Monday, November 23, 2009

Nate Chambers and Rolling Stone II

I have been huge fans of these guys ever since the AECs. I watched the upper level dressage tests, and so many of those horses were significantly behind the vertical for large portions of the test... but not this pair!

They are a stunning team, and I will always be a fan in the future :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Back on Track... again!

Sorry I haven't updated lately; there hasn't been too much exciting going on. For the past few weeks, Val and I have continued to work on our stretchy, and we have that pretty well now, although I was beginning to feel like I'd lost my finesse for everything else. This Friday, I had a really terrible ride where I felt like I was asking for everything wrong and, deservedly, receiving nothing in return. After that atrocity, I expected my lesson to be terrible today. It was actually very good, and I ended feeling like I remembered how to ride again!

I watched my cousin's lesson while on Val, which went very well for her, and then we moved from the outdoor to the indoor and I started our real warm-up. It started with the rather interesting mission of cantering Val basically no-reined around the arena while attempting to relax and sit the canter. There was no one else in the arena; although I kept having this feeling that I was going to run into the wall, which concerned me a bit. We finished with that pretty quick, though, and returned to the trot, working on achieving a steady, reaching connection over the topline while staying forward. Val has got that down really well!

We started by using a 3 loop serpentine the length of the arena and switching bend in the center while leg-yielding out a bit to the new bend. We focused on staying soft, forward, and connected, especially through the change of bend. We then moved to a circle, where I would get him round on the long reins, then let him stretch forward without throwing my hands at him. I could really feel him ask for a stretch and I think I was finally able to respond appropriately without just tossing the reins at him, which I am wont to do.

We switched direction a couple times, still working on the same thing, while throwing in a diagonal here and there. I don't remember where I read this, but for the last 3 or 4 months I've been following advice I read somewhere that has really helped. The idea is, when you plan to lengthen or go more forward across the diagonal, let go. Instead of pushing as soon as you get there, build up the round and collected on your way, then stop using the amount of hand you were using and let the horse go forward, with a few light taps of the heel if needed. More often then not, Val just surges forward as soon as I stop asking him for his more "working" trot. (It's definitely not a "collected" trot.) You still have to keep some connection, or else they get flat across the diagonal, but softening really lets Val move forward.

Then I shortened my reins gradually, with the instructions to make sure I didn't loose my outside connection. I have a habit of not following through with my outside and making the connection uneven, and I really felt like that was better today. My leg also seemed better-behaved than it has been in a while, and so I was given some small spurs to help with Val's lack of forward.

We did some trot-canter-trot transitions, keeping the amount of canter about 1/2-3/4 of a circle and focusing on the transitions; Val not "dying" in the canter-trot transition, and me not gripping (yet another bad habit!) in the trot-canter. The downs were very good, but I still tend to grip too much on the ups. There's always something more to fix!

After a very good canter-trot-stretchdown trot transition, we ended happily. It was the best ride I'd had in some time, barring a jumping lesson I had about a week and a half ago.

To briefly summarize that lesson, which was also very, very good, we focused on being forward over fences. Val's at the point where he needs to keep the same forward pace on the approach and he needs to go forward instead of dwelling after the landings. When he doesn't, my trainer says, "He's landing like a ton of bricks!" which isn't too far off from the truth. She had me ride several fences with the reins in one hand, with me really focusing on not checking him back on the way to the jump, then giving him a healthy smack on the landing if he dwelled. We're both secure enough that we don't need to go like snails anymore, and that's another of the goals for this winter- upping our jump speed. Anyhow, jumping one-handed is surprisingly secure-feeling, and the pace made jumping twice as fun as it's been in the past. Plus, he was really rounding up, and towards the end of that lesson he gave me one jump where I could just feel his knees tuck up! I don't think he's ever jumped that well and that round before.

So, that's a brief summary of the last two weeks. I am eagerly awaiting Thanksgiving break- we're out starting Wednesday! And Christmas isn't even that far away... I think we only have 2 1/2 weeks when we get back, then I loose one class after semester and gain a study hall, which should mean that I'm able to ride Val more. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Back on Track

We're finally getting everything back together. I had a pretty great 4-day weekend, where I managed to ride 3 times in 4 days. We had a lesson Thursday, I practiced on Saturday, and we had another, 10x better lesson today!

Val had been feeling odd recently. His transitions were getting lazy; he was moving sluggishly in all gates. In our lesson, our trainer was able to pinpoint the problem. I was doing too much collection and not allowing him to stretch; I was basically asking him to move forward, but then never letting him. So we spent the first lesson establishing a contact in a "stretch-down" frame and got him moving forward to the bit, then Saturday, I spent the day keeping the stretch connection through transitions and changes of bend, and I even played with shortening the reins back up and getting him to reach forward to the bit in his dressage-length reins.

Today, we put the finesse on the stretchy frame and went over some trot poles. The exercise was a square made up of 4 trot rails so that you could approach it from any direction. The idea was to get straight to it, not mess with him over the poles, then re-establish the stretchy connection before turning after going over the poles.

In the past, I've had difficulties getting him over poles without him tripping over them, but today he was right on and he hardly even nicked a pole once. That went very well, and we also got Val moving off my outside leg and softening on the left rein, which he sometimes gets stiff on.

We're supposed to start cantering over some poles to get a little more lift in his canter; my trainer says he is getting a bit flat.

Val has also, finally, been getting pieces of a bath. On Saturday, I did his legs and tail, and today, he got his mane and neck done. Eventually he'll have his face cleaned, and I'll have a 100% white horse! Of course, his main body is still fairly clean; he always has his blanket on when he rolls.

And that was my fantastic four-day weekend. I'm going to do my best to ride tomorrow; we'll see how that goes!