Monday, February 20, 2012

Riding Reflection: Chasing Boredom with Variety

Trot poles and challenging canter figures to the rescue!  Since Harley has told me that he is sick of riding too many straight lines, I am trying to spice things up a bit. 

Our warm up was not very exciting again.  He was less than forward and enthusiastic.  I know that the walk is supposed to be a nice gentle gait for the beginning of the ride.  When Harley was a green-bean (age 8 and 9), I spent a lot of time in walk, because he was all about rushing and the walk was all about listening and being present.  He wanted to run off his feet.  The older, wiser Harley (nearly 14) is much different and I am starting to think that the walk is not the best warm up gait for him.  He moves really slowly.  The transition to the first trot has gotten much better and more respectable, but then his first trot is really slow.  He likes to go on a long rein with a long neck and lift his back with slow strides.  He is forward-thinking in the sense that he is reaching to the bridle, but he is not moving out with gusto.  I am accepting this as something that he needs to do in the beginning of his rides, but it is a little misleading once we transition to canter.  He has tons of energy!

In the canter, he is not necessarily fast, but he pushes through more.  His trot after the canter is much improved.  He can move forward with more energy from behind and he is comfortable on a shorter rein.  His tempo is also quicker.  It is quite nice, actually.  He is still trying to hop around and change without a cue from me, so I am trying to keep things interesting with some variety and by checking my position.

In my last lesson, my teacher asked me to practice moving my upper body forward or back while keeping my entire seat in full contact with the saddle.  This tested the flexibility and strength of my midsection.  I also had to be careful to keep my feet forward when my upper body came forward.  This concept is the same for riding in 2-point or jumping.  Your shoulders must always be over your feet.  I was mindful of this as I rode and practiced some sitting trot.  I felt the back of my seat stuck to the saddle when I flattened my lower back.  My lower legs stayed in front of Harley's widest ribs and my shoulders stayed over my feet.  Harley was very, very happy with me in this position, which should basically look straight to an onlooker, maybe slightly forward.  Since a fair number of dressage riders lean back (I was taught to!), it would probably look too far forward to some, but my horse was happy and that is proof enough for me.  He motored along in trot, carrying my seat and my lower leg forward.  We rode a variety of circles, figure-eights, and diagonals as I concentrated on me for a while.

I placed some trot poles before our ride set five of my feet apart, toe to heel.  I watched a few cavaletti videos recently.  One tip was to "look up".  Very basic advice, but since I am guilty of looking down, I made a mental note.  I pointed him straight at the poles and made myself look up beyond the cavaletti.  Harley floated over them.  Good boy!  We came back a couple more times and then changed direction.  I had set up the poles in the middle of a figure eight.  I was careful to ride straight to and straight away from the poles, which was another tip from the video I watched.  Harley did not break into a canter and did not touch a single pole.  I even felt him lifting his strides a little more to reach over them.  Isn't it great when the horse can do it perfectly as long as we fix ourselves? 

Mental Note: 
Always correct my riding first, my horse second.

We did not canter until after the pole work, because I considered that part of our warm up.  He still did some hopping around, as I mentioned earlier, so I starting working transitions and tried to throw in circles and figures in unpredictable places.  One figure that worked particularly well for grabbing his concentration was the "teardrop".  A teardrop is a small half circle ridden toward the center of the ring away from the rail.  Instead of completing the circle, ride a straight line back to the track.  This figure used to be in First Level test 1 at the trot.  A ten meter half circle was followed by a straight line ridden back to the corner letter on the same side.  The figure looks like a "teardrop" if sketched on a napkin (because you know that we all sketch our dressage tests on napkins).

I surprised Harley by asking for the teardrop in canter.  Since we have ridden that movement in trot many times, he knew the basic plan.  Once I asked him to make the small turn in canter, he put on his game face.  I felt like I had to really wait for his shoulders to move around the little circle.  It was a really cool feeling.  The exercise seemed to show him how to load his hind end, which helped his balance.  The diagonal ridden back to the fence improved his straightness.  Sometimes, I continued in canter for a few steps along the rail and then transitioned back to trot.  Other times I asked for trot before the diagonal.  I did not want him to take the opportunity to flying change, since I was trying to calm him down from that, but I will also use this exercise to ask for well-mannered changes.

I am surprised by how much Harley has learned to collect.  I do not think that I have really gone out there and said "we are going to practice collection today".  We ride different movements that promote collection, like shoulder-in and transitions, and I try my best to correct my position.  I think that he has figured it out as we went and now I am kind of blown away by how much he can slow down and meter his stride especially in the canter.  I cannot help but wonder if this is partly why he is hopping around.  Maybe he is playing around with the sitting aspect of collection and springing his joints.  He might also be experiencing muscular fatigue.  My friend was riding with us this week and she saw him come around a corner and said "preetttyy".  His canter was so slow.  For the sake of not over-taxing him and more variety, I need to go out there next time and ask him to lengthen.  Get out of the saddle.  Let him stretch his frame and work the opposite muscle groups.  I am thrilled by his efforts, but I do not want him to wear out!

After our workout, his walk was excellent!  Through and swinging like a cat.  Riding is such a dynamic process, even when you are a one-horse-woman.

My dedicated athlete.

10 comments:

  1. It sounds like you are getting great work out of Harley and advancing right along. I like working with poles as well to break up the monotony. I think I'll try that tear drop as a variation on the half circles I do now.

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    1. Incorporating more pole work under saddle is in my plan for 2012!

      Thanks, Annette!

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  2. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs! You've given me alot of ideas of different exercises to work on. I know im just as guilty as anyone of following the same regimen of drills during my rides.

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    1. Oh good. Glad you like them. I am always happy when I find a new exercise to try!

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  3. Great work. No matter who I ride I always try to mix it up and we use a lot of cavelletti work. Different patterns keeps them on their toes and me too! It's more fun for all of us if we don't just walk, trot, canter in circles or around the ring all day.

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    1. I definitely enjoyed myself more, too!

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  4. Harley is awesome! Sounds like you guys need to find a long, flat stretch of ground and do some galloping :)

    I think I'm being taught a somewhat similar seat to what you were describing. My local dressage instructor keeps telling me I need to "get on the back of the teeter-totter" when asking for medium trot down the long sides. I need to keep my seat plugged in but my spine leans back, which means my legs need to go back or I start water skiing. Does that make sense?

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    1. We do! That was why the Turkey Trot was so much fun. Unfortunately, the four-wheelers and dirt bikes make moguls out of most of our nice long stretches on the trail. Grrr

      Your upper spine or your lower spine? I definitely push my lower spine back by pushing my belly button back which flattens my back. I used to ride with a wicked hollow. I agree with the plugging in part and connecting to the hind end, but I have to be really careful not to bring my lower legs back (or my shoulders) as this makes me arch and puts me behind the motion.

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  5. This is the reason I have to have two horses. I like to ride, a lot. Poor Speedy G doesn't like to do the same work day after day. He is very easily bored. I have found that three times a week in the arena is good enough for him. What was I supposed to do the other four days? Enter Sydney!

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    1. *laughing* Very true! I could definitely ride enough for two horses, just not sure my bank account would feel the same way. ;)

      I like to mix things up with lungeing, long lines, and some jumping, but my time is so short during the winter months that I usually run out of daylight. Harley is due for a trail ride, too.

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