Sunday, July 16, 2017

Discouraging discouragement

By the title of this post, I'm not trying to say that discouragement can be even more discourging. Don't get me wrong, it can. But what I'm trying to convey by the title of the post is to discourage yourself from getting into a funk of being discouraged when things seem to wobble or even fall apart a little.

There will be good days and not so good days when working your horse or pony. Things won't go anywhere near according to plan. At least not Your plans of what you were hoping to accomplish that day.

Since the pic's in the last post were taken, the woman at the barn has been on the filly a few times and while eveything was going really well, she mentioned to me after the last ride that there were some serious holes in the filly's training. Major holes. As in the size of holes you could drive a truck thru.

The filly is 3 y/o and hadn't hardly been touched. She is what trainers call a Clean Slate. Nothing to go back and undo, because they haven't been taught anything wrong or developed bad behavior because of it. This is good. She has been working the filly in long lines and getting on her afterwards to walk around a little and cool her out, work on leg yielding, softness and bending and somewhat reinforce some of what was worked on in the lines.

The first time getting on this filly, she stood there and didn't move. Bumping with legs, tugging the reins one way then the other, kissing, chirping and clucking to her all had no effect. She wasn't budging. I went in and led them around, but as soon as I let go and the filly realized it, she stopped. The next few rides she did start walking off on her own, then walked a little more freely, would turn beautifully and stop often of her own accord, but walked off again with little pressure. The last two rides, with a bit of stronger forward encouragement they did manage to get some trotting going on but it was short lived. That's when the holes were discovered.

While the flly is working on a rather loose rein with little or light contact and she is responding to light cues and quiet signals, she is not relaxing enough to drop her head or engaging her hind end to push up into the bridle. Since this filly is just starting out, her owner decided to go back to long line work only and fix everything to keep her working correctly. It would need to be done at some point so why wait and let things get worse before addressing it?

Is it discouraging that thngs were going so well and everything was progressing rapidly and all of a sudden they have to back up? Not really. Not if you let it be discouraging. By looking at it that way, that hiccups and bumps are to be expected, when they show up, then they can be addressed before things get worse. That's where the title comes in. Discouraging ourself from getting discouraged because things aren't still progressing at mach speed and have slowed to a snails pace at times. It happens. There will be days when we can't get it right in how we ask them to do something and if we do't ask them right, how are they supposed to know what we want to respond correctly? There will be days that they don't feel like it. They're cranky, stiff, maybe even sore ad irritable as a result. We all have our days. It's up to us to find something acceptable and good in their work and call it a day. There's plenty of time to work it out.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Things to look for

The photos in this post are of a 3 y/o pinto filly at the barn that is just getting started in life. Her owner has agreed to allow me to post the photos. Hopes for this pony are for her to be a little 'All Around' pony. Dressage, hunter over fences, driving, western and trails. Since this is a driving blog for the most part, after we establish the ground driving and long line work, posts will be about harness parts, fit and the purpose to each piece.

These photos are from her second time in the lines and while she isn't working perfectly yet, she is progressing very quickly. Her head is still a little high and as a result her back is a bit hollow at the trot. At the walk, we're Gucci.

Notice her head is down, she is comfortable and relaxed, working like she should. Her withers are lifted and she looks uphill, reaching under herself with the back legs with plenty of overstep. Her rear hooves typically land one and a half to two hoofprints ahead of where her front hoof was.

Change of direction and you can see she is starting to reach and coss over with her legs in the turn.

Reaching out with the front legs and up under herself with the back legs.

Again- plenty of overstep in the walk.

Moving into the trot you can see her head has come up, back hollowed and she's not reaching under herself.

She is still a bit hollow, head a little high but she is really reachng up under herself and with her front end nice and light, her length of stride is increased.

Head starting to come down a little, and still reaching forward.

Head coming down, she's starting to relax, nice and balanced and showing progress.

Her head came up a little more and someting has her attention outside of the round pen, but she's still trucking along. Rather than correct her right away, she was allowed to keep moving, waited for her to relax and come back to where she is supposed to be.

