Friday, January 29, 2010

Day Two at Hasslerville

Day two started with travel hassles – a truck full of bricks overturned on 202, shutting the road down, and abandoning me to creative detours.  Thankfully, books on tape prevents road rage, so I arrived tight on time but not tight on patience.

Secret was first to go today.  She came out of her stall in her usual let-me-at-the-work-I-can-do-it-better mode.  And she did. 

I warmed her up in her longer, lower neck frame, but when I sat into the saddle, she brought her back and neck up, putting her balance right where we had ended yesterday.  We continued to work on settling her into the outside rein by picking exercises that stretched the outside of her body.  When she became too light in the contact, she let me push her back into the connection with my leg.  She just gets better and better.

As we cantered along the short side, he had me ride in shoulder-fore, then he said, “That’s her third level canter.”  Third level???? She’s been a dressage horse for 16 months, but I’m not telling her that.  

“Down the long side, now 12 m circle.”  Piece of cake.

“Now 10m circle.” Sure, she can do that.

“Now 8 m circle.” Um, ok, that’s kinda small--well, never mind, she did it just fine. 

“Now walk, and collect it.” Collected walk?? On a first level horse? Um, ok. So I cued, and sure enough, she collected.  Wow. 

“That’s borderline too big,” so I adjust, and again the super star responded like she has FEI training.

“That’s your show collected walk, now extended walk.”  Um, ok, I guess…. “Keep her a little softer in the flexion, there, that’s what you want.”  So maybe we won’t stay at first level very long this season …

Then it was Venus’ turn.  She spent 25 minutes under Cara’s magnetic blanket (thank you thank you thank you), which she enjoys.

She started out feeling really lofty, but a little behind my leg—kinda like she was hovering in each trot step.  Not good, as she looks pretty from the ground but I loose some adjustability.  I was thrilled she was doing this, she gets this way once in a while, and I really wanted help. 

When her back feels this way, I, of course, in my normal go-go-go-push-harder mode want desperately to push her forward.  Pushing her forward does fix the behind-the-leg feeling, but I usually loose that loftiness.  I also risk getting her too excited.  I spend the rest of the ride settling her mind, and don’t really get to any real work. So I was ripe for a new plan.

Scott had me go to changing the lateral work on a 20-m canter circle, his stock exercise for a tight back. She did exactly what she does at home when I do this—she kept dropping out of the canter.  So he had me alternate it with pushing her a little forward, to 12 mph, and immediately follow it with shoulder fore.  The forward got the right hind moving better, and then the lateral work got it moving under her body. 

And what do you know, I had forward AND loftiness AND her mind. 

Holy crap my Baby Cakes is swinging like a fancy horse.

We went on to check all the lateral work in trot. In shoulder-in, when I needed more activity, a hug with my legs or a tap with the whip gave me more swing and carriage. In the half-pass, not so much.  The whip gave me a tail flip and a tight stride. 

So now we have two plans for lateral work. Her new half-pass plan—when I want more,  go out of half pass into shoulder in or 10m circle, get the activity where she is confident, then take that activity back into half pass.  As she gets more limber and confident in her half passes, I should be able to use my whip in the lateral work.

Then back to the canter. 

And Baby Cakes did her first changes in public. 

I’m still setting them up on very careful, don’t-get-too-excited kinds of lines.  My homework is to start to challenge her confidence, and move the changes around the arena. 

We went back to supple, then compress, then supple, then compress, rinse-and-repeat exercises that are Venus’ bread and butter, then he said, “We can be done with that, or we can look at her half steps.”

She likes the half steps, so why not?  Homework there is to start to have her stay in the half steps for more and more steps. 

Then he made my day.  He said “The piaffe is going to be a highlight.” 

Yes, I’m really that easy.  Praise my girl and I’m putty. 

Friday and Saturday Linda, Secret’s mom, and I are staying down there.  I get to watch Friday afternoon lessons and Saturday morning training, a real treat for me. Plus Scott promised us a tour of their new barn.  Weather will be pretty cold, so I’ll pack all of my warm stuff.  I may not have access to a computer, so you might have to wait until Sunday to hear about the last two days.  But I will report, I promise.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day One at Hasslerville

  A few times a year I immerse myself in my education.  The mental side is what drew me to this sport (and away from my fringed chaps). Wednesday I loaded Secret and Venus up for four days of lessons at Hassler Dressage.

