Friday, July 21, 2017

We are all in this together!

It has always been a goal of mine to show grand prix dressage.  This is something that seems to be at times all consuming and requiring a lot of mental energy.  This is the year, 2017 is the year of showing grand prix.  There are so many people involved in making that happen.

I have been interactively talking with a saddle fitter, specialty  lameness vet to keep the horse feeling his best, and then my farrier working with us on making sure Zac feels good as well.  I have also been taking as many lessons with my trainer, Amanda Johnson as I possibly can.  I do not live near her - so that makes it especially difficult.

I would not be here showing if it were not for Michelle Markquart and her kind gift of Zac. She really gave me a huge push in the right direction and spent months showing me how he worked.  This is a gift I can never re-pay but am so grateful to have had the opportunity. 

Riding the grand prix gives a rider the gift of learning how to set their horse up for success.  The grand prix test itself shows the rider how to set things up as it is structured to only work if the rider can do that.

As I am riding grand prix - I am understanding everything better and have better questions as a rider.  Oddly, it does not feel like I have mastered anything, it feels like now I have the language to talk to others about dressage and clarify things on a deeper level. 

Thank you Pam Powers for sticking it out with me.  Thank you Turner Equine for keeping Zac sound, thank you Michelle Markquart for the opportunity to ride Zac, thank you Amanda Johnson for your lessons and coaching.  Thank you to all of my students for your patience as I figured out how balance out the summer for all of us!

I look forward to learning a bit more about the language of dressage over the rest of the summer.  I have really taken notice of the people around me and which parts of dressage we all excel in.  We all seem to have different strengths and weaknesses and the conversations we have make us all better.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Circle of Aids

As trainers we all try to help our students understand how to keep their horse between their leg, hip, seat and rein aids. This is a long process with years of feel development by the rider. Each time the rider feels something correct, they have the chance to learn the correct feel. Many times when things get off track the trainer will ride the horse and fine tune the feel and then have the student get back on so they can see what they are looking for. This process was not possible this winter for my students as I broke My sacrum in January and was unable to sit on a horse for a few months. So with no ability to help my students by riding the horse, I was forced to think of another way to help them. The energy of the horse needs to flow forward in a circular fashion for the dressage horse to function well. They need to come forward from your leg without rushing and they need to wait or hold themselves with the riders seat or hip and they need to come into soft contact in the bridle. This sounds easy and is way harder to achieve than one would think. If a rider asks for a canter depart and tightens their thighs and hips and throws away the reins, then the circular energy is lost and the horse's balance is compromised. To compensate for not being able to sit on students horses, I helped them with a standing martingale this winter. Adjusted so the horse can come above the bit or out in front of themselves but not so far that the balance gets really bad. This helped the riders because if they made a mistake the horse stayed in balance in a basic way and did not become stressed. This allowed them to have a chance to try again to coordinate their aids. This chance to try and to make mistakes and then solve them is really helping my riders understand how to coordinate their aids. The standing martingale was used as it attaches to the nose band and allows for a normal feel for the rider and horse for the rein aids. At this point I am thinking breaking my sacrum was lucky for my students because I had to come up with a way to help them improve their circle of aids and overall effectiveness as a rider.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Buying a Custom Made Dresch Saddle

In October 2014 I was taking two weeks worth of lessons at Sunflower Farm from Amanda Johnson and was lucky enough to be there when Sebastian Dresch was there working on saddles. I was riding Bacara in a lesson and he was waiting for Amanda to finish and watched Bacara moving. He told Amanda that I needed to resolve my saddle fitting issues. Amanda mentioned that I may want to let Sebastian look at Bacara and give advice on saddle fit. Ugg - dressage is expensive and I was a little worried but thought I should hear what Sebastian had to say. He told me that her shoulders sloped back well but the saddle was getting in the way of her using them and that her 18th rib was fairly straight up and down and that made for a rather small comfortable spot for the saddle to sit. I am 5'10" tall so I need an 18" seat. I decided to go ahead and order a saddle as I really want to ride FEI and know Bacara needs to be very comfortable to do that. I was hoping the saddle would make enough of a difference that she wanted to try really hard for me. The saddle was delivered and the thigh blocks were added. It was so very strange riding around because my leg laid down directly under me and I could feel so much more than I used to be able to feel. The amount of feel that I had was so much more that it was a little overwhelming at first. I have been riding in the saddle for about 2 weeks now and I am appreciating all of the added rider feel. Bacara loves it too. Bacara is so much more relaxed and happy in her work - now I am wondering what I did without the saddle! Thank you Amanda! Thank you Sebastian! What an honor to ride in one of your saddles!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's All about the Brace - No Trouble

