Monday, March 28, 2016

True Harmony

When riding Lucky, there have been times when I had glimpses of harmony.  However, during my most recent rides, things seemed to align perfectly and I had more than just a few moments of harmony with Lucky.  During the trot, I had more harmony than I have ever had with any horse, and kept it for more than a few strides at a time.  It felt phenomenal.  I was effortless posting at the trot and directing Lucky, without having tension and without my leg flying all over the place.  Lucky was in front of my left and available to me, ready to do what I asked.

That is ultimately what my goal is during every ride.  I want myself to be in balance, and to be able to help whatever animal I am riding to be in balance, relaxed, and  round.  When they get to this supple "sweet spot", they are ready to do anything for the rider because they are set up to do so.  This is something that I have observed every time Laura lunges or rides.  Most clearly and recently, I have observed this when Laura had worked on introducing a mule to dressage.  This mule has and a lot of great training, in various disciplines, but he has never been taught to weight his hind end and use his back in the way dressage horses should.   Watching him figure out how use his body has been fascinating and educational.  When his body position does become correct, he becomes eager to make a transition.  It is important to note, however, that it is not about getting him in a frame.  It's about him using his hind end and his back and becoming supple and free in his body.

Her walk was also probably the best walk I have ever had on her.  She took long strides, and her back and hips were free and swinging.  She did not become "stuck" behind my leg.  The fact that Laura and ridden first had helped that.

I did have some difficulties in the canter, however.  I became a bit twisted, and she did not canter right when I asked.  However, instead of forcing the issue, I calmly regained a rhythmic, unhurried trot before asking again.  It is much better to have a correct transition than a rushed, unbalanced one. I later on got a few nice sets of cantering, and ended the lesson there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Loss of Prancer

Yesterday was the most difficult day of my life.  The Rhodesian Ridgeback that my family has had for many years has passed away.

To me she was more than just a dog.  She was a person, with many quirks, and was a treasured member of my family.  Prancer was a loving, cuddly dog.  In spite of her size, she believed that she was a lapdog and would always climb unto the couch to cuddle and to give hugs.  Like a cat, she would rub her face against people that she loved.  She was friendly with strangers and always wanted to jump up and say hello.

She was a real drama queen and attention hound. When she wasn't in the center of attention, or when she wanted something, she would whine.  She had a different whine for different situations.  She also seemed to understand so much of English, and would understand when we were talking about food, or going on a journey in the car.  Both were things that she loved so much.  She also and a strange love of chips, sweet breads, and crunchy, salty foods.

 She was truly as unique and as loved as any person.  I have never lost anyone as close to me as she was; I've never cried so much.  My home and my heart seems so empty without. It will difficult to come home everyday, expecting her to come greet my family at the door only to find the place empty, or to wake up in the morning and hoping that she will be on her bed.  Sometimes I hear a sound that reminds me of her, and my throughout constricts as tears come to my eyes.  You'll be missed, precious Prancer.  I hope you are happy, and that your spirit is playing up there in animal heaven.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Moving Up the Scale

This past year, I have mostly been working on asking Lucky to stretch down and lift her back hone riding and lunging her.  In my most recent ride, I took this a step further and began asking for her to truly be "on the bit."  This is something i have read about many times before, but it can be difficult to do correctly.  However, Lucky is a great horse to learn this on because she would only become truly round if I am balanced and my aids are exactly correct.  Once there, she typically stays there.

My learning started on the ground in the round pen.  Laura worked Lucky for a while in just a halter and lunge line to demonstrate, and then gave me a try.  I worked Lucky on a small circle, keeping a short and consistent feel on the lunge line.  I kept me hands steady in front of me with my elbows at my side, just like when riding.  The object was for me to keep this feel, neither giving or taking as Lucky went along.  If she were to get heavy in my hands, I would cluck her along so that she would she would be pushed onto the "bit"(the lunge line attached to her halter). True roundness comes from the back coming up and the neck rounding and reaching for the contact, but not leaning on it.  I also yielded her to help her to reach for the contact.

 Once I got a feel for it, I rode in the dressage tack and used stirrups for the first time since November.  An entire winter of riding without stirrups has done wonders for my leg.  Most of the time, my leg was soft and relaxed, and I didn't grip with my knees or cause my legs to slip all over the place during the trot.  Even my canter leg position was improved, all though my inside did creep up a bit during some of the cantering as it always has.

Throughout the ride, I worked on rhythm and relaxation as I always do. However, I finally added the element of connection.  I had to remember to keep my leg on as I shortened the reins, but since Laura had schooled Lucky for a few minutes before I rode, I had less trouble than usual keeping Lucky in front of my leg.  I also rode with a crop, which provided assistance in stopping Lucky from leaning on her inside shoulder.

As I rode, I applied the same principles as on the ground.  I kept a consistent feel as my elbows remained at my side, encouraged Lucky to be more forward if she leaned on the bit, and yielded her onto the outside rein as I asked for her to come on the bit. There were times during the ride when I felt her come on the bit fro several strides at a time.  I did, however, have difficulty for a while even when it seemed like I had been doing everything correctly.  It turns out that I have been relying on my hands much more than I have realized, so I walked and trotted on a long rein for while so that I would use my legs and seat to turn rather than my hands.  

Finally, I ended by cantering.  It was necessary for me to assist Lucky in remaining straight and not leaning on her inside shoulder during the canter, which is usually the case with Lucky. This caused my inside leg to creep up, a problem I have had in the past when I previously rode with stirrups.  I then decided to use the crop to lightly tap her inside  shoulder when necessary. This stopped my inside leg from working too and becoming tight.  In the end, I and some nice canters.

I'm really pleased with what riding without stirrups has done for my leg. I'll probably continue to ride without them, but this ride has been a great way to assess my progress.  Laura is putting on a mule show in the spring, and is offering an all breeds dressage class.  I hope to be ready by then to ride in my first dressage class.  Even if my ability to get Lucky on the bit is not completely consistent by then, it will be a great class to enter since it will be a both convenient and fun schooling event.  I know that I ride accurate geometry and keep Lucky in a consistent rhythm if I work at it and focus, so I can make up for lack of on the bit consistency with that.That isn't to say that I won't work hard at getting Lucky on the bit, because I will.  I just mean that I know I can be ready if I work at it.

Oh, and I started a Swedish study blog(which will alter have Swedish recipes, traditions, and stories about me adjusting to life in Sweden) for those interested.