Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lesson with Kim: First Test Run Through of the Year!

I brought Ringo to my Kim lesson this week, as he's had a few weeks out of the limelight. Since my last lesson, I've been working on suppleness, suppleness, suppleness... but have sort of let the strength building part of the equation go by the wayside. I warned Kim of this at the beginning, so we definitely went out right from the start with the goal of keeping our newfound suppleness and adding in collection and strength.

Throughout our warmup, Kim asked us to be a lot more dynamic within each gait--asking for BIG trot, itty bitty trot, and everything in between, all while keeping the hind legs coming forward (and touching him with the whip to remind him of that if necessary). Ringo is getting better about letting me use the whip, but it definitely still progressively winds him up at the moment, so we had to keep taking breaks from pushing him hard in order to do some suppling work and get him back into a relaxed place.

Ringo responded well, and Kim was really complimentary of the increase in his cadence and carrying power from the beginning of the winter. It's great to hear that our work is paying off!

(Trying to get a little more cadence to that trot - always a challenge for us!)

She then suggested that we do a run through of the first test I'm going to be riding this year: Fourth Level Test 1. I blanched a little bit; I definitely wasn't feeling super confident in our ability to survive a whole test after five plus months off! Kim insisted that it would be a good idea to do a run through now so that we could at least get a picture of what we have to work on between now and the first show of the year. So I took a deep breath, tried to put on my big girl panties (it was a struggle), and away we went.

Here's sort of how it went down:

Fourth Level Test 1

A - Enter collected Canter
X - Halt, Salute
Proceed collected trot
Ringo tends to get pretty strong on center lines and across diagonals, and this was no different. He sort of bolted down the centerline, so it was quite a struggle to get him balanced and into a crisp halt! We sort of ran into the halt and took too many steps of trot. Sigh. Back to the canter-walk-canter, our nemesis!

C - Track left
HXF - Medium trot, over X, 6-7 steps of collected trot
F-K - Collected trot
Not going to lie, I was green around the gills about this movement, and told Kim as much. This goes back to the sorts of exercises we were doing in warmup and being able to be really adjustable within the gait at a moment's notice. Obviously going forward, this is one of the THE most important skills of a good dressage horse; at Grand Prix, for example, you have to be able to go from extended trot to passage in a single stride. So if we want to get to the FEI levels, this is something we have to get better at! Honestly, it actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be... but there's plenty of work to do.

K-X - Half pass right
I had the usual problem of Ringo barging out of the corner across the diagonal, making it hard to get him fluidly into the half pass without him falling against my inside leg. Kim also noted that I had a bad habit of bracing with my inside leg and inadvertently taking it off Ringo's side, thus encouraging him even more to rush sideways. This was a movement we practiced several times afterward, and when I was able to keep my inside leg on it went much more smoothly.

X - Circle right 10m
This went well. Phew!

X-G - Shoulder in right
C - Track right
There were two main things to keep in mind for this movement: being steady in the line of the shoulder-in, and remembering to straighten at G (BEFORE the end of the centerline). The first time through, I was a little wobbly on both counts! But, like the half pass, we worked on it afterward and improved significantly.

MXK - Extended trot
K-F - Collected trot
Given how shaky our medium and extended gaits can be, this actually went great! I just need to remember to keep the balance and not chase him out of the corner.

(Our extended trot can be... troublesome. But we try!)

F-X - Half pass left
I had the same issues as to the right, but a little bit more dramatically. Ringo is stiffer to the left and struggle much more with stretching down into my left leg in this situation, which isn't a winning combo. A lot of homework here!

X - Circle left 10m
In this run through, Ringo ended up getting quite tense in the half pass, which made the circle to the left more damage control, trying to get some suppleness back instead of really getting to show off. But thank goodness that circle is there, or else I would have really been hosed!

X-G - Shoulder in left
C - Turn left
This is our steadier direction in shoulder in and I had a little better feeling for the movement, so it went a little smoother. But this is definitely a movement where I have to be super sharp!

S - Collected walk
S-R - Half Circle 20m in collected walk
Ringo's walk is a strong point, and I just need to be bolder in showing it off. But he was perfect :)

R-S - Half circle 20m in extended walk
Same critique as the collected walk. Be bold, Kate! Show off!

S-E - Collected walk
E - Half-pirouette left, proceed collected walk
Ugh. This is not Ringo's strongpoint. I need to not try to make the hind leg circle too small to the point where he sticks behind. Lots of homework here!

S - Half-pirouette right, proceed collected walk
This is his better direction, but we still need work.

E - Collected canter left lead
Good boy, Ray!

A - Down centerline
D-E - Half pass left
We had the classic charging down the centerline episode, which made the half pass difficult to control. Same homework routine as the trot required.

E-C - Counter canter
C - Flying change of lead
This was actually good! I think the suppling work I've been doing has been paying off. And the change was great! Good boy, Ray!