A bit out of balance and that's ok. Remember this was only her 2nd time in the lines. She's still figuring it all out.

And figure it out, she does. Head still a touch high, not in the bridle or on the bit, but moving well and improving. Since these photos were taken she has been in the lines a total of 5 times now. She has also been mounted from both sides, sat on, learning to walk off on her own and making a lot of progress. She is a nice filly and going to make an awesome pony when she's finished.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Trot work Part 2

Now that your horse trusts you and you have pushed them forward into the trot, how do you get them balanced? Let's be honest here, you will have to get them balanced because they won't just pick up a trot and do it on their own. This is where it comes to You stepping up and doing some work. Your inside rein is going to be for support, the outside rein is going to be your brakes and your voice and body is going to be your gas pedal. In the saddle, add in your legs as part of the gas pedal.

I like to use split reins when riding and when doing long line work I hold my lines much the same, bridged and running thu both hands so that I can easily slide my hands up or down the lines as needed. Working in the lines, I like to use the rings that are a bit lower and wider for the horse. When riding, I also try to keep my hands a little wider since a friend of mine pointed it out to me. Somewhere over the years, I developed the habit of riding with my hands practically ON the horses withers. On the withers and close together they did not move much away from that position for whatever reason. Her comment (praphrasing here) was to use my hands a little wider as if they were the sides of a channel in which the horses energy was flowing. Well that was when I was riding my WB mare Aruba. She was a BIG mare and needed a Wider channel for all of her energy. That made sense to me and when I widened my hands it made a big difference in her way of going. Same with the work in the lines, the reins are the sides of a channel to guide the horses energy. They need somewhere to move.

Once you have pushed the horse up into the trot, you will want to make contact using your inside rein. You want the horse to accept it that you are there for support with that rein and hold them slightly bent to the inside. When you want to slow them down or make adjustments, you will simply close your hand on the outside rein and if needed, make small tugs on that rein, letting them know that you're asking something of them. As they are moving, watch the ground for overstep and if there isn't any going on, you may need to push them up into the bridle using your voice and body positioning. Your hands will take a hold of the lines and stiffen slighty, giving the horse a 'barrier' of sorts and letting them know that this is where they need to soften and submit, breaking over at the poll and driving up into the bridle.

When they do this, You need to let them know that THIS is what you wanted them to do. Praise them loudly and make a big deal out of it. Use a happy voice since they can hear it in the tone of your words. When you get a few strides, let them relax little and then ask for a few more. Now that they heard you get excited and know what your asking of them, getting a few more strides will be a bit easier. Help them hold it as long as they can and praise them for it. Call it good on that side and change directions. Same exercise. Ask for forward movement and push them up into the bridle. When you get a few strides, praise them heavily, let them rest a little, do it again and call it a day.

There are a few other things to consider here and I will cover them in my next post, with pitures to illustrate for us 'visual' people.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Making contact

Working at the walk you should have gotten a feel for being able to get your horse working IN the bridle and ON the bit. Some of you may still be asking "What does that mean?"

When the horse is In the bridle, they are working with their head in a position that allows them to use it to balance and typically they are working on the vertical, meaning that if there were a line or a wall in front of them, their forehead down to their nose would be flat up against it. Sometimes their head will be lowered and other times it may be carried a bit higher, but they should be breaking over at the poll which should be relatively level with or just slightly higher than their withers. I will use the photo of Kat again here to illustrate this. He is on the vertical and his poll is slightly higher than his withers.

When the horse is On the bit, they are literally on the bit. They aren't sucked back behind it, which is typically a reaction of having too much bit and they aren't gaping at the mouth, sticking their nose in the air, running thru the bit or ignoring it. Being On the bit, when you move your hand to give a cue, the horse will respond instantly. In order for the horse to be on the bit, they have to be comfortable with the bit. It has been chosen for this horse based on their level of training and what you will be trying to accomplish. The bit will also be adjusted properly to fit this particular horse, they readily accept it and are confident and submissive to your hands, not trying to escape, evade or run away from it. This means you have shown them that they can trust you not to hang onto them with a death grip or yank and jerk them around.

