Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Winter details at the farm

Winter is a time to look at what you have been doing and look for areas of improvement.  We are serious about dressage but want to have fun too.  To enjoy our sport, we need to think about everything and make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Your horse needs to feel comfortable - saddle fit is an important part of that equation.  Meg Dischler of Trilogy saddlery has been coming to the farm on a regular basis to custom fit our saddles to our horses.  This sure does make a huge positive impact on their ability to perform.  Meg has an unusual ability to make those adjustments and therefore make happy horses.  As I critically look at several saddle companies - I do have to say that I am pretty fond of the Trilogy saddles because they have wide channels and give a lot of spinal clearance.  The other thing that the trilogy saddles have going for them is the panels are a bit larger.  This sure does allow for a bit more adjustment to customize their fit.

Another important piece of the puzzle is nutrition.  I surely have enjoyed the interactive conversations with Kaylyn Birchmeier about Purina feeds and what they have to offer.  I have been able to affordably meet the needs of the horses here and find it easier to understand which horses do better on which feeds.  This is something as riders we need to know and understand but do not always have the time to do the research ourselves. 

And of course we all like to make some riding improvements in the winter.  We are holding monthly clinics with Heather Salden Kurtz that focus on straightness, and engagement to help us with improving our collection.  We are all learning a lot and hope Heather is having as much fun as we are. 

Thank you everyone who adds quality - you are all valued!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Flexible thinking and solid basics help build success!

It is strange having a grand Prix horse here at the farm.  People want to ride him and that often gives me pause.  You see he has a job and loves his job - but he has very specific aids that are needed for him to understand what the rider wants from him.  If I let a rider ride him that is not able to balance him properly, then it is very confusing for the horse and not a whole lot of fun for the rider.  More than not a whole lot of fun - it can be dangerous if the rider accidently gives random aids one after the other.  I once tried to help a man ride him years ago and the horse was trying desperately to figure out what he wanted, passage, tempis, or what - it was very hard to watch.  I was also concerned for the safety of the man.

So if I have a committed student who wants to ride this horse I have an internal check list that has to be met for the benefit of both the horse and rider.  I do make every attempt to help that person get to the point of clear aids and a clear understanding of balance.  Sometimes riders think that the aid refinement I am working on with them with a basic horse has nothing to do with the Grand Prix horse.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Aid refinement on a basic horse is your key to being able to sit on him as you will be able to be clear with him and balance him out.  Only then - can you feel his flying changes - his pirouettes - his piaffe - his passage. . .

If you can ride your basic lower level horse with clear aids and good balance, you will be able to sit on the grand prix horse and feel where you are going next.  If not - then you need to keep working on the basics.  All levels of dressage are fun and the thread that ties them together is the same.

I look forward to sharing him and his knowledge this year with some of my students who are clear enough in their aids to balance him out so they can feel movements they are interested in learning. 

Schoolmasters are such gems! 

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!