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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label learning media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label learning media. Show all posts

March 5, 2016

How To Get To Good: Be A Better Lab Rat

Encore & I always look like this. Ha.
You get on your horse, warm up & organize your various pieces & parts, & then you begin work.  Ask him to move forward, connect back to front, create suppleness & adjustability, aiming for the best you can create at both of your levels of ability.  Obvious, right?

We often even think of that process as "easy" in that we can say, "Sit up straight, apply leg, maintain steady, elastic rein connection, do that breathing thing."  And if we do all those things properly, our partner will reward us with a round, rhythmic canter, stepping up through his withers & pushing energy out through the bridle.

Stop me now if that works out for you every time.  Anyone?  Buhler?  Yeah, the devil's in the details.

Solo: Master of Subtle Opinions...
On Monday, your horse decides "leg" means "let me show you my best llama impression!"  Wednesday, his response is, "Eh?  Did you say something?"  Thursday, your left elbow is convinced "steady connection" is best achieved by "death grip against my horse's locked jaw."  You're sorted on Saturday, wow, that canter felt great -- so when you have a chance to get on a different horse, you apply the same process...only to enjoy the Trot At Terminal Velocity with as much bend as a 2 x 4.

Fortunately, we have helmets to deal with the subsequent *headdesk* repetitions!  But what gives?

I posted a teaser quote from a current reading project, so now I'm following up on my promise for more.  Mary captures the individual approach horses require from us, even from one ride to the next, with a great analogy:

"Imagine that each horse, in his evasive movement, resembles one entrance to a maze, which has at its center the good movement we are seeking. With every horse we go on a unique journey & initially, in particular, the feelings he gives us & the difficulties he poses may be strikingly different. The knowledge we glean from one journey may only serve to confuse us on the next – at times we may even have to do the exact opposite of something we previously experienced as being a surefire way of getting us to the center."

Y U play hard to get, cheez??
My suspicions are supported:  our horses really do use us as experimental laboratory mice!  I knew I could hear snickering as I blundered about in search of that cheese with perfect bascule...

What I like best about her imagery though, is that it shines the focus on each ride, each journey, as a puzzle (there could be a puzzle-lover bias here, heh) instead of an assumption.  To solve a puzzle, we have to think about the process, breaking it down into progressive steps towards our goal of a nice transition or a balanced circle.

Mentally, this automatically puts me in the moment, listening to my body & feedback from my horse, then trying something different if we aren't at "good" yet.  At the same time, it subconsciously gives me the critically important freedom to do "the exact opposite of something" that I tried before, creating the opportunity to discover, hey, if I let go, my horse really doesn't run away.

BAM.  (extra hunter Solo for Lauren, hee)
Which I have far better luck with than my approach from past years, of "I did all the things, this is still sucking!"  Trapping us in a dead-end, repeatedly walking into the same wall, blindly hoping it will just fall down & present a full cheese platter.

Now I have a cheese craving, dangit.

February 7, 2016

Allow Your Horse To Believe In You

The concept of "belief" can at first sound nebulous, but in our riding, it directly translates to the essentials of trust and confidence.  In ourselves, in our partners, and theirs in us.

I've been picking away at a captivating book -- that speaks my language:  "The Natural Rider:  A Right-Brain Approach To Riding," by dressage and biomechanics author, Mary Wanless.  There is a long list of insights to discuss already & I'm only halfway through!

But one that continues to jump (pun not intended!) out at me speaks to both the foundation & the everyday process of training & schooling.  This is what we must carry with us in order to succeed in defying gravity in all its forms:

Yes, Solo once had a (exceedingly strong-willed) mane!  There are many layers of warm fuzzies in this blast from the past...June 2007, our clinic with Ian Stark (collected reports here) which took us to a brave new world. 

January 30, 2013

I Have No Words

So you'll just have to read it yourself.

You see, we have been busy.  Physical therapy is momentarily taking over my life, but I've been doing my best to squeeze in Encore wherever and whenever we can build strength. 

Although the dork went and kicked himself in the front fetlock sometime yesterday, so that was nice and hot and swollen, sigh.  Please be just a knock, please be just a knock, please be just a knock....

