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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label lesson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lesson. Show all posts

February 6, 2012

The David Intervention: Pt. III

Encore looked at me like I was crazy.  You put me on the trailer, we drive 5 minutes, you take me off.  I run around for a while, you put me back on trailer, drive 5 more minutes, you take me off.  I nap, you want me to get back on trailer?  Does anyone else see how psychotic this woman is? Anyone?  Bueller?

Despite his skepticism, Encore stepped on with a sigh and we trundled back over to David's farm for YAY, JUMPING!  Except before YAY, JUMPING comes OMG, DEATH CIRCLE OF ARM-KILLING WARMUP.

My favourite part is when David said, "Hey, he learned something yesterday!"  I don't think we caught it on the video, as he was trying to save my battery, but I was so proud of my brown pony.  And I had to laugh at his unconscious clucking when I was supposed to apply leg.  As riders, none of us can help ourselves -- we all cluck for horses we are watching.

We didn't catch the canter work, but it was very good and Encore was able to maintain a slow balance.  The most important point I took from this warmup, especially the trot work, was that right now, we need to gooooo slooowwww.

You can see that Encore really struggled with the trot poles.  This is not because he has never done them -- we have done rows of five poles many times.  But he has never done them ROUND AND CONNECTED.  I could feel that it was very very difficult for him.  We continued to work on them several more times both directions and David assured me not to worry, he just needs to learn to find his feet without sacrificing the roundness and balance.

After this (and me shedding several layers of clothing), we moved on to a massive gymnastic.  Our first attempt:

To complete the sentence, David instructs, "When he lands, encourage him to canter away and move forward after the jump."  This exercise was difficult too.  We've certainly done gymnastics before, but not with an approach in such a slow, round trot.  It took us a few more goes to work that one out too; I had to really focus on softening my hand at the first pole, letting him lift his head to look at the jump, and keeping my shoulders back, not changing my position.  We did finally sort it out....

I felt like I rode this line rather craptastically, but there is more good advice here.  And I'm going to pretend that was one of the dogs belching, LOL.

Completeing the David sentence again:  "He a little bit ran out of distance there, but that is just him being green and figuring out where he needs to be.  Don't worry about it, that's just a matter of getting out and jumping lots of things."

We then did a myriad of courses, which I do have video of but got too impatient to upload them all.  Encore began to work out his footwork.  The oxers seemed to go better for us, but the short turn to the perpendicular vertical was very tough for us both (you will see in video).  I wanted to lean forward in the turn & hold him to the base of the fence.  I think we all know how successful THAT particular technique is.  Yep, I just got a hollow jump with a pulled rail behind, my bad, sorry buddy.  About halfway through, a woman entered & began longeing her horse on the corner -- I always welcome extra challenges, I feel it is good for the horse to learn from, but it made our turn to the diagonal line quite short & added another unexpected level of difficulty!   

This is our final course:

There are many fantastic tips from David in these videos, but I won't retype them all, else this entry would be ten pages long!  Leave it to say that I will be watching these over & over.  And over.  And over.

I can do it, mom!
But that was the end of it.  David & Lauren saw us off & I spent the next 1.5 hours on the way home trying to digest all I had felt & heard.  I turned my hard-working horse back out in his paddock when we made it back to the farm & went home to nurse that post-clinic funk.  Yeah, you know it, when you go, Awww, man, it's over?  But that was so amazing, I wanted it to last forever!  However, I am quite sure my shoulder sockets would have separated, which does put a damper on one's equitation.

So thank you again, Ryan, we couldn't have done it without your help, and THANK YOU, DAVID (although I doubt he reads this unless he googles himself, which doesn't seem quite his style) for an incredible two days of shoving us over a training hump & untangling my ragged mess of a brain.

Bets on how long before I tangle it up again?

So I shall leave you with that.  The red boys saw their vet today for their annual shots & Me Annoying Dr. Brian (Dr. Bob's alternate) With 10,000 Detailed Questions About Everything.  So all are resting and we'll see what we have tomorrow!

February 5, 2012

The David Intervention: Pt. II

I had a lot to think about as I drove....around the corner.  As I mentioned, Ryan had graciously offered Encore and I berth at the little farm where she works, conveniently located 3 miles from David's.  Ok, so it happens to be Charlie Plumb's (quite the family legacy) farm, so this is what you see when you come to the stop sign:

How do you get grass that green in the sandhills in January? 
It's a nice enough place, as you pull into the drive...

They have a little arena with a few jumps scattered here and there...

They even let me park my rig where it would be shaded by trees!

What?  I haven't shown you my traveling rig before?
I tucked Encore into the barn.  I guess it was ok....

Ha, it was, naturally, a lovely place.  I only saw Charlie for about four seconds, as he was busy with a clinic, but he offered a friendly hello (and escaped smurf picture recruitment, dangit).  As dusk settled, Encore devoured his well-earned supper and settled in.

I sought to digest some of what I had learned that day and fought to retain David's advice and instructions (although I still giggle every time in the video where he yells, "Work it!  Keeping working it!"):

-The Duo bit we are dressaging in now is great to introduce babies to contact and great for a finished horse who is light.  But we might want to try something a step up for the sake of my jello arms, which will encourage Encore to soften faster and more readily.  As he gets stronger and is able to be lighter, then perhaps we can go back to rubber finger bit.

-Keep the pace slow and NO RUSHING ALLOWED.  In order for Encore to stay balanced at the stage he is in, he must stay slow and resist the urge to run off his feet and get tense.  As he feels more comfortable in his balance, you can gradually ask for more trot.  But you have to have that balance before you can have forward.

The journey with Solo and now this new endeavour with Encore has, I think, taught me, more than anything, about what real contact is.  We are always told, "Don't pull on his mouth, stay out of his face."  That is, to an extent, true.  But real, working contact is not a feathery light touch until your horse actually has the balance, muscle, and training to carry himself completely.  That doesn't happen at the beginning.  Unless you have a freak horse that I just don't want to hear about. 

When you see me riding in those videos, none of that is easy.  My upper arms are screaming and when David asks us to reverse direction for the last time time, after I comment that I have noodle arms, my brain cries, "Dear cod, NOOOO!"  Contact is CONTACT -- you are asking your horse to push power from his hind legs through his body into the bridle and until he learns how to do that on his own, he needs your help at times and the reminders are constant.

