Friday, July 31, 2015

I love torture... Wait what?

Yes, I'll say it. When I've done something that works my legs or abs and I feel sore after, I make a point to do it again and again. Torture? Bring it on.

"Yes, may I please ride with this torture cube for another hundred thousand rides? Pretty please?"
My trainer has built in a torture response into me: "Yes, I would like more torture please."

I've realized riding torture is good for you, and if you stick it out and work through it, you'll be far better off in the end. Or maybe that's what I tell myself and I'm really just crazy for looking for tough exercises and things that make me hurt for days after.

Perhaps that's why when she's away and I teach lessons the girls say I'm tougher than she is! I say it's because I have to answer to her... but maybe they're on to something.

Anyway, I had a lesson last night. We talked a little about Sunday, and what I needed to accomplish before Aug 15.
  • Crisper transitions: extended walk to medium walk to collected walk to canter, medium canter to collected canter, extended canter to collected canter, trot/walk to halt to rein back. Every upward transition strikes off with a purpose. (An interesting note about rein back, I asked how to get the diagonal pairs, she said rein back faster. No dragging or reluctance backwards. No gently backing up. No flying backwards inverted or harshly either, but back with a  purpose. Like, that's a complete doh. Apply the idea with his super connected walk work, and Mikey was rein backing like a champ and the movement was over before I knew it.)
  • Keeping the tempo and better bend in lateral movements- thinking medium trot in each one, not collected.
  • Get our centerlines straightened out- Mikey tends to step out with one hind or we wobble. It's easy points.
  • Work with the cube to fix my position faults to make all of the above easier!
  • Keep doing some flying changes, however they're not going to make drastic improvements in two weeks, so just keep asking on occasion and working them in, but no working just on them. I'll be ok without them if I can clean the other items up. And maybe if I can clean the other items up they'll get a little better on their own.
Such a small list right?

I did a little warm up, and as we chatted we paid attention to the walk work, halts and rein back before mixing in some canter. She pulled up the test to see exactly how the walk work read, which lead us to doing the following:

  • Come out of the corner in medium walk.
  • Extended walk for some portion down the long wall.
  • Back to medium walk.
  • Ask for collected walk by thinking about bringing my shoulders up and back like I'm trying to push back a recliner that doesn't want to go (no leaning back), legs back and 'picking up' the belly, lighter seat to give the back somewhere to go.
  • All the while maintaining steady non-elbow-locked contact, and then asking for canter in the next corner. It must be a connected canter- no shuffle steps, no inverted. He must strike off with a purpose.
  • Maintain the connected canter.
So the first thing that happened was Mikey tried to trot through the extended walk. He doesn't do that. It was like he was saying "No, we don't do extended walk on the wall, we do it on the diagonal. We trot here." Then I'd get to the collected walk portion and he'd try to lock up, or swing his hindquarters one direction or another to avoid having to use his butt. Once I got past that and had him where I wanted him in collected walk, I'd ask for canter and get sidepass pissy pants. It took some tries to iron out, some swats with the whip on the left hip to try harder, and eventually we had some excellent transitions. No big motions from me, just steady seat, steady hand, supporting leg, very upright posture.

The confusion about what we're doing at any given moment led my trainer to direct me to not do any movements where they belong in the tests. Extended walks on the walls, not across the diagonals. Mikey has to listen to what I'm asking him to do, not what he thinks we should do. This was part of our downfall in the canter in 3-1 on Sunday (and is not a new issue). Canter at 2nd level and 3rd level always does something after a corner. He's conditioned to hit the long side and either go forward into medium or extended canter or go sideways into half pass, or do something besides track forward and straight. 3-1 has 10m canter circles at V and P, so you have to make it past K and F in collected canter. Mikey says, "What're we doing now? Huh? Huh?!" and we end up battling each other and his canter gets wishy washy and then good bye points and we're screwed for the next movement.

A graphic for your viewing pleasure.
Coming down from the canter each time, she had me shift my shoulders back in that same recliner feeling (engages my core and thighs) and pay extra attention to keeping my lower leg under me near the girth. When I let it get behind me, I flop forward and all is lost in the transition. I tried to keep in mind the slowing the canter down to the speed of a quick walk that I learned from A Enter Spooking, and soon enough we were canter-walking round and promptly. Sweet.

After the torture work in walk and canter, she grabbed my cube from a fence I had set it on, gave it to me, and asked me to just go around so she can get a gauge on how it affects me and Mikey.

