Thursday, December 18, 2014

Good Ride After Lots of Dreadful

I rode last night with much better results.

I started by simply closing the arena door after we came in. This is something I never, ever do. I figure if I'm out at a show and something is going on, I can't ask for someone to move, or for a door to be closed, I have to deal with it. I can't deal with it in public if I can't deal with it at home. But last night I was alone at the barn, it was windy, and I really wanted a good positive ride so I broke down and closed the door.

I started in walk with a much stiffer horse than I usually start with. I remembered exercises detailed in Bakersfield Dressage's post that involved working circles in counter bend and how she had had good luck with them unlocking her horse's jaw, so I gave them a whirl in walk and trot as I warmed up. They were quite effective. When Mikey is stiff or tense, he locks his jaw and I haven't found anything that quickly unlocks it- until these exercises. I didn't get a lot of throughness as I was doing them (I still got more than I had), but as soon as I went back to regular bend I had an incredible amount of throughness and swing. As I moved on to my haunches in work, I kept those exercises in my back pocket for any time I met resistance. A quick run through of the counter-bent figure 8 got him soft and pliable again.

Another thing to note is I left my gloves in the barn. I realized this when I was getting ready to get on and I was like, "Oh, no gloves." I had already finagled the arena door and didn't feel like tromping through the wind to fetch them, so I worked without them. Every now and then I like to work without them because I'm more aware of how much pressure I'm putting on the bit, and where my hands are and if the reins are slipping etc because well, my hands hurt and the reins pinch my wedding and engagement rings.

He carried a bit of tension last night, and it became evident as I asked for a trotting haunches in. Without my gloves I felt immediately when I began to smother him with inside hand when he didn't immediately comply, and that made me reevaluate how I was asking for it. I also realized my seat and legs were "screaming" at him when I asked for haunches in left. I expect a problem, so I used more than I needed. The moment I quieted down my seat and hands aids to a minimal amount (a tiny bit of outside thigh and seatbone with soft unmoving hands), he immediately softened and shifted his haunches into a lovely rhythmical 4 track haunches in (yay mirrors! Normally I would have thought it wasn't enough angle, but the mirror showed it was very appropriate). I kept that same thinking as I did more to the left and I had a happier and happier horse who very willingly stepped his haunches in.

I tried the same feeling to the right, and I need to work on getting my left seatbone and thigh to talk the way my right ones do. It was not as clear to Mikey what I wanted, but haunches in right is his easier one, so he was awesome and did it anyway once he figured out what my seat was 'mumbling' at him.

I did a few half passes in trot, and felt the collapse of my right side when I half passed. I collapse my right side, which Mikey does not appreciate. Had to think of it like someone had my right shoulder and was pulling upwards on it and force myself to sit up. As soon as I did that, the half passes got easier. Nothing spectacular, but I had soft ones each way. I'm running into problems with Mikey quitting them when we're about 10ft from completion. He suddenly becomes resistant and refuses to keep tracking over. I think I haven't been insisting he complete all the way to wall lately, so he's just doing what I've taught him to do: stop half passing before you get to the wall.

I moved on to canter, and did a couple canter haunches in before working the half pass in that direction. The half pass left was softer, the haunches didn't lead, but I didn't like the amount of trailing they did either. They had limited cross over but the general idea was still there so three soft ones of those and we moved on the right. I would have kept it at two, except I gave him a pat after the second one quickly on the left neck and he immediately went to trot before we had turned left at C to continue going left. So repeat. The right was not as nice as the left, the haunches trailed more, but it was still soft and he did make it from the rail to centerline in the span of a longside. Two of those, transition to trot, stretchy circle, walk, lots of patting and good boys.

One thing I tried to do last night was say "Good Boy!" and try to work on a pat on the shoulder. He really appreciates those and I have to remember to do them for all good efforts because he tries harder the next time. He was wonderfully through and had his back up all last night, so after 20 min of work we were done. No lingering on anything, do it promptly and successfully and move on!

My hoof wrap from Tuesday did not fare well. I didn't think it would. For some reason I couldn't get it wrapped just the way I wanted, and he wore a horse shoe shape on the bottom and had a flap hanging from his heel. I cut the whole thing off to ride. I had wanted to work with it on so I didn't get sand rubbing on his heel bulb, but I had to try to buff off the mud and dry the hoof with the sand so I could rewrap it. The joys of hoof wraps.


  1. I'm going to need to try those exercises. They seem to be working for pretty much everyone! Guinness locks his poll and the base of his neck. Getting him to flex through the shoulder is really helpful in getting him to unlock. It's not always pretty, but it does work and the effects last longer than just a couple of strides. My trainer has a pretty great exercise for that ... I'll have to write about it. It's sort of a leg yield, but really works at suppling and releasing the shoulders.

    I'm working on getting my position even more upright and supportive for more collected work, and it's making me feel like I can't ride. The work has also shown me just how much I clamp my legs on to get Pig forward. Turns out, I can't sink into my seat with my legs clamped on. It's been really eye opening. You can't scream when you're riding in a supportive forward dressage seat, I've found. Well, you can, but you can't continuously scream. You get in there and scream, then have to get right back to soft and supple and forward. Total change.

    You think TBs are praise-hounds? I've ridden a ton of other breeds, but TBs are the ones that really seem to need praise as a confidence builder. I can have a crappy ride, but if I remember to praise Guinness, even for little piddly stuff he should do better, he steps up and works harder. Maybe I'm relaxing more when I praise him? Maybe praise just makes him feel validated and work harder? He really does work for scratches and pats, though.

    1. Absolutely, they are praise oriented. I've never met one that didn't want to please. I've met some that try so hard that they've become very difficult to ride, but they also seem to live for a pat, scratch, or good boy!

      The best thing I've found for getting my position upright and supportive without clamping is to sit the trot and think like someone is pulling my knees to the ground, which lengthens the thigh. Gotta sit up to support yourself at that point! I keep my stirrups long, and I know when I'm not lengthening my thigh when they become hard to reach. When I am lengthening my thigh, my stirrups are almost too short, but I've engaged my core and supported my upper body.

  2. That counter bent circle figure 8 has become my ace in the hole! Today, I started to feel bit frustrated. Speedy G just wouldn't soften through his jaw, poll, or neck. Suddenly I remembered that we hadn't done the figure eight yet. We did a few minutes of that and slowly but surely he relaxed and softened through his whole body. I finished the exercise by switching to the correct bend and was delighted with how solidly he took the outside rein.

    I am glad the exercise is working well for someone else. :0)

    1. Thank you so much for sharing them with us!!! It's really become something that is a quiet and effective way to work through that stiffness.