The Importance of Impulsion!

I had a breakthrough realization in my Thursday night lesson. After struggling to maintain perfect dressage eq for the entire time, I finally realized at the end that relaxing and not focussing on rigidly maintaining that position allowed for me to follow and listen to Gordon a lot more. Additionally, I think all of the strength training that I’ve been doing out of the saddle has been making me stiff. So, my goal for today’s ride was relaxation (and building off some of the videos I’ve seen of myself riding, and the knowledge that I ride with too much hand-to-leg ratio, I also wanted to focus on impulsion and using way more leg). This morning before heading to the barn I did about twenty minutes of yoga, focussing primarily on opening up my hips, which tend to hold a lot of tension/stiffness. At the barn I did a few dynamic (moving) stretches before hopping on and I think that that had a really positive effect.

Something else I want to record is how I overcame my fears today. With the warmer weather and increased grain portions, Gordon was feeling a bit fresh. He was dancing around, spooking a bit, etc. I got off, took off my spurs, and lunged him for about 15 minutes. Even on the lunge he was acting a bit wild, but eventually calmed down. I think what also helped is that another rider came into the ring with her horse, which always makes Gordon go better. In any case, I worked through my nerves and ended up having a great ride – something to keep in mind.

During the actual ride, I used an insane amount of leg. Literally every step I would squeeze. Additionally, I was very quick at “demanding” when Gordon did not listen to my leg, especially in the upward transitions. I kept my hands light and high, and would squeeze with my bum and legs while tilting my right hand slightly to get him in frame. This all resulted in a much more forward Gordon who stayed in frame from behind a lot better. Things felt really good! Part of what helped with our impulsion was working at the rising trot, rather than sitting. When I sit I think I tend to hold back his impulsion a lot more and bottle him in – it makes sitting a more comfortable process for me, after all! In any case, the rising went well today because I was able to keep my hands stable and used a lot of leg. I think this will be what we go with for a first few tests at least. Better movement and impulsion = better marks, even if my eq isn’t as pretty while rising.

We also did a little work at extending the trot. Jenn pointed out that aiming for the extension off a circle, or doing a few steps of shoulder-in and then half-halting before asking for the extension usually has a better effect with Gordon. For the trot anyway – he’s more than happy to extend at the canter with less encouragement.

Our canter work is also coming along. Today we worked at a few elements from the Training level test that we’ll be starting with. Specifically, we worked at doing circles and cantering half-way through and then going wide down the long side after. On his strong side things went really well. On his weak side it was harder to get him in frame and to prevent him from breaking while trying to do so. I think I need to watch my body through the corners, as I might be sending him contradictory signals as I tend to counter-bend on the right rein. In any case, a little canter-frame breakthrough we had today was to think “soft transition” and then leg-leg-leg, squeeze bum, tilt hand (stronger tilt, if necessary), and then to support the canter with soft hands and a steady outside leg contact. This seemed to be the necessary recipe for success today. Really I just need to clock more hours in the saddle and continue to think impulsion, relaxation and soft hands! Six weeks until our first competition together, so I need to stay focussed and determined!

Lastly, my coach, Jenn, posted this on our barn’s Facebook page today. It feels really great to receive (public!) recognition for hard work and effort! I wanted to log this here to remember.

Amazing how one month can make a difference! Straighter back, higher hands and a better leg position! … All contributing to a better front carriage and stronger impulsion back-end by Gordon!

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Photo 1 – Beginning of March

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Photo 2 – End of March

 

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Enjoying the (Muddy) Journey

