Friday, June 29, 2007

Video Glossary of Dressage Movements

Many of my readers are not horse people, or if they ride they don't do dressage. I have been asked by a few people to explain my horse terms in more depth than I have been. While I don't have a problem with doing that, I realize that it's much easier to show what I'm talking about rather than type it all out.

This will be a section that I'll update from time to time as we add more and more advanced movements to our training regime. I'll give official definitions from the United States Equestrian Federation, as well as my own simple descriptions that even non-horse folks will be able to follow (hopefully). I'll also post a video or two so you can actually see what I'm talking about. So check back often, as you'll be with us every step of the way and get to see what fun things we will be schooling next.

I'm going to include a permanent link on the left side of my main page (under the archives) so that you don't have to dig through the archives to see this page, since it will be changing.

The Leg Yield

As defined by The United States Equestrian Federation Rule book (pdf) - Rule DR111.2.b. The rule is quoted verbatim below and is italicized, with corresponding figure from the rulebook to the left of the text.

"Leg-yielding. The horse is almost straight, except for a slight flexion at the poll away from the direction in which he moves, so that the rider is just able to see the eyebrow and nostril on the inside. The inside legs pass and cross in front of the outside legs. Leg-yielding should be included in the training of the horse before he is ready for
collected work. Later on, together with the more advanced movement shoulder-in, it is the best means of making a horse supple, loose and unconstrained for the benefit of the freedom, elasticity and regularity of his paces and the harmony, lightness and ease of his movements. Leg-yielding can be performed on the diagonal in which case the
horse should be as close as possible parallel to the long sides of the arena although the forehand should be slightly in advance of the quarters. It can also be performed along the wall in which case the horse should be at an angle of about 35 degrees to the direction in which he is moving (see fig. 5).

In simple terms - the horse is moving both sideways and forwards, but the body is traveling in a straight diagonal line. The horse's body is slightly bent so that he is looking in the opposite direction on which he is traveling.

The leg yield is a movement which is introduced at First Level, test 2. Horses at any level can practice it, as it gives the rider an opportunity to make a stiff horse more supple, or a crooked horse more straight. By virtue of the positioning of the horse's body it allows the inside hind leg to reach farther under the horse and bear more weight. This helps make the horse stronger and more supple to prepare for collected work later on.

Below is a video of Kaswyn and I performing a leg yield to the left. Both the leg yields are fairly good, althought the one to the left could be a little more consistant in the bend, and could have more reach and push. The one to the right is quite good.

Below is our leg yield to the right.


As defined by The United States Equestrian Federation Rule book (pdf) - DR111.3.f. The rule is quoted verbatim below and is italicized, with corresponding figure from the rulebook to the left of the text.

"Shoulder-in. This exercise is performed in collected trot. The horse is ridden with a slight but uniform bend around the inside leg of the rider maintaining cadence at a constant angle of approx. 30 degrees. The horse’s inside foreleg passes and crosses in front of the outside foreleg; the inside hind leg steps forward under the horse’s body weight following the same track of the outside foreleg, with the lowering of the inside hip. The horse is bent away from the direction in which it is moving. (see Fig. 1)."

Figure 1 shows the body position of the horse as viewed from above. The rail of the arena is on the left of the horse, so the horse is performing a shoulder-in right. As shown in the figure, the horse should be ridden on "three tracks" - that is, the left hind travels forward in it's own line, the right hind and left front travel the same line, and the right front travels it's own line. If you watch the video you should be able to see Kaswyn going on three tracks.

The shoulder-in is introduced in Second level, test 1. It's called shoulder-in because the horse's shoulders are ridden off the track and in towards the center of the arena. It's a great exercise for suppling and building the strength needed for collected work. While in the leg yield the horse's body is parallel to the rail and he's traveling diagonally, in the shoulder-in the horse is traveling parallel to the rail and his body is positioned diagonally. The rulebook definition says that shoulder-in is performed at the trot, but you can also do it at the canter - it's just more challenging.

