Saturday, August 24, 2013

The problem with the whip

I've written before that Phil has a huge problem when I carry a whip to ride.  I think his previous training overused the whip, and probably used it as a punishment instead of an aide.  So this has made him super nervous about me even carrying it, regardless if I’m using it or not. 

My trainer suggested at my lesson that I start carrying a whip because she thought I could really use a little more encouragement from behind in the leg yields.   I totally agreed with her, and so I started carrying a whip.

Phil thought this was a super stinky idea. 

For the first week or so it was like we were back to the beginning.  Phil was nervous, inattentive, and couldn’t begin to do things like be on the bit or control his speed.  It got really frustrating, but I figured he’d just work out of it.  However it didn't seem to be getting any better. 

I complained about it on Twitter/Facebook, and my trainer suggested that I use a jumping bat instead of a long whip just to get him used to me carrying something in my hand.  Well, that was a perfect solution.  The jumping bat that I have is so short that it doesn't even reach as far back as the end of the saddle pad.  Phil certainly knows I have it and he’s not as relaxed and steady as he was before, but he is certainly much better.  Plus I get the added bonus of some really nice leg yield work!  Once or twice I even tapped the saddle pad when I needed him to move his haunches a bit more and he was able to do it without losing his little mind. 

One other thing – I’ve been experimenting with some home made fly sprays.  I think I found one that really works well, except it loses it’s effectiveness on a sweaty horse.  At first I thought it smelled really stinky, but now I’m kinda getting used to it.  The first time I sprayed it on both Phil and Kaswyn they both turned their lips up.  Boy I wish I had my camera out because it was great!  Silly boys. 

Once I get a recipe I really like I’ll go ahead and post it if anyone is interested.  Of course I would come out with this at the end of summer.  Both my boys are shedding their summer coats already!!!

BOO end of summer, BOOOO!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Post Lesson Thoughts

Looking back at my lesson video, I have some things that are on my mind. 
First, I don’t like where my leg is.  I think it’s too far forward.  I used to ride Phil with my body very tilted forward to protect myself in case he bolted, and that made my leg slide too far back.  Looking back at old videos of Phil really shows how far back I was letting my leg go just by leaning forward and tilting my pelvis.  A few months ago when I was finally able to sit down on him and use my seat and really ride, my leg came naturally forward as I lost the tilt in my pelvis.  However, now I think it’s too far forward.  I didn’t notice this when I was just looking in the mirror and riding.  It took the video of the lesson for me to really see what was going on there. 
Second, what’s the deal with my left hand?  I had such a bad issue with my whole right side before, with it scrunching up, lifting my hand and shoulder, and being tight.  I finally worked on that enough to fix it, but now I’ve left the left side go.  Damn if that little booger didn’t teach me to let go of the left rein.  I think he prefers if I just hang on to the right rein and leave the left side to him. 
Lastly, my trainer brought up the point that I should be riding him with a whip.  Not to punish him, but to use it as an aide (like it’s meant to be used) when my leg just isn’t enough.  I had avoided the whip because it made him so anxious due to his past experiences with whips, but looking at the video I see that my trainer is right.  He is very lazy with the haunches in the leg yields and if I was able to tap him on the haunches it would get him to move off my leg much easier. 
Of course, now that I’ve identified these three issues, I can think about nothing else but fixing them.  I’m trying to pull my lower leg back, but I also need to be aware that my seat doesn’t get tense and tight at the same time.  That’s really hard to do!  Just the effort of pulling my lower leg back automatically makes me tense up to try and work HARDER, and that’s not going to get me anywhere.
Also I’m making Phil accept the contact on the left rein.  I noticed after the lesson that every time I asked for the trot from the walk, I was dropping my left rein and grabbing the right. Exactly like Phil wants me to.  When I hold onto that left rein he gets really fussy, and that why I probably started releasing it to begin with.  So now I hold onto it, and when he fusses I keep a hold of it and continue to push him into my hand. It’s easier going to the right, because then I can bend him right and use my inside leg to push him to the left rein that I’m now holding on to.  But going to the left is harder, since I don’t want to grab the left rein too much and overbend him. 
To make things even more interesting, I’ve gone and added the whip.  I’ve been riding with the whip every day since my lesson.  Phil is really handling it well, but sometimes I feel like I have that horse back that I had two years ago.  If I accidentally tap him, or if he swishes his tail and the tail makes the whip tap him, he gets SO anxious all over again. 
So, if you take into consideration me changing my seat and my left rein contact, and then you add in a nervous horse, my rides have been pretty challenging.  I get the feeling though that Phil will get over this fairly quickly.  Well, quickly in relation to the two years it took him to finally be really a rideable dressage horse.  I suspect in a month or so he will be much more used to the whip, which will make it much easier for me to change my seat and hand(s) like I need to.  
Oh, did I mention that I took him off of the SmartCalm Ultra?  Yeah, I did that a few weeks ago.  He was actually feeling a little lazy at times so I decided he didn’t need it anymore.  Depending on how well he handles the whole whip thing I may decide to put him back on it for a week or two.  I have a tub of it, so I don’t need to change up my SmartPaks.  I can just have the feeders add it in for the short-term.  They are pretty good at that sort of thing, which is great. 
The good news?  I think I’m getting better with my legs and left hand, and I think that just having the whip available makes the leg yields a hundred times better.  I know that it’s hard for Phil too, so I’m being very patient and giving him lots of reassurance. But as a dressage horse he’s going to have to accept the whip as an aide.  I guess we’d better start working on that now before the first winter schooling show.
Which, by the way, I’m SO excited to show this horse again!  He’s so much better now than he was last year, I just can’t wait!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Lesson on Phil 8-2-13

