Sunday, August 31, 2014

Arrrghh!!! Rant on a OTSB’s Trot

Today I am going to be posting Playing Around With Tack Changes, a rant. 

/Rant Begin/

So I have been blogging over, and over, and over again about Copper’s trot and how it’s a gosh-awful ex-trotter OTSB bullet train for disaster* (don’t remember? Try here and here and here).  I’ve tried buying him a new saddle, changing my riding techniques, buying him a new girth and bit (more on that another time…) – I’ve tried longer walk warm ups, lateral work, spirals, circles, no circles, cantering, not cantering, just about everything I can think of, and to date, I think I’ve only managed to unlock his back successfully at a trot all of, oh, twice.  In the ten + years I’ve been riding him. TWICE!!!

To be fair, most of that time, I had no idea what I was doing or trying to achieve with him. All I knew is that he was hard to ride, and his trot was always “uncontrollable” for me. My Dad could ride Copper just fine, but I always struggled.

It’s really only been this last year or so, when I sold Joey and started riding Copper properly again, that I’ve really been delving into his trot work – the hows, whys and wherefores.

But for all the rider breakthroughs and ‘duh’ moments, like, yes, he really does need a new saddle, I still haven’t figured out how to get his back moving in the damn trot.

Which is only like the second gait. We haven’t properly worked at his canter for years! I started cantering him a little bit more recently to try and improve his trot but he’s gone back to his motorcycle hooning days because he is not balanced in the trot so he can’t freakin’ balance in the canter… ARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!

I seriously am so fed up right now. And the whole reason for this is that I asked an innocent question on a FB Dressage forum I’m a part of which ran along the lines of “I can’t seem to post to my OTSB’s trot so I spend most of the time doing a sitting trot – is this a training issue or a rider issue and do I need to fix it right now or wait for his trot to improve?”

Some people were all “No, it’s okay – it’s great you’re doing sitting trot” and others were asking if he was pacing, but the clincher comment and the one I immediately recognized as hitting the nail on the head was this one -

“It may be that he's too tight in the back - there are different side effects of tight back and too smooth to post can be one of them. That means he won't have any kind of swing and will keep his body still while just legs move - very possibly something useful from the track while pulling. If you're going at a quick tempo you should slow the tempo and work on balance which will help and allow swing.”

And I went Yes! That Is Our Problem!!

And then instantly fell into a spiral of doom, gloom and depression because….

I’ve been freakin’ trying to slow him down and balance him for what feels like a century. AT LEAST over a YEAR…

I can’t post to unlock his back and let it swing, because he leans into the bit and charges around on the forehand like a freight train at full speed.

I can’t slow him down posting or even in two point because he doesn’t listen to my seat and previously mentioned bullying through the rein aids and locking his jaw around the bit.

I can’t do spirals and circles to slow him down because all the handy lateral work has shown him how to evade through his shoulder and he basically shoulder-ins out of the circle and turns the whole things in a- ugh, I don’t even know what.

And, and, and…

Well, I just don’t know what to do with him at this point!! I’m at my wits end, so of course I’m going to go Google exercises to unlock a horse’s back at the trot and get it swinging. I don’t know if I’ll find anything useful.

If I don't, I guess I’ll try trotting poles. He at least has to use his back over them even if I still can’t slow him down.  *SIGH*

Dem Depressed Feels. I haz a sad.

/End Rant/


Monday, August 25, 2014

In which I learn my lesson

And that is:

Ain’t nobody going to make it happen but me

Mario Facepalm 

- Mario’s facepalm seems to add the appropriate “Duh” factor here -

And by that I mean; I missed all the rides for the last two weeks.


I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to keep up the three-rides-a-week routine, but this (at the risk of sounding like a whiney, grizzly, whingy toddler – hey, have you met my toddler on a bad day? ;P) is pathetic.

The stupid thing is I could’ve had at least two rides over that time if I had got off my butt, called for someone to babysit and just gone. out. riding.