Carol started the whole “Hasslerville” thing, but in my over-stimulated-caffeine-induced-excitement, it went from fun to downright silly.  This goes to the tune of “Margaritaville:”
Driving down to train again at Hasslerville
Looking for my lost canter half halt
Some people say that there’s a German to blame
But I know
It’s my own damn fault

Ok, on to the training.  When I come for a multiple-day visit, Scott and I spend day one reviewing my homework and looking for any holes in my work--areas that, because of so many days riding alone, need a brush up.   

Venus was up first.  Last time Scott saw her in December, he sent me home with two pieces of homework.  First, I was supposed to be a bit less tolerant of her tipping onto her right shoulder, especially in half pass.   Second, I was to shrink the canter down, make it even a bit too up-and-down, to get her to quit rushing through me on any straight line, especially in half-pass lines. 

The right shoulder balance homework has come along really well. With the exception of haunches in on the right circle, it didn’t show up.  Excellent, onward and upward.

As I’ve worked on her canter homework, we’ve had good results, but tightness has started to peek in from time to time.  Sometimes I ask for a more manageable canter tempo and stride length, and she willingly obliges. Sometimes she gets a bit stiff and stuck behind me, especially in the left lead.

To work through this, first he had me settle her into the tempo we want, even if that puts her a little on the forehand.  Then go to lateral work to supple her back, and let that suppleness give me the uphill balance I’m looking for. 

Of course, it worked like a charm.  She went from a 2nd level balance to a 3rd level canter with a hint of even more power and balance in no time.  That is, if I was quick enough to clarify my half-halt when she got confused.  The best part-- she was willing to accept my corrections without getting tense. The girl is really growing up.    

One thing Scott cautioned me about, with her canter stride. It feels divine to me when it is a little too big.  When her giant canter gets to rolling along, she looses lateral suppleness.  So throw in little shoulder-in/haunches-in strides now and again test her balance.  If she can’t roll from straight into lateral work and back to straight without any tension, the canter has gotten too big for her balance.  I love tests like that, they give me confidence when I’m working on my own.

Scott hasn’t seen Secret since the BLMs in October, and her last “real” lesson with him was back in July, so I was anxious to have him check her progress.  Back in July, we had discussed getting more ground cover into her right lead canter, improving flexion before corners so she doesn’t fall against my inside leg, and holding long, shallow lines of lateral work.

Secret, in her normal, perfect-girl fashion, nailed her homework.   

So on to what I wanted to work on – I want her to carry her neck lower/longer and her nose out in front of the vertical, and I want more access to her hind legs, so I can get better crossing in the half pass and how to best prepare for clean changes (yea, she’s only been a dressage horse for 17 months, but she’s a super star, what can I say??). 

Scott disagreed with my first goal.  He didn’t think that a longer, lower neck served her balance.  He had me keep her poll up and her neck out, then ride accurate, supple lines until she relaxed her neck and reached for the bit.  So in short, ride her neck like an FEI level horse. Of course, after a few minutes she started pushing into the contact and quit fussing with the bit. 

Once we got her neck where he wanted it, we then added lots of lateral work. My first priority was to make sure she was settled into the bit before asking for the bending.  If she wasn’t settled, sure enough, she shortened her neck. Then we circled to settle her, and asked again. Within no time she had it all figured out. 

We did the same thing in the canter. Her canter is much easier to keep organized than Venus, so before long he had me making smaller and smaller circles.  Which, of course, she handled with ease.   Love this mare’s super work ethic. 

We also spent some time on the walk-canter-walk.  He had me really insist that she be with me in the first stride of canter.  He said that her delay in the first stride directly relates to getting clean changes in the future.   After one correction, of course, she was right with me.  This mare is a delight to train.

We talked a little about the show plan for Secret. Her uphill balance and Friesian blood make collection work easy, but it means the mediums will take longer to develop.  Showing her extensively at First and Second Levels, where the mediums account so heavily in the scores, probably isn’t going to be her best scores.  He agreed with my ideas of light showing this season, and let her develop. She’ll be a rock star again at Third Level.