I have a lot of problems with Kaswyn's shoulder-ins. They are not as consistent as I'd like in the bend or the rhythm, and they lack smoothness and push from behind. Even though he can technically satisfy the requirement of the movement as far as position, it's a hard exercise for him execute well or easily. A horse going into shoulder-in should ideally put more weight on the haunches, lift the shoulders, and generate more pushing power from behind. There should be a nice bend in the horse's body and the quality of trot should not change from a regular trot to the shoulder-in. Kaswyn tends to get a little stiff behind, causing him to shuffle and stab his hind legs instead of sitting and pushing. So in order to lift his shoulders he braces a bit in the neck and gets tight, and the quality of trot suffers, as does the bend.

Here is our video of shoulder-in right. Considering our usual problems it's not too bad. He still is a little narrow behind and a bit choppy.

Video of Shoulder-in left. You can see half-way through where we lose the bend and angle and begin to drift of the rail, so I have to correct it. Not terrible, but still needs work.

Travers - also known as Haunches-In

As defined by The United States Equestrian Federation Rule book (pdf) - Rule DR111.3.g. The rule is quoted verbatim below and is italicized, with corresponding figure from the rulebook to the left of the text.

"Travers. This exercise can be performed in collected trot or collected canter. The horse is slightly bent round the inside leg of the rider but with a greater degree of bend than in shoulder-in. A constant angle of approximately 35 degrees should be shown, from the front and from behind one sees four tracks. The forehand remains on the track and the quarters are moved inwards. The horse’s outside legs pass and cross in front of the inside legs. The horse is bent in the direction in which it is moving. To start the travers, the quarters must leave the track or, after a corner or circle, are not brought back onto the track. At the end of the travers, the quarters are brought back on the track without any counter-flexion of the poll/neck as one would finish a circle. (see Fig. 2)."

Figure 2 shows the body position of the horse as viewed from above. The rail of the arena is on the left of the horse, so the horse is performing a travers right. Unlike the shoulder-in, it is performed on four tracks instead of three - meaning that no leg should directly follow the same line of travel as any other leg. This is due to the angle being 35 degrees instead of 30 degrees as in the shoulder-in.

Travers (pronounced trah-vare) is introduced in Second Level, test 2. It's very similar to shoulder-in, except that the haunches are pushed in to the center of the arena instead of the shoulders.

Here is our video of travers right. Again he seems a little narrow behind and I'd like to see his right hind coming more to the right and forward with more reach.

Video of travers left. This one is quite nice.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lateral work... but SLOWLY

Although I haven't posted about it, Kaswyn and I have been doing a little lateral work and circles for about a week. I never got a call from Dr. B, and after discussing it with my trainer we both thought we should just give it a try and see what the result is.

The result is a big smile on my face.

No swelling, no uneven strides, no lameness. We are just doing a few circles and leg yields, which I suppose could be considered the easiest of the lateral movements, and we aren't doing a lot of them. But Kaswyn is up to doing the work, and he feels pretty good doing it.

I'm noticing the same old problems though with his left side (his body, not his leg). He has always tended to shove his shoulders left and push through the left rein, and I'm definitely seeing that again. However, I am much more skilled and have better feeling as a rider now than I did when Kaswyn was first learning leg yields, so I can at least attempt to fix the problem. Knowing there is an issue is only half the battle, but I'm working on it.

Overall I think that this whole ordeal is going to make both Kaswyn and I better than we were before. I have the ability now to make him work over his back and not be lazy, to make him straight when he wants to be crooked, and use my seat more effectively to minimize my rein aids. I've already realized just recently that during our walk pirouettes I have been stopping my seat which causes Kaswyn to spin around or get stuck. Now that I'm thinking about keeping my seat active during the pirouette the movement is becoming quite good. Amazing what can happen when you ride correctly.

You'd think after 25 years that this wouldn't be such a revelation.

Friday, June 22, 2007

How to piss off your trainer - Part 2 of The Critic

Part 1

Working as a groom at an Arabian horse show is hard work. Don't get me wrong, it's super fun. But it involves getting dirty, being tired, and doing all of the grunt work and crap jobs that nobody else wants to do. Once you realize this an accept it, then you can have a really great time, especially if you have good people to work with.

Liz was Blair's student before I started riding with Blair (at least, I think she was). At the very least she knew Blair before I did, through channels that I'm not aware of. Anyhow, Liz had her own horse who she showed off and on. I don't remember her grooming at the shows when she showed her horse, but maybe she did. I can't say for sure.

