Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday I'm in love

Robert Smith was wrong. Friday was terrible, but Sunday I'm in love with my mare.

We had a lovely wonderful interesting lesson. Highlights:

First, relax. My upper body started off locked up. Then I got into the groove at the walk and started tensing up when I'd ask her to gait, which lead to a choppy bouncy racky thing. I finally started relaxing when I'd ask for more speed and the racky thing smoothed out a bit.

Next, look, she's lowering her own head. I've been noticing that as I've gotten better hands and more consistent contact, she's been actually reaching for the contact instead of ignoring it or slamming her chin to her neck to evade me. Today I noticed that after I ask for speed, when I slow back down, she really stretches her neck long and low.

She's also almost entirely quit trying to canter into turns. She still "changes gears" in turns, but it's something different from the choppy racky thing, something much more comfortable that feels more correct. I think it's a few strides of a real running walk.

I talked about that with Hardy for a bit. He and I don't think horses can really gait long and low. I'm not 100% sure though. Sara, you know anything about that? Assuming that it's not possible, that she needs a higher head to counterbalance a faster gait, we talked about how to work her head back up and encourage her to collect up a bit before I ask for more speed.

So I tried that. We did a big stretchy circle with her head down, then I picked her head up - super gently, super slowly - then I asked for speed. She was very confused about me asking her to pick her head up, but really willing to try, and we got a nice lap around the arena at the "good" gait.

Then I slowed her back down and offered her some room to stretch back out, but I slipped the reins too fast and you could tell she was a little confused. Where'd the contact go? I picked my light contact back up and she started stretching back down. It was so very sweet, such a nice affirmation that the dressage people are right and horses do learn to like (love? anticipate?) the connection with the rider's hands.

We ended there. It had been an hour and she'd really listened so well and worked so hard for me. And it was a beautiful day, too! It's sunny and 61.

I'm going to try a pad under my saddle next week. My saddle is a smidge too wide for her and I don't have enough clearance under her withers. Alas, this is an imperfect world and I can't spring for a new saddle for her right now. But I think a pad with some shims under the front will help a lot, and the kind of work we're doing right now will help her back fill in and fit my existing saddle better.

I might tempt fate and take the curb reins off next week too. :O She is listening and working so well on just the snaffle reins. I haven't had to use the curb reins in four rides. Sure would be easier without that tangle of leather in front of the pommel.

I'm off to fix my husband's car. We were going to go to dinner in the Beemer last night, but the battery was dead. I need to find or buy jumper cables and see if I can jump it and get it to hold a charge. I hope I don't electrocute myself :(


  1. By long and low do you mean like a Western headset? When Peanut was in training, he did everything in dressage collection, which I don't see as long and low at all. It was all about getting the weight on the hindquarters more than anything else, and if he went on the forehand then a proper gait was impossible and he turned into a bumpy pacer. Can a long, low headset be done while a horse is properly engaging its hind end? Dunno. We never explored that.

    What do I know? I don't even know what gait Peanut does. He has his violent trot, his bumpy pace, and his smooth something-or-other.

    It's great to hear of the improvements! I'm currently inwardly lamenting the fact that I feel like I'm still a rank beginner no matter how many lessons I take. Nothing seems to sink in or can be repeated once I leave the ring. Sigh.

  2. I'm talking about the opposite of collection - she stretches her neck forward and down, like she's stretching all the muscles in her topline. The dressage stuff I've read generally approves of horses doing this but I'd never seen Dixie do it before!

    I think you get discouraged cause of two things: you're way too hard on yourself and you don't celebrate the small victories enough. Sometimes I think I'm never learning anything and I'll never get a good seat AND good hands AND remember to breathe all at the same time, but I just keep plugging away because about every fourth lesson I realize I am improving. And I get way too excited about really small improvements. It's kinda :downs: but it works for me. I think last week I was delighted because in an hour I got her to bend nicely for half a circle :)

  3. ah robert smith... i miss the cure :-)

    glad you and your mare had such a great day! disclaimer: i am completely ignorant about all things gaited-related, so i can't help much in that department.
    but, sara asked: "Can a long, low headset be done while a horse is properly engaging its hind end?"

    from a dressage p.o.v. - yes! that's the idea - it's the engagement that allows the proper stretch to happen - without it, you get hollow topline stretching with the horse running along on the forehand. where those unique gaits fit in with all that i have no idea...

    and your description of her seeking the bit is more or less my definition of 'on the bit' - where you can gently move your hand almost anywhere and the horse will try ot maintain a light contact and softly follow it up, down, forward or back. so... yay! isn't that the most amazing feeling when riding? you should be in love!

    hope you survived jumping the car :-\

  4. jme, can you go into the long and low thing some more?

    I definitely felt like she was reaching down and out to stretch out her entire topline. I did not feel like she was falling apart and getting hollow and trailing away behind, like she sometimes does.

    This is one of those fundamental elements of riding that I've always struggled with. It's like a language that I don't quite understand, and it's hard to figure out some of this basic terminology on my own. It took me forever to begin to understand a half-halt, for example!

    My go-to resource for gaited horses and classical riding is Lee Ziegler. She seemed to completely understand the hows and whys of gait. And she wrote so well! Anyway, her site has some interesting articles if you'd like to learn more about gaited horses.

  5. Oh, I see what you mean now! Again, it's nothing that we did in my lessons (other than letting the horse stretch out for a lap or so), so I can't comment on it with any authority whatsoever.

    Although, with what jme said combined with what you said about Dixie's reaction, in my completely ignorant opinion it sounds as if all of the pieces are there. :)

  6. I'm sure me and jme's version of long and low is much the same! Funny you should mention it, because half of my post about it is done already. ;)
    But, also like jme, I really have no clue about long and low AND gaited. I'm sure it would be a nice stretch/relaxing exercise, though. :)

  7. Well, I've emailed Liz Graves, who is definitely the best living gaited classical trainer. Fingers crossed that she writes me back and I can update!

  8. i'm just catching up again, but i will try. maybe i'll do a post on the whole long-low, on the bit thing. or, maybe i won't have to if DIJ does one first!


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