M-F - Medium canter
F-A - Collected Canter
This went quite well! Good man!

A - Down centerline
D-B - Half pass right
Same problem as to the left, with the same homework.

B-C - Counter Canter
C - Flying change of lead
The counter canter in this direction was a little harder to manage, and so the flying change was a little more wild. When I get the suppleness better, the changes will be better too.

C - Circle left 20m, 5-6 strides of very collected canter between quarterlines
This is a skill we've been working on all winter, and in Kim's words, "it's coming." Coming into this off season of work, Ringo's canter pretty much had two gears: 'working,' and 'GALLOP.' There was no collection. At all. So we've basically had to start from scratch (thus why canter-walk-canter has become our friend over the past few months!). Now he will shorten pretty well, but tends to get tight at the base of his neck. I need to keep oscillating between suppling and strengthening, narrowing the gap between those two extremes as I go, until we can be BOTH supple and strong. It's coming.
(I forgot to add this in in my first version of this post - thanks for the reminder, Megan! Now I have to remember it in the test!)

H-K - Extended canter
K-A - Collected canter
Good again. This is one of Ray's champ moves, and it felt great to have it go well :)

(This is one of Ringo's best movements - and one of the most fun to ride!)

A - Down centerline
X - Halt, Salute
We improved this time, but it still needs a little work.

Overall, it wasn't that bad! Kim definitely thought we were headed in the right direction, even if we do have some major homework going forward. I'm getting really excited about the start of the season! ...even if it is 2 months away, haha.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

#instafamous?

One of my friends works at facebook and is in the division in charge of Instagram. For the official Instagram blog about Nemo, he used my photo of our sheep and llama--Diamond, Laurel, and Floxie--semi-buried in snow! Check it out:

Blizzard Nemo Covers Eastern Seaboard in Snow

Thanks, Jeff!

Also, shameless plug: if you'd like to follow me on Instagram, my user name is @k_erickso - my photos are 98% of the farm and the ponies, and there are many more than I put on this blog :)

(The original photo - the three of them were literally buried together under a drift when we found them!)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter Gymnastics, Round 9: Special Lesson Edition!

Today Robin and I recovered from the blizzard sufficiently to hack over to the indoor for our weekly jumping session, but this time with a twist: we had a semi-private lesson with Molly Kinney, a grand prix show jumper who comes to the indoor weekly to give lessons.

I know Molly pretty well but had actually never ridden with her before, so I was a little nervous! But it was good to practice riding when I was a little more on edge, since I'll probably be a little nervous at our first shows of the season as well.

Molly had us warm up through a little gymnastic and a single vertical off a long approach. Sometimes, it went smoothly... And, sometimes, less so:


After a couple times of getting awkwardly long distances, I realized what was happening: I was trying to be relaxed, 'shut my eye off,' and just let Ky do his thing... but what I was interpreting as not picking a distance was actually picking a gappy distance. D'oh! Molly picked up on this right away and reiterated to me to just focus on the quality of canter, and not the take off. This was was helpful advice, and for the most part I did better for the remainder of the lesson.

After warming up, we moved on to a little bending line exercise of three fences that could be jumped in 4 or 5 strides. My first trip through was a little ragged in the sense that I was just sort of kicking through and praying. Ky jumped well, but I didn't have a massive amount of control over what striding we were getting between the fences:


Molly stressed to me to be relaxed, get a good canter, jump the jump, and then 'do my homework' right away to get set up for the next jump so that I could relax again and let it flow by the time I actually got to the next vertical. In other words, if I wanted to do it in 5, I had to jump the jump, SIT UP AND WOAH, then ride relaxed and forward to the next fence. If I wanted to do it in 4, I had to jump the jump, leg him forward a little bit, then ride relaxed and forward to the next fence. And it really worked! Here was our tour to the right:


And to the left:


I think that level of decisiveness has been what's been missing from my riding. Before my lesson with Jane, I was getting good but slightly too dependent on the super quiet distance (eventually to our detriment). Coming into this lesson with Molly, I'd really been focusing on being freer to the point where I was getting good but slightly too dependent on the going distance (eventually to our detriment).  By the end of the lesson today, I felt like I had good control over both ways of going, with the key that no matter what, I was getting to the base of the fence in a relaxed and forward way with a giving hand.

I was so pleased with Ky, who was totally foot perfect. Man, what a special little dude he is.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What Blizzard? ...Oh Right. That One.

Yeehaw!! Well, that ended up being quite a storm! Last night's blizzard ended up sneaking in at #5 on the list of all-time biggest storms in the history of New England. From our perspective we did indeed get a LOT of snow, but we kept power and everyone came through just fine. 

My dad and I had a long and busy day clearing snow, but it was also very fun one. We're definitely tired now, though! I've been doing some ab exercises for the past month or so, but I think I earned a pass with all the shoveling I did today. 