I had an interesting ride tonight in an arena that was half-mud and extremely popular. I guess the slightly warmer temperatures are encouraging people to be out at the barn more – because there were so many people out riding tonight! I actually had to purposefully tack up quite slow in order to not be in an over-crowded arena. In any case, I like riding with people around usually, so I don’t mind. However, our canters weren’t going great today and I didn’t feel like I could fully work on it because of all the people watching. I started thinking later though, I’ve only just begun riding Gordon on my own out of lessons – things aren’t going to be perfect every ride because we’re still getting used to each other. Plus our ride today was better than Sunday’s ride. We had a lot of nice moments at the trot where I was sitting and following him nicely (not being stiff), and where his trot actually had impulsion as well as being in frame, etc. I was really happy with that. Plus he was an absolute trooper and had no qualms about walking/trotting through the mud like a pro. Additionally, even if our canters weren’t beautiful – ie. sort of strung out, not on the haunches, etc. – we were at least working on our issues. Our full-school canters have been really good recently, but we couldn’t work on that today because of all of the horses/mud. This is for the best because our dressage tests ask for 20 metre circles, so I really need to get more comfortable getting a nice quality canter while turning. Today Gordon’s steering didn’t seem to be working so well haha. We kept losing our canter because he was semi-running into the walls. He can be such a difficult horse sometimes. At least our upward transitions were decent though. Most importantly though, I felt safe and we had fun! Gordon was also a huge sweetie in the stall, totally loving the cuddles. These little steps on our journey, the small rides where things seem to be plateauing, or where nothing changes, are the building blocks upon which improvement subtly happens. The small moments of cuddling and grooming Gordon are what add up to the pleasure of the unique sport that is riding, so I need to enjoy “the ride” (hardy had har) and not always be so goal-oriented. I had two fun and safe rides this week and can’t ask for much more. As long as I keep practicing and having fun at the same time the whole improving thing should happen naturally – I hope!

Happy riding!

Improvement – and work to do!

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My favourite moment from our test. This was a few strides before our canter transition – where we actually had a little impulsion!

Last night we attempted the Training Level test. There were some parts I really liked, but overall there is a lot of work needed! I have a video of it, but I don’t know whether I will both uploading and sharing to YouTube then here – it’s pretty terrible! The start is horrible as we had just had a long walk break before and literally just got into things. Things sort of peak before our first canter, and then go downhill when we’re attempting to pick up our second canter and the corner suddenly turns into a scary horse-eating monster! Beware!

In any case, after watching this video I can see a lot of things that I need to work on:

1. Impulsion… too slow, not enough oomph from behind. That being said, I really like the few trot strides right before the canter.

2. Too stiff – things were particularly bad last night because I had just gone for my first run in two months (my longest running break in several years!). I was a lot sorer than expected after and it definitely showed here. However, at the best of times I’m not a super fluid person, so I think doing some no-stirrups work and yoga might help in that department.

3. Need to improve my canter and get it more coming from behind and round. I need to find the right balance between half halt and not breaking for this to work. However, we’ve mostly been cantering large so I was happy that we got a few nice 20 metre circles tonight in both directions. The left is much easier for him though so I need to really work on my right circles.

The difficulties that we had with this test really made me re-think whether or not I ought to strive for First Level or not. I think the 10 metre circles, leg yields, extensions, etc., would be fun, and are doable, but maybe it’s best to focus on Training for now and we’ll see where we are in two months when the first show happens. I guess it’s always better to show lower and do really well. Although, I do like to be challenged and have shown Training many times before (albeit never at the provincial level). Thoughts anyone?

Anyway, I should probably make a quick list of things that went right tonight:

1. Nice circles, hit our marks.

2. More impulsion than usual in the earlier part of our lesson.

3. Upward transitions are improving (both to trot and to canter).

4. We had an amazing square halt at the end of our test that I loved – also our centre lines were not horrible, although more impulsion will probably improve the straightness more.

I may still post the video over the next few days in order to try and hopefully get some feedback from any visitors. If I do, keep in mind I know this video isn’t great though and that we are capable of more! I just want to honestly record our journey so that I can (hopefully happily!) compare our progress in a few months’ time.

Thanks for stopping by! Happy riding!

Riding Dilemma: Choosing Which Level to Compete At

Since finding out two weeks ago that I will indeed be in the area for show season (yay!) because I got a job in the area, I have just sort of assumed that I will show Silver (provincial) Training Level dressage. However, after a conversation with my coach from home last night, she prompted me to challenge myself – to push myself to compete at First or Second Level. She particularly encouraged me towards the latter option, but that definitely won’t work given that my new coach (and Gordon’s owner) will be competing him at that level this year, and we can’t very well compete against one another on the same horse. So maybe I should give First Level a try… I’ve done Training Level so many times before on so many horses (albeit usually at schooling shows and not at provincial competitions), but wouldn’t I have more fun trying out some of the more challenging movements that are required there? It would be nice to be able to leg yield, etc., rather than just doing extremely basic movements and 20 metre circles. It’s definitely something to consider… although I really don’t like “rocking the boat,” so to speak, and when I mentioned Training Level to my current coach she immediately agreed that was the best level for us. However, she’s not exactly a “pusher” coach like my coach at home. Maybe it is best to challenge myself so that I can grow more, rather than perform at a lower level (and maybe win more ribbons). I’m not sure. I guess this is a conversation that I’ll ultimately need to have with her. I hate confrontations though, so we will have to see how she reacts. Although usually she is a go with the flow type personality, so maybe she won’t put up any resistance! We will see. This would mean that I definitely would not go visit my brother in the Canary Islands though, as I would need those extra two weeks in April for practice, definitely.

