Training Tuesday -9/29- Track that Progress, Let the Movement Do the Work, Taking Risks and MORE
I have a problem that continues to plague me. That sounds awfully dramatic doesn't it? It's actually a good problem. I have a lot of training tidbits and equestrian topics to share with you, but I always seem to find myself out of that elusive thing called spare time. They say that your priorities are what you make of them, so here I am finally choosing to make time and just TYPE! This blog post was meant to happen months ago as a follow up after our last clinic with Tara Stegen. I decided that instead of just giving a rundown on the clinic, I would instead share some topics and training tidbits that struck home to me on day 2 of the previous clinic lessons. Off we go!
Progress and POSITIVE Tracking
You've probably been there before. You work with a horse over a period of time, and you experience some of those inevitable "bad rides." Maybe you can easily shrug it off as a natural part of horse training, or maybe you let it bother you. Doubting ideas can creep in, such as "what am I doing to cause this," or "I feel like I know nothing" or other negative thoughts. I've definitely been there, more often than I'd like to admit, and unfortunately it can be easy to focus on what's going wrong, or getting hung up on the training blocks, versus focusing on what has been going RIGHT over a period of time.
"...it was more effective and encouraging for me to FOCUS ON THE IMPROVEMENTS we were making."
I have been working with "Toes," the Oldenburg mare, for a while now, and she is definitely a tricky mare. She has proved to be one of my more challenging training horses, and I find myself in a state of self and situational evaluation often. At the beginning of my most recent clinic ride on her, I pointed out all my frustrations and hangups to Tara Stegen, our clinician. She listened and understood, but then turned it around on me and pointed out all the things that had IMPROVED over the last several months. I realized for one how nice it was to have somebody tell me those positive things, but mostly I realized although important to be aware of the negatives, it was more effective and encouraging for me to FOCUS ON THE IMPROVEMENTS we were making.
***THE CHALLENGE FOR YOU:
Here's my challenge to you after you read this blog. I suggest that you MAKE A LIST of POSITIVE IMPROVEMENTS that you and your horse have achieved over the last several months, or even in the past year. Maybe your trot transitions are better, or you jumped a little higher, or you went to that show you've wanted to all year, or you bonded more through ground work, etc etc. After you make this list, make it a HABIT to take note of and record these things every once in a while (maybe every month or two), so you can focus on your ACCOMPLISHMENTS and not get hung up on the negatives.
HORSE TRAINING STRATEGY: LET THE MOVEMENT DO THE WORK FOR YOU
I'm changing gears here to talk some strategy in horse training, which has to do with using exercises and gymnasticizing in your riding work.
You could choose option A, where you spend your whole ride on a circle hoping to get better contact, more inside hind engagement and so on. That doesn't sound very fun or effective to me. Let's look at another option.
Option B: Performing exercises that challenge the horse and force them to use different parts of their body, and "letting the movements do the work for you." Let's get out of the 20 meter circle, shall we?
At the last clinic, DJ felt tight in his hind, and he was stepping shorter (we want nice long steps instead of short, choppy strides). Tara had me ride shoulder-in along the long side, really focusing on the inside hind engagement, and then straightening him out on the short side to allow freedom and push and to assess improvement. (See video clip below for a short snippet). We did a similar thing on Toes. Instead of trying to improve engagement and bend by drilling circle bend changes and transitions on a basic 20 meters, Tara emphasized that I needed to get this mare to use each hind leg individually and start challenging her by changing the movements.
"Get out of the circle and off the straight line rail riding and get more creative in your schooling!"
We did alternating shoulder-in trot to 10m circle every few strides. Shoulder-in improves straightness and collection. The circles in between helped me to ask for more collection and more engagement of the inside hind while suppling with more bend and getting more effective half halts in. The shoulder in positioning and then the circle work both did the work for me naturally. The gymnasticizing effect of exercises like these are much more EFFECTIVE than getting stuck on a circle riding around fussing with the horse and trying to get something perfect. Get out of the circle and off the straight line rail riding and get more creative in your schooling!
Check out this short video clip as we work through some shoulder-in on DJ. Turn up the volume to hear Tara's commentary.
TAKING RISKS - TAKE A CHANCE ON YOUR HORSE!
This next topic is another bit of training strategy. Let's talk limitations. It's easy to assume that our horse isn't capable of certain things, right? The idea that your horse couldn't possibly be ready for this or that, because he's not already doing A, B and/or C. Maybe you think because of his breed or movement that perhaps it will be hard for him. Well, let me ask you this - HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY CAN'T OR WON'T DO IT IF YOU DON'T EVEN TRY?
How do you know if they can or can't do half pass if you don't try? How about counter canter or flying changes? Crossing the water feature? TAKE A CHANCE ON YOUR HORSE! Take a risk and ask for something tricky or more advanced and see what feedback they give you and go from there instead of assuming they can't or they aren't ready.
"HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY CAN'T OR WON'T DO IT IF YOU DON'T EVEN TRY?"
Good boy, DJ
SHARING - Extra Training Notes
When I ride in clinics, these days I use my PIXEM robot camera that follows me and takes footage of my lessons. I try to go back and watch the videos and take notes. I highly suggest you video your rides as well! Watch your footage and take notes. If not for a clinic, then just do it for a basic lesson or a ride by yourself. I'm going to end this post by sharing a small bit of extra notes I took while watching my footage.
Fuss About the Head Carriage?
I get concerned about DJ getting his poll too low, but if he's truly through and pushing from the back into the contact, he will settle into the frame more correctly. Having a too low poll is a fault, but the point is that before you start fussing with where his head is positioned, you should be checking in with whether or not the horse is moving forward from the leg and pushing from the rear underneath themselves and that energy is going over their back. A lot of issues in the front begin with assessing what is going on (or not going on) in the back end and over the back.
Spiral in and baby pirouette canter
After a discussion about how I need to focus more on shoulder control on DJ to achieve better alignment and straightness, we decided to try some more challenging canter work. Tara had me spiral in at the canter, bringing the shoulders in first to lead. Then she had me bring my outside hip back while still keeping my seat and weight toward the inside (MUCH HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS, LOL). The idea was that we were keeping the shoulders leading, but asking the haunches to come in a bit as the circle got smaller. The intention was to start introducing the beginnings of the pirouette canter. DJ doesn't have the carrying power or education for pirouette at this point, but it was worth the risk to ask for more and more collection to see what would happen. He responded well, and as his strength improves (and if I can keep him and my body straight), we believe he will be able to achieve this in an upper level capacity! Notes from my body position fixes - If you sit on the outside of the saddle, you will force the horse outward. As I spiraled in and asked for more of a pirouette idea, I had to bring my seat and weigh more toward the inside, while bringing my outside hip back and still keeping his face and shoulders leading PLUS keeping his neck and chest "unlocked" with suppling. ALL THE THINGS! MAN, our sport is hard. I've done pirouettes several times before, and I feel like it takes me a while to get my body all organized correctly. Still building up that muscle memory I suppose!
Here's a short little clip of us working on that small circle. Listen to the commentary for more info.
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THE CLINIC OUTFIT
Last but not least, if you were wondering about what I'm wearing in the clinic photos and videos, scroll down for that info!
*Helmet - OneK Celestial in blue; purchased from Salado Creek Tack Shop
*Shirt - SanSoleil UPF protection sunshirt in Twisted Navy (use code EQSOL for discount at checkout). Click here: SanSoleil
*Belt - C4 Belts navy classic with bronze buckle
*Breeches - ROMFH Sarafina full seat crystal bling from Salado Creek Tack Shop
Lastly, a shoutout to NUUN Hydration for keeping me hydrated during training, clinic rides and everything in between.