Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Training Tip: Submission through transitions


Helen Langehanenberg, a German Grand Prix dressage rider talks about using transitions on a 20m circle to create submission and cooperation in this useful article from Equi Search.

With a young horse, I might do one round of trot and then one round canter. With a more educated horse, I will do the transitions more frequently. During these transitions, I improve my horse's reactions so we can be very coordinated.

When the horse starts to warm up, I ride the figure-eight. You don't want the work to be boring. When you do different things, the horse finds the work fun, and he concentrates more on you. In the figure-of-eight, I give a little half halt each time I change the rein to I make sure I can feel my horse's balancing reaction….

What you want to achieve in a trot-walk-trot exercise:
  • As you do the downward transition from trot to walk, you close the horse's frame and bring his hind legs under his centre of gravity so he engages and carries more weight behind.
  • Then, when your horse is engaged, you go directly to trot again. In that upward transition, you want to open the neck a bit, but keep the hind-leg carriage you had in the walk.
With transitions that achieve this engagement, horses learn, step-by-step, to carry more weight with the hindquarters in all the work, whether they are in a working trot or extended trot. After all, the horse can only do a medium or extension if he is able to carry weight on the hind legs, otherwise, he is running. When horses go more forward, they must learn to keep carrying the weight behind, rather than going on the forehand.

Another exercise that uses transitions to help the horse pay attention to the aid is an 10m wide oval with two jump poles on the ground.  Riding in a trot on short ends, and cantering on long ends over the poles placed in the middle of the long sides, you use the up down transition to get the horse listening and sharp off the leg and the pole for balance. 

You can make the oval larger to make it easier ~ the bigger the oval, the easier the exercise will be, the smaller, the harder; however, there should at least be room for 5/6 strides of canter and 3/4 strides of trot. 

Like so:
Canter-Trot Exercise

Canadian show jumper Margie Gayford uses this canter/trot exercise as a warm up for jumping. Margie is not only a Grand Prix Show Jumper, but also a sought-after level 3 coach and clinician.  You can see the exercise working in the first 3 minutes of this video:

Jumping lesson with useful warm up exercise

Top Tip:  Take frequent breaks and let your horse walk on a long rein so he can relax for several minutes. If your horse is tired, he won't enjoy the work. Also, he won't be able to concentrate, be loose, swing through his back, or carry weight on his hind legs. He needs to have enough energy and power in order to have these positive qualities.

Another way to create looseness in the back is to stretch your horse often in trot and canter.  You can do that by releasing the horse’s head and allowing them reach down low.  Don’t forget to secure your seat by making sure your shoulders are behind your hip bones, because if you are tipping forwards your horse might be encouraged to put in a playful buck! 

See ya!


Credits & Resources:

- Horse Junkies United: Lesson with a Pro – Show jumping with Margie Gayford
- Equi Search: Develop the Quality of Submission in Your Horse

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Eight Stages of Aging on Horseback!

The Eight Stages of Aging on Horseback

Stage 1: Fall off pony. Bounce. Laugh. Climb back on. Repeat.

Stage 2: Fall off horse. Run after horse, cussing. Climb back on by shimmying up horse’s neck. Ride until sundown.

Stage 3: Fall off horse. Use sleeve of shirt to stanch bleeding. Have friend help you get back on horse. Take two Advil and apply ice packs when you get home. Ride next day.

Stage 4: Fall off horse. Refuse advice to call ambulance; drive self to urgent care clinic. Entertain nursing staff with tales of previous daredevil stunts on horseback. Back to riding before cast comes off.

Stage 5: Fall off horse. Temporarily forget name of horse and name of husband. Flirt shamelessly with paramedics when they arrive. Spend week in hospital while titanium pins are screwed in place. Start riding again before doctor gives official okay.

Stage 6: Fall off horse. Fail to see any humour when hunky paramedic says, “You again?” Gain firsthand knowledge of advances in medical technology thanks to stint in ICU. Convince self that permanent limp isn’t that noticeable. Promise husband you’ll give up riding. One week later purchase older, slower, shorter horse.

Stage 7: Slip off horse. Relieved when artificial joints and implanted medical devices seem unaffected. Tell husband that scrapes and bruises are due to gardening accident. Pretend you don’t see husband roll his eyes and mutter as he walks away. Give apple to horse.

Stage 8: Go to see horse. Momentarily consider riding but remember arthritis won’t let you lift leg high enough to reach stirrup — even when on mounting block. Share beer with grateful horse & recall “good old days”.

Note: I found this post on Equine Ink and found it too funny not to share!  I think I might be somewhere between Stage 3 and 4…  Sometimes Stage 2; depending on the day/the fall/the horse!  > < 

See ya!


