Road to Bronze 2017 Apr 18-23, 2017


Monarch very animated earlier this week.  It took me an hour to catch him, because I did not want to trick him with treats; I wanted him to choose to come to me.  Eventually he did allow me to snap on his lead and we practiced 2-year old stuff- leading, halting, and backing.

Date: 4/23/17

Minutes of Training: 90

Horse: Monarch

Goal: – practice timing and position of whip whispers all 3 gaits.
– test effectiveness through horse’s response, (does he improve? how?)

Methods- be specific, give details: Through my lessons with Susan, I have developed 2 strategies for my warm up with Monarch. Problem 1- horse is very spooky at C end of arena, particularly R-M-C, but some days in both directions S-H-C-M-R. Today, I began immediately with neck supples on the long side as soon as he began to shy. I noticed that right away, he gave his neck and began to chew. From there, he allowed me to connect, so rhythm, suppleness, and connection improved right away. Problem 2- In the warmup, Monarch has no rhythm when we go to trot after the loose walk. He is quite behind the leg, and uses a funky evasion of jumping in the front to canter while dragging his feet and slow trotting behind. Some days it takes quite a long time to get him engaged. To develop an energetic, rhythmic trot from the beginning , I used the rhythmic whip whispering on inside hip/croup in the moment of the sit in posting trot. When the horse lost rhythm or impulsion, I posted quietly, ignoring any resistance, and quietly kept the correct beat with rhythmic taps in my post. (I did not post harder, use my spur or whip to get more impulsion.) I also counted out loud 1-2-1-2, giving the aid on the 1 (sit) beat. Like the neck supples, the whip whispers corrected the problem quite quickly. We were able to begin the schooling part of our training much sooner, as he quickly warmed up with this new routine.
Here is the exercise:
F-R marching walk, long neck, suppling poll with flexion;counter flexion. R-M neck supples- opening inside rein, release/test, supple again, until horse relaxes and releases. Through corners M-C-H, 1/4 circle supple: (inside spur in rhythm of walk asking horse to step up and over, outside leg guarding bend, opening inside rein asking horse to unlock neck, light check outside rein only if horse falls or shies). H-E-V, trot with whip whisper on sit (1) beat. V-A-F 1/4 circle supple in trot.

Reflection: test effectiveness through horse’s response: does he improve? yes!
how? horse became more engaged, increased impulsion & lightness

We accomplished our goal quickly with this routine, so we took a nice hack outside the arena.

Next Steps: with this much engagement, I’d like to practice walk-canter-canter transitions. I will do the exercise in Uta Graf, part 1/section 2: 10 strides of each. Goal- make it effortless/drink coffee

4/21/17: practice whip whisper in all 3 gaits: timing and position for rider; response & engagement from horse
comments about today’s training: excellent response from horse; horse is now obedient & not reactive. Both the training and the familiarity with the sheep, (they are lambing next door & increasing their numbers each day), have helped him to resettle. Rider- timing is better on left side in trot after practicing on the right side first.

Date: 4/20/27

Minutes of Training: 90

Horse: Monarch

Goal: lesson with Dr. Susan Schneider

Methods- be specific, give details: 1. warm up
a. walk: poll supples on 2nd track, then use small supple circle to engage inside hind
b. trot- develop swinging trot with poll as highest point and chest open so shoulders can step through; when horse goes above the bit- hold rein with set hand on wither just in front of the saddle while sending horse forward with inside leg/never pull back with rein; release immediately when horse gives. (This is like a long half halt, 3-5 seconds until horse regains balance and releases.) Post with swinging hips and loose legs- don’t drive horse with strong post and tight legs. When horse gets too quick, also use set hand with inside leg. Horse will rebalance and find a better rhythm; can also achieve by holding core and posting more slowly.
2. Teach horse to engage core by stepping through. Begin exercise in walk, then go to trot, then canter.
a. in the walk, working on a 20 m circle, supple as leg yield with inside leg/soft spur asking horse to step under and sideways. Keep the contact. Next, teach horse to step through with hind end to the bit. Shorten reins and lengthen arms. Whip will encourage horse to push from behind/engage motor. Whip: inside hand with pinky closed, thumb on top, rein lengthened and open for whip to touch croup. Whispering taps with whip in rhythm with walk. When horse stops, he is stuck; he needs to sort out how to step through to the bit. This is a new feel, and he is not sure how to move into the contact. Don’t drive horse when he is stuck; instead just keep riding quietly in rhythm, and he will figure out how to step “through”; stay on the 20 M circle.
b. trot- begin as in walk, (leg yield on circle to supple and activate inside hind.) Next a whip whispering to his croup in trot rhythm. Post and touch horse when rider sits. When circle is good, go large.
c. canter- when trot, supple and move into canter from 20 M circle. Continue to supple keeping neck soft, poll highest point, rhythm relaxed. Then engage inside hind in rhythm of canter- stride 1- very softly on croup. When circle is good, go large. Keep the rhythm regular and relaxed.