So there. I’ve learnt my lesson. I really need to work harder if I want ride regularly through the week. And yes, I need to think harder about the child care aspect. I’ve been relying far to much on my Mister (who works from home – so he has the bacon-bringing-in work to do, and actually has to NOT be stuck on baby duty during the day).

This worked when we had one child; said child would sleep for three hours and Mama could go riding. This doesn’t work so well with two, and certainly won’t with three…

Oh yes, there’s this as well -

I’m five months pregnant with number three as I write this – where did that go?

Oh, that’s right – under a haze of influenza, winter colds and house moving. Hah.

I’m glad I got any rides in at all!

I’ll be working for it this week though. I’d like to see two rides happen, but I’d be happy with one as you’ve got to start again somewhere. :)

See ya,


Saturday, August 9, 2014

3rd Ride

What the what?? Yup, make that a total of three rides this week, which is the most for one week since I don’t know when – January probably!


Copper's New Tack - Copper with his new matching breastplate and saddle cloth. All the matchys! -

Actually, I was sort of wondering what I’d do with myself and how we’d go with yet another ride this week, but I did formulate a plan, and it worked.

So my idea was to really try and listen to Copper to see which exercise would benefit him the most and build on that for our session.

I start off by bringing him in from the paddock and before I even touched him with a brush, I started to palpitate his back to see if I could find any knots in his muscle.

Sure enough I found a few around the top of his shoulder blade/base of his withers, and started to work on them with the heel of my palm.

Copper gave me an immediate reaction of pulling a face, and twitching his top lip while leaning heavily into my hands.  I used a circular motion and he would move around and lean in saying quite clearly “Here please, a little bit up, ooooh that’s the spot! Harder!” 

It was quite cute and funny, and he was happily licking and chewing. I think I did the one side for five-ten minutes, then swapped sides.  The reaction wasn’t as obvious on the right side, but that doesn’t surprise me as his left side isn’t as supple as his right.

He was quite relaxed and dozy for the rest of the grooming and tacking up which I thought was a really good start!

As he told me quite clearly his shoulders where stiff, I made sure to work on them first thing in the warm up.

We warmed up with lots of swing and forwards from his walk; I didn’t just let him pick his own pace. He’s got quite a good walk I think, so I tend to just go with him rather than asking for more energy.

I think I need to change this habit, as his walk work and lateral warm up was a lot better with the more active pace. (Duh…. As I write that, it sounds sooo obvious. :P )

I tickled his ribs with my heels, one side at a time as his barrel swung back and forth, to encourage him to lift his back and that worked really well too.

I didn’t do any no stirrups work this time in the warm up and I think that helped him, though maybe not me. I have to figure out some way to use the no stirrup work without having that problem.  But that’s by the by.

We shoulder-fore’d down the long side, and had some lovely quarter-line to outside track leg yielding, resulting with a supple, bouncy, freely moving horse. Yay!

Next we went into the trot work and straight away I focused on relaxing my seat and blowing out (details here). Then I discover yet another posture fault – I pinch with my inner thighs when Copper starts trotting to fast.

I also swing my calves away from his sides. Another bad no-no. Ugh.

So I relaxed my inner thighs, and draped my lower leg around his barrel. Et voilĂ !  Achievement Get - Soft Relaxed Lifted-Back Trot Award!!

It was good.

So good I finished our ride after only 20 minutes – 15 of warm up and 5 of trotting!

I could’ve just been done then, but being a little bit greedy I decided to take him on a trail ride instead. That was a whole ‘nother ball game, and yes, we most definitely need to work on our relaxed trot when hacking out!

Suffice to say, I had to work really hard to keep from getting tense, and his energy was really up. I think I succeeded in not getting into a war with him over going slow, but it was hard and boy, oh boy, did he ever have impulsion and forwards!

I was happy with our trail ride in the end though, and it is definitely good practice to be working with him when his energy is so high. It was basically like at a show, expect maybe not as tense. So yeah, good practice. I’ll keep chipping away at it.

I am so thrilled about our arena work today though. Yes, I do think it was in part because it was the third ride of the week, but I think it was mostly due to me figuring out some more keys to Copper’s relaxation. It’s a long list!