As I said before, it's not locked, it's not a pull, it's just a steady, almost a resting feeling against the bit.  But it's alive and I am asking half halt with the outside rein, just little bit rounder with the inside rein, just a little bit straighter with that outside rein again.  And when he complies, I do not "release" as we normally think of it, not in a physics sort of way.  Rather, I go passive -- my resting contact is still there, but my forearm muscles soften and my hands are quiet, saying thank you, proceed as you are.  The horse's mouth can feel this subtle difference in energy.  The hard part is for the rider to regulate exactly the right amount at the exact right time.  I figure I'll have that worked out in about 60 years.

But for now, it was time for both horse and rider to sprawl out and rest for the day to come.   

Charlie might have escaped, but his lawn jockey didn't....

The David Intervention: Pt. I

I needed an intervention.  I was getting all tangled up in my head.  Encore would warm up lovely and soft and compliant and rhythmic and then we would take a walk break and then he would be rushy and stiff and hollow and blah.  His back didn't hurt.  His legs didn't hurt.  His saddle didn't hurt.  I was very frustrated.
Encore is a poser with Ryan and our smurf.

So I invented Brena's Personal David Clinic, Februrary 2012.  I packed up all our excessive crap gear and drove down to Vass on Friday afternoon.  As luck would have it, Ryan from the Insanity in the Middle blog works for another trainer at a (lovely) farm three miles from David and she generously offered to allow Encore and I to have a sleep-over there.  Ryan rules.  Check it on the left.  Sadly, her horse, Pop Star, was already turned out, so he missed out on his smurf photo opportunity.

I wanted to do flatwork on Friday afternoon and then jump on Saturday morning.  Encore did not get a vote.  I also wanted David to sit on Encore and tell me which parts were Encore's problems and which parts were my idiocies problems.

It's about a 1.5 hour haul from the farm to Vass so I had plenty of time to convince myself that (a) David would sit on horse and pronouce him lame, (b) I would not be fit enough to do what I needed to do since there is crazy shit going on in my life and sleep is hard to come by, or (c) I would pee myself with nervousness because even though I love David and he is the kindest person imaginable and we have ridden with him for perhaps two years now, I am still intimidated as heck by his accomplishments and the fact that he is so generous with his knowledge with Nobody Me.

But we made it unscathed, although I did have to pee because I had worked very hard to mega-hydrate myself all the way down (it makes a HUGE difference in your fatigure level in your lesson, try it), slurping down a liter of water even when I didn't want any more.

I will try to let the videos speak for themselves.  Not only is David cool enough to pose with a smurf, he is also awesome enough to videotape for me while he taught.

He hopped right on and this is where it began and lasted for about 20 minutes.  While you are watching, you notice that he moves the bit A LOT in Encore's mouth.  As he explains, which I know I caught in later videos, racehorses are taught to lean into the hand and rely on it for their balance.  They HAVE to re-learn how to carry themselves without you holding them up.  And if you are tempted to get judge-y and feel that David is being too harsh, remember that Encore is wearing a HS Duo bit (right), which is basically a soft, rubber finger.

Sometimes, it does take a little tough love to retrain a horse how to use his entire body.  Training is certainly not always pretty butterflies.  The key is knowing what your horse's mind can handle, fairness and immediately letting the horse know when he has offered you the right thing!  David points out that because Encore is stable-minded and has raced for three years, he is tough and sensible and won't lose his shit when you have to make a point.  He often prefers the OTTB's for this reason, and says it's a completely different approach than with a horse who has been started gently only a longe line with side reins and knows only quiet paddocks and arenas, who can be a bit of a "delicate flower" without the mental and physical toughness of a horse who has known the ups and downs of track life and didn't break down.

I do want to know how come I get in trouble for riding with long reins!  But without further ado -- the beginning:

Then we move to canter.  David emphasized afterwards that balance is very hard for Encore right now.  He focused on straightness above all else and would give up everything, not caring where his head was, cross-firing, whatever, as long as he maintained straightness and then balance.

Right lead came first, Encore's easier side.  You can see at the end the canter work has already improved the trot work from when he started.

Then we move to left lead.  This is VERY difficult for Encore to do while maintaining his balance.  But David maintained, that if he breaks, fine, if he cross-fires, fine, but he MUST stay straight.

I was enthralled, but apparently, I was expected to remount my horse and replicate what I had just watched. Encore is a fast learner, but you will hear David talk about how hard the new balance is for him. Not to mention for my arms. Ouch. The contact I have here is a very firm, but elastic one. I am not locked against his mouth. When I soften, it is a subtle softening of the arm and elbow -- you CAN'T throw the contact away, he has to have something to step into.

Then we have the left lead with what arms I have left.  Thank cod for all that hydration!

Compare those canters with the one we were playing with in October.  He's getting stronger and we are learning together.

Up next.....Saturday, JUMPING day!  Will my arms stay attached to my shoulders?  Will my horse decide this roundness business is for the birds?  Will I throw myself at David's feet and beg to move into an extra bedroom?  Anything could happen....

January 15, 2012

Encore Furthers His Jumping Education

As projected, Encore and I did indeed meet with David on Saturday; Encore's first stadium jumping lesson and his introduction to David's "death circles" of warmup (they only make the rider want to die, not the horse).  My tired brain will attempt to share it with you.  I offer no guarantees of lucidity.

The wind was icy cold, the high temperature of the day was 42 degrees, and the Canada geese next door splashed in the pond at the end of the arena.  Encore took all this as an invitation to try out his new "I iz STRONG pony" routine on a very tired me.  Thanks, buddy.  Nothing impresses your trainer quite like panting like an asthmatic grandmother on a stairmaster.

Encore's big brother demonstrates bend.
Despite his antics, David seemed to remain thrilled with my little brown boy and reinforced that I had been working in the right direction.  Establishing a steady contact on the outside rein on the warmup circle, we used inside flexion, moving the bit in his mouth to soften his jaw, at which Encore obligingly (at least most of the time) came round at the trot.  If he starts cocking his head, don't forget to use your outside rein to straighten his head on his neck, keeping it all in line, even counterbending a little so that he can't brace against your hand.   

Walk/trot/walk/trot transitions in quick succession, which we have begun to introduce at home recently, making sure he stayed soft through the transition, prepared us for canter.

David made the observation that I really needed to stay off his back at the canter and to focus on working that way for a while, as Encore learns to lift his back at that gait.  He reassured me that it is very normal for the racehorses to remain uneven behind for quite some time, which put my mind at rest a bit on that count.