Another way you can look at the In and On ideas is this- In the bridle is the up and down movement of the horses head and neck. On the bit is the lateral or side to side movement of the head and bending of the neck. With both Up, Down and side to side movement all going on at once, it can be easy for things to get out of control quickly. This is where small movements come into play and can make big changes. If you can instill the confidence in them from the begining that contact is not a bad thing, it is much, much easier to pick them up and guide them along, rather than dealing with a horse who has been 'beat up' in the face and has a learned fear reaction. You have to trust your horse so they can trust you.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Moving into the trot

Now that we have developed the walk, it is time to move on to the trot. Same principals apply, we want the horse moving forward with freedom of movement in a balanced and relaxed way of going. We will still be looking for the overstep in their stride and something else we will be looking for is that the legs on the diagonal are moving in hamony with each other. What does that mean?

When looking at pictures of horses moving at the trot, not only will there be overstep and sometime overreaching, (see photo below) but if you were to draw a line thru the cannon bone of the front leg and hind leg on the diagonals- they should be parallel. Looking at the legs in the air, if the front leg is in front of the parallel and going to be on the ground before the hind leg, the horse is heavy on the forehand. This is often paired with the horse having No overstep. This is typical as the horse hasn't learned how to move properly yet and if you look at them, most of their weight is in their front end anyways.

Developing the walk, we taught the horse to reach up under them with their hind legs and use their rear end more, engaging it and pushing themselves forward. With their hind legs coming up under them, it allows their front end to become lighter. Think of it like a teeter totter. If you're sitting in the middle and you want the board behind you to go down (rear end coming up under you) the board in front of you (the horses front end) will obviously go up making the horse lighter and more forward. In the photo of Kat, although he is built slightly downhill, he is moving in such a way that his withers are actully a touch higher than his rear end.

It is important to remember to be fair to the horse here. Their muscles are in development and they won't be able to hold this frame and way of moving for long. At first you may get a couple of strides at best in either direction. One reason is because 1) the horse is trying to figure out what you're asking them to do and 2) because they aren't used to actually doing it. We are trying to develop *New* muscle memory in their way of going. It takes time. Compare it to your own riding. Think about where you were at when you fist started and how far you've come to where you're at today. Think about the different muscles you use and how they remind us we weren't using them when we took a week or two off from riding.

Part of long line work is being able to take up contact and to remain soft and following when needed. Long line work is similar to riding. Same cues with your hands and reins, you're just on the ground, not in the saddle. If you have done ground work and lunging with your horse, they will be familiar with you asking for different gaits. As you ask them to move forward into the trot you will also take up contact. You're asking them to move up into the bridle and giving them a reference point of where they need to be.

This part is a balancing act for both of you. The horse finding that *sweet spot* where they are balanced in their movement and for you, where you know when to use a little more rein to bring them back, voice and body language to push them forward or when to praise them for doing it right and leave them alone otherwise. Too much of one, not enough of the other and some days it will feel like you're never going to get there. It won't happen overnight and some days it takes more to get it than others. It's not a race and keep in mind, you're just setting up the base of things to come later on.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sweet perfection

Last night I put my pony in long lines. I haven't driven him much or really worked him either in a long time. I think we've driven a whopping total of twice since the end of last summer. I pulled his old harness out and wrapped his legs since I couldn't find his boots right off, grabbed my lines and out to the round pen we went.

He wanted to start out by tearing around like a little maniac, but I wasn't having it. Since Aruba spoiled me with a horse that walks out a few laps to loosen up and then picked up the trot, I've switched over to that way of thinking for getting my horses going. It's so much nicer, seriously.

After he walked a bit in both directions and loosened up, I asked him to pick up a trot. He was right there and responded nicely, going into a beautifully balanced working trot. I let him go for a bit before asking him to really pick it up and give me an extended trot. Kat obliged and just rolled into it.

After a few times around, I signaled him for a regular working trot, then to slow down a little more in a collected trot. Again, he did what I asked without a fuss. I asked for a stop, walk forward, a few serpentines and changing direction. Picked up the trot, did a bit of collection, extension, then collection and called it good. My little man was a.w.e.s.o.m.e. in his work. For not having done anything in a while, its good to know he remembers everything. Any wonder why I love him?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Maybe a bit of rambling

Now that we have started to develop the walk, we can add things in the horses training and 'strengthen' the things they already know. This is laying a foundation in their work and when its done right, you will always have a place to come back to later on, to build from in the horses training. If the horse gets confused with something new, you can bring them back to something they know, let them relax and get their confidence back and then ask for the new thing again, maybe in a slightly different way that will help the horse to realize, the new movement is similar to this, which you know how to do, but there is a small change in 'how' I would like you to do it.

For example circles. Training involves a LOT of circles. Showing at training level of dressage we started with large circles. As Kat and I moved up to Prelim the circles got smaller, but his balance and way of going was expected to still be there in one aspect, but improved in another. I have also heard from several people showing either Prelim, Intermediate or Advanced, that once they moved up and the circles got smaller, that doing large circles had become more challenging and difficult to them as drivers and for their horses. Why? They started out doing large circles, but since working on smaller circles with less room for error and less time 'In' the circle, it holds your focus and that of the horse, not really allowing us to blow it. If you have a square arena and make a large circle inside the fence and mark the 4 places where the circle meets the rail, similar to using the 12, 3, 6 & 9 on a clock, on a large circle there is more ground to be covered going from 12 to 3, 3 to 6 and so on. Coming in even 10 feet off the rail at those four points, makes the circle and the distance between each point smaller.

When doing circles in any kind of pattern work, at home or in a class at a show, it is always good to look ahead at where you're going and wher you want the horse to go. Using the clock to visualize making your circle, looking ahead '15 minutes' is a way to break down the circle and make it more manageable, be it a large circle or a smaller one. So as you're making you way around from the 12 to the 3, as you move thru where the 1 is, you should be looking to where the 4 is. The 2 finds us looking at 5 and so on. This way when you reach the 3, its not a scramble all of a sudden to find the 6 and set your horse up in that one stride on the 3, to be in the position to make it to the 6.

The problem with making smaller circles and then trying to go back and make larger circles is that as riders and drivers, in the larger circles and especially at the slower gaits, walk and working trot, there is more time, more strides and distance to cover, allowing us more time to drift in or out of our circle making it egg shaped or many things other than round. Then we add in things like dropping our shoulder or hip, leaning, too much or too little rein, leg or any combination of both and our once round circle is anything but...

Personally I can admit to getting a bit lazy, maybe arrogant or whatever you choose to call it, but I look at larger circles and almost blow them off since Kat and I have evolved and improved enough that we don't 'need' to worry about or maybe even focus on doing large circles anymore. This sounds familiar, right? If it doesn't- Once I put him to the cart, we don't need to work in long lines anymore.... Yeah, that was my way of thinking. Was being the opperative word there. Just about every time I think, "Meh, we've done that and moved on. Why bother with 'That' anymore?" that's just about the time I realize there IS some reason to go back and do that work again once in a while. If for no other reason, than just as a refresher for both me and my horse. Usually when I go back for a refresher, that's when I find 'holes' in our work that need to be fixed.

The holes in our work many times turns out to be the path of self discovery that OMG! This is Me screwing things up for my pony or horse, because I'm doing or not doing this and many times sending them mixed signals for what I want or at least what I think I want. Yay Me! Shaking my head... lol It's a good thing that our horses are often very forgiving creatures. Thru these moments of self discovery we learn and grow as riders and drivers. We realize what we are doing and how it affects not just us, but our horse and our scores in the showring if we compete. Sometimes they also add another level of stress because that's one more thing I'm aware of screwing up, that affects my game and now because I'm focusing on that and trying to correct it- somthing else is not being addressed and we begin to spiral. Its ok. I totally get it because I do it too. Many of us do. This is why there is and always will be, something else to work on.