Thursday, October 31, 2013

SOMEthing is happening -

Or more accurately, some muddle is happening!

My ride on Copper today was productive, I think… I don’t really know, as I can only go off what I feel, but because I’ve only read about the results I want, and never actually ridden them, how am I supposed to know?

What we worked on:

Warm up - I let him pick the direction, the pace and gait, and only used contact to steer to keep him in the arena as it is not fenced, just denoted by poles on the ground.

Trot – Me; trying to deepen my seat and practice my half-halts. Him; shoulder-ins and leg yields at the trot as well as some figure of eights thrown in for good measure.

Canter – Me; suppleness through my shoulders, arms and wrists; activating my seat at a canter, rather than just sitting and moving with it. Him; balance, rather than racing to maintain the gait.

What it felt like:

Warm up – Copper loved this bit, what horse wouldn’t? (Well – not quite, Joey would just mooch) He chose the right rein and powered around in an explosive, fast trot.  He would slow down for the corners, but yeesh. It was messy.  I just focused on keeping up with him and staying balanced. The reason I decided to do this is because a trainer that I greatly admire, Mugwump, is great believer in getting off a horse’s face and letting them figure it out.  By all means, steer with the reins, do your figures, but keep out of their face.  The more you can do that, the less charge-y and pull-y they will be.

I think I might need to try this a few more times before Copper gets the hang of it, his first and only thought was “Yay! Running!”  After a while he seemed to calm down a wee bit, and I do mean wee, so I thought it was time to pick up contact again, and do some ‘proper’ work.

Trot – Me; I was trying to deepen my seat, but avoid the pinch-y thigh problems that can occur when you are trying to change your balance or keep up with the horse’s movement. This meant that I would open my hips and thighs, apply a little calf and gentle resistance on the reins to do my half halts. 

It felt weird to say the least. I could feel my seat bones drop into the saddle, and that was good, but pulling my thighs open to achieve that felt messy. It could be that I’m not used to the motion yet.  I have found that when you start trying new positions in the saddle, or new aids you don’t know, they almost always feel messy at first – even if they are correct. Or, it could be that I don’t need to swing my knees out so much when I am trying to open up my hips.  I shall have to experiment.

Copper; still felt excited and charge-y.  I wanted his energy to be ‘up’ but I don’t think he has the muscle strength to lift up his neck and head in proportion to his impulsion – so he had to go forwards, or else he would drive himself onto his forehand. (Much like Joey used to do.) I would half-halt and he would respond and drop his croup, but as soon as I released the resistance on the reins with the next stride, he would just explode forwards, because, I am guessing, he was unable to contain his energy.

I would fall behind his movement, and then have to rebalance, and I think it would’ve looked as messy as it felt. But we did do our shoulder-in and leg yields at a trot and those were actually the best thing for gathering him up under himself.  He certainly had plenty of impulsion! He doesn’t like circles now as they are too ‘hard’ for him in his new frame so he’ll shoulder-in out of them to avoid them.

I had to put a kibosh on that, but between all my seat/position struggles I figured it would be best to work on something that he was willing to do.  I actually got an extended trot out of him – I just half-halted, and let him power on.  He just flew! I started to get a sore back from having to work so hard at sitting his trot, so then we moved to canter.

Canter – Me; I was chanting “Supple, supple, supple” to myself, working on relaxing my shoulders and wrists, and rolling my seat up and back to activate it and control his gait.

Copper – a bit unbalanced at times, but he had some very nice moments. I only worked him on the right rein so that we could have plenty of time to warm down. As his canter is so much easier for him than his trot, I always need to go back to trot work afterwards to get him back to thinking about it.

His trot was still very energetic afterwards, but I could feel that his hind legs were reaching further underneath himself, so that is something to think about.  Maybe moving the canter work to after the warm-up, rather than somewhere at the end/middle of our training session, would be beneficial to him? It might help with the excess energy as well. 

Overall impressions – I think we are on the right track. One moment particularly stood out for me; we were working at a trot, I half-halted and released, and he stayed balanced and collected even when I moved the reins forwards to drop the contact.  He was showing true collection! It only lasted like two or three strides before he started to speed up, but it was there. 

I’d like to take that as conformation that we are heading in the right direction, even with all this muddle!

