Update — Half-Steps & Stuff

I’ve been working on Ava’s half-steps for about 9 months now. Just short, infrequent, sessions where she gets to quit work if she shows some effort. I have to say, she’s really improved! Last night we did a few and I found I can control whether its more like piaffe or more like passage. (Piaffe – in place; Passage – moves forward;) It’s really bouncy, but in a smooth arcing type of way… Not a jolting up/down. I used to have clinicians ask me to try to recreate the feel of passage while doing a movement. You know how hard it is to recreate something you’ve never felt before? Impossible. I imagined it with less lift. Those upper level riders make it look like its easy. Like its the same bit of bounce from a normal trot… But it’s not. Not really. I found that to be a big eye opener to me. There’s a lot that I’ve found to be real eye openers to me this year. Like forward… It has as many nuances as the term connection has. I assumed it was more black and white. There’s a lot more to “forward”, or “in front of the leg” then I had realized before. I’m not sure I grasp it all very well yet. When I do, I’ll try to write out my understandings of it.

I’m really thrilled with how well Ava’s learning and developing. If you consider that in January 2011 we could barely canter, and struggling at Training level… to now doing good quality 10 meter canter circles… Pretty impressive for a horse that isn’t built for dressage. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve even been fooling around with canter pirouettes. Nothing serious, but occasionally I ask for an 1/8 – 1/4 of a pirouette just to see what’s under the hood. We even got a couple steps of one, one time. It’s immensely hard for her though.

Our half-pass trot is coming along really well. Most the time its too sucked back, but that’s my fault. I tense and inhibit it. When I’m soft and following then she’s bold and just amazing. I have such a hard time following though. I’m not strong enough to hold myself balanced while staying relaxed, so I tense my seat to stabilize my core. I need more abdominal/back strength. That’s hard to get sitting at a desk 10 hours a day.

Our canter lengthens… I’m not sure they’re much better than last year as far as being longer. However, the return to working canter is better. I heard a clinician say that the key is to think about the butt coming under for the transition into working canter. That you still want forward into the hands, but not only do you want that bunching of the hind end under you during the transition up into lengthen/medium but that same feeling from lengthen into working. That concept has helped me in how I ask for the transition down, and has improved the quality of it.

Our canter right is still stronger than canter left. However, canter left is getting better. The leads are more even then they were – in terms of carrying strength and balance. Our counter canter is leaps and bounds better than it was last year at this time. Last year I could barely do the canter from track to X and back to the track. Now we can do 20 meter counter canter circles. Left lead canter is still weaker, but we no longer swap leads in front when on the right lead. I’m extremely proud of Ava’s improvement with counter canter. It’s helped her normal canter a ton.

I think that’s about it. The trot work is improving. The periods where I can get her back up and have her really swing through get longer and more consistent. Sometimes she’s got this trot that feels like we barely touch the ground. It’s HUGE, light, jumping strides. I was trying to think how to describe it…. Sort of like riding a big bouncy ball (like the exercise balls) but instead of going up and down, it takes big leaping bounces in giant arcs forward. And you barely touch the earth before you’re arcing through the air again. Almost like gravity is diminished. That’s the closest I can come to describing it. It’s not jarring, or jagged, but there’s still a LOT of movement that is hard to stay still on. I have a hard time sitting it. I asked Bern how she does it and she said I have to relax around it. I was able to do that for about three strides before I tensed up again and lost it. Those three strides were like heaven though. So addictive… ๐Ÿ™‚

That’s about it I guess. Just wanted to write down my observations on where we’re at right now. Especially since show season is coming up and that usually knocks my self-esteem for a loop. We still have some pretty rough edges for Second level.

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Some Days Are Not Meant For Working

I didn’t feel like riding today. Or rather, I didn’t feel like working at riding.

I drove the 40 minutes to the barn while Friday-crazed, just off work, rushing home people tried to kill me.ย  When I finally made it to the barn I helped bring in all the horses and waited for Ava to finish her dinner. Then I coerced Ava from her hay, tacked her up, and we headed outside to ride in the outdoor ring. The sun was shining, the birds and squirrels happily flittering and scurrying around.ย  Ava and I walked the perimeter of the arena on a loose rein, with her stopping occasionally to sniff the breezes. I had forgotten how horses do that. She felt tough on the right rein, and I was tight. It was one of those days, and I already felt uncoordinated and off center. So I steered her out of the arena and we headed out to the field…

A flock of ducks squawked and slapped the water as they raced out of the pond next to us.ย  A group of geese slowly wandered next to us, watching us warily as we walked passed. Several deer shot from the tree line, brown bodies with flashes of white as they raced across the field. More ducks raising a racket as we walked farther down the path. On the far side of the field is a row of houses. We walk behind them and stare at the odd assortment of things people keep in their backyards. A child screams from the sliding door “Mom, a horse! A horse is in our backyard.”. A tarp slaps the sides of an RV parked in a driveway. We’re passed the houses now, and coming up on the row of pine tree’s where the deer had disappeared. Ava eye’s the tree’s warily, watching for signs ofย  attacking deer. We’re almost back to the barn, and we walk slowly around to the front where I make Ava step into the big mud puddle. Her neck arches out and down as she debates whether I’m trying to drown her or not. She steps in hesitantly, then marches forward. We ride up along the dirt road, where the stones make Ava mince, so I nudge her back onto the shoulder where the grass cushions her footfalls. We reach the driveway by the main house, and we turn to head back to the barn. The owners dogs are furiously barking and charging the fence next to us. Ava stares at them, debates the severity of the situation before continuing her easy walk passed them.ย  We stop at the barn and I dismount, give Ava a pat and lead her in to untack. We spend a good fifteen minutes grazing on the new grass as I brush Ava down.

I think Ava enjoyed it.ย  I sure did.Ava Head Trail

The Super Middle Class

Last Saturday I watched a clinic with a fancy German trainer. Being the well informed dressage student that I am… Ha. Just kidding. I was clueless on who the lady was before I went.

Anyway…

During the lunch break, I’m mowing down the spinach/lettuce bar that was set up while listening to the upper level riders discuss the dire future of dressage. The gist of it being that dressage is declining, shows are closing, people are not participating in the sport anymore. At some point these riders determine that dressage needs to get more middle class riders involved, that “dressage is not just for the elite”. I look around at the house we’re eating lunch in: The stainless steel appliances, marble counter tops, what looks like cherry flooring surrounded by floor to ceiling windows that overlooks a wide creek and rolling woodlands. They have custom rubberized footing in the indoor AND outdoor arena’s.

The dichotomy of proclaiming you want to entice the middle class to participate in a sport where you are paying $250 per lesson to ride in a clinic…

The irony kills me.

This is not my best

I haven’t been posting much because I’ve been in the dumps about my riding. Not only do I feel like the absolute worst rider ever, but I sometimes feel like I’ve failed my poor little Ava too. So instead of writing some sob story of woe, I opt not to post anything.

Anyway, spring is nearly here. It’s been perpetually grey here. A never ending landscape of dirty grey. I’m starting to see signs of life. Little buds on tree’s, tuilips pushing through the dirt. I can actually feel a bit of warmth from the sun.

I can’t wait to ride outside again. And be able to go for a trail ride and not freeze to death. I need to find some trail riding buddies.

Anyway, I just haven’t had anything funny or positive to say in a while, so haven’t written anything. But don’t worry, there’s always a better day around the corner. ๐Ÿ™‚