Lesson with Pearl Classical Dressage 2/6/16 – 2/7/16

I already spilled the beans that I had some amazing rides with Elise this past weekend. I’ve taken my time writing down notes and things I want to be sure to remember because there was so much goodness. That’s not to say that I didn’t struggle. I struggled a lot but I didn’t get frustrated and I didn’t give up – my hip did but more on that later.

Although I want to be an interesting blogger, my primary goal is to be able to reference posts like this in the future when I want to look back. Feel free to breeze past the boring stuff for the meat from the lesson!

I arrived late Friday night to Elise’s house and we stayed up talking horses, dressage and flipping through some books together. Nerdery supreme – and it was awesome! In particular, I was devouring The Elements of Dressage as well as Dressage for the Not-so-perfect horse. The latter book Elise sent home with me because she recently read it cover to cover and marked it up with all kinds of good notes. Yay homework! I definitely want to get a copy of both books for my own collection. They are excellent!

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We woke up Saturday morning and didn’t rush straight to the barn. After a stop for donuts (omg German chocolate donut wut), we ran a couple of errands. I picked up a tube of Ulcergard for Nibbles for the move (1 dose/day for 4 days). I also scored a bag of feed as I will be keeping Nibbles on the feed she’s been on when she moves – Tribute Essential K (2/3# twice daily). For anyone unfamiliar, it is akin to Buckeye’s Gro N Win. It’s a ration balancer with a very low NSC (starch content) which I really like because it doesn’t light her little tail on fire. She’s a fairly easy keeper, too, and when she moves she’ll be back on 24/7 turnout with tons of hay.

After a few errands, we made it to the barn where Nibbles is at. Elise had another lesson before me so I plucked Nibbles from her pasture and decided to groom her. She was by herself in the cross ties and was very wiggly. Cue me panicking – I joked with Elise that I have cross tie PTSD after Joker’s cross tie shenanigans. Of course, Nibbles didn’t do anything dramatic, she was just super wiggly and looking around when she was alone and couldn’t see any other horses. She pawed once or twice, I told her no, and that was that. Nibbles rarely argues which is one thing I love about her.

We tacked up and I borrowed Elise’s stirrups because mine are with Joker (whoops!). We agreed that I should do the warm up and be the first to get on. There’s no time like the present to take the reins!

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Elise lunging Nibbles in December

Guys, my horse is a boss. I put her on the lunge first so Elise could coach me through what they have been working on. I’m not good at play by play so how about a list…

  • Starting out very briefly without side reins then attached them firmly but no where near cranked (third D-ring on the side reins we we using).
  • Flick her shoulder/ribcage to create the correct bend or correct counter flexion.
  • Half halt with the lunge line just like when you are riding.
  • After she’s had a few minutes on a 20m circle, spiral in and out at the trot and canter between 10m, 15m and 20m circles. Carefully keep the bend and do not let her fall in at the shoulder. She has a tendency to do this to the right.
  • Play with transitions within the gait as well. She can really sit if you half halt and send her forward into the contact.
  • The goal is to get her warm and swinging through her back.
  • I didn’t lunge her first on Sunday and could tell a big different in her readiness to get to work and accept contact. Elise agreed it may be wise to lunge her first to warm up her back and get her accepting the contact before I get on for a while.

I was really impressed with Nibbles’ ability to not only canter on a 10m circle, but to do it really freaking well. It’s absolutely clear that Elise has carefully worked on her fitness and balance.

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Another from December

I want to note that lunging like this is not mindless circles and it is not about blowing off steam. It is thoughtful in-hand work to prepare Nibbles mentally and physically for the demands of the rider. She really tuned into me and wanted to work. Her expression was, “What’s next? Wheeee!” She’s such a happy horse.

After I felt like I understood a typical lunging session, it was time to mount up. Long time readers may recall that Nibbles’ was bad about the mounting block. No more! I mounted up and off we went. Although she wasn’t “up” or spicy, Elise had me do an exercise she uses when she is:

From wall to centerline, walk in tight serpentine loops down the longside. You should be able to fit in 6 or more in a dressage arena. Work towards seeing how little rein you can use and really get her moving off your leg and, eventually seat.