See ya,


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Facing fears – humans and horses working together

I was out on a trail ride the other week with Copper (It isn’t often that I go down to the horse yards without Isabelle and when I do it’s time to hit the trail!); and we met a ‘monster’ in the form of a mini dirt bike.

At first I was surprised at Copper’s reaction – I thought he’d be ok with them as he is ok with traffic, but maybe he didn’t expect to see it.  Anyway, it wasn’t going – thank goodness for that! – as it had broken down. There were four young men fussing over it on the side of the track.  When it came into view, Copper stopped and grew very, very tall.  I could feel his hunches dip and I knew instinctively that if anything got much more scary he would spin and bolt for home. So I twisted my fingers into a chunk of his mane, and called out to the blokes “Please don’t turn that bike on until we are well away from you!”.

Then I sat quietly. Copper started to walk forwards all tremble-y and snort-y. I felt him hesitate and encouraged him just a little by swinging my right seat bone forwards.  Only a little nudge with my seat, nothing more!  He gave the bike a wide berth and then walked away, still ready to run, but much happier now that it was behind him.

When we were 20-30 meters down the track he finally let out his breath and felt quite proud of himself!  It was rather cute. 

Copper is funny though, he’s at the bottom of herd hierarchy, but he doesn’t look to humans for leadership hardly at all.  Whereas Joey, although he was high up in the herd (second or third I think), would turn to me for guidance.

One time Joey’s trust in me was really pressed home.  I had turned him out in the small paddock that our dressage arena was in to get some grazing while I worked Copper.  He was jumpy – it was a windy day, Copper and I were in the pens a couple of meters away and he hadn’t been turned out in that area before, although we had ridden in it plenty of times.

To top it all off, a ute appeared out of “nowhere” and I could see that it had caught Joey by surprise and freaked him out.  He stood by the fence, high-headed and wide eyed, ready to run.  I called out to him – the usual soothing noises “Steady Joey, easy boy”, wondering if I needed to go over there and reassure him. 

Then he looked at me, and I could read his mind.  “Is it ok?”  he asked – clear as day.

I said, “It’s ok boy, steady”  and he just stood there, holding my gaze with wide eyes, the whites showing, while the ute bumped and bounced past him and down the bottom of the jump paddock to disappear out on to the dirt driveway we drive in on.

Then the spell was broken and he went back to grazing whilst I saddled Copper.  I had goosebumps on my arms.  That was the second time Joey and I had ‘clicked’, when we had been on the exact same wave length. 

(I so wish I hadn’t had to sell him! *sniff*)

He’s the only horse I ever remember doing that with.  I’ve been able to understand what my other horses have been saying to me, but he’s the only one where it’s been like we can read each other’s minds.

Did he trust me more than Copper does?  Or was he more willing to try and communicate more clearly?

I’m thinking about this, because comparing the two stories, well, it’s two very different experiences.  Copper, in that scary situation on the trail, did the job himself.  Yes, I did encourage him, but he basically took the situation in his own hooves, as it were, and did it himself.  I didn’t feel like we were a team at all, he was not looking for guidance from me. 

Joey would do the same thing sometimes, but in situations that were really crucial – ones he felt like he couldn’t manage or didn’t understand, he would refer to me.

Was it because he ultimately trusted me more, or because of his personality – being a different kind of horse, with a different background?

Copper is a willing partner, but he doesn’t give any kind of input.  He’s just there to work, in a way.  Is it asking too much to want more?

I don’t know, but I do know what can be achieved now, and maybe one day I’ll find another Joey, and hopefully it will be the right time for us this time!

See ya,


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dissecting the Seat – Part 2: The Sitting Trot

In this series on dissecting a rider’s seat, I’m looking at a lot of different texts and articles to try and decipher the principles and practice of the classical dressage seat.  This is concerning the sitting trot with an article from the Thoughts on Dressage blog.

The sitting-trot wizard: attaining the golden seat

Executing an effective and comfortable sitting trot is probably the most difficult challenge faced by amateur dressage riders. For most, it is hard to get your body in sync with the horse while still riding effectively. It is like the old hot and cold taps, where you can only have one or the other on at one time. : )

The biggest mistake made by most amateurs is that they try to learn the sitting trot in one step. In other words, they try to go from not even being able to get in the rhythm  - all the way to being in perfect sync with the horse. Many riders try methods such as riding half a circle sitting and then back to rising, or another favorite, being lunged with no stirrups. Unfortunately, a lot of these traditional methods cause the rider to clamp up even more and give the horse a bruised back. Not ideal.

I propose a phased approach:

Phase one: Sit heavy

Before you can have the perfect sitting trot, you as a rider need to learn how to put weight in the saddle. I know many instructors say not to sit heavy like a sack of potatoes as it will not help your horse’s animation. Although this is true, I believe that UNTIL you can learn to sit like a sack of potatoes you will never learn to properly sit the trot. Many riders hover in the saddle and kind of do a fake sitting trot, which looks stilted and awkward. Technically, they are sitting on their seat bones and pinch with the knees. In order to keep the balance with this configuration their seat has to be tense and their pelvic floor raised. It is actually quite an unstable way of riding and it astonishes me that so many riders opt to stick with this method of riding. Clearly, it does take more time and strength to ride a proper sitting trot, but I believe the extra bit of effort is well worth it.

But back to sitting heavy… If you’ve gotten to the point in your riding that you either want to finally learn a proper sitting trot or would like to try sitting trot for the first time than you need to start at phase one. The basic instructions are as follows:

1. Go into a slow trot from a walk
2. Don’t TRY to sit the trot, instead focus on feeling your pubic bone and seat bones as the three point contact in your saddle
3. Once you feel your points of contact, make sure you are sitting up tall and let your full weight rest on these three points.

It is important to keep your horse slow during phase one. Again, the advice many of us get is to keep “riding the horse”. But you must be realistic. At this stage, no matter how much better it would be for you to school your horse while trying to learn the sitting trot, it isn’t going to happen. Your best bet is to let your horse go nice and slow and if possible let them have a soft long contact where they are stretching for the bit. This stretch will help lift their back, which will make it easier for you to sit. Many will feel that they look ridiculous mincing around, sitting like a sack on their horse. You must ignore this for now. You must get used to the idea of allowing your full weight to sit on your three points and by doing so your pelvic floor will relax and lower, which is essential before moving to phase two. Practice your sitting trot near the end of your ride when you and your horse are warmed up. Don’t move on to the next phase until you feel like you’ve had success here first.

Phase two: Animate your seat

Once you feel like it is second nature that you are sitting on your seat bones and your pubic bone rather than putting your weight on your seat bones and knees, you are ready for phase two.  The instructions are as follows:

1. From a walk ask your horse to go into a slow trot
2. Sit heavy as you did before with your three point contact
3. This time you are going to tilt your pelvis (think of a speed boat as it takes off, or if you do yoga think of warrior pose ed: or you can think of sitting on a ball and rolling it forwards with your butt!)
4. Now shut your eyes for a moment and feel the rhythm of the horse, count in your mind the trot steps 1-2-1-2-1-2
5. With your tilted pelvis I want you to animate your seat, not back to front but in little pelvic pushes forwards
6. As you do so you will notice you don’t feel as heavy in the saddle, but the weight that is still there should still be resting on your three points
7. this is the critical piece of phase two – STAY IN FRONT OF THE MOTION. If you try to keep the rhythm of your seat with the horse’s gait you will always be a bit behind the motion. In your mind, you must attempt to stay in front of the motion, what you will accomplish instead is that you will just be in sync. A good example to demonstrate what happens when you are behind the motion can be found when using a trampoline. Have you ever heard the term, stealing someone’s bounce? This happens when you are bouncing on a trampoline with a friend at the same time and one of you slightly bounces just after the other, the first bouncer gets a dead tramp and instead of bouncing high doesn’t go anywhere. This is what happens to your horse when you are behind the motion. You steal his bounce and you as the rider get bounced even higher.

Phase three: Lift

Most riders don’t get past phase two, but if you want to help your horse reach collection you will need to move beyond it. If you keep practicing, you can have a pretty decent position riding in phase two and feel reasonably comfortable at the sitting trot. Phase three is all about helping your horse out, where phase two is about trying not to interfere with your horses motion. In phase three, the idea is to use your seat and body to help animate your horse. Every time your horse lifts his back (and if you were posting you would be rising), you, the rider also actively lift your seat to help the horse get the maximum animation possible for that stride.

The instructions are as follows:  At this point, you are very comfortable in phase two and are in perfect sync with your horses movement. You are not interfering with their gait and you are able to stay in the sitting trot for an extended period of time. As you begin to enter phase three you will make the following changes to your approach and position.

1. Instead of simply doing the pelvic pushes to stay in sync you will now sit even taller in the saddle and actually lift your body straight up during the rise stage of the gait as though someone is pulling you upwards by your helmet.
2. As you work through this change you will notice that you feel like you are almost bouncing in the saddle, don’t be alarmed this is normal
3. you will also notice after a while that you almost feel like you are – in a sense – standing in your tack and getting more stability from your upper inner thighs than your seat, this is also normal.
4. Ultimately, you will be able to aid your horse, providing them with more balance and lift than they would offer without a rider – when this happens you know you’ve attained phase three.

I intend on trialing this process and working on improving my sitting trot seat – I will let you know how it goes!

See ya,


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Things I have learnt - Joey

Thinking about my boy tonight and being grateful for the journey we had together.  He taught me many things:

1.  He taught me to be a better rider – I had to learn to be precise with my aids. I had to set him up to succeed.


2.  He taught me to secure my seat… :P


3.  He taught me that forwards is the best answer for misbehavior – by the end there was less spooking, less prop-and-whirling, less bucking; all brought on by allowing him to move forwards when he felt like something was scary or too much to deal with.


4.  He taught me to be aware of my pelvic floor muscles and how they affect my seat; one of my biggest AHA! moments this year.


5.  I learnt how much a horse can rely on you and trust to you lead the way.


6.  He taught me that I can ride and train a young horse, but it takes a lot of work!


7.  He taught me that even when I am ‘paralyzed’ with fear, I can actually ride through it without it affecting my riding too much.


8.  He taught me that ground work is crucial – if your horse listens to you in hand then he is far more likely to listen to you under saddle!


9.  He taught me how much fun it is to have a smart horse; and how hard it is to keep their brains active.


10.  He taught me that if you push too hard, accidents will happen – you have to learn when to work through it and when to stop.


But mostly he showed me how a horsey partnership can be – yes, we had our ups and downs, but we also connected.  And that connection is something I will always cherish. 


Copper and I are developing our relationship further, and I am enjoying that; but they are different horses.  Sometimes I still miss Joey. 

See ya,


Friday, October 4, 2013

Dissecting the Seat – Part 1: Pulling my seat apart

I will be starting a series on dissecting a rider’s seat as I am trying to reconstruct my own seat using the practice of classical dressage. This post is kind of the beginning of where I start with a muddle as I pull my riding apart! 

I have been busy trying out a few new things with Copper – I don’t really have anything solid yet, but I’ll report anyway.  (^ u ^)

I’ve really been concentrating on figuring out my seat and what affects it has on Copper’s way of moving.  Have you ever sat on an exercise ball and tried to feel what direction the points of your pelvic bones are pointing in?

rider seat positions- Left position: rider is hollowing back and disengaging the seat.  This will make her position precarious, and she will just bounce along on top of the horse’s back, rather than influencing it.  It also means she will fall off easier!  I know, because this used to be my seat…  : / 

Middle position: rider is in a good neutral position to have an independent seat, meaning that she can at will influence the horse’s back, hind end and thus, the gaits.  She can encourage a faster pace by swinging her hips more vigorously in time to the horse’s movement, or draw up and ‘brace’ her lower back – blocking the horse’s movement over his back and causing him to slow down.  If posting to the trot, the same effect can be achieved by posting slower than what the horse is trotting.

Right position: rider has tipped her pelvis forwards, and while you do not want to hold this position all the time – i.e. as your neutral, not asking for a forwards movement, position – this is a good example of a driving seat aid.  Once the desired forwards movement has been achieved, the seat should be allowed to swing back in the balanced, even position, or the rider will be sitting too far back to follow the horses movement and will be left behind, as well as put into a chair seat where the lower leg will come forwards off the girth and be rendered less effective. -

Sitting up straight and evenly, your pelvic bones should be horizontal to the ground,  with the points of your seat straight down, vertical to the ground. Tip them forwards, like you are pushing the exercise ball out from under you, and your core should curl forwards and engage, your lower back should round out slightly as your tail tucks under.

