Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Planning... Not Riding

So today's post is about formulating a plan for my rides up until the July 20th dressage show. Why no riding you ask? Because it's 80% chance of thunderstorms today (and tomorrow) and I am at the mercy of my job's hours and mother nature. So usually I am sitting at my desk when it is sunny, watching the clouds come in as I ride the bus back to my car, and driving home because a wicked thunder and lightning storm has come my way. Why does it matter what the weather is? Where I board doesn't have an indoor arena. While this usually doesn't matter (I'll ride in the rain, snow, darkness etc), I won't ride in a thunderstorm. The barn is on top of a hill and more than one jump standard in the outdoor has met its doom via lightning bolt.

So I plan. And then I get twitchy because I'm ready to implement my plan. But can't. Because I'm sitting in a chair, not in a saddle.

Things to accomplish before the July 20th show:
  1. Confirm trot and canter half passes. They used to be good, and they've gotten a little wonky lately. Time to sharpen that up!
  2. Find a better medium trot. Our medium trots were better last year and for some reason they have gone by the wayside. Time to get those a good bit better so I can fudge an extended trot. In being realistic, I know I'm not going to get a solid medium and solid extended trot in 5 weeks, but what I can do is develop a better medium trot so I can show my best medium as extended and medium, and then pair it with nice transitions back to collected trot. I'll lose a point on the extended, but I can't have it all.
  3. Get those flying changes down. Mikey and I started learning our changes last fall but had trouble getting the front to change, and then getting the back to change at all. I wanted to test the waters my first time riding with the German Clinician (and save money) by only riding with him once during his two day clinic. I had a such a good lesson with him, he made room for me to come back at the butt-crack of dawn the next day for a second lesson so we could keep working on the flying changes. He watched my sorry attempts at a change before we went through his flying change exercises toolbox before ending up in what I called "remedial flying changes": put a pole at an angle to the arena wall and use it to help the horse out. He said, "Your horse knows how to change the front, but it's hard for him to change behind. It's just going to be hard for him- some horses are like that. You just have to work twice as hard at it." Day 1 we went through the various exercises he's used to teach horses the changes (changing directions and ask for the new lead, counter canter on a circle and ask for the new lead, etc) before moving on to thinking of the change as changing the horse from right haunches-in to left haunches-in (and back and forth and so on) so I could focus on making Mikey's hind end change the bend first. I spent a bit of time in walk and trot, going down quarter lines and center lines, asking for Mikey to change his bend by riding haunches-in to haunches-in while keeping his front end on the straight line. He said that this method is how he teaches horses tempi changes- if you want changes every 3 strides, you practice asking for the new haunches-in every 3 strides in walk or trot. It doesn't matter what the final haunches-in looks like, all that matters is the response to the cue. Is it prompt and willing? Yes- then you got the change. Day 2, we repeated the haunches-in exercise, and then went back to the poles at the end of a short diagonal and maintained the same thinking over the pole. My horse got it right 90% of the time (sometimes making a clean change before the pole), and eventually on the better direction he pulled the pole out from the wall and told me to ride between the pole and the wall, and the change next to the pole... and Mikey did it! A clean change. A hollow, tense, and above the bit change, but a clean change. He said, "A 5 in the show arena. It will get smoother, but good enough for now."
Now it's my fault all 3 of those items are not better. German Clinician told me to make sure to use the pole every time for a while with the changes, don't rush it. Well I usually school by myself. No eyes on the ground, and no grounds person. The spring weather stopped cooperating with my riding, which limited where I could ride (none of the footing was suitable for changes), I don't have an arena with walls to put poles against (our outdoor is a converted baseball field), Mikey came down with some cough that seemed allergy related and I couldn't ride for 2 weeks, and I saw my regular trainer maybe twice in a month in a half because we couldn't get the planets to align so we could lesson (aka our schedules and the weather- I'm not dependant on her, but she stops me from making new bad habits!). I ended up schooling without the poles at a neighboring farm with real arena walls, which turned out ok at first (the first change was always clean), then my horse started having royal tantrums (as he is prone to doing when learning something new), and those drizzled down to effect the rest of our riding... Half pass became a fight because we're going laterally across the arena. And a tense horse that's not coming through certainly will not be doing even a mediocre medium trot. I went back to the changes with the pole two weeks before the recognized show last weekend, had a horse that was leaping around the arena (but doing a clean "expressive" change every time), so I decided to scrap it until after I rode second level last weekend.

Well it's after. So here's the aforementioned plan. I usually ride 5-6 days a week.
  • 3 days a week are going to be flying changes days. As we were told to do by German Clinician.
  • 1 day a week will be a combo of collection/lateral/medium work. For us, they all go hand in hand. Laterals help his collection, collection creates the push to do the mediums.
  • 1 day a week (plus any extra days I may get to ride) will be hacking on the road, through the fields or doing a gallop set (no more frequent than every 5 days for the gallop set). That's a lot of work the other 5 days, we'll both need a letdown day.
Normally I would go eventer on the plan and say Monday is collection day, Tuesday and Wednesday are flying change days, Thursday is a rest day, and so on (this is what I did as an eventer, schedule the whole month, flat days, jump days, gallop set days, rest days), but I am at the mercy of the weather now, so I'll create the schedule at the beginning of the week and alter it as I see fit based on when I can lesson and when the footing will be right for each exercise. I feel fine making 1 day a week be the dedicated combo flatwork day because in all reality, when I do my flying change day I am going to warm up with laterals and collection anyway.

So now to wait until I can actually ride, and work, again.

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