Thursday, January 25, 2018

1/21/2018 - Day 2: You Have an Attitude Problem (only it's a good thing)

I meant to share this in my last post since it was from Saturday's lesson.
It's a screenshot from a video, but I just thought it was so pretty.
"I expect teenage cheek. I actually cherish it, because generally speaking I’ve found a connection between the thing that makes a horse tell me to go pound sand at 7 years old is the thing that lets them piaffe 15 steps with no whip when they’re 12 years old. And of course whenever a horse I’m riding starts behaving in a resistant faction, my first point of action is always to make sure that he’s 100 percent healthy and sound, and also that my aids are 100 percent clear and 100 percent fair." - GP Trainer (from one of her online articles)
Penn finally found his teenage cheek! Maybe not a "go pound sand" level of cheek, and at almost 9, not 7. But seeing as how he started real work at 6.5, we'll call it meeting his timeline, just late! It took me this weekend to realize he's been conning me with his teenage cheek into thinking he can't do something. Penn is doing well physically right now and I just had his saddle checked and reflocked. I tend to assume I'm screwing up, or it's not fair to ask more of him because he's not strong enough, etc because I am an AA who rides without eyes on the ground A LOT so it's more than likely my fault. I needed the lessons this weekend to help me work through this hump we've met: "No, I can't half pass at the canter" and "No, I simply can't do a right to left flying change." And in our second lesson of the weekend, Penn continued to give cheek under GP Trainer's watchful eye, who helped me keep my cool and methodically work through it without escalating it in the slightest.

But I'm ahead of myself.

He got a stall with a run again!
Yes that's his dinner AND breakfast sitting outside with him.
And yes, he refused to eat it after taking a few bites.
#frustration #whydoibotherfeedingyou

GP Trainer stopped by while I was putting Penn's double on and was like, “Yay! Big boy bridle!” before making a few adjustments to my curb chain (tightening it a link, sorry Penn).

A brief note on GP Trainer's double bridle methodology: Keep generous loop in the curb rein- the mere presence of the weymouth is enough for majority of horses to go the way she wants. Don't let it become a band aid, but certainly give it a try at this point.

Oh, I thought we were in for a better ride Sunday since he’s been so polite in the double. Penn was very relaxed when we got to the ring, he felt good. We walked and trotted with very little resistance, repeating the trot/walk/trot from the evening before and mixing in some SI to renvers. It was all much better work. Then we cantered a little- the right was nice, prompt and uphill into the canter, hop within the canter, but a mediocre transition to walk because I did not prepare well. I changed to the left and just wanted to canter a few circles before moving on to whatever GP Trainer wanted to address… well, remember the 7 year old 3rd/4th level horse that had tantrums at our December clinic?

Penn was having none of it, though not as bad as the horse from the clinic. He offered a few crappy running transitions, then got stuck in the canter and didn't want to go forward. I wanted a walk/canter transition, no trot steps with an agreeable canter on a huge 25-30m circle. You would have thought I wanted brain surgery. We spent the first part of my lesson simply getting to that canter. He did not want to stay on the bit AND go to canter, so he would simply stop. I’d nudge nudge nudge until he started moving again.

Eventually, GP Trainer had me pick up my super long whip (I hadn’t worked out how to carry that and use 4 reins), and then when he would stop, ‘tap tap tap’ his hip until he decided to go forward again. No emotion, no beating, no kicking. Just be annoying with the whip and spurs and keep my hands and seat where they were before he put on the brakes. If he decides to back up instead, that’s perfectly fine. Keep his poll up and back up for as long as necessary. After 10-15 steps, take a big breath and see if he stops backing up when you relax. If he doesn’t, keep backing up until he’d rather go forward. No pulling or kicking, just an unemotional, “OK, let’s back up.” Give him endless chances to make the right decision, even if he needs a second or two to think through it.

A bad decision beginning.
A chance for a good decision, but nope...
Yay, a good decision!

It's the thinking of: I'm sorry you don't like this, but I am not going away or changing what I'm doing and I will wait for you to be done. Then we'll carry on like you never had an outburst.

And that’s basically what we did all lesson. The double shut the front door a little bit more, and he’d rather be lazy than sit, and we were addressing the lazy the day before, and so it culminated at a wonderful time where I had someone to coach me through it. Days like this, you don’t get to work on much. The work is in fixing the attitude and rewarding a good work ethic with breaks and praise. This is a fight worth having.

We got the left lead canter I wanted in my warm up, gave him a break, and then GP Trainer said, “Put him back to work. Do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter. This is about asking him to do things and him making good choices.”

I did a little trot tour- half pass right from the corner to X, 10m circle right, shoulder in right down centerline to C, medium across the diagonal, half pass left, 10m circle left, shoulder in left on the centerline, medium trot on the next diagonal. I think that’s similar to the 4-1 trot work, but that really wasn’t my end goal. I just wanted a bunch of things to do to possibly trigger a reaction. It certainly wasn’t a beautiful tour- he thought about stopping a bunch of times and curling and was flinging his shoulders and hind end around faster than I could contain them. But he did keep going, which was the end goal, “Try harder.” I got to practice fluffing his front end up, which helped the second medium (“Yes! Get his head and neck up so his shoulders have somewhere to go and lift!”)

He got a pat and a break for being so smart, then I gathered the reins and tried to canter right.

He started making poor choices again, and for 2 minutes before we even got to canter, he simply objected to being on the bit in walk and stopped and backed up. I just needed to wait him out... and back most of the length of her indoor (but hey, that rein back is going to be very smart looking!).

We got the canter and moved on to the 20m circle with 10m circles at the points, and we got so many “Super!” from GP Trainer for his sit. He was trying his guts out, and gave a few honest “I can’t hold this anymore” breaks to trot. He let me put him back to canter and go again. I can see the pirouette canter coming, and how his normal collected canter needs to build from it (same uphill, a little less sit and more forward). I was thrilled to finally be able to show GP Trainer something I have been reliably able to get on my own at home!

Look! The sit! I pushed him out before he got too stuck, but he stayed more up after!

As we were wrapping up the right lead, he started making poor choices again. He needed to make one last good canter/walk transition when I asked, then he could have a long rein and a break. Poor boy, he just could not even. He’d canter/halt, rein back. We’d walk on and canter again. He’d canter/walk, then root or jig in the walk. We ended up doing trot/walk to get him to a spot where he could have a break.

The left was good- He got right on the bit, picked up the canter, and sat. It was incredible, she said to find places I could release the rein, and I found I could put loop in the rein in the 10m circles, and maintain the sit with my seat. He gave several honest breaks, and GP Trainer pushed me to get a full 10m circle of canter so he could be done.

These were the exact lessons I needed: Penn had talked me into not pushing him through his stickiness in the canter and half pass. I really didn’t know how to push through it either without escalating the situation and I wasn’t sure how much it would escalate or if I could finish the fight. I also wasn’t sure he was the true problem, it could have been me. Reflecting, he’s been quite passive aggressive for a while.

GP Trainer has a very unemotional, low blood pressure method of dealing with young horse shenanigans. I really like the approach because it doesn’t rapidly escalate as long as YOU keep a very cool head and can immediately move on like nothing happened. It basically amounts to: I’m sorry you don’t like it, I am not going away and I will wait for you to be done with your tantrum. After you’re done having a fit, you can decide to move on and keep going forward or you can have another tantrum, which I will patiently wait through again, after which you will have the same choice again. If you decide you want to go backwards, we can do that until you think you’d rather go forwards. If you go forward, I will tell you how you are the smartest horse on the planet and leave you alone for a little while.

I did decide to bring him home instead of leaving him for a week (we're driving back this weekend for one of their Adult Camps- 2 private lessons and a cavaletti lesson, which is why leaving him was an option). I'm very comfortable working with the issues he presented this weekend, and I'm pretty sure I can keep my cool and work through them quietly. Plus, if shit hits the fan, I can always leave him next weekend and come back for more lessons!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

1/20/2018 - Day 1: You Have a Canter Problem

Ahh, I had much needed lessons this past weekend!

Throughout December, most of my rides had been “OMG how did this horse ever get through 3-1, because I couldn’t get him through T-1 right now” and “I think I’m going to give up dressage and take up goldfish keeping.” They were filled with despair and I wanted to just send Penn away for training until he could horse properly again. I came across GP Trainer’s “Embrace the Suck” article she wrote a while back when I was paroozing one of my FB groups. It helped remind me that this too shall pass… eventually.

Walking on the bit is super hard, so he does half steps instead...

And then he balks a good bit and gets a "pony club kick" to get him moving forward again.

In the meantime, we made some improvements like saddle fit and body work, but I still sent GP Trainer an email that went something like this “Despair, horses are stupid, I’ll be at your farm two weekends in a row and was wondering how much it would be for Penn to sleep over all week and one of your assistants can school him?” The price to stay for the week with training rides Tues-Thurs wasn’t bad, but it was still more than I pay for a month of board (after I work off part of my board), so it would cause some hardship. I told her let’s see how our lessons go, but I’ll make sure to bring everything he needs to sleep over all week.

This weekend was beautiful for hauling and it was warm, so yay!!!! I really lucked out on the weather for this trip. So much weather misery in the last few weeks and then it was 60+ degrees at her farm.

I just liked this walk.

Penn came into our Saturday lesson a bit frayed; he had what felt like a pony trot- quick and short, not what he normally does. We went through our warm up of walk and trot on the serpentine, then added canter and simple changes (which were much better and I need to remember to sit down through the entire downward- I’m popping up before he’s actually walking and so he takes a trot step). GP Trainer said, “I’m not seeing disaster. I know you want him more uphill, so would I, but he’s much more engaged than when I saw him a month and a half ago.”

We took a quick break and then got right to the meat of the lesson: I was having a lot of difficulty with his right to left change, and with the canter half passes.

GP Trainer: OK, go to the canter and show me your half pass.
Me: Ok great.  **Goes to right lead canter**
Penn: **Responds beautifully**
GP Trainer: What’s wrong with that? It was beautiful.
Me: Nothing. He usually does the first one well, and then gets stuck in the next one and it goes downhill from there.
Penn: ** does three more good half passes**
Me: …
GP Trainer: Straighten and flying change!
Penn & Me: …!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
GP Trainer: I see, usually when people say they’re having trouble with the half pass, the haunches are leading, which yours aren't. You don’t have a flying change or half pass problem. You have a canter problem. The same canter problem as before, just in a new and horrible manifestation of anti-self-carriage in canter. (Ok, so I may have pieced a few sentences together from throughout the lesson for effect, lol)

No issues with this half pass.

This is where things started to deteriorate a bit, which is good. This work is hard, and Penn finally is voicing his displeasure over things being hard. GP Trainer: “He’s been a pleasant and mostly agreeable creature for a long time. You were due for this.”

Nope nope nope. I will not lift my inside rib cage, I'll swap leads and go the other way instead. 

I bought myself a very long dressage whip after GP Trainer was here in December, which I made sure I carried in this lesson. She had me keep it in my left hand for the half pass right, but when he started getting stuck and shutting down in the half pass, tap tap tap on his left hip to keep the left hind leg coming, which would keep the half pass coming. We’re not beating him into it- it’s an annoying tap tap tap. I also needed to “hook him” under the right rib cage in the right half pass in a “Lift this rib” way.

Keep the left hind coming! 

Something else she had me do was to think about adding a tiny amount of space under my thigh- that really helped Penn relax into the half pass and then…


Once we got the half pass moving again, she had me straighten and try to do a R-L flying change again after the half pass right. He did give me that change, albeit one stride late behind. He got praise and could walk. GP Trainer said she wanted him doing the change out of the half pass to limit his ability to launch into/out of the change like he wants to (see above gif of frustration, lol).

We picked up the left lead and did a nice half pass to centerline, straightened, then sat and did a clean change to the right lead. GP Trainer was happy with it even though it had some wobble. Back to the right lead!

The walk is small, but he's really sitting into the transition. 

Not the best half pass left, but I did get a clean change after! 

