Road to Bronze Sept. 30, 2015

As second level riders, we know that the key to the canter to walk transition is in collection.  Yet knowing the theory is quite different from feeling and communicating the movement with quality.  When one focuses on performing the movements, the quality suffers from the “git ‘er done” mindset.  This is particularly true when the rider and horse are learning, (moving up the levels), together.  The horse actually “knows” how to perform all the movements in dressage.  However, when they are learning together, the horse is building strength to carry his rider while interpreting her aids.  For Monarch and I, we had two ways to do the canter to walk transition, and both lacked quality.  If the down transition was forward, it lacked precision and balance with dribbly trot steps between the canter and walk. If the down transition was forced, it lacked forward fluidity, resulting in an abrupt “semi-walk-almost halt” from the canter.
photo 2

By focusing on quality and feel, (and waiting for the moment of quality before asking for the transition), the movement can become a by-product of  quality and feel.

During the last clinic, we had to stop my lesson because Monarch became very sore in his hocks.  He is now 15, the intensity of training this past summer, and the increasing demand of shifting our weight to his hind end manifested itself during that lesson.  He had three weeks off while I ordered and began the loading doses for polysulfated glycosaminoglycan.  I brought him back slowly.  First we had a couple of longeing sessions and a long lining session, each time working up to collected canter on the 10 meter circle, with periodic checks to ensure his hocks were not building heat.  Yesterday, I rode Monarch, developing quality trot work, working up to shoulder-in and travers.  With increased collection from the shoulder-in and tranvers, Monarch was able to produce some good collected canter.

Today we built upon that work.  I asked Monarch to sustain his collected canter in a 15 meter circle.  Knowing forward had to be part of the equation in the down transition, I worked toward balancing him with half halts before asking him for walk.  The first attempt resulted in a few trot steps, but they felt balanced and forward as the steps progressed into walk.  On the second attempt, I was able to continue to increase collection in the canter.  I could feel Monarch becoming more and more round, growing “bigger” in front, as collection increased.  I also felt him stepping more deeply under himself and becoming extremely light in the forehand and the bridle.  I knew at that moment that the canter to walk transition would come through.  I asked, and he was brilliant! Those are the the moments when learning occurs: both you and your horse are on the same wave length with two way communication flowing through feel.  Throughout building quality, Monarch and I were feeling and communicating.  Moving through the canter into a balanced forward walk felt sublime.  Feeling my pleasure, Monarch immediately knew he had performed well.  (He began to nicker.)

IMG_0983Rather than drill the movement, I hopped off.  We had trained in a focused manner for forty minutes.  It was enough.  I lavished him with praise and some sugar.  Then I turned him out, so he could bask in his moment of glory and enlightenment.  Tomorrow when we return to the movement, he will remember today’s experience.  We will be able to practice longer to develop strength, synchronicity, and balance.  Through gratitude and tact, we can move up the levels.




Road to Bronze, Sept 3, 2015

This past weekend I spent in Norwood, at the Lone Cone Dressage Club, for a 3-day clinic with my trainer, Deborah Hindi.  The Lone Cone club is one of the most supportive group of riders I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.  They hold monthly clinics, spring through fall with shared potlucks and plenty of mutual encouragement on one’s riding goals and progress.  This club goes the extra mile to help each other out, including driving 20 miles out of one’s way to rescue a stranded driver, trailering up a mountain to pick up a participant and her horses when her truck broke down, and graciously inviting me into their homes for meals and a bedroom during the long weekend.


I arrived late on Saturday, so I missed many of the other rides.  Since I had sprained my ankle earlier in the week, I had Deb warm up Monarch and school him.  She worked the 1/2 steps getting him quicker in the hind end.  Then she worked canter.  He was hooking his outside hind from the canter depart, thus losing engagement.  She told me this behavior was something I had created.  I believe it started when we worked on the simple changes (home alone) after the horse show.  When she worked the transitions, he also dropped his shoulder coming heavy onto his forehand, losing all impulsion.  Because all transitions need to be forward, even the down transitions, Deb told me that it is more important to make the transition with an active hind end- even if Monarch makes trot steps in the simple change.  I mistakenly thought I needed to work on eliminating those trot steps.  Now I understand that those trot steps will disappear through strengthening and insisting that the half halt comes through.  In making both the up transition and the down transition, I mustn’t worry about those errant trot steps.  In the down transition, I must continue to half halt, (ignoring the trot steps and sitting quietly) until Monarch proceeds from canter to walk.  In the up transition, I must first activate his hind end, even if he is “dancey” behind.  The dancey steps will go away when he understands that I am asking for an engaged canter depart from the walk.

Since my ankle was feeling better, I rode Monarch too.  When I mounted, she directed me to ride him forward with his neck coming straight from his shoulders.  She had me switch from my small spurs to her longer ones.  This made him very electric to the aids.  I was careful to aid the canter not from the legs, but from the seat bones, so he didn’t hook the outside hind.  The depart was initiated by scooping my inside seat bone.  To sustain the canter, I planted my outside seat bone down and back, while continuing to scoop with my inside seat bone.  If I needed a bit more engagement, I briefly used my inside spur.


On Sunday, we focused on the trot work: shoulder-in, the bends moving in and out of the shoulder-in, and the medium trot across the diagonal.  Second Level test 1: movements #4 & #5 have coefficients of 2.

