Thursday, October 29, 2009

Short, sweet ride on Wednesday. Limber and loose in the walk, so we forged on into the trot. In retrospect: probably a bit too soon, as he was hopping a bit in the first few strides of the trot, asking to canter instead of trot. I pushed through with the trot instead and he shook it off after a quarter circle.

The ring was very busy, so we didn't do nearly as much circling/spiralling as we usually would to start off, and more complicated figures were out of the question. So we warmed up in big long laps, diagonals, working for soft and forward on the (sometimes) trickier straight line.

We worked on transitions, in part because I am a bit nervous about the hunter pace on Sunday - His Highness has run away with me enough times to still leave some residual caution in my brain. I'm getting better about it. But in the meantime: transitions and lots of 'em, concentrating on the quality in the gait before we make the transition, concentrating on keeping all parts where they need to be through the transition, and keeping the forward impulse through down transitions.

He was a bit more stiff to the left than usual; rather, he was stiff and didn't work out of it quite as well as he usually does, probably in part because I couldn't put him on a 20m circle and really work him out of it.

Did a little bit of canter to the right, focusing on the quality of the transition again. Walk-trot, trying to stay forward and uphill, then capturing that upward into trot-canter, really not letting him fling his head up and his body to the outside, and his canter was MUCH better as a result. Got some really, really nice stuff.

Saturday: long hack outside with some quick work to test the brakes and attention span, then Sunday the hunter pace!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lesson with L. last night. Awesome. I love having two instructors; two different perspectives, both great. They teach slightly differently. L. is much more talkative, and T. quieter but more intense in short bursts. Adjusting to them both keeps me thinking, in a good way.

Order of the night was: shoulders in alignment with haunches. It's getting more and more subtle, but Tris still has the tendency to pop his shoulders out and twist his body, overbending and decreasing the amount of work he has to do with his hind legs.

So, outside aids, catch him before he starts, and keep him between four points - two reins, two legs, with everything gathered in my seat. I really felt like my seatbones were doing good work, for the first time in a while, which was great.

Lots and lots and LOTS of leg-yields to work on those shoulders. I started off just aiming for straight; a little bit of bend inside, and not letting his shoulders squirt out to the outside. We went from quarter line to wall, from wall to center line, from center line to quarter line, and basically every time I felt like I had him going straight I tested it out by leg yielding. He was super-responsive in the walk, but took some time in the trot to get as liquid and yielding.

His best moments were the ones in which he felt like he was leading with his haunches. He wasn't, really, couldn't have been, but when it felt like that was my clue that he was really, truly, solidly pushing through from the hind end and carrying with his hocks. Even a couple strides of it were fantastic.

Another problem we're going to have to contend with from now on - now that he's so soft and chewy in the mouth, he over flexes reallllly easily. Solution, as always, is more forward, ride him up into the bridle instead of sucking back from the bridle.

Tonight: I was hoping to work on straightness out on the trails, but it is pouring buckets. I will jump on for a bit - not long - and work on responsiveness. I want to make sure I have the well-behaved horse I hope to have for the hunter pace on Sunday.

Saturday I also hope to hit the trails and fields for some gallop-and-come-back practice just to ease my nerves a bit more.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday, first ride in a week, after reports that His Highness had been stiff and resistant for Hannah and C. Not unusual for him, just had been a while since he'd done it.

I actually have quite a few pictures, one or two of them very nice, and I will try and put them up soon.

Tris warmed up stiff, as reported, but a jumpy kind of stiff - not just slow and sluggish. More like there was more jerky movement than I was used to. He wasn't exactly forward, but nor was he really painfully behind the leg like he can be. He softened laterally beautifully; always nice when I ride him the day after L. or T. does! (L. rode him instead of my lesson this week, pre-empted by a grad school function.)

He just wasn't very loose and swingy in a forward direction, so we worked a lot on that. Really most of my focus was on the outside hind leg, engaging it. His inside hind steps under beautifully - maybe even too easily and too quickly. He's much more willing to just spin around on that inside hind than he is to push off evenly with the outside hind, especially going right. So we worked on not letting him just swoop under and ignore the rest of his body. Lots of spiral circles, and when those weren't getting at the problem quickly enough, I tried some leg yielding.

His leg yields have really come a long, long way this summer, and when I can coordinate my aids to ask for a correct one, they are really good for him, one of his magic bullet exercises. Even if they don't work, they help me figure out what the problem is. (Usually my lack of outside aids...) These were great: any bulging and surging through the outside shoulder was easily corralled, and in doing so it meant he really had to push with his outside hind, because he couldn't just swing through and zip to the wall. Trot work became much better.