I would cue for the right to left change after the half pass and he’d simply trot. She had me tap him once in the change to keep the canter when I asked for the change because trotting instead of changing is unacceptable. He’s basically conning me into letting him trot when I ask for it. He must try harder to give the right answer!

He wasn’t always giving the change, so she had me CC him into the corners, then apply whip with the change cue. The first time I asked like this, he changed up front and then changed behind a few strides later. He got to walk and catch his breath, but he had to stay on the bit. She had me put him back in right lead canter tracking left (CC), and it took me the entire long side to get him back to the CC. He fussed and danced and pulled and picked up the left lead. She wanted me to change at C, but he ended up breaking, I kicked him on, and he picked up the left lead. She was in the process of telling me to trot and CC when I somehow kicked him into changing to the CC. She was like, “OK, carry on! Don’t stop!”

bad changes

We had some more bumbling problems and took a quick walk break to reset, and had an interesting conversation about the problem. I’m having trouble with this change mostly because I was afraid of him ducking down and bucking, which he is prone to doing and has gotten more aggressive in his bucks lately. So instead of finding self-carriage in the right lead (which would prevent bucking), I’m holding him up and not giving him anywhere to go… so he’s not changing and if he does, I’ll probably end up MAKING him buck because he’ll need to to get his hind end swapped.

GP Trainer: You have to release the reins a bit and make sure he’s carrying himself on the right lead before you ask for the change.
Me: But I’m afraid he’ll end up on the forehand and get his head and neck down and then buck me off.
GP Trainer: I’m glad you said that! You have to be able to let go of that inside rein to give him somewhere to go. He has to be free to make the mistake and tumble onto his head. Sit up like the Queen of England and kick on!

Once I let go, checked the self-carriage, sat up like the queen, and tapped him on the butt with my cue for the change, he started offered a smooth, one stride late behind change. He promptly ran off with me, but GP Trainer said to praise him for the effort and let him walk.

A better change even if it was late behind... And he ran off a bit after lol

Basically, in the half pass and the changes, I have a self-carriage in canter problem, not a half pass or change problem. He gets stuck in the half pass because it’s hard and he’s talked me into believing him when he says he can’t do it, and same thing in the right to left change: he’s talked me into believing he’s not strong enough to even keep cantering, then he talks me into holding him up. She called him very passive aggressive in his naughtiness, lol.

We did a lot of canter in this lesson, and gave him a break before touching the trot. By this point, he was a bit frazzled from all the tap tap tap I was doing and so the trot was tense and quick. GP Trainer said, “Ok, let’s do trot/walk/trot transitions within SI and half pass, zero rein aid.” He was not having it. I had to use a rein reminder the first few times to say, “Hey, you can’t blow through me.” Doing the transitions within the SI and half pass really kept both of us honest about the reins, and gave the transitions constructive places to go. They were also super hard, haha.

Trot walk trot half pass

I briefly mentioned near the end that I had tried a double on my own and it has been going well. We’re both much more polite to each other. The saddle fitter that fixed his saddle also does some double fitting, so I had her look at him to help pick the right Weymouth. She was like, “Great! Next time, bring it and we’ll use it.” I was like, “Well I do have it here, but we’d never talked about using one…” She said, “That’s fine! Use it tomorrow. I encourage students to try them out and see what happens. Some horses go better in them, some don’t. Some you think won’t tolerate them do well, and some that you think will be great in them go absolutely horribly in them. Some horses are so strong in the snaffle that they need them [her last GP horse and a previous FEI horse who is now an absolute saint needed them]”.

She gave me a big warning about if he gets strong in the double, there’s really not much we can do to fix that. There’s no bigger bit and I need to be super careful. I assured her I do not want it to be a band aid. Mikey’s double was a bit of a band aid. I want it to be a tool that helps and adds to the picture. I’ve only been using it once a week or so to make sure he continues to respect both it and his snaffle. Basically, I’ll stop using it if he stops respecting the snaffle. In my head, if you use a big bad piece of equipment and when you take it off and go back to normal equipment, if the horse isn’t improved from before the big bad, then your big bad piece of equipment is a band aid, not a tool. So far, Penn has been improved in the snaffle while maintaining respect for the double, so once a week it is.

Does not appreciate the heaters after a bath. 

We worked almost the full 45 minutes, with minimal breaks, and since it was 60+ degrees, Penn was dripping sweat. Like, he was sweating from above his eyeballs and his girth was a foamy mess.

I got him hosed off and dry (thank goodness I brought a cooler even though it was going to be warm! He was shivering after I hosed him), then put him in his luxury stall for the night... lucky duck got a stall with a run, which he completely adores.

Next time, we have our first lesson in the double with GP Trainer! 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Battle of the Neue Schule Bits

NS Thoroughbred vs NS Transform

I took two weeks to trial the Transform from the Saddle Fitter vs the Thoroughbred that Austen so generously lent me.

They are both 5.25" wide mouths with 12mm mouthpieces with 7cm shanks (mouthpiece to middle of the curb ring). They both have 45 degree angles... but in different directions. That's the only difference between the two, which apparently makes a big difference.

NS Thoroughbred
Screenshot from the website.

NS Thoroughbred: (from the Neue Schule website) "Does your horse suffer from bar sensitivity? This mouthpiece traces out a subtle convex arc angled forwards at 45° to the cheek shanks resulting in gentle even pressure over the tongue and a reduction in bar pressure. Promoting comfort for breeds such as Thoroughbreds and Arabs who usually possess thinner skinned, more sensitive, angular bars. If a horse is not taking the contact forwards, a thicker bradoon may be employed in order to encourage the horse to stretch into the contact lengthening the neck."

NS Transform
Screenshot from the website.

NS Transform: (from the Neue Schule website) "Is your horse overactive in the mouth? Is he inwardly fixated on the presence of the doubles and not focusing fully on the rein aids? This design is often beneficial for the “short smile” (small distance from the corner of the lip to the muzzle), the busy mouth, tongue evasions or horse’s that experience difficulty in breathing and swallowing when in an advanced outline. The NS Transform depresses the whole of the tongue, much further back, creating larger airway enhancing the horse’s ability to breathe and swallow. An indication of a restricted airway may be a tense horse that is over salivating or even making a gurgling sound. Also beneficial if tongue evasions are habitual as there is a lot less room for the horse to successfully draw the tongue back, push down on the mouthpiece or get it over the top."