Anyhow, at some point she started grooming for Blair with me and we became friends. Well, not immediately. There was this weird period of time when I was grooming with Cami and Laura and they had something against Liz. I didn't know Liz that well, but I jumped on the bandwagon and we all kept Liz at arm's length. At some point Cami and Laura weren't riding as much, so I spent more time with Liz and realized that she was alright.

More than that, Liz made me laugh. Most of my memories of Liz at shows are of us laughing so hard that I thought I'd pee my pants. There was this one show where every time we'd start laughing at something we'd see this certain Arabian trainer (Bill Melendez, if you're curious) and I'm sure he was thinking "What's wrong with those two?". He'd give us this weird look and that would make us laugh even harder. Ah, to be back in those days of no stress and little responsibility beyond getting the horses ready for the ring.

At the Cow Palace show Liz and I really wanted to win the grooms award. We went to the show with a game plan. We would set up as quickly as possible and then be militant about keeping things in order. We laid down the rules (to both Blair and the owners/riders) - there was to be no trash in the barn aisle, any shavings dragged out of the stall when horses were taken out was to be immediately raked back into the stall, all tack and grooming supplies were only to be touched by anyone else if they were capable of putting them back neatly and correctly. I think at one point we even raked a diagonal pattern into the dirt in the aisle way. It became an obsession. Things had to be perfect at all times because we didn't know when the judges were going to judge for the award.

Since we weren't able to be at the stalls all the time, we had to trust that people weren't messing everything up while we were out bathing or working horses. But god forbid something was out of place when we got back. It all seemed so important then, and we had such a huge fit about it. Like this grooms award was the pinnacle of achievement. I think we turned into huge, uberstrict snots about the whole thing. Looking back now it just seems ridiculous. But it made us feel important. Perhaps a little too much so.

Towards the end of the show I think we both started to get tired. You see, this was one of the show were we were sleeping at the barn in the hospitality room. I can't remember if we did this so we'd be at the stalls all the time for the award, or if it just worked out that way. In those days it was perfectly okay for us to sleep in a tack or grooming stall. I'm not sure how it is now, but it was a common practice back then. At least one groom, and usually more from the bigger barns, would stay at the barn with the horses. I'm sure lots of partying went on, but since we were underage and didn't really socialize with anyone else we didn't partake in any late night activities.

At some point during the days we'd get someone to shuttle us to one of the hotel rooms for a shower, or we'd shower at the show if there were facilities to do so. There were shows where we got to stay in a room with someone. It just depended on how it all worked out.

Arabian shows generally have some sort of activity going on at all times. The classes might end for the day at 9 or 10 pm, but the arenas stay open all night, and the barn lights are usually on all the time (making it hard to sleep if you're trying to sleep in a stall). This is so the trainers can have time, after showing horses all day, to school the rest of the horses at night. Some trainers were weird about working certain horses with an audience so they'd ride at 2 am. I'd like to think that they just wanted the freedom of an empty arena, but I'm not so naive to think that some trainers didn't take the opportunity to be hard handed with the horses and not have anyone see.

One night, Blair informed us that she wanted to work the English Pleasure mare Andrea at 1 am.

To be continued...

Part 3

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pretty much says it all

My trainer rode Kaswyn on Monday, and then sent me this email.

I just have to tell you that your horse was great today.
I have visions of you competing him again.......and maybe, just maybe, I could do my first Grand Prix on him. He is such a special horse, I know you know that, but he is truly a gem.
You are very lucky to have such a great guy......

I must say I'm relieved that I'm not the only one that thinks he's feeling really good. I'm just waiting on the okay from Dr. B to start circles and lateral work. I'm so excited about the prospect of getting back down to work again. Slowly, however.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's in a name

My horse's name is Kaswyn.

I'm often asked what his name is. Not just by horse people, but by people who hear that I have a horse, or see me in my breeches and ask "Oh, do you ride?" When I say "Kaswyn" most people have to repeat it back to me, just to make sure they have it right because it's not easy like "Sam" or "Trigger". Then some people ask me if I named him myself, or where it came from.

