Now, as long as nobody breaks a leg or tries to maim themselves (Speedy, I am looking at YOU!), Stella, Coco, Speedy G, and I will be on the road at Friday's crack of dawn!
I've been keeping this kind of close to the chest, but it has become official so I can share. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has once again agreed to be the dressage clinician at the Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento this weekend.
The invite was very last minute as she was asked to fill in for Charles de Kunffy who had to cancel. Expo was lucky to get anyone on such short notice, especially someone as in demand as Chemaine. But like she always does, Chemaine rallied the troops and was able to get a few riders willing to make the trip to Sacramento for the weekend. And uh, one of those riders will be me! I rode as a demo rider for Chemaine when she was the dressage clinician at Expo in Pomona last year (part 1, part 2, part 3), but I am just as anxious, excited, and nervous for this go round.
Fortunately, I don't have to make the nearly 300 mile trip alone. Stella, another student of Chemaine's, will be bringing her horse to Bakersfield on Thursday night, and then we'll drive up together on Friday morning.
I don't normally haul this far, so Blue Truck got some spa time yesterday. I got the oil changed, had my tire pressure checked, and then for good measure, I drove BT through the car wash and vacuumed. I was less worried about Stella sitting in dust than I was about the creepy spider webs that take over while BT waits for its next use!
After loading hay and shavings, I realized that I didn't want Speedy and Coco spending half a day breathing in old shavings and dust, so I raked out the inside of the trailer and gave it a good scrubbing.
The trailer will be dry this morning when I go out to ride, so I'll bed things down with a bag of shavings and add a freshly filled hay bag.
If you live in Northern California and are planning to visit Cal Expo, I hope you'll catch one of Chemaine's clinics and stop by her booth to say hi. This year, she's doing seat evaluations with a customized prescription for success! The evaluation comes with her yoga ball dressage DVD (at no extra charge). The seat evaluation and video combo are $20 unless you let her know you're a blog reader. In that case, the evaluation and video are FREE!
Now, as long as nobody breaks a leg or tries to maim themselves (Speedy, I am looking at YOU!), Stella, Coco, Speedy G, and I will be on the road at Friday's crack of dawn!
For a good Second Level test, Speedy and I need to get a better medium and collected canter which will lead to a cleaner canter to walk transition in the simple change. As I mentioned on Tuesday, we're struggling with this because Speedy is so behind my leg.
When I met with Chemaine on Friday, I described it like this: Speedy is either stalling out behind, or he's running off on his forehand with his nose in the air - sometimes both at the same time!
We started the lesson by getting him more responsive to my leg. Once Speedy was thoroughly in front of my leg, we had to work on getting him to accept the contact while he pushes from behind. The transition from medium canter to collected canter is where we have the most trouble because he doesn't want to sit.
The exercise was supposed to go like this: medium canter from one letter to the next while counting strides. In between the next two letters, I was to get more strides as he collected, and then between the next two letters, fewer strides as he lengthened. Once in a medium canter however, I couldn't get the smaller strides in a collected canter because Speedy plowed through my hands.
Instead of counting, Chemaine modified the exercise to just getting him to come back slightly while I insisted on keeping his head out of the sky as I drove him forward into the contact with my seat and legs. Like this:
In the video, you can see where he decided to ignore my leg because he stopped pushing forward. Like before, he was choosing to listen to my hand or my leg, but not both. I had to use the whip, he kicked out, so I had to use the whip again.
When I ask for the collected canter, Speedy doesn't want to keep pushing from the hind end - he wants to slam on the brakes which means I have to use a TON of leg to keep him going forward. I can't squeeze hard enough, and he now ignores my spurs, so it's more whip work for him. Do you see how this is all related to being behind my leg?
As we played around with this exercise, Speedy started to get softer and rounder over his topline, especially once he realized that I wasn't going to hold him in the collected canter for more than a few strides.
While it's tough to have a horse a bit on the lazy side, Chemaine pointed out that's why Speedy is so happy to tote around kids, non-riders, or strangers. It might be difficult at times to get his butt moving, but he can do it, and with a bit more work, it'll get easier for him.
In the meantime, I still have my good natured pony who is happy to pack me around bareback in a halter as long as I don't ask him to do it very quickly!