It's hard to tell from those two pics, but they are each tilted 45 degrees. The 360 view wouldn't work on my computer, and was a hair difficult to use from my phone. The Thoroughbred is tilted forward, the Transform tilted back.

Transform on the left, Thoroughbred on the right, both viewed from directly above.
The horse's nose would be to the right.

I'd been using the Thoroughbred exclusively until I met with the saddle fitter. I was happy with how Penn felt, and he seemed happy too. The mouth fussiness he had originally had gone away, and he was happy to go to the bridle and work.

I tried the Transform, and immediately liked the sense of 'up' it gave Penn. I had read somewhere that the transform was good for horses who like to lean, only I can't seem to find it now. Either way, Penn was not going to lean on my hand whatsoever. He became very fussy in the mouth, but I wasn't sure if he was frustrated by not being able to lean, or unhappy with the bit. More time was needed.

Penn on a cool morning before heading to a show in summer 2017.

The next thing I decided was to ride twice with the double, once starting out with the Transform and switching halfway through to the Thoroughbred, then again starting with the Thoroughbred and switching halfway to the Transform. This seemed like the best way to test the bits since Penn isn't always the same horse every day and I had limited time to test the bits. This way, both bits got a shot at the "good Penn" (Penn before we take a break) and the "bad Penn" (Penn after our mid-ride break), but they both saw him on the same day.

Test Ride 1: Transform First, Thoroughbred Second
I started out thinking ugh, I don't like the Transform at all! He's so fussy. He wanted to curl a bit in the walk and then a hair in the canter. I loved the trot work though. Overall, everything was more "up". I swapped it out to the Thoroughbred, and he was definitely happier, but he curled more and didn't want to come up in the canter. I thought this was a 'second half of the ride' problem, so I decided to do test ride 2 for an even playing field.

(Between Test Ride 1 and Test Ride 2, I implemented Charlotte Dujardin's "yeehaw" method at the canter, and applied some rein fluffing that GP Trainer mentioned to another student whose horse curled. Both methods applied together made the canter infinitely better in the snaffle.)

Test Ride 2: Thoroughbred First, Transform Second
We started out and I had to work to get Penn 'up' while keeping him focused and on the bit. He fought me a bit in the TOH work, but was happy enough to do all of his work. We had some great canter-walks, some nice lateral work, and in general, everything was good. I had to work to get Penn up, but I figured that was because he had a lovely school in his snaffle the day before. I swapped out the bits and hopped back on. Penn was NOT HAPPY. He wouldn't lean on the bit, if anything he didn't want to be on the bit at all. I pushed him forward to meet the bridle and gave him some half halts, and he eventually went on the bit in walk. I had eyes on the ground, and I had her confirm my curb rein wasn't too short, and she commented that he was much more up in the shoulder than with the first bit, and he mostly looked pissed about having to work properly. I was able to do both TOH, with less struggle about bend. I went off to trot and WOW. He was way up in the shoulder, very light, and was very hard to sit (yay suspension!). The canter was good- I used the yeehaw to get more sit, and did a few of GP Trainer's collection exercises. I even asked for a half pass, straighten, position the new direction, and then cued for a flying change. He stayed up, listened, and did a change where I could actually feel him step up with the new inside hind and skip into the new lead.

Verdict? We're going to keep the Transform as Penn's weymouth. He's pissed about it yes, but we'll keep working on strength and it should get easier.

A side note, in my trial of the Thoroughbred vs Transform, I realized in the TOH right (and left), I need to really sit on my inside seatbone... like, a counter intuitive amount. When I do that and keep my inside leg timed with the inside hind, he steps wonderfully in the TOH.

The setup! Now to buy a new double bridle because Mikey's is way too big for Penn's face!

I'll be traveling to GP Trainer's barn this weekend coming up, I'm just trying to decide if I have the guts to bring the double to lesson! It's just we've never talked about when to switch to a double bridle, and I don't know her "rules" for switching to one. It seems all of her own horses go in a double at 3rd, but I noticed not all of her students go in doubles at 3rd/4th. I'm sure she won't be mad, as she's said, this isn't a dictatorship!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Double Bridle!!

Penn started working in a double bridle!!

Big boy bridle!

Horses can use double bridles at third and above. So far, I've kept Penn in his snaffle because I felt like he would never ever be able to go in a double. There's a lot of metal in a double bridle, and I figured it would back him off the bridle and he'd be afraid of it. I didn't think he had enough push from behind to work well in the double.

It's always been in the back of my mind to try it- I tried it once over the '16-'17 winter with Mikey's bits and Penn was like "Holy hell, I can't do this" and couldn't even canter. I put the double away (plus GP Trainer finally had me understanding he wasn't ready for Third) and was content to work in his snaffle all year long. We did get to Third by July 2017, but thoughts of the double weren't in my head at all.

A spontaneous visit to Austen's house in December sent me home with Guinness' weymouth bit, a 5.25", 5" shank, NS Thoroughbred. When the time came to try the double again, I knew I wanted to try her weymouth because it is so much thinner than Mikey's was (12mm vs 18mm), so she sent me home with it!

First up was recovering Mikey's double bridle.
It had been living in the school horse tack room with the pelham.

First Ride


I meant to write this post a long time ago, so I can't remember the exact details of our first spin in the double (it was about a month ago, Dec 17-19). But I do know both Penn and myself were excessively polite to each other. He wasn't afraid of the bit and would meet it. I was afraid of the bit so my hands became very very quiet and I paid so much more attention to how I used them and where they were. I was afraid of over facing Penn!

