Sunday, November 22, 2009

Okay Let's Talk

I'm sure most everybody has seen the training pyramid before, or at least a version of it - but yet I see people everyday who are trying to achieve the upper levels without having a solid base. So let's talk about it...

Way back in the day Egyptians built pyramids primarily as tombs for the Pharaohs - this part really has nothing to do with horse training, but the next does. As far as history can tell a pyramid has ALWAYS been built from the ground up. I don't know of any pyramids that were assembled from the top down - do you? Most likely not. So, let's take that piece of knowledge and apply it to our pyramid here. Before you can have anything else you must have rhythm.

So let's define "Rhythm" as it applies to horses - Ability to move into the natural gaits with relaxation - physical AND mental. To have correct rhythm the horse has to have the correct beats for each gait: walk = 4, trot = 2, canter = 3 and rein-back=2. It makes sense to me - and obviously most trainers in the world - that a horse must have the ability to maintain an established rhythm (and gait) when under saddle before they can even begin to be truly supple.

I once had a dressage trainer tell me that when a horse is walking away from you it should be like watching Marilyn Monroe walking - hip swaying and all. To get this the horse must have suppleness, or flexibility. This happens in two ways: forward to back (longitudinal) and side to side (lateral). And by the way - a bend does NOT come from the neck!!! A true bend should come from the ribcage being wrapped around the rider's leg to make a bow shape with the horse's entire body. Only then - after the horse has an established rhythm and is supple can you begin to ask for contact.

Contact is when the horse ACCEPTS (not tolerates) the rider's hands, seat and leg. I see so many "riders" think their horse is round just because the horse's head is down and "on the bit." That is literally just the rider riding solely off their hands and so the horse braces against the bit in a headset that non-dressage riders seem to think is pretty. They are truly round when: the horse accepts and responds to leg and seat aids, the horse is moving UP into the contact from the HIND END, the horse's jaw is relaxed, the poll is the highest point and the horse's back is raised. Hopefully y'all are seeing a pattern here...Impulsion cannot happen until the previous steps are achieved.

Impulsion can be described as free-flowing energy initiated by the rider, causing the horse's back to swing, hindquarters to engage and forelegs to articulate. A good measure of impulsion is how far the horse steps up under its barrel and engages its hocks. Once again - the power must come from BEHIND. Riders should NOT have to constantly ask their horse to keep moving forward - you ask once and the horse keeps going at that pace until you ask for something different - impulsion should become a second nature to horses in training.

Did you know horses are naturally crooked? They have better sides just like people (right vs left handed). Asking a horse to be symmetrical and straight happens through working each side regularly. But guess what???? Before your horse can be straight it has to have - can you guess? - Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, and Impulsion.

And what can then happen once all of it comes together? DING DING DING: COLLECTION!!!!! Great collection = rider feels as though they can let go and the horse would still maintain perfect rhythm and self carriage without any interference from the rider.

In my opinion there are many roads to Rome. If you ask 1,000 horse trainers how to do something you will get 2,000 different answers. I'm not saying what is the right or wrong way to get there as long as you get the basics down pat first. My dad is in construction so maybe that's why I understand the importance of a good foundation because it seems that the practice of getting a strong foundation before moving toward the more upper level movements went out with the Bush administration.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Coaster is now clipped and all of that hair is now all over me...I'm going to take a shower!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Food for Thought

One of my biggest pet peeves are horse owners and riders that don't educate themselves on proper care of their horse. They take advice from trainers, friends and old wives tales but they don't invest in proper books, websites or even take some classes. Something people get all excited about is the percent of protein in feed. They think it is the BEST energy source for their horse - they don't know that it actually requires energy to break down the proteins so that the horse can use them as fuel.
It is my belief that most horses don't need much - or any - grain, they get their required nutrients from good quality hay or pasture. Coaster gets a pound and a half of a simple all around grain twice a day. When he is in the stall (at night) he is given about half a bale of a good quality mixed hay and then is out on pasture during the day. When he is worked I give him Ultium - the amount is based on how hard he worked. I love using Ultium because it has a high fat content, beet pulp, Vitamin E, C and Selenium - all the things that I think a performance horse needs. When fed in the right rations I've never seen a horse get "hot" off of it - even the most high strung Thoroughbred.
I guess my whole point of this post is that I wish horse owners would take the responsibility to educate themselves - they don't have to agree with me, just make an educated decision based on some sort of research, not just what somebody said.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Nice Hack

Today Coaster didn't meet me at the gate but stood really well in the crossties so I decided to just go out on a long hack. I hacked down the road past crazy dogs and killer cows to a city owned field that is mowed, flat and huge - basically the perfect gallop once we are in shape. It was good for both of us to get out of the arena and not touch the reins. He was a little stiff, which is understandable, but other than that we had a great hack out for over an hour.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Room Got a Little Brigher

Sunday: Coaster meets me at the gate, stands perfect in the crossties, doesn't move while I put on the polos, had a great ride with him really working over his topline and moving forward off my leg.

Monday/Yesterday: Coaster doesn't meet me at the gate, is a jerk in the crossties, moves around while I put on the polos, and acted ridiculous when I rode him - we are talking the attention span of a gnat and back to the not moving forward/bracing/being a jerk.

Tuesday/Today: Coaster meets me at the gate, stands perfect in the crossties, doesn't move while I put on the polos, and had a great ride - forward, submissive, moving off my leg...

So when I realized this pattern I felt kind of dumb for not realizing before I even put the saddle on Monday that something was wrong. I really think he was just a little stiff/sore. I should have read his behavior prior to me even putting my foot in the stirrup that something was off, but I had a friend out to watch me so I was preoccupied with showing her how much progress he has made - which of course she didn't see because it was a ridiculous/frustrating ride. Anyway - he was back to his new dressage self today so I'm it's onto the homework, ugh.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Back In the Bit

After focusing on the basics for the last couple of months I decided it was time to put the bit back in and see what I had. Wow is all I can say. Coaster is actually submitting to the bit and moving through his back. I need to find a new dressage saddle as mine really doesn't fit him...oh well, if only money grew on trees. Since Coaster and I are both out of shape for serious dressage work, I'm going to take it slow - get it right on the walk, then get it right on the walk/trot transition then worry about the trot and so on. I just need to focus on getting my leg as tight as it needs to be - I'm so out of shape it isn't even funny.