Monday, June 8, 2009

Weekend Dressage Clinic

Getting back to my riding “roots’ these days has been great but also challenging. For the past few years I have ridden mostly in a western saddle. Even though it’s a very well made Western saddle , lets face it, western saddles , simply by the nature of the amount of leather there is , tend to allow a lot of cheating when it comes to riding. It is really easy to become lazy in one’s position and use of effective aids. In preparation for this past weekend clinic , I had hopped back into the English saddle again. Good thing I did.

Over the weekend, I attended a Liz Tukey clinic. She is an instructor/clinician who teaches /coaches and judges various English disciplines. It was a rare opportunity that I was able to ride with a trainer of her caliber. Her teaching is geared more toward 3 day eventing, but she really shines with dressage instruction. I have been working on a lot of basic dressage with JB recently to try teach him to use his body correctly in his gaits, so he’ll be that much better cruising down the trail.

We arrived Saturday midday and my first lesson was scheduled for 3:45. The 3 hour ride to Hamilton included 1 hour of road construction so JB was well “bounced” by the time we arrived. Subsequently, when I pulled him out of the trailer and put him in his corral at the farm that the clinic was being held, he was quiet as a mouse and just wanted a mouthful of hay and something to drink. His “stallion “ alter ego had apparently gotten left behind at home with the mares… thank goodness.

Due to the cold and torrential downpour of rain, the clinic got moved to an indoor arena a few miles from the original clinic location. So at about 3:00, 2 hours after I had arrived , I loaded JB back in the trailer and headed over to the arena. He was a very good sport about it considering. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was not among the same ilk of folks that regularly attended her clinics. Most of the clinic attendees were dressage riders who competed or rode dressage regularly or evented regularly. Every other rider had a horse 3 times the size of JB. Perfectly groomed horses with enough coat shine to blind a person, perfectly turned out tack with perfectly white dressage saddle pads that would have passed an A rating pony club rally with flying colors. Well trained, well collected horses that were fussed , primped and hairs parted just so by their owners (don’t mean to offend anyone here !!)

........and here I show up

with a 14.2 hand Barb stallion; wild mane and tail and barely brushed below the hocks. My tack is clean and I keep JB pretty well groomed, but nothing compared to these other horses.

No, I can’t be accused of bubble wrapping my horse. I don't even wrap legs for traveling anymore. GASP!

I guess I have become more practical since I got out of the show ring so many years ago. This weekend really made me appreciate the endurance crowd!! Everyone was very nice but it was very obvious I was among a pocket of the horse industry that I have long since forgotten the ways of.

On the other hand, I did get a lot of “He’s so cute” comments. Yeah, well…. what can I say.

Glad to be out of the rain, I warmed JB up for a while and talked to Liz about JB, what we have been working on, what I would like to accomplish over the next couple of days and long term goals. My goals were quite different than the rest of the clinic goers who were 3 day eventers or dressage riders working toward perfect collection or better form over fences.

My goal?

To eventually ride this horse 100 miles in an endurance race.

Why Dressage? To help him learn to use his body correctly on the trail to avoid breaking down later on.

I explained to Liz that JB struggles with moving forward and balanced. She watched us for a while and then we moved right into the lesson. She observed that JB tends to come in at the stifle and out at the hocks , which is causing that unbalanced way of going that I have been experiencing. Apparently this is not an uncommon thing in horses, which was a relief to hear. Now we just had to work on fixing it. She coached me through some different approaches to help him engage his hocks and step underneath himself better which would better align the joints. It was also advantageous that the footing in the arena was deep enough that he had to pick up his feet and actually engage the hock joint more. The exercises she had us working through were requiring me to put a lot of leg on JB, more leg than I was accustomed to using on him and 30 minutes into the lesson I wanted to beg for mercy. I was feeling the burn of riding English again. The sweat was pouring off me! At that moment, I was thinking that I would gladly take a posting trot down the trail for 15 miles any day over what I was experiencing at that moment! 45 minutes working at a sitting trot, getting the engagement to come from behind? That was work. At the end of the lesson, I felt that we had made some good steps towards getting his hocks underneath him better and I had a better idea of what I needed to do with my aid s to help him. It was going to require a lot more work on both of our parts but I now I had some better tools to use. Tom observed that by the end of the lesson, JB was relaxed and moving much better , stepping much deeper underneath him self and interestingly enough, the paddling movement JB often gets in his front end lessened as he relaxed more and more.

I slept like a baby Saturday night. Sunday rolled around and we were to do more of the same even though it was tempting to just bag all that and send him over a few jumps!! Sundays ride was a different animal. I had an inclination when I went to load him into the trailer that we might have a different day ahead of us. JB was reluctant to step up into the trailer. He was likely sore from working so hard. I knew I was!! Between the work and the footing, his whole hindquarter was probably very tired. It’s probably akin to you or I doing 300 squats after running 10 miles in mud.
Sundays ride wasn’t as productive for me, but it may have had a silver lining for JB long term. Liz got to see JB at his worst. He was very rigid in the shoulders and counter bent. It’s not uncommon for him to get like this and when he does , my usual approach is a good half hour of working him through a series of lateral exercises at a walk before I can get anything accomplished. Even then, we don’t always have it sorted out completely.

Having Liz’s keenly trained eye to observe him while he was like this was exactly what we needed. We got the hind end figured out, now we had to figure out the front end. Liz observed that instead of relaxing his shoulders and letting them move freely forward and out, he pinches them back almost behind the saddle and pulls himself along. When he does this he also starts traveling with his front legs winging out and landing hard. As a result, he can’t extend his front end and he can’t move freely forward. It was a real “ AHA” moment that Liz got to see this. It was easy to see that this issue was not a result of JB being resistant or purposely difficult, but more related to the fact that he has something physiologically going wrong in his shoulder girdle keeping him from moving comfortably and correctly.
She gave me a few exercises to work on but then suggested I contact Pat Young, who is a reputable equine physical therapist who uses a variety of processes to help both human and animals release deep muscle spasms. Pat has also written a book called Basic Equine Energy Balancing: A Horseman’s Horse Therapy . It just so happens that Pat is from this immediate area and relatively accessible. Here is her link for those of you interested in learning more about what she does.

Liz thought that having Pat work on JB’s shoulders would really help get us moving in the right direction as this could be the root of the forward and balance issue. I sure hope so!

I will keep you posted on his progress and our experience with Pat.Anyone else ever used similar methods ? What was your outcomes with it?


Stephanie - Siouxzeegirl Designs said...

Very , very interesting! Sounds like you really got a lot out of the clinic. And I am sure that the clinician 'Liz' was happy to be helping out in an area she doesn't usually work in.

Anonymous said...

I'd also look at saddle fit as a possible cause of tense choppy stide.

Jonna said...

Steph- Got a ton out of the clinic. Liz is excellent, would definitely ride with her again if I had a chance.

Anonymous- thanks, actually the saddle fit is very good. That was ofcourse one of the first things we ruled out.