On another note, I had two great rides this weekend again! Daytime riding (especially first thing in the morning) is really working for me lately. On Saturday I rode at the same time as my coach and another girl. I think I often have more confidence and ride better when there are people around either riding or watching. In any case, I think we had some really nice moments. We had an amazing full-school canter on the left lead – round, from the behind, etc. I’m able to keep him cantering without breaking a lot longer now – although this is still something I will need to work at, along with smoother upward transitions. Maybe I should try riding him with spurs sometime soon. At first I put it off because he can be really sensitive at random times, but I think I’ve gotten a good enough feel for him that I should be able to incorporate that aid. I can’t ride him with a whip because he has a phobia of them, so that is out of the picture. In any case, ride 1 this weekend was good overall – we had a really nice, forward trot at the end too and had some nice serpentines etc. Would also really need to work at our trot extensions though, if we chose to show First Level.

Ride 2 this weekend was over fences. This was only my second time jumping Gordon. I raised the jumps up to about 2′ and 2’3″ respectively. The last time we only hopped over a little cross-rail. Gordon was great! He pretty much figured out his own distances and made my job really easy. His jump can be a bit slow-motion though – but apparently this is resolved as the heights go up a bit more. In any case, it was a fun reprieve from all of the more serious dressage work that we have been doing.

I’m off to the barn shortly too and am going to hopefully incorporate some of the First Level movements into my ride to see how they go. If worse comes to worse, I can always train for First and then do Training at the first few shows and move up after we see how things go. Lots of decisions to be made!

Happy riding, everyone!

In Memorium: to Charles, Chuckie, Charleston

My coach’s wonderful boy, Charlie, passed away from colic on the weekend.

He came to my coach after having sat in the field for several years prior. He is not an easy horse to handle, and had actually made her coach’s rider quit riding! This is especially crazy if you know how talented the daughter of her Grand Prix level coach is. In any case, Charlie (a Dutch WB) was given to my coach as a gift horse, because he really wasn’t doing anything. She poured her heart and soul into this horse. In a handful of years, she transformed Charlie from an awkward, lanky, skinny, out of shape boy into the handsome and talented horse that he became. Charlie was still never an easy horse to ride. He was often spooky and had plenty of quirks. When he was bad we called him Chuckie, and when he was good we called him Charleston. He was horrible on cross-ties, transforming from a dressage superstar into a tap-dancer as soon as those ties clicked in. However, he was getting better and better to the point that my coach was actually planning on competing him in his first full provincial season this upcoming summer. He had so much ahead of him.

I first rode Charlie a month or two after my coach acquired him. He was not balanced at all, and would frequently get “stuck” and refuse to move forward an inch. To get him to canter you had to pick up the trot faster and faster until he gradually gave in. But his gaits were floaty and held so much potential. I remember getting to ride him in a clinic, around the time that my coach got her own place. I was registered to ride on the mare that I was leasing, which I did twice, but then my coach gave up her spot for some long and complicated reasons. Chuckie came out that day. He wouldn’t pick up any transitions for me, and embarrassed me in front of everyone auditing. However, when the clinician himself got on the horse and gave him a go, Chuck wouldn’t even go to work for him right away – it took a solid five minutes for him to figure out his upward transitions – which is saying something!