  • Soft shoulders. Rolling my shoulders back and down keeps the muscles between my shoulder blades soft and giving.
  • Elbows bent and close to my ribs.
  • Hands up.
  • Core tucked in and supportive for the front of my pelvis so my seat doesn’t roll backwards/pitch forwards thereby closing my hip angle.
  • Soft inner thighs. Sit IN to Copper’s soft spot behind his withers. Find that cradle in his back and plug your seat in.
  • Draping contact with lower leg – this is actually really hard for me to do due to the shape of his barrel. He is really, really round and it’s hard to keep your lower leg on. But I MUST because if I don’t, I pinch. And I’ll never be able to use effective lower leg aids for lateral movements if I don’t.

  • BIG ONE: Never, ever, ever skimp on a thorough warm up.
    I think I was far too blasĂ© about his warm up last ride and hurried through the leg yields – not to mention completely forgetting about suppling his shoulders. It cost me. Copper needs to be loose and supple before he can even think about a faster gait. Quality walk equals quality trot equals quality canter. I mustn’t ever forget that.

So yes, pretty much it’s – ride correctly or your horse will be tense every step of the way.

He sure doesn’t make it easy. He is not a giving horse to ride at all. Forgiving – yes. He’ll do it right if you do and he certainly doesn’t hold grudges, but a giving ride? 


Nope, nope, nope, nope…. 

I guess it’s worth it if it helps me to improve. :)

And no, I’m not going to complain if I can’t ride him the same amount next week. It’s just a goal, and it’s one I have to continually work towards.

I am super glad I did have the chance for this much riding this week though, it gave me an encouraging boost to find that we can improve. I also loved the chance to solidify what we were working towards.

It might not be as good again, but for this week, it’s been really, really good.

See ya,


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mid-week Ride. It Happened.

Just after I was having a good ol’ pity fest over being a weekend rider, I rode yesterday (Wednesday). There’s no photographic evidence, but I swear it happened! And it was epic. Well, being able to ride was, the ride itself not so much…

Copper is super fresh still; there’s a ton of green spring grass and clover coming up, so he’s all “Weeeeeee! Running!” and I’m all “Gah! Slow down! Can’t we have one ride where we’re not bolting around every two minutes without having to walk the entire time??”

Seriously. He’s a hard horse to ride. You have to work for every stride, every minute you are on his back. Not that he is spooky or silly, it’s more like, if you are not constantly working on releasing his tension or your own tension, you won’t get any softness with him. Not a single bit.

He can be soft, but you have to work *exceptionally* hard for it.

It’s much too easy to disintegrate into a pulling match with him. He is all too ready to tense up if you so much as twitch a hair out of a soft, correct position, and then he takes off, and you tense up, and he tenses up even more…. And there you have it. It’s a war between horse and rider. Nasty.

I try like anything to avoid this, but it still happens occasionally. Like yesterday. We started off ok, had a normal walk warm up and some good walk-trot-walk transitions.

I like to ride without stirrups for the first ten minutes or so, but I am not sure that that was helpful for Copper yesterday. As soon as I picked up my stirrups I noticed he had really stiff shoulders, and a tight back behind his withers.

So I spent the next half an hour trying to get him to release his back while trotting. We did the most awful spiral-in circles; no geometry or even full circling to speak of. We went up, we went down, I tried to post from my hips but couldn’t even get my butt out of the saddle?? I did the head flexion trick, but that only loosened his shoulders for a short while, and not his back, so he was tight again almost straight away.

We even did leg yields successfully! And yes, I was right. He did only need a seat aid, not a leg aid as well. D’oh. But we’re leg yielding at a trot now, yay! 

Too bad the yielding only activated his hindquarters, but still did not loosen his back. Ugh. So frustrating. He can be tense and work through his butt. He is the master at using all different parts of his body while still holding tension and blocking in others. 

