Here's a short video of that exercise.
Izzy's been a tough nut to crack; we all know this. One minute he can be offering flying changes, a lovely uphill canter, or even a trot half pass.
In the very next minute, he can't make a left hand turn without ripping off my arms and nearly bashing me in the face.
With Speedy being so intent on injuring every part of his body, I decided that Izzy has got to start earning his keep. When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, pulled into the ranch for Sunday's lesson, I let her know that Izzy needs to step up his game.
We discussed what he can do: half pass - sort of, flying changes when I ask - sometimes, walk to canter to walk - also sometimes, stretchy trot circle - actually better than Speedy ever did, a decent trot to canter transition, counter canter, and he's sometimes straight. Give all of that a good shake, and then roll the dice to see what turns up. We decided to call him a First Level horse - in training. It's been more than a year since I've ridden a First Level test, so Chemaine had to remind me what we'll need to work on.
Now that I can get Izzy in front of my leg - most of the time, it's time to start playing around with adjusting his stride. That's where we started. Chemaine had me do a bunch of transitions within the gait. Nothing wild or crazily new in that concept, unless you're a big brown horse who hasn't been able to lengthen his stride at all. I think Chemaine was a bit surprised at how easily he offered a longer stride.
And then since I can, one more of that baby lengthening of stride.
We also played around with the leg yield. Since Izzy moves laterally so easily, unlike the Speedy pony, it's more about keeping all of his parts in line without letting the shoulders lead too much while leaving the haunches behind.
The biggest First Level movement we'll have trouble with is the canter to trot transition at X, and later, the canter to trot to canter transition at X. Damn X anyway. Once Izzy starts cantering, he just can't stop. Especially if we cross the diagonal. All he sees is more real estate to cover. And in his opinion, the faster the better.
According to Izzy, trotting in the middle of a good long run seems like a dumb idea. He would much rather keep on cantering and turn it into a counter canter; that he understands. In fact, once this horse canters, it's really hard to get him to stop.
As much as I'd love to just write my own test - A enter cantering, X continue to canter, C track left still cantering, E canter left 20 meters, K-A-F canter, F-X-H change rein, C counter canter ... USEF won't let me. So for now, Izzy has to learn to do that transition without me needing to haul back on the reins to half halt his freight train of a canter.
Always one to think on her feet, Chemaine offered two different tools to keep Izzy on my aids. The first was to think shoulder fore as we canter through the corner, heading for X. This will keep him on my outside rein as I ask for the transition to trot.
When that doesn't work, and you knew it wouldn't be that easy, Chemaine said, "If he falls off your outside rein right away, canter a 10-meter circle." And the beauty of that exercise is that there are a lot of 10-meter circles as you cross the diagonal.
Eventually, we got a few good canter to trot transitions across the diagonal. I love having a plan, so focusing on the movements at First Level with an eye to finally, finally getting this horse into a show ring only increases my motivation.
Here's a short video of that exercise.
One of the things that I love most about Chemaine is that she is never out of ideas. She works the horse and rider that show up for that day's lesson. It's a good thing because next week, Izzy might show up acting more like an Intro Level horse!
On Sunday, Izzy and I had a particulalry good lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. That isn't to say that I don't always get good lessons, because I do. Sometimes though, an important piece of the puzzle will fall into place. And when that happens, a bigger picture starts to show through.
The biggest AHAs! that I had during this lesson were about bracing with my arms - how not to do it, and feeling Izzy's hind legs when they're NOT stepping under.
During our last lesson, Izzy finally showed us that he can handle a lot more leg. The problem with pushing him to get his hind end in the game is that he gets super heavy in front. Yah! for the added impulsion, boo hiss for the 120 pounds that he's making me carry in my arms.
When I mentioned to Chemaine that I've been bracing against Izzy's bracing, she suggested I resist with the outside hand but flex with my inside hand all while still adding leg. LEG is our new word of the month.
It was like I suddenly learned how to ride. You mean bracing doesn't work? I kid you not, just hearing that I could "brace" with ONE hand, but move the bit around with the other, gave me a completely different feel. He didn't magically get soft and light or anything, but the whole dynamic changed for the better.
What ended up happening was that when I quit holding up his front end and added leg, the argument was with my leg instead of my hand. Horses don't (usually) spook or balk when they're in front of your leg. So, every single time he spooked and or came above the bit, I added leg. And not just a gentle hug either; I whacked him in the sides. And when he squealed, I whacked him with my legs again. We did a lot of cantering.
