Monday, March 17, 2014

Write it in Pencil

Back when the omnibus was published, I took a look at the dates, checked my calendar, and wrote out a show schedule for the start of the season. I only planned as far ahead as June, as the rest of our season will largely depend on how confident she is after her upgrade. If she's a bit backed off, we'll run some of the 'softer' trainings but if she upgrades confidently we'll run some of the trickier courses that are more akin to a small prelim course. Anywho, our original plan was as follows:

CT & Xc school (Training)- April 20
Horse Trial (Pre-Training[Novice])- May 3
Horse Trial (Pre-Training)- May 17th-18th

Horse Trial (Training)- June 8th
So with about one month to go before our first show we're beginning to review dressage tests & do some coursework-type-exercises & focus on the technical elements of our jumping as much as possible given the limited space. In terms of training, we're right on mark. However, one month out we still have at least a foot of snow on the ground & the temperature never moves above freezing for more than a day. Thus the chances of my carefully scheduled show season actually going as planned are slim. Even if the snow miraculously melts by the end of the week, and we don't get any more, the chances of the ground drying out enough to be safe to run (Cadence is going brilliantly, and as we don't have any events that we need to run, I can afford to be a bit picky about what I run her on) are low. Moral of the story? Put it in pencil, because inevitably something will get in the way of even the best laid plans!
Show pony is ready to go play in the sandbox and show off her flicky toes!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Back to Basics, & The Importance of Hunters

Two wholly unrelated topics, eh? I swear, there is a connection.
After our set of lessons two weeks ago, Cadence had to have a wee bit of time off. She had three days off within a 5 day period, which does NOT go over well with her. If she's going to get more than just a day off, she needs a solid 2 weeks off; otherwise I'm left with a stressed, over-energized, bored horse. But thanks to an unfortunately crammed week of midterms, papers, quizzes, and presentations I was left with little choice.

Our first ride back was atrocious. Cadence was flipping out about everything from a pair of reins on the fence, to the other horse in the ring trotting over a pole. The ride turned in to a power-struggle with me fighting to keep control, and Cadence fighting because that's what I was doing so why shouldn't she? In order to make the most  of it, I set my goals, accomplished those, and quit while we were ahead. The next ride had the potential to start off the same way- Cadence was wired, and was channeling her excess energy into misbehaviour. She doesn't do it to be bad, its just that with the footing the way it is the horses don't get to run around during turnout like they do in the summer. And I don't want to free lunge her as the footing in the indoor is still a bit deep in places, & I just can't take that risk. So Cadence seeks an outlet for her pent up energy... and that outlet tends to be spooking, tensing, and trying to go as fast as possible.

When she gets all tense and wired, we lose a few basic building blocks of our training. the most basic of which is probably inside leg to outside rein, and vice versa. Being, by this point, a somewhat trained horse this is a concept which (when we actually have focus) she understands and is quite comfortable with. So while riding a horse who feels somewhat akin to an angry caged lion on steroids... or what I'd imagine an angry caged lion on steroids to feel like... may not always be fun, it's provided me with an excellent opportunity to take a step back and focus on some of the basics we normally take for granted.

For the past week or so, we've had three main goals:
-Respond promptly to my half-halts (without tensing up)
-Move off of my leg into the opposite rein
-Do this while maintaining self-carriage in a relaxed frame

So basically, we've spent the past week in hunter-land. As the week progressed, so did we, with the result being that even though Mare-Face had a day off yesterday I hopped on today and was able to w/t/c a lovely, soft horse in 15 minutes. Yay!

This got me thinking about the importance of hunters. In this area, hunters often get a bit of a bad rap. And to be completely honest, most of the time it's well deserved. However, I've always had a lot of respect for  the good hunter riders. To put it simply, good riding is good riding. And at the root of the hunter discipline lie some very important training goals: softness, rhythm, relaxation, and rideability.  A good hunter must be forward, straight, carrying him/herself, and capable of doing so while maintaining a steady rhythm regardless of what is thrown at them. Relaxation, and therefore softness, are the key to a truly quality hunter ride, just as they should be the key to a good dressage test; its just pushed to the forefront a bit more with the hunters.
Unfortunately though, especially at the lower levels people seem forego these key concepts in favour of focusing on the short-term "quick-fix" issues. People focus more on wether their hair is covering their ears (lest the judge be distracted by flapping ears...) than wether their horse is actually straight or soft, and a 'hunter-frame' is achieved through draw reins and martingales rather than straightness, suppleness, and self-carriage. But that's a story for another day. The point I wanted to draw from this is that a properly ridden hunter round takes a lot of skill, and to execute it properly a horse must have all the basics of good dressage training firmly in place. So Cadence will be entering in a few hunter classes this summer to see just how firm our training is ;)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

If a picture is worth 1000 words...

... how many is a video worth? Here's a little video I compiled form last weekend's jump school. I tried to chose clips that rather than just showing the end result actually showed a progression. So you get the good, the bad, and the uncoordinated ;)
Here's a picture to make up for it though!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fitting 3 Months into One Post...

... is not going to happen. So for now, lets just forget I ever neglected my blog and move on shall we?

Last weekend I popped Cadence in the trailer and we headed off for a day of lessons. Our morning consisted of an hour long dressage lesson, and the afternoon was a fun-filled jump school. Cadence had a few weeks off for a winter holiday in late Dec, and I've been careful to bring her back slowly so that we don't end up with any injuries. As a result, we'd only had two real jump schools preceeding our lesson, and I was a little concerned about her overall fitness. The mare was phenomenal though, and even after a rather gruelling dressage session in the morning, came out swinging for the afternoon session.

Cadence came out pretty tense and jumpy when I first hopped on her. We didn't even bother attempting stretch trot, and instead stuck to focusing on stretching in the walk and acclimatizing ourselves with the scary new indoor. And while the first part of the ride was far from our best work, she settled into it relatively well resulting in a half-decent ride overall.
In the dressage lesson, Ian emphasized a few key concepts:
1. I carry my right hand slightly higher, and hold tension in that elbow in response to Cadence's tendency to lay on the right. This is especially challenging when going to the left, so he made me carry my right hand down on her crest to help break the habit, and suggested I think of it more like a side rein.
2. She may be sensitive, but she has to accept my leg when I put it on, and not go careening madly off in all directions
3. Don't get into fights with her forcing her to slow down and collect. Push her on to get the necessary impulsion and balance, and then use half-halts to alter the stride length (and rhythm, when applicable)
4. Don't let her call the shots. Keep her focus on me, and keep her guessing. Similar to our last lesson, we had directions being shouted at us every five seconds. Neither of us knew where we'd be turning next, how fast we'd be going, where we'd end up, or how long this would go on for ;) The 'I'm just going to barge off now. Ciao!' behaviour that Cadence likes to pull when she gets frustrated.

By the time I'd pulled her away from her hay for our jump lesson, Cadence had settled a bit and was much saner when I hopped on for the second time. We started off the ride reviewing what we'd worked on in the morning from a jumping perspective, and then after warming up over a cavaletti moved on to some basic grids. Cadence attempted to bolt through the grids at warp speed, but rather than correct her Ian had me ensure she was balanced and then 'let her fall on her face'. As long as she wasn't going to jump the bounce as an oxer, let her crash her way through till she backed herself off. After a few run-throughs she did start to back herself off,so we moved on to some other exercises, all with small (2'-2'6) fences, that kept the focus on relaxation. Once we were calmly cantering through whatever he set up, we moved on to some course work over slightly bigger fences. By this point, Cadence had remembered what jumping was, and settled into the work like a pro.
Overall, in spite of the slightly less than impressive start to the ride, we had a fabulous jump school & Cadence even gathered a little crowd who were impressed with her "jumping skillz" and disappointed she wouldn't be heading south at all.