Monday, August 15, 2011

Bracing the Sails

In my last post, I posted that Endurance just wasn’t in the cards this year for Maggie and I. Our slow start into conditioning due to weather hindered any progress right from the get go. From there, it just seemed like it was one thing or another popping up that got in the way and my whole spring riding season kind of imploded on me. Any conditioning rides we did manage to get to, starting in late June, became nothing but a battle on the trail. Maggie was usually fine if I rode alone. I could keep her at a decent pace but add one other rider and the fight was on. I wasn’t having fun on the trail, Maggie was a terror and before I knew it, I was 3 weeks out from the only nearby ride on the schedule this year. I had planned to attend for months.

Fortunately for me, some of the most difficult decisions can be the easiest decisions when you look at the facts. The facts were that Maggie wasn’t even close to being ready, physically or mentally to complete a limited distance ride. So, I bagged plans to attend and , subsequently, resigned to the fact that everything endurance related in my life was just going to be on hold for now.

Disappointed ? Yes but also a sense of relief came with it. Hubby and I headed out shortly thereafter that decision for a vacation to Idaho and Oregon. During that week away, I decided that when we returned I would make plans to attend an upcoming Alice Trindle clinic for a weekend of private lessons for Maggie and I. Tom was also on the schedule for some lesson time with Alice to do Garocha work. The clinic was being hosted at a friend’s ranch about 3 hour’s away, so we had a place to stay.

I needed a new gust of air to fill my sails. I thought maybe this would do it. If nothing else, it would give me another fun weekend away.

The clinic began on Friday July 22 and we headed down that day. My ride time was Saturday afternoon.

The Training issues I wanted to address:
-Rushiness due to hyper sensitive to any leg pressure . Not able to get any effective responses with lateral work due to hypersensitivity.
-Tension when traveling counter clock wise, locking her back and jaw and pushing through her outside shoulder when doing circles in that direction
-At a halt, hind quarter release with leg pressure ; get Maggie to take just one step over when applying leg pressure as opposed to wanting to blast head or rear (when I tried to block her forward motion)
-Tension in Maggie creating me to brace my lower back which caused more tension in Maggie, which caused more tension in my lower back, which ……; well you get the picture.
-Getting her relaxed enough at a trot where she did not hold her breath.

Training Sessions at Home (what I had started doing)
-From the ground, ask Maggie to step a hind foot over, just one step in each direction without walking forward.
-Once she was accepting that, I would get on and purposefully move my legs around along her sides while walking , but not asking anything to get her to begin to differentiate between real leg pressure for a queue and the sensation of my leg touching her sides.
-Bending at a walk using lots of circles, serpentines, etc . Walk over ground rails, stop and back with a soft feel.
-Turn and change direction without speeding up in the turn.
-Different speeds at a walk, slow walk, faster walk, fastest walk and vice versa (Hurry does not Mean Worry)

Knowing that things fell apart in a trot, I kept our home sessions mostly at the walk (as maddening as it often became for me, it was what Maggie needed). .

The Goals for the clinic
-To get some further ideas and help in slowing Maggie down
-Figure out if what I have been asking is correct. What do I need to change?
-Learning to recognize when her braciness is a direct result of my braciness.
-Figure out how to help Maggie start putting less effort into fighting me and more effort into listening to me

The Lesson
Out in the middle of a large mowed hay field , an “arena “was marked off by 4 cones. I talked to Alice about my frustrations with Maggie and what we had been working on and what I had hoped to accomplish. We started out working at a walk and she had me bend Maggie around each cone at the corners. As I turned her around the cone, Alice wanted me to open up the inside rein way out(so traveling left, I would turn her by opening my left arm out and down towards the ground) She also had me over exaggerate my posture and weight distribution to the inside of the circle by leaning down and bit a forward, towards her shoulder and the ground (don’t know how to make that make sense any better than that ) as I was guiding Maggie around the cone. As I came out of the circle I would balance up and let Maggie follow my seat aid for a leg yield over to the straight line of the arena. At first, we were out of sync and Maggie was wondering why I was leaning and throwing her off balance but she was having to compensate and shift how she was moving. AHA! She was having to pay attention! I wasn’t really long before Maggie started slowing down and listening to me. Part of it was that it was something totally new, part of it was that I was putting her into a bit of physical bind , causing a mental change in her. Pretty soon, the whole picture started coming together, she softened around the cones and actually started following her nose, stepping under herself and as she came out of the circle , she started floating over to what would be the rail of the arena. I wasn’t having to apply unnecessary pressure with my leg. Instead, she was responding to the balancing up in my seat. After a bit, we lessened the exaggeration of the weight distribution and went back to correct posture and Maggie continued to listen well. So basically , we set it up so Maggie had to pay attention to me with exaggerated “not so good” posture. This little exercise threw a total wrench in things for us at first but it worked. We repeated this process at a trot. As expected it started out rough. Ofcourse I got bracey with my lower back and as you can imagine, so did Maggie. Once I settled in and started focusing on relaxing my back and seat, Maggie started working for me instead of against me. By the time the hour and half lesson was over, I had a horse who was trotting at a normal rhythm and pace, that I could easily sit to . I had a horse that was soft , able to bend, and driving from her hind end. It was lovely.

Key points:

-Insisting on a change of gait from Maggie when I asked her to slow, even if it means we momentarily break into a walk and her head comes up and she momentarily travels like a camel.
-As rough and uncomfortable as it can get, work through various speeds at the trot ; anywhere from slow as a peanut rolling Western pleasure trot to Maggie’s fast trot to a normal trot and vice versa. Let her trot big and fast for a lap , but then insist she come back down. All the while, mix it up with changes of direction, circles, serpentines, etc keep her guessing.
-Don’t let Maggie go too far in a straight line at this time
-Change speeds often- it may take a while to help Maggie sort out that she actually can travel at different speeds at my request.

So there you have it. In the spirit of sharing those not so great times that I know we all have in training our horses(but are all too often not mentioned amongst us!). Maybe it will encourage someone else out there struggling with their horse like I was, to take a step back and look at what their horse needs , instead of staying the course with our own goals.

A lot of what I took away from my time with Alice was similar to what I had already been working on but it really makes a difference to have someone else confirm what you think is the right thing and then getting to see a change in your horse as a result of getting a little instruction. Getting to feel what it feels like when things are good and not just guessing that it was right!

In the last couple of weeks since the clinic, Maggie and I have had some really nice arena sessions on our own.

I do believe our sails are braced and I can finally advance the ship in her course.