Once we began jumping, Encore got much stronger than I am accostomed to!  Whether it was weather or excitement or both, my shoulders got tired in a hurry!  But it was gratifying to see my work at home paying off -- he felt comfortable finding his distances on his own and he skipped through a mini gymnastic without a hiccup. 

Because Encore was getting heavy in the bridle, perhaps because his young muscles were beginning to tire, David had me just lift the inside corner of the bit on the long side for one step to lift his shoulder and then half-halt and then lift his poll and release as we turned to the jump.  Result:  immediate shift in balance, bringing him up in front of my leg, where I could then soften and wait for the jump to come to us. 

Both David and I had a smile at the end; there were some lovely sections of rhythm and nice jumps.  Encore came calmly forward to every fence and jumped well up to about 2'9".  He is not as naturally round a jumper as Solo, but he feels already like he will be much more comfortable with height than Mr. Shiny ever was. 

Now, if anyone has suggestions on how to convince Encore that he no longer needs to transition to canter as if he is leaping from the starting gate, I am ALL ears...

January 8, 2012

A Free Lesson For You -- On Your Couch

That's right, it's YOUR turn to giggle in sadistic glee while someone else has to do two-point sans stirrups.

This week was the annual George Morris Horsemastership Training Session down in Florida.  Sans George Morris due to illness, from which he is now on the mend, fortunately.  I confess, I don't usually watch it because George Morris is so fond of, well, George Morris.  But I tuned in this year because his shoes were filled by renowned jumpers Anne Kursinski, Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington, and Mclain Ward and it was generating a lot of chatter over on COTH.  And if Chronicle folks have their knickers in a twist, I just HAVE to check it out.

Go watch it now, particularly the first day.

Anne Kursinski gave a masterclass on flatwork.  Each and every horse in there went better at the end of the session and each and every rider became more effective and more connected to their horse.  In essence, she told them, don't pose up there like a phony equitation zombie, be inside the horse, not just on top of him, breathe with the horse and improve him. 

She got on a horse who was giving his rider quite a bit of trouble, resisting the contact and rearing. I'm a very visual learner, so watching her work through that and seeing the quiet, patient way she taught him to accept the aids with incredible steadiness and fairness to the horse was like an epiphany for me. None of it was terribly new information but for some reason, it brought everything together for me.

The next morning, I got on Encore, I translated what I had seen into the feel of my body and we crashed through our dressage roadblock like a runaway transfer truck.

I guarantee there is information in there for you too. Anne does two groups (I only watched the first, about 1.5 hours) then Beezie does a demo ride with a new horse of hers (the last hour of the 3 hour session of day 1). Beezie explains that the horse has been showing 1.5 m (4.9') jumpers but is very green to flatwork, which baffled my mind, but ok, I'm not Beezie Madden.

There are still two more days to watch; I've checked out the farrier session, picked up a few handy tips, finessed my gymnastic work with Kent, and introduced a horse to the big water with Mclain.  All for $0, exactly in my price range.  I've included the link to the channel on USEF Network above, but in case you missed it: click here.

December 18, 2011

Weekend Update


No, I didn't fall off again. Damn, I hate that I have to put "again" at the end of that sentence. The cloud of "fall-down-go-boom" still lingers over my shoulder. Or is that behind my knee...

But today, the reason my whole body hurts has a name. And that name is David. Now, before your mind goes slinking off to the gutter (don't go there, I'm pretty sure his wife, Lauren, can beat me up six ways to Sunday), let me elaborate.

I like to torture my horses with clippers.
Saturday saw a bleary-eyed me pointing Encore into the trailer at o-dark-hundred to tromp down to SoPines and meet David for a XC school. I wasn't quite awake when we arrived, but once that cold wind blew down the back of my vest I found a new level of alertness.

The next 45 minutes were...wonderfabulubulous. One word wouldn't cover it, so I had to smash a few together.

We were the only lessoners that morning, which means David had us at his mercy. When you are alone with him, this encompasses your breaks to catch your breath:

David: Ok, let him walk for a minute.

Me (mentally): Whew.

One and a half walk strides later --

David: Ok, let's canter to the log then turn to this ditch and canter back to the stone wall...

Me: So much for breathing.

I didn't realize how hard I was working until I got up this morning.   Or rather, until I tried to stand up this morning and my legs screamed for mercy. 

Encore, on the other hand, was a professional phenom.  So much so that by the end of the lesson, David was really excited about him, labeling him, "a really lovely package, with an incredible mind and a wonderful eye."

Mm'kay, when a four-star rider gets psyched about my horse, well, this is new to me, so it makes my brain skip in circles like a happy little clapping bunny.  Yes, a bunny, roll with it.

I don't see David get really excited very often -- encouraging, yes, but very calm and easy-going. 

"Do you know what I have to do to have him canter along in a great, perfect little rhythm like that?" I asked him.

"What's that?"  He humoured me.

"NOTHING!"  I shouted with glee.  "He just gives it to me!"  David giggled with me and it was great to share this step in Encore's education with someone else who knew just how special that kind of horse is.

Once he masters some details, like, uh, bending and canter transitions, this guy is going to be unstoppable.  I can't wait until spring!

PS: Dear Universe, please do not take my enthusiasm as an invitation to smite me.  Your lessons in humility, pain tolerance, and patience have been well-learned, I promise.  Please please please let Encore just be a happy, healthy horse who gets to go have fun with me and run and jump things.  It makes him happy and it makes me happy and there's really no harm in that.  Thank you.

November 5, 2011

Crazy, Scary, and David

Crazy:  We had a XC lesson scheduled today with David O. down in Southern Pines.  The plan was to ride with BO in the big farm trailer.  Except when I got there this morning, her truck was sitting in the garage, hood up like a baby bird's mouth, sipping electricity from her husband's hybrid.

Uh oh.

Unsurprisingly, that little battery failed to start the truck, so we hooked it up to my heavy duty diesel batteries.  Dead as a doornail.

Sadly, I cannot haul the farm trailer because my truck does not (yet) have a gooseneck hitch, so we threw everything into my trailer and begged and pleaded with BO's finicky horse to please get on a new trailer nicely.  I crossed my fingers, horses seem to really like my trailer, and lo and behold, he loaded right up and we were saved.  We even got to the lesson a bit early.  Whew.

Scary:  About halfway through the lesson, one of the other women was simply cantering her horse around a turn in the field.  I watched as his feet shot out from under him and he slammed to the ground on his side, sliding across the pine needles.  He was wearing a standing martingale (please do not do this, my eventer friends!) which he snapped in two trying to get his head up to balance himself, but he could not do so in time.  His unlucky rider stayed in the saddle all the way down and hit hard, ending with a solid blow to the head and helmet.

