Friday, December 31, 2010

Ockie's Three Days at Hassler Dressage

By Cara Klothe

Ockie’s trip to Riveredge was an unexpected success.  Two weeks prior, I had totally given up and given her to Ange for four rides (I think it only lasted four rides).  This happens to Ockie and I sometimes—we just need a time out from one another.  The pressure of having your own horse hit a training plateau can cloud the ability to train correctly, which is when having a second trainer around comes in handy.  Plus, for some reason, it seems harder to acknowledge how much progress YOUR horse has made. Other people’s horses, no problem, but seeing your horse’s own progress seems to be harder.

But enough with that, on to Scott’s.

The last time I was down, a few months back, we were working on Ockie’s one tempis, or flying changes every stride.  (sidenote: for anyone who saw Ockie’s changes a year ago, yes, it’s a miracle that we are even working on the ones.)  At that time I could get two one-tempis, and he sent me home with lots of homework on how to improve those two one-time changes.

I had done my homework, and even I could admit our two one-tempis had definitely improved.  With great confidence I can go down the quarter line and make multiple sets of two one-tempis….so now add a third, that can’t be too hard, she had the two one-tempis down so well.  Well let me tell you, it was hard.  Ockie is not naturally confident in her changes.  I’ve worked hard to make good, high quality single changes (down to two tepis), but she still gets nervous when she thinks she’s messing up the changes.  Teaching her the one-tempis we have to address her brain more than body.

So the first day down at Hassler’s we focused the one-tempis.  More specifically, we looked at the half halt that leads up to the changes.  Because one-tempis come so fast, the half-halt to has to be fast.  Additionally, the half-halt before the tempis has the extra purpose of making the horse quicker in the canter, not slower.  We worked on getting the three parts of that half halt really good—the in, the during, and, most importantly, the out.  Once we got that we moved to the two one-tempis, which were even better.  Then we tried three in a row…no dice.  At that point we had tortured the poor mare enough and called it a day.

Day two we again started with the one-tempis after her warm up.  When working on something hard for Ockie, it is important to do that work when she is fresh, not tired.  We used the same plan as the day before, working the details of the half halt and single changes to make the ones better.  We then looked at her tricky right shoulder.  Her favorite evasion is to carry her right shoulder too far to the right right, which takes all of the contact out of the left rein, resulting in no half halt on the left rein.  I need a left rein to half-halt to get the final change back to the left lead.

We addressed this by leg yielding her off my right leg to quarter line. I got a better feeling in my left hand for the changes, but still no luck when it came to three in a row.  However, she felt much more connected over her back than she had the day before, so that was positive and hopeful for more one-tempis in the near future.
At the end of day two we worked on half steps, the short trot steps that prepare a horse for piaffe.  We worked on these a bit at home, so Ockie was pretty good.  Scott used an in-hand whip to activate her hind legs from behind, while I kept Ockie relatively in place and elaxed in her topline.  We were able to get some pretty good half steps out of her before we called it a day.

Day three poor Ockie really worked.  Again we went right to the ones, while the pieces were all good, but still no luck with three in a row, so Scott gave me lots of homework for getting them at home, and we moved on. 

The in -hand work on day three was awesome!  Ockie got some actual piaffe steps and by reinforcing the half-halt with the in-hand work, the trot was amazing, the best I have ever felt. We then really tested her by going on to pirouette work.  I was really happy with her work, considering I haven’t done much with pirouette’s since BLM Finals in October.  We ended with some more one-tempis, ones down the quarter line just to test her willingness to work when tired, and she was great!

All in all it was a great weekend, not only did we get a lot of work accomplished, but, probably more importantly, I was so impressed by how much Ockie has matured.  She did not get emotional about much at all: maybe a little in the one-teempis, but that is to be expected.  I have to admit, she has come a long way from the horse I bought two years ago, no matter what I thought two weeks before our trip to Riveredge.

Just in case anyone was wondering, two rides latter we got three ones in a row J

Friday, December 24, 2010

Secret’s Three Days at Hassler Dressage

December 15-18 Cara, Linda and I loaded up Secret, Venus, and Ockie for a 3-day winter-training jump start.  I know I’m a bit late in getting this blog written, but frankly, I have been processing all of the info.  To keep this from getting miles and miles long, I divided it into 3 blogs, one per horse.
Check her out in the 'big girl' bridle!

First, Secret.  Secret was awesome, as always. She and I have been on our own with her since October, and I was eager to get some feedback.  She has felt great lately, but sometimes it looks different than it feels, which is why eyes-on-the-ground are so important in this sport.  I was ripe for Scott’s eyes.

Secret has the most unique learning style I’ve ever ran into on a horse – I swear she learns by a series of light bulb moments.  Combine that with her I-will-do-my-best-every-single-step personality, and I have a unique problem as a trainer.  If I have explained it in a way she understands, then her try-too-hard nature works for me, and all is good. If I haven’t, then it works against me, and she’s frustrated. For Secret, frustration means speed, which makes everything harder. I went to Scott hoping he’d help Secret find her light bulb (and a resulting reasonable tempo) in the left canter half pass and the flying changes. 

So on to the lessons.

This was Secret’s first outing in the ‘big girl’ bridle, her double bridle.  She’s been schooling in it 2-3 times a week for about 6 weeks. Scott was as impressed as I have been at how well she accepts the double. Where double bridles are concerned, the light bulb is glowing brightly. 

First, we addressed the canter half pass.  Scott and I had worked on the half pass back in October at the BLMs, and my homework had yielded a much more adjustable canter with a more even contact, but hadn’t really worked into a better half pass.

So he changed gears. Instead, he had me show her how her feet should go, by first half passing left in the walk, then straightening a bit, then cueing half pass in canter.  He warned me that the risk is she would fall left in the canter, but since she wasn’t going left at all – just speeding up from my leg – it’s a risk he was willing to take. 

The first time we did this, Secret was all discombobulated. She couldn’t figure out how to canter, much less half pass. The second time it was a little better, and the third time, if you used a lot of imagination, you could sort of see a half pass.  The light bulb was starting to flicker on.  So we left that for the day.

Next, the changes. Secret was having the same trouble with the changes—she just hasn’t figured out how to sort out her legs.  In general, dressage has come so easily to Secret that she gets frustrated when she can’t sort it out.  Since frustration creates speed in Secret, several attempted flying changes had resulted in warp-speed laps around the arena.  I had tried several methods at home, and trying the changes over a ground pole had given us the best results.

Because Secret got a little tense working the half pass, Scott broke the ground pole work into several slow steps. We walked over it, we trotted over it, we trotted up and walked over it, we walked up and cantered away, etc, until the ground pole was no big deal. Then we tried a change over it, and when she got it, we praised her like mad, and called it a day. 
This photo is a bit fuzzy, but you can see her absolute concentration.  She is determined to figure this out.

On day 2, once Secret was warmed up, we went right to the half pass, and she was ready. The half pass was fluid, with clear crossing and sideways.  Apparently, her light bulb moment had happened sometime overnight.  She must have spent the night working out the footfalls in her stall.  It’s freaky sometimes how this horse learns.  

The flying changes were also better. They were pretty consistent over the ground pole, but she didn’t really have it sorted out enough without the pole.  So there’s a light bulb about the ground pole, but she hasn’t quite seen the light without the pole yet.  That’s ok.  We got one without the pole, and then went back to the pole, mixing it up to keep her relaxed.  He recommended that, if she starts anticipating the pole at home, I lay out several poles, or raise one pole up a bit.  We are all confident that the changes are going to be fine. We’ve got all winter.

On day three, again we started with a left half pass, and Secret was like guys, I’ve got this now.  Since I had a homework plan for the changes, we skipped them for the day, and instead went to work on quality of her basic gaits.  In shoulder in, he had me ride the outside shoulder movement bigger. When we returned to the collected trot, the shoulder movement stayed bigger, and the trot itself felt more rolling. She’s starting to show lovely suspension and cadence in her trot.

In the canter, he asked me to make the canter more ‘lofty,’ particularly in the downward transition from medium canter to collected canter.  Thinking this way maintained her suspension and kept the canter from getting too up-and-down (she is half Friesian…). Her neck stayed nice and long, and her back swung like a hammock. What a super feeling.   

We also looked at the trot half passes, and to sum up the corrections Scott gave me,  she’s ready for more bend to go with the leg crossing.  In other words, go find the big girl half passes.  We can do that.  

So we have plenty of homework to keep us busy this winter.  Secret’s so much fun to work with, light bulbs and all.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pikasso's Amazing Progress

Below are 3 videos of Pikasso, an 18-year-old Hanoverian, that I have had in sales training for the last 6 months. I have known him for years. Katie, his original owner, started as a student and quickly became a friend. When she needed to sell Pikasso, Abby, another student, bought him. Abby had some lifestyle changes, and Pikasso contracted Lymes--between the two, Abby wasn't having fun anymore, so decided to sell him. After 6 months of me riding him and trying to sell him (why does everyone want a baby instead of a schoolmaster??? Horses don't become wise teachers until they have a few years on them....but that's another soapbox...), Abby has remembered why she fell in love with Pikasso in the first place, and decided to keep him.  

So that's the back story.  As a trainer, this horse amazes me.  Below are 4 videos - two in May, one in July, and the third one last weekend.  He has changed so much in 6 months.  Yes, he has the body to do dressage, but that's not why he has came back to 100%.  He has made his amazing comeback because of his terrific character.  Pikasso is always trying his best, and because of that, even when the work was really, really hard, he persevered.  

If you want to see this blog as shameless self-promotion, go ahead, but I see it as a tribute to a horse who wanted to do the work, and the work made him sounder and more beautiful.

I'm going to start at the beginning - here's a link to two videos of Pikasso at the end of May.

In these videos, you can see how weak his back and left hind leg are. He wants to carry his hind legs under his tail instead of under his tummy, and because of his weakness, breaks in the middle in the half halts. You can also see his character, he's going to try to get the job done, because I'm asking him to. That's Pikasso.

By July, he had made such good progress, we shot some more video.  His back and hindquarters are much stronger, and he is starting to show some suspension. His left hind is still weaker, but not nearly as significant as in May.  His canter has really changed - much more cadenced and uphill.

Then there's Saturday's video.  The thing that struck me most in this video is how he looks so solid, like one horse. He's back to being the awesome dressage horse he was before Lyme's. Plus Doug got a new video editing program, so this video has a nifty, new intro.