As far as I understand from all my reading(!) that’s the seat aid for engaging your horse’s motor – his hind end.  With this aid you ask for forwards; walk, trot, and when you use one side of your seat, or rather, lift one seat bone up and forwards, you can ask for canter with scarcely any effort at all.

Breath in and up; pull your spine up from the top of your head, drop your shoulders and “hold” your breath.  Drop your heels and your weight into the saddle and close your fingers on the reins. 

That’s the aid for halt; if you ‘block’ your horse’s movement with your seat only momentarily, that’s a half halt.

Basic stuff, yet as I am working on applying it to my riding, Copper is rounding up, lifting his back and coming through with uphill movement in a way I have never would expect a Standardbred to be able to manage!

It’s true what they say that correct dressage should improve a horse’s action and way of carrying himself under saddle. 

He’s far from perfect, he does not bend his hocks enough yet, so the suppleness of his hind end is somewhat marred by a lack of suspension.  He is being to understand lateral movements, but unfortunately, he is now a little confused about lateral work and how it relates to circling.  As far as I can tell (and I’m not quite sure, because I’m a little confused about what is happening underneath me!) he is moving away from my inside leg requesting bend and “slipping” out from underneath me sideways!  Now I tried catching him with the outside rein/outside leg, but that just made him go all wobbly and crooked. 

wobbly_line - I feel like this ^ is what our progress around the arena looks like! -

So I definitely have to work on that as he is going really well in straight lines but we seem to have lost all ability to do a 20m circle! He actually does a 15m circle quite nicely.  I wonder if I am applying too much inside leg?  With all the work I have been doing to use my seat aids only, I might be getting too strong when coming back to a movement that seems to require ‘more leg’ than tracking on the outside track.

circles- This would be an improvement on the current state of our circles… - 

I am feeling all discombobulated on his back – I can’t seem to post at the moment(!!), so I am mostly working in sitting trot to feel what he is doing.  His stride is so choppy compared to Joey’s *sniff* that it can be quite hard to do that without some serious breathing out to relax my pelvic floor.  Then he gets all bobbly and wobbly as I’m trying to work out what he is doing and how my seat relates, and just – ugh. 

On the upside, I do know I am on the right track, as one of the ladies down at my yards was commenting on how nicely he was rounding up for me.  Plus, Copper himself is confirming we are on the right track – I have never felt him so uphill in all my years of riding him, so we are getting somewhere.

Then I have been acutely conscious about how my saddle tips me backwards slightly – just enough that I have to struggle to get and keep my leg underneath me, and if I lose my balance, or forget to think about it I end up in a slight chair seat. 

I’ve checked the balance of the saddle on Copper – the gullet shape matched his withers and shoulder shape perfectly, and he always get an exact imprint of the saddle (for the sweat mark) when I take it off after a ride.  His back does not seem sore at all, so I’m a bit puzzled.  My conclusion is that the saddle fits him – it just doesn’t fit me

Wintec 2000

It’s an Wintec 2000 All-Purpose, with CAIR panels, and an interchangeable gullet system. I’m not sure if it actually doesn’t fit me, or it’s giving me the seat that an All-Purpose is supposed to, when I am looking for a dressage seat?

Anyone out there with saddle fitting experience and some advice?

I did lift it at the back a little the other day, and I like the results.  It helped me keep my leg underneath me easier and I didn’t feel like I was tipping backwards so much.  I’m thinking I would like to try a riser under the cantle – just a little one to help my balance a bit.  I just don’t know if that’s what is needed, or whether I’m trying to change the balance of a saddle that is designed to give you a bit of a jumping seat. 

Again – comments would be appreciated!  I’m thinking I might need a new-to-me second hand dressage saddle if the latter is the case.  I do want to jump, so I’d keep the All-Purpose, but a nice dressage saddle might really help me with the work I’m trying to do with my seat.

So that’s the run down on my rides and thoughts about riding for the last little while – I know it’s a bit of a dump, but I do like getting it out….

See ya,


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