Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ruby Lesson + Laura at Championships

 I have some exciting news--Laura and BB place 4th and 3rd in Regional and State Championships, respectively, putting them first on the long list for the U.S. Dressage Finals.

 In other news, I'm going to be riding a mule named Ruby in the show next month instead if Moxie.  I've just been having too much difficulty slowing his jog, and he has had difficulty as well because he has been trained to take large strides for dressage.  Ruby is a nice, little, all-around mule who has been ridden by her owner in pole bending(and other classes).  Even her owner's young son has had success on Ruby in kid classes.

 Ruby is very maneuverable and sensitive.  I rode her in a western saddle and bridle, kept a very light contact on her most of the time, and used only one hand on the reins.  It was much easier to slow her jog and walk than it was to slow Moxie's, but she still got fast quit a few times, which was entirely my fault--I became tight and leaned forward several times.  I also had trouble getting her to love.  I often become floppy in my upper body when I ask for canter, becoming very disorganized.  Ruby is very sensitive and usual responds to a kissing sound; it was only my fault.  However, Laura handed me a whip.  I didn't use it but once I was holding it, Ruby looked off right when I asked.

I also tried a few trail obstacles: the serpentine cones and the box.  As I mentioned earlier, Ruby's owner had done pole bending on her at a gallop, so Ruby is pretty easy to steer.  I only needed to use leg.  The first time however, I oversteered by using the reins, making a large circle to turn around and missing the last come on the way back.  I tried it a few more times with much more success.  I started turning her with my legs as soon as her front end passed each cone, just barely going to the side of the cone.  At the end, I managed to make a tighter turn to head back through the cone serpentine.
Ruby and I in the box.

 Next, I had to jog around the arena, turning into the box and halting.  At first, I turned too soon and halted in the side of the box rather than the center.  I also asked Ruby to stop too early, and she walked over the pole instead.  I should have asked for the halt just a tad later, as she was over the pole. I continued with varying degrees of success, but finally managed to halt near the middle.

Next, I tried the exercise again, this time turning left after exiting the box(I had jogged to the right around the arena before).  My reins were also more slack, with the slightest amount of contact.  Like before, I cut in too early, so I wasn't heading toward the box head on.  I found myself in at the edge of the box instead. Again, I often asked for the halt a bit early, so Ruby walked over the pole rather than jogging over it.  At one point, I jogged over the pole and asked her to halt with my seat.  However, I didn't back it up with my hand when she didn't respond.  She went over the first pole, and out the other side.  Laura told me that it would be better to lose points on a trail course for using my hands than it is to have no points on the obstacle because I hadn't stopped in the box.

 Finally, though, I really set Ruby up well for the halt by keeping my inside leg on to prevent her from cutting in.  I headed straight toward the box, breathing out and blocking my seat to ask Ruby to halt.  She halted just in the center of the box.

I enjoyed riding Ruby and can't wait to ride her again.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bodywork on Lucky

  Last week, Loni did some bodywork on Lucky.  For those of you who do not know, bodywork is something that combines massage, acupressure, and other forms of touch to release tension in an animal of person's body.  This an benefit a horse in many, making their muscles more loose and free.

 Lucky, as Loni found, had huge amounts of tension in her poll, which could make flexing and coming round difficult.  The poll is detrimental when restricted because it can block the energy from flowing through the nuchal ligament, which runs all the way to the tail.  If the energy is blocked in the poll, in cannot flow all through the back, as it should when the horse becomes round.   Loni worked on releasing Lucky's poll by lightly applying and releasing pressure to that area to release the tension and get Lucky to lower her head.  Gently pulling Lucky's head each way one at a time was another way she used to help release the muscle.  While she wanted Lucky to do what she asked, Loni never forced it, because that does not help release the tension.  Instead, she used light amounts of pressure, causing Lucky to move her head just a teensy bit at a time.  Lucky is a very sensitive mare, so stronger motions are rarely necessary with her.

 Additionally, Loni worked on releasing Lucky's temporal mandibular joint, or TMJ.  The TMJ lies on both sides of the horse's head; it's the protrusion behind the eyes.  Releasing this joint, which is connected to the jaw, relaxes the jaw.  The tension in the TMJ is likely related to the poll tension, as I learned from the Masterson Method website.

“Issues in your horse’s body have a way of reflecting in his poll and atlas. Therefore, tension and pain he might have from a sore back or compensation for pain in other places - such as the feet - is generally going to collect in these two hot spots. And when the poll tightens up, pain radiates into the TMJ and jaw." ~ Jim Masterson.

Lucky also had restrictions in her pelvis and hip, other important areas.  Loni lifted Lucky's tail by a surprising amount to help release some of this tension.

 It was interest to watch Lucky's reaction to all this.  See, while she is a sensitive horse, and is often quite expressive, she likes to keep mull over her feelings, not sure whether she should reveal them or not.  This comes from being the alpha mare in her herd.  Showing emotions in a herd can that cause her to be taken advantage, such as tiredness, pain, etc, are weaknesses when shown by a herd leader.

