Thursday, July 03, 2008

Boot Camp Session One - Day 1

Today was my first of three lessons at boot camp. I was going to take some pictures of the barn and the arena but the weather was gray and depressing and the photos would not have come out very well. I'll be there for a week so I hope to have a nice day to get some good images.

Kaswyn didn't get turned out this morning because of my lesson, and because they aren't sure where to put him for turnout if he's only going to be there for a week. They don't want to mess with the turnout groups as they are, so the plan is to probably turn him out alone but next to someone. Hopefully that will work out. Sometimes he can be a bit of a boob if he's alone, and will run and scream even if he's next to someone. I guess we'll just have to see.

I brought Kaswyn into the arena and he seemed very at ease. We started our lesson by discussing what I've been doing and what I've been feeling. Besides just trying to get him in a decent working frame, I have mostly been trying to keep Kaswyn slow as he trots, especially in the beginning. He has a tendency to get rushed and have too quick of a tempo. My trainer had me start at the walk doing shoulder in so I could straighten him out a little bit because he was crooked in the right hind.

Then we started working on the trot and Kaswyn decided that this was all very exciting. He started getting a little quick and was so busy in the mouth that it was hard to make a good connection. He was jiggling the bit around so much I felt like I was on a young horse. My trainer was more accepting of his shenanigans than I was, saying that because of the rain on the roof, one horse being verbal in a nearby turnout, and her husband working on changing a tire on her horse trailer that she understood his excitement. When he settled down a bit and we were able to get a little consistent trot work in, she told me that I need to work on the rhythm as well as the tempo.

For those who are wondering, the tempo is how fast the horse takes strides. With Kaswyn I've usually needed to slow the tempo because he gets excited and wants to go quick with short little strides instead of big slow strides. The rhythm is how regular the strides are in relation to one another. The more evenly spaced they are, the better and more consistent the rhythm is. In the poor footing Kaswyn has been forced to take some short quick strides and also some slower ones as he's going from hard to deep soft footing. I've been letting him just figure his way around the footing because I've been afraid to force him into a set rhythm.

This has created a problem with his rhythm. We worked on getting the rhythm more consistent, and in the end the trot started to feel really nice. She also wanted me to take a more firm connection and get Kaswyn to work more strongly over his back, so we worked on trot/walk/trot transitions. At the end of the trot work I was really pleased with our progress.

Then it was on to the canter work. She liked the tempo and rhythm of the canter, as well as the jump. He seemed to be able to concentrate a bit more now and he was feeling really good. We needed to work on straightness in the canter, so my trainer had me do this exercise that took me a bit to figure out how to execute.

She had me start by putting Kaswyn in shoulder fore position at the canter. This is like a shoulder in but with less angle and bend. I was only supposed to displace the shoulders slightly to the inside. Then, with him in shoulder fore, I was supposed to counter flex him at the poll only. This would serve three purposes. One, to straighten him by controlling the inside hind leg. Two, to load weight on the inside hind to work and strengthen it. Three, the counter flexion of the neck, while maintaining the body position of the shoulder fore, would stretch the inside muscles from his hip to his poll.

The hardest part of this exercise was keeping the body position while counter flexing him. Here is what I figured out that I had to do to make this work. To ask for the shoulder fore, I turned my shoulders and hands slightly to the inside as I would do if I was asking Kaswyn to turn off of the rail. At the same time my inside leg came on at the girth to keep him going straight. I sat very firmly on my inside seat bone, while driving straight forward with my outside seat bone. My weight was slightly to the outside. Then to ask for counter flexion I would move the neck slightly so his body was facing the inside of the arena but his head was looking at the rail.

It was a really tough exercise, but not too taxing on him physically because we didn't ask Kaswyn to hold the counter flexion for more than a few strides. The shoulder fore wasn't the hard part - it was keeping the shoulder fore and then asking for the counter flexion without losing the body position. One time I asked for the counter flexion and I let my inside leg get too far back and I lost the haunches to the outside. Kaswyn obediently did a very nice flying change, because that was effectively what I was telling him to do. We walked, I gave him a pat, and started over. Eventually we were able to execute the exercise correctly a few times each direction.

We ended the lesson there since we had been working for about forty minutes. I was super pleased with my horse. I can't remember the last lesson we had, it's been so long. Today he was sound, excited, and had plenty of energy. He was also obedient and eager to please. Kaswyn felt like the horse I knew a few years ago. I'm completely stoked.

I don't have the whole lesson on video because my trainer and I were the only ones there, but she was able to take two short videos of the trot work.

Trot Right

We took this video after the lesson was over and we had been talking for a few minutes. Kaswyn got all excited when I put him together again and asked for the trot. As a result he was fussing with his mouth. The connection was not as good as I'd like it to be but we got a couple of nice strides that show me that he's sound.

Trot Left

Then I turned him around and did some trot to the left. He settled down and I think we got a very nice connection. I was happy with his impulsion and rhythm too. I see my left hand moving more than I'd like, which is a bad habit that I kicked years ago but it looks like it's resurfaced. That's what happens when I don't get regular lessons. Bummer.

So it was a superb lesson, and my horse is awesome. I think he's ready to go back to work. I'm ready to as well. One thing I know for sure though - my abs are going to be killing me tomorrow!!


Kimberly said...

So glad to hear that your first day went well!

If you don't mind me asking, what brand of saddle do you ride in? My friend who has an Arab needs to get a new saddle, and she's looking for somewhere to start.


dressagemom said...

I have a custom Freedom Holistic Semiflex saddle. I think they are absolutely the best thing you can put on your horse and I'll never ride a horse of mine in anything else. They are expensive, but worth every penny!

Kimberly said...

Thanks! We picked up 3 saddles to try today: an Anky, a Schleese, and an Albion. But she's leaning toward custom as she wants it to be the last saddle she ever buys. (Ha ha...)

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