Or, at least do a turn on the haunches. The turn on the haunches, according to the US Equestrian rule book, is "For younger horses that are still not able to show collected walk, the ‘turn on the haunches’ is an exercise to prepare the horse for collection. The ‘turn on the haunches’ is executed out of medium walk prepared by half-halts to shorten the steps a little and to improve the ability to bend the joints of the hindquarters. The ‘turn on the haunches’ can be executed on a larger diameter (approximately one meter) than the pirouette in walk, but the demands of the training scale concerning rhythm, contact, activity and straightness are the same."
Speedy and I only just started schooling these this year. To the left, he has no problem, especially since he wants to carry his haunches left anyway. To the right (as pictured) has been more of a challenge.
Most of our problem comes from a lack of forward. Rather than take those small, supporting steps with his hind leg, he wants to step backwards and sort of just pivot. Here's our first attempt at the "hard way" which was actually pretty decent.
I know this went as well as it did because he was already well in front of my leg. As we kept finessing it, it got harder and harder until Chemaine finally had me do them on the rail. Once we did it on the rail, I had a much better feel for how to "finish" the turn.
The feel I need for Speedy is one of walking forward with the inside hind into the outside rein. When I rode this movement by myself on Sunday, we got stuck to the right like usual. I tried tapping his outside shoulder with the whip, but it didn't help. All of it sudden it dawned on me that he had lost the forward. I asked for a medium walk. Once he was forward again, I half halted and then encouraged him to move his shoulders by tapping with the whip. Viola! Problem solved - for today, anyway.
More on the lesson tomorrow.
On Friday, I had a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, and oh, man, was it a good one. Surprisingly, I didn't take Izzy. Speedy is the one who has been giving me fits lately, so I showed up with a small but challenging list of Things That Need Work.
Every "issue" I have with Speedy can be traced back to one thing - he's behind my leg all the time. The turn on the haunches to the right - he stalls out. Canter to walk - he can't sit because he doesn't have enough impulsion coming from behind. Medium trot - see above.
As we started working, I told Chemaine that I am tired of having this same exact lesson, but no matter what I do - transitions, spurs, whip, I just can't keep Speedy in front of my leg. She laughed and said that it's a problem with many horses, some of hers included. Fortunately, she had a new lesson to re-address the problem.
We started out with a walk. At each letter, I asked for a halt and then a walk. I was to ask for the walk with the quietest of aids. When he strolled forward, I was to pop him with the whip. With most horses, this probably lights their fire pretty quickly. With Speedy, it just ticks him off and makes him cranky, so instead of walking off quickly, he throws his head up or kicks out.
Chemaine explained that Speedy is chosing to respond to my leg or my hand instead of both. When he won't respond to my leg, I often let go with my hand thinking that he needs room to go forward, so then he pops his head up and we get no real push from behind. So now, I have to insist that he NOT pop his head up. He needs to push from behind and lift through his shoulders. This is how we'll achieve throughness and collection.
Once Speedy was listening to my leg (and hand) at the walk, we moved on to the trot. It took the same reminders, but Chemaine had me be really firm with him. I have no trouble going to the whip, but I try to use it judiciously. Chemaine helped me see that I need to really get my message across. If I tap with the whip and Speedy kicks out, I need to tap him again to let him know that the whip doesn't mean kick out; it means go!
After a few rounds with the whip, Speedy got the message and started to offer the biggest and loftiest trot he's ever given me. You can see it start to develop in the video.
I've been plunking away for so long on his little out-for-a-Sunday-stroll trot, that I really struggled with my balance while riding his bigger trot. He struggled too! I love this moment though as it might be the first time that he's actually had all four feet off the floor at the trot.
Once I had Speedy behind my leg, we moved on to some real work - the turn on the haunches and the canter work. Look for that tomorrow.
But then, who doesn't? Get ready for a litany of First World Problems ...
My husband and I aren't wealthy, at least not by my standards anyway, but we do make a good living. That doesn't mean I get everything I want however, and recently, I've had to really suck it up and be a financially responsible adult.
When we bought this house this past fall, I knew my showing budget was going to take a hit. That was super easy to swallow while I was furnishing and decorating the house. Six months later, the novelty is starting to wear then, and Reality is settling its fat butt on my couch.
The mortgage at our last house was half of what this one is. But since this house is nearly three times as large, the rest of the bills went up, too. I don't know how common it is in the rest of the country, but here, we pay an HOA (new bill), a cleaning lady (doubled), the pool guy (new bill), the gardener (same price!), and so on. It goes without saying that our electric/gas bill has also gone up along with the cost of filling up my car (we live much farther out now).
I am learning to say no. When the Pier 1 promo hits my inbox, I delete without looking. I do the same for Joss & Main and SmartPak. I've even hit delete before checking out the newest sales at the Riding Warehouse.
I'm also saying "no" to USDF shows this year, and boy, has that been a bitter pill to swallow.
I can't just not show though; that's not an acceptable option, and no house is worth giving up what I enjoy most. So I've had to make some compromises. After doing a lot of planning and budgeting, I've come up with an acceptable solution to being (temporarily) poor.
My local chapter of the California Dressage Society puts on four shows each summer. Since they are only CDS-rated, they're really cheap with no stabling or over-night costs. While only CDS-rated, the scores from those shows go toward a number of CDS programs. I can earn Rosettes for my plaque, qualify for the Regional Adult Amateur Competition (I only need one more score), and qualify for the CDS Championship Show (which I wouldn't go to anyway as it's too far away).
RAAC is a USDF show. I should qualify with no trouble, and if so, I'll definitely go. And in fact, the RAAC is my main focus for showing this year. I've won my classes twice out of the four times I've competed there. I don't expect to win this year, but my goal is to show up and do well.
While it will cost a ridiculously high $700, I've worked it out so that I can participate in this year's CDS Adult Amateur Clinic. I also competed at the one and only local show we have which helped me earn two of the three qualifying scores I need for RAAC.
Lessons are going to be a little tricky since Chemaine's schedule probably won't allow her to come back to Bakersfield until the fall, but I think my budget will allow a monthly trip to her. Gas for the 5-hour round trip costs more than the lesson though.
This sounds so self-indulgent, doesn't it? Like I said, First World Problems. I am not used to tightening my belt, and I sort of resent it. I've also let my myself feel discouraged about a seeming lack of progress with Speedy; we're still at First Level?
With this "economy plan" in place, I have some direction and goals to work toward. Until I find that money tree, the tightened (C4) belt will have to do.
This version is an upgrade though!
Speedy has been dealing with a few different lamenesses for a while. The first one is something he does to his right front foot when he gets agitated in his paddock. He twists and pivots until he's so sore that he can barely walk on it. It generally resolves itself in about two weeks. He has seen the vet(s) numerous times and had radiographs done. Without an MRI, my vet says to just manage him. So, I try not to let his environment change too much as that it was drives the anxiety.
The second lameness was a small tendon bow that he did in turnout last spring. Once he healed up from that, we went another few rounds with lameness number one when we changed barns. It took him a while to settle into the routine at the new place.
And then, just when things were running well again, he tweaked something a month or so ago and was off for another two weeks. The stars aligned this month however, and we were able to ride three whole times last week and then make it to Sunday's show.
To help prepare for our first show in a year and a half, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, agreed to come to Bakersfield for a Saturday afternoon lesson. Even more amazing was that she was able to stay over and coach a few of us through Sunday's show.
I brag about Speedy constantly. While he's truly an awesome dude, he's also a bit of a challenge to ride. Speedy is built for the endurance trail: he's long and ever so slightly downhill. He can cover trail like nobody's business which means it's more difficult for him to round, lift his back, and get off of his forehand. Hard, but not that hard.
When Chemaine asked what I needed helped with, I told her that our canter lengthenings were good, but we couldn't come back to working canter. To address the issue, she took a page out of Izzy's playbook: the inside rein crossed just slightly in front of the pommel.
I know an exercise is a good one if Speedy gets Sassy. For the most part, he's happy to go along with me if I let him off the hook. When I finally get his number though, and he knows the jig is probably up, he'll always throw a bit of a hissy fit in an effort to change my mind.
It never works for him though. Once I crossed that inside rein, he had nothing left to tug on or hang on. Within a very short time, he gave up and started listening to my half halts. In fact, on our first test we got 6s for the working canter after the lengthening and 7s on the next one!
The trick also "fixed" our leg yield issue, something I've been working on for a year with Speedy. We got a 6.5 and a 7.5 (!!!) on our leg yields for Test 2 and 6.5 and 7.0 on Test 3.
Speedy is an awesome little horse and so much fun to ride, but a lot of credit is due to my trainer. Even though Speedy doesn't look like your typical dressage pony, Chemaine has every expectation that he be one. I love that she expects correct work from him regardless of his size or breed.
Go, Speedy, go!
When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here for a clinic this past weekend, I asked her if I should bother taking Izzy to schooling shows. It's not like I really want to, but I wondered if I needed to.
You all saw this moment, right? Which, by the way, is actually one of my new favorite photos. The dude's got a super sexy badonkadonk! But yeah ... this is why I don't want to show him right now. We've got some work left to do.
Chemaine felt my time (and consequently, money) would be better spent cleaning up some of the sassiness that Izzy thinks is his to share. I agreed. So for now, there are five things to work on before we're ready to hit even a schooling show.
My Five Things for a Sassy Pony:
1. Supple Izzy's back with just one seat bone at a time.
2. Get a stretch down before changing the bend.
3. Get more inside bend when he gets spooky and then firm up that outside rein.
4. Cross the inside rein over in front of my pommel to encourage him to release the inside rein.
5. Discipline the felonies while letting the misdemeanors slide.
When I rode Izzy on Monday, I made sure to run through everything on the list. While it was pretty warm, and he was well worked from the day before, he wasn't totally push button. He actually gave me some cheekiness which let me use tips four and five.
In a 20 minute ride, he obediently walked every inch of the arena, did a number of changes of bend across the diagonal at the trot, and picked up both canter leads without too much fuss. To the right, I crossed my inside hand across the pommel for a few strides, but he gave up the fight almost immediately.
My goal, while pretty dang lofty, is to have no "felonious" moments the next time we see Chemaine for a lesson or clinic. Yesterday was a bit of a litmus test. Even with a day off, which normally elicits plenty of sass, he toed the line and was well behaved.
Will these strategies work well enough to convince him that it's easier to do it my way? I hope so, but if not, I know for sure that we are getting really close to that yummy, chewy center!
For so, so long I over-used the inside rein. So of course, once I fixed that, I started to under-use it. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, convinced me that I really should start using it again. When I do, I get moments like this:
Izzy is by no means unusual in his cheeky attitude, and little by little, I am chipping away at it, revealing a very lovely diamond. But as with most horses, the connection doesn't just happen all by itself; I have to work hard to get it.
Izzy holds most of his tension in his back, base of his withers, and poll. Getting him to let go of all of that takes some careful riding. Warming up with just my seat bones and then getting a stretch down before changing the bend definitely helped unlock his back and neck.
To get that last bit to release, Chemaine had me try a new trick. When Izzy just won't get soft, she instructed me to take my inside rein and cross it ever so slightly in front of my pommel and hold it.
You can see why I would need to do that here:
Bending right means that he has to use his body. Instead, Izzy wants to lock his neck, flex to the outside, and swing his haunches around so that he doesn't have to bend his body.
By crossing my inside hand over the pommel, Izzy doesn't have anything to lean on. I become a human side rein. The instant he releases his neck and poll, I can also release the inside rein. Here he is just a few moments later.
You can see that he has softened so much that I was able let go of the inside rein completely to pat his neck.
Izzy couldn't pick up or hold a right lead canter a year ago. Six months ago we were still regulars on the struggle bus. Heck, even last month we had trouble getting this quality of right lead canter. It's not perfect of course, but you can definitely see some amazing potential in this horse.
Each week that passes makes me more and more glad that I've stuck it out with him. We still have some issues to address, but the good moments are coming faster and faster!
In keeping with the how many licks does it take to get to a Tootsie Roll Pop's chewy center? theme, I've thought about how many times I've ridden Izzy. According to some scientists, it takes 364 licks to get to the good part of a Tootsie Pop. I've had Izzy for two years and three months - not quite long enough to get 364 rides in on him, but I am probably getting close.
Kind of a dumb metaphor, I know, but that's how it feels riding Izzy. Sometimes I think I'll never get where I want to be, and then suddenly, some of the yummy candy pokes through, and I know I am close. Like yesterday for example - we had an amazing ride! Granted, it was 80 degrees, and he was a little tired from a lesson, but still.
Yesterday, I shared two exercises from Chemaine: suppling with just a seat bone and getting a stretch down before changing the bend. Here's a quick peek at how we warm up. There's nothing fancy here since I can't ask for a lot early on until he loosens his back.
There were three other tricks that Chemaine showed me. I'll share the last one tomorrow, but for today, here are two more: more inside bend and a firmer outside rein when he wants to whirl away from something, and kick his ass for felonies while letting the misdemeanors slide.
The video for that blooper "hop" is just below. This is an excellent example of needing more inside bend with a firmer outside rein. He loves to dive in at that exact spot. I tend to counter flex which allows the inside shoulder to be falling in - exactly what I don't want. It took a few passes, but with Chemaine encouraging me to get more inside bend while planting the outside rein, we eventually got through the corner successfully.
Chemaine pointed out that during these spooks, riders often lose focus and forget the original goal because the horse has distracted us to the point where we deal with the spook and not what we were trying to achieve. She encouraged me to look at it as a show of disrespect because he's not doing what I am asking.
One thing I've learned about Izzy recently is that if I "insist" too long and hard, he gets mad, stays mad, and then can't remember why he's mad. On those days, I might as well just give it up. Those kind of rides don't happen as much anymore because I try very hard not to let anything escalate.
As hard as it is going to be though, Chemaine told me that I have to get tough again. She explained that I need to categorize his naughties into misdemeanors and felonies. I can let the misdemeanors slide, but the felonies will require swift and sure consequences.
In the video above, some of that is me saying you will move somewhere, but a lot of it is him saying NO NO NO. While he wasn't in full felony mode, he had definitely left the land of misdemeanors. The instant he agreed to go forward, life was good.
Here's another example of not-quite-a-felony, but he got a full on spur in his guts to say MOVE IT, mister.
It's hard cherry picking all of these bad moments to show you because he was actually pretty good for this lesson. Yes, he fussed and whined at me, but compared to last month when Chemaine just sat there saying just stay with him, we actually got some good work out of him.
Every month, the gap between the good moments gets smaller and smaller. A year ago, we struggled with the canter and any type of connection, Now, even with all of the jackassery going on, getting the correct canter lead isn't even an issue. Holding the lead isn't either. He's got the moves, I just need to keep convincing him that this can actually be fun and easy.
Tomorrow, Chemaine's best trick of the weekend revealed.
I can't remember which podcast I heard it on (Freakonomics, TED Radio Hour, or maybe This American Life), but some scientists built a mechanical tongue to see just how many licks it takes to get to the candy center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. The answer is 364.
That is exactly how things are going with Izzy. We are getting closer and closer to that candy center. You know the point where you are really sucking it down and then you feel the candy shell start to give way but you don't want to rush it by actually using your teeth? Yeah ... that's where I am with Izzy. That hard candy shell is just about to give way.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, was here for a clinic this weekend. While I always have great lessons with her, this one gave me a handful of nifty tricks for getting to the good stuff with Izzy. Given that it's the freaking crack of dawn which means TIRED, I only have time today to share some interesting warm up strategies.
Since my lesson last month, I've been focusing on how best to communicate with Izzy: what does he need from me to feel confident and successful. A few things have made themselves clear. I cannot ask for too much too quickly which means that most days he needs a longer warm up than any other horse I've owned.
The first exercise Chemaine showed me was about refining the flex and counter flex at the walk. Since he usually starts out with a very tight back, she suggested I ask for some suppleness with just my seat bones. Rather than flex his neck and and use leg, she had me simply sit deeper on one seat bone to see if I could move his back with just that pressure.
As he stepped away from the seat bone, I sat more deeply on the other one. It was a more subtle exercise than I've been doing, and he responded well. Shifting my weight from one seat bone to the other led to the next warm up exercise.
I like to flex him left and then flex him right, but he braces when he's tense and tight. Chemaine encouraged me to get a stretch down before I change the bend. in other words, flex to the outside, ask for a stretch down, flex to the inside, ask for a for a stretch down, flex to the outside. The stretch down becomes a reward for flexing.
And then, because Izzy's candy shell is still intact, he realized that the warm up was wrapping up and work was about to begin. The tantrum began ...
I have some funny pictures and great video of the lesson, but you'll have to check back tomorrow for more.
To be continued ...