Ok, heading out for day two. 


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Dressage Geek Mind

Our first educational event of 2010 is fast approaching, and as I plot and plan, I thought I’d give you a peek into the labyrinth of my mind.

In winter, as much as I hate the cold, I love the uninterrupted training.  I love wrapping my mind around why a particular thing is hard for one horse, then figuring out how to make my idea the easiest, most logical thing for my mount to do.  This is what drew me to dressage, not the tail coat and top hat.  So I guess you could say I’m not really a Dressage Queen, I’m a Dressage Geek.

I spend hours in DG mode.  I think about why one thing is hard for one horse, and easy for another.  I compare their conformations and I compare their minds. 

For me, this is fascinating stuff.  We all know the short backed, more Baroque style horses have talent for collection while the more rectangular-built horses have more talent for extension, but why?  If we understand why, can we talk the Baroque body into an 8 extension, without disrupting their delicate balance? Or how do we get the powerhouse hind ends to carry more weight without getting tense? 

In DG mode, I jump to role of physical therapist.  Can I help the compromised horse?  How can I select the right movements so dressage becomes therapy, improving their soundness as well as their training?  I stare at their hind-end muscles, comparing symmetry, and think of what exercises will stress the weaker leg without over-taxing it, and how to alternate muscle groups to symmetrically balance this horse’s body.

Then my DG mind crosses over to horse psychologist.  How do I settle the tension on my try-too-hard horses, without dulling their gaits? How do I jazz up my couch-potato types, without creating tension? How intensely can I stress their bodies without frying their brains? How often should I alternate between work that improves their confidence and work that improves their strength?   

Of course, my DG side doesn’t let my riding off the hook either.  How does my seat inhibit or enhance this horse?  If I sit more full on my seat, or more up on my thighs, which seat gives me more access to his topline? My half halt is very different on my over achievers than on a less ambitious horse.  Yes, the aids are technically the same, riding the horse between my leg, seat, and hand, but the flavor of them changes dramatically.  If I ride Venus’ half-halt on Secret, well, Secret would be a nervous wreck.  And if I did the opposite, Venus would have even less brakes. 

Then, because I’m such a truly annoying DG, I start babbling about these differences to anyone who will lend an ear.  Cara, Linda, and Lynn were probably entertained the first few times, but now, well, I think they’d rather hear “yea, it was a good ride” instead of the biomechanical and psychological break down of each footfall. 

So Thursday, I’ll babble to whoever wanders in.  I’ll even try to answer questions about my thinking.  I’ll do my best to let you inside my DG trainer’s mind.  It’s an experiment, and hopefully one you will find helpful in your own training.

Ted Gorman

Ted Gorman
Dec 27, 2009

As I'm sure most everyone has heard by now, Ted Gorman, Red Bridge Farm's owner, passed way right after Christmas. Red Bridge seems quieter these days without Ted's cheerful banter around the barn. Ted's impact on SFD's growth this last year and half is immeasurable. I am truly grateful for the boost he gave our business, and saddend at his passing.

Although his sudden passing did leave us scrambling a bit (you never realize how much someone does until they aren't around to do it any more), rest assured, Straight Forward Dressage's business has not been effected.Our busy teaching, training, and special event schedule is going ahead as planned.

Eric Russo, Ted's son-in-law, was left the job of sorting out Ted's affairs. Before all this, poor Eric was a mild-mannered IT guy who knew nothing of the horse business. Between Red Bridge and Yarmouth, Ted's other facility, he is getting a crash course. I had the pleasure of giving him his first TSC shopping list. He has already learned the first lesson--TSC is for pickup trucks, not European sedans.

Below is Ted's obituary, copied from The Daily Local:

Albert E. "Ted" Gorman Jr. of West Chester died on Dec. 27, 2009.

Ted was the beloved husband of Renee V. Gorman (nee Valente), with whom he shared 43 years of marriage.

He was the dear father of Hope G. Krapf and Mimi G. Russo (Eric); and grandfather of Amelia Rose Krapf and Gunnar W. Russo.

