Friday, September 30, 2011

Baby Picture!

Today I was looking for something in my email and came across this old baby picture of Halo. I don't think I've posted this particular one of her before - it predates my ownership of her. I think she is about six months old here. Wasn't she cute?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer Recap in Pictures

After a summer of foot surgery, no showing, a new lessee, and a new saddle, it feels like time for a review of the past several months' progress. Looking at these pictures, I think the positive change in Halo is very apparent. She's developed a lot more muscle, and is learning to use herself correctly. We still have plenty ahead of us, though - the canter and canter transitions need improvement, she is ready to do some low fences, and lateral work needs to come into play. All three of those things have been a focus for both me and Allegra over our last several rides.

Here is where Halo started out at the beginning of the summer in May.

That last picture in particular makes me cringe because of the way I'm popping up out of the saddle. My lower back is very tight, and there is a constant struggle for me to keep it soft enough that I don't hollow my back and perch on the front of my seatbones. If anyone has in-the-saddle exercises to help improve that, please let me know! Next is our first ride post-surgery, at the very end of July (yep, in shorts and sneakers, flame away):

These next pictures are from just a few days ago. I think you can really see that her muscling has changed and improved, and I'm finding that I have less trouble keeping my butt planted in the saddle where it belongs. Unfortunately carrying a whip seems to make me extra prone to piano hands, so I have some work to do on that front.

And here are some pictures of her with Allegra, whom I credit with 90% of these positive changes in Halo. I think a huge part of it is that I've always struggled with focusing on one particular thing with Halo. I couldn't decide what to do, and she's athletic enough to do a variety of things, so I didn't feel compelled to focus strongly on one aspect of riding. Allegra made a point of working consistently on dressage, and it shows in Halo's progression.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jumping Lesson!

Allegra took a jumping lesson on Halo yesterday! I'm glad she did it, because I'm still a little leery of jumping anything over 12" and I don't want my anxiety about it to be part of Halo's early experiences. I'd rather let Allegra get Halo comfortable with the basics, and hopefully after that I can take a lesson myself. Here are the details from her email.

First she had me do trotting poles, halting towards the end the arena, doing a turn on the haunches and trotting back over. She said to help Halo get her distances - look when we would meet the pole and shorten or lengthen her stride to meet the poles. 

After that we did a line with two small cross rails. The first fence she took big, the rest were pretty small. Stephanie said to make sure Halo is forward and that I rest my hands on her neck so even if she goes big I don't catch her mouth - that it is especially important to give them good experiences starting over fences. Also important is to stop once she gets it totally right so she knows what we are looking for.

We did that line trotting many times, stopping at either end of the arena. then changed to trot in canter out. Results were mixed, but once she figured out what I was asking and I gave her enough leg before taking off on the first one she got it. She did duck out once to the right and tried another once or twice to dodge the second jump, but we went over messy instead.

After that we added the purple line, again trotting in and cantering out. I got off around 12:30 and she was barely sweaty even though I was exhausted. I had Stephanie help me make more holes in the stirrups, so they were nice and short and my ankles were feeling it. She did go fine in the dressage saddle and I felt comfortable in that in half seat and two point, so not sure if I'll try the other saddle or not. 

She was great picking up the canter after the first jump and keeping it around the arena. Stephanie said to be very aware of the lead so she doesn't get used to being on the wrong one, and to mix in elements of a real course even if we're just doing one line, to push deep in the corner, have the correct lead - sometimes keep it and sometimes go down to trot, turn as if you are going to another jump - sometimes tightly, sometimes wide. So pretty much how we are preparing her for a dressage test on the flat.

Halo was awesome and I encourage you guys to try it. Once we started doing poles and fences her whole attitude changed from just warming up doing flat work, she was more engaged, picked up gaits more easily after taking a break - when I asked her to canter as a rewarmup after walking she got it much faster. I think she is really going to enjoy mixing this into the routine and it will help her flat work a lot, and I know I'm going to be feeling it tomorrow, so it will be good for my position too!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Contact Is Not the Enemy

Since there are now three of us riding Halo, there is a fun email correspondence going back and forth regularly between us about our rides. I feel like I've been writing so much email that it has allowed me to neglect my blogging duties! And still, despite all the communication there are things that only become clear in person.

Yesterday I met up with Allegra at the barn. She wanted to try applying some ground work exercises with a rider on board to see if we could help clarify some cues for Halo. We set out to work on two things: leg yields and upward transitions from trot to canter.

Halo doesn't quite have leg yields down yet. The main problem is that she will move her front end over and then trail her hind end, not crossing over in the back. We have front wheel drive and need rear wheel drive instead. As I asked for a yield from the quarter line to the rail, Allegra would push on Halo's hip in addition to my cue. What struck me was how very different it felt when Halo was using her hind end. Now I know what the feeling is that we're searching for, which will hopefully make it easier to achieve without help on the ground. I know what to reward.

Another thing that probably added confusion to the mix is that the leg cues I taught Halo are that leg at the girth means move your front end over, and leg further back means move your hindquarters. From talking with Allegra it sounds like she was using opposite cues - so when going from the quarter line to the rail she would move her outside leg back and keep her inside leg forward. That is one of the many challenges when multiple riders are working with a horse - we might all be doing things slightly differently. Oops.

After we spent some time doing the leg yields, we moved to the outdoor arena to work on canter transitions. There was a ring of cones out there with dressage letters on them that provided a helpful guide. We trotted a circle around the cones, and I would call out to Allegra at which letter I was going to ask for canter. As I cued to Halo, she would reinforce the cue with the familiar longe whip cue from the ground. The results weren't perfect every time, but she definitely got a few nice snappy transitions. She was best when I set her up for it properly with a nice forward trot, and then sat back out of the way of her shoulders as I cued. It was a great exercise and I would definitely like to do it again.

Interestingly, the most important takeaway from our ride turned out to be contact. Allegra showed me how much more contact she has been using on Halo. As a rider in general I tend to err on the side of looseness with the reins. It works fine when all I'm asking of her is to get herself around the arena one way or another, or if we are just poking down the trail. I assumed that if I took up more contact, she would suck behind the bit and we would be back to square one. I was wrong. Halo seems to crave a steadier, firmer contact in addition to a strong leg to support her and push her forward. Of course now my legs are good and sore today! I had to shorten my reins several inches from where I had them, and even then Allegra had to keep reminding me to keep them shortened. The improvement in how Halo carried herself was unquestionable. We got a much more consistent trot, and even some nicely rounded canter. Using more contact also meant I had to work harder at keeping my seat deep so that I didn't get pitched forward. My abs are sore today too. It's a good feeling.

The contact issue may seem like a "duh" moment to some of you, but it's amazing the things we don't catch ourselves doing without a set of eyes on the ground. I haven't had consistent lessons in nearly ten years now, so there are plenty of gaping holes in my knowledge and abilities. I'm grateful that Allegra had time to come out with me, and I'm happy to have some equitation homework to do.