All my first aid alarms went off, but I stayed put and let David check on her.  I had no doubt she had a concussion, a fact confirmed by the hospital later.  She is very fortunate it rained all day yesterday -- the ground was soft, saving her from a certain smushed leg otherwise.  Luckily, it looked like nothing else was seriously injured and her husband picked her up and took her horse home.  WEAR YOUR HELMETS PEOPLE; SHIT HAPPENS.

Later in the lesson, ANOTHER horse pulled a dirty stop at a log, flipping another friend over his head.  Happily, she landed softly and clambered right back on to finish the line.  No harm, but definitely pony foul.  Bad pony.  Poor David.

We're finding some stretchy trot!
David:  Unfortunate spill notwithstanding, the lesson was full of excellent reminders for myself and Encore.  The Unicorn's foster mom, Suzanne, came to see him go for a bit -- she was the one who got him restarted under saddle so wonderfully and she had a new CANTER pony who was just as nicely built!  But I had to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

(1) Do NOT get ahead of him, no matter how slow he gets at the base of the jump; weighting his forehand by moving your body forward only prevents him from rocking back on his hocks and jumping up.  Wait wait WAIT. This is particularly true up a bank. Stay behind him, stay upright, and let him jump up the bank to you. If you lean forward as he goes up the bank, he'll jump flat and out and that will bite you in the butt.

(2) Encore is a methodical, careful horse -- when he starts analyzing a problem, his feet slow down and he wants to figure it out before he tackles it. I like careful, it will keep us out of trouble, but I need to use a lot of leg and keep his feet moving while he thinks. He must learn to go forward and analyze at the same time. I admit, this surprised me a bit, as he is quite forward-thinking and I never have to use a lot of leg, but as we tackled harder questions, I saw that David was definitely right!

(3) If he offers to canter, let him. It is him offering forward and that is a good thing; stay soft and go with it.

(4) Go jump stuff. Lots of stuff. It doesn't matter how he jumps it right now, just jump it. Give him jump miles so he can figure out what to do with his body. David: "People worry about too much technical BS too early when we just need to get them out there and JUMP. Technical comes later.  This horse wants to do it, he's just not quite sure of the details yet."

Encore did VERY well on all the fly jumps, the baby sunken road, plenty of ditches, banks into and out of water, and he LOVED cantering across the water and jumping a fair-sized log out. We tried jumping the log back into the water, but he just did not get it, so we let it be and will come back to it later.

We're tucked in our respective blankets tonight, digesting dinner and nuggets of information.  I've got to figure out the most efficient way to get said mileage -- David is two hours from us and no longer teaches at my friend's farm nearby, so I'm going to have to get creative (or find a money tree in the woods to pay for diesel).  There are definitely more gymnastics in Encore's future as well, to show him where his feet are supposed to go.  I am chomping at the, if this silly job would just stop getting in the way.

October 10, 2011

Yield, Sir, Yield!

I confess to weariness after a long week and a busy weekend.  My boss and I ran a three day fish meeting in the mountains and that was enough to do us in twice over.

I am sure Encore felt the same way last night, as he spent the weekend hard at work.

Saturday, we met P for our second dressage lesson.  We are attempting to coerce Encore into a shape resembling a leg yield with about 50% success -- either he gets it...or he doesn't.  (Ha, sorry, old statistics joke)

Tracking right, he is beginning to get the gist of things (I recommend full-screening all videos if you want to see what's going on and you have a 'net connection faster than a dead tortoise).  You start on a 20 m circle, then spiral in to encourage the horse to bend.  Make one revolution of your smallest circle, then give the aids to leg yield.  The idea is that the horse will WANT to move back out to the larger circle, as it is much easier.  Use physics as your aid!  I have introduced the concept on the longe and Encore's done reasonably well with it. 

To the left...not so much.  On the circle, it was a FAIL, despite using every aid I knew (if I remember, I'll upload that video tonight).  However, P's bag of tricks is bottomless, so we asked for the leg yield at the walk heading up the quarterline.  While I gave the aids, P walked next to Encore's shoulder, using her energy and a light touch to show him how he was supposed to respond.  With the ground-person-aid, the young 'un finally went Ohhhhhh!  I get it! and lick, lick, chew, he got it and stepped over to the track.

I'm also introducing small bits of canter at the end of a session, just to start building the muscle and balance.  It's certainly not pretty (or comfortable!), but it will be fun to compare three months down the road!  He has a solid right lead, while the left is tougher, as per normal for racehorses (who work to the right, race to the left and are often taught to break from the gate on their right lead, swapping in the first turn).

We used a crossrail with placing poles on both sides, trotting in and cantering out to attempt both leads.  Clever boy would land and if he was on the wrong lead, would swap in one step over the placing pole so he was correctly balanced to turn.  This one is going to be handy with his feet on a jump course!

He reinforced my suspicions when we trailered one county over on Sunday for a trail ride with lifeshighway and Pete.  We got into some steep hills and it only took Encore one slope to figure out how to lift his back and balance on his butt on the way down.  He was careful and patient, never crowding Pete when I asked him to wait, finding safe footholds and making smart decisions.  As he picked through brush and fallen trees, he never panicked at the branches around his legs (face/belly/butt/chest), even on a tough slope where we lost the trail.  Despite catching the terrifying scent of ZOMBIE DEATH COWS around the property, he steadily followed Pete over scary bridges (even the steel ones) and sometimes even led the way with a confident stride.  A fat, juicy bucket of beet pulp, alfalfa, timothy, and rice bran was a well-earned reward back at the trailer!

Sunday night = sleepy pony, sleepy rider.  Alas, no bucket of treats and day off awaited said rider.  Ah well, one out of two's not bad.

September 25, 2011

Learning Curve

Encore finally got to meet Priscilla and her dressage magic this weekend.  For the first time, I was actually able to capture his mind on the task at hand.  Previously, he was always quite busy watching the pastures and checking everything out.  The simple requests I made did not even require his focus for easy fulfillment.  So P put us on a circle and set to introducing the leg yield.

"It doesn't matter that he is green; ride him like a trained horse."  I heard those words often.  You want to give the horse a space to fill with your body and aids.  You create this space out of expectation:  I will apply the aids for leg yield correctly, giving you a space and a direction to move in  and then give you the opportunity to come into that space.

