I will not be hurting for media come summer!

For the entirety of the ride, see the below video (just under 20 min long, and there's an excellent spook at 8:20):

My goal was to just ride basic figures- circles, figure 8s and serpentines, and hit all the gaits. He was great! We did a lot of walk to get used to the two bits, and then he was very enthusiastic about the trot work (no dragging toes!) at first. As we worked through the serpentines, he started to want to lean, but I think that's because he was simply tired from putting so much effort into his work. He's not usually that up with suspension.

I remember thinking as I was riding the walk and canter, "Move your elbows! Follow! Even if it feels like you're moving way too much! Don't make him feel trapped! YOU are in charge of making this a good experience!" It felt like I was wagging my arms around like airport control. Watching the video... man, if I hadn't been moving my elbows as much as I thought I was, I'd be restricting him!

Halt needs to be prompter, but it was square and polite.

The last thing we did was a medium canter, collect, half pass to centerline. I was so pleased with him! The medium canter felt so much bigger than it actually was- it had jump and the start of suspension. The half pass felt better than it looked, maybe because of the camera angle, but he didn't stall out in it or get too straight on the diagonal line. He did fall on his forehand at the end, but that's ok. He held it together for longer than he usually does.

It wasn't our best work, but it was a positive experience. I wanted a positive ride for Penn's confidence in the double, and being a sympathetic rider was more important to me than getting steller work.

Lesson 12/23/17 (Third Ride)
By this point, I wanted a lesson to double check what was going on and to make sure I wasn't entirely off base. The local Dressage Trainer was coming out to our barn to teach and she's fairly conservative about things (erring on the side of caution I think), so I took a half hour lesson. I told her it was his third ride in the double, it seems to be going OK, but I wanted someone to double check the fit of the double and my use of it. I don't think my first education in it was all that great. She thought the fit was good, and off we went.

She praised his trot- it was very good. She put us through our lateral paces: shoulder in, haunches in, shoulder in to renvers back to shoulder in. It was a new level of lateral work for him. I could really push him forward to the bridle in the lateral work to keep big steps coming, but he wasn't falling on the forehand out of balance.

She also nitpicked our right bend, which had become a struggle in December (and into January). She had me put him on a 10m circle in the middle of the ring, then do haunches in, and bring his shoulders around. She encouraged me to bring my right leg way forward, almost in front of the girth, to give him solid pokes to remind him of inside bend. He'd get the bend, step, and either straighten or his hind end would lead. We did the same to the left, but that was much easier for him.

This would have been OK except the stuck foot!

The right bend struggle shows up in half pass too. She had me go across the diagonal, and then haunches in, but not in a half pass way, just simply haunches in. He really really struggled with haunches in (which is probably why the half pass is broken!).

The last thing we did was check out the canter. She does not approve of the 4 beat canter that GP Trainer allows (until he's strong enough to not 4 beat), so on a 20m circle: she had me pick up canter, if it shifted to 4 beat, kick him forward. Big forward. Hand gallop. Then once forward was reestablished, sit on my tail bone (no hand), bring him back to collected canter (that imagery worked REALLY well for me!). As soon as he 4 beats, kick on. She reminded me to keep the jump coming in the big canter, but I think Penn was getting tired and he started to get low in the poll and curl a bit. She told me when he does that, make sure I don't have too much contact on my curb rein- as we got cantering I started creeping on that rein - and that it could be because of the double. I told her he was actually a lot better about it in the double than the snaffle in regard to curling, haha.

Overall, she approved of it, but I didn't really like her reasoning: he's competing third level and doubles are introduced at that time, so it's appropriate for his level of training. I'm like... yes, but is he ready for it? Sure, it's appropriate because of the level he's at, but I guess in my mind that doesn't mean he's actually ready for it. She did say not to work in it more than once a week, which I think is totally fair and aligns with my plans anyway. I do not want the double to become a band aid over bigger problems.

There isn't a band aid big enough for "suddenly horses in turnout"
Despite going around that end of the ring many times, he just saw the horses in turnout.

Saddle Fitter
By the time I had my lesson with DT, I had researched additional weymouth options. I found a website that described fleshy vs normal, small vs normal, and low palate vs normal mouths. The various bit descriptions are like, "good for horses with small mouths" or "good for horses that need tongue clearance" or "good for horses with low palates." Great, how do I know he has one of those? This website was helpful in how things look and feel when certain conditions are present. I basically determined that Penn has a small short mouth with a fleshy tongue and probably low palate.

DT thought the NS Thoroughbred weymouth fit him well, but I wanted to look at other options while various bits were available to me. The Saddle Fitter that came out at the beginning of January is a dealer for Neue Schule bits, and I had narrowed down the bit choices to the NS Thoroughbred or the NS Transform. I had her bring a Transform with her, and we popped Austen's Thoroughbred and the Transform in Penn's mouth and compared.

"Short smile" and fleshy tongue.

SF thought he would be more comfortable with the Transform, but thought both fit him well enough. Oddly, she wanted a narrower bradoon because the space in his mouth is so small. The official rules for double bridle bits are: 10mm for the bradoon, 12mm for the curb. I found several 12mm bradoons: NS makes one, the Team Up. The only two 10mm bradoons I could find (in an exceptionally brief search) are made by Coronet and Bomber Bits. But no matter, because I'm happy with the bradoon he has, a HS Aurigan Dynamic RS Ultra (14mm). I don't think thinner is the answer for him, even if it saves space in his mouth. He is enjoying a very generic Korsteel Copper Loose Ring on his snaffle bridle right now, and I measured that bit at a whopping 20mm.

SF had the best price on NS bits that I could find (in the USA), allowed trials, and specifically allowed a trial of the Transform bit (Dressage Extensions has the bit, but not for trials). I rode in it after she adjusted Penn's saddle, and I thought I would know an answer right away... but of course I didn't. I needed the full 2 week trial to make a decision...

I watch this, and all I can think is "prance prance prance"

This post is getting too long... so tomorrow, Thoroughbred vs Transform!