 Often, when lunging her, I can see Lucky's teeth grit and lip quiver while she contemplates whether she should snort, stretch, and chew in relaxation.  She was the same way when Loni worked on her.  She took a long time to begin to react to the bodywork.  After a while, though, she began to chew and lick her lips.  Eventually, she even yawned.  The second day Loni worked on her, the yawning came much sooner, which meant that Lucky was relaxing much sooner.

 Loni showed me a few things I can do to benefit Lucky each time a ride(a few muscles and joints I can release).

 One last thing–I am doing a show next month instead so I can get a few more weeks of practice.  Also, Laura did amazing well at the Championships and I will go into detail in the next post.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

BB Magee and Laura off to the Championships!

It has been an excellent summer for Laura and her palomino mule, BB, who are off to the CDS State Championships/USDF Regional Championships(held at the same place/time) in Rancho Murrietta, California.  Last year, she came with her beloved Dyna, who as you may know qualified for the Championships and later the US Dressage Finals at Training Level.  This week, Laura and BB will compete at First Level in both the Freestyle and First Level Test 3 events, riding the former at both State and Regional level.  Getting there for the second year running(might even be more than that) is an extraordinary feat.

 Being in California means that she will compete not only against some of the best riders in the state/region, but also some of the best riders in the nation and the world.  Hilda Gurney, Steffen Peters, and Jan Ebeling, to name a riders who train in California, will be there.  Some of their horses will be competing against Laura.  It was amazing to look at the entry list with Laura and to see her and BB's names next to those of Olympians and fancy warmblood.  Imagine that: a mule I have handled and ridden, ridden by someone I know, competing against warmbloods ridden by Olympians.  It's amazing!  For those who think mules can only be pack animals that have no place in dressage,  BB is living proof otherwise.
Here is BB and I when she has her golden spring/summer coat.  She is more of a light brownish in the fall with roan hairs.

  Her Freestyle is an upbeat, Italian/South American sounding music(one part is called "Mambo Italiano) and was designed by Karen Robinson, who has designed numerous Grand Prix, Olympic, and Pan American Games freestyle.  It's a great freestyle.

 It will be an exciting weekend for Laura.  Unfortunately I won't be able to watch, but I will be supporting Laura from back home.  If BB goes anything like she did Monday and most of the rest of the summer, she will put in a fantastic test!   It would be even more amazing if she made it to the Finals.  Please send positive thoughts her way!  I hope she has great rides at the championships.  In the mean time, look at het website so you can see what BB looks like.  It introduces the mules towards the bottom.  http://oakstarranch.com/
And here is a short video from February: Click here

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Moxie Ride No. 2

For my second ride on Moxie, I mostly worked on slowing his trot to a leisurely jog, and on getting him to become round.  I also rode one-handed for the first time, which was a little difficult to get used to. To ride one-handed, I held the split reins in my left, with my middle finger between them.  My left fist pointed down and was almost close enough to touch Moxie' s withers.  My other hand stayed where it usually is, as if I was holding reins in that hand.  Mostly, I steered with my legs, neck rein. if necessary.

  To make him round, I lifted my hand, which applied pressure to the bit and caused Moxie to become lower his head and lift his back.  It was important to use leg as well, because simply pulling his head down does not create proper engagement.  The bit is just there to "catch" the roundness and to give him something to come round to.  Therefore, you need both leg and hand in the formula.  Once he became round, I lowered my hand until it almost touched his withers, giving him a release.

I also worked on collecting his pace to make it like a jog; I wanted his steps to be small, but with proper engagement.  To this, I made him round, jogged off, and worked on collecting his stride by squeezing my fist and sitting back slightly when his stride became faster and bigger than I desired.  It still needs some work, which I will do soon.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lesson on Moxie(3rd Level Mule)

*Long, word heavy post without a lot of pictures, but there is a lot to tell!

Yesterday, I rode Moxie, Laura's big black john mule.  It was a great privilege to ride him because he is very well trained, and because of that, Laura doesn't let many people ride him.  Since he has a lot of training, he is extremely sensitive to the small nuances in the rider's position and aids.  Every aid means something to him, and he's always looking to his rider to be the leader, and to make all the decisions.  He is constantly asking what his rider wants next and he wants the rider to take initiative and control everything. This is the reason why he is not a lesson mule(and why high level horses don't always make great lesson horses).  It's difficult for novice riders to focus on controlling the horse/mule while still working out their own body, which is why most lesson horses are horses that will make their own decisions when the rider can't/doesn't.  It was a real privilege to ride Moxie, and I appreciate the opportunity because it shows that Laura trusts me.

For example, when I looked down and to the left before taking off, he went that way.  I can't just look down and squeeze him to make him go off like I might do with another horse; I have to be prepared, have a game plan, and look exactly where I want to go.

