Thursday, December 29, 2011

Look what I ordered!

I saw the Liberty Neck Ring in a Linda Tellington Jones book years ago. Penny had shared the book with me when I first started riding with her. 10+ years ago it was only a far fetched dream, this idea of riding bridleless.

 Last night at the end of our ride, I took the bridle off again. This time we loped in both directions, changed directions all over the arena at the jog and even did a lead change. I'm learning pretty darn quick where the holding issues are in my body. The left lead issues are actually in my right hip.I also have found that without the bridle I have to fix anything that is out of balance on the first stride, with the bridle I tend to let it go halfway down the arena before correcting it. Now as soon as I feel a change in rhythm or my horse drop her back, I know I have to get it back. I also now understand how my hand position totally relates to my horse's way of going. When my hands are too low as they often are when I hold the reins it causes my upper body to collapse which puts my horse on her front end. When I hold my hands a few inches above the horn, keeping my elbows bent, it allows me to keep my upper body upright - this allows my horse to step up further from behind. Turns out every little thing I do in my body really does effect my horse's movement.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Bridleless Christmas

A dear friend of mind emailed me a video of her dancing with her horse who also happens to be named "Grace" to Christmas music. Today I pulled out the video camera so Grace and I could send her and her Grace our Christmas best.

Our rides have been so good in the past week and I was pleased to see that I didn't throw it all away just because the camera was rolling. At the end of the ride I finally said "Why not" and took off the bridle. I could not be more thrilled with the results. Actually I do believe that Grace moved even better when I didn't have the ability to touch her mouth. Looks like we will be working this into our regularly scheduled training program.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Straight Strong Sound Slow

3 months after not going to the Washington State Horseman Finals show I am able to stand back and really appreciate my decision. Grace and I have progressed by leaps and bounds during that time frame. In my last two rides I was able to get a very clear picture of what it was we were missing and why I was sitting on a runaway freight train in the show pen.

In all of our recent lessons the focus has been on straight, I quickly learned that before I could ask Grace to be straight I had to find straight in my own body. All of her crookedness is a compensation for my imbalances. As soon as I found straight I could finally feel just how crooked my horse was. Straight in my body is still something I have to work towards daily. I’ve allowed myself to get distracted by life and work over the last few months and have put my exercise program on the back burner. I started to lose the feel that I only had when I was straight. I put me back on top of the priority list; I have no intention of backsliding.

An amazing thing started to happen when Grace and I found straight, she started to get strong. Her hind end looks better than ever, I’ve caught myself standing back and admiring her butt like only a horseperson can. Her neck is taking on that beautiful swan shape, strong topline and a relaxed bottom line, the short fat angry resistor muscles are no longer front and center. From strong and straight soundness appeared. When I ride from straightness Grace’s step behind is even at all 3 gaits. I not only feel this but I can now see it in the mirror at the indoor arena. At 14 years old I do believe that this is the most sound this horse has ever been. At this time I have her working 6+ days in a row before giving her a day off, she comes off a day of rest ready to go and never misses a step.

Grace’s gaits have taken on a steady rhythm that I have never felt before. There is a level of consistency that I can only now associate with this horse. What at first were only a few strides became a whole circle and is now becoming the entire arena. The stronger she gets the easier it is for her to maintain her rhythm. More and more Grace is asking for a lower headset, gone are the day of constantly resetting her head position. When she does lift her head I only have to add leg to get her to lower it. Within the rhythm of her gait I am starting to feel the potential for her to slow down. All I have to do is slow my rhythm down and she slows her beat to meet mine. I can see where this will require more strength and balance on my part before I can ask it consistently of her, but for the first time I believe I have an understanding of where slow comes from. Straight, strong and sound are beginning to look like the foundation of slow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Time spent in the saddle is never time wasted

Grace in her sleigh bells and Christmas lights

Horse time has been a real commodity for me in the last few months. As my job has demanded more of my time, my idea of being home early enough in the evenings has not been a reality. With use of the neighbors indoor lighted arena 2 nights a week and 2 days of groundwork sessions at dusk, plus riding both weekend days I am still able to keep Grace going 6 days a week. Grace is show fit and ready to go - in December. I was sidelined with a chest cold this last week. I was still able to do groundwork, but didn't get my much needed saddle time. I think I made up for it over the weekend.

We had a group lesson at Sarah's on Saturday. We've been doing these on and off since October. I'm really enjoying each lesson, I get so much more out of them by watching the other riders. So often Sarah will say something to another rider and the light bulb will go on for me. This week it was while talking about the outside rein. Sarah told me not to bring the outside rein to the horse, but to bring the horse's body to the outside rein. I had to use my leg, my hips and the rest of my body to push Grace into the left rein. I then got to watch as another rider struggled with the same concept. At one point during the lesson Grace got upset with the new concept. I've ridden her off my hand for so long that at first she isn't quite sure what to do when I start to use my leg correctly. As soon as she figures it out, she moves so beautifully all I can do it sit there and smile.... and add leg, stretch up tall, fill my back, stay straight and oh yes - BREATH!

On Sunday Grace and I meet Jeanni and Jasmine for a trail ride. Being so close to Christmas we brought out the sleigh bells and Christmas lights. Grace jigged early in the ride - but settled down at her usual point 20 minutes in. We had a great time, strolling through the beautiful wide trails, talking, laughing all the while listening to Grace's sleigh bells. Jeanni and I even wore Santa Hats! It never fails every time Jeanni and I trail ride together we always end it talking about how we need to do it more often. After my weekend rides I can't help but agree with the Winston Churchill quote  "There is Something About the Outside of a Horse is Good for the Inside of a Man".

At the end of our ride in Port Gamble

Year End Awards

I received a letter on Friday from the zone I belong to for Washington State Horseman. Being the end of the calendar year I expected it to be a renewal form. I was surprised to find my year end results along with a gift certificate to a tack store. I am not a point chaser, I never go into a show focused on points. It's just never been that important to me. This year I hauled to the sanctioned shows that the zone offered and only rode in 3 classes. When I received the invitation for the Year Ends Banquet, I didn't bother. There was no way I would place considering that my competitors rode in classes all day long. So I was really surprised to see that Grace and I received the Championship for Trail, Second Place in Trail 18 and over and Second Place in Western Riding. It's just icing on a cake, a cake I didn't know had been baked.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good Ride Analysis

I had a fabulous ride with Grace last night. One of those rides that make me believe that I can actually do this, the horse I sat on last night is one that I would love to take in the show ring. I rode for less than the hour I had planned, she was so good I just had to quit where I was and get off her back. So I have to ask myself – what led up to such a good ride? I often pull apart the bad rides to learn from them and not repeat them, but what if I pulled apart a good ride so I could repeat it? So here it goes.

1. Our lesson on Saturday. I worked on the same exercises that we did with Sarah on Saturday, my goal was to capture that same feel I had in her arena.

2. Two days of Connected Groundwork – I spent Monday and Tuesday doing Connected Groundwork with Grace. During those sessions she found her balance and was telescoping her head and neck. Her movement behind improved dramatically over those two days. So I will ask it again. WHY don’t I stay consistent with that program?????

3. I didn’t touch her face! My new bit arrived in the mail yesterday. It is a DM Turbo Lifter with the swivel shanks. I was honestly afraid to touch my horse’s mouth with it. I’m always like that with an unfamiliar bit. Grace kept her head and neck level for most of the ride. She seemed very comfortable in that bit. When I did touch the bit I only had to use the lightest touch. When she responded she didn’t swish her tail or pin her ears, she just lowered her head.

4. I rode off my leg. I actually rode one handed for a good part of the ride – because I was afraid to touch Grace’s face. So I had to ride from my body and my leg. When I did pick up the outside rein to straighten her I added my inside leg. Grace not only went straight, she also stepped up from behind into the bit.

5. Perfect practice makes perfect. I took my time spending much of the ride at the walk. I had the arena to myself and made full use of the mirrored wall. At first our stops were very abrupt, so I worked on finding a better stop cue in my body. I also focused on keeping Grace’s shoulder in front of her hip when backing. Grace’s stops became cleaner and connected, as did her upward transitions. I didn’t throw a bunch of new stuff at her; I just worked on doing at better job of what we already knew.

I’m looking forward to our ride tonight, and the Connected Groundwork I already have scheduled for the following week.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

When I'm Sound the Horse is Sound

Years ago Sarah told me that Grace’s left hind lameness was a result of me riding off balance and crooked. I didn’t want to hear it at the time and I had no problem building a camp of people around me that disagreed with Sarah’s assessment. While I still hold to the belief that Grace was injured before I knew her, I know have no choice but to admit that my posture in the saddle absolutely contributes to my horse’s level of soundness. This was more than apparent at this week’s lesson.

I didn’t even know if I would get to ride during the lesson. When I rode Grace at the neighbor’s arena on Thursday night she was visibly off on the left hind. I made arrangements to haul to Sarah’s before the lesson on Saturday so she could check it out. My hope was that the hock was just “out” as the lameness looked similar to the last time she tweaked it. Sarah assured me that this was most likely the case. It turned out that Grace’s hips and her left hock were out. When it came time to ride I could immediately feel and hear the improvement. The left hind toe drag that had returned in the last week was gone. Onto our lesson Sarah had me start with the exercise that we had ended with previously, stopping on contact with a loose rein, backing up, sitting for a moment on contact and then walking forward. Sarah reminded me to prepare my body before walking off; fill my back, breath, engage my core and lift my sternum. Each time I took those steps prior to walking off my horse took her first step from behind. Each time I skipped those steps my horse stepped off in the front and carried herself on her front end. The position I was after reminded me of when Cherie over at Go Lightly called “keeping the water in your bucket” when describing the Mary Wanless clinic.

Onto the jog and of course I had to start all over again. It didn’t take long before I was out of balance and riding off my hands. Sarah finally got on my case and grabbed my arm so I could feel the difference between a light contact and being pulled on. I let her know that I go to my hand when it feels like Grace is running from my leg. Sarah reminded me to find it in my body again, slow Grace with my body and not my hand. The next time I felt her begin to rush I thought of that bucket of water, Grace slowed down. During the lesson we worked on straight. Going to the right Grace tends to lean out her left shoulder. Sarah had me correct her with the left rein and when I felt the need to add right rein I was to add right leg instead. An amazing thing happened; Grace went straight, slowed down and engaged her hind end. Throughout the ride I was able to string more and more strides together. As amazed as I was by the improvement I was equally frustrated. My horse IS sound, when I ride her sound; actually my horse is quite lovely when I get myself together. Once again I have some work to do.