Ted is also survived by his sisters, Mary Lou Denney, Joan M. Schimpf and Patricia A. Harrington; and brothers, James J. and Thomas J. Gorman.

Mr. Gorman graduated from William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia and from Babson College in Massachusetts.

He was in the investment business for 40-plus years and was a member of the Orpheus Club of Philadelphia and First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry.

He was also a member of Avalon Yacht Club, Radley Run Country Club, Radnor Hunt and The Vesper Club.

He was passionate about his family and enjoyed singing, boating, the outdoors and horses.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Camp 2010

Winter camp is always a highlight here at SFD.  We pull out all the stops to make it a memorable occasion.  Here's what some folks thought, and some photos of the festivities.  We rode twice a day, but our insufficient camera does not handle the indoor lighting well, so photos are of the theory classes. I heard a rumor that Jerry, Marilyn's husband, got some nice mounted photos--I'll get those to you as soon as I can.

A technical note - for some reason, Blogspot keeps adding extra white space around some of the pics, just keep scrolling. There's a bunch of photos here.

The weather, of course, didn't cooperate as well this year. But the cold and wind did not stop our enthusiasm, as you can see in these pics from The Unmounted Seat Lesson.  That class, and the other theory classes, is what makes camp different than a riding clinic. We take the time to get into both dressage theory and horsemanship skills.

Here Cheryle practices maitaining balance while playing catch with a stabilty ball. Now if we could only get the floor to move, it'd REALLY mimic what we have to do while riding.  I'll work on that for next time....

A hula hoop loosens up all the canter-seat muscles.  Of course Paige, age 10, out hula-d us all.

I asked a few of the participants to give me a short write-up of their camp experience. I'm thrilled to see that the riders had as much fun as those of us on staff.  Here's what Joyce Faccenda thought of our camp. Joyce has been riding for a little over a year, and joined us at SFD about 6 months ago.

Winter Camp 2010
by Joyce Feccenda

Winter Camp was a very special Christmas gift I received this year and I’m so glad to have been a participant! 

My understanding of the equestrian world and dressage increased exponentially in 3 short days as I attended classes on the importance of communication, managing fear when riding, equine first aid and nutrition, and participated in Pilates.

The opportunity to take two lessons each day increased my ability and confidence and helped to clarify the changes in position I need to work on. I really enjoyed getting to work with Laura and Cara.  I loved getting to know other riders at Red Bridge Farm.

Being a beginning rider and being new to dressage could be an intimidating situation but with encouragement from Ange, Laura and Cara and being with other riders who are supportive and who care about each others successes, my experience at camp was awesome!

Here's the gift bag we gave all the participants. Doug, of Horse Husband Productions, designed the art. Isn't my man creative????

This is from Wendy Adams, who operates Glory Springs in Wernersville, PA. I've been going out there twice a month as weather permits (they don't have an indoor) for years.  The gals there are enthusiastic and fun.  Her daughter Paige is the hula-hoop star above. 

by Wendy Adams

I can not say enough about straight forward dressage's winter camp.  This is the second year I attended the camp.  I own a barn in western berks county .  Angie has been coming up to give a large group of us lessons for over six years now.  We do not have an indoor ring, so six of us came down to Red Bridge for the winter camp this year.  

We all had an awsome time !!!!!!  There was always something going on, braiding, pilates, demonstrations, and of course RIDING.  Lots and lots of riding !  We all went home very tired, sore, but very happy !!  Being able to spend 3 days away from everything else, and just concentrate on my horse and my riding was just what I needed.  

The facility is beautiful, and everyone was so nice.  I met a lot of really nice people.  Angie, Laura, and Cara, I cannot say enough good things about.  They are wonderful teachers, and were so nice to everyone, and gave people the attention they needed for their level of riding.  This is the second year I brought my 9 year old daughter and her pony, and everyone was so nice to her.  

Thank you Angie, Laura,and Cara for an awesome camp !!!!  You will see us all there next year !!! 

Here's a couple more theory pics, this is our first aid class, where Eclipse stood like a champ and let us learn how to wrap a leg wound. 

This was us chillin' after lunch.  The hanging out is part of the fun.