No matter, I had a set of eyes on the ground to make sure I didn't creep up on my curb rein (a favorite pastime that I did to Mikey... my goodness that horse was a SAINT), and off we went. My set of eyes reported politeness, not too much curb contact, but Penn was a bit fussy in the mouth. I think that's to be expected, it's a lot of metal. I also gave Penn a mint while he had both bits in and he couldn't work out how to chew it... so I know he was sucking on it instead. We kept the ride short, sweet, and positive. Overall, I got a very good feeling from working in the double. The double requires a big motor behind, and I finally felt like I could say, "Let's roll!" and really push him up to the bridle without his first reaction being, "Let's dig a hole to China with our face!"

He foamed in his first ride in the double!

Second Ride
I had a vacation day to burn at the end of the year, so I took a half day on one of the last beautiful December days (12/21/2017) and went to the barn to ride in the double outside, which let me use my new SoloShot3 to get video! More on the camera later, but in short, I will not be hurting for media come summer!

For the entirety of the ride, see the below video (just under 20 min long, and there's an excellent spook at 8:20):

My goal was to just ride basic figures- circles, figure 8s and serpentines, and hit all the gaits. He was great! We did a lot of walk to get used to the two bits, and then he was very enthusiastic about the trot work (no dragging toes!) at first. As we worked through the serpentines, he started to want to lean, but I think that's because he was simply tired from putting so much effort into his work. He's not usually that up with suspension.

I remember thinking as I was riding the walk and canter, "Move your elbows! Follow! Even if it feels like you're moving way too much! Don't make him feel trapped! YOU are in charge of making this a good experience!" It felt like I was wagging my arms around like airport control. Watching the video... man, if I hadn't been moving my elbows as much as I thought I was, I'd be restricting him!

Halt needs to be prompter, but it was square and polite.

The last thing we did was a medium canter, collect, half pass to centerline. I was so pleased with him! The medium canter felt so much bigger than it actually was- it had jump and the start of suspension. The half pass felt better than it looked, maybe because of the camera angle, but he didn't stall out in it or get too straight on the diagonal line. He did fall on his forehand at the end, but that's ok. He held it together for longer than he usually does.

It wasn't our best work, but it was a positive experience. I wanted a positive ride for Penn's confidence in the double, and being a sympathetic rider was more important to me than getting steller work.

Lesson 12/23/17 (Third Ride)
By this point, I wanted a lesson to double check what was going on and to make sure I wasn't entirely off base. The local Dressage Trainer was coming out to our barn to teach and she's fairly conservative about things (erring on the side of caution I think), so I took a half hour lesson. I told her it was his third ride in the double, it seems to be going OK, but I wanted someone to double check the fit of the double and my use of it. I don't think my first education in it was all that great. She thought the fit was good, and off we went.

She praised his trot- it was very good. She put us through our lateral paces: shoulder in, haunches in, shoulder in to renvers back to shoulder in. It was a new level of lateral work for him. I could really push him forward to the bridle in the lateral work to keep big steps coming, but he wasn't falling on the forehand out of balance.

She also nitpicked our right bend, which had become a struggle in December (and into January). She had me put him on a 10m circle in the middle of the ring, then do haunches in, and bring his shoulders around. She encouraged me to bring my right leg way forward, almost in front of the girth, to give him solid pokes to remind him of inside bend. He'd get the bend, step, and either straighten or his hind end would lead. We did the same to the left, but that was much easier for him.

This would have been OK except the stuck foot!

The right bend struggle shows up in half pass too. She had me go across the diagonal, and then haunches in, but not in a half pass way, just simply haunches in. He really really struggled with haunches in (which is probably why the half pass is broken!).

The last thing we did was check out the canter. She does not approve of the 4 beat canter that GP Trainer allows (until he's strong enough to not 4 beat), so on a 20m circle: she had me pick up canter, if it shifted to 4 beat, kick him forward. Big forward. Hand gallop. Then once forward was reestablished, sit on my tail bone (no hand), bring him back to collected canter (that imagery worked REALLY well for me!). As soon as he 4 beats, kick on. She reminded me to keep the jump coming in the big canter, but I think Penn was getting tired and he started to get low in the poll and curl a bit. She told me when he does that, make sure I don't have too much contact on my curb rein- as we got cantering I started creeping on that rein - and that it could be because of the double. I told her he was actually a lot better about it in the double than the snaffle in regard to curling, haha.

Overall, she approved of it, but I didn't really like her reasoning: he's competing third level and doubles are introduced at that time, so it's appropriate for his level of training. I'm like... yes, but is he ready for it? Sure, it's appropriate because of the level he's at, but I guess in my mind that doesn't mean he's actually ready for it. She did say not to work in it more than once a week, which I think is totally fair and aligns with my plans anyway. I do not want the double to become a band aid over bigger problems.

There isn't a band aid big enough for "suddenly horses in turnout"
Despite going around that end of the ring many times, he just saw the horses in turnout.

Saddle Fitter
By the time I had my lesson with DT, I had researched additional weymouth options. I found a website that described fleshy vs normal, small vs normal, and low palate vs normal mouths. The various bit descriptions are like, "good for horses with small mouths" or "good for horses that need tongue clearance" or "good for horses with low palates." Great, how do I know he has one of those? This website was helpful in how things look and feel when certain conditions are present. I basically determined that Penn has a small short mouth with a fleshy tongue and probably low palate.

DT thought the NS Thoroughbred weymouth fit him well, but I wanted to look at other options while various bits were available to me. The Saddle Fitter that came out at the beginning of January is a dealer for Neue Schule bits, and I had narrowed down the bit choices to the NS Thoroughbred or the NS Transform. I had her bring a Transform with her, and we popped Austen's Thoroughbred and the Transform in Penn's mouth and compared.

"Short smile" and fleshy tongue.

SF thought he would be more comfortable with the Transform, but thought both fit him well enough. Oddly, she wanted a narrower bradoon because the space in his mouth is so small. The official rules for double bridle bits are: 10mm for the bradoon, 12mm for the curb. I found several 12mm bradoons: NS makes one, the Team Up. The only two 10mm bradoons I could find (in an exceptionally brief search) are made by Coronet and Bomber Bits. But no matter, because I'm happy with the bradoon he has, a HS Aurigan Dynamic RS Ultra (14mm). I don't think thinner is the answer for him, even if it saves space in his mouth. He is enjoying a very generic Korsteel Copper Loose Ring on his snaffle bridle right now, and I measured that bit at a whopping 20mm.