It's been a bit of an opportunity to reboot things, though, and one that I've found has offered a chance to elevate the sophistication of our training.  The details are very, very difficult to elucidate, so much of it is feel and reaction and less contact and more contact and energy direction and waiting and very careful thought.  The basics are the same simple paradigms of correct training:  ride the back end of the horse and ride the horse straight.  But as we all know, there is NOTHING simple about that and as George Morris quite correctly stated in his training session this year, it only takes about 30 years to learn how to do it.

Thus, probably disappointingly, I give you my reading material of late, which has led to just a few tiny adjustments which in turn caused a big change in my horse, letting go of the tension, saying goodbye to wrestling, and although it requires MUCH more patience, is creating a much more solid foundation this time around.

Via -- which is also well worth reading.
Watch Deb Bennett's lectures, selectable from the sidebar.  Yes, they are a bit over-wordy, I confess to skipping through sections, as they could have been reduced to about 30 minutes and still been effective.  And of course, watch George and Anne teach, especially when riding -- I still learn every year, new skills and new layers to add to my toolbox.

Read the three articles in the right sidebar.  The biomechanics of straightness and the freedom it gives your horse, with some excellent mental images for your contact, really resonated with me for some reason.

A large part of what I've taken away thus far is that I need to do MORE engaging of the inside hind through lateral exercises as THIS is what creates straightness and impulsion in my horse.  I was rarely able to truly engage Solo over his back successfully; now I can and think I am finally on the track as to why.

Wow, life would be simpler if I just had money to buy lessons every week.  But then, I wonder if I would really dig as deeply if I did. 

January 2, 2013

The Horse That Inspired A Nation...And Me

He was literally standing on the slat-sided kill trailer at New Holland when a young Dutch emigrant, too late for the auction itself, looked through the bars and decided he couldn't let the skinny plow horse with scars on his chest and torn-up feet end up with a bolt in the head.

Thus began the improbable story of Snowman and Harry de Leyer.  And if you don't read it, you are missing a magical piece of history about two characters who literally had nothing, yet, without any benefactors and sponsors or grants, became everything.

Harry was the son of a successful brewer in Holland and rode his own mare, carrying the flag for queen and country in international competition as a teenager.  But then the 1940's happened -- the Nazis occupied Holland, Harry's father joined the resistance and had to go into hiding lest he be sent to a concentration camp, and Harry had to forget about riding and focus on surviving the horrific conditions of occupation.

Following liberation, Harry married and emigrated to the US, where he did a stint as a sharecropper in High Point, NC (only about an hour from where I live now!) and ended up teaching riding at strict girl's school on Long Island.  He was proudly able to purchase his own 1.5 acre farm and prided himself on finally becoming his own man.  During the school year, he taught riding to the girls, giving them the one place they could truly be free and be themselves, on the backs of the horses, and during the summer, he showed the school's horses to try and earn money to support his growing family.

Aside from being the story of a gentle grey plowhorse who took children swimming in the morning and jumped six-foot open jumper championship in the afternoons alongside Frank Chapot and Bill Steinkraus, The Eighty-Dollar Champion:  Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation, is the story about making dreams out of difficult situations, about making your goals happen, and about taking chances and following your heart.

Sinjon and GM at the 1960 Rome Olympics
Harry was (IS!) a kind man and a soft rider; he turned many of the shiny Thoroughbreds owned by his students parents' into jumper champions.  Most amusing is his memory of selling one such horse, a hot but talented young jumper named Sinjon whom Harry had brought up through the ranks, to the USET, where Sinjon was paired with a young, upstart kid named George Morris.  I don't think much ever became of them, though...

He even sold Snowman once, as a child's gentle mount.  And the horse jumped miles of pasture fences to come home for several months, even after a truck tire was tied to his neck, before Harry gave in and bought him back, even though he never thought the horse would be anything more than a good school mount.  After all, he stumbled hopelessly over crossrails and ground poles and never went faster than an easy lope.  He took a chance one day though, feeling unmotivated to get off and lower jumps set at four feet, and rode towards a single vertical.  The plow horse transformed into a pegasus, having finally been set at something worth his effort. 

Harry and Snowman
They never looked back.  Summers were their chance to shine.  The placid plow horse would trot quietly into the show ring on a loose rein and proceed to gallop around six foot jump-offs while crowds gasped in amazement.  Snowman, destined for a dinner plate, instead won a hefty amount of his own plates, cups, and ribbons.  Once fall came, it was a back to school and to gently carrying the frightened beginners over their first crossrails.