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Things Horses Can Teach You


A Father's Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children

My daughter turned sixteen years old today; which is a milestone for most people. Besides looking at baby photos and childhood trinkets with her, I took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the choices she would face in the future. As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and determined woman she would soon be. I started thinking about some of the girls we knew in our town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to no-where, seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem. The parents of these same girls have asked me why I "waste" the money on horses so my daughter can ride. I'm told she will grow out of it, lose interest, discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current generation's "slacker" label on my child. I don't think it will happen, I think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no "days off" just because you don't feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of getting dirty and that appearances don't matter to most of the breathing things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes, jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within his natural world, he doesn't care if you're wearing $80.00 jeans while you do it.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned about sex and how it can both enrich and complicate lives. She learned that it only takes one time to produce a baby, and the only way to ensure babies aren't produced is not to breed. She learned how babies are planned, made, born and, sadly, sometimes die before reaching their potential. She learned how sleepless nights and trying to out-smart a crafty old broodmare could result in getting to see, as non-horse owning people rarely do, the birth of a true miracle.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money. Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and to make sure her standards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge grows.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own. She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond body language and reactions. She has had to learn to "read" her surroundings for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regard- less of who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and buildings. And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot day. When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can honestly say that I haven't "wasted" a penny on providing her with horses. I only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.  -Anon

Agreed – I think horses can teach you all this and more.  You learn responsibility when you have horses; as I said to a friend of mine the other day, owning horses is not all rainbows, butterflies and unicorns.  It’s hard work, but like many things, hard work is it’s own reward.  : )

See ya!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bite the dust


Yeh, so I bit the dust today, and not in the I’m-riding-fast-and-it’s-very-dusty-&-windy way either…  Joey, whom I have rechristened Sparrow incidentally, bucked me off today.  It was totally my fault though ~ I scared the living daylights out of him apparently!

See it went like this: we are in our lesson, trying to achieve a true right canter lead.  He does the left lead beautifully, but on the right, if I go straight for even one stride he’ll pop in a flying change{!!} and switch leads.  So we’re working, working, working on it; pushing past counter canters, and disunited canters, and he gets it right.  I wanted to make much of him, but couldn’t pat him or he’d take advantage and switch leads again. 

So I cheered.  Rather loudly too…  Ooops!  Next thing I’m above the horse, knowing I’m done for, hitting the ground{butt first ~ it hurt}, and rolling over while Sparrow heads for the gate.  My instructor said that he totally freaked out.  Which is all well and good for him, but of course I’ve got to get up and do it again, hopefully sans the bucking and falling off part!!  : /

I won’t lie, my legs were shaky.  It’s been quite a few years since I’ve taken a fall that bad.  I have come off a couple of times, but it’s never been a “What-The-Chocolate-Fudge-Brownies-Just-Happened??!!??” fall for oh, at least six years?  I have been able to feel it coming, rather than today’s BAM!  OUCH!  Oh, I’m off…

It’s rather disconcerting to say the least.  Still, I hopped on and the boring end to the story is that we did it again, got the correct canter lead, managed a full circle this time, and didn’t even have a hint of trouble.  I don’t think Sparrow did it to purposely dump me, but of course there is no WAY I am going to give him any clues that he can do that again!!!

In fact, I hope that never EVER happens again.  I used to think that I was pretty good a sitting a buck, but I didn’t even feel this one coming, so I certainly don’t want to test him {or me} out.

On the upside, I think he’s going to be pretty nifty at dressage ~ he was doing beautiful flying changes on both leads, left and right.  It was funny, but he taught himself to do them all in one go!  The first time he tried it on the left to right lead, he only changed his front end, and ended up cantering disunited, but after one or two turns like that he got himself sorted out quick smart! 

He certainly is exceedingly fast on the uptake, and he’s good at sorting his own feet out.  I am really happy with how the whole lesson went barring the one, rather major, incident that saw me tumbling in the sand. 

He’s moving into my paddocks this weekend, so we’ll see how he goes with a change of scenery.  Should be fun!  : D

See ya!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Developing Work Ethic in Horses

reading horseDeveloping work ethic in your horse ~ well, I didn’t know that you could actually do that!  I always sort of assumed it was mostly came down to a horse’s personality as to whether or not they would work willingly for you. 

But yesterday I found out that while I had considered things that I needed to do to keep my horse happy while working; i.e. not destroying his work ethic, I hadn’t considered that on the flip side that I might actually be able to go a bit further and do something to encourage work ethic in my horse.

 “The varying personalities of our equine friends might convince us that some horses just have more “try” than others.  However, a horse’s life experiences and how they are raised have a lot to do with how their personality develops.  Establishing strong work ethics takes time and dedication and once they’ve been established, if we’re not careful, they can all too easily be destroyed. …

 A horse that has been put under too much pressure or has been asked for extensive, repetitive hard work can quickly lose some of their “want to” and willingness to please.  It might be unrealistic to expect our horses to prefer loping in the arena to snoozing in the sweet clover.  However, we can all benefit from taking advantage of opportunities to positively influence our horse’s attitude toward work.”

In retrospect, it makes sense. After all, we know that if you over do it on the flatwork, your horse will go ‘sour’ ~ get cranky, not work well; basically his work ethic will be destroyed.   But what can you do to encourage a horse’s work ethic?  What does a horse with a good work ethic even look like?

There a lot of differing views on what a horse with a good work ethic looks like, but from all the different horses I’ve ridden I tend to think that a horse with a good work ethic tends to try to figure out what it is you want.   They actually try.  That doesn’t mean that they won’t have their grumpy days, or that they won’t ever be naughty, but I think that you can tell the difference when you are on their backs as to whether or not they will actually listen to you and try to figure out what it is that you want. 

A horse with good work ethic also tends to be more forward going{now having said that a horse can start with out not being forward going; then become forward going and gain a good work ethic!}; although you do have to take into account horses that are naturally forward going and horses with quieter, laid back personalities. 

It ultimately comes down to willingness and softness under the saddle and in the bridle and you’ll know it when you feel it.   So how do you encourage it?

1 –  Fitness.  Firstly, you need to take care of your horse’s physical needs.  If they are unfit, or their tack is causing them pain, etc, they will be unwilling to work; just like you would be if someone told you to run on a twisted ankle!

2 -  Engage their minds.  Make sure you don’t fall into a set routine.  If your doing flatwork, change the exercises up, or try schooling out in the paddock instead of the arena.  You could jump logs instead of fences, practise bending around poles instead of barrels, or how about skipping the saddle and riding bareback?   This is particularly important with young horses that get bored easily.
3 – Treat time.  If the famous Lipizzan horses from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna get sugar during their workouts, it wouldn’t hurt to give your horse a little something once in a while.  Do be careful not to over do it though, if your horse becomes insistent, or expects treats, then you might end up spoiling your good work.   

4 – Treat time times two.  If sugar, liquorice or carrots aren’t your style how about a nice long trail ride?  Most horses love getting out and about and trail riding, cross country or bush bashing are a great way to clear out the cobwebs. 

5 -  Mix it up.  Vary your training regime to prevent boredom.  Two days flatwork, one day trail, two days flatwork, one day jumping ~ etc.  Keep the flatwork limited to two days consecutive and don’t forgot to throw in a little cross training. 

6 – Be consistent.  If you allow dodgy corners and sloppy transitions, then your horse is going to think that that is okay, even when you don’t want them to do it ~ like in a dressage test or at a show!  Insist on getting it right every time.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be accurate.  Repeat your exercises if necessary ~ even little things like straight lines and corners.  Go over it until it’s acceptable and don’t settle for less.

7 -  Praise.  Lastly, but probably most importantly; if they get it right; let them know!!  If you are having trouble with a certain exercise, go back a step and do something you know they can do.  If you set the horse up to succeed,  and you praise them, fuss over them and generally tell them they are good until you tongue falls off, they will be happy to try the harder exercise again.  If it’s a big breakthrough, like you’ve been working on it for weeks, get off!  Give them a massive pat and turn them out.  Nothing says “Great job” like stopping work!  ; D

Taking care of your horse physically and mentally will get them in the right place to work easily and from there on in, it’s easier to encourage them to work with you instead of against you.  Here’s to happy riding days!

See ya!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

New boy on the block ~ Joey

So.  I found a new horse.  

mixed 2 079mixed 2 081

His name is Joey {I’ve already thought of a show name for him:  High Boy}, he’s a 4 year old TB x Appaloosa ~ which is a bit of odd mix, but seems to work in his case. 

He’s got quite decent conformation, and he’s reasonably good looking, although his head is a bit of the worst from both worlds ~ an Appy foundation eye and TB goofy ears!  But then again, I am fairly fussy about a horse’s head.  ; )   He’ll never be a pretty boy, but he has some of the smoothest gaits I have ever sat on!  It’s like floating on a cloud!

He’s really intelligent, picks up on stuff really quickly and I like how calm he is.  He has a looooong way to go; he is a green as grass as he has only been saddle broke and that’s about it.  He doesn’t know how to bend and is really stiff and unbalanced, but I love the challenge of training horses, so I have taken him on a month’s trial to see how he goes. 

I definitely think he has potential, but I don’t know that he’ll make the cut as a dressage prospect.  He has the movement and the conformation, but if I can’t get him interested in it, I’ll be in trouble.  I think he’s one of those smart cookies that if their brains aren’t engaged they just go ‘deadhead’ horse.   So we’ll see I guess.  I do like him though, so I hope he works out!

See ya!


Friday, October 21, 2011

Training Tip: “Broke” horses


“Broke” is a term usually found in Western riding to describe a horse that  English riders would probably consider an “all rounder” or a “handy pony”.  What I like about the Western term however, is how it is far more basic than just training.  It can also apply to any type of horse regardless of it’s formal training; i.e. cutters, reiners, Western Pleasure, dressage, showjumpers ~ any of those horses can be ‘broke’. 

Conversely, the same is true that any of those horses, although they may be champion cutters, etc, can also not be broke.  So if a horse is ridden, and goes under saddle; how is it not broke?  Let’s look one definition of a broke horse and how this can apply to any horse in any training situation. 

“A broke horse means that the horse can do many different things and do them safely and calmly”
So what should the horse be able to do?  General consensus says that a green broke horse should be able to lead, tie up, get their feet done, walk, trot, canter and perhaps do some lounge work, you know, the basics. 


Building on that basis, a broke horse should be able to trail ride, float/trailer, get their teeth done, go to shows, ride smoothly, correct lead, flexion; etc, they should essentially be covered in most areas of education, without necessarily having specialty training for disciplines like show jumping. 

However, one trainer I read believes that a truly broke horse should be able to do way more than that, and I agree!  This is where cross training comes in, and it’s also why a horse that is trained as a specialist in one discipline can also be considered to not be fully broke.  What if you hopped on a horse that was a brilliant show hack, but it couldn’t go out on a trail ride without bolting for home?   That horse wouldn’t be very well trained would it!

Can you take your horse through a line of bending poles at a canter, or ride a long trail ride through ditches, traffic and underpasses?  Can you lead him past a flapping tarp without getting jumped on?  How about riding in a bitless bridle ~ or without a bridle at all?  Or in a western saddle?  Or how about a side saddle?
I only wish I could do all of that!  Still, I believe that a truly broke horse, and one that is a pleasure to ride, is a horse with experience ~ one that will trust it’s rider and be game to do whatever it is you would like it to do. 

Therefore I have set myself a training challenge ~ cross train to the max.  I want to do as many different things as possible with my horses so that I expose them anything and everything.  It takes time and it takes patience, but I think that in the end you and your horse will have more fun and be safer for it. 

Top Tip:  If you ever notice your horse reacting to something {like a piece of rustling paper ~ been there, done that!} unless you are in the middle of a dressage test, or something, take the time to desensitize them to it right away! 

Stopping and taking fifteen minutes, {maybe more, maybe less ~ remember that it depends on the individual horse} at that exact point of reaction may save you a lot of hassle later on down the track. 

See ya!


P.S.  ~ Does anyone know where I can get hold of some cows?  ; P  I would love to see Copper take a gander at them! 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Potential buys and a few thoughts

I have seen two horses so far on my quest to find the right mount for me, a mare and a gelding.  I know that I probably have a long way to go before I do find the perfect horse {my instructor said that she saw a good 30 horses before she found her current one} but I have fairly high hopes for the next one considering that it was actually recommended to me. 

Anyway, some thoughts on the two I just saw:

The mare was advertised as an Andalusian type but seriously?  She looked like a TB.  It was another case of a horse turned out in the paddock and never looked at. 

She was ribby, skinny and not just ‘in paddock condition’ ~ I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a belly fully of worms because the grass was up around her hocks but she was still so thin.  Her feet were ridged and bumpy; a classic sign of malnutrition.  Like the picture below, although her toes weren’t turned up:


Still, she had a pretty face and sweet look about her.  She also had really nice clean legs.  Unfortunately the clincher for me was that she was lame.  Not badly, but enough to notice on the lounge rein.  Apparently she did something to herself four months ago when she got out of her paddock.  They found her wandering around on the road{!} and she’d strained something. 

After four months of paddock rest ~ she’s not going to get better by herself.  The sad thing about it is that I reckon it’d only take a quick visit from the chiropractor to fix her as I suspect she’s just got her left hip or pelvis out of joint.  Nothing serious, such a quick fix, but it still hasn’t been done. 

I so wish I could have taken her: I really liked the look of her, and she seemed sensitive, but I think if you took the time to earn her trust she would really preform for you.  I told them to call me if they got her fixed up and she came up sound, but I have a funny feeling I’ll never hear from her owner again which sucks.  At one time she was with someone who loved her and had trained her well.  She knew what she was doing.  It’s such a waste, but I really don’t know what I can do in that sort of situation. I can’t afford to take the risk on her or I totally would have…    *sigh*

The next fellow was again in paddock condition, but he was shiny, healthy and happy.  He was a seven year old TB x QH; very quite.  He had the TB head and the QH neck and haunches.  He was quiet and had REALLY good brakes!  

He didn’t really strike me as a performance horse though, and I don’t think we really clicked.  He was too sluggish and just didn’t seem interested.  I don’t know if he’d pick up with consistent work, but as the owner didn’t want to trial him{which I understand, but there are ways to make that work} so I can’t really judge. 

And he didn’t have the greatest conformation ~ his left fore turned out slightly, so his movement was a bit weird from the front at a trot and I am pretty sure he has downhill conformation {ie ~ his croup is higher than his whither} which means it’s harder for him to get his hindquarters underneath him.  Like so:


Apparently that is quite common among the QH ~ downhill conformation is not necessarily a drawback in Western riding.  However, good collection is essential for any level of dressage or show jumping so I personally found it pretty easy to nix him on that count, and then add the backward type personality and well, he’s not the boy for me. 

So on with the hunt; which is fine with me.  : )

See ya!


P.S ~  This thread puts it nicely concerning conformation and the downhill-uphill differences.

It's rather a matter of horses for courses. A downhill built horse is designed more for short sprints, quick turning on the hind quarters, sudden stops (not the reining kind the one where they bounce around on their front legs in the oh so attractive and comfortable way, lol). However they will sustain more concussion on their front legs, and often suffer more from both interarticular and periarticular ring bone. Downhill built horses are good for short distance racing, cutting, sporting etc. However for the "English" disciplines it's going to fall short.

A horse built uphill will be lighter and more balanced, less likely to fall on the forehand and there is noticeably less concussion on the front legs. The reason a downhill horse will have less balance is because horses naturally have about 60% - 40% to 75% - 25% of weight ratio front to back (meaning the front legs carry more weight naturally) so imagine trying to lift this and shift the centre of balance back off it, it'll be substantially harder. A horse that's built uphill will have more ability to place it's centre of gravity back and "sit on it's haunches" during high levels of collection. A horse built uphill will also have an advantage in the show jumping ring because they're already angling up and find it easier to lift their front end out of the way. A reining horse will also benefit from an uphill conformation because it's easier to drop their hind quarters and tuck under themselves while lifting the front end out of the way.

So depending on what you want to do the conformation that is ideal will vary. Because I ride English I'd never consider a downhill built horse because it just doesn't work for what I want to do. But if I was cutting or a sporter then it'd be different.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011



Unfortunately, not of the flying kind, because here’s the deal.  As much as I love Copper, he’s not the horse for me any more.  He has taught me a lot and together we’ve come quite a long way, but due to no fault of his own, I’ve out grown him and now I have to move on.

It really boils down to nothing less than his breeding and his movement.  You see, Copper is the perfect Standardbred.  Sound as a bell, sensible, quiet, works hard, goes forever, easy to catch, shoe, float, handle, so much more.  In fact he’s the epitome of the Standardbred breed according to my instructor and therein lies the rub. 

He’s never going to be a dressage horse.  It basically slapped me in the face when I went to the Gooroman Park competition, but Copper is just not suited to dressage, or for that matter, show jumping either.  He could go a lot further in show jumping than dressage, but our 55.88% score on the Prep 2 test?  I don’t know that we could do much better than that.  At least, not without a ton more work. 

See, I could keep training Copper; but I would have to pour three times as much money and time into him to get him to the average standard, and in that time I could be training another horse and bringing it to a brilliant standard. Plus, I could do all that and we might never get past Preliminary dressage anyway as he most likely cannot produce an extended gaits, seeing as he can barely track up with his hind{ie ~ hind feet coming under his body to step on the tracks that his front feet leave}.

To sum it all up, Copper is good for what he is, but what he is isn’t good enough.  So I am endeavouring to lease him out{because weak, soft girl that I am I can’t bear to sell him…} to a home that will appreciate his wonderful pleasure horse skills.  : )

And in the mean time I am on the hunt for a new dressage/show jumping/possibly cross country prospect.  Wish me luck!

See ya!


Friday, September 30, 2011

Competition ~ Dressage Test Preparatory 2

Our competition last Sunday ~ with me on “Casablanca” ~ i.e. Copper

I am sure that you can all tell by watching the video that we bombed ~ Copper was tense almost all the way through the test, so we didn’t score very well at all: 55.88%.  Blech. 

Looking back, I think there were a variety of reasons why but I am still disappointed with how we did because I know he is so much better than that!

Anyway, to start off the day was really windy, so he was spooking because of that, but more than that I think it’s his racing background.  I think it’s going to take me a while to train him out that.  It’s only the third dressage test we have done and he is not yet used to going out and relaxing in strange places. 

After all, for three or four years of his life, whenever he floated anywhere, he got off the truck, raced around like a manic on the track, and then went home again.  That is pretty strong conditioning for a horse, and I think that I have not yet taken Copper out enough to train him out of that ‘race’ mentality that so many ex-racers, be they Thoroughbred or Standardbred, have. 

As far as I can see I have two choices from here when dealing with Copper at competitions ~ one; get him to the venue three hours before the test {allowing three hours to get up, catch and load the horse and float there}; ride him hard for 1.5/2 hours, let him cool down for half an hour than warm up again 20 minutes before the test.  That was my riding instructor’s suggestion, as she used to do that for her horse.  

But seriously ~ that would mean a 3:30AM start for a 9:30am test which I just cannot. do.  I have a small baby and a husband that would seriously object!!  Plus, I can’t even begin to imagine loading Copper in the dark and really, would the gates even be open at that time??? 

I much prefer my idea which is to take Copper out to busy/big competitions as often as I can but not compete.  I’d just float him out there, tack up, ride him around at a walk, and take him home again.  Then he would probably get bored with going out and that’s exactly what I want him to do!!

The only problem with my idea is that I have access to a float, but no car. Yay.  So I guess I am sort of stuck trying to merge both ideas together for the time being.  At the very least I need to give Copper more time to warm up, probably an hour or maybe more ~ and we’ll see how we go from there… 

My main aim at any competition will now be to try and get him to relax.  I want him to be practically falling asleep!  Then we might be able to produce the kind of dressage we are doing at home.  Maybe. 

See ya!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Training Tip: Hands Ahoy!

Ever have those days when you are asking and asking and asking your horse to soften into a round frame and he just. won’t. do. it?  Maybe it’s time to check the where abouts of your hands. 

Horses that have a single jointed bit{one that “folds” in the middle}, like every other horse, require you to hold your hands just above the whithers so that there is a straight line from your elbow to their mouths.  Basic stuff, I know, but there is a very good reason for this.

If you hold your hands to high, the bit will swivel in the horse’s mouth and jab into his tongue.  If you hold your hands too low{guilty of this one I must confess!} the bit will swivel and jab your horse in the roof of his mouth where the soft palette is.  Ouch! 

Well, no wonder Copper chucks his head in the air and complains when my hands drop too low…  Thumbs up, hands above the whithers, steady as she goes!

See ya!


Call it!

So I may be calling my first dressage test for a friend on Sunday....  Not too sure about the whole thing as I have never done it before, but I got a quick lesson on it today from my riding instructor.  She basically told me that my job is to:

a}.  make sure I give the instructions at least two markers ahead of time
b}.  never call out more than two instructions at once
c}.  make sure that the short movements are linked properly.  For example ~ M to C, medium trot, CHXF medium walk should be called together; not separately 
d}.  stand at either E or B so that the rider can hear you at both ends of the area
e}.  do not, under any circumstance, call anything other than the words on the page ~ otherwise the rider may be eliminated!

And there you have it, the basic A to E of calling a dressage test.

See ya!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To fall or not to fall….



Yeah, that’s what I thought ~ so, thanks, but no thanks Copper…   > . <  We were off jumping again today and he was actually going quite well until he decided he’d had enough and that triple was just TOO much!!  He really pulled a few stunts today.  It’s not like the jumps were high, probably 45 to 55cms but three in a row?  Nah-uh!

The first few times I had to battle refusals at the second fence, than the third and then finally went we through all three without any hitches.  But then he had a wee break and he decided that he didn’t want to face the triple again; kthanxbye! 

He actually jumped the fences as he knew he wouldn’t get away with refusing, but when he got through the jumps he dropped his left shoulder as he went around the corner and tried to buck {I think}, and I lost a stirrup but after we halted, I promptly put him through it again.

Then he tried going really fast and dropping his left shoulder than swinging out to the right which almost had me off the left side, but no dice. 

I knew then that the first time wasn’t a mistake or high spirits then, he meant business and, therefore, so did I.  This was war!  : P Lol.  Not really, but there was no way I was going to let him get away with his naughty behaviour so we heave ho’d and headed for the jumps again. 

So he’s all “Well, that didn’t work” and this next time he did this really weird prop-drop-left-shoulder-bounce-right-prop-drop-right-shoulder canter-thing which seriously had me ten feet up in the air above the saddle{!!}, but somehow I managed to hang on.  I don’t even know how ‘cause he had me all a kilter with his bouncing, dropping shoulders act!

Thankfully after that little display he apparently didn’t have any more fight in him, and he waved the white flag of surrender.  Yay!  We popped through the triple again, this time reasonably neatly.  I would have preferred to go a little slower but it was definitely better than it has been. 

We took a few more little ‘uns {35cm} and I hopped off him and traded horses with a friend I was riding with.  She walked Copper around for me as I mounted her 17hh Andalusian, Bailey. 

Gee, now he is one BEEEEG horse!  It was so strange being up on his back, he was so tall, so wide and so slow…  Each stride felt like he was wading through jelly!  Anyway, my friend wanted to see him jump, so I popped him over the small ones a few times.  I’ve never ridden him before, so even though I knew full well he could jump higher, I could also feel him going “Who. Are. YOU??”.   He was sideling sideways and generally doing the head~for~home dance and I was all like; okay, I’ve done my fair share of almost falling off today ~ I soooo not going to push this! 

And gosh, it’s such a long way to the ground when you dismount the big fellows!  Most of our horses have been under 16.2hh, so I really am not used to the big guys, but Bailey is really quite sweet although he’s a bit spoilt, so I certainly wouldn’t mind riding him again.

Plus, there’s always the experience.  I love riding different horses and figuring them out ~ it’s such an exciting challenge!  Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity to do that very often at all, but maybe that’ll change in the future.  Who knows? 

See ya!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Training Tip: Legs on

I was doing some show jumping with Copper and he was racing around like a manic…  So what else is new?  The frustrating thing was that I knew he could do better than that, so I figured the problem had to be me.
Well, it turns out I was right.  I had forgotten the old adage ~ use strong legs on a fast horse and infrequent, but strong and demanding legs on a lazy horse.

With a horse that rushes it’s really easy to get into the habit of riding with a light, barely~there contact through your calves and heels.  However, this is actually counterproductive if you wish to slow the horse down because as soon as you apply any pressure for an aid, the horse will automatically speed up, and not necessarily listen to your aid.  Putting your legs on the horse {gently pressing them against his sides without squeezing} will, in time, desensitize him to the touch, and help him to balance through the corners so that he doesn’t have to rush them. 

I also found that a strong leg and seat on Copper while he was jumping steadied him and helped him to slow down.  It gave him confidence so he didn’t have to rush, and made my half halt far more effective, thus creating impulsion{controlled power}, not speed. 

Trouble Shooting:  If you are applying your leg to your horse and he is still rushing around, try sitting deeper in the saddle by pushing your shoulders up and back at the same time and slowing the motion of your hips.  If you move slowly in the saddle, say at a trot, slower than what your horse is going, you will encourage him to slow down as well. 
Don’t forget that training a horse not to race is a long process, and you will need to be consistent with using you legs and your body to slow his tempo {how fast he walks, trots, canters} down.   You can also use circles to encourage him to slow down.  The smaller the circle the hard he has to work to stay balanced and moving forward.  It may be hard work for you too, but it’s worth it!

See ya!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011



~  I swear this was what Copper looked like while I was riding at a walk today!  ~

Actually, one could never accuse Copper of being pokey, but that’s half the problem.   We had a private riding lesson today with my fabulous instructor and came away with some homework:

~  Shoulders up and fingers closing during a downwards transition.

~  Sharp tap/tug upwards on the outside rein when he pulls down in a downwards transition.  He leans somethin’ fierce at times, and this trick is exactly what I need to combat that. 

~  Wiggle ring finger, outside rein during an upwards transition.  My word, this helped SOOOO much with our walk/trot transition today!  Remember last time I commented on Copper’s walk/trot transition on a straight line and how awful it was?  Well, with a little wiggling and encouragement he moved into a trot softy, gathering himself up into the bridle and carrying the bit.  It was lovely!  : D

~  Ride FAT 20m circles. At one end of the arena I’m okay, but at the other I’m busy following a line in the dirt that isn’t a proper 20m circle.  It’s probably more like a 15m circle.  Or an egg….  : P  Must work on this! 

~  Soft hands & elbows; thumbs up on top {I have a terrible habit of curling my wrists and dropping my thumbs inwards}.  Actually, this one is interesting to me, because I happen to know that the tension in my back &/or hands & elbows is due to the particular battle of wills that Copper and I get into.  He says “No!” and I say “I don’t think so!!” and so it goes on….  However, I discovered half the problem today was, funnily enough me, because of this:

~ SEAT SEAT SEAT while walking.  I was complaining that while Copper’s trot work had improved today, his walking work seemed to have gone down the tubes for no apparent reason.  My instructor explained that most, if not all horses, have much more impulsion at a trot or canter than at the walk and therefore carry themselves and the bit much better in those gaits.  And that’s why you really need to sit down and use your seat at the walk.  I went “Ooooh!” and had a light bulb moment.

See, Copper has always been extremely forward going, to the point where he used to jump forward a mile whenever you applied any leg.  I have been so used to riding him like that that I have never had the need to actively use my seat {pushing with every walk stride} when collecting him at the walk.   However, now that we have been training dressage for over a year, he has slowed down naturally and now I have to provide the impulsion I didn’t have to before!!  Duh! 

So in a nut shell, if I drive with my seat and soften my hands his walk work should pick up nicely again.  Yay!  And this is why I get a lesson every week because I am pretty sure this would have taken me ages to work out by myself, if I ever figured it out at all!  >  <  

See ya!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Training Tip: Slow him down

It’s all to do with the breed, but just like TBs, Standardbreds tend to have the same need for speed ~ at least my fellow does!  When I put Copper into a canter, he tends to race around like a mindless idiot, not paying the slightest bit of attention to me.  Hello!  I’m the rider here! 

If you have the same problem as me with your pony or horse, you can try this neat little trick for getting their attention and asking them to soften.  Working on a 20 meter circle, you use your rein aid to ask your horse to flex out {i.e., move his head a little to the outside} while keeping your legs in the same position, that is, the inside leg on the girth and the outside leg behind the girth.

You ask them to do this for two or three strides {either in walk, trot or canter} alternating sides.  For example, I am working on the left rein.  I ask Copper to flex in by applying my inside leg and rein.   I hold him like that for a count of three, then apply my outside leg and rein to cause him to move his head {from the poll} out.  I only want to see a little bit of his eye when I ask him to flex out or his body will come off the 20 meter circle and he will lose the flexion. 

This flexing technique works marvellously at getting his attention when cantering ~ it’s not too hard that he can’t do it even though he’s only just beginning his canter work, but it’s just enough to get him thinking and slowing down.