My trainer is one strong lady. She fetched the cube from where I had set it down and as she walked back with it she held it in front of her and supported it the way you should, as was like "Ooo. Hmm. It really engages the abs. Even I feel it." I'm glad that me feeling the burn before wasn't me being weak. Even the lady who rides 5-10 horses a day in addition to mucking 17 stalls by herself every day feels it.

Anyway, the first thing that became obvious was Mikey's intense dislike for the cube. I asked about it, if it was me engaging my seat too much for him to handle (he doesn't always appreciate a fully engaged seat from overweight me or even good weight Trainer, in fact you can make him explode from it). She didn't think so, she reminded me that whenever we change something to a more correct ride, he always retaliates that he has to work harder to meet our new expectations. He was just pissed off at the steady connection in my hand (and a bit from the deeper seat). I fiddled with his walk a bit, trying to use leg and seat to get him to meet the bridle. His usual evasion became very plain- if he started shifting his hips around, you better believe it that I was sitting slightly crooked and so he flung himself around in response. He couldn't stop to have a temper tantrum either- I had no contact with his face and my seat and leg kept saying "March on!"

Trainer had me move on to posting trot to free up his back a little and get him thinking forward again. She was very pleased with how the cube effected my sit part of the posting trot ("It really doesn't give the rider any other option but to sit deeply and properly!"), and equally pleased that it was forcing my lower leg to sit where it should up near the girth. I have a horrible habit of letting it fall well behind the girth, which of course leaves no where for it to go when I need to use it behind.

Once Mikey started to accept that my steady hands weren't going away and that he had to come up and meet the bridle, he slowly softened. Just a bit. Not a true connection or good enough throughness, but just a hint of willingness to meet the bridle.

Trainer had me swap to sitting the trot, and it was a glorious thing. It was EASY to sit his trot. She had me do some shoulder in and pay attention to the tempo. Mikey continued to relax further. She had me really stretch up in my spine and bring together my shoulder blades, which had an immediate effect on Mikey- he came through and connected like the awesome boy he is. I could go from sitting to posting to sitting, and I never interfered with his back to make him uncomfortable so he never changed his throughness. AWESOME!

I worked that feeling in the shoulder in, paying super attention to what my hips were saying (sitting that deep and correctly sure made it obvious how to use them properly!), and pay attention to what my legs were saying. My lower leg hung at the girth, and I could put my calf on him and inside seatbone and he'd respond wonderfully. When I ask for shoulder in left, he usually swings off the rail immediately, then I crush him back into left bend and back to the rail. The cube made it obvious that in the steps out of the corner left and right before I ask for shoulder in left, I dig into him with my right seatbone, and his natural response is to leg yield away from it. As soon as I got more control over it, we stopped drifting so much.

Next she had me do some trot halt trot transitions. The downward was a touch rough to begin, but it slowly led to very square halts. I asked for trot on, and Mikey would invert and I'd lose my contact and connection, but he'd step off with a purpose. She said that that is how hard I hold onto him going into the upward transitions, I hold so much and lock my elbows and drop my hands that I make him invert and I slow him down when in reality, he does want to step off with a purpose. Eventually they got a bit better as he trusted that I wasn't going to shut him down.

She had me half pass next. It became quite evident in the half pass left that I would lose my contact with the left rein, then lose a lot of the quality of the movement. The cube forced me to be steady, but not take back my hand to maintain the contact. I need to find a more forward half pass to make Mikey find the connection, and keep the bend from my seat and leg. And oh yea, No collapsing either direction. Same stretch up through the spine. I don't get a floppy contact to the left rein in left half pass without the cube because I'm taking back rein to force the contact to be there, not correct riding! The right half pass was pretty decent, just needs to think a bit more forward. One of the right half passes was the best she's ever seen us do. So yay!

We ended with a bit of stretchy posting trot. It wasn't as hard as I thought to let the rein out while holding the cube. Mikey enjoyed his stretch, and I had to learn how to do a stretchy trot without falling forward.

She loved the cube, but warned me against using it all the time. It puts both of us in a good place- we both use the right muscles and tire out quickly. She said to use it just a couple times a week to avoid the good muscles getting overly sore and creating a resistance issue because he's sore (we don't care about how sore I get, I'll push through cause it's good for me!).

I think tonight we'll do some long and low work. Just easy stuff that's stretchy. I'm sore from two days of the cube plus two days of Fitness Blender workouts (I love them!). Tomorrow I'll bring the horses in for AM feed, then take Mikey for a short trail walk before I get picked up to go to the mini trial this weekend.

Trainer already has plans for a cube clinic on 8/8 where a bunch of us take turns riding with it for 15-30min. Well hell. I look forward to it! More torture!

(faux) Equicube final verdict: A+++

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