 I rode Moxie in a western saddle and bridle because I can possibly do a mule show at the end of the month(instead of the dressage show).  According to Laura, mule shows always have a very fun, relaxed atmosphere, even at rated ones like the one I might do, and the people are very friendly, so it will be a great first show experience.  Plus, Laura knows most of the people there–the horse world is small, and the mule world is even smaller.  If I go, I will enter a novice western trail course, and possibly a pleasure class.

 While riding, I had to be extra careful with my hands because like I said, he is sensitive, and curb bits can be strong and harsh in unsteady hands.  I rode with split reins and kept them long, with only a light contact on his month.  My hands stayed close together because in the show I will have to ride with one hand, which shouldn't be too much of a problem since I have been learning to turn with my legs and upper body instead of my hands.  However, if I did need my hands I was told to move my hands slightly to the inside so that the outside rein touched his neck, making him turn.  This is what is called neck reining.

 I struggled at first, using too much hand and becoming tight.  I walked him around a bit, then asked for the jog.  However, I was too tight and leaned too far forward, resulting in a tight, bigger than intended trot.  Laura got on for a few minutes to school Moxie and to demonstrate just how light he could be, then let me back on again.

 A western position is about relaxation, not tightness(no position should have a lot of tension but Laura told me to be relaxed and loose in western).  Also, I was told to sit more on my seat bones.  In my head, I kept a mental image of a reiner doing a sliding stop to help me to see how my position should be like. One mental image she used that was helpful in causing me to relax was to imagine that I was riding the best mule in the nation–the king mule.  It really helped me to sit upright and proud.  It should also be noted that riding western, I focused on having my legs more loosely at my side rather than keeping a hold Moxie's side.
Picture of Moxie from the first time I went to Laura's
ranch, back in January.  I miss the green grass!

The next time I asked for the jog was a bit better.  When I focused on leaning slightly back(really I was upright but it felt like leaning back because I had been too far forward in my upper body) and relaxing, Moxie jogged off really nicely.  To return to walk, I was told to lean slightly back, relax my body by breathing out, and to close my fingers slightly.  This is where the stopping reining rider imager proved useful, because my position should be similar to that, though perhaps not as pronounced.  The first few times, it took several dribbling strides to return to the walk.  However, after doing walk-jog transitions every few strides, and focusing on breathing out even more quickly, I began to get sharp transitions between the walk and the jog.  There were a few times throughout the ride when I became tight again and leaned forward.  Guess what?  It caused the faster, tight trot.  All I had to do to fix it was to sit up more.

 At the same time, I worked on steering without my hands.  To do this, I put my outside leg slightly forward and squeezed to push his shoulders over.  As the ride progressed, I had to do less and less with my hands.

 After a while, I tried one of the obstacles that had been set up around the arena.  There were walk-overs(cavaletti that are walked over in trail course), cone serpentines, a rope gait, a side-pass pole, and four poles arranged in a box, though I only worked on the box this time.  I jogged over it, turned around, and jogged back several times.  Moxie is surprisingly maneuverable in spite of his large size(17 hands).  Laura could almost turn him on the dime when she rode him!  I was able to turn fairly tightly when turning around to go back over the box.  I didn't make a large circle; I used leg to push his shoulder over and turn him around.  Unfortunately, one of Moxie's hooves dinged each pole when I rode over them, which would have resulted in a 1/2 point off for each ding had it been a competition.

 Next, I practiced the turn on the haunches because they always show up in trail courses, and are performed in the box, but I did it outside of the box.  To perform a turn on the haunches, I had to lift my inside leg to "open the gate," put my outside leg forward to push his shoulder over, and be prepared to close my fingers should Moxie decided to surge forward.  At first, I didn't close my fingers in time and he made a small circle instead.  Then, Laura told me to break it down step by step.  Doing this, I was able to get him to turn bit by bit, though he did go forward a few times before I could stop him.

 Then, I incorporated the turn on the haunches into the next exercise, which was to make a square at the walk.  At each corner, I had to do a quarter-turn to make the 90 degree angle.  Starting out, I used way to much rein, and I didn't close my inside leg in time to stop him from make a turn more than 90 degrees, causing him to cut in.  Consequently, I over-corrected and used the reins, pulling him too far to the outside.  After a bit, I breathed and decided to take my time.  I kept my hands at the horn and applied outside leg to push him shoulders over, then quickly blocked his body with my inside leg almost before he was finished turning, which worked out well.  There were a few times when I slipped into letting him make round turns again, but after I was doing the exercise well, Laura decided it was best to stop on the good note.

  I will continue to practice on Moxie and soon tackle the other obstacles.  If I can keep Moxie round, which I worked on too but didn't focus entirely on like I do with Lucky(he didn't have a martingale or training aid I might add), go through the obstacles without touching them, and ride one handed,  I should be prepared.  The key to trail course is for me to take my time; it is not a speed event like show jumping.  Lucky will get the month off as I get to know Moxie, but the next step with her is to ride her roundly without a training aid.