Reflection: This lesson mirrors part 2 of section 1 of Uta Graf, “Effortless Riding.” Very timely to have this lesson today; very helpful to practice my timing and softness of aids today.

After such a reactive beginning to the week, this lesson was a reminder of what a treasure my horse is. He works hard and wants to please. He enjoys the training as much as I do. I believe the emphasis on rhythm in this lesson, (along with suppling), helped to steady and reconnect Monarch to my leadership, after his electric and wild affect earlier this week. (I wore my full seat leather breeches today because I was not sure how much bucking I would have to ride. It turned out that he was solidly on my seat the whole lesson and did not offer even one buck!)

Next Steps: Take Monarch away from the sheep next door, so we can focus on these concepts can confirm the feeling of stepping through to the bit, (horse), and timing and lightness of aids, (rider).

4/18/17: Practice flexions for lesson on Thursday; light aids
comments about today’s training: another wild day. Monarch regressed back to 2 years old. Sheep came in to the ranch behind us, strong spring winds, birds building nest in barn, blackbirds in the chico brush. Monarch was very worked up when I went to tack him up, so I turned him loose in the A end of my arena, with a rope from V to P to contain him. Then I let him blow off steam because he was not going to be caught. It took an hour of sending him out before he let me approach him; I used the join up method, looking for licking as a sign that he would let me approach. I finally began to “free longe” him, asking him for transitions- walk-trot-canter- halt. All this was fine, as long as I didn’t try to approach him. After an hour, he finally let me touch him with a cookie. After talking to him, petting him, and many cookies, I attempted to snap on his lead. By then he was 80% calm. We spent the next 30 minutes practicing leading, as we did 15 years ago when he was a colt.


spring shenanigans!



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.



“Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting

It’s true, I haven’t written a blog post for several weeks, though I have been immersed in equine endeavors.  This weeks photo challenge was a good opportunity to comment about where some of my focus has been- improving the canter with Monarch.

improving the canter

Fleeting Harmony

Fleeting: riders know the meaning of that word.  We continually strive for harmony in a state of dynamic flow- our bodies in fluid, yet controlled balance moving with our 1,000+ pound horses.

Balance is the key for harmony, and this state is constantly changing.  As we train, our fleeting moments of harmony grow longer.  This photo was taken at a session with my trainer two weeks ago.  As with Solo Schooling, Maree had me play with my body position, which in turn allowed Monarch to play with his balance and position.  At this moment, Monarch is stepping well under himself with the outside forehand lighter than the inside hind in the diagonal beat.  He is ready  for the leading beat as he reaches with the inside fore.  I am balanced over his center of gravity with my shoulder, hip, and heel aligned.  Communication is clear with a straight line in the snaffle rein between bit, wrist, and elbow.

Since that day, our harmony has continued to grow: spiritual, mental and physical.  A new connection was created in our partnership and communication.  Though Monarch has always been sensitive and responsive, that session was the beginning of a new way for him to respond to me.  He really wants to understand and  partner with me.  Our training sessions have been a growing source of pleasure.  At the end of our ride, we both feel success and joy.  Beyond our riding partnership, Monarch seems to respond to me with a different kind of connection.  On the ground, in my daily barn chores and having him as my backyard companion, he seeks me with a look and his presence to form  a stronger bond.  This is a subtle form of communication and impossible to describe.  When you’ve experienced this, you understand.  It’s a partnership which I gladly give to him.

Focus on Balance

Excerpt from Andrea Datz’s Integrative Horsemanship spring newsletter:

I’ve come to define the quality that horses find attractive in humans not so much as leadership but as balance.  I think horses are attracted to people who have good balance.  I’ve always known it was important to be mentally/emotionally balanced – consistent and stable in my mind.  But I’ve also come to realize they like it when you are physically balanced.  People who have good balance and coordination have a presence about them.  They know how to move and carry themselves in a way that is attractive to horses.  They are naturally confident and agile.  Perhaps it is that quality that the horses ‘respect’ more than a particular technique.Horses are hardwired to move efficiently.  From an evolutionary standpoint, efficient movement = survival.  Horses that don’t have good balance or coordination can’t move efficiently and pose a threat to the safety of the herd.  Those horses tend to be a bit ostracized, certainly not respected and followed as a leader.  Thinking about things from this perspective has helped me let go of methods that include any form of herd hierarchy or dominance when I am working one on one with my horses.  By focusing on my balance and coordination I find myself focusing more on their balance and coordination.   We begin to genuinely move together and they become willing followers in the dance.

