Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Now we are getting somewhere

As you may know, gentle reader, Armani is a "hot or cold" kind of guy. Right now we are going through a challenging patch.

He was combative again during our lesson last night. After some remedial work, he finally settled out a bit. At that point, our instructor had us start going through some movements.

"Ah ha! This is First Level Test 1." I thought. Should I mention that? Well no one likes the "know it all" pupil. I'd been memorizing tests in my spare time, you know, in case I actually want to ride them some day.

We went through most of the test. "I tap dance with an angry rhinoceros." I thought.

"That was most of First Level Test 1. There is no reason why he can't do this." our instructor said after we finished. "These little battles mean you are getting somewhere."


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Training: Using bend to reduce a spook

Armani isn't a "spooky" horse precisely. He's more of a challenging and clever horse. He'll go from one act of defiance to another: too slow, too fast, too lazy, too hot. When he feels "hot" he'll "spook" with a big leap and bolt - or maybe a rear and back-up. I can usually feel something coming about a half second early.

My instructor gave us this technique. Like a lot of our tricks, this one employs lateral work and bend. If I can pull this off early, I can eliminate or reduce the severity. If I miss the subtle signs, and he goes off like a cannon, I can use this technique to "bring him back".

Exercise: Bending through a spook (or shy, or bolt, or what-have-you)

1) Bring the horse's head and neck to the inside. Assume we are are traveling counter-clockwise and spooking at something on our right (outside). Bring your left (inside) hand back by bending your elbow. Keep both hands low by the horse's neck. Resist lifting them up towards your chest. Use a stronger aid than "normal". Bring the horse's head toward the inside more than is "normal". 

2) At the same time: activate the inside hind-leg. Apply your left (inside) seat-bone (or upper-leg or calf if you don't have a strong seat aid yet.) Push the left (inside) hind-leg so that it steps underneath the horse. This inside driving aid is very important. It keeps the horse moving toward the "scary" object. Apply more aid than is normal. Your leg aid should match the degree of rein aid: more rein = more leg.

3) When you feel your horse relax, immediately relax your aids. This rewards your horse for listening to you, rather than acting on impulse.

4) Repeat as necessary. You can repeat these aids again, even a few strides later, when necessary. Just remember to relax and reward when your horse is good.

The key here is that your aids are stronger than usual. I only employ the strong aids for enough time to get him obedient and then I relax and reward.

You might also want to check out Jane Savoie's write-up that sounds like the same idea.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Training: Backwards square exercise

Backwards Square

This new exercise is for strengthening the hind quarters and back.

Begin in a trot (or walk).
Walk then halt and do a quarter turn on the forhand.
Back up 5 steps.
Do another quarter turn on the forhand.
Back up 5 steps.
Continue until you are back on the rail.

There are no rules. You can mix up the directions of the turns and make other shapes besides squares, changes of rein, whatever you like.

My instructor suggested we'd get more benefit if we back uphill. This can also be done as a ground work exercise.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My anonymous benefactor

Perhaps you've dreamed of a lost Uncle Louie. He was last heard from via a package from a deserted Pacific Island. The box reads "Dear Niece, Weather is lovely. Shame about the crocodiles. Please take care of Phil for me. Arrrgg...." You open the package. Out leaps Phil the Monkey, banana in one hand and a sack in the other. "Aww, Hi Phil!" you say. With a giggle of glee, Phil leaps over your head and straight to the top of the china cabinet. You stretch your arms toward him. Phil laughs and jumps onto your head. He drops the banana peel. In your rush you accidentally slide on it. You topple over - into the china! You close your eyes and brace for impact. You, Phil, the banana, the china, and the sack explode in all directions. After a huge crash, you feel safe enough to open them. Phil is smiling and checking your hair for lice. You look around. All about you is the wreckage of Great Grandma Grace's wedding china and stars in your eyes. Those aren't stars. Phil's sack was full of golden pirate doubloons!

"Thanks, Uncle Louie!"

I don't have an Uncle Louie. But I did have an anonymous benefactor. I grew up in a wealthy area of Connecticut. As a child, it felt like every one had horses except me. Or so I told my parents daily. My father was a local pastor and my mother a homemaker. As such, they didn't have the income to support a daughter's horse habit. My horse adventures were limited to voracious reading and occasional pony rides.

I recall suffered in sullen indignity through one friend's birthday party. After opening a plethora of colorful boxes, and stuffing in cupcakes, her parents invited us into the backyard for "One more little gift." A pony stood by the swing set with a bow on his head.
"Oh, another pony?" the birthday girl yawned. Grr! At the tender age of 5 or so, I found my self contemplating becoming a felon.

My best friend and next door neighbor shared my longing for all things equestrian. We gave our bicycles horsey names like "Lightening" and "Swift Wind" and collected Breyer horse models. Finally one summer, my best friend started taking riding lessons at a local hunter barn. I was indescribably jealous. We had shared everything as best friends. And now she was living our big horsey dreams alone.

Around the same time, I was also suffering from chronic ear infections. I went to the hospital for a short surgery. My parents bought me a pet gerbil for being a good girl. A gerbil was fun, but no horse. I also got lots of get well mail from the relatives. But one curious envelope appeared without a return address. My parents opened it first and I think had a long discussion about its contents before telling me. It contained a hand written "gift certificate" which entitled me to a few lessons at the hunter barn. My parents agreed I could go. Hurray! But I think they secretly hoped I would "get it out of my system" and decide horses weren't for me.

Well, so much for that idea.

My stubborn streak won out. I kept riding. And soon I was "helping out", as much as a kid can, in exchange for riding time. But best of all, I was sharing the dream with my best friend. We both still ride today.

Now as an adult, I suspect I know who my anonymous benefactor was. But since they never told me, I've never asked. But I'll always be grateful.

Funny horse stories

Grey Horse Matters posted a series of humorous horse stories. Yes, it is true, we all have those stories!

Being able to laugh when we fall is necessary. But also being a closet optimist (shh!), I tend to remember the good times, not the bad. In particular, the story of how I became an equestrian stands out. So I will share that next.