Once he was finally in front of my leg, we got to work. And when I say work, I mean we finally started doing some dressage work. Chemaine showed me a great shoulder in exercise that helped me feel when he wasn't driving with his hind end.
We started with a shoulder in, but Chemaine had me focus more on his hind end and not so much on what was happening to the shoulder in. She explained it like this: my rein aide tells him where to go while my seat and legs tell him to push us forward in that direction. I am usually so worried about getting the correct shoulder angle that I forget about the hind end and suddenly it's hanging way back there where we started.
After a shoulder in down the long side, Chemaine had me use the short side to straighten and regroup and push him forward. Instead of coming down the next long side, I crossed the diagonal, still in shoulder in. By focusing on a point in the distance - I don't have letters, I could see where I was losing him. As we approached the rail, I changed the bend and leg yielded to the rail. That's where Izzy gave me the most resistance - changing the bend.
We repeated the exercise over and over, occasionally jumping into a canter when Izzy "spooked" or got distracted. The most wonderful thing started to happen though. For the first time ever, I felt really plugged into the saddle with my seat bones asking for a longer stride or a shorter stride. He was finally loose enough in the back to give me a place to sit. I actually felt like a dressage rider.
I am loving every minute of this version of the big brown horse. We are definitely not-so-speedy dressage, but given enough time, we WILL get the job done!
More than one person has suggested that I move Izzy on to somewhere else. Someplace far, far away. It's been four years, and he's still not any closer to a show ring than he was back then. I get it; he's not everyone's flavor, and sometimes even I get sick of his shenanigans. But then I get a few moments of this.
Of course, this took 30 minutes to achieve and only after about a million half halts followed by a good hand gallop. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has been infinitely patient and creative with team Izzy a Complete Lunatic? She shows up every time ready to school whichever horse I've got that day. Usually it's a horse with a very short attention span jacked up on Mountain Dew.
Sunday was no exception. Izzy was tense and spooky and generally just refusing to focus and do what was asked. The interesting thing was that Chemaine had watched him on the lunge line while he trotted around in a perfect circle never spooking once. I think it's the first time she'd seen him lunged. It gave her some ideas about how to deal with the spooking under saddle.
Since I had some cavalletti poles set up, Chemaine had me work on shortening and lengthening his stride over the poles. We also had a lot puddles that we used for the same idea. The purpose was to collect his stride, forcing him to step up and over - sort of like a manual half halt. The puddles and poles also forced him to keep an eye on where he was going. He hates stepping on the poles.
Collecting and lengthening one's stride will only get you so far though. The photo above illustrates that. I know it's long and it's not exciting, but Chemaine shot some video of that part of the lesson. Essentially, it was lengthen his stride, shorten his stride, repeat, repeat, repeat.
After this part of the video, we moved on to deal with his jackassery. He was quiet and listening on the lunge line, but somewhere during the first 15 minutes of the lesson, he decided that the far end of the arena was a very spooky place to be. And then he proceeded to do everything possible to avoid heading that direction.
Chemaine's advice was to over ride him. I know that sounds weird, but I knew exactly what she meant. I pushed his butt forward, and every time he got balky, silly, or heavy, I pushed him to a bigger stride. Pretty soon we were hustling around that arena. With poles here and there and big puddles scattered around, Izzy suddenly found himself needing to redirect his attention stat.
As we zoomed around, Chemaine encouraged me to be louder and more obnoxious with my aids in an effort to be more distracting than the distractions. In the past, I wasn't able to be so loud with my aids because that was a sure way to get a melt down. But as Izzy gets more educated, he is able to keep it together - mostly. And when he's truly in front of my leg, he can handle a lot more pressure because he's thinking forward.
Eventually, I bumped it up to a canter and let him get it all out. With my night classes, heavy rain, and needing to bandage Speedy, he hadn't been ridden in more than a week, so I was pleased with how much he let me try to put him together. In the next video, we've just finished a good hand gallop, but you can see that his back is looser and he's offering a more energetic stride.
This horse will never be a finished show horse, and he'll never be easy to ride, but if you can hang on, you can get some really good moments from him that are fun to ride.
Yeah. kind of like that.
On Sunday, I had another lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. It was one of those lessons where mini explosions kept going off in my head. Every word she uttered created an epiphany. By the end of the lesson, I felt as though I had never really heard anything before. How could I not have known these things? It was weird, but in a very, very good way.
Like I mentioned a few days ago, I wanted to challenge Izzy which meant challenging myself as well, so I asked to school flying changes. I had already warmed him up, and like most days, he wasn't even close to working over his back and his neck/poll/jaw were locked up tight. We didn't "care;" Chemaine and I have both learned that Izzy gets better the harder he works.
The biggest Really? that I got out of this lesson was that Izzy can counter counter with a counter bend. And not only can he, but he needs to to do the flying change; Speedy too, for that matter.
To prepare him for the change, Chemaine had us pick up the counter counter while on a circle. As an aside here, I am so proud of Izzy (and myself for that matter) that the canter aid is so well built in that we can even do that. We've got some skills.
Of course, none of my skills are perfect, so Chemaine had to adjust my seat. Because it helps a whole lot (not - don't try this at home), I was throwing my upper body towards the lead I wanted him to pick up which in this case was the right. As soon as Chemaine pointed it out and suggested that instead I push my seat in the direction of the lead I wanted, Izzy picked up the counter canter immediately and very gracefully. It sort of helps when your rider isn't a wiggly monkey on your back.
Once we had that straightened out, Chemaine encouraged me to work with the bend. Counter cantering on the right lead means the horse's neck is bent to the right, or the outside of the circle. She wanted me to get him bent to the left, the inside of the circle. Let me just say that being on a counter canter circle is already enough to challenge your brain as you adjust your aids. Counter flexing while on counter canter was causing some short circuiting in my head.
We didn't just change the bend immediately though. Izzy would have crashed to the ground. Instead, Chemaine had me simply straighten the new "outside" of his body, the side on the outside of the circle. She had me think of that 4x4 exercise from the week before: 4 strides true bend, 4 strides straighten, 4 strides true bend, 4 strides straighten. And then I took it from straighten to counter bend, straighten to counter bend.
Once Izzy could cary the counter canter with a counter bend, he was set up for the flying change. BUT, Chemaine cautioned me not to rush it. Before asking for the change, she had me get him so "heavy" on the new outside rein that he had nowhere else to go. That's the time to ask for the flying change.
I'd like to say it happened the first time, but of course it didn't. It did happen though, and I was even able to get it last night when I rode. In BOTH directions no less. On a freezing cold evening. Under conditions that Izzy loathes. Like I said, SKILLS.
The video is a bit long, but you can hear Chemaine really well. Plus, you get to see how hard Izzy can be to ride. You can laugh; it's okay.
It's not often that I get a lesson two weeks in a row, but last week I did. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables was able to come for a lesson on Friday afternoon. And since Speedy is still in recovery mode, Izzy was called up again.
It was a perfectly horrible day for a lesson. The wind was howling as it scattered leaves across the arena, and the trees were snapping and crackling. Even I didn't really want to ride. Funky, crappy weather is just what Izzy needs though. He loves warm mellow sunshine and is always easy to ride on those days. I was delighted to have a lesson with such distracting conditions.
Not only was the weather funky, but I hadn't even ridden Izzy since the last lesson five days prior. He warmed up like you'd expect. His back was tight and he was flinching at every odd sound.
Since we'd worked on getting him more "through" the week before, I insisted that he come up to the bit by adding a boatload of leg. Since he was already in flight mode, Chemaine had me take advantage of that energy and direct it forward.
Even just six months ago, adding so much leg would have caused Izzy to have a meltdown. He's grown up some over the past year though and handled it like a pro. No matter what he did, Chemaine insisted that I keep leg on, especially when he spooked or got balky. She also had me drive him forward with my seat. The whole purpose was to get his hind legs stepping further underneath him.
Like the lesson before this one, it was boring. We stayed on the 20-meter circle, and sometimes smaller, just insisting that he lift his back and push with his hind end. Focusing solely on the quality of his gait rather than on any particular movement gave me a new feel.
Quite often I ride Izzy with a lighter seat as I coast along. Focusing on driving him with my seat gave me a connected feeling that I really haven't experienced before. When I hopped up on him the next day, I kept those two things in mind: add leg to push him up to the bridle, and drive him forward with my seat.