It's common for Arabian breeders to name their horses with references to the dam or sire's name. Kaswyn is a perfect example. His registered name is FM Kaswyn. Kaswyn's sire is PS Kasenova, and his dam was Eowyn. His breeders took "Kas" from Kasenova and "wyn" from Eowyn and got "Kaswyn". Their breeding Farm is called Fleet Manor Arabians, so to stamp Kaswyn with their farm name they added FM in front of his name. Again, that's a common tradition for Arabian breeders. Most horses that have a capital "V" initial in the name are usually Varian horses, bred by Shelia Varian. Many horses from the Michigan State University Arabian breeding program have MSU in front of or following the name. If you follow this tradition people can easily identify horses bred by you, so it's a good marketing tool for your farm.

Many horses have long and complicated names that don't translate well into everyday use. In these cases the horses have a show (or registered) name and a barn name. When I got him, I just started calling him Kaswyn. I never felt the need to shorten it or change it. He seemed to know his name when I bought him, so I kept it. I remember once he got loose at a farm where I hauled in for a lesson. Someone from the barn said "What's his name?" as we were calling him and chasing him around. I said "Kaswyn" and she said "Yeah, but what do you call him?" and I said again "Kaswyn." I guess she thought it was weird not to have a short version of his name.

But I don't always call him Kaswyn. My pets names seem to evolve and they get wild nicknames that don't resemble the original name. Here is a list of Kaswyn's names, in a rough order of how they came to be -
The Weiner
Big K
Kas Man

I often call him "boy" or "sweets", and usually I call him "beautiful boy" when I say goodbye to him when I leave. It always makes me sad to leave the barn because I know that if I turn around at the end of the aisle before I walk out of the barn I will see him with his head out of the stall, watching me walk away.

I'm not the only one to come up with names for my horse. I don't know who started calling him The Weiner but my trainer's mom (who is a total hoot!) started singing this cute little song at horse shows that went "Take the "e" out of Weiner and you have winner!" Also, at the first barn he was in when I got him as a three year old, the barn owner started calling him "Squirrel" because he would spook at anything when getting turned out. She was convinced that he did it just for the rush of getting scared instead of actually being afraid of anything that he jumped at.

And I strongly suspect that more than one person has called him Kashole. I know I have, once or twice, when he really deserved it. But most of the time, it's just Kaswyn.

Monday, June 11, 2007

How to piss off your trainer: Part 1 of The Critic

Here is the second in a series of stories outlining some of the times that I've pissed off my horse trainer (unintentionally, of course).

This particular story takes place about twenty years ago when I was working for an arabian horse trainer named Blair. I was around nineteen years old, and had known Blair for about six years. Blair had taught me volumes about horses, riding, and training, and in return I worked for her as a groom.

My duties not only encompassed grooming, cleaning, and lunging horses at the barn, but I also went to shows and performed the same duties. Before the show there was bathing, clipping, and packing to do. And that was just the start of it. Grooming for an arabian show took a lot of equipment, because the owners of the horses who went to the show didn't usually provide anything except the horse and the tack. So there was a lot to pack, unpack, and keep organized at the show. There were usually numerous tack trunks which had to be kept stocked with everything we might need at the show. There was a grooming trunk with things like brushes, clippers, oil, shampoo, sponges, VO5, hair gel, Show Sheen, and other products to make the horses glow in the ring. There was a trunk for the show drapes, and another one for lights, grooming stall mats, extension cords, and shelves. Of course there was a tool trunk with hammers, nails, screw eyes, double ended snaps, pliers, extra bailing wire, and even a circular saw. We even had a trunk just for towels.

In addition to grooming the horses, we were responsible for feeding, stall cleaning, exercising, and tack cleaning at the show. Naturally that meant more equipment - wheelbarrows, shovels, stall picks, lunge lines, bridles, saddles, saddle pads, whips, lead ropes, rakes, get the idea. Lots of stuff. Lots of work.

Sometimes I was the only groom if we went to a one day show, but there was usually at least one other groom at shows that were a weekend or longer. This story is about a long show called the Grand National Rodeo Horse and Stock Show, and it took place at the Cow Palace in California (gotta love it - it's really called the Cow Palace!). In addition to having a full blown rodeo, the show also offered arabian breed classes (from the looks of the website it doesn't look like they have arabian classes anymore - such a pity). I seem to remember that the schedule was weird in that you'd have a chunk of the afternoon for arabian classes, then they'd have some bull riding, and then set the ring up for jumping. It's not like there was three full days in a row of arabian classes, which made it great for everyone. It was a blast and I loved grooming at that show.