It wasn't all work, though: I got a chance to take a break and have a short but UNBELIEVABLY FUN  ride on Ky. We galloped and leapt over drifts that were up to chest high!! Definitely the most snow I can remember riding in in a loooooong time, and totally amazing. I couldn't stop smiling :)

Pa was a champ and took some photos of us again today (thank you!): 


 (Digging out of a big drift - good man, Ky!)

 (Big smiles)

 (There was one big drift up here at the top of the field that Ky jumped every single time - it was at least  chest high!)

 (Can you tell we're having a good time??)

 (Ky was perfect)

 (Yeah, I ended up looking kind of crazy because I was smiling so much. No regrets.)

 (Powering through a big drift!)

 (Pretty carousel pony)


 (Just a little snow)



 (Man, I love this horse)

Here are some pictures from snow clearing in the morning. Pa and I had quite a day!

(It looked a little dubious that the tractor would start...)

 (...but she did!!)

 (Ringo usually goes out at night, but I think he appreciated staying in - not that he avoided the storm altogether, as a giant drift came into the barn!)

 (Diamond, Laurel, and Floxie were literally buried together in a drift when we came out this morning, but seemed pretty unperturbed by the weather)

 (Pa plowing the barnyard)

 (Ky enjoying his hay in knee deep snow)

 (BIG drifts - that's a 4'6" fence!!)

(Ray enjoyed eating snow off his stall door - nut)

 (One of our puppies outside in the snow tunnel I shoveled for them)

 (Overall, this day reminded me of how blessed I am. I'm so thankful for this crazy, happy life)

Stay warm and safe, everyone!

Friday, February 8, 2013

What Blizzard?

We're currently battening down the hatches for the first (and hopefully last) big big snowstorm of the winter, which looks like it's going to get ugly tonight and tomorrow morning. Pretty much everything in Massachusetts shut down this morning, however, when it WASN'T really snowing at all, which meant that my dad and I got the day off and could have a fun and leisurely day on the farm.

I had a ton of fun riding both horses at home and outside for the first time in what feels like forever - the footing is still frozen but the nice layer of fluffy snow that we had as of early this afternoon made it great for flatwork again. Both horses were frisky but super behaved, even when the snow was blowing pretty much directly into our faces. Check out the awesome pictures my Pa got (thanks Pa, for standing out in the snow for me!!):




(what a good boy)

 (Struttin')


(Now this is fun!)


 (A little strong in the underneck, but looking nice and forward!)

 (Looking better; good man, Ky!)


 (Nice artsy shot)

 (I love this one!! Ky, you so fancayyy)

 (Yeehaw! He was definitely spooking at something in the woods here, haha)

 :)

(Duck was a good spectator)

Not gonna lie, I'm super excited for when the storm's over and we can gallop through the drifts!! This is probably the one situation where I'm a total nut for winter: riding in the snow has been one of my favorite activities for as long as I can remember. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of going out with my friends after a big snowstorm on our ponies and having snowball fights on horseback for hours. Even now, there's something about cantering through crisp untrodden snow that is just irresistible and always puts a smile on my face. 

The slogging through the wet and cold and ice that also accompany winter weather events are... not as fun, I'll agree. But from the back of a horse all those grumpy grown up responsibilities have a way of falling by the wayside, if only for an hour or so. From there, it's just me and my horse, and a beautiful, pristine playground for us to enjoy together. 

Happy blizzard! Stay warm and cozy, and remember to have fun :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Jig is Up, Little Dude

Let's take a brief trip back to the beginning. Since my first couple rides with Ky, I've had a couple assumptions about his training and character:
  1. He tends to fall constantly behind the leg, and evade work by loafing
  2. He has good gaits but no real concept of connection or throughness
  3. He can be a bit of a twerp if confronted about (1) or (2)
The past few lessons I've had with Kim, however, had thrown a lot of these assumptions into question for me. Kim kept urging me to slow him down and resist the urge to hustle him along when I felt like he was constantly diving behind my leg. It also appeared that, while he did have some nascent connection problems, a big problem in our relationship was also that I wasn't able to hold up my half of the bargain and actually carry my hands in a way that encouraged a proper connection. These two factors gave the overall impression that what I perceived as him being a jerk was actually me being too harsh on him.

So, the past few weeks have been a total reevaluation of my ride: I took my spurs off, rode him consciously slower and quieter than I wanted (and shut off the little voice in my head that was constantly SCREAMING that he was behind my leg all. the. freaking. time), and went to town revamping my own hand position. And I learned a lot! I feel like my hands are better than ever, and that improving there has had a positive trickle down effect on my posture and general balance.