First things first – I’m sorry to those of you who don’t have Facebook or Twitter and are missing my short updates lately. I would love to have more time to write, but I don’t have the time right now to do lengthy blog posts. I even found lately that I’ve fallen into the habit of coming home from work (or the barn) and fiddling with my phone like a zombie until bed, while my kids watch videos. Craig and I have recently instituted a rule that we’re going to give the girls a limited amount time on electronic devices and then we’re all going to unplug and play games. So far it’s been a lot of fun, and I’m glad we’ve started this. In a few years when the girls are teenagers they’ll think we’re too lame to hang out with, so we’d better spend time with them while we can.

So I’m sorry about not being able to post more on this actual blog. Right now my updates are limited to 140 characters. I seem to be able to get that done more often! So follow me on twitter @Dressage_Mom or on Facebook (there’s a link to the right of this page over there somewhere, or just search for “dressagemom”) to get the latest.

Ok, on to the lesson!
Here’s the written run-down (or if you just want to watch, skip down to the video). We did a little warm-up then my trainer had me do four loop serpentines, but instead of rounding the serpentines she had me try to make the turns more square. During each turn, she wanted me to step into my new inside stirrup and encourage Phil’s new inside hind leg to step through and bear more weight. Just this simple exercise brought to light that, while I may have fixed the issue with my right side being too tight and forward, now my left side is too loose and giving. Even so, the exercise was helpful and Phil was very compliant.

After that we did some leg yields. He’s getting the idea of them, but he doesn’t always want to come off my leg when I ask. I’m still not riding with a whip because it upsets him too much, but it might be time for me to start carrying it once in a while. I find that I could use a little tap here and there to reinforce the leg when he doesn’t listen. There were times when he came very nicely off of my leg and really used himself well.

Next we did a fame lengthening exercise where I let the reins out and Phil followed the bit down and stretched his frame out. The leg yields get us both all jammed up (and me twisted at times) so this really helped him to come a bit more over his back. I did this at the posting trot, and then at times I sat a little to get him to carry me while his back was up.

After a little walk work, it was onto the canter. We worked on some counter canter, and then we did one flying change each direction. The first one was really disorganized and he got a little frantic, but he worked it out. The second one was much better but it freaked him out a bit because I really had to give him a poke with the spur to give him the aide to change. But it was clean and after a moment of “OH MY GOD” he came right back and got to work again.

So, a side note: There was a dog in the arena for my lesson. This is a nice dog, and he is a rescue dog. He’s a herding dog who, until this home at the barn, hadn’t lived around livestock. His instinct is telling him that he really should chase and herd the horses, and when he was first adopted he would bark and run at them a lot. He’s gotten a LOT better in just the few months that he’s been at the barn, but sometimes I think he just loses his head and comes after them. Well, that happened in the canter work, and he ran after Phil and barked. A few months ago Phil would have lost his mind and never gotten it back. Now, with his new attitude towards working, he was able to deal with it and go right back to work. I was so proud of him! I think it helped that I had it in my mind that he was going to be fine. And so he was!

Next we did some shoulder-in to ten meter circle exercises. The shoulder in to the left is pretty good, but then the circle after it going to the left isn’t that great. My trainer wanted me to have him push off from the shoulder-in onto the circle, and exhibit a bit of power in his gait. The shoulder-in right isn’t as good, because my left side/rein isn’t solid enough for him. We did get the circle on the right a little better though. Something to work on for sure!

Then we did more frame lengthening/stretching exercises, but this time at the sitting trot. He gets a little jazzed at the sitting trot, because he’s anticipating doing a lengthened trot, so I had to be very careful about how I handled this exercise. Phil was great about it and at the end his trot was fantastic. He finally made a solid contact and it felt great! Then we did some more leg yields and they were really good!

Then onto his favorite – trot lengthenings! We did a few of them, with my trainer adjusting my seat and his speed. In the middle of these, the dog ran after Phil again. He was less upset than the first time, and got right back to work with minimal drama. At the very end, he did a beautiful lengthening! It felt fantastic!

My trainer says she is very happy with where he is now. She likes everything she sees and thinks work on the things we worked on in the lesson. Except the flying changes. She suggested I wait until our next lesson so we can work on them together. And that’s just fine with me! Also I should continue with the shoulder-fore at the canter work, and even add a little leg yield at the canter.

I hope I can have another lesson next month. My goal is to show him next year at recognized shows, and hopefully get to Arabian Regionals. If I can get someone to take me, I want to hit the Chagrin Valley Farms winter schooling show series. I think that would prepare us very well for next year’s show season.

I think Phil looks a lot better. What do you think?

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr