Thursday 31 May 2018

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago. My first show on Farly. He had been jumping about 6 weeks so we did the 18" hunter division.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

My Pferdeanhänger

I came into an inheritance a few years ago. Not enough money to buy a house or retire from my job, but enough that I could do something with it that I would otherwise have to save up for many years to be able to do. At that time I was borrowing a friends trailer to head out for lessons, which I wasn't real comfortable about. So I decided that I wanted a trailer of my own.

I knew that I wanted a straight haul. I figure that I would be trailering a lot by myself and that it would be easier to teach a horse to self-load in a straight haul versus an angle haul. I don't like step-ups - maybe it's because I'm short and they often come up to my knees. So I wanted a ramp. And it had to be a bumper pull.

I live in the land of angle-hauls, and there weren't too many options easily available within my province. I was originally looking at Hawk trailers, partly based on their reputation. At the time the Canadian dollar was good and I was considering importing one from the US.

The plan was that I would borrow my dad's truck for the next few years until I had to replace my SUV. Unfortunately, when I started looking at the specs for his truck, it doesn't have the towing capacity that I would need for a Hawk trailer. Well, crap.

So I started looking at my options. I remembered seeing the Brenderup ads in my many years of Practical Horseman magazines. Unfortunately they were no longer being brought into North America. But a similar style of European trailer by Böckmann were available, even in Canada.
Böckmann Big Master
Door at the front is tack room access.
The only dealer in Canada was too far away for me to see the trailers in person, so I scoured the internet to find out everything I could about them. Which model would I want? Which features? And most importantly - which colour?

I considered two models - the Master and the Portax. The Master series is made of PRP (polyester reinforced plywood), and the Portax is made of anodized aluminum, which only comes in silver (but you can get coloured fiberglass accents). The Portax had a front unload option, which was attractive. But in the end I went with a Big Master, primarily because to access the tack area in the Portax you had to go back inside the trailer. (They have since changed the tack area and you no longer have to do so.)
Böckmann Big Master
This door is the jockey door.
I wanted it in navy blue. So I had to wait about 4 months for the trailer to arrive from Germany. That timing actually worked out perfectly as my parents were driving across the country so they were able to bring it back for me.

This trailer is fine piece of German engineering.

First, the shape. It looks like a little spaceship. It pulls beautifully behind the not-overly-powerful truck. The dealer was telling me about a video she saw when she visited the factory. The video showed the trailer in some sort of wind tunnel, and they put some smoke or something in the trailer so that they could see the airflow inside the trailer to determine the best positioning of the windows. I doubt any of the standard North American trailer companies have done that.
Böckmann Big Master
The ramp with the pull down curtain at the top. The middle silver part is the steps to get up to pull down the curtain, and the grated silver thing on the right is the flip-down mounting step.

It's quite inviting for the horse. The interior is a nice bright white, they can see out the windows, and there is lots of head space in the Big Master (one of the reasons I chose the Big Master over the regular Master). Standard interior height is 7'7".
Designed for horses up to 18hh. These ones are much shorter.
Should a horse decide to be silly while on the trailer and either get over the chest bar or under the butt bar, you can release them from a safe position outside the trailer. Put the handle of the broom that comes with the trailer through the rings that you tie to outside, unscrew them, and the plate on the inside that secures the bar releases, and the bar falls, thus untrapping the horse.

The ramp moves easily up and down and has ridges going across the width and the edges so that the horse doesn't slip. On the sides, there are notches in the ridge so that liquid can drain - either from cleaning it, or when your horse pees on the ramp while loading (Phantom!). Just remember not to have your foot under it!
Böckmann Big Master Tack compartment
The broom and shovel have a holder just inside the door. The saddle racks pull out and can be adjusted height wise. It's no longer this clean. 
The tack room is quite spacious. I can jam a lot of stuff in there. I wish it had more hooks - I put some 3M Magic Hooks up with various degrees of success at them sticking long term. If I was braver/knew what I was doing/had the right equipment I'm sure that more could be added.  It came with a rubber broom with a telescoping handle and a small shovel. I prefer a fork to pick poop since I use shavings for bedding so I added a small fork with a telescoping handle. The tack room is accessible from the outside driver's side, and the interior passenger side, though you couldn't get the saddle out from there.
Böckmann Big Master tack compartment
There are two shelves - they are almost 4' long, so hold quite a bit. They are curved though, so I can't stack things as nicely as I would like. So I tend to have things in bags instead of tubs.
I added the metal grid head divider. It can be removed if I wanted to. Böckmann is like Ikea - most of the hinges and brackets can be tightened with the included allen key, that has a home on the inside of the tack room door.
You can see the grid behind Cisco's head. I added an acrylic mirror to Phantom's side for when I was trailering her solo.
Probably the only other thing that isn't my favourite about the trailer is the pull down canopy over the ramp. These are very common in every country outside of North America. It's nice in that it gives you the option to leave it open for ventilation, or fold up the bottom part so expose the screen. I have to hop on on the step when I pull it down, which is only a little bit awkward - so far I haven't fallen off the step.
I did get to visit my trailer a couple of weeks before my parents picked it up to drive it home. It was love at first sight. (And yes, I am short, but the total trailer height is close to 9')
My favourite extra that I added is the flip-down mounting step. I saw that in the catalogue and needed it. It was a $400 option, but it's a pretty sweet for a vertically challenged person.

The coupler has a built-in lock so that I can lock it onto the hitch when towing, or when it's unhitched I can put a ball thing that it came with into the coupler and lock it so that no one can hook a truck up to it. The coupler has some swivel in it that makes hitching up easier, and it kind of grabs the ball. Don't stick your fingers up there or they might get caught!

In Europe they don't drive pickup trucks like we do in North American. So trailers are engineered to be driven behind SUV's or larger cars. They can only put a maximum of 4% of the trailer weight on the hitch of the tow vehicle, versus the North American standard of 10%+.  They also use a different braking system - instead of electric brakes that activate when the brakes of tow vehicle are deployed, they use surge brakes instead. Basically, there are hydrolaulics that go from the tongue of the trailer to the trailer brakes. As the trailers pushes into the vehicle, it activates the brakes, so that the trailer never actually pushes the vehicle. This explains it better. 
You can tie to the sides or the back of the trailer.
Another reason that I chose the Big Master is because of the shock absorbing system. It has shocks similar to car shocks, so it gives a very smooth ride for the horses. There was a video online (that I can't find anymore) of a table wth a glass of water in the back of a standard trailer (European style) and then in a Böckmann with their WCF shock system. The difference in the way that the water danced around was incredible - in the Böckmann it barely moved until they went over train tracks, at which point it danced a bit (in the other trailer the glass fell off the table).
There was no dancing when I had to stop for a train when I moved Phantom a couple of years ago. Big change.
I credit the smooth ride to Phantom quickly becoming self-loading and a relaxed traveller, something that she wasn't in the trailer I was borrowing.

I won't deny that part of me wishes that I had a dressing room. But that is probably the only reqret that I have with this trailer. The PRP should continue to look good for a long time, so there is a good chance that this might be the only trailer I ever own. Unless I pick up a third horse..... (um, no.)

If you want more information about these trailers, visit the Böckmann website, or contact Marsha at Maple Lane Equestrian Trailers in Ontario, Canada.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Blue-Green Algae

Phantom is well on her way to settling in at Fat Camp. She is becoming friends with the cool kids, so she's putting herself in a good position. She still gets a bit worried when she gets turned out again after I have her in for a bit, but then I see her with the others not long after so I'm not too worried.
Phantom is the gray on the left. The cool kids are behind her.
She did pull a shoe (of course). For once I actually managed to find it - she usually hides them down the gopher holes. Well, that has to be what she does with them because they never get found. It should be getting tacked back on on Monday (yesterday) so I can get her going again.

She's still not impressed with me though.

I started her on spirulina. It's algae. It looks disgusting, it smells bad, and it probably tastes worse.
Black lipstick is not attractive.
Spirulina is considered a superfood. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and has been used for COPD type issues. It has also been found to help horses with equine metabolic syndrome, which is something that I worry Phantom might be prone to.

In the US it can be gotten in a pellet form that is actually palatable. In Canada, no luck so far finding it in anything but a powdered format. So I am mixing it with applesauce in a syringe and squirting it in Phantom's mouth.

I'm quite certain that when mixed with the spirulina the taste of the applesauce is no longer detectable. And it's in a huge 60cc catheter tip syringe, which is hard to use when you have small, child-sized hands. So it is not going smoothly at this point.

Note the squirt on the wall under her halter.
On Sunday, day 3 of squirting it in her mouth, I brought out the good cookies. She was a bit better about me squirting it in her mouth, then she took a cookie, and re-squirted, and she had another cookie, until the big syringe was empty. I'm surprised she ate a cookie with seaweed all over her tongue, but I'm going with it.

I've had to scrape dried chunks off of her forehead. She has blue-green stains on her legs where she's rubbed her mouth. This stuff is gross.

I'm really hoping it does something useful!

Monday 28 May 2018

Go Play Outside!

Due to work and an abnormal heat wave (30 degrees in May? We still had snow a month ago!) I hadn't ridden since Monday. I've learned that Cisco doesn't really need to be lunged after a few days off so when I tacked him up on Saturday evening after he had 4 days off I left the lunging equipment in the barn.

 I started on the ground exercise that I had done with Cisco on Wednesday. He has the idea of moving his butt towards me, but isn't overly engaged enough with me to do it quickly. But he remained super quiet. and this carried over to the mounting block, where he was so much better than he has been the last couple of weeks. He stood quietly, without fussing with his mouth, and I was able to get on fairly quickly.

From there he walked around on a long(ish) rein with a nice relaxed pace, which scored a 6 for regularity by the Equisense. I hoped that the relaxation would carry over to the trot - and for the first time, it did! Right from the beginning we were able to trot on a long(ish) rein with a regulated pace. Sure, there were some momentary blips where he sped up a bit, and I would shorten my reins a bit in the scary end just in case, but I was really happy with the ride.
The only media from this day is this rather derpy picture.
Of course, some new problem had to pop up. The problem du jour is that he bulged his right shoulder to the inside really badly when I asked for a trot transition. I think it's partly me - I think I ask for trot a bit stronger with my left leg, and the left leg is the one that he moves better off of laterally. I also need to get him a bit sharper off my leg for the trot transition. He's really inconsistent as to how much leg it takes to get a trot - sometimes it's a good nudge with heels, and other times it's just a whisper of my calf. Having him react faster will help with staying straighter through the transition.

I hoped that the good ride streak would continue for Sunday's ride. He was a bit more up when we were getting ready than the day before (a horse was getting loaded onto a trailer at the end of the barn, and a couple of horses were screaming at each other across the yard) so I didn't have high hopes. I started the same as the day before with the groundwork - this time in different places in the arena. Again, he has the idea of what to do, he's just not in a rush to do it.

When we got to the mounting block, he wasn't quite as good as the day before. There was a horse getting bathed outside the barn behind him, how could I expect him to stand facing away from that? He had to circle the block once before coming back to the front, and then we got to test the groundwork we have been working on. I tap tap tapped, and he (eventually) swung his butt around to stand parallel to the mounting block. Then stood rock solid while I got on, and waited until I asked him to walk away (while he stared at the showering horse behind him). Success!

He started off nice and relaxed just like the day before. So after a few minutes of trotting on a light contact, I decided to mess up that relaxation and head outside to the outdoor arena for our first real ride outside.

We've gone for a few cool-out walks around the yard, but we've never done anything that involved intentional steering and going faster than a walk. The barn that I board at doesn't have an outdoor arena, but the neighbour does, and we can pay $35 per month to use their facilities, which also include trails and an obstacle course. I sent them money last week, so now I need to make sure I get my money's worth!
Screengrab from video on my phone. Not how he typically goes!
My hopes were that we would be able to trot around with steering, Ideally at a pace I chose and on a light contact. And no spooking/splatting/scooting at the horses in the pens around the ring. The ride went about as well as I could have hoped for a first ride outside!
That's how he normally goes.
Yes, he was a bit bulgey towards the horses at the far end as we cut across the center of the arena. And yes, he slowed his trot down as we passed them. All relatively minor things that will be easy to work on.

Although I did manage to find a few more screenshots where he's not a giraffe - maybe there's hope for him yet!
I'm super happy with how the progress has been going over the last few rides. Now to get going on the canter!

Friday 25 May 2018

Chill The F*@& Out

My rides on Cisco lately have been about trying to get him to just chill and relax. Hah! We all know how easy that is.

I installed a baby half-halt a couple of weeks ago, and for the most part it has stuck. He's now starting to listen to me asking him to slow down by closing my thighs first. He gets it at a walk, and we're having moments at a trot. There have been definite moments of adjustibility.

Our last ride felt like some of the pieces are coming together. The walk at the beginning of the ride was much slower, and for the most part so was the trot. It was probably helped by the presence of another horse in the arena, which hasn't happened in a bit. My goal is to be able to trot him on a long rein and have him maintain the pace that I establish. On this ride I was able to lengthen the reins a bit, but we've got a long way to go.

But training horses tends to be two steps forward, and ten steps back.

So now Cisco doesn't stand at the mounting block.

He had been doing really well with this. Standing rock solid, even after I put my butt in the saddle. Lately he starts fussing as soon as I try to stand him up. Chomping the bit, head up, head down, leaving, biting my boot.
Earlier this winter when he fussed, but stood still. Getting on with suddenly no neck in front of you is a bit disconcerting!
I figure that the whole chill attitude has to start at the mounting block to help set the tone for the ride. He's been antsy to get on, then antsy when we get going. If he's quiet when I get on, maybe he'll be quiet when we get going?

The goal has been to just stand at the block for as long as I want him to. Just standing. Which apparently is difficult for an impatient young horse. It got better over the three days that I decided to work on it last weekend, in that he did less dancing around each day before standing still. (The first day it felt like 15 minutes before I got on.)

On Wednesday I decided to do some groundwork stuff related to the mounting block since it was too hot to ride. I put a bridle on Cisco and went over to the arena. Again, he was better than he had originally been. But I wanted a way to have a bit more control over getting him to stand how I wanted.

A few weeks ago I had watched this Youtube video.

I decided to try it on Cisco.

And holy crap, it worked. Quickly.

As he mentioned in the video, yes, Cisco got bad - distracted, tried to push past me, put his teeth on my shoulder (bad decision when I have a whip in my hand bud). But he very quickly had the right idea of moving his haunches towards me.

Then it was off to the mounting block to try it. Again, he got the idea quickly. And then stood quietly.

So it looks like I might have a tool to help get Cisco to stand quietly. We'll see if it sticks this time.

Also - Phantom update - barn owner sent me a text yesterday with a picture of Phantom eating dinner along the fenceline next to the other horses. So it appears she is on her way to settling in!

Thursday 24 May 2018

An Unhappy Camper

I hope Phantom enjoyed her birthday on Monday. Fun times are over.

On Wednesday Phantom went to Fat Camp (aka the Diet Pen). The other campers are horses that cannot be on a round bale, either due to respiratory concerns or weight. It is the only group turnout area that doesn't get a round bale, and the only other option would be a small pen by herself, which is not an ideal option (I hate having to deal with an overly energetic idiot of a horse).

Phantom was a very unhappy camper.

For the most part the other campers kept to themselves. It was a hot day (29 C in May - crazy warm up here), so most of the horses didn't have too much energy.
Phantom in the front, the others not caring about her in the distance.
Phantom paced the fenceline for pretty well 2 hours straight. Walk, trot, and canter. Constantly moving.

I intentionally changed her turnout a few hours before dinner time, in the hopes that come dinner time the group would have themselves started to be sorted out. But she barely spent any time socializing with the others. I stuck around for quite a while (and patched up a blanket I've had to do for a while and then picked a wheelbarrow of poo from her new paddock) and she was just starting to relax a bit when it was chores time. I offered to feed that group so that I could make sure that she was fed far away from everyone else.

I think I felt almost as stressed as she did. I hate seeing my horses that upset. It's the kind of thing that I believe is for the best for her, as she seems to cough every summer now, and she really needs to lose weight, but is hard to watch as a pony mom. I'm sure it will all be sorted out in a week or two but until then there's stress on everyone.
My car said 32 C (89.6 F) when I left the barn, and took quite a while to drop down to 30. This is dead of summer temperatures for us, and it's supposed to be here for a few more days. I think we've only had 2 days of rain since the snow melted so everything is super dry. There are fire bans almost everywhere in the province. 
Surprisingly, Cisco was pretty chill about his sister wigging out. He initially stood along his fenceline, watching her, but quiet. Then he wandered off with his buddy Tsunami, and left Phantom on her own to stress. I actually thought that he would take the separation worse than she would, but apparently I was wrong.

I'm not planning on heading back out to the barn until Saturday evening due to my work schedule, unless I get a message that the cut on her leg she got this afternoon is actually a puncture and her leg has blown up. So I'm hoping to see a much more relaxed horse when I head back out. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday 23 May 2018

More Posting

I had Pony Grandma take some video of my ride on Phantom over the weekend where I was again focusing on my rising trot biomechanics.

I don't know if a single screenshot shows much difference, but here goes. (Note that in all of these pictures, I was solely focusing me going up and down, so my reins are too long, and my hands to close to my body, and I couldn't care less about what Phantom was doing as long as she was trotting.)

For video purposes, I did a circle in my "normal" way, then a circle with my leg a bit more under me, then I stood in my stirrups, and afterwards did another circle with my leg where it needed to be when I stood in the sweet spot.

This would be my "normal" posting. It has definitely changed from how I used to ride, and it's nice to see my right leg under me versus in front of me. But I am putting some weight in my stirrups, and using the muscles in my butt to lift me out of the saddle. 

On the second circle, I brought my leg back a bit more. It felt like quite a bit more, but as seen in the pictures, it isn't much difference. My heels are up as I am trying to keep from pressing too much weight into my stirrups, but once I find my right spot I do need to work on leveling out my feet again.

Then I stood in the saddle. Note how far back my leg has to be to find the secure position. This blows my mind. Yet if it is at all further forward, I can't keep my balance. I actually should have still been a bit taller here. 

But this is the result after standing. It feels so much easier (until my thighs start burning, then it's really hard). I think I look taller (probably wishful thinking on my part). I also think I look super in balance. Not that the other pictures look terribly out of balance, this one just looks solid.

In going through the video in slow-mo to find the above shots, I see that when I sit in the saddle I seem to be closing my hip angle more than I probably should. 

This was on the third circle, which was the good circle. 

But this was mostly what I saw throughout the video:

It just doesn't look as strong to me. I will need to think about keeping my shoulders down and back a bit more, and the feeling of keeping my hip angle open even while sitting. I am trying to get a squatting feeling, but I can't keep it. Once everything starts to click without having to think about it I can also shorten my reins and carry my hands towards the mouth a bit better, and that might help too.

I've given up on ever having a long, elegant position. Short, round thighs that have to get around wide (fat) horses don't lead to elegance. I will settle for a solid, correct position. From looking at the pictures, there isn't much of a difference to the "look", but man, there is a huge difference to the feel.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Phantom's Quinceanara

Monday was Phantom's 15th birthday!
The birthday girl is not amused.
Hard to believe that I've known her for almost 9 years already.
Still not amused.
To celebrate her birthday, I made pony popsicles for each of the kids.
Really not amused when the wind turned her into a unicorn.
I chopped up some apples, carrots and bananas, and split a litre of unsweetened apple juice between the two. They went into the freezer overnight. I don't think they were quite frozen through, but there were no complaints.
pony popsicle

Phantom isn't going to be happy with her birthday present this year - she's getting a summer vacation to fat camp (aka. a paddock that doesn't have a round bale in it). She's had a bit of a cough the last couple of rides, and let's face it - that crest on her neck isn't muscle. She'll get moved on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Cisco is going to be lost without her, although she'll just be across the driveway.

Happy Birthday Gray Mare!
Phantom as a funny looking baby (from her registration papers).

Friday 18 May 2018

Other Things This Week

Since there was a clinic on last Sunday and I couldn't use the arena, I decided to tackle another thing that I need to make Cisco comfortable with - trailering. Well, start tackling.

Remember that he had never been inside anything other than a 3 - sided shelter until last spring. So it's pretty easy to understand why trailering is a bit stressful for him.

He was trailered twice last year - the first time I borrowed a friend and her 4 horse trailer and it took us over 2 hours to get him on. And he arrived in a lathery, sweaty mess. The second time was in my 2 horse straight haul when we moved last summer. I had practiced loading him for a couple of weeks previous, and his big sister Phantom was the key to get him on. He'll follow her anywhere. On the day that we moved, he was very good about getting on and seemed to travel well, but he still arrived sweaty (he's a nervous sweater).
This was the first successful loading last summer. 
So I know that trailering will need some practice, especially to get him to the point that I can trailer him alone. Now that the weather is finally good, it's time to get this training happening.

So on Sunday I put air in the tires, pulled the trailer out, and then cleaned it out (winter storage of some extra blankets). Then I led Speedy Gonzales and The Turtle over to the trailer. The goal for the day was to get them both on, and then see from there what we could manage. I wasn't planning on taking them for a drive, just get them on, hopefully with little stress.
I need to do a post up about my Böckmann trailer one day.
Phantom mostly (usually) self-loads. She's not confirmed enough that I can just throw the lead over her neck and guarantee that she will get on, so I thread a lunge line through a ring at the front and down the side and can use that to guide her on while I stand at the side of the trailer. (She's not confirmed at completely self-loading because she often decides that she needs to pee before getting in the car. So she gets on, but doesn't take that last step so that I can do up the butt-bar, then comes off, and when re-presented parks out somewhere on the way in - which could include while on the ramp - pee, and then walk right on. Which usually means that I end up with pee all over my foot as it runs off the side of the ramp and I forget to remove my foot from the pee path.)

She remembered what to do and hopped right on. Next was Cisco.

I led him up. He was pretty good and got to the top of the ramp before going backwards. But that was as far as he would go. So I grabbed a dressage whip that lives in the trailer for this purpose and gave him a couple of light taps. Which resulted in another step forward. So I repeated the tapping, and he kept taking another step, and soon enough (with only a couple of re-attempts needed) he was on the trailer.
Again, last year. I was going to take some pictures on Sunday but that's when the extra dancing started.
So that went better than I anticipated. Phantom, however, was not amused at having to babysit. She was pawing and dancing around, and refused to eat the treats that I put in the manger in front of her. Her fussing was worrying Cisco, but he was trying very hard to be brave. I secured him in with the chest and butt bars up, and that was going okay, so I walked around to put the ramp up. But when I got back there Phantom started dancing even more, and Cisco thought he should maybe get excited, so he kind of sat on the butt bar (with his hind legs off the ground and kind of swimming). So I just yelled at them and thought I better call it a day while I was still ahead. Both horses unloaded very nicely and we went back to the barn.

There I tortured them again. I finally remembered to bring out dewormer. Cisco was rather excited to get some apple sauce squirted in his mouth again - but I bamboozled him with ivermectin! The apple sauce training totally worked - last time I dewormed him it took at least 5 minutes to get the syringe in his mouth. This time I just popped it right in. He's pretty smart though, and I don't know if he will fall for it a second time, so I will need to practice with apple sauce on occasion before the next time he gets his medicine.

Phantom was good as usual. She just looked terribly unimpressed with how her day was going. The trick with her is that I need to feed her before she gets her dewormer, because once she has that taste in her mouth she won't eat anything else for a bit, including treats. She was quite sulky when I turned her out.
Phantom needed some kitty cuddles to feel better.
Wednesday was pedicure day. When I arrived my two were the last two to be done. So I brought them in together and tied them up in the barn to wait their turn. Phantom immediately went to sleep. Cisco didn't.

He actually was super good to get his feet done, which is normal, but then stood amazingly patiently while Phantom got her feet done. That's a first. He didn't have his toy to play with anymore, and he didn't settle in for a nap, but stayed quietly alert.

After the farrier was done I wanted to clip some of the remaining winter hair from them. Phantom was still rocking the winter hairy legs, while Cisco just had long curly fetlock hair.
She's a lumberjack, and she's okay.
Out came the clippers. I wasn't doing a close clip on Phantom, I just wanted the long hairs to be a normal length. I only screwed up a couple of times and took a chunk out of the back of each hind leg. It'll grow back.

This is Cisco's third time being clipped. He stood perfectly still for me to do his fetlocks. So I decided to tackle his bridlepath, which he has not let me do before. But he did this time! I mean, he didn't drop his head right down to make it easy for me. But he kept it still, and I blindly reached up behind his ears with the clippers and buzzed off some mane. Probably too much, and I don't think it was straight, but I'll finesse it next time.

I'm happy to see that some of the little things I've been working on with Cisco are paying off - on the ground at least!

Thursday 17 May 2018

All About Me

A couple of years ago I managed to take some dressage lessons with an instructor who focuses on biomechanics. I loved it. I am very aware that I am at the stage in my riding where I need to change myself before I can expect much improvement in my horse.

Unfortunately, I had a crap horse year with Phantom two years ago, so no lessons, and last year I had no money (second horse) and the instructor moved further away and didn't have a facility. She is probably 1 1/2 hours away from me now - doable if I really wanted to.
From a jumping lesson in 2011. Also, I forgot that Phantom once had a black mane!
One of the things that we really worked on was my rising trot biomechanics. First was getting my lower leg back and under me, then having less pressure in my stirrup and having my thighs snug to the saddle. And posting larger and opening my hip angle at the top of my post.

I rode hunter/jumper for most of my riding life. Which meant lots of weight in my heels, calf on the horse's side, knee off the saddle, and post small. Now I was being told to keep my heels up (as a start to reduce the pressure in the stirrups), bring my leg way back, turn my knee into the saddle, and post big. Change did not come easily. (The fact that my dressage saddle is not the best fit for me likely didn't help. I found my jumping saddle easier to keep my alignment. Unfortunately, Phantom decided that she disliked the fit of that saddle, so now it's sitting in my basement.)
From that same jumping lesson. Not a terrible position for jumping. I would have been riding for about a year again after not riding for 3 (and barely riding for the 2 before that)
The mind-blowing thing that I discovered is that I started the up part of my post with the muscles in my butt. Specifically, the right side of my butt. And guess where I hurt all the time? Yep, my right butt/lower back. She worked with me on the ground, kneeling on a blanket, on how to post from my thighs. This helped immensely.

That summer when I was working on my position I did a lot of short rides where I just concentrated on one or two things. I didn't care where my horses head was, or how straight she was. I just thought about where my feet were, or were my knees turned in, or how big my posts were. I tried to keep everything correct as long as I could, and when I lost the feeling I'd go back to walk, reorganize my body, and start again.

After every lesson I generally had something new that we worked on. So that was what I would work on for my next few rides. On the first ride, I might only last one long side before I lost the feeling and would have to start over. But gradually, over three or four rides, it would start to feel familiar, and I could keep the new position for longer and longer periods.
Working very hard on rising trot during a lesson in 2015. My reins are super long because I can only concentrate on one thing at a time and I wasn't worried about what frame my horse was in. My rogue right leg is back a bit, but not as much as it needs to be.
Unfortunately, I've lost what I had gained that year.

Not completely - my leg sits underneath me more than it used to. And I don't have as much pressure in my stirrups as I once did.

But I've definitely noticed that I'm not riding my rising trot the "new" way. And I'm not engaging my core like I should.

Part of this is probably because I didn't ride much over the winter, so you go back to what is familiar. And another part is likely because I'm riding a green horse at least as much as I'm riding the broke horse. On Cisco, I have to ride defensively so I don't try to fix my position while on him.

On Tuesday's ride on Phantom, I decided to start to find my rising trot again. This ride was all about me.

I started by concentrating on posting from my thighs. Which was exhausting. But I just couldn't find the sweet spot in my position. I couldn't decide what the missing ingredient was - were my legs back enough? Were my shoulders too far forward? Why couldn't I get the feeling of an open hip angle at the top of my post? I was a bit discouraged.
Nope. Still not there. Leg needs to go back more. Way more. This was the lesson where I discovered that I use my butt, so I was trying very hard to figure out how to post from my thighs.  I think the standing up exercise was my next lesson. But you can probably see from this picture that if I were to stand up, I would need to move my leg back to stay in balance. 
In an attempt to get my hips to open up, I did an exercise that I had had to do in a lesson. Basically, you stand up in your stirrups (make sure your knees are turned in). Like, stand on tiptoe in your stirrups. Straight up (the instructor used the analogy of reaching for the cookies on top of the fridge). There is a spot where you can stand there and feel like you could stand forever, in balance and without any strain. Can you immediately find that spot when you stand up? Or do you have to slide your feet back underneath you before you find the spot? Once you find the spot, slowly sink down in the saddle without allowing your legs to slide forward. That is where your leg needs to be. Try this at a walk and trot (which was somewhat terrifying).

So during Tuesday's ride, I stood up at a walk. And noticed that my feet did have to slide back to find the sweet spot of standing. I sat back in the saddle, kept my feet back, and picked up a trot. And bam. There was the rising trot I was looking for.

I struggled a bit to keep my leg that far underneath me. But every time that I came back to walk, stood up, then went back to rising trot, it was right there. I think I will play a bit with my stirrup bar placement (I have that option on my treeless saddle) and see if moving it back a teensy bit will make a difference.

I need to get some video, as I was trying to see the difference in the reflection in the windows. I'm hoping that it looks as good as it feels - but it probably doesn't!

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Inside Flexion Is My Friend

I think I've figured out how to get Cisco to stop gawking into the scary end. Inside flexion makes a big difference.

I know that this is not mind-blowing information to anyone who has ridden a while. If they're spooking in the corner, bend them away from what they want to look at and think shoulder-in past the scary object. A very established method of dealing with spooking.
The mosquitos have come out and they are horrendous. The little black specks above their necks - mosquitos.
The last few rides have had just two focuses. One - I set the pace and rhythm. Not Cisco. And two - I expect inside flexion through turns and any other time that I ask.

Just to be clear - by inside flexion, I just want his head facing the direction that we are going. No more going around corners with his head pulled to the outside. No more gawking into the corners looking for the birds of death.