Canter is still a work in progress. Departs to the right were pretty good, but departs to the left need some work. I can't quite juggle enough things with my body to support him as he needs to be held together through the depart. Unless I have of my ducks in a row he throws his shoulder out, giraffes his neck, and scrambles through the transition. I'm getting better and better so that now he will most of the time get his lead, but as can be imagined transitions like that are not exactly conducive to lift and push in the canter itself.

We had one decent transition and about a half-circle of very nice canter in the left, after which I called it a day. I jumped off, gave the saddle to my mother, and crawled up bareback. Very patient pony to put up with my leap and scramble from the ground - I used to be able to do it in one jump and swing. More practice! We wandered around the ring for a while cooling him out, then outside to watch a bit of a jump lesson and take a 5+ minute drink from a puddle.

So: good. My body took a bit longer than I wanted to figure things out again after a week and a half break, and I'm still keeping an eye on his stiffness. (He was also a bit spooky about one of the mirrors - half fogged up - which is unusual for him. He's got two abscesses on his jaw from tick bites, so...if this keeps up I'll see about a Lyme titer.)

Lesson Tuesday, hack/conditioning on Wednesday if I can fit it in before the light goes, otherwise I'll see about schooling him bareback. Supposedly I've been volunteered for a bareback jump lesson this winter, so I should probably see about getting my bareback seat back...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A perfect, gorgeous day for a long-discussed trail ride with Hannah and Tucker. Tristan loaded pretty well, for him - only flew backwards once - and couldn't stand still once we got there, but once I mounted he did great.

We went to what a friend from the barn calls the "turkey farm," though I'm not sure why. It's a wildlife management area, a bit small, but with a loop (maybe two miles? I'm not great at estimates) of lovely footing and beautiful scenery. We walked it, walk-trotted it with explorations of other loops, and then, since both horses were going beautifully and we were sure that brakes and steering were installed, we let them out for a long, hard canter almost-gallop through the woods. It was unbelievable - nothing but running horse underneath and the wind singing a long and the trail ahead. Tristan was beside himself with happiness, though quite tired at the end. He kept up with Tucker until the end of the gallop, and then he fell back a bit, though surged forward again when I asked for some more from him. I was expecting to be left in the dust, so I was really proud of Tris.

C. said he was raring to go on Monday night, not stiff or tired at all, and that they in fact spent the entire ride discussing tempo and staying in the gait she picked. Goober.

We're still down to whittling fine pieces off - more hock action, more reach underneath with the hind, more solid connection in the bend around the circle, more consistent connection in change of direction, and more even tempo. One of those lessons where you can tell the difference from beginning to end, but it's in tiny fractions of percentages, and more a general feel.

He's coming in to work faster, and feeling stronger and stronger. He worked for a solid 20 minutes last night and I didn't even notice he was tired. For the first time, we got something approaching a good canter liftoff in the left lead, and he was thinking about listening to my inside leg - and I was better about applying it - to leg-yield out. He even softened a bit and bent a bit in the left lead, which was HUGE.

We need to work on keeping our tempo and impulsion through the canter-trot down transition, and I need to work harder on keeping my legs where they need to be, keeping my calf on and not letting it wave out in space except when I need it. We also need to work better on stretching out - I'm incorporating a long period of stretchy ring figures into the middle of our rides to give him something different to think about, and to use a different set of muscles.

T. did say we were both clearly working hard, which was GREAT, even though I now feel guilty because I don't think I've been working nearly hard enough, not riding enough. But - I do what I can right now.

After we'd finished, T. was standing at Tristan's head and Tris was quite studiously looking for treats. T. reached over and tugged on Tristan's mane and a bit came out; he casually remarked, "Hm, comes out awfully easy." I stared blankly for a few seconds and then caught on. I don't want to pull his mane! It's gorgeous and thick and technically, mustang breed standards say he should keep it. I would def. consider thinning it out a bit so it's not so poofy, but...wah!

I realized on the drive home, however, that if T. is talking about pulling Tristan's mane, that's a pretty good indication he thinks we'll be ready to show in the spring. So. :D

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lesson last night!

Soft came right away; forward took some time to add in. He was also stiff and resistant off the left leg. But we worked for a long time in the trot, pushing off the inside leg and keeping a rhythm with the outside leg. I think in our future we're going to head out to a field somewhere and concentrate very hard on just keeping rhythm, start a metronome in my head and keep it ticking through trot work.