SF had the best price on NS bits that I could find (in the USA), allowed trials, and specifically allowed a trial of the Transform bit (Dressage Extensions has the bit, but not for trials). I rode in it after she adjusted Penn's saddle, and I thought I would know an answer right away... but of course I didn't. I needed the full 2 week trial to make a decision...

I watch this, and all I can think is "prance prance prance"

This post is getting too long... so tomorrow, Thoroughbred vs Transform!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Weekend Inspiration

I saw this on Facebook and it spoke to me:

Not sure where it came from, so I'm unsure of photo credit.

Go forth and conquer, blogosphere. Just remember to bring the tartar sauce! 🐳

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Saddle Fitting!

Two of the ladies at the barn recently had a saddle fitter out- one bought a new saddle, and the other had her County completely reflocked. They both gave glowing reviews, especially the one who had the saddle reflocked. I called the company up, gave them some details, and scheduled the fitter for 1/6/18. This fitter is not associated with any brand in particular, just British made saddles in general. She is a fan of brands that have scientific testing behind their product (like Fairfax and Prolite), and so it was super neat talking to her.

All of the pictures in this post are from days AFTER the fitting.
I was a bad blogger and didn't take any pics that day!

I had been putting off looking too closely at Penn's saddle. I knew it wasn't fitting him like it used to... and it shouldn't. I got it for him in late summer 2016 when he was a solid First Level horse. It's been a year and a half and he's a somewhat competent Third Level horse. I didn't want to get him a new saddle- I think he has more growing to do (muscularly, I don't think he'll grow in height anymore). He's been especially grouchy- he bites at the cross ties when I put his half pad on, then again with the regular pad, and even more with the saddle. Obviously that continues as I get the saddle and pads in place and put on the girth. I've evaluated him for ulcers, body pain, everything. The only thing I had left was saddle fit. It didn't appear his saddle fit him too badly.

Still growing muscularly was a key thought in picking a saddle fitter. I didn't want someone to write off my saddle and sell me a new saddle (of their brand). I wanted someone to fix my existing saddle to the best of their ability (within reason of course- if there's no fixing it, let's shop!). I was super pumped when I realized my saddle (18" 31cm Stubben 1894) could be reflocked. I don't think I've ever had a saddle that could be, and I've gone back and forth on the flocking vs air vs foam vs adjustable tree etc. I was just happy this time around we could see about reflocking!

Of course the day the fitter came out, we were in the middle of a "cold snap" and the high that day was a balmy 9F. We were worried she would cancel (there were 4 of us on the list to see her), but luckily she didn't, and luckily we have a heated barn so it was a wonderful 45 degrees inside. #spoiled #nevergivinguptheheatedbarn

High reaching front panels.

The first thing the saddle fitter (we'll call her SF) did was groan when she saw I had a Stubben. I forget exactly how she phrased it, but apparently she doesn't see many horses that fit Stubbens well. She's not the first person I've met that doesn't like them- Event Trainer hated the old Stubbens because their panels usually didn't sit properly, but was happy with how the more modern ones are being designed. SF was pleasantly surprised that the fit wasn't horrible, but it wasn't ideal either.

She didn't like how the front panels came so far up Penn's whithers (it's basically a full shoulder squeeze I guess?) She also didn't like the clearance over the whithers and spine. She asked if I used a half pad with it, I said yes, every ride. She liked the fit much more with the half pad, but thought we could do better. She thought all of the panels looked very flat and probably needed reflocked about a year ago. The balance on the saddle was ok, albeit the pommel was a bit low. The flat front panels were allowing the saddle to sit too low up front and the back panels weren't meeting Penn's back anymore.

The fuzzed hair of a saddle that isn't sitting on the horse's back.
(this pic is from a few days before Christmas)

She took tracings of Penn's back and then evaluated his R-L shape. He's very evenly muscled from right to left. His right hip is a hair lower, there's slightly more hollow behind his right scapula, and his left scapula is a bit bigger than the right (but there's nothing to be done about that, it's bone shape). She said it's been a long time since she's seen a horse as even R-L as Penn. The last one was a meticulously kept 3* eventer, and his shape didn't last more than 6 months. I'm hoping Penn's will last!

We chatted about the two possible solutions:
  1. Reflock my current saddle. No promises on making it a perfect fit, and it may not make enough difference that Penn would be happy. She thought since at one point he was comfortable in this saddle, and the fit wasn't terrible, we could make him comfortable again. She warned me I might pay the reflocking fee and then have to buy a new saddle.
  2. Fit a new saddle. This would solve all the fit problems for sure. She had some ideas about brands based on the science behind the brand (Ideal, Fairfax, etc).
I picked option 1 with the understanding it might be a waste of money. A better fit is out there, but she agreed that he hasn't settled in his "final shape" yet, and understood that I wasn't ready to commit to a new saddle. We did agree he would need a new saddle eventually, but maybe just not yet. Before he does PSG he'll get a new saddle for sure. I'm thinking sometime next year- Penn will be 10 in March 2019 and hopefully we'll be schooling PSG. I think he'll be physically mature enough for me to dump a bunch more money into a saddle that he should have for longer than a year or two!

Not my saddle, but it is Penn's first saddle.
Its panels are flat like Penn's current saddle used to be.
It's a 29cm, and looks drastically narrower than Penn's 31!

SF had to cut a second hole in the underside of my saddle to reflock it. It had just the one hole towards the back of the panels, which wouldn't give SF the right access to the front panels that needed the most restuffing. She wished the front panels were gusseted- I guess there's more she could have done with them if they were? There was a lot of information going around and I missed some of it, I'm sorry to say.

Watching the saddle get reflocked was so interesting, and I wish I had thought to get pictures because you could really see how flat and deflated the panels were. When she scolded me that it should have been reflocked a year ago, I just nodded and thought, "I'm pretty sure it's never been that puffed, but I'm just going to play along that I'm just bad about having it flocked."

Penn's saddle with newly stuffed panels.