4. K-E          Shoulder-in right           Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2                           4.     E           Turn right                       Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2

5. B                Turn left                         Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2

5. B-M          Shoulder-in left           Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2

 Our focus was to make a beautifully balanced turn with engagement.  The arena was the standard small arena used for lower level tests.  Luckily, I will not be required to ride in such a small arena for my second level tests.  However, it evaluated my ability to influence and position my horse much more quickly than the standard arena. To make the turn quicker with balance and bend, I needed to switch my legs from shoulder-in: (inside leg at the girth/outside leg back) to straighten the horse, then quickly move my inside leg back/outside leg at the girth, as I pushed the haunch into the turn on the B to E line across X.  This seemed very counterintuitive to me to have my inside leg back during the turn, until I practiced the movement later that evening off my horse, thinking about it bio-mechanically.  (What is my inside leg doing?  Why is it working?)  I practiced several times to get the understanding inside my body to create a muscle memory.  I think the key to switching from shoulder-in to bending is those few strides of straightening between each movement.  I need to practice this a bit more off my horse, so I have the pattern in my mind, and I can ride the movement with feel.

The shoulder-in is coming quite well with nice angle and engagement.  All the work we did getting Monarch on the outside rein and through the half halt in the leg yield has resulted in a cadenced, correct shoulder-in.

Finally we worked on medium canter to improve my seat.  I have had trouble sitting his medium canter without leaning back, which decreases his engagement and quality.  I just wasn’t sure where my body needed to be to prevent bouncing in the big trot.  I knew I needed to engage my core, but I didn’t realize that I needed to take the same position that I use in a stomach crunch.  I was sitting too long and too upright, which put me away from my horse, instead of more deeply into the movement and closer to my horse.  Making that small change in my body position made the sitting trot quite easy to sit, though it still requires quite a lot of strength.  Sitting across the diagonal from M to K is like doing 20 stomach crunches in quick succession.  Practicing several mediums across the diagonal is a strenuous workout!   I realized that I needed to go back to my Pilates routine several times/week if I wanted to ride the bigger movements.


Back to work in the canter.  We worked on the 10 meter canter circle to the counter canter along the long side.  I could not hold him in an engaged 10 meter circle, so he repeatedly broke along the diagonal or in the counter canter.

14. A            Circle right 10m     Shape and size of circle; bend; quality of canter; balance

15. K-B        Change rein             Regularity, quality and balance of canter; straightness

15.  B-M     Counter canter          Regularity, quality and balance of canter; straightness

The issue was one of dominance.  Monarch is a lovely horse and very fun to ride, but he has always had his own ideas and timetable about the canter.  His first level canter has become very forward and fun to ride.  Now in second level he needs to collect and engage through the difficult (small) 10 meter circle, then proceed into a counter canter.  Whenever Monarch feels the canter work is too hard, his go-to response is to buck.  This used to work well for him, because when I had my back injury, I never wanted him to buck for fear he would either hurt me from being bucked off, or he would tweak something if I stayed on and rode out the bucks.  I’ve been sitting the bucks for the past few years gaining strength and balance through Deb’s instruction, but he still responds with a buck as his first line of resistance.  To keep him active behind, Deb demanded I use my whip.  I tapped him repeatedly to get his hind end moving and engaged, which resulted in several bucks.  When that didn’t get the expected response, (that I would lessen the pressure to stay engaged through the complete circle), he decided he would simply break from K-B.  In the beginning, this was a good strategy for him, as I was quite tired from keeping him engaged through the 10 meter circle.  When he began to break out of the circle, Deb upped the ante, insisting that he become even more engaged until we could complete the full movement in both directions.  This movement still needs more work, convincing Monarch that he needs to stay honest and engaged through the whole movement.  I’m sure it will come, and Deb returns to Montrose this weekend, so we will get more guided practice very soon.

Needless to say the intensity of the work on Monday exhausted me.  Rather than relenting, Deb had me return to our medium trot work from the day before.  I was glad she did.  The medium had become much easier to sit on Monday and used a different set of muscles.  It showed me how hard we could work and still be successful.  The work at the canter really revved Monarch’s motor.  I was told from the auditors that the medium was beautiful to watch- simply poetry.  I knew it felt very good; the more a horse uses his back, the easier it is for the rider to sit.

I’m looking forward to this weekend.  I will practice what we covered in the Norwood clinic and begin to study the movements in the second level tests more closely.

Road to Bronze Sept 2, 2015

Day 2 of the show brought 2 more qualifying scores and a big boost to my confidence.  As a novice show rider, I learned a big lesson: always pick up the day sheets or have them downloaded to your phone.  I didn’t do this, and did not realize my rides had been moved up 10 minutes.  Needless to say, I entered the show arena with mere seconds to spare.  I was so flustered, I made some big mistakes.  Monarch on the other hand was brilliant and very forward.  Even with my mistakes, our score was good enough to place first.  I think if I had been more focused, we might have been able to score in the 70’s.  The second ride of the day brought another 2nd place finish.  I was qualified to move up to second level.


Though I’m disappointed in my mistakes, I’m grateful to my horse and must let go of any regrets.  With second level looming, I need to look ahead to those requirements of increased engagement and collection.  The Grand Junction show has been cancelled this weekend because of increased cases of VS- vesicular stomatitis.  This gives us more time to train, so our second level debut will be even better.