Andrea got me thinking about balance today.   I work on balance quite a bit, as I have a weak left knee from years of injuries and surgeries.  I have become very aware of my compensating patterns and practice balance exercises, so that I can stand/sit straight to prevent soreness in my back, and most importantly, so that I don’t upset my horses’ balance when I ride them.  I agree with Andrea that balance is the key to rider influence and effectiveness.  Work on improving balance when not in the saddle.  Then practice your new feel while on your horse and see how it makes a difference.  During every rest break for your horse, check in to monitor your position.  Realign, breathe, and balance. When schooling, if your horse becomes resistant, immediately check your position. Since your position is a mirror of the horse, assess whether you are helping or hindering his movement.  Then re-prepare the horse and build on baby steps, as you focus on your position.  Examples of baby steps:  begin movement at the walk, use less angle, use larger circles:(less bend), use the wall for support.

To improve your balance try these exercises:

Stand on 1 leg with your eyes closed for 30 seconds- it’s very hard.  Then switch legs. Which side is easier?  Is it because you are stronger on one side of your body?   Or, like me, is it your weaker side?  When you have been hurt, you learn to better align your body to prevent future and further injuries.  If your practice this quick exercise on a regular basis, your balance will improve.

Buy or make a balance board.  There are many sites on the internet for directions; mine is a plywood circle with two center circle drilled to the size of pool balls.  Find old pool balls at flea markets or a pool hall.  This fun and challenging exercise can be practiced while watching TV or talking on the phone.

Beth Glosten has many good exercises on her DVD, “Ride in Balance.”  I do her hip loosening exercise standing, instead of lying on a mat, as she demonstrates.  This gives you the benefit of loosening the hip while developing balance.  Stand on one leg, circle the other leg across the standing leg, up and around and back to neutral.  Repeat 3-5 times, then reverse by moving the leg away from the standing leg, circle up and around and back to the standing leg.  After 3-5 reps on one leg, repeat the whole sequence on the other leg.

Practice tai chi.  In yesterday’s class we focused on balance, practicing the first qiqong swing and “Marriage of Heaven and Earth.”  Stand barefooted or in loose, flat shoes; put all your awareness into your foot.  Feel your feet relax and spread.  Grow roots into the earth.  Feel the energy that runs down your body through your feet grow roots into the ground.  This “root” energy gives you an opposite rising energy running up from your feet, up your spine, and out your head into the heavens.  Play with subtle shifts of weight- forward, back, side to side.  Roll your weight around your feet, doing ankle circles. Practice the first swing: press up out of one foot, turn in the qwa, and shift weight into the other foot, turn the qwa back toward first foot, and return weight to the foot.  This swing will develop energy like a slinky back and forth, energize chi awareness while developing balance.  Find a tai chi instructor to learn this swing without torquing your knees.  Sit deep in “your tai chi seat” and make sure you keep your knees stable over your feet.  Here is a video link to help:

Body Work to Supple and Strengthen Your Influence In the Saddle; Strategies to Developing Straightness

Why You Should Ride the Left Side of Your Horse Going RightPosted by 

The article above provides very clear explanations to the hollow-stiff conundrum.  Strategies were coherent, common sense approaches to straightness.  Also consider suppling exercises: poll flexions/counterflexions and neck bending/counterbending (depending on the direction you are traveling) to elasticize the stiff side, fostering better balance in the horse’s body condition, as well as his way of traveling.

Horses, of course, are mirrors of their riders.  If we are stiff or if we sit crookedly, we will develop our horses’ bodies asymmetrically, resulting in stiffness, crookedness, and imbalance. Body work for riders is essential- when stretching, make sure you relax into the stretch and allow space to develop in your facia and your joints.  Never force a stretch.  Breathe and focus into the length and space you are creating.  Side planks are fabulous for developing a strong, supple core to aid you in sitting in harmony and straightness with your horse.  If your core is strong and balanced, you can influence a crooked horse to move more in balance, instead of abetting his asymmetry.  Practice simple balancing exercises, such as standing on one leg with your eyes closed.  Work up to 30 seconds.  Use a balance board for 10-20 minutes/per day.  The constant small shifts needed to keep the board level give your body feedback, which translate to the micro-adjustments a quiet, supple, balanced rider performs in the saddle.