We spiraled down out of the 20-meter into a circle just small enough that Encore had to work hard at it.  Then I applied the inside leg, directed my core and energy to the outside of the circle, opened the outside rein, and kept the inside rein soft and mobile to try and hold a little bit of bend.

At first, he did exactly what you would expect:  Oh!  Leg means forward, ok!  I calmly said nope, wrong answer with an engaged core and gentle closing of the rein.  Then I reapplied the leg yield aids, asking try again, opening up that expectant space again.

I could feel him thinking and then he went, Ummm, this way? as he stepped back out to the big circle.  Good boy! 

Brain is fullz!  No more dressaging!!
After several successful repetitions in each direction, we did a shallow serpentine exercise on a 40-meter line, seeing how he would react to changes of bend.  No problems there, he balanced nicely.  We then attempted a leg yield on the straight line, but he said Unnnggghh, brainfulldinnertime.  Which was fine, we had accomplished quite a bit and just wanted to finish the day with a couple hops over a crossrail to practice picking up all four of our legs at once -- as Encore loveslovesloves to jump, it would make a nice closing and reward for a good lesson.

With a placing pole on each side, I again presented him with a place to go and sat quietly as he attempted the exercise.  Trotting between the standards, he was intent on the horses coming in from the pasture nearby and as a result, hopped over the tiny X with his front legs, neglecting to bother lifting his back legs and whacked a pole to the ground. 

P raised the height to about 2' in the center to present a little more obstacle and we headed back.  Steering is not yet Encore's forte so he ended up a bit off center at a higher section.  Determined not to whack himself in the legs again, he bounced up off the ground as I wrapped my legs around him, giving that cross rail a healthy foot or so of room!  P announced that he lifted his shoulder beautifully, curling his front legs up like a showjumper and tucking his little hind legs neatly up behind.  She asserted that once we got him going steadily at the jumping, he sure would not be the one pulling rails in stadium!

I led him back to the barn with a big stupid grin on my face.  Well, ok, I do that every time, but I really felt like we took some good steps and I'm looking forward to the next couple weeks of homework.  I'll continue to build the leg yield, while focusing very hard on my own body.  Riding Solo for five years, I've developed my own riding quirks, like locking my left arm and riding off the back of my calf for a strong leg aid.  Those have to go and I must be very careful not to bring those forward with me in Encore's training so as to keep him as light and straight as possible!

May 12, 2011

Schooling For Schooling

Saturday is a local unrecognized CT. Which will also be our first foray into Training Level. My plan was to use it as a perfect prep for Virginia HT next week. It was all falling into place beautifully. I was even excited, EXCITED (probability of that happening: 1 in 10,000,000), about the Training Level Test B that we are to perform in VA; it suited Solo well and made him all supple and bendy.

Until I checked out the details of the class list for this weeks show.

We are doing Training Level Test A.

It's a completely different test with less bending, larger gaps between transitions, and the extended canter on a straightaway. I don't like it. Test B left me with a better horse at the end of it. Test A leaves me a horse who just wants to extend his canter all the way around the whole dang ring. He's really digging this extended gait thing.

We worked through Test A with P the Dressage Wonder Coach last night. I failed to make my brain focus (oooo, shiny!) and both Solo and I had a temper tantrum or two, but I came out with some tips to focus on for Saturday:

-Really use the corners to bend and package the horse, especially right before the extended trot diagonals.

-All the movements are short so even if Solo gets pissed, he'll get to do something different in about five or six strides.

-Make sure the medium walk marches forwards so we get a swinging free walk on the short diagonal.

-Don't let the 15 m circles get too big.

-Prep early for the left lead canter at M.


If I can pull off these six teensy little things, then I'll call it good. Even though it won't be the same test as next weekend, I think it will be some good ring mileage and a chance to also jump a Training stadium course before it really really counts.

The next two days will be Solo holidays so he hits Saturday rested and ready to rock. I make no predictions, but assuming I can get my brain to switch on, I am optimistic about our prospects for a decent go.

May 8, 2011

The Studs Are Here!

Sadly, no, not that kind.

Friday was a busy day. Solo and I met with P to review the Training Level dressage test we'll be doing in Virginia. It started ugly, with Solo insisting on being a redhead, throwing himself around and whining in protest. I stopped, took a deep breath, replaced the rage with zen and we started over.

The test is far more complex than we've done before -- which turned out to be a good thing! Figures and transitions fire in rapid succession, which means Solo never had time to get all stiff and brace-y, which means all of a sudden, I had a supple horse on my hands!

In bigger news, though, Friday was Stud Hole Installation Day. And I don't mean a pit filled with cabana boys. Although that would have been exciting too.

Having never seen the process of drilling and tapping shoes, I of course had to whip out the camera to capture Stud Master Johnathan (aka Hoof Shaper Extraordinaire and Fixer Of All Solo Foot Problems) as he single-handedly wrestled uncooperative steel shoes into submission. It looked strikingly similar to convincing Solo to do dressage.

First you drill the holes.
Then you use the tap to cut threads in the steel.
Solo supervises.
Then you install the shoe while the dogs mug you for hoof bits.

This process was HARD work. I suspect that Johnathan may have chased me off with the hoof nippers if I had asked him to do all four feet. Luckily for his shoulders, I did not want to stud the front shoes -- I do not want to slow down Solo's front feet while galloping and jumping as that would seem to court disaster for over-reaches and blown out tendons.

The end result: four nice neat holes, shown here with plugs intact.  And of course, four lovely reshod feet, which is a typical result when Johnathan applies his awesomeness to the Shiny Red Beast.

Yesterday, I screwed in four road studs for our jump school just to see how everything worked. Lesson: screwing in studs is a meticulous process that takes a long time. Will not be doing that unless I have to!

I am now off to read even more about studs while hoping that I don't manage to make any giant mistakes and hurt my horse. No pressure or anything.

May 2, 2011

On The Way To The Farm This Evening...

I stopped by the local post office.  Which means our three lucky contest winners, Braffie, molly, and sumaclab, will be receiving an exciting giant envelope soon.  Some sooner than others since for some reason Mr. Shiny favoured the Canadians with his nose!  My apologies for the delay but Solo takes forEVER to address a package. Just because he has no thumbs...

Yesterday morning, Solo and I met with P for a dressage lesson to chat about the new challenges the Training Level test has to offer.  Basically, it adds 15 meter canter circles, extended trot, extended canter on a circle, and a stretchy circle.  Both extended gaits only ask that you develop them, which allows for more gradual transitions, easier on horse and rider.  Solo loves nothing more than stretching so I think we're good there as well. 