As a team, Izzy and I are not taking a liner path up the levels. We might do a canter half pass one day but then struggle with a stretchy trot the next. As complicated as he is to ride, I sure do dig my big brown horse.
Now if only the weather would cooperate.
With Speedy temporarily on the disabled list, Izzy's been getting some really good work done. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here a week or so ago for a Sunday afternoon lesson.
As we trotted around Chemaine on an endless 20-meter circle, I complained about being stuck in the same place that we were three years ago. It simply doesn't feel as though we're progressing. Not one to offer false compliments or underserved praise, Chemaine pointed out that yes, we're still having the same arguments, but at a different level. I think that made me feel better.
With that in mind, we spent a good portion of the lesson micromanaging every step Izzy took. Every time he bobbled his head or popped it up, I resisted with the rein and added leg. And if he didn't soften, I kept my leg on. When we were finished, I exclaimed that that lesson was probably the most boring lesson of all time to give. All Chemaine got to say was yes, yes, kick him, harder, more leg, yes, yes, kick him.
Now that I have more control over his shoulders and haunches, it's time to start pushing him up to the bridle. And since he's become somewhat more educated, he no longer has a meltdown when he's "packaged up." Well not as frequently anyway. I think he does it sometimes just to see if I am paying attention.
The last thing we worked on was a bit of canter half pass. One thing I've discovered about Izzy is that I am more likely to get a better connection if he has to really think about what he's doing. Too many 20-meter circles allow him time to get bored. Chemaine agreed. She encouraged me to keep working on movements from Second and Third Level even though he might not be "through" or connected at the start of the movement. Sometimes the connection will come during the movement.
And then, because the universe owes me something, we had another lesson on Friday. More to come.
Like I said yesterday, I had a great lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. For the first part of the lesson, we used the leg yield to position Speedy's haunches for the half pass. For the second part of the lesson, we used the half pass to set Speedy's haunches in position for a flying change. If you had told me two months ago that I would be writing those two sentences at the beginning of 2019, I would have laughed. Hard. Go us, I guess.
I am not sure how I got so lucky - good breeding?, but Speedy's changes have been clean from the very beginning. We've only been working on them since September. They're still a bit hard to control, and he has already reached the point of tossing them in any time he's not sure what I am asking for. I think this is a good problem to have though.
The main trouble I am having with the flying change is that he thinks that when we're cantering and I touch the outside rein, it means CHANGE. Sorry to disappoint, dude, but it doesn't. This is where Chemaine used the haunches in exercise to help him out.
As we cantered down the long side, Chemaine wanted me to put him in a haunches in position so that when we made the ten-meter half circle at the end of the long side, his haunches would be in place for the half pass. Speedy felt me pick up that outside rein and then leaped into the air ready to change. When I kept my outside leg back AND maintained the bend, he hit the ground with a disappointed thud. He might have also called me a bad name.
To combat this, Chemaine showed me yet another new exercise. As we cantered down the long side, she instructed me to ask for a ten-meter circle if he even thought about changing when I touched the outside rein. We did a lot of ten-meter circles.
While we still have a lot to work on, we were able to get the flying change after a version of a canter half pass.
I just love this horse. there is no end to his try. He might express his opinions occasionally, and he can get sassy about things, but he always tries.
Today is the last day of my Christmas break. On Monday it's back to the grind, but I feel as though I got a lot done with the boys over the holiday. Enjoy your weekend. I know I will.
Now that the holidays are past us, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has been able to come out weekly again. After analyzing what we need at the bare minimum for Third Level, Chemaine agreed that tackling the lateral work was the game plan for the foreseeable future.
Speedy has never been a fan of moving his haunches to the side AND stepping forward. I get it; it's hard. Even so, he has to learn. To present it in a way that he could understand and that I could enforce, Chemaine had us start the half pass in a leg yield. She also had me move the whip to the outside hand every time we changed direction. See the part about enforcing.
Chemaine had us begin at the walk. We started in the corner From A to K where we prepared for a leg yield right. The purpose was to get the haunches leading which is not how you'd typically ride a leg yield. This does two things. First, it gets your horse moving off your outside leg, and it allows you to set up the haunches for the half pass. By getting the haunches to lead, they will ultimately be in the correct position as you change the bend for the half pass.
