Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Post Show Rides: An Exercise in Straightness

I will not pretend that this is my bible. To be honest, I feel like the bottom should be a circle.
However, I feel it does demonstrate a hole we've developed (hint, it's #5).

We all know I'm a bit disappointed with my scores from the schooling show, but pleased with Penn's actual performance. I knew he wasn't "show ready" so this was a way to get out and do it and see how far there is to go.

The judge harped a lot on: tight back (maybe she really meant he looked stuck to the ground and slow, so his back didn't swing a ton?), needs bend, needs engagement blah blah blah. I went to Megan for some advice because I really think this judge was a bit harsh in numerical values and I didn't find the comments incredibly helpful (though I do think they were spot on). Megan gave me something very constructive and useful: Instead of sitting into the movements, Penn wavers his hind end (that wobbly feeling I get, plus the whole "I've lost his hind end and can't get it back behind his shoulder" thing that happens). She told me Rico did the same thing, and how she worked on it. She would get him super connected in walk, slow the walk, and ask for a tiny trot. He had to stay STRAIGHT. If he shifted the haunches, shoulders, sped up, inverted, or did anything besides trot straight, she'd stop the trot from happening and reset and ask again. To help with this, she used a chute of poles as well.

BOT Brush Boots! Very white. Got to use them for the first time Saturday.

I was all excited to test this out over the weekend, but there were lessons happening Saturday so I had to make due with using my legs to keep Penn straight (the horror). I was able to keep him much straighter from the super connected walk, and it of course resulted in better trots and canters. We still had major cases of the wiggles in walk, especially when I was trying to ask for walk-canter. However, once we were in the next gait, it was fairly steady in connection and balance. The halts were also better- the judge had nailed me for single steps of walk into/out of them. Penn was very trot-and-HALT-and-TROT.

Side note, I thought I'd have a threatening to rear tantrum from this. I didn't. Instead, he'd shut down entirely, stop, and put his head between his knees. A very different problem, but I can work with it much easier than threats to rear!

In between lessons, I tried Penn's flying changes on the 3-1 pattern (10m circle, short diagonal, change) because that seems to set him up well in the past by letting the circle set him back on his hind end. Well, the changes are nice and broken. I got one late behind change from left to right (but he didn't invert or speed up), and one change right to left where he flip flopped the front for 1-2 strides then changed back. The rest were all no-gos. I tried some simple changes after that, and he wasn't even clear on those when I'd ask for the new lead- he still offers the old one, especially when changing left to right. Sigh. I'm sure it's a straightness/strength/clarity problem. We finished with some shoulder in to 10m half circle to half pass and I kept losing control of his haunches- they'd bulge in as he anticipated the half pass.

Dressage Poles of Doom

Sunday was lesson-free when I finished working, so I hurried up and set up 7 of our poles down one of the long sides and BO's daughter and I had at them (she liked the exercise too btw!).

I started with just walking through the poles, then using them for all my transitions in warm up before getting down to really insisting. Holy crap, it was the first time I've ever felt him really sit into a downward transition. I started with just simple trot-walk-trot-walk-trot down the long side, from sit trot. In the last steps of trot I felt him actually SIT and lighten the forehand as he walked. So freaking cool. And I got it to happen in a row, on more than one pass down the long side! I started pairing it with shoulder in on the opposite wall: transition refreshers in the poles, shoulder in, transition refreshers, SI, repeat. He felt steady before SI, in the transition to SI, during the SI (with bend! I could really feel his hind end stay straight), and out of SI. No bulging the shoulder/haunches in anticipation into/during/out of the corners. He was just ready and waiting for the next cue. He felt so grown up, and BO's daughter said he looked so grown up, and SO STEADY.

You know what else disappeared? His leg interference. The BOT brush boots give a lot of sound when he interferes, and it completely vanished with this work (and came back with a vengeance when I'd give him long rein to stretch and rest).

The canter work to the left was super- I started getting canter-walks that were SO CLOSE to canter-and-walk. And I could fit two in on the pole long side! I ended up doing two simple changes tracking left through the poles too, and they were better than our usual.

You know what is not super? His right lead canter. I don't know if it was muscle soreness, running out of steam by this point, or some combination of those, but the right lead sucked. I could finally feel him trying to shove his shoulders right and look left (and so he picks up the left lead), and it would take me the entire long side to get the right lead canter in a halfway acceptable transition. The canter itself was better, but I had to really ride it: sitting up, riding shoulder fore, and really using my thigh and seat and inside leg. Towards the end the right hind got so slow it felt like a lateral canter and there was no hope of canter-walk transitions. I let him quit at that point because I was not making it any better and I was just wearing him down.