She put the saddle back on Penn and was like, "This turned out better than I expected!" We popped the half pad on under it and she was happy with the end result. She said I shouldn't ride in it without the half pad because of how far the front panels come up the whithers, but overall, everyone was happy with the final fit. She said to keep an eye on it because the new flocking will squish and he might need additional flocking in 3-6 months.

But was Penn happy with the fit?

Better balance.

Yes! I think he's more comfortable in it than he's ever been (even new). I rode him directly after (with the NS Transform weymouth she brought, more on that in another post- SF also did a double bridle consultation with me), and he was wonderfully through his back. He had some other issues, but the energy stop I've been feeling under the saddle was gone.

I rode more thoroughly the next day with the snaffle bridle to eliminate any double bridle issues and it was wonderful. Penn was up, through, connected, light, and HAPPY. I'd ask him to sit in all 3 gaits, and he sat right away without pinning his ears or tail swishing too much. I could push the canter between working canter and pirouette canter, and he happily sat and then moved out and sat again. I was able to sit him down in the canter for a proper canter-walk transition. He lifted his shoulder much more in the walk-canter transitions too, but without getting stuck in the transition.

I decided to end the ride with an attempt at a flying change. I haven't done them in a long time because it was so difficult for Penn, and the last one I did he almost bucked me off (true story- I was on his neck in an ass over teacups mess and if he was a dirty horse, he could have ducked out from under me). I approached it the way Jenj told me Charlotte Dujardin does (she audited the clinic Charlotte did near her): 10m circles that make a figure 8, with the change of direction happening towards a solid wall (so the horse can't run off).

I picked up the left canter, sat him down, put him on the 10m circle (and he was like, do you want more sit?), asked for the change and had to do a double check that he actually changed. He never got out of his sitting position, but magically ended up on the other lead, smooth as can be. I have no clue if it was clean or not, but I really don't care. He sat and was exceedingly polite through it.

Post-pulse treatment of Penn's neck Wednesday night. Green bars means resistance was within tolerance, yellow bars that it was elevated beyond tolerance. Red bars mean there's a significant problem.
Penn's initial spinal test showed the tension in his back was almost completely resolved before pulse treatment, but he had neck and hindquarter tension. After those were worked out, his entire spine had very equal relaxation (all the bars were the same height), and then the same for his neck (shown above). The yellow lines are the pre-treatment evaluation.
Long story short: I have scientific evidence of the saddle fitting making Penn feel better.

Other pluses: Penn stopped being crabby when I take his saddle off. He used to pin his ears and bite the cross ties when I pulled the girth to fully unbuckle it and when I took the saddle off. He basically ignores me now when I pull his tack off. He's much less touchy about getting tacked up too- he still pins his ears when I put the saddle on and girth it up, but he doesn't pin his ears at the pads and has toned down the angry bitey face tenfold at the saddle and girth.

Penn is happy, so I am happy! And I would have this fitter back out, no question. She was easy to talk to and work with, and she's not pushing a particular brand. Her company is very flexible- they'll help you find the right saddle so you can used saddle shop for your final saddle (ie, pay for a fitting to find the right saddle, then you don't actually buy it from them). They'll evaluate saddles that aren't from their stock, and work on non-British saddles. A++!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Perks of Outside Forces

The past few weeks with Penn have been a bit of a struggle. We've hit a bit of a plateau and we're just fighting each other in my effort to get to the other side. I'm all, "Can you just sit down please" and he's all, "OMG NO! I'm going to (insert an activity that is not sitting) instead" and then I'm all, "Oh FFS, if you'd listen this would be over already."

This felt quite festive and fun!

Penn went on a little vacation from Christmas until what will probably be this Sunday. It's been between -2 and 23 degrees from 12/24 until what looks like 1/6. I really don't like doing much when it's like that, but he's worked a few times since the Northeast decided to relocate to the Arctic for various reasons (I was stir crazy, we had a "heat wave" where it got to 20+, and snow riding!).

I purposely don't give Penn these long vacations. He becomes obnoxious and spooky. Sigh. Anyway, we had a few experiences in the last week that seemed to give Penn one hell of a reality check... yay!

Saturday 12/30/2017
We got a bunch of snow, and I had to go to the barn and work anyway, so I decided we were going to go for a snowy trail ride, temperature and wind be damned.


Ok, it was really cold and I wore two pairs of pants and two coats in addition to my two layers of shirts, and I rode in my Noble Outfitter muck boots (which I NEVER do) so that my toes would stay warm. Still so worth it! Penn got out and got to go for a walk, and he had a great experience going down the slightly steep gas well road back to the barn.

I told him to slow down, get lined up straight, and sit down. He decided I was full of shit and leaned on me and his own shoulder... and promptly slipped out from under himself because of the frozen ground under slippery snow. We didn't fall down, which was good (I thought we were going down). He got himself sorted and I kicked him on down the hill and told him "Sit down!" Don't you know it, he got very light in my hand and sat. A nice dressage sit that I would have liked to have in the ring! He kept it the length of the gas well road (which is a long time- it takes 5 min or so to get down the hill in good weather), and I gave him a ton of pats at the bottom. My thighs were hurting from telling him to sit, I bet his hind end was sore too!

Sunday 12/31/2017
I worked at the barn this day too, and I was planning on riding Penn after. It took a long time to get the barn work done- it was 1 degree at 8:45 when we started, so we fed, hayed, watered, and starting cleaning stalls while the horses were still in them. This takes FOREVER. Especially when I leave Penn in his stall to clean it.

Stall snuggles <3

And Penn wasn't the only one who wanted cuddles, Syndrome came down from the stall walls for hugs and snuggles and we had one big cuddle-fest in Penn's stall. Penn even got in on it! He put his nose on the cat and flapped his upper lip around in an almost petting motion.

Cat for breakfast?

By the time we got stalls done and horses out around lunchtime, I had had enough. Penn still needed to be worked, he had far too many opinions about working when I rode him the day before our trail ride. He felt good that night, but wanted no parts of speed regulation or right bend and was spooky and tense.