Once Speedy's haunches were leading, I changed the bend. I had to keep my outside leg on and ask for forward with the inside leg. Chemaine had to remind me numerous times to keep the inside leg on. I always want to pull it off thinking I am giving him space into which to move. This is wrong. Don't do that. It's important to keep the inside leg on and use both legs to ask for forward. Anytime I lost the haunches or when Speedy got too heavy on the outside rein, I changed the bend and turned it back into a leg yield.
After we crossed the diagonal (I was always short as my arena is really wide), we then turned left and did the same thing through the corner at C and H. I had to remember to change the whip, and then we did a leg yield H to F, changing to half pass once I had Speedy's haunches leading.
Once Speedy and I had it mostly figured out, we moved to the trot and started the half pass without doing the leg yield first. To help me set it up correctly - after I had started it as a hot mess, Chemaine reminded me to ride into the corner thinking shoulder in. This put Speedy on the outside rein so that I could then use the rein to send his haunches over. I'll let Chemaine explain it better:
We definitely made a ton of improvement with her nuts and bolts explanation, but we clearly need more practice. That's okay as I have plenty of time for that. Here's one more go at the trot half pass:
Chemaine is definitely able to get Speedy and me to places that I never thought possible. We're no Grand Prix pair (yet), but this horse has really developed into a fancy little mover. Check out this medium trot. He actually has a moment of suspension!
After I felt like I had my homework for the trot half pass figured out, we worked on canter half pass to the flying change. I'll try to get to that tomorrow.
First of all, I have an outside rein! Why does it seem as though I have to relearn that every other week? For this particular go-round, I was riding Izzy when the realization hit. Last week, I had a great lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, but I've only just finished wading through the nearly hour-long video she shot. During the video, she said something that really made me think: "keep thinking about renvers; that's your steering!"
After working on the square with haunches in, we took that same idea to the counter canter. Izzy loves to throw in flying changes every time the work gets too hard. In his mind, it would all be so much easier on a true canter. As we crossed the diagonal heading into counter canter, Chemaine reminded me to keep his haunches where I wanted them. In this case, in renvers.
As it's been said before, there was a whole lot of ugly before it got pretty. Pretty might be too strong of a word, but at least I had more control. For a long while, I've focused almost exclusively on his shoulders. While this is super important on Izzy, it's meant that I've neglected his haunches. This has allowed them to start doing some really awkward things such as swinging wide on the turns and falling "out" during the counter canter, which allows him to drop the canter.
Here's a clip from that last lesson with Chemaine talking me through the counter canter and the outside rein.
Someday, when we can put it all together consistently, this horse might turn out to be pretty amazing. Until then, he's a great "teacher!"
Oh, boy, oh, boy did I have a great lesson over the weekend. Izzy hadn't seen Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables for several months. Up until recently, he had been so nice to ride that I wasn't having any problems. When Chemaine said she'd be here on Saturday, I waffled. As it turned out, I needed a lesson much more than I had thought.
With Izzy standing patiently by - I guess all of last week's do it or else riding really paid off, Chemaine and I talked about where I was with him. I know she doesn't show up with an agenda, so I am always amazed at the exercises she can pull out of her hat with only a moment's notice. What she decided we needed was to get Izzy better engaging his inside hind.
She had me ride a square, first at trot and then at the canter. As we approached the corner, Chemaine had me half halt the outside hind by opening my outside rein as I brought it back, like you would for a walk pirouette. Then I used my outside leg to push his haunches in to make a square turn. I kept my inside hand low and steady to maintain the bend. In between turns, I gave Izzy every opportunity to stretch down, but as we neared the next corner, I repeated the half-halt, haunches in, turn.
Here's a bit of video with Chemaine explaining.
I've ridden him every day since Saturday's lesson, and while he hasn't magically become Verdades - give us about 50 more years, he's definitely getting more and more buttons installed.
While riding this week, I realized something. After schooling some walk to canter to walk as well as turns on the haunches and counter canter, I realized that Izzy has a ton of really cool buttons, but they're only half-way installed. He can do a lot of movements from Training through Third Levels, but he can't do them well or consistently.
One of my goals for 2019 is to get him to a show, the level isn't important, with the knowledge that we should be able to earn at least 60%. I am not sure if my strategy of work movements regardless of the level will work, but I am going to continue playing around with the different movements. The instant he figures out that relaxing won't kill him, all of those half-way installed buttons will fall into place.
Let's hope it happens at the start of a test!