Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wait for the Sweet Spot

 Things have been a bit hectic lately, and Laura has been to several shows in the past month.  She has qualified for the California Dressage Regional/State Championships in Rancho Murrieta with BB Magee(one of her mules) for the freestyle event with a 76%  in one of the freestyles, which is phenomenal for a mule, and fantastic even for a horse!  This weekend they are at Starr Vaughn trying to qualify for the First Level event at the Championships.  It's really exciting that another of her mules, not just Dyna, is doing so well in dressage.  Mules rule!

  Anyways, in spite of not having ridden in a month, I had a lovely ride on Lucky.  I lunged her first to get her to become round, use her body, and respond to my aids.  Then I mounted, and began to do a similar thing in the dressage arena.  I asked her to come round in the walk, then began to the do they same in the trot.  Once I had her moving round and free in the walk and trot, responding to my aids, I began the exercises I would do that lesson.

 I worked on 10 meter circles for the first time, starting by going the to left at the walk on a 10 meter circle at B. To help me out, Laura marked where I should go with small cones.  At first, I had some difficulty with having enough bend in Lucky's body; she was too straight, particularly at the rail.  I also pulled too much on the inside rein without supporting with the outside rein.  The inside rein is only used for flexion, the inside leg is at the girth and pushes the horse to the outside rein, and the outside leg keeps the shoulders from popping out. Once I had Lucky moving roundly, I prepared to trot the circle.  Before the transition I squeezed Lucky with my calves to create energy, capturing it by squeezing the reins.  The goal here was to create upward energy, rather than forward energy, so it was important that I captured it and didn't let her trot off.  Only once I had Lucky round and moving with energy did I ask her to trot off.  I kept her round through the trot by squeezing the outside rein during the transition.  I continued on the 10 meter circle.

 After giving Lucky a break to let her stretch, I prepared for a new exercise that involved half 10 meter circles and tear drop shapes.  I started with a 10 meter circle to the left at B, as I had been doing.  Once my position was correct and I had Lucky round and flexed nicely, I went from X, the part of the circle that touched centerline, onto a diagonal to P.  I had to keep Lucky completely straight until just before P, where I changed the flexion(and my diagonal when I did the exercise at the trot).  I continued on until reaching E, where I made a 10 meter circle to the the right, and I made diagonal to the V when I was ready.  
A basic diagram of the exercise.  The parts along the rail are ridden both to the right and to the left, but the others only in the direction the arrow is pointing.

 I tried the exercise at the walk first, and then trotted it. At first, I had to circle several times before heading onto the diagonal so I could get Lucky round. Laura didn't want me to head onto the diagonal until both Lucky and I were ready.  There where a few times during the lesson when things fell apart(I leaned too much to the outside, and Lucky lost her roundness as a result, becoming rushed and on the forehand).  At these times, I returned to the walk to rebalance both myself and Lucky.  For the most part, however, I rode nicely.  I kept Lucky round through most of the walk-trot and the trot-walk transitions.

Next, I took a break from that exercise to canter.  Lately, I have been able to effectively keep Lucky round through transitions between the walk and the trot, which is a huge improvement from a few months ago.  In the canter, however, I toss myself forward and throw the contact all away, losing everything I had worked for in the few minutes before the transition.  During this lesson, I worked extra hard keeping the roundness.  The first few times went just as they always have.  For the rest of the times, I focused on having a beautiful, round transition.  I worked on getting Lucky to the "sweet spot" in the trot before asking for canter.  Put simply, the "sweet spot" is any moment when Lucky is balanced and round.  Once she was in this sweet spot, I asked for canter, squeezing the outside rein to keep her round.  Miraculously, I had a wonderful transition. Lucky stayed round through the transition, and for the next few strides after.  It felt amazing.  Once I got several nice transitions like that, I repeated the same exercise as earlier, except with the canter added.

The canter version.

 This time, I started on a 10 meter circle to the right at E since Lucky canters more easily to the left.  Once I found the sweet spot at the trot, which was pretty quickly, I head across the diagonal to V, staying in the sitting trot and preparing for canter.  Just before V, I changed the flexion and asked for canter.  Lucky bounded into canter, staying round.  It felt amazing.  I cantered to P, then returned to the trot.  Then I made a half 10 meter circle at B and prepared to canter at P.  Once more, Lucky bounded into the canter, making a lovely transition.  I made one more circle at E, cantered, then walked at P, paying special attention on keeping Lucky round.  It was a beautiful transition.  Of course, all these transitions didn't just happen–I had to ask carefully to keep Lucky there.

It was fabulous to have a step forward.  Previously, I have watched people ride in a balanced, rounded  canter and wished that I could ride like that. Having a taste of that was amazing.  I'm so happy to have progressed so much this past year.  In fact, a year ago, I could hardly get a horse.  I wonder where I will be a year from now.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I Drove Pistachio!

 I haven't been doing much horse related activities this past month, though I lunged Lucky several times and rode Pistachio once.  Lucky has done really well the last few times I lunged her.  She stretched her neck down and become round consistently,  and even circled to the right without leaning and letting her shoulder drop into the circle, which is great news.   Pistachio has also been doing well.     Under saddle, he has been more accepting of contact, and even reached for the bit.  He stayed round for more than just a split second, a huge improvement.

 Recently, I went driving with Pistachio and his owner, Gretchen, at the same ranch where the Halloween Haunt event was held last year, and where the Spring Fling was held earlier this year.  Before we drove, I lunged Pistachio, then harnessed him with Gretchen.

 First, Gretchen drove to one of the new driving hazards obstacle.  Hazards are made up of sturdy wooden poles that the driver must weave through, and consist of several elements, all of which must be performed in order.  This particular one had an A, B, C, D, and E element.   Each element consists of two poles: a red pole and a white.  Like in eventing and jumping, the red is always on the right.  The hazard was tricky at first, but after driving Pistachio at a walk through it a few times to see where every element, Gretchen was able to drive it at a trot.

 In the dressage ring, Gretchen drove Pistachio in a serpentine loop.  A serpentine loop, unlike the serpentines consisting of three 20 meter circles, are straight lines that snake across the arena, making a U-turn at each arena wall.  Gretchen did this to slow Pistachio, who often rushes when being driven.

 We also drove in the cones course.  The cones course consisted of 20 pairs of cones, each labeled from 1 to 20, the order they are meant to be driven in.  He rushed quite a bit during the cones course as well.

 Later on, Gretchen surprised me by allowing me to drive Pistachio.  I had only driven twice before that time, and had only driven a miniature horse.  However,  driving is not terribly difficult for someone who knows how to ride, although there is one major difference that was hard to get used to: I couldn't use inside leg to help Pistachio bend.  To help me, Gretchen touched Pistachio's barrel with her whip, encouraging him to bend.  He was bit fast a few times, but wasn't uncontrollable.  I drove him in the dressage arena for a few minutes, playing around with the serpentine exercise I did with Lucky(the one with a few walk strides in between each change of direction).  He did it pretty well, and even came round a few times.

 Next, I tried the cones course.  It was challenging, but fun.  I didn't go through a few of them completely straight and bumped a few cones though, accidentally knocking down the white number eleven.   Just before gate six,  I asked him to slow down slightly.  Just after six was a short(only about a stride), steep, hill leading into an indent that was several strides long.  I wanted to slow him, because I knew the downhill, and the following uphill, would cause him to speed up.

 I really enjoyed driving Pistachio!  It was great.