I had the pleasure of spending October 14th through October 24th at Sunflower Farm in Bristol, WI studying dressage with Amanda Johnson. This opportunity was so helpful to my riding I thought I would try to explain it a little. The underlying theme for both Hazel and Bacara was to eliminate bracing in any way shape or form and then there would not be balance problems. So I started in my head to think progressing was all about the brace, if I did not have it, I would have no trouble with the horse. Hazel is a muscular horse that needs to work on flexibility. We worked on Shoulder-In developing, Haunches in Developing and Renvers Developing. We did all of these movements and then took two steps off the wall and then moved back to the wall while keeping the original position. This really loosened the horse and increased her ability to step under and across better. Amanda said that I should not do this every day - so I have been alternating this exercise with shoulder-in to lengthen within the shoulder-in; haunches-in to lengthen within the haunches-in and Renvers to lengthen within renvers. This seemed to increase the ability of Hazel to have more longitudinal reach. These exercises are proving to help her in a very huge way. Bacara is a flexible horse that seems to have a few stuck spots and sometimes does things in a less than straight and through fashion. We really did focus a lot on improving her throughness and straightness. The shoulder-in to renvers proved to be very valuable. She really is tighter on her right side that her left. This really does help even things out quite a bit. I am thinking her saddle is contributing to this some as when I used a pad that Amanda lent me to help the saddle not pressure her shoulder bulbs, she had an easier time right away. I came to understand that I would have better downward transitions and balancing transitions if I used my seat way lower to ask for them. To me it felt like just above my ball joints in my hip area. I am not sure that is the correct term but I do know that the horse seems less able to brace the lower in your seat you are able to ask. Bacara and I have been working very hard to have really nice straight and through flying changes. I have found shoulder-in in the counter canter to renvers in the counter canter to straight and repeat really improves her collection and throughness. When this is easy for her and she is not bracing, the flying changes are easy for her. I am thinking I was just not picky enough on the canter quality. I have said this before and have thought this before that lateral looseness helps the collection and throughness but this practical application in the canter is extremely helpful! I think it was my mistake on understanding how much I could improve the canter. I feel like I have a better understanding on canter development now. Thank you Amanda! McKayla Hohmann came with me for the first week. She had the chance to take several lessons in a row on Hazel and came away with a better understanding on how much collection would be needed for FEI Pony tests. They worked on lateral loosening as well. We hope to make great strides over the winter with this pair! The opportunity to just focus on quality improvement without distractions really does make a difference and is a huge gift!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Finding the balance for my horse through better understanding of neck position - Amy Larson Clinic

You know I had always thought I was o.k. on balance if my horse was evenly bent but not over bent in any one spot. I am thinking that the neck has to be more centered than I once thought. I am thinking that the neck flex is a big deal - when I say that I mean where the neck flexes. It has come to my attention (through a very effective lesson with Amy Larson) that longitudinal balance has to do with where the neck flexes. I had the pleasure to experience a light feel with my mare Bacara as a result of positioning her neck in the center with the flexion up high near the axis of her neck. I thought she was just not light enough so I would push her stronger forward into a half halt. But I can say as soon as I adjusted her neck position and where her neck flexed she became light and we had very little trouble with longitudinal lightness. . .oh my many of the other issues I have been having - crooked changes, unsteady in the bridle, slightly behind my leg seem to be all related to this issue. Yikes!!! Alignment, Alignment, Alignment!!! Thank you Amy - I appreciate your help!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Amanda Johnson Clinic - June 2014 - Bacara