We did squares, counting out strides and then turning on haunches. He can make a 90 degree angle in two strides easily now, but I need to start making it more supple. When he turns, he's like a block of wood, and I have to concentrate very hard on keeping him between legs and hands to make sure he doesn't ooze out anywhere. He also braces against my hands. So some pieces are there, but not all of them. I think I need more of a leg-yield feel in the turning, not be focused so hard on the great pendulum swing of him coming around the corner.

Leg-yields were good, but as always keeping track of the outside shoulder was a huge challenge. He had a couple really, really nice moments of stepping underneath himself, and as always he felt much better in his circles after some leg yields. In particular, carrying through the leg-yield feel into doing spirals in and out put him more and more into the bridle, and for a few strides at a time I had that beautiful, malleable feeling of holding him between my hips and hands, his energy and my concentration filling up that space.

He's using his hocks more and more, putting more and more lift and spring into his steps. Sometimes I look up at the mirror and wonder whose horse that is, round and using his hocks and with a thin line of foam at his mouth from chewing the bit. When he's really spot-on every drop of Spanish blood in him comes through in the thick curve of his neck and the bulk of his shoulders being used to swing instead of brace.

Canter transitions are coming along, especially the right. Left is still dicey; he's always been tougher that way, though, no surprise. We are slowly erasing his tendency to flip his head and brace outside just before the transition, to ask for the push and lift and rocking horse feel. Going left, we worked hard on leg-yielding him out on a spiral *while* asking for the transition, really focusing all his energy into bending left, then asking for the canter, and keeping the inside leg push through the canter, and then *especially* through the down transition, spiraling all the way back out, not letting him even think for a second of flipping back to the outside or stalling out through the down transition. It was *hard* but we got some really glorious work out of it.

I've been thinking of dressage lately like whittling your perfect horse out of an enormous block of wood, maybe a whole tree trunk. At first you can easily lop off large pieces, and then as you get closer, you slow down, you only take a sliver at a time but you're getting closer to the moment when you can crack another large piece. Tris and I are in that slivering phase right now, but we'll come around to another large piece soon enough, and the cycle starts again. It's more than a little addicting, this sport.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Quick summary of where we've been:

In the good, T. said at the beginning of last week's lesson that my lower leg was lightyears better, that I'd obviously been working very hard on it. So hooray for that! (I'd almost always rather someone say "clearly, you've been working hard" than "wow, great job!") Then, in that same lesson, we started to reprogram Tristan's canter departs, to make them lift-and-jump instead of scramble-and-fall. Impulsion, not speed. So Tristan promptly did his best "I don't remember how to canter!" impression and things disintegrated from there.

We're also continuing the elusive pursuit of a back-to-front connection, especially through the base of his neck, and adding tiny pieces each day. He is usually going soft not long after I pick up the reins now, and is slowly getting much more supple left and right. His resistance in that regard is waffling between the old stuck shoulders and a new jello-pony that can't stay in one place to save his life. Somewhere down the middle, as always, is the way to go.

Hannah offered her Tucker to me for a few minutes after her ride last week, too, and WOW. What a neat, neat horse; I got off and handed her the reins and said "that's quite a sports car of a horse you've got there." So, so, so different from Tristan: narrower, and springier, and inclined to rushing instead of lagging, and such an interesting and new set of feedback. I loved especially the spring and float in the trot and am carrying the feeling over into what I'm asking of Tristan. He'll never spring, but he can work toward a lot more hock action than he's currently giving!

Saturday I spent quite a while at the barn, did homework outside Tris's stall, and watched girls braid ponies. He was dripping wet from the pouring rain outside, so I threw a cooler on and he steamed off. I jumped on just in jeans and my Ariat sneakers, and he worked so well so quickly that after 15 minutes I was done. His trot in particular felt great: all our losses of impulsion were quickly corrected, and on the whole he was more consistent. We had, if not lift, then at least push in our canter departs in both directions, and softening and bend in the right lead. Our biggest challenge was focus: the ring was being raked and watered for the show, and had pieces of the dressage ring at one end. By making very sure I was making him think about the work I wanted him to do instead of the scary, evil hose, he eventually worked through and hey, if there was a little zip to his gaits, so much the better.

This week: C. is riding him tonight, lesson Tuesday, hack/hill work Wednesday, and then on Sunday some off-property trail riding.