Trouble Shooting:  If you are only using a tiny bit of rein and your horse is still trying to peel off the circle when you ask him to flex out, try asking him to flex out when you are going past the wall side of the arena.  He will have no where to go, so he should get the picture!

See ya!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flex in, flex out…



Today we were practising our cantering ~ and I was impressed with Copper; he actually decided to listen!  We started off the session quite well, he softened and came onto the bit with a minimum amount of fussing so that was really good.

He also behaving really well on the right rein, and we even manage to get a few neat transitions from walk to trot without him tossing his head in the air.  Well, that is until we went on the left rein.  I really have no idea what is up with this; his left side has always been the best side for trot work {he tends to resist more on the right as it’s his stronger side} but now it’s a battle to get him working on the left rein in frame.   He’s swapped sides and is not at all hesitant about letting me know about it! : S

Anyway, tussling with him, which involved walk, walk, walk, sit back, apply seat, *toss* sit back and rein him in, lather, rinse and repeat….  Goodness knows how many times.  Sometimes we go around in so many circles I get dizzy!  It took a while but we were finally into our cantering work ~ right rein first, flex in, flex out, flex in, flex out ~ soften and yes!  He was working in a round frame, elevated and best of all?  Even tempo and SLOWLY…  Yay!  The left side wasn’t as pretty but we still got a few good strides together, so we will get there.

Okay canter work out of the way; it was time to prep for our competition on the 25th.  We are doing a class of jumping and dressage.  Both are so low level that it’s embarrassing to admit it, but we all gotta start somewhere right??! => . <=

Hmm, let’s see if I can remember the test now. 

Enter A; medium walk, working trot at X.  At C track left.  Working trot CHEKA; 20m circle on the left rein.  AF working trot, F medium walk.  BX 10m half circle, XE 10m half circle, E working trot.  EHCMBFA working trot, A 20m circle on the right rein.  AK working trot, K medium walk.  E turn right, B turn left, M working trot.  MCHEKA working trot, A working trot down centre line.  Medium walk before X, X halt, immobility, salute. 

10 points to anyone who guess the test as Prep 2. Told ya it was embarrassing.  : D 

Things to work on:

~ Copper’s walk/trot transition, on a straight line.  It’s shocking! 

~ Me; I’ve got to remember that the last line after working trot at M ends with half a 10m circle at A.  I keep forgetting to prepare Copper and then we over~shoot the centre line.  And I would really like to get these moves absolutely precise to make up for what ever silly head tossing Copper might do on the day!

I might as well confess that the last time I did this test we came in dead last out of a class of goodness knows how many, so I really want to get this right and do better!

See ya!


P.S. ~ Yeah, the picture has nothing to do with my post, but I couldn’t resist.  How cute is the little puppy!?  > w <

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mount up & let’s go!

Right.  So let’s kick start this riding habit with a “get to know you” type deal.  Hi.  My name is Bonita and I am a horse lover.  But you probably already figured that out right? 

I am the happy Mama to one gorgeous 15.3hh bay Standardbred ex-trotter "Casablanca"; stable name Copper. 


I started riding when I was about thirteen and haven’t looked back since.  Our whole family got involved; including my dad, which was great, because it meant that he was keen too and bought us a horse! Otherwise it’s pretty much the same old story: went to a riding school, got hooked and then came the family pony parade…

Hmm.  I don’t even know if I can remember them all, but I will try! 

There was:

- Shazzar; an Anglo Arab X who-knows-what flea-bitten grey mare with an attitude and a stubborn streak as wide as the Amazon river.

-  Nikkieta; an Appaloosa mare that was chunky, somewhat grumpy and could really jump but only when she felt like it.

-  Irish Moss;  an TB chestnut gelding who was bomb proof and well, I hate to say it, but he was a bit thick…  He was a darling to ride though as long as you kept him well away from the oats!

-   There were a few loose ones in here that didn’t stick around long; free rides and all that.

-  Tango;  an Welsh D{we think; can’t know for sure because he didn’t have papers} bay gelding that was very pretty and knew it!  He had the smoothest gaits and was very athletic, but he also had a penchant for throwing in an odd bronco buck or two… Or three…. Or… Well, he was still my favourite!

-  Montanna; another crazy TB gelding off the track who was generally nuts.

-  Domino; a honey bay Standardbred gelding.  He was our first taste of Standys, and we liked what we saw.  He was really sweet, but a bit spooky.

-  Rusty;  a reddish bay Standardbred ex-pacer gelding.  This fellow has been hand reared so he’s a bit special but my sister loves him anyway.

-  Mercury;  a gangly Standardbred ex-trotter gelding who is my Dad’s current mount.  He is very quiet and unassuming. 

And that of course leaves Copper, my baby! 

We are currently working on our dressage and jumping with the hopes to one day add cross country and do a bit of eventing.  I thought I would chronicle some ‘trails and tribulations' of a horse mad girl and her people mad horse and the different high-jinks we get up too!  I hope you enjoy.  

See ya!


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