Amanda Johnson was teaching in Western Wisconsin again on June 14th and 15th. I had done my homework with my mare Bacara and had made sure our canter was somewhat better then it was at the last clinic. I took the time to work on shoulder in, shoulder in with a counter bend, haunches in and haunches in with a counter bend on a 15 meter circle. I was able to have way more ability to adjust the canter. That was really helpful coming into this clinic. The biggest difference in this clinic was that it was away from home which allowed Amanda to see what my horse was like at a horse show. She is way higher in her energy. So with that going on - we came up with a different approach to warming her up and ultimately riding her. On the first day we really focused on honestly aligning her and not losing her shoulders to the left in the trot. We rode from quarterline to quarterline working out shoulder placement. When traveling to the right, what helped the most was shoulder-in to Renvers to Shoulder in and back again. This really aligned her body and allowed throughness and collection to take place. But when traveling to the left it was better solved by haunches in to shoulder in and back again. This trot work set us up for success in the canter. On the second day of the clinic - we started after our initial stretching, in the canter. With no trot work first she almost reared into the canter. (She does have a fair amount of stress away from home.) Amanda told me that we were going to alternate between collection and stretching her into a longer frame to warm her up. Well we did all sorts of things in that way. We did 20 meter circles 10 meter circles, half pass all with varying lengths in her neck. This calmed her down more effectively than anything I have ever come up with. So I am thinking this is a great way to ride the canter on this horse for now. In the past I had always stretched her out in the canter at the start of the ride but had never blended it like that before. I think that when she is a finished horse she will be able to come up and stay up and do all of her canter work. I guess it does not really matter if it is a strength issue now or a mental block for her. The blending sure makes a huge positive difference! The other really loud thing was I have always done my flying changes 1/2 halt, 1/2 halt and then a change request instead of a third 1/2 halt. Hmmmm crooked or on the forehand or late. . .I stand corrected the proper sequence is 1/2 halt, 1/2 halt and change. The change request is immediately following the second half halt. Yikes. . .all of these years I have not been asking at the right time. . .sigh but the good news is I was able to get the best straightest changes out of Bacara! You have to love that. She is so sensitive she tells on me every time! I did give Bacara a few days off and did play with this again on my own. I did have a little drama as she is so smart she started to think two half halts in the canter must mean change. . .I had to go random on her and do the collected canter, stretchy canter and collected canter and then I could slip in a really nice good clean change that did not get light in front or backed off in any way. But this playing with the canter frame and balance is truly going to be homework for both of us as we feel our way through it. We also did quite a bit of work on 1/2 steps on the second day. Bacara seems to have a natural ability in this area. I figured out that it is best to approach at least for now from the trot. She comes into the 1/2 steps really well if she is honestly in front of my leg. If she is at all behind my leg, she will be irregular in the 1/2 steps. It looks like I have new homework this month but I am looking forward to playing with everything I have learned this past weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

April 2014 Amanda Johnson Clinic

It is always interesting to taking lessons from others and begin to understand their ideas and add them to what you already know. Amanda Johnson was no exception. With lower level horses, it was common to place them on a 20 meter circle and then do a turn on the forhand (a complete 360 degrees) and then back to the 20 meter circle. This really helped the young horses move better and had them bringing their inside hind leg up under and more engaged right away. This movement was very effective and easy for the young horses to understand right away. If you were riding a more advanced horse your warm-up was more likely to have a mix of shoulder for on the 20 meter circle to medium trot to shoulder for and repeat. This was a very powerful way to engage and loosen your horse. The horse used collection muscles briefly and then extension muscles breifly and the end result was a better moving horse fairly quickly. We all like this warm-up a lot! Another concept that was new for me was with horses that brace or get heavy in the bridle. Amanda said to juggle or basically systematically raise one hand and lower it as you raise the other and continue in that fashion. I rode a Lipizzan mare with this and it worked really well. She became softer in the bridle than ever before. I am thinking that there is just nothing for them to brace and lock into. This is very different than a lateral see saw, it is a slow longitudinal random rein that is hard for the horse to brace against. Then specifically I worked on canter improvement on my advanced mare. We have been doing changes for a while now and my biggest quality hole is that she get too crooked during the changes. We worked on a 15 meter circle doing shoulder for, shoulder for in counter bend, haunches in, haunches in with a counter bend. As a rider I am thinking it would be easier to do a canter pirouette. But I think the object of the game was to improve my ability to laterally adjust my horse without having an accidental flying change. I have been working on haunches in with a counter bend to a flying change. The changes from left to right are getting really good. The changes from right to left are still a little crooked but I can feel the position essentially blocking the crookedness. So I am finding this really effective in showing my mare how to be straighter during her changes. I look forward to the next Amanda Johnson clinic for more clarification and refinement. These clinics sure do make a difference us as we plan our training.