Thursday, November 15, 2012

Contact – so THAT’S what it feels like!

I’ve recently had another aha! moment with my riding – this time it’s all about contact.  I actually am starting to get what it is/feels like now.  It’s only taken me donkeys years of riding to finally understand it; but hey…

Basically, the discovery came when I figured out that I should really be bending my elbows.  Yah, I know – basic stuff, but honestly, if my instructor isn’t telling me to bend my elbows then how am I going to know?

That is, until I do something like take a video of my riding and go “Wow, what straight arms I have!  That’s not good!!”, which is essentially what happened…

And then Joey started to work into the contact and I was like – “Oh, okay - I can actually feel my horse’s mouth… It’s heavy!”  But the thing was I knew it was finally right.  We were getting a give-take connection that was elastic and soft, although it felt weird and ‘heavy’ to me.

You see, I blame it on reading too many pony books when I was growing up, and essentially teaching myself to ride.  They all talked about fantastic riders who “held the reins like strands of silk” or “wonderful light hands” – or in complete contrast “he had beginner’s hammy hands”!   And as a result I got the idea that the lighter and softer – the better.

But that’s not quite the case – I tend to ‘throw’ away contact before/after upwards and downwards transitions so that I don’t “pull” on my horse’s mouth.  That means I’m not providing any support for those transitions either, so my horse pops his head up and asks “Where’d you go?”. 

I also taught Copper to carry his own head which meant that he wasn’t on the bit correctly – he broke at the 4th vertebrae, rather than his poll, tended to be a bit ‘behind’ the bit and didn’t engage fully through his back. 

It still LOOKED pretty, but it wasn’t correct.  We didn’t have any 'throughness’, which is a weird dressage term I tend to understand as being the horse’s flow and energy coming from behind me.  It has to come through unbroken from the rear, across the back, over the neck and down into the bit.  I shouldn’t break it with my seat or hands, and if my horse isn’t fully engaged then we won’t get it either. 

So I have learned that if the horse can’t feel the rider’s hands and receive connection with them, then even though the rider’s seat might be connected effectively, the connection for the front part of the horse (shoulder, neck, head) to communicate with it’s rider is still going to be missing.   Rider’s core, seat & legs = horse’s back, quarters, hind legs.  Rider’s shoulders, arms, wrists/hands = horse’s shoulder, neck and head. 

If the rider provides a steady contact, and an effective seat aid that drives the horse forwards from behind, then the horse will naturally offer to round up and come on the bit by itself.  It sounds simple, and it sort of is, but sometimes it still takes a lot of work to get it right!

I’ll keep at it though, and practice a ton of transitions to help.

See ya,


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chiro for Copper

I had the chiropractor out for Copper today – he was a mess.  The chiro adjusted his neck, shoulder, pelvis and released the static nerve in his back which was being pinched.

I also found out that his left shoulder muscle has withered away – and as a result of course, his right one is far more pronounced.   Apparently this has been a problem for a while (developed while I leased him out I think) so now I have to rewrite his muscle memory.

This means riding every day for the next 7-10 days, 20-30 minutes a day, straight trot, or as close to.  Hill work is perfect, trails ideal.  Basically, Copper needs to extend his front end out so that he can rebuild his shoulders evenly.  

It’s amazing how poor work, poor saddle fit, or lack of rider knowledge – any one or all of those things can almost completely break a good riding horse.  And I would say that Copper was very close to being completely broken.  When I hopped on him, anyone that didn’t know any better might say that he was unridable, but no, all he needed was to be put back into alignment!

I have always been big on the benefits of chiro for your horses, and now I am even more so – particularly after I’ve also learned that a handful of bi-carbonate of soda in his feed at the end of the day will neutralize the lactic acid he’s going to get from working a whole bunch of muscles that he hasn’t in a long time.  A neat trick if you ask me!

There are probably a whole bunch of expensive supplements to do the exact same thing, but I love this simple and cheap solution provided by my chiropractor!

