Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carol Lippa and Merrick

This is by Carol Lippa, who started out as a boarder, became a training client, joined us as staff, and has become a trusted friend. In her real job, she is Head of Memory Disorders at Drexel.  But in our world, she is Merrick's Mom.


After a year of Ange
Trotting to the Beat of a Different Drummer
By Carol Lippa

The thrill of having a horse who is athletic enough to win championships, jump the moon, and do a piaffe in hand, has been downsized by our seemingly endless inability to succeed at Training 1. Having a “project horse” can be humbling.

Riding involves a dynamic partnership with the horse-rider-trainer team, always keeping an eye toward how to perform better next time. Most serious riders and many horses thrive on this. Lovable and expressive in other ways, Merrick trots to the sound of a different drummer, often painfully lacking motivation when asked to expend energy at the riders command.

An Angeism: “to do dressage, you need to admit you _ _ _ _, then figure out what to do to fix it.” Complicating our efforts to “fix it”, Merrick’s training slows due to illnesses and interventions. Immunizations give him the flu, injections lead to muscle atrophy, medications worsen his ulcers, and sedation causes him to fall over. Don’t even think about riding after he’s been shod – his angles might have changed a degree. Wouldn’t it be nice to own a normal horse?

Over time, Ange suggests changes in training strategies to suit Merrick’s learning style at the moment, hoping that layering the approaches over time will have an onion skin effect. Maybe this will work; Merrick will happily trot over a jump now, and is starting to get a topline. My heart soars because I love to jump and so does he.

Merrick finally won his first multicolored ribbons. They hang proudly by his stall, and he has a vague sense of what the fuss is about. He seems to enjoy hearing people tell him that he must have been a “very good boy” to have earned them. But grazing remains more important to Merrick. Credit earned is credit due, and he deserves a good long graze for putting up with 20-meter circles, transitions and those annoying half halts.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Photos of Hasslers

I promised you photos, but cold is BAD for cameras.  But we were able to salvage a few.  

Here is Secret's new-and-improved taller canter. Her canter is a BLAST to ride.

Scott helped Linda with her connection, and used this awesome analogy of a wheel barrow to explain keeping the horse in both reins. Linda has ran with this concept--her last two lessons are the best riding I've seen her do.

Look - harmony!! My red girl is emotionally at peace.

I love this shot. This is from Friday, when her back was so tight, hence her croup is higher than I want. But check out her push-off from the left hind, and the diagonal pair of right hind-left fore is so clearly together that her hind cannon bone and front forearm are parallel.  Her canter rocks.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day Three and Four in Hasslerville

Friday was COLD.  Apparently, this weekend, Hasslerville was in the Arctic Circle.  I’m generally not a wimp, but boy, it was COLD.  When I got on Venus, who I rode second, I couldn’t feel my thumbs.  Not good.  But it takes more than cold to keep me from my education.

Linda came along Friday and Saturday.  On the way down, she said, “How much difference can two lessons make?”  As I’m warming up, Secret answered her question.  As we cantered by I heard Linda’s “WOW.”  Yep, the black mare is getting fancy.

Secret’s big goals for the week were improving the swing in her trot, collection in her canter, having a plan for when she gets try-too-hard-150%-every-stride tension, and being able to move her hind legs around without getting more speed.

Secret has embraced the taller, more uphill outline.  Her canter in particular has changed pretty dramatically.  In her new balance, I can use my outside leg without her rushing forward, so those goals are addressed.  The walk-canter transition has really benefited.

Scott encouraged me to make shorter canter sets, even when it feels divine.  In her first trot steps, evaluate how she maintains her balance.  If she is stellar, then the canter set was productive. If she flattens and runs, then I over-faced her in the canter set, either by making it too strenuous or too long. 

In the trot, her try-too-hard can come out as quickness, so Scott had me ride my straight line work a bit more conservatively.  On lateral lines, even slight ones, that was the time to ask for more swing and power. 

My lateral work homework is to develop lots of smooth, flowing lines that go from one lateral work to the other.  Of course, this creates a little tension, so when it does, I have two plans. If she maintains tempo, hold my current lateral work until she relaxes. If she changes tempo, exit that lateral work, settle her, then re-enter it. 

Then, on Saturday, we took that even further, and started pushing her collected trot a bit.  My homework is to play with that only a little, as Scott says “She doesn’t really need more collection in the trot,” so only 2 or 3 times a week, at the end of the workout, so she doesn’t get it confused with her working trot.  When we pushed her collection during a leg yield, I actually felt hints of her piaffe to come.

Since collecting the trot worked so nicely in the leg yield, Scott broke his own rule and had me do some half-pass work next.  We kept the lines shallow, but she clearly offered crossing both front and hind without speeding up.  That is well on its way.

Friday, since Secret was such a star, we ended our work early, and had Linda hop on.  I thought she was going to pee her pants she was so nervous.  Secret took good care of her, and I think Linda got a lot out of her mini-lesson.

Venus, I didn’t have enough blankets on her Thursday night, and she told me very clearly in the right lead canter—it felt quite tight in her back.  To make herself more comfortable, she wanted to push her hips to the right and get faster.  

We worked on trying to solve it in the canter, but alas, she reacted to each correction with more speed.  So back to trot-halt-trot transitions.  She was brilliant in the upward transition, clearly lifting her shoulders, but took a LOT of strength in the downward.  After several (ok, TONS) of these transitions, we’d go back to the canter and evaluate. Bottom line, I couldn’t fix the canter in the canter, I needed to go to the trot to get access to the right hind, then go back to canter. 

Ironically, her trot work was unaffected by the cold. She was swingy and smooth.  I would have liked for her to be a bit more uphill, but neither Scott nor I was willing to risk it on Friday.  So we got her back swinging more freely, and called it a ride.

Friday afternoon I was able to turn her out to do her buck-prance-buck-prance thing she likes to do in turnout, and added an extra blanket.  It worked. On Saturday, she came out feeling much softer in her back. 

So Saturday we hit her big three–changes, half pass and half steps. 

For her changes, as soon as I have adjustability in the canter, I am to go for it.  I am a dressage rider, so I want everything absolutely perfect before I do the changes.  Problem is, Venus needs energy for clean changes, and my perfectionism is tiring.  When we got to the changes earlier in the workout, before she gets fatigued, and earlier in the canter sets, the changes were clean and calm.    

For her half pass work, the quality of Venus’ half pass is directly related to the work just before the half pass. If her neck and shoulders are awesome going in, she stays balanced and smooth in the lateral work, especially to the left. When her right shoulder wants to lead, I need to correct it with a circle or shoulder in, instead of trying to muscle the half pass itself.  Once again Ange, ride with your brain not your strength. Also, make steeper half passes, she is ready.

Her half steps on Saturday were fabulous. We moved them off of the circle and onto straight lines, asking her to hold them for longer and shorter periods of time, and to keep them more and more in place. 

Venus’ additional homework from the week is to keep her rounder and more committed to the contact in her lateral work, use transitions in and out of collection to bring her frame taller. 

So now the real work begins, being able to make this happen without Scott’s watchful eye.  Doug, the most amazing horse-husband ever, came on Saturday to video, so I have that to refer to. And hopefully we won’t be training in the Arctic Circle much longer. I did order warmer riding gloves though. I like feeling my thumbs.