Blair always told this story about how when she was grooming for her trainer years earlier that she had won the "Grooms Award" at the Grand National. I'm not sure who gave the award out, or even who judged for it, but it was an award for keeping your stalling area nicely decorated, horse stalls clean, aisles raked, and everything spotless. This one year Liz and I decided that we'd try really really hard to win that award to prove to Blair and ourselves that we were as good at being grooms as she was.

To be continued...

Part 2

Saturday, June 09, 2007

How to piss off your trainer: Part 3 of Gumby Horse

Arabian Native Costume. (not me!) Photo from

The morning of my Native Costume class with Synbad arrives, and Blair has me hop on him for the first time since the accident to see how he is. The swelling has gone down a lot but you can still see some adema in his back legs. He was still cantering in this weird way where he would hold one or the other back leg in the air during the canter stride. This made me really nervous and I was afraid that he'd fall down or that he was really in pain. Blair insisted that he was fine and that I should be ready to show him that night.

So, a few words about the Native Costume class. It's a class where both horse and rider dress up in a "native" arabian costume. Most of the costumes are full of glitter, sequins, and other flashy stuff that I'm sure the bedouins did not have access to in the desert hundreds of years ago. But, it's a costume class and part of the judging is on the costume itself so you see lots of fancy intricate costumes on both horse and rider.

The riders are only asked for three gaits in the class - walk, canter, and hand gallop. The canter should be large and animated, and the hand gallop should be huge and the horse should really be moving and covering ground. They don't want to see the horse out of control, but the faster you can go and still steer, the better. Usually the most hyped up and excitable horses go in native costume and it's not unusual to see people fall off or have collisions. Despite the danger it's a real crowd pleaser and a blast to ride in.

The class I was going to ride Synbad in was to be at night. This was an outdoor show so the huge arena was lit with gigantic lights which made all the costumes sparkle and gleam. It also made scary shadows for the horses, already snorty and hyped up, to spook at. We made our way down to the warm-up ring and I got on. We began our warm up canter and I still felt Synbad holding his back leg up. With all the excitement and horses in the warm up he also decided that he'd take that leg and, as long as he had it in the air, he'd kick it out. This added another element that I just wasn't happy with.

Finally, I pulled him up, walked up to Blair and told her I had decided I wasn't going to show him. I didn't want to hurt him, I didn't want to get hurt myself, and I certainly didn't want to put other horses and people in danger should he fall down in the ring.

She looked at me, super pissed, and said "Fine. Go back to the stalls then if you're afraid." She turned her back and walked away.

I was crushed. I didn't want to disappoint her, but I stood by my decision. I dismounted and Cheryl walked with me back to the barn as my eyes filled with tears. She told me that she thought I had made the right decision and not to let it get to me. Synbad's owner didn't seem upset about it, and trusted me that if I thought he shouldn't be shown then so be it.

Blair was really mad at me for the rest of the evening, which sucked because we had other horses going in the ring that night. By the next morning she had gotten over it and things were back to normal. It was weird because we never really talked about it. We just sort of moved past it and got on with the show.

Synbad made a full and complete recovery and I did show him later in the season. I haven't heard from Synbad or his owner for 17 years, so I don't know what's up with him right now. He would be very old by now, if he's even still alive. Regardless, he was fun to ride, taught me something, and will always be remembered as the horse that bent but didn't break.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Feel the burn

Kaswyn continues to improve every time I ride him. At this point he's very even, pushing nicely from behind, and willing to work. Now it's just a matter of muscle building. I can still feel that he's weak in his rear, but I can also feel that it's improving and his strides feel more solid and purposeful.

The left lead canter, which has always felt a little funky, is feeling fantastic. This could be partly because I'm concentrating very hard on fixing my riding problems, mainly issues with my left leg. It has a tendency to creep up and slide back too far, and I know this effects everything through his left side. Since my left leg has been weak and often times ineffective it has allowed Kaswyn to be lazy with his left hind and able to bulge through the left side, or pop his left shoulder out. Now I'm getting a handle on it and I can feel the results. I can also feel that my abs are finally getting a workout now that I'm able to canter and do some sitting trot. Gotta love those burning muscles! That and sweating while I'm riding makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something.