His back is a tricky place to release. I’m not even sure how I got it to relax in the end, but something clicked. I did a lot of reaching forwards with the inside rein to allow a place of softness, and I tried dropping my shoulders down and back to release that muscle between my shoulder blades, (under my bra strap). I also blew out through my mouth and concentrated on releasing any tension in my seat.

So like I said, something- I don’t what- clicked. He lifted his back, and suddenly I could post and sit to his trot comfortably!  He was blowing and snorting, and his back was swinging and soft. Best of all, his gait was also rhythmical and cadenced. We did walk-trot transitions and it was still soft and relaxed. 

Finally, I had some quality trotting from him.  I don’t know how we got there, but I’m going to keep trying to do it again and again – without the battling in between!

He’s so tricky to figure out. I just hope I’m actually improving him and myself, and not muddling the both of us up. I miss having lessons.

I suppose I just have to keep on trying to listen to his responses in the meantime. One thing is for sure, he’s not at all shy about letting me know when I have it wrong!

See ya,


Monday, August 4, 2014

One more ride

At the moment we are on an “Once a week” ride schedule. And yes, it sucks.  Ugh. I’ll try not to complain, at least I get to ride.

So this week: I went shopping!  Yay!

Actually, it was important. I had to pick up a breastplate because last time I rode Copper, his cantering was really wild and unbalanced, and the saddle decided to relocate several inches over to the side. Thankfully, he was still sensible enough to stop when I asked him too.

He is so round and I can’t really tighten his girth much more, as he has pectoral scarring from old tears, so the only solution I could think of was a breastplate.

When I walked into Horseland, they were having a sale. Uh-oh!  Lol.  I end up buying him a Stockman’s breastplate, a navy Roma saddle pad with red & white trim (all the matching fhansay! *dies*) and a navy Dublin winter polo and navy fleece jumper for myself. Yup. Our color is navy.


- Plain, very serviceable, but suits the both of us quite well -

Anyway, enough distractions of all the shiny - on to the ride!

His walk was a bit restricted, I think he was feeling the interference of the breastplate in the forward reach of his shoulders, but I hope we can work past that. And his leg yields are getting pretty snappy!

His trot was mostly feeling good. Really swinging from my hips, and focusing on keeping my shoulders back and soft seems to be helping a lot. It’s like we’ve found the gate for the road to good trot work and now all we have to do is walk down it! (Ha! That sounds so simple, but I know it isn’t…)

As we worked I felt like we had some good moments of connection, but honestly – I don’t really know for sure. I am positively dying to get some video footage to see what’s really going on, but that seems to be another impossible at the moment. Ugh. Frustration again, but I have just deal.

His cantering was still wild and crazy. It seems like he’s forgotten everything he knows about cantering and is back to his hooning, *I’m a motorcycle!* impersonation days.

Take away: The breastplate did help and the saddle didn’t slip as badly. In fact, I think it would be just fine if he wasn’t running around like a ninny! I still want to look into a new contoured girth to see if that helps as well. It also might help him relax through his shoulders more which is always a good thing for an ex-trotter. 

He needs to activate his inside hind leg so that he can bring it further under him while cantering and balance properly. That means spiral in & out circles at a trot. And I’m slowly working at bringing in leg yields at a trot.

Currently he flips out and bolts off every time I shift my legs back to ask for the yield, so I’m all like - maybe I should try just asking with my seat first? *face palm* He probably does not need a leg aid at all. But we’ll see if I’m right!

And it’s time to school canter transitions. In the past he has struck off fairly nicely, but at the moment there’s a lot of leaping and flailing around which is not helping with the controlled balanced canter issue.

I am also hoping that practicing transitions will get him off the forehand enough to re-establish that crucial balance needed for nice cantering.

So there’s all that.

If only I could get down sometimes during the week - that would help too. Yes, I am feeling a little despondent about the complete lacking of riding time I seem to have. I positively hate being a weekend rider. It’s hard on me, but worse, it’s harder on Copper. I can’t really expect him to improve without putting in the time. And I really want to be able to do that… *sigh*

While I don’t have the answer yet on how to get those rides in, I am working on it, and I guess that’s the best I can do for now.

See ya,


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