I continued to have the pleasure of riding Charles/Charlie/Chuckie/Charleston from time-to-time, whenever I was in town or whenever my coach felt that he or I had had some sort of marked improvement. He became my milestone horse, the horse that told me exactly where and how my riding was improving. Getting to ride Charlie was a sign that I was on the right track. Over the Christmas break, I had my most amazing ride on him yet. He floated around and I felt so proud to be able to control and contain the magnificent creature underneath me. Everything came together beautifully. Even better, my last time riding, during a visit home last month, was beautiful. We didn’t do any work, we just hacked out with my coach and one of her other horses. Charlie, a horse who had been spooky and unpredictable, could now hack out and relax along with me (an occasionally very nervous rider, who is becoming a little better on this front too). It was a beautiful, sunny winter day, and we had so much fun together. His ears were pricked forward, and he was enjoying getting out for a little jog with his best friend (my coach’s other horse). His trot was heavenly and I felt like we were gliding over the snow beneath us. It was a magical last moment to remember with an old friend who taught me so much, allowed me to celebrate many exciting milestones, and who improved and shone under the guidance and love of an amazing owner. He will forever be in my heart.

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Charles - last summer

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So Over Indoor Riding

This never-ending winter is making it so difficult to train for the upcoming show season! Last night the arena was so incredibly dusty we could only do fairly light work. It was way too cold to actually water the arena, as it would have just frozen, so we had to make do with things as they were. Also, I’m tired of being so chilly during the tacking up and cooling out process. When will spring arrive?! 

I’m excited though that Gordon was moved to a new stall tonight – I’ll take a photo of it the next time I’m out. My coach’s five horses are now in this separate, (but still attached by a doorway) section of the barn. This section is well-lit, spacious, private and just a much nicer environment to hang out/tack up in. I’m really excited to spend more time there! Gordon’s new stall is also a lot bigger, which is great because I always tack him up in-stall due to some cross-tie issues that he has (maybe something to work on over the summer).

In any case, as a result we just worked on walk-halt, trot-halt and halt-trot transitions primarily. We’re working at trying to get nice square halts every time to make things easier for show season (one less little thing to work on!). Things went okay, but it definitely didn’t feel out of this world. I need to work at consciously putting in more half-halts to improve the quality of my downward transitions. (Note to self: half halt transitions on Gordon = legs on, deep seat, and a slight squeeze/tilt of right rein). I think that should be my next goal for the next little while, because while our downward transitions from trot or canter to halt are prompt, they could be more on the haunches. The other thing I really need to work on is having lighter hands at the canter. Gordon definitely doesn’t need the extra support, unlike a lot of other horses I’ve ridden in the past. He supports himself and I really just need to keep my hands somewhat high (for me), light, and steady. I also need to work at balancing him more more in the corners by angling my body subtly into the turns – thus aligning my lower body into the correct position to better support him on the outside. Lots to work on, but there have been a lot of improvements too! I’m happy that our upward transitions are getting better (although I still feel like I should start incorporating spurs at this point so I can eliminate my nagging), and I’m happy that I can maintain the canter in a dressage seat for longer than before. Hopefully this weekend’s rides will go even better! Looking forward to recording it all soon.

Happy riding!

The Gordon List

A quick list of things that I have learnt since I started riding Gordon:

  • Use my body weight to turn. If I angle my torso subtly towards the inside it automatically puts my lower body in the correct position to support and turn him without needing to apply any rein aids.
  • Keep my hands high (or hands together). This is really necessary to keep him together.
  • Check him by tilting my right rein slightly if he starts to raise his head out of frame.
  • Half-halt and tilt simultaneously to ensure this means he is coming from behind and framing correctly.
  • When leg yielding, point my hips in the direction that I am travelling – again to ensure that my body weight is delivering the right aids for the correct movement.
  • When asking for an extension, give him a bit more freedom with my hands and tilt my pelvis up a bit.

To work on for tomorrow’s ride:

  • Flexing in and out and leg yielding on the circle to get him more supple and “real” round (from behind).
  • Work on upward transitions (esp. walk-trot).
  • Work on maintaining the canter until I ask for the downward transition.

In addition, there is a new goal from my favourite riding blog, Horse Listening, that I want to try and incorporate into my next ride to see how it affects things:

“Some people can easily feel the horse’s hind end while riding. If you can feel the inside hind as it lifts, you can lightlyrelease the inside rein as it comes through. If you have trouble feeling the hind legs, use the front inside shoulder as a reference point.

As the shoulder starts to move back, release the rein.

As the shoulder moves forward, take up pressure.

During the rein release, squeeze your legs for a short energy burst from the hind end. This will enable the horse to reach further underneath the body as you lighten pressure in his mouth.”

Wish me luck, and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Happy riding!