It never mattered that horse shows were the realm of the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts, the upper crust of society whose ranks were NOT permeable to commoners.  In the 1950s, sport was considered to be firmly the territory of the monied amateur, who didn't have to work and could devote all his time to play and training.  It was even thought to be in bad taste to have a cash prize and if there was, you certainly didn't accept it!  The professional trainer and instructor was looked down upon as a poor underling who had to do the dirty work to earn a living and for quite some time, was not even permitted to ride in shows at all.  Fortunately for Harry, a recent rule change permitted him to do the one thing he always wanted:  to ride his OWN horse over those white poles.

Oh, how times change and how hilarious the paradigm shifts can be.  

I haven't finished the book yet, but I have already been inspired by the incredible amount of hard work, dedication, and thoughtful fairness that Harry brought to everything he did.  With no money, little time to call his own, and a horse who came with nothing more than wise brown eyes, cut-up knees and harness scars, Harry brought his dreams to life.

So why can't we?

January 25, 2012

Up Down Up Down Up Down

I am thinking hard about transitions right now.  They are the key to so many things and can also reveal all of your weaknesses in one step.  Maintaining contact, keeping your horse's energy coming forward and through the transition, bringing his hocks underneath him, all of these things are incredibly difficult to package and deliver at exactly the right moment.

I wanted to share with you some passages I have been reading and re-reading from Dressage in Harmony, by Walter Zettl (an excellent book by the way, and not terribly expensive).  He has great sympathy for the horse and stresses fairness and patience above all else.  He is a Czech trained in Germany under Col. Aust, a master of German classical dressage.  After coaching many successful students in Munich for decades, he became the Canadian eventing coach for the 1984 LA Olympics.  In this book, he makes some vital points to ponder (excerpts in italics).

The stages of any upward transition:
Preparation through improvement of the lower gait, a clearly given signal, and then allowing the horse to move freely into the new gait.

From walk to trot:
First, the walk must be engaged enough so that at any point the rider is condfident that the next step can be a trot step...The transition can only be as good as the walk before it. Every gait should be ridden not for itself, but as preparation for the next transition...The key problem is to give forward with the hand without losing the contact...If the rider gives with the reins too much, the horse can fall onto the forehand or raise up the head and hollow the back.

From trot to walk:
The downward transitions are always more difficult, because the rider...thinks he must pull back to get the downward transition. In fact, in the moment when the rider is closing and holding with the hand for the half halt, he must already be thinking of giving, and riding his horse forward into the walk. After the transition, the rider should keep the horse on the aids in the walk so that he could immediately ride a transition back to trot...As in all of riding, the rider must constantly change between active and passive aids: active when the horse tries to escape the aids and immediately passive to show the horse everything is OK.

Walk to Halt to Walk:
The weight aids for the halt are often misunderstood. Lowering of the heels brings the correct amount of weight into the horse's back in the correct, vertical position. Leaning back drives the seat into the saddle too much and sends the horse forward because of the pain the horse feels in his back...One should not expect that the horse will come to an immediate, perfect halt...Never lose the patience. When the horse comes to a very good halt, the rider should praise the horse so the horse knows he did well. One should praise the horse a lot.
One often sees riders fooling around with the hands, both at the halt, and through the transition. When the rider tries to keep the horse round at the halt with too much hand than a correct transition is not possible--the horse is afraid to go freely forward because he expects to get holding aids in his mouth.

Trot to Canter:
The preparation for the canter depart...holds the secret for success. The quieter and softer the depart, the quieter and softer the horse will stay in the canter. A wrong lead, aids given in the wrong moment, or aids given too strongly are the most common mistakes. 

When asking for the canter from the trot, the rider should collect the trot very slightly--almost unnoticeably. The correct moment for the depart is when the outside shoulder goes forward. The reins should not be thrown away. As soon as the horse lifts himself into the canter, the rider needs to let the stride out with the hand slightly. Through the forward driving aids of the seat and leg, the rider brings the canter strides into a steady flow. Each stride of the canter should be ridden as if it is a new departure stride.

I'm going to keep reading. And re-reading. And reading again. There is so much contained in these passages and the paragraphs around them to think about and to process. I visualize my body doing each thing, sitting calmly centered and creating a shape for my horse to fill. Now we just need to add smidge more patience.....

