Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Building Consistency in the Basics

Dawn and I attempted to work yesterday, but were defeated by the bugs. It had just finished storming and was sprinkling on and off, and it was very humid. We were almost carried away by the mosquitos, and as we could only work at the walk - the ring was very sloppy - we did a few sets of backing and called it a day. I think I rode for all of about 5 minutes. Then I drove to the feed store and got some Mosquito Halt - the stuff is nasty and poisonous beyond belief but it does mostly keep the mosquitos at bay.

This morning we managed to get some proper work done. My goals for the day were to maintain our softening at the walk, work on our backing until we were able to get several repetitions of soft backing, and work some more at the trot, particularly to the right which is her harder direction, on maintaining consistent softening.

There were also some things I wanted to work on in me - these are pretty apparent in the photos in the last post. When I'm working, my left leg tends to come up a little bit, which I expect means that I'm putting more weight in my right leg. This might have a lot to do with how she's been going at the trot - to the left would be easier since I'd be weighting the outside, and conversely to the right would be harder since I'd be weighting the inside. I was interested to see what would happen. The other thing I wanted to work on is my upper back and shoulders - I tend to round my shoulders and hunch my upper back, which puts my center of gravity a little too far forwards, making it hard for her to use her hindquarters properly. Holding myself in this position also results in some bracing in my shoulders and the lower part of my neck - and guess where Dawn is the stiffest? This position also causes my elbows to be out rather than close to my sides, resulting in hands that are a little too low and close together. It's my job to use my body in a way that helps her, by riding in a balanced and non-braced position, instead of getting in the way.

At the walk, I kept thinking about my posture, elbows and stretching down with my left leg while keeping it relaxed and not braced. She softened consistently at the walk, so we moved on to working on our backing. She was a little sticky at first, but once we'd worked for a while things began to break loose and the back became much more soft and relaxed.

Then we did a lot of trotting. I continued to work on my position while we were working on her softening. We did lots of circles, ovals and changes of direction through a figure 8. After only a little bit of work, the trot to the left was pretty consistently soft, so we spent more time to the right. The more relaxed and long my left leg was and the more I was able to keep my upper back and shoulders up, the better her trot to the right got. We worked our way up to 11 steps of soft trot to the right in repeated sets - this time I didn't let the reins go completely between sets as we continued to trot around - this may be encouraging her to push down on the bit - but just gave her a little more room. Then we did some more backing - much improved - and did some more sets of trot to the right - we were able to put together several sets of 11 steps that were soft.

To finish, as we were trotted, we went on a straight line and I asked for a halt - it was fluid and lovely and she stayed soft right through it. After she stood for a few seconds, I asked for back and it also was just right - soft, slow and very nice. That was an excellent place to stop, and I told her what a great horse she is and, after a walk-out so she could catch her breath, took her into the barn, untacked and gave her a nice rinse off with cold water - she'd gotten pretty sweaty. I think the consistency of softness at the trot is almost there - she's really got the idea now and my improved position should help her with the work as well.


  1. We rarely see a mosquito here but the last couple of days the horse flies (the B-52 bombers) have been making their presence known.

  2. First, I really like the expression on her face in your header picture.

    It's amazing to me that the way we handle our own bodies really does reflect on how the horses body reacts. Glad you and Dawn had such a nice soft ride today and no mosquitoes to disrupt things.

  3. I think the B 52's are here too...it must take all of July for them to grow up... Had to buy Mosquito Halt off the Internet as the local tack store doesn't stock it anymore. Darn stuff is deadly, but it sure works!

    Nice work with Dawn, again. Your focus on following a solid program is admirable and certainly paying off. Wishing you a bugless Wednesday!!

  4. It's wonderful when it all comes together =)

  5. Your efforts will bare fruit, looking at the photos, your well on your way!

  6. I'm crooked too, but I think mine will get better as I become more comfortable with the trot. It just doesn't come easily to me.

    Keep on pluggin'.

  7. Kate, I admire how very observant you are of your own posture while riding. The things you said about not overweighting one leg vs the other, and its effect on Dawn's trotting is really inspiring- I'm going to use your observations with my riding. Glad your work with Dawn is going so well!

  8. I love how introspective and cognizant you are of your riding. I tend to get a bit ADD when riding and forget what I am doing.

  9. The B-52's are here too. This evening I was greeted by some sky high bucks from Val, with a hard gallop down the fence line to escape them.

    Taking inspiration from your progress with Dawn. We're heading off to my trainers this weekend :)

  10. The mosquitos are carrying us away as well. I lit a smudge again tonight , but I live in a very rural area where it doesn't seem to bother people. Sounds like a good session with Dawn

  11. I have found that sometimes one stirrup is actually longer or shorter than another (mine, I think, do this because when I rope I put more weight in the right one because I am leaning out a bit that way to deliver my throw) and we compensate for it by riding a little off centre in our saddles. I'm wondering if on and english saddle that the stirrup leathers, being thinner, might be more suseptible to stretching.

  12. CCC - yes, the stirrup leathers tend to stretch, particularly due to mounting on the left. The solution with an English schedule is to regularly switch the leathers, which isn't too hard to do.

  13. When I first came back to riding after a very long hiatus, I had a lot more tension in my body than when I was young - my first year of riding again was with a good friend and very classical dressage rider who lunged me a lot on her very sensitive mare. The thing she said to me the most was "breathe out" - it tends to relax the tension and bracing wherever it might be happening in the body.

    She said that to me so many times I now say it to myself when I ride, and it's amazing how nearly every horse will instantly soften when you do it.

    The trainer I worked with after that first year (and after I got Keil Bay) tended to correct my position by asking me to do things like lengthen a leg, drop heels, sit back, etc. Often when I tried to do what she asked, it didn't work, but what I immediately did was breathe out - and it nearly always got a "good" response from her.

    The thing I do that instantly fixes my tendency to curl forward is to ride with one arm straight up in the air. Sometimes I'll even knot the reins so I can periodically drop them and put both arms up. And when I can't actually put my arm up, I'll think it instead - it works almost as well as doing it.

    Love the photos and your analysis - it helps so much to see what we're doing.

  14. Bah, those mozzies sound awful. Ditto the advice to check stirrup leathers :)

    Several successions of soft steps is great news, you'll maybe not notice it with each session but in a couple of months you'll have achieved a steady progresson.

  15. I think I've decided that consistency is truly the most difficult thing in riding, but I think the way you are progressing it will not take long before 11 steps turns into 12 turns into 15 turns into consistency.


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