It’s been too long since my last training blog! Considering it’s about Midsummer already, I figure it’s time to get my spring clinic recap blogs done!
Last spring, we had the pleasure of having Tara Stegen out again. She is a FEI Dressage trainer, instructor and competitor. We are lucky that she comes from Wellington to Texas fairly often. This training blog and a few additional blog posts after will cover the clinic sessions we had with horses DJ, Toes and Coco.
Day one it was all DJ. DJ is a senior Arabian bay pony gelding. He has been quite the MVP, constantly amazing us with his trainability and athleticism. This blog will cover a few of the training exercises and concepts we went over the first day.
In these clinics, typically DJ’s owner and I split the clinic ride. We are grateful that Tara is OK with that, as some clinicians might not be. His owner rode him first to work through some of their challenges as a team in warmup with contact and forward swing. They had a very productive lesson, but Tara noticed something about the way DJ was moving.
Snowmageddon and the Cold Hamstring
As Tara was watching DJ warm up, she noticed something about his left hamstring and subsequently his left stifle. This is typically his weak side already, but she really noticed extra stiffness. He didn’t look lame for riding, but it was clear that this side was weaker than usual this ride, and it seemed to be affecting his strength and also as a result, his overall connection.
In case you didn’t see it on the news, the state of Texas in the USA experienced what people are calling Snowmageddon 2021. In February, our temperatures dipped drastically below freezing in a short amount of time and kept creeping lower and lower. That might not seem like a big deal to the average winter resident of more northern states and countries, but for Texas we are not prepared or equipped for that kind of weather. Long term power and water outages caused major crises, and it was an overall nightmare for humans and animals alike. I could go on and on about what happened then, but for the sake of the blog, I will get to the point and say that Tara thought that DJ might have had some issues in the left hamstring, stifle and hock areas due to the muscles, ligaments and joints getting too cold during the storm. The sudden shock going from extreme cold and then a week later back to warm and humid put stress on the left hind.
So what to do about it? For that ride, we knew that he would be a bit weaker on that side and we wouldn’t be able to push it too hard, but we did focus on exercises to help loosen him up and strengthen the hind. Tara suggested that in case of a future vicious cold snap, a heating blanket could be used to keep the muscles, ligaments and internal organs warm. In their ride with Tara, DJ and his owner did lots of serpentines and other loosening exercises before switching over to me.
Shoulder-In Rib Cage Swing
I hopped on DJ, not realizing that my PIXEM robot camera completely lost track of us and I didn’t get any footage from the ride. Oops. I did listen to the audio, which was helpful for my notes. Luckily, DJ’s owner took a few short clips. Scroll down to see some video of both the good and the ugly as we worked through some of the shoulder in.
DJ was having some trouble with the shoulder in due to his aforementioned weaknesses that day. The weakness made him not want to load the hind as much. I was also keeping him a little bit too straight. Tara had me make sure to bend him more in the rib cage. She pointed out that helping the rib cage to swing and bend would help with strengthening the stifle. We worked with shoulder in both directions, making sure I was keeping him well bent, even if I had to go for more bend than is typically asked for in ‘textbook‘ shoulder in.
Here is a short clip of us working through this:
Watch Those Inside Aids!
Tara had to remind me once again to keep my inside leg at the very front of the ribcage since DJ is such a small guy. If I let my leg slip even a tiny bit too far back, I can accidentally influence and rotate his hip. He’s already wiggly to begin with, and the further his training goes the more sensitive he is, so this is a big thing that I need to turn into second nature.
After the shoulder in work, we did some canter spiral in to a small circle and spiraling out with intention to strengthen that hind and to eventually prepare for pirouette. She suggested I let my hips guide and steer him in and out instead of my leg. My leg aids were a little too heavy, especially my inside. She suggested I keep my outside hip and thigh back, and then keep the inside aids (from the groin on down) soft and more open so I don’t block him or accidentally push him out when I’m trying to bring him or keep him in. I didn’t even realize I was holding him too tightly with the inside aids. I find out in our next ride that same open concept will help with our half pass as well.
Stay tuned for more of my dressage clinic training blog posts to see how the weekend progressed!
Outfit & Credits:
*OneK helmet from Salado Creek Tack Shop
*Soless helmet visor and rose gold stirrups from Riding Warehouse (code GOWSLEY for a discount on your cart)
*Sansoleil UPF sun shirt from Sansoleil (code EQSOL for a discount)
*Running braid assisted by Spot On Braiding Wax
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