So it’s going to be a busy week for me, but it does have one benefit; at least I can treat the rain scald that’s beginning to pop up on his hind legs again…  Gah!  Wretched stuff.

Another simple and cheap treatment I’ve discovered for rain scald is a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar – pick off all the scabs, spray it on and you are good to go.  Repeat daily (if you can) until the rain scald disappears.

See ya,


Top Tip: 
Copper also has tears under his barrel where he’s been girthed too tightly, and they are causing him quite a bit of pain.  Check your girths at the side of the horse, about half way down the barrel, at the horse’s widest point – NOT near the elbow.  Because of the way the barrel is shaped, there is ALWAYS going to be space between the horse and the girth near the elbow. 

Pulling the girth up to eliminate that space just causes muscular problems, as well as painful tears underneath the horses’ barrel, and is the reason a lot of horses become girth-shy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

…In which we turn and turn about

Because it seems like once I make up my mind, something happens to change it again.

As I now handle two horses and make side by side comparisons, it’s interesting how it confirms the choice I made in the first place to lease out Copper and move on to a horse with more aptitude and ability.

I was thinking to half-lease Copper out after selling Joey, but now I am wondering if it might not be more advantageous to seek a half-lease for Joey and sell Copper instead.

The reasons I have for this thinking are these:

-  Copper is still a horse that I’ve moved on from.  Though he’s quieter on the ground and less baby-ish in manners, I have been riding him, and boy, he needs work.  He hadn’t been ridden in a while, and I think that he’s lost a lot of education that he had.  Poor riding position on the part of the rider I leased him too, and perhaps something more.  I’m not sure yet, but it’s work time for him!

Still, even with the work I know I need to put him into him to improve him again – I can feel the limitations he has – conformation-wise, mentally, and definitely background training.

-  Why half-lease Copper when I could half-lease Joey?  Yes, I have already thought of this, and yes, I had previously dismissed the idea because I thought it would be too hard to find a rider that would work with Joey.  But I realized that even if I was to lease Copper instead of Joey, I’d still want to share him with a rider that wasn’t going undo my work; i.e. – someone up to my level anyway; so why shouldn’t I do that with the horse I really want?!

-  Copper is Copper – he’s just as much work in his own way as Joey is.  Go figure!  I think I haven’t realised that until today after riding them both, one after the other.  Guess who was the better behaved?  

Well, you’re not wrong if you guess Joey! 

Long dissertation over, congrats if you managed to stick with it this far!
So what actually happen on the rides today? 

I lunged Joey first – he had a bit of a humpy back, so there where a few bucks in there…  I was like, oh.  Bother.  Still, I hopped on anyway, and gee – it really isn’t wasn’t a big deal.   

He got a little stuck up in front when I ask for trot circles – I forgot that he likes to move out when first trotting so I switched to an X pattern across the diagonal with half 20m circles on either end.
I got a lovely soft trot on the long lengths by pushing my seat forward and encouraging him to move up with his back end and loosen up his back, by the end of it, he was moving forward into the contact.  It was awesome!

It was a long frame – very beginner, but ohmygoodness!  He was connected, through, soft in hand – he felt like he was at the start of something, and I loved it.

Copper….  Well.  Humph.   Sure, he’s had time off, but eep!  What a mess. 
: P   He was as skittery as a rabbit in the grass, one touch of the leg (and I mean that literally – I couldn’t even settle my legs on his sides without him jumping like a crazy roo!) and we were off!  Walk wanted to be trot; so we worked on slowing that down, then trot wanted to be canter aannddd…  it was.

On the upside Copper has a lovely balanced canter in him now that he didn’t have before.  Downside; he also has a buck in him that he didn’t have before!

So we worked on establishing trot and when we got that on both reins it was time to finish for the day.  Whew.  Fun times, but I’ll be glad when I’m back to one wee beastie, not the both of them.

See ya,

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