Wednesday, July 22, 2015

7/20 Clinic with German Riding Master

Mikey is hilarious. I suck at taking pictures that are level.
Monday night I loaded Mikey into the trailer and took him to a nearby barn for a lesson with the German Riding Master (GRM). Everyone was very welcoming, lots of 'long time no see', then they were shocked to find out Mikey had surgery and we've been back in full, unrestricted work for about a month.

GRM knew Mikey had been off, but didn't know the full extent of what was wrong. We chatted for a few minutes about what Mikey and I were up to and what we wanted to do today. I asked to go over test 3-2 as I think it's right up Mikey's alley. GRM got the test and read it while I walked around and got started. He said we'll warm up each movement, then run through the test and see how it goes. He seemed ok with 3-2, stating that it was "a second level test with flying changes" and that he and I had covered everything in it in a previous lesson when we went over 2-3 last year. (It's nice to be remembered, especially when I only saw him 6ish times last year, and it's been 8 months since I saw him last.)

I picked up trot and started to warm up. I had to pay extra attention to post on the outside diagonal... I've gotten used to posting on the wrong diagonal and working my lateral stuff that way! The first thing GRM said after watching us trot around a little was, "He seems quite sound!" I trotted Mikey around, asking for some shoulder in and haunches in to start, and Mikey had his floppy ears going on. Yay floppy ears!

He noted that Mikey had much better contact with the bridle and much more swing in his step than he did last time he saw me ride in Nov/Dec. I told him that I spent 2 months doing walk trot without any lateral movement and the only thing I could do was push him to the bridle and get him deep and through and connected. He approved.

GRM asked for the shoulder-in (SI for the rest of the post) to renvers, and I believe we started with the SI right to renvers left. I rode it down one long side, before GRM shouted at me to "Stop, stop! Walk!"

He had me walk the next long side and SI to renvers, and take extra time in the change. SI right, to leg yield, to bending the neck left, to bringing the haunches around for renvers left. Break it down into those 4 pieces. Worked like a charm for SI right to renvers left. Back to trot, and lovely floating long sides.

I said, "I didn't know you could take that many steps to get the change done." He said, "Better to take the extra steps and slower transition than a quick inverted transition that never recovers." Well, doh. Once again, quality over quickness/quantity. Isn't that what dressage is about?

Back to walk, change direction. I opted to change direction via walking turn on the haunches, and we spent a few minutes on that. The first one I did was awful, just too big and more circle like. He made me turn around and do it again. He got after me about driving Mikey with my seat around the turn. He said the inside leg is moving very slowly, but it is moving, not pivoting, so it's ok for now. We spent some time working on both, then moved back to the SI and renvers.

This is where I got warnings about too much bend in the neck to the left. Mikey has a tough time getting true bend this way, and all of my seatbone to outside hand aids flew out of my head. I'd ask for the change and Mikey would invert and fight me, so GRM changed plans and had me keep the movement for a few steps and do multiple bend changes down the wall. That's where things fell apart a bit.

So I ride SI left, ask for the change to renvers right, then ask for Mikey to change back to SI left, and Mikey tried to drag me off the wall and pull me around. GRM said to focus more this direction on shifting Mikey's hind end around. Instead of thinking of it as shoulders coming off the wall, think of it as haunches pushing closer to the wall. Mikey picked this time to completely ignore my left leg. I wanted to crack him a couple times behind my left leg with my whip so he'd respect it, but I'm unfamiliar with how people at this barn would take that idea, so I struggled through it, kicking and tapping. Mikey may or may not have run his butt into the wall on more than one occasion as we tried to get our communications right.

At this point, GRM said, "Your homework is to do these transitions in walk for the next week, month, year, thousand YEARS until you can keep him on the wall and keep him from inverting." Talk about one big assignment! He said even though renvers to shoulder in isn't in the test, it's a transition we can't do properly. So we need to learn to do it properly. Well shit, that makes sense! It shows me a big hole in our training, so I need to fill it in.

After the transitions got a bit better in walk, we went to trot and did a handful that were much better than the first one I did.

We went on to half pass, which I started in walk to make sure Mikey and I were thinking the same thing. GRM was good with this, and I don't remember him having much to say about them, so they must have been ok for walk. Went on to trot, and he said the trot half passes were much better, but I need to make sure that in the half pass right, the haunches don't lead and that we don't get going too sideways. Half pass left, I need to be very careful about overbending the head and neck left. All in all, he was pleased.

He said in an 'oh boy' kind of voice, "Ok, let's see what the canter is like." I did my prep in walk, asked for canter left, and Mikey gave me one of the best transitions to canter ever. GRM said, "Very good transition... Ok... The canter is pretty darn good too." I did a couple lengthenings and circles, and GRM noted that I need to keep him straighter on the short sides because Mikey almost 4 beat canters when I collect him up and he gets overbent left. We moved on to canter half pass left. The forward in the canter powered us down the arena without much sideways. Then I screwed it up by trying to change leads at the other end of the arena. I got the, "Stop, stop! Start over."

He said to slow the canter down in the half pass, so I did. Right from the beginning. I basically crushed Mikey. He had me turn out of it after several failed strides and repeat again, but keep the forward in the start of the movement. Mikey needs it to get going, but tone it down once I'm in the movement with right to right half halts to slow it down and let Mikey travel sideways. At the end of each half pass (we were going from the wall to center line) Mikey would try to power through me in a mock change, so to finish to the left, he had me canter half pass into straight trot down centerline, then walk and pat. Looking back, the canter half pass left really needed me to find my left leg and seatbone to better get the bend, which would have resulted in a much better half pass and possible flying change at the end.