Tonight we did a very small jump school. BO had set up a four-bounce gymnastic line that I wanted to work, as well as a couple of oxers.

The gymnastic went great -- I only set the jumps at about 2', except for the last one which was maybe 2'9" or so. I wanted to focus on the rhythm and letting Solo work it out. He worked through great as we added one vertical at a time until he bounced through all four, curling beautifully over the last.

Then we rode each oxer, the first I set with barrels beneath it, the second I spread a big blue tarp under to mimic a certain liverpool that will be coming up soon. Wow, it's amazing how nicely jumps flow when I just keep my leg on.

After Solo jumped each one, I felt a little catch in my throat. My horse was finally strong enough that he was jumping casually up and around each jump, using muscle and balance instead of simply hurling himself to the other side. This is a really big deal for a giant-shouldered-downhill-motivated beast. So, yeah, I was pretty much speechless -- this means that Sunday WASN'T a fluke. This out, Training Level, here we come.

April 2, 2011

Blown Away

Ok, I might have been a big meanie and lied to you yesterday. But I can't resist a good prank. Life is too short to take things seriously all the time. Or very often. Or ever.

This afternoon sees us just back from a jumping lesson.  In the 30 mph wind. David had us do a new exercise during our warm up death circles -- THAT WAS NOT A CIRCLE. I almost fell off Solo in shock. To supple and engage the hind leg at the trot, he simply had us leg yield away from the long side for half of its length and then leg yield back to the track before the corner. The catch is to not let that shoulder bulge in either direction. And get it done before running out of long side!

Then we picked up the canter. *sigh* Back on the circle. But David introduced some new finesse here too. To really get Solo round over his back, he had me open my inside rein to flex his neck, push him into the bend with inside leg. Then, when Solo softened and gave, to straighten him with the outside rein while riding him forward into it with both legs. It created, quite simply, a VERY awesome feeling canter and put him right THERE on my outside rein in a whole new way. My brain: OMG, THAT'S what that feels like! Solo's back was so rounded up beneath me, I felt like I was sitting on the side of an apple or something.

There were a lot of subtleties to this and a lot of feel involved. You have to keep your contact steady in both reins. The horse must keep tracking forward from behind at all times. Solo resisted and fought it with every evasion he had because it's HARD. He went sideways one way, he went sideways the other way, then he threw his head in the air, then he gaped his mouth open. Nooooooooooooo......was all he had to say about it. So you have to ride through each resistance, keeping your cues steady and consistent and then softening when he finally gives in and goes round. It is very hard work and, again, ALL about timing and feel. I can't even put into words the dozens of little nuances and adjustments I had to make. Correcting the shoulder, correcting the poll, correcting the neck, correcting the haunches. BUT, when Solo did finally soften and come round underneath me, it was an amazing feel to have him both light in my hand AND up and powerful and muscly underneath me.

Oh yeah, the jumping was ok too.

March 22, 2011

Progressively Progressing

Our sights are fixed on Longleaf Pines HT.  There are four and a half weeks between now and then.  OMG, THERE ARE FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS BETWEEN NOW AND THEN.

Project Solo Fitness better keep on cracking the whip.

Saturday saw our first jumping lesson post-Wormageddon. I wondered if Solo would be exhausted by the end, but my worry was misplaced; he did better than I did! And David said it was the best he'd even seen the Red Boy move, words which warmed my heart. I did sit on some fairly wonderful canter steps...

I've picked up a nasty habit of digging my heels in for forward, but since my legs are so stinking long, that requires some heel lifting. Which tips my upper body forward and tips my horse forward. Norty norty. So David had me focus on really sinking my heels on approach and after landing from a fence to help keep my upper body back. As always, his little fix was eminently helpful and Solo cantered through a triple line in the prettiest little soft rhythm you could ask for.

So I shall be doing my homework on that one. Some of that will require extra strengthening of my core muscles too -- since I know my back is my weak point, I need to make sure that my other muscles can compensate and keep me sitting up when I really need it!

Now that it's actually daylight after work (WOOHOO!) we can get on the trails during the week and continue building muscle and wind with lots of walk and trot work through the woods. This has an added bonus of spring wildlife sightings; Sunday we met a brilliant orange banded water snake as he leaped with surprise into a stream. It thrills my entire day to see those guys.

Yesterday, our saddle fitter made some necessary tweaks to both saddles to revive packed down wool, so a certain chestnut with a princess back had better not get too fussy now! Please let spring karma be kind to our ragtag endeavors!

January 10, 2011

A Day With David

Saturday was jump lesson day.  Blowing snow be damned.

Solo is not an easy horse to jump, or should I say, jump well at height; he does not have a naturally uphill balance, so his preferred method of jumping is to dive at the base of the jump and then hurl himself over.

However, if you use a combination of 47 different muscles, perfectly timed aids, and stick your tongue out a bit, you can get him to jump with a lovely, smooth bascule.

I know, what's the holdup, right? I, unfortunately, seem to only be able to occasionally coordinate about 12 of the 27.5 required things to get him straight, balanced, uphill, and round.  About every jump out of 8, I can pull it together.  The odds are getting better, but it's still frustrating when I can't get in "the flow."

I will not admit how much time I spend mulling it all over in my head.  A constant refrain from David is "lift his poll." At the same time, I am supposed to keep my reins short, but not lift my hand.

Thus far, I have failed to work out how to achieve these two seemingly contradictory things.  Or, to be more accurate, I understand how to do them in theory, but fail to get my body to perform said theory.

Join us, then, for parts of a lesson with our jump coach, eventer David O'Brien; he is unbelievably patient with my blundering and has played no small part in bringing Team Flying Solo along.  Apologies for shaky video -- the wind was blowing hard and cold and our dear friend/videographer, Cindy, was shivering!

Part I: We've done our flat warmup of bendy death circles and now we do some small jumps and combinations.

Part II: Moving on to courses and some great Solo tips from David.

I have a lot to work on.

Solo was busy trying to figure out where his friends were and OH SOMETHING MOVED OVER THERE! so he never really softened and focused.  I am still riding too defensively in the stadium ring (being flipped over a pair of ears will do that to you) and I need to allow myself to be a bit more forward coming to the jump and stay softer in my waist.

Before each jump, I need to be more focused on my body in general and remember to use my thigh and core to lift my horse's shoulder as he prepares to pat the ground for takeoff.  My legs are slipping back and getting sloppy.  And I need to have a firm discussion with my arms so they figure out what to do!