These two things have made a positive difference. We are able to get further into the scary end, even though when we pass B or E on the side of the arena he is already staring at the end looking for the pigeon. So now I'm working on asking for a bit of inside flexion on the straight lines before we actually get to the end.
Those red circles? All mosquitos.
It hasn't solved our problems with that end - at one point we were almost all the way around the scary end, and he was being really good so I softened my reins. He immediately cranked his head to the outside and stalled out while he gawked - squirrel!

So I think that will be our focus for the next few rides. Slow down and bend in. Simple, right?

Monday 14 May 2018

Weekend Rides

There was a clinic on at the barn this weekend, so the arena wasn't available during the days. Which, for the most part, didn't affect me, since I had to work Friday and Saturday during the day. I went out in the evenings to ride, and had a completely empty arena to myself.

Since Cisco hadn't been ridden in about 10 days, I popped him on the lunge line first. As I expected, he didn't do anything silly and lunged quite well. Even down at the scary end. So I got on. And discovered that he had held onto all of his sillies until I got on (which I also totally expected).

Now his sillies aren't really much to worry about - he just turns into a speeding giraffe, which is not much different than the slightly quick giraffe that he normally goes around like. Steering, especially at the beginning of the trot, tends to be considered by Cisco to be a suggestion.
Envision this with tack and a rider on him.
For the ride on Friday night, I was determined to control the pace. I was aiming for forward, but not mach 1. We had to do a few walk/trot transitions in the beginning to get my point across, but for the most part, he was pretty good about it.

What he was really bad about, was the steering. Not just the can't go straight down the long side type of steering issues. No, there was a new problem.

All winter I've been working on getting Cisco comfortable in the scary end. Through the winter the doors were shut, and the pigeons got picked off by an owl, so we were making progress. Now that it's warm again, the doors are open again. Which means the pigeons are back. And the threat of a Land Shark attack is significant.
The Land Shark that Cisco saw last summer.
Or is it?

Not this year! This year is different because there aren't Land Sharks outside the big door at the end of the arena. There are horses. Horses that Cisco hasn't met yet. Which he would like to remedy as soon as possible.

So now, instead of steering nicely when circling across the arena at the happy end, he bulges out towards the scary end where the unknown horses are. Bulges out big time. And down the long sides he rushes towards the open door. All winter I couldn't get him near the door, and now I can't keep him away from it.

So yay. A new issue to deal with. Which continued into my Saturday ride.

This ride did not start off promising. There were a ton of distractions to deal with.

It was windy. We shut the overhead door that we entered through so that I wouldn't get sand whipped in my face as I rode toward it. The people door was left wide open, and the wind was whistling as it came through that door. Just outside that door there was a party going on with the clinic participants, which included singing Happy Birthday at one point. They also walked into the arena at random times to use the kitchen or the bathroom. Just inside that door was a tall stand that the clinician had some stuff set up to sell, and it was covered with a couple of sheets, that flapped around on occasion. Plus the table next to it with a tablecloth and sign attached to the front. There were stands set up with loud speakers at one end. And a storage shed had appeared overnight next to the bleachers.

So much for Cisco's brain to take in. He was very tense. But surprisingly not very spooky.

Again I controlled the pace. Even at a walk. Yes, he was still a giraffe. But he was giving me inside flexion when I asked for it, and mostly steering from my leg. Until I tried to cut across the arena at a trot and he bulged his left shoulder out towards the open door like he did the night before. But this time, I was prepared. I was carrying a jump crop in my left hand, and I gave him a couple of taps on that shoulder. By the third or fourth turn the bulging was significantly decreased.

I decided to put his busy Andalusian brain to work and started doing a whole bunch more turns. Mostly half circle reverse type figure 8's and three loop serpentines. I tried to keep a rhythm to the trot, and picked the point on the track where we were going to return to it. He generally tried to rush a bit on the straight side of the half circle reverse, so I had to slow him down. And that left bulgey turn issue? Not a problem - we hit the rail every time just where I planned.
Left is the Friday ride, right is the Saturday ride. Note that the regularity at a trot improved on Saturday.
So I ended up quite happy with my ride. Probably because I had very low expectations for how the ride was going to go. I need to figure out a way to deal with Cisco's tension though. I'm pretty sure that just riding more will make a big difference, and then I'm hoping that the Bombers bit that will hopefully arrive in a couple of weeks will help. Otherwise, I'm thinking that I just need to put him to work and keep his brain busy.