We repeated to the right, with a similar idea, only this direction seemed a bit easier for Mikey. By the end, he thought if I had asked for the flying change right to left, I would have gotten it easily. I asked if he wanted me to repeat and ask for it, he said no, we'll move on, and it is what it is.

Complete silliness.
We took a little walk break, then went off to ride the test. Which I started riding from the wrong end of the arena. I'm used to A being at the end of the arena that you actually physically enter the arena from the barn area. This barn has it at the opposite end of the arena. It also has a set of doors there, so maybe it's so that you can actually track properly into the arena from the outside. Either way, I found myself all kinds of flustered and messed up because I barely knew the test, I was disoriented, and I was riding a 3rd level test in a small arena.

I turned Mikey down centerline, and immediately had to turn around and redo it because I cut the corner way off. After redoing it, Mikey powered through me into a downhill transition into the halt. GRM told me to watch my forward coming down centerline. I don't need that much coming into it. Ha. Mikey made that decision, but I'll have to work on it.

I trotted off, and went to do my medium trot across the diagonal and GRM said, whatever it is, it is (knowing it's not our strong suit), and I asked for a bit and he was like, "Good! No more! Keep that!" It was much less trot than I thought I needed. I then asked for SI left, and I immediately felt him leave the wall as if to medium trot again, and I had to crush him back to the wall. After that, the SI left to renvers right flowed fairly well. Another good medium/extended trot back into a very nice and flowy SI right to renvers left.

I lost track of where I was going, remembered my two tear drop half passes were next just in time to get him down centerline at C. Half pass right started off haunches leading a hair, and just as GRM was mentioning it, I got it corrected. Half pass left was very good, he warned me to watch the bend. I actually lost my left stirrup in that half pass, then flustered myself trying to get it back, remember where I was going, and listen to GRM. So naturally, I cut the corners by C because they were also already partially blocked off for seating, which jacked up my turn across the school into my turns on the haunches. GRM was very displeased and said I need to do a much better job getting into my corners and making those turns properly or else I'm giving points away. *Insert crawl into a hole and die feeling here*

The turns on the haunches were alright. I was a little slow getting my extended walk going, but it recovered very well, and my transition to collected walk, to more collected, to canter was a bit rushed (getting 12m worth of work done in 6m will do that). So by the time I got canter, it was time to turn up centerline and half pass, and I never quite recovered from a poor transition. At this point, I'm chasing the test down, not thinking about each and every step in each movement, and forgetting about seatbones to outside aids that help with proper bend, so I missed the easier flying change.

I got my medium canter, did a little better with the next half pass, but absolutely was not set up to do the harder change (left to right) properly. I asked for the 20m circle with rein release, and Mikey attempted to blow through me and do a flying change. I think he was partially anticipating a change since we were going across centerline, but I also was not as good with my hips as I was when I practiced at home. GRM said to start giving the rein a bit late to ensure he stays on the circle.

Extended canter (needs more but good) into collected and turn up centerline, to a downhill transition to trot to a downhill transition to halt. Not the best finish ever, but Mikey was laying on my hand too. Another thing to work on.

GRM said not bad, and seemed to think I could score around 60% easily, but if I can get lucky and nail just one flying change, I'll be well over 60%. He didn't have that optimism last year, so yay!

Mikey was TIRED. He was puffing quite a bit. He's not in very good shape. :-(  I'll have to make sure we don't neglect our trot sets in the next month. My legs were jelly. Maybe I should do trot sets on the ground with him. Strangely, for as tired as he felt, if I had to come back in an hour and ride another test, I don't think it would have been that bad. Last year, he had a tendency to check out on me in the second test.

I couldn't get over the huge amount of praise both GRM and the hosting barn's dressage trainer had for Mikey's overall improvements from our last lesson to this lesson, and in general how good he looked. It was so hopeful. GRM said Mikey's work is a very very solid second level, and it's perfectly acceptable for third, if we're lucky and get the changes. I said I wasn't sure he'd be able to move beyond 3rd level, his leg might not hold up to it, and we'd just be third level queens. They didn't seem to think that would be the case. We'll see, I'm not going to get my hopes up! I'd still love to take Mikey to PSG though.

Things I need to pay attention to:

  • Too much bend in the neck to the left, in all movements.
  • When things get sticky, right to right half halt to get straight again.
  • Remember that I can half halt like I do at home, inside seatbone/leg to outside rein, to half halt outside rein to outside leg/hip. Don't get so flustered and distracted that I forget that.
  • Take it slow. Know your test inside and out so you're not surprised by anything, or how quickly things come up. Take it slow, use your corners, use every bit of arena you can (like a hunter). My best tests have come when I can separate everything out and have a slow-time-down kind of feeling. The horse has to be soft and responsive, and I have to have every step plotted in my head.

A very productive lesson!

I love him. He's adorable. He kind of looks like a deer.


  1. aw those pics of Mikey are adorable haha. that lesson sounds intense - but ultimately really positive. GRM sounds like a really great clinician, like he can really deliver exactly what the rider and horse need. very cool! also - 'quality over quickness/quantity' might be the single most difficult thing for me to figure out in dressage haha

    1. His lessons are actually quite relaxed, and there's good breaks in it. Maybe there's good breaks in mine because he's like "Stop stop stop!" then explains something, and off we go. He is very good, I always find myself learning a lot from him. Quality over quantity has been very hard for me to figure out too. I keep thinking, "the judge wants to see this NOW!" and do a half assed move instead being patient and bringing it around properly. That's the hardest thing for me to remember in my canter rein release in 3-2. Mikey will plow through me sometimes to do a flying change off the circle (he thinks he's so smart and knows what I want before I do). So I have to hold him an extra few strides, which then puts the movement late, but he stays as a gentleman and so we're docked for being late instead of horribly wrong.