(Woohoo! Actual straight line contact from elbow to bit! Something that, for the supposed accomplishment of rider that I am, I see far too rarely in my own riding)

But still, something wasn't quite right. I was struggling with how to progress with him, because my confidence in being able to assess what the right plan of attack was with him had been pretty badly shaken. After all, my instincts had been to drive him forward and get after him for what I considered 'naughty' behavior, and Kim's assessment had been to slow down and be soft on him to control his anxiety. If I had been so wrong about that, surely I wasn't going to be right going forward?

When I started warming Ky up at my yesterday, he was... good. In fact, I was quite pleased. But he wasn't great, and was still struggling with taking a more active loading step behind. Kim suggested we try a small version of half steps--though they're also the first steps towards schooling piaffe (which Ky is obviously pretty far from at the moment), they're also apparently good for horses like Ky who don't really get the concept of folding their hind legs underneath them.

(Being very obedient, but not much else)

And Ky. Was. VERY. NAUGHTY. Not only did he not get it, but he responded with a very big 'Screw You' to any of my attempts to show him the way. Now, since I'd never done half steps before, I was a little nervous that I was causing the problem by being indecisive or sending him the wrong signal. So Kim offered to get on.

And Ky. Was. VERY. NAUGHTY. For the first time, Kim saw and experienced firsthand the absolute TWERP side of Ky that he brings to our rides at home whenever I really try to push his buttons. Suddenly, Kim realized the extent to which he loafed behind the leg, truly didn't understand the contact, and could be a real dick about trying to improve either of those weaknesses. Aha! Eureka!

So now we have a new game plan for Ky. Even though I wasn't planning on having most of my lesson be to watch my instructor ride my horse, I was actually deeply relieved by the outcome. I felt vindicated at last in my initial assessment of this horse--I actually had gotten it right! 

Now, I can also see why Kim gave the evaluation that she did. Though my instincts were right on Ky's problems, the execution of my plan to solve those problems was deeply flawed. I was trying to get him forward all right, but my inconsistent hands were letting him sprawl forward onto his forehand, which wasn't really teaching him much about responsiveness to the leg OR good contact in the long run. 

So in the end, I did need these past few weeks, even if it sort of feels right now like I'm right back at the beginning again. Now I can go back to my original plan of attack with the new skills I've acquired, and hopefully make a better go of it.

Sorry, Ky! Perhaps you should have been better behaved for Kim, and the ruse could have gone on a little longer! Now, the jig is most definitely up.

(Also, it looked like this when I was feeding this morning - winter, you may be a cruel mistress, but you are a beautiful one as well)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter Gymnastics, Round 8

Phew, it feels good to return to a sense of normalcy! After two weeks of being in a limbo of stress, it's hard to describe how awesome it is to look out the kitchen window and see Dually happily munching hay in our little medical paddock. He seems to be doing well so far, and even though his medicine is a pain, it hasn't proved too difficult to manage so far.

Part of the stress of Dually being away was that, with trying to go visit him at Tufts every day, I ended up not having time to ride at all while he was away. Ringo and Ky both seemed to have come through their impromptu 10 day vacation just fine, though they're both a little wild!

This evening things really felt back to normal, as I got to jump again with Robin for the first time in a few weeks. Ky has been a bit cray-cray in the past few days, so I wanted to do something where he'd be required to think without me having to manage him too much and get into a negative cycle of pulling, and Robin wanted to work on lines. So, we made a canter-in gymnastic with lots of canter poles to get Ky and Kiki thinking quick on their feet, and a line that could be ridden in 4 or 5 strides to practice something closer to course riding.

It ended up working out really well, because we could put together little courses that required both forward and decisive riding down the line (which was a very going 4 or a quiet 5) and then being soft and staying out of the horses' way through the gymnastic. Both Ky and Kiki jumped great!

Here was our first little short course:


Since both Ky and Kiki tackled the first run through the exercises pretty easily, we bumped up the heights a little bit and made a slightly more complex course (which got split into two parts when I was uploading it for some reason, but was actually one continuous effort):



Both the first  and middle time through the gymnastic, Ky rapped the oxer on the way out pretty hard. I realized that I was panicking a little on the way in and goosing him ever so slightly over the canter rails, so that he was a little rushing into the actual jumps. The last time I tried really hard to be quietly supportive, and he jumped out way better.

The other big thing I was proud of myself for was that the red swedish oxer to vertical line off a relatively short right hand turn was pretty much an exact recreation of the situation where Ky and I crashed hard in our Jane lesson a few weeks ago (right down to the color of the jumps!). Coming around to it the first time, I was definitely a little jittery and nervous I was going to repeat my mistakes! So it felt really good to ride positively, put my hands forward, and have him jump beautifully. Good boy, Ky!!

In most exciting news, our first opening date of the year is only a week away!! Ahh!!! It still feels a little surreal that in less than two months we'll be outside galloping and jumping, when there's currently a few inches of snow on the ground... but I'm excited :)
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