Thoughts from judging last weekend: Wow, there are a lot of well-bred, talented horses out there! The real job of a horse owner: get the right team and the right management. There are good riders. There are good horses. There are good horse owners, vets, and farriers. But to get the right rider on the right horse, managed well in the stable, with the good vet and farrier: Now that is a work of art!
"Equitation Hands" refers to the tendency for some riders to place their hands, when holding the reins, in a picture perfect location in front of their bodies, but have no elasticity with the movement of their horses. Thus, when the horse's head moves, the reins go slack and/or tight. Equitation hands are "still" in relation to the rider's body. Elastic contact requires the hands to be "still" in relation to the horses mouth, accomodating movements of the head and neck. Especially in walk and canter where oscilation of the topline is a fundamental mechanic of the gait, the hands must move in relation to that oscilating head/neck in order to harmonize and encourage a good dressage quality medium walk and canter. If a horse has been ridden for a while with equitation hands, then the quality of walk and canter will be reduced over time. Eventually the horse will learn not to offer good "swinging" through movement. He will learn to just move his legs, without full body swing (hard backed, tight backed). He may also learn how to "drop" his riders connection whenever he wants. The elasticity of the connection comes primarily from soft elbow flexions, and somewhat from fingers and/or wrist. In extreme collection, the oscillation of the topline in walk and canter is greatly reduced, and the riders hands can become more rigidly located and still be correct because the demands for movement is reduced. Additionally, some horses are naturally tighter than others. Those tight backed youngsters need to be encouraged to swing through with very generous, elastic connection and intervals of free rein work.
Today, I lunged the four divas (Welle, Wonder, Winnie and Sandi) over cavaletti. I haven't mentioned another diva that I recently got in training: Ria. "What is it with the mares?" you ask. I don't know. Ask the universe. Anyway, Ria is a chestnut mare owned by Karen P. I don't have a photo yet but I want to get one soon. Interesting, before I met the mare, she got sick. Very sick. She lost weight and depleted her muscles and topline terribly. I hear it was very serious. Now, she is regaining her topline and undersaddle skills more rapidly than I had anticipated. She is a real smarty, that one. And she is enthusiastic too. But, the day I met her, she was standing in her stall with her head out the dutch window. She didn't turn to look at me or acknowledge my presence at all. I thought, wow, this mare is really depressed and not at all friendly. (sarcastically in my head, "this should be fun") But, in a few short weeks that reserved, introverted mare has proven to be the most cheery and outgoing lady. She is very fun to work with, although she is a real athletic effort to ride. She is put together with very loose rubber bands and it takes tremendous stamina in my core to balance all her wiggly power. But that is a good thing for a dressage show horse. Angie will become her regular rider eventually. Ha ha. Good thing Angie likes pilates.
Well, we are signed up for Raleigh, NCDCTA Championships. My plan: that will be the last time that I ask Welle to do the Prix. St. Georges. I hope we nail it. Then, we will move on to Intermediare. Sanibelle is going also. We are going to bounce trough Intro B on Saturday. Susan is taking her good ol' QH Bodie in the first level championship classes and Dana will be with Watson in the same classes. God willing, it won't be so hot.
Training thought for the day: For those of us without training mirrors, observe your footprints in a freshly dragged arena to make sure your medium walk is tracking up or overtracking. Medium walk in your dressage tests must do that to get a satisfactory or better score. ... and... Observe your long shadow in early morning or late evening to see if your trot appears active and athletic, or lazy/unathletic or running/frantic.
G'evening. Here is my training thought for the day. Many times I see riders school their horses for many minutes and never once reach down to stroke or pet their horse's neck. But then, the horse spooks or bolts and the rider babytalks and strokes the neck. The message that sends the horse is, "Thank you, I praise you" ... for spooking. Eventhough the words coming out of the riders mouth are, "Its ok, don't be afraid" that is not what the horse reads in that body language. Don't pet your horse during or after behaviors that you disapprove of. Please DO STROKE and sweet-talk your horse after or during things that you DO approve of, because stroking is saying thank you. You do not want to say thank you to your horse for "looking out for cougars." He needs to leave that up to you, and he needs to be thanked for submission, forward movement and good behavior choices. Pet him and coo more often in your regular happy riding. During and after a spook, quietly re-establish your authority and his submission. Once improved, praise him for that improved behavior.
Hope this helps some of you who may be experiencing insecure behaviors in your horses. Like anything else, timing of rewards takes practice.
Best to ya!
Phyl hosted a celebration dinner for the Sandbox Club victory at Raleigh. The dressage ball caps were part of the award. Sportin? I suppose I should host a thank you dinner for the trainers award victory at Williamston?
Conditioning and health program: Welle
One of Welle's biggest problems throughout her dressage career has been strength. She is a very fine boned, lightly built girl. She has continued to get stronger throughout the years but, she also keeps going up through the levels, so the demands of strength in collection and impulsion needed for the show ring have increased. The conditioning program for Welle is based on alternating strength training days with aerobic days. On Aerobic days, we go trail riding. The gaits, mostly walk, are kept brisk and powerful. If weather conditions prevent hitting the fields, then we do suppling exercises in the arena at a power walk with some stretchy trot. Strength days include hill work, cavaletti and grid jumping, and dressage training with collection/impulsion intensity. Cavaletti and jumping may be on the lunge or under saddle. All days start and end with suppling. Suppling includes stretching, bending to volte figures, leg yielding, shoulder in, haunches in, half pass and other lateral work. Some of these also induce collection, so can be considered part of strenth training, especially when transitions are included inside of the lateral movement. Also, very important, mini-stretches and horse-show stretches are included in suppling everyday. Additionally, after strength training days, Welle gets passive suppling exercises for her legs and joints while standing in the ties or stall. One note: when we ride in a clinic or show, we have to do "strength" workouts two days in a row. That is an exception to our training plan.
Welle gets one or two days off per week. After a show she gets one - three days off. Welle has all the orchard hay she wants and gets turned out in a grassy field for 14- 20 hours per day depending on the weather. She is kept in during rain and lunged in the rain if the weather is ongoing. Welle eats about 4-5 pounds per day of alfalfa pellets mixed with legends performance grain. She gets one supplement for fat, "weight builder". She gets electrolytes fed by suringe into her mouth when the conditions are extreme. She gets ulcerguard as prevention for stomach problems when she travels.
Remember there is a difference between keeping a horse and keeping an equine athlete. Since Welle is a competitive performance horse, there must be a balance between nature and enhanced domestic conditions. So, far, it appears her balance is ok. One note I would like to add regarding turn out. The quality of the turn out is important. At 14-20 hours per day, the turn out consitutes a huge portion of her diet. I watch her body condition every day and make adjustments according to what I see. Pasture nutrition can change weekly. I don't consider turn out part of any exercise routine. It is equal to a human stroll through a mall, or a walk to the mailbox. I manage flies vigorously. The best fly management strategy is most often ignored by farm owners: Keep the manure pile 600 feet (or more!) away from living areas and arenas. Flies mostly thrive near their homes. Drag pastures when horses are rotated off. If manure is managed well, then face flies and some other types will be hardly a problem. Really.
I hope you enjoyed reading these details of Welle's plan.