What do you think? What do you read in these passages? Revalations? Old hat? Blindingly obvious? Complete insanity? Are there pieces you would like to add to your schooling or things you can adapt to the peculiarities of your horse? Share your impressions, I have been reading and absorbing like an obsessed little sponge lately and I've not filled up yet!

July 23, 2011

Buckin' Good

A hot Saturday proved perfect for meeting a friend in Winston-Salem and checking out the new documentary about Buck Brannaman.  If you have no idea who that is, Buck is both the equine advisor and the man upon whom Robert Redford's character was based in the 1998 film, The Horse Whisperer.

A great theater always helps, so we tucked in at the Aperture in downtown Winston -- you can order up a beer and a baked-from-scratch treat and enjoy your film in fine style.

And enjoy we did.  I knew Buck by reputation, had read about him, seen video of him and his incredible bridle horses, and tried to attend one of his clinics when I first bought Solo.  Alas, they were always full.  He has remained one of the only touring "cowboy" clinicians that I truly respect, perhaps THE only one that I know of.  After you watch the film, it's clear why.

Despite a brutally abusive childhood, Buck became a sensitive and empathetic horse trainer who studied intently under Ray Hunt, who in turn learned from the legend, Bill Dorrance, the man who first showed America that you don't have to hurt and terrify a horse to train him.  Buck Brannaman took all of this on the road and nine months out of the year, tries to help horses by teaching people feel, compassion, respect, and understanding.

The film itself is getting a great reception, both from horse lovers and those outside equine circles.  I think even without being a horse-crazy nut, it's easy to connect with Buck's story and there is something simply beautiful in watching him interact with horses and humans.  His family and friends provide glimpses into a man of a quality that everyone wants to be closer to, either simply in association or in emulation.

Not all stories end in triumph and there are horses so damaged, ironically by people who thought they were being kind, that even Buck cannot undo the havoc that human betrayal has wrought.  But here, too, Buck is able, through what is I am sure extreme frustration and sorrow, to teach and to guide people in hopes of avoiding repeated experiences in the future.

You may have to do some hunting to find it; check your local independent theatres and call and request if they are not currently carrying this movie -- it is worth the effort and worth the watching and I hope it continues to build its momentum!!

December 19, 2009

Because You Can't Ride On Ice

The temperature hovers around a balmy 32 F today. You will have to excuse me if I am less than enthusiastic, but seeing as I moved to the South to ESCAPE winter, I become rather whiny and crabby when it pursues me despite my best efforts.

But Solo has been performing well this week. His canter work gets better every day as I figure out how to stay soft and patient for longer periods. I could go over the indoor, but I just dislike riding in those things. So he can just hang out in the pasture today and enjoy the snowy companionship of Jeff, his TB buddy. I stopped by to wrap up Solo's tail to keep it up out of the mud, just another step to reduce maintenance.

Since the onset of this lovely season, I've been perusing a DVD lent to me in my downtime: Jane Savoie's "Program Your Position." Defintely plenty of giggle-worthy parts; Savoie is a great teacher, but she is always so darn cheerful about the MOST random things, it makes me laugh. It's a series of both five audio CD's and three DVD's which use visual keywords to help you develop a better position. Given that I am a steadfast visual learner, I find several of these to be helpful additions to the mental rolodex. Many are things that P has already incorporated into our dressage lessons, but a few are new to me and will address nasty little habitses of mine.

(1) Imagine holding a full bucket of water nestled down in the pelvic girdle, keeping the bucket perfectly upright so it doesn't spill out water forward (as I have a tendency to tip forward and spill my water right over that front lip!).

(2) Visualize sitting on a bullseye with a level on the hips and lifting legs out laterally to make sure weight in seatbones is even on both sides and weight is centered.

(3) Instead of the common "toes in", think instead "heel out" to straighten foot and drape leg. I've already tried this one and it WORKS.

(4) Rolling both the shoulders and the head and neck during the walk warmup to loosen stiff muscles and encourage the shoulders to open and the head and neck to rest back against the back of your collar.

There is also one whole DVD in the collection just about sitting trot, so that is the next one I'm putting in the player. I'm starting to get a feel for the sitting trot but I figure every viewpoint I can get can't hurt!