January 2, 2011

They Deserve A Round Of Applause

This year, our Area II (DE, MD, NC, NJ, PA, VA) Adult Rider coordinator came up with the idea of contacting eventing instructors and asking if they would give a 10% discount to Adult Rider members. The sad part: mine doesn't. The really great part: many of them said yes.

I want to say thank you to these people for their support. It is hard to squeeze the money for lessons out of one's budget. It means a lot to us when you cut us a break and help us out. So thank you, thank you, thank you for this gesture and for all of you out there contemplating lessons, if one of these folks is in your area, give them a call! You, of course, need to be a paid Adult Rider member ($20, I think) and have your membership number to qualify for a special rate.

The winners (I have added locations where I could):

Allison Springer (VA)
Jane Sleeper (PA)
Bobby Costello (NC)
Mark Weissbecker (NC)
Carol Kozlowski
Mogie Bearden-Muller (MD)
Christopher Hitchcock (VA)
Molly Bull (VA)
Courtney Cooper (PA)
Phyllis Dawson (VA)
Doug Payne (NJ/SC)
Holly Payne (NJ/SC)
Sally Cousins (PA/SC)
Gretchen Butts (MD)
Stephen Bradley (VA)
Yvonne Lucas (VA)
Jan Byyny (VA/SC)
Lynn Symansky (VA)

Dude, I should move to Virginia, sheesh. There are probably others on that list who winter in Aiken (SC) but you can inquire if you contact. Pretty much all of them have contact information available on a quick google search.

January 1, 2011

Splish Splash, We're Taking A...Lesson

P came out yesterday to check on our dressage progress. Neither of us can stop remarking how different he is than the horse I sat on a year ago. With more spring in his trot and a lovely new ability to carry his weight on his hind end while cantering (WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THIS POSSIBLE??!), he is becoming a real pleasure to ride.

Of course, not all is sunshine and rainbows -- for nearly the entirety of the lesson, Mr. I-Woke-Up-On-The-Wrong-Side-Of-The-Pasture reminded us that the footing was sloppy and he was still a redhead after all and therefore still possessing of strong opinions about when one should (never) and should not (always) do dressage. I did my best to swallow my frustration, take deep breaths and work calmly through his fussing instead of resorting to my instinctual tactic to grit my teeth and fight him (ah yes, which always works out SO well).

We focused on using shoulder-in and leg yield to keep encouraging His Fussiness to engage his inside hind and step into the outside rein. Then we combined this with changes within the trot: compress to collected trot, quietly expand to medium trot, back to collected trot, then medium trot, then collected, then ask for some extended steps. As you can see, occasionally my requests get a wee bit overenthusiastic -- on our first attempt to extend down the long side, he goes all right, just not quite in the right gait... (I recommend full-screening it if you wan to see anything. Sorry the corners are cut off, the camera doesn't do wide-angle.)

So our homework: keep using the lateral work in the walk and trot to strengthen. He is only strong enough to carry his canter for about a lap and a half so far, so it's better to let him return to trot to rest, then do a bit more canter work, rather than try to force a tired canter. Start adding leg yields at the canter more often, then if we feel we have suppleness, canter some shoulder-in.

December 4, 2010

1.5 Years + Magical Dressage Trainer = Whole New Solo

This is what our barn looks like right now. promised me light flurries with no accumulation. Me no happy.

We never saw it coming. This morning, we had a wonderful dressage lesson with P in the sunshine. Warmup started with a marching walk, bending and arcing around cones and jump standards, bringing Solo's respiration up slowly in the cold winter air to avoid the lung burning effects of sudden exertion on a chilly day. As his back and neck softened, we moved to a forward trot and it soon became obvious that my horse, already made more sensitive by the weather change, strongly objected to my spur-wearage today and I shed them after he skittered forward on his butt during a canter transition.

Suppled up, we stopped for a contact response check. A year and a half ago, when P asked Solo to give to the bit on the ground, it took some finangling and a full minute of persuasion. Today, it was instantaneous and I couldn't hide my grin.

Then it was time to move to the next step. Forward was good, now we needed to be clear that half-halt meant half-halt NOW, not half-halt in five strides after you express your own opinion and we argue about it. So we worked transitions within the trot -- lengthening and compressing the stride.

Solo made it clear that since we had stopped earlier, we CLEARLY were supposed to be done and expressed his dissatisfactiion by throwing his head about in protest as we trotted. P mollified my laughing reprimands by letting me know that even though he threw tantrums, his ab and back muscles were flexed, engaged, and correct in their work. A year and a half ago, he didn't have ab muscles.

We finished with some transitions between gaits. Walk/trot/walk, trot/canter/trot.

"Well, look at him, he's starting to become quite the little warmblood. Why don't you try some walk/canter transitions?" P suggested.

"I don't know..." I responded, "We've left those alone because he'd just run onto the forehand and fall into it."

"Give it a try, get a nice marching walk, be soft, sit tall, and visualize your canter."

So I did. And in two steps, he was there. Not only was he there, but he came forward through the transition, soft and on the bit, stepping under into a lovely canter that made me feel like I was sitting on my own version of Ravel.

I couldn't help it, I grinned like a fool. A year and a half ago, "on the bit" was not even in my horse's repertoire.

And Solo, my dressage-hating shiny beast, was even enjoying his canters and I think his solace came in finally beginning to understand what I was asking him to do. He finally was comprehending the structure I was asking him to fit into and with his comprehension came security and appreciation of a job description he figured out how to read.

I thought to my red horse, "We've come a long way, baby."

I hope we still get to go a lot further.

October 21, 2010

Gymnastic Jumping: In Which I Fail To Successfully Coordinate Body Parts

I don't feel like I rode that well on the clinic's show jumping day. I couldn't get my hand and my body and my legs and my head to all work properly at the same time. It was like I tried to get everything to listen at once and as a result, NOTHING listened.

But we tried.

Becky explained that today was more about balance and riding a jump safely than what you would really do in a stadium jumping ring. So we focused on gymnastic exercises, keeping your body strong and defensive and controlling your horse's stride length and rhythm.

Exercise 1 was a simple one stride of cavaletti about six inches off the ground. I forgot to upload the video last night, so maybe you'll get lucky and I will remember to do it tonight. The goal was to get the horse smoothly through in a bouncy, compact stride. I mostly kept forgetting to let go of Solo's face and moved my body forward too much. Fail. Now with video!