I opted to set out cavalettis and break out the long lines. I haven't long lined him in ages, and he could really use a good work over cavalettis. I set the poles out on a curve (so I could stay on my circle), and raised the inside of each. My theory was I could force him to take smaller steps, but also force him to take loftier steps at the same time by having that end of the pole higher than the outside. I didn't want to be completely sadistic, so I kept the wide end of the curve on the ground.

Penn handled the work to the left well- he adjusted his stride after bouncing the poles (jumping the first two then panicking and jumping the last two), and trotted nicely through the poles. He understood he needed smaller steps on the inside, and added a small amount of lift to his trot step. Nothing spectacular, and he was content to clip the poles with his toes when he passed through.

Oh tracking right. The hamsters that control Penn's brain went crazy on their wheels and ran amok. You would have thought I asked him for something crazy. Nope, he wanted to trot around at mach-12 with his head in the air, looking to the outside at the other end of the ring, spooking, all while leaning in at a dangerous level. To be honest, it was how he had felt under saddle tracking right when I rode him two days before, except I could force him to look in and stand up straight.

He lost his ever loving mind. I tried rather forcefully on the lines to break his staring to the outside, almost forcefully putting him "in frame" by pulling each line to flex his nose out and in and work it down, and then holding the outside and then pulling the inside rein in bursts to bring his head down. It didn't work all that well and he did his own mini-bolts on the lines, complete with twisting bucks (aimed at me) and then more running and spooking. I got dragged around my circle quite a bit. I was trying a bunch of things to try and keep him on his feet- letting go of pressure, bending his nose in with the inside rein, pulling the outside in an attempt to stand him up.

He basically cantered and galloped amok until his bucking and kicking knocked himself off balance and he got his hind legs tangled together and lost his hind end. Then he got a bit smarter and started listening. Of course by this point, he was a bit tired and wanted to walk.

NOPE. Trot through the poles dammit. Not my fault you wanted to be spooky and run instead of working! He had a huge medium trot going on though when he realized I wasn't letting him walk. He took the poles two at a time on the outside edges. Wonderful shoulder freedom.

He wasn't very respectful of the poles, continuing to tap them with his toes, but he did better to the right than he did to the left. When I brought him all the way in so he was stepping over the highest part of the poles, it finally clicked in his brain to take loftier steps- he did two rounds through where he self adjusted his stride and really bounced up as he stepped over the poles. He had real hang time in the air- like a fancy GP prospect's half steps! I was very pleased and let him stop with that because he put a TON of effort into those steps and I wanted to recognize it.

So foamy these days though!

Monday 1/1/2018
I hemmed and hawed about going out on New Years Day, but in the end I realized I didn't want to sit at home and went to the barn to long line Penn through the poles again.

He started off MUCH better. I made him walk through the high side of the poles in our warm up. They were close enough to take a single walk step in between, but he really struggled to articulate his shoulders, hips, and joints to flex his body to take that single step with the poles that high. He got it right several times and I'd praise him loudy. I'd praise him even if he snuck in an extra step because he was still trying very hard. I'll have to do that more often- it's good for him to learn how to flex all those joints and move his body around.

We tracked left first again, and he put much more effort into finding suspension over the poles, except he was still happy to clip his toes on each rail. That was annoying, but he was being quite reasonable about everything else. I was able to spiral him in and out so he took bigger but still lofty steps on the outside, and then short, bouncy and very lofty steps on the inside.

I swapped him over to the right, repeated the walk work over the inside of the rails, and had him trot through the poles. He kept his hamsters running properly in their wheels this time, even if he still wanted to look to the outside and be off the bit. We cantered a little when he got a bit worried about the spooky end of the ring, and it wasn't too bad! No bolty bucks either.

He put a good bit of effort into the work to the right, nothing spectacular, but definitely an overall better effort than the day before. However, he was starting to get tired, and was fighting me a bit... trying to lean on the lines and talk me into holding him up... and then the best thing happened.

He completely bungled one of his final passthroughs of the cavalettis. He was so distracted by trying to lean that he was on the forehand taking too big of steps... he tripped over the first pole, managed to kick the second pole up above his knees and almost fell down as he tried to keep stepping. He'd catch himself then trip over the second pole on his chest or the next pole on the ground. The second pole ended up getting thrown out of the circle and the rest of the poles were demolished. Thank goodness for PVC poles (which is also why the one bounced with him I'm sure).

The only booboo from his incident with the poles.
From now on we need to use polos and bandage pads for cavaletti work!

He was rightfully shaken after getting away from the poles and it took me a few circles to get him back to walk. I gave him a pat and scratch and told him he was a good boy, then took him with me to reset all of the poles, then walked through them in hand with him to give him confidence in the poles again.

I sent him back through the poles in trot, and don't you know it, I had his complete and full attention. He was light in the lines and focusing on the poles. If I asked him to collect, he shortened immediately and then finished adjusting his stride for the poles himself. He showed the poles incredible respect after that- only clipping them every now and then as he misjudged his feet, and he would get a little worried when that happened.

I only made him go through them 3-4 more times to make sure he was still confident, and he was wonderful each time. A lot of lift and bounce through the middle of the poles (not even at the inside edge!).

Looking a little model-esq!

Wednesday 1/3/2018
So what do all of these experiences have in common? Penn trying to avoid doing what I want, and then an outside source exerting some kind of consequence for avoiding. I would ask again, and he'd listen.

I rode Penn for about 20 min last night, and he was simply wonderful. I had to barely ask for sit and he was "leaping" to comply. He gave me zero fight when I'd sit into him in walk, trot, and canter. I trotted him through the poles and he didn't touch them once. He paid attention, took big steps, and kept his own balance. The canter had far more bounce to it while still being light. I had far more control over his stride length and engagement in all gaits than I ever had before. It was great. Good work = short rides!

I think we'll continue messing with those poles on the long lines, and snowy trail rides when I can do them. I'll have to come up with some other cavaletti patterns for the lines so he doesn't get bored, and I have to get to them in the canter too. I want to keep the high walk poles though- that is an excellent exercise in pushing his flexibility. As much as I'd like to ride him through it all, I think he'll take more articulation chances without me on him.

Some exciting things are going on!