Tired pony on Sunday. It was just warm enough to give him vetrolin baths both days this weekend!

I rode him again last night, and while I had trouble connecting him in the walk to the right, his left direction work was great. I focused just on the trot last night- no canter. I paired trot-walk-trot-walk-trot transitions in the poles with 10m circles at C, E, and A, then with shoulder in on the empty long wall, then SI-10m circle-haunches in. I'd use SI to half pass to change directions. I could tell if the SI was faking bend by asking the following question: "If I asked him to 10m circle now, would he drift through my outside rein, or would he promptly step off onto the circle?" Not completely sure I could fix it at this point, but I at least knew right/wrong, and they were mostly right! The half pass would fail spectacularly if I wasn't right because I'd lose the haunches in the 10m half circle and he'd just take me for a ride.

Towards the end he was feeling very straight, steady, strong, and connected, so I changed the downward transitions in the poles to medium trot in the poles. The medium trot off the left rein was great- having the haunches directly behind the shoulder is great for pushing power (go figure right?). Transitions to medium trot were slow, but transitions from medium to collected were prompt and strong. The medium exercise to the right wasn't as good- he got hurried in it and it wasn't as easy to sit. I don't think I'm finding enough straight that direction, and I'm still not sure about the right hind's pushing power.

Overall, I'm really thrilled with these exercises in straightness. Penn really didn't take much reminding to stay straight once I established "this is how we do transitions now." I can really identify straight vs crooked vs bend vs fake bend now (as silly as that sounds). Thanks Megan!!

All of this has made me think of the training pyramid, and how in the long run, it's been kind of spot on (go figure, they knew what they were doing in designing it). When Penn came home, we had to establish a rhythm. Why did a kind of connected horse get less than 60% at intro? Because he couldn't keep a rhythm to save his life. After we established some rhythm, I had to reestablish supplement and contact. He's always had a lot of natural impulsion, but sometimes I squash it and we've cycled through it coming and going. Right now it's in a going phase I think (phases can last hours or weeks, because horses). I found straight over the summer towards the end of our First Level work, but no collection. GP Trainer had us increase collection, and we eventually lost our straight/impulsion/suppleness/rhythm/contact depending on what day it was, but the most consistent loss was straightness. I've been building all the lower pieces back up, and Megan helped bridge the gap from impulsion to collection.

I am beyond excited to visit GP Trainer this weekend and show her our progress! I do have some questions for her (ie that stupid 3-1 half pass), so I'm hoping we can work on a couple of my questions in addition to whatever work she feels is suitable.


  1. Man, straight is the key and it is SO HARD. I don't even know why but it is.

    Great idea with the poles though, I'll have to try this! Megan is a genius!

    1. It's easier to track crooked! I think I'm going to make the poles even narrower next time, hopefully that will help our right lead problems. I was afraid to make them too tight and make Penn feel trapped (or rub my outside stirrup on the wall). The barn is getting more poles this weekend, and BO daughter and I already have a plan to run a much narrower chute down centerline and the wall, haha.

      All hail Megan, of genius dressage!

  2. Yay!! I'm glad it's working for you! The chute was definitely helpful for us- both to give him some extra motivation to stay straight (and build muscle there) and to give me the feeling of straightness, since it can be hard to feel true straightness sometimes. Add in the slow transitions and he's going to pack on the muscle and make those tests ride so much easier for both of you!

    1. The tests are already going to be a ton smoother- the transitions between movements are already a ton better. I'm so excited to see where he'll be in a few months! Thank you so much for the tips!!!

  3. Gotta love that great feedback!!! So glad it's working too!! I love the pyramid bc I never regret refocusing on those earlier blocks, tho straightness (or, um, baby straightness) has been an important key for our rides lately - in the sense that I'm totally focused on getting that feeling of riding two hind legs into two reins. If that makes sense haha.

    1. Definitely never a regret to go back and focus on earlier blocks! And that makes total sense, lol. I really feel like there's days, especially in green horse land, where you need to cycle through all the steps (except collection) which is why I tend to think of the bottom of the pyramid as a circle, not a pyramid. Maybe it's a base level of competence with each? Like, green horse needs to learn how to kind of sorta put his ass behind him in some semblance of straightness!