Exercise 2 was a small bounce with a placing pole out front. I mostly kept forgetting to let go of Solo's face, again. But we were successful in convincing him that he needed to not dive on his forehand before the jump and hurl himself through the line like a rhino.

OMG, don't jump ahead, you idiot!
Oh ok, that's better.

From there we moved on to two bending lines from the bounce to a two stride oxer line or a two stride panel combination. I ride so much better then the jumps get bigger...

Then there was a really interesting exercise (that I also forgot to upload the video to, dammit.  I have some work to do tonight.) to emphasize keeping your body back and waiting for your horse. You rode downhill to a skinny two-rail vertical at a slightly-faster-then-comfortable pace. The fence was purposely innocuous enough to NOT back your horse off so most of us pulled a rail the first time. Then you turn and go to a line of two barrels where again, you use a faster pace and WAIT for the horse.

At the end of the day, the sum total was me = excruciatingly sore from balancing Solo with my leg and seat, Solo = so annoyed at having to stay balanced for the SECOND DAY IN A ROW, Becky = possibly questioning my abilities to ride a stadium course without pissing off my horse.

BUT, Becky did re-emphasize some important points that we have been working on with David and she also added a couple new exercises to make Solo a more adjustable horse.

The Wisdom Of Becky With Respect To The Enthusiastic But Balance-Challenged Jumper That Is Solo:

-Keep his front end up with your core, do NOT let him pull you down his neck.

-Keep your hands down closer to the withers so your corrections are more subtle and really press them into the neck when jumping.

-Practice compressing the stride, making a slow and bouncy canter coming into the line. Sit down lightly on his back to collect with your seat, letting it do the work instead of the reins.

-Solo has a big "booty bump" over the fences; slip the reins to him and stay back during the jumping effort.

I also really liked this thought:
Remember that there are moments in the ground and moments in the air; the moments in the air belong to your horse.

October 19, 2010

Dressage With Becky

There is so much to tell of late -- the new saddle came in this weekend (YEEHAW!) and is currently in Phase Break-In. We are busy prepping for VA Horse Trials and still trying to finish photo processing from Ecuador. However, I cannot go any longer without talking about the phenomenal experience that was our recent clinic.

About three hours south of us, a guy has been hard at work building an eventing facility for the adult amateur. He already has one farm in Connecticut (why oh why was I not born to these people!! Sorry mom, I still love you!) and decided apparently that warmth was better (of course, I agree!). So he has created Southern Eights Farm just over the border in South Carolina.

This place is exquisite. Designed for and by the adult rider passionate about the true form of our sport, the long format, everything about it is top of the line. Parts are still under construction, but there is a full cross country course with one of the loveliest water complexes I have ever ridden, beautiful guest stabling, a roads and tracks course and steeplechase galloping track and barns that *I* would happily live in. There is no skimping and I have to give a shout out to Brad and his manager, Shelley, who runs Classic Eventing, their training business. I wish I had remembered to take pictures of the place...

The scene is set then and Solo and I march our way up for our dressage lesson (in our jumping saddle no less) with Becky Holder. We are longtime fans of her and her fantastic OTTB partner of eight years, Courageous Comet (left), and have watched them ascend through Rolex to the Olympic Games and two weeks ago, to a beautiful performance at the World Equestrian Games. So I may have been a weeeee bit star-struck as we rode into that arena.

I did laugh when Becky walked up to us and said, "Hi! I'm Becky!" Just in case we had any doubts that she might be an imposter? But I quickly briefed her on Solo's history and his Quarter Horse tendencies to prefer lazing along on his forehand to actually pushing uphill into the bridle. 

Solo and Rocky meet Becky. Solo is fascinated by arena pole, ambivalent to equestrian superstar.

She watched us warm up and then said, "Ok, stop! Now, trot again, but this time shorten your reins about five inches, double-time it and stop being such a nice little student and get bossy."

Solo did display some nice stretching during warm-up though. No, our reins were not always THIS long.

I say, "Yes, ma'am!" Solo says, "Aw, crap." And then I said, "Trot! Now! For real! From your butt! No more Nice Mom from me, buster!" And holy hell, did he trot.

Becky: "Look at that! That's not Quarter Horse-y; that's a mini-warmblood!"

Me: (out loud) "Wheee!" (in head) Hey, don't call my horse a warmblood, that's an eventer insult! (then head argues with self) But I guess it's ok to have warmblood trot...

Becky: "I can see his face when you ask him to work, I can see the twinkle in his eye as he pulls you down forwards trying to get out of really using himself."

Me: (in head) Ohhhh, you have no idea how good he is at that, you get an A+ for horse telepathy...

So we got to work. And wow, did my horse feel different. His back was up and active; his hind end pushed up into transitions like a piston coming up through the saddle; I could sit down on his trot and lift and shorten it with my seat and leg. We stepped up into canter. Becky caught him immediately in his classic antics of grabbing the bit for the first four steps. "Don't let him snatch those steps as his own," she admonished. "Be strong and insistent and make him be where you want him IMMEDIATELY." I did it over and it WORKED. And Solo was pissed. They always hate it when you take their cheats away.

We did get a few pictures from a co-clinic-er. I am kind of stunned -- not only is my horse pushing up into the bridle, but I am SITTING UP STRAIGHT. No hunter perch!!! Do I have any idea how I did that? Absolutely not. But now I have evidence that it is possible...

A summary of the Wisdom Of Becky In Respect To The Dressage Slacker That Is Solo:

-Be strong in your core and back (I cannot tell you how hard this is!), really use your legs to push the trot up into the bridle. Set yourself up where he needs to be and make him work up into that place.

-Be fair, but demanding about when and where transitions happen; get tough, it doesn't matter if he pitches a fit about it, ride it through. Make him give you the awesome trot right away, don't let him shuffle a few steps into it. Never accept mediocre.

-If he tries to come up and brace, especially in transitions, use bend and leg yield to soften him through it.

-For downward transitions, wrap your legs around him and squeeze him in two so he goes forward into the walk.

-In the walk, sit back on his back legs even if they are sticky off the ground. Don't let your body get ahead of them, wait and let them come through under you.

-When asking for the canter, demand the good canter immediately and really stay solid and strong. Don't let him seize any steps away from you. Lift your hands and really "show off" the horse, lifting his poll.

Is any of this new information? No -- but it was a good series of reminders, in the right place, at the right time, that I need to NOT let him get away with slacker moments. Needless to say, it was a very tired and sore me that trooped back to the barn. But I was excited about what we'd accomplished and very much looking forward to Stadium Jumping Saturday.