Our rides are about 20 minutes long right now. I think when we hit 30 minutes I'll call Dr. B. and see if we can start doing some circles and suppling exercises like serpentines and shoulder-in. Because that's what I see the next stage being - suppling and gymnastics. It's not like I'm letting Kaswyn go around stiff or anything, it's just that there is only so much suppling you can do when you can't do any circles or lateral movements.

When I told my husband how great my horse is doing, he felt like he needed to say "Remember, you went too fast last time and ended up going backwards. Remember to go slow this time."

Yeah, go slow. Got it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

How to piss off your trainer: Part 2 of Gumby Horse

Part One

Cheryl and I watched on horror as Synbad, down in the washrack with his rear legs in the splits, struggled to stand. When a horse is down and is trying to get to it's feet, it's wise to let them figure it out from a safe distance (assuming they aren't in danger of injuring themselves further) than to try and help them because you're likely to get kicked by a flailing foot or worse, have the horse fail to stand and fall on top of you. I'm sure it only took ten seconds or so, but it seemed like forever that the horse tried to sort himself out of the predicament. I seriously thought he would never stand again as he thrashed around, but amazingly he got his feet under him and stood up.

Cheryl, who had been holding the bucket and hose, dropped everything, raised a finger and said, "I'll go get the vet!" and off she ran, leaving me with the trembling gelding.

I approached him slowly, saying "Easy, boy, you're okay, easy." and he just stood there, shaking and afraid to move. I gave him a quick once over without touching him, and it seemed that the only thing wrong with him was that the insides of both back legs were seriously scraped raw and bleeding by the concrete. He was now facing backwards in the washrack, so I hooked up the hose and began to run cold water over his back legs. He didn't kick out or move at all, and my mind was racing. You see, horses aren't supposed to bend that way. The back legs go back and forth, not out ot the side. I couldn't figure out how he was able to stand at all, since I was sure that he had broken his legs, or pelvis, or both.

After running to the horse show office to have the vet sent to the washracks, Cheryl ran to our stalls to go get Blair. In her mind she was saying "I am not going to be the one to tell the owner that her horse had to be put down at the show! Blair can do it. No way, not me." You see, at the time Cheryl was Blair's barn/business manager and she often got some crappy jobs to do. She was determined not to be involved in this one.

The vet, Blair and Cheryl all arrived almost at the same time. The vet gave him an exam, and, to be honest, I can't remember much of what went on after that. I was a complete wreck. I felt guilty, like it was my fault. If I had only cleared the drain first, or had him on a shorter lead, or been paying closer attention. I know that the vet had Blair trot Synbad and was amazed that the horse wasn't even lame. I'm sure he gave him a shot of something and instructed us to hand walk and cold hose his back legs as much as possible for two days, then we could try lunging him. He said that instead of breaking anything that Synbad had just pulled everything in his rear and apart from being sore, he'd be just fine. It was a good thing that the horse was so bendy. It probably saved his life.

Since the show was a long one (I think there were two or three big shows back-to-back and we were there for over two weeks), the vet said we could show him as long as he was still sound. He did recommend that we wait at least four days, and then try riding. If he seemed fine, the vet said there should be no problem.

On the way back to the stalls, I was worried that Blair would be totally mad at me, but she wasn't. She said stuff like "accidents happen" and "it could have happened to anyone". She said she'd call the owner, who wasn't at the show yet, and tell her what had happened.

Every few hours for the next few days I found time to walk Synbad and hose his back legs. He had started to get a little more irritable about his legs being touched, and I certainly didn't blame him. The scrapes were really bad and he had started to get swelling all between his legs from the pulled muscles, ligaments, and tendons. He might have been on an anti-inflammatory, but I really can't remember.

When we started lunging him, he wasn't exactly lame, but he started doing this weird thing at the canter. Every few strides he would try and canter using just one or the other back leg while holding one up in the air so it didn't touch the ground. Blair said "Oh, he'll be fine! I won't scratch you from your classes." I was really worried, and I felt bad for Synbad, but she was insistant that I show this horse.

To be continued...
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr