Friday, 30 May 2008

Piaffe! Well...nearly!

My lesson with John was as useful as I expected! Having not had a lesson since January, we had a lot to work on. I expressed my concerns about her back end not feeling like it was connected to the front and he agreed that she wasn't really using her hind legs at all - particularly not her right hind. She doesn't seem to be sore, so it is possible that she has just got into bad habits. I also had an interesting email from the lady that bred her, who said that Echo's mother also gets tight pelvic muscles on the right hand side when she is in season. This is definitely something to consider, as I may try her on some kind of supplement - her old owner said that 'Magic' is working well with Echo's mother.

I was a little alarmed that John said he thought she has got worse since last time he saw her, but I guess with all the time off, that is really to be expected. I also knew that really, as I could feel that things were not quite right. However, he said that he would watch me have a canter on each rein and then we would come up with a strategy for engaging the hind legs. After a canter on both reins he pointed out that my best strides of canter on each rein were along the fence, clearly indicating that there is a lack of support on the outside. He said that I need to ride the outside of her more strongly, stopping her shoulder from falling out. In addition to this, he recommended that I really work on my walk to canter transitions. We had a couple of (pretty disastrous) attempts at these, where she kept getting the wrong canter lead. He said that I was dropping my inside shoulder too much and letting go of her outside rein at the crucial moment. He got me to bend her slightly to the outside ad ask for the canter on a straight line rather than in the corner. This sounds strange, even when writing it here, but it was to stop the outside shoulder from falling out and encourage her to strike off on the correct leg. He said that I must put my outside leg as far back as I can a few strides before the transition, so as to prepare her, but also then be prepared to really hold her back if she tries to trot off at that point. What I found difficult with that, was keeping my weight on my inside seat bone and still asking for the canter with my inside leg. It all felt very clumsy, but we shall certainly work on it. In fact, when we finally got the correct canter lead, the canter was miles better than it had been to begin with.

As well as the walk to canter transitions, he said I must teacher her to do shoulder-in. He says that I need to motivate her back end and this will come through being asked to use it in a way that will interest her. She is quite a clever horse and learns very quickly. Making her interested in the work will encourage her to bend her hind legs properly. We then got talking about in-hand work. When I worked at Sheepcote we used to do lots of in-hand work with all of the horses, starting off with the four year olds, who would just do a few half steps, right up to David's grand prix horse, Wurlitzer, who used to practise his piaffe from the ground. Although Echo will never be a rand prix dressage horse, I really think this might help her and John was very keen for me to try it. Knowing Echo, she will have a huge strop and a tantrum, then she will suddenly get it and think it's fun. I will try to get someone to take some pictures at some point, as it might be an interesting training diary. For now, there's quite a good example of what I will be trying to do here. I will probably have side-reins on Echo, in order to have rather more control, but this is the general idea.

Thanks to Wiola, I have now learned how to put a video on here! I prefer the video I have linked to above, but this is an example of passage in-hand. I'm not a huge fan of Andalucians' movement, but you'll get the general idea. It's surprisingly hard to find good examples of piaffe in-hand. There are some pretty shocking examples of it - one horse was even cross-tied and being hit with the whip - I was so shocked. The horse has to be able to move forward - you can't tie it to the spot.

So...a successful lesson. I have, as usual, got lots to think about and lots to practise - I really should have lessons more often!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Getting back to it

I have been so useless at posting recently - I shall endeavour to do better from now on. As some of you may know, things have not been terribly easy over the last few months, but I have now moved into a new house with a friend and am having a really good time. In addition to this, Echo had over a month off with a bad back and has only recently come back into work, so things have been pretty quiet with her for a while.

However...things are getting hugely better - Echo is now sound and back in work, so I am getting to ride a lot more regularly and we are getting back somewhere near to where we were before it all went a bit wrong! Even when I first started riding her again, it was rather sporadic and I was finding that every time I got on she was ridiculously tense and felt as if she was going to explode. I am starting to get used to this feeling and not be worried by it - instead I just ride her forwards and wait for her to relax! I have been able to ride her much more regularly recently so she is starting to really get back into it now, and we have less of the explosive tendencies!

I even felt secure enough to hack her out yesterday, which is quite brave for me, considering she is hyperactive at the moment and hasn't hacked out since February! She has been ridden every day this week, and has been going really well; I rode her on a little loop round the cross country course on her own after a schooling session on Saturday and she was fine, so I decided to just go for it! We went out with a horse that we haven't hacked with before, but is reasonably old and knows what he's doing. He likes to lead, so that suited us well. I only really wanted a slow hack, as she hasn't been out for so long, but in the end it was so wet that we couldn't do more than walk and trot anyway. It was a very successful outing; she was spooky on the way out of the yard - the wheelie-bins were obviously housing some very scary monsters, but when we got going she was fine. The trots felt...powerful. I wouldn't have wanted to canter that day, as she wasn't really taking a contact and was pinging forwards very boldly. I think a canter might have somewhat blown her brains...but next time, definitely!

Schooling wise, she is going pretty well. I am having issues getting her to take weight on her hind legs, but can't remember if it is any more of a problem than before she had her back problems. Her hind legs just feel really weak - I can't really describe it better than that. I suppose she has had a lot of time off and has grown a bit too, so there are bound to be some changes, but I have been working quite hard to get her to use her back end. I've been doing lots of transitions to lighten her forehand and have been asking for some steps of leg-yielding. It does seem to be improving, as I lunged her last week and her transitions looked much stronger than they had done a couple of weeks previously.

My other niggle is with her outside contact on the right rein. I have real problems riding her from inside leg to outside rein when on the right. This seems to be a left side problem, as she is reluctant to take the contact forward on the inside when on the left rein too. I don't really know why this is. The leg-yielding has been helping, but I find that when I change the rein I lose all ability to bend her correctly! I think it will be something that comes with time. I am also having a lesson with John tomorrow, so it is highly likely that he will point out the problem within a minute or two, and make me feel thoroughly stupid for not realising what it was, as it was so glaringly obvious! That's what usually happens, anyway! We haven't had a lesson since January, so I am a little apprehensive, but very excited at the same time!

My lessons always leave me with LOTS to think about, so I will no doubt voice my thoughts on here tomorrow!

Daily adventures while training my young horse.