When she’s in a working frame of mind, leg yield at the walk in both directions from just off the wall to centerline – straighten – then leg yield back again. Did I mention my horse leg yields like a boss in both walk and trot now? Yeah, that’s a thing.

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Yay, a photo from this lesson!

Move on to shoulder-fore in both directions. This is still relatively new to Nibbles so don’t over school it. Get a few solid steps then straighten and praise her (scratch her withers and tell her good girl). Praise her before she feels like she can’t hold it anymore and she will get stronger with time. The outside rein is extremely important – do not throw it away or she will trail her hind end. Don’t try to over correct the hind end: correct your outside rein and, like magic, the hind end gets into gear.

If she gets above the bit and/or tense through her back, use an opening rein just off the wall to ask for one step off the track in either direction. It’s amazing how quickly she gets back with the program. Elise rode Nibbles in a clinic with a grand prix trainer and picked up this exercise. Reins should be opening – out but not down. You can do this multiple times down the longside and once, maybe twice, on the short side. We did this in both the walk and trot.

You’ll notice all of these notes are about exercises in the walk and trot. That’s because we were about 45 minutes in when we went to canter for the first time and my body gave a big fat NOPE. As soon as Nibbles went to pick up the canter like a good girl, my right hip started spasming like someone had stuck a hot knife in it. I talked to a PT friend and, without seeing it in person, she hypothesized that perhaps I had been gripping with my lower leg more than I realized. This can create tension and ultimately pain the hips. I think it was a combination of this and me being very, very tight through my hips naturally. I think they were just pushed to their limit considering I hadn’t ridden in the past week and hadn’t done much more than walking in several weeks on Joker. I felt relief only by completely dropping my stirrups.

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Not sending her forward enough, reins could be shorter by the shoulders being improved

Nibbles is green but she is really so easy. My hip was really, really hurting so I kind of freaked out and tried to stretch it in any way possible. This meant one second I was asking her to canter, the next I was frog-legging, bicycling, throwing my leg to the other side like we were going sidesaddle… just trying to find relief. And the mare walked on the buckle like I got you mom. We tried to canter a couple more times. I decided not to drop my stirrups (I was pooped at this point) which in hindsight I wish I had given a shot. We got a 20m circle or two at the canter where I had to really force my hips open. There were a couple of strides where my hips finally relaxed but they would quickly spasm again so I waved the white flag.

We spent a little while thereafter working on the free walk. We didn’t have a correct free walk quite yet – it was more like she swallowed a telephone pole. To her credit, my seat was basically just flopping around trying to stay upright at that point so I don’t blame her.

Unfortunately, my hip pain continued into Sunday which means we made it about 15 minutes into the lesson before, even at the trot, my hips were screaming. It was again primarily my right hip (I think adductor muscle). We didn’t lunge first so Nibbles was colder through her back and not seeking the contact. It wasn’t super pretty but it also wasn’t hopeless – my body was betraying me and she just wasn’t quite ready to get to work. I considered getting off completely but Elise and I had thrown around the idea of going for a road hack and it was 30 degrees and sunny. So we opened up the big loud barn door (good mare don’t care) and headed out.

I’ve never ridden Nibbles outside of the arena. Until Sunday, she’s only ever hacked out alone. Elise says she LOVES trail riding and I was super excited to experience it. Homegirl went on autopilot. She was so happy – ears forward and neck swiveling to look around and take everything in. I say that but she wasn’t looking for something to spook at, I swear she was just enjoying her surroundings.

Elise was on her gelding, Atlas, and we headed up the road together. I dropped my stirrups as we walked because ahhhh relief and Nibbles was showing off her mad skills. Is there anything better than a horse you can hack out on the buckle? Atlas is pretty massive (16.3) and Nibbles is 15.2ish and she was taking her time sight seeing so we were getting left behind. I pushed her into a trot and she happily obliged. I’m pretty sure at this point I was laughing for joy. When I sent Nibbles to Elise, she had a small handful of rides and we had no steering. And now we were trotting up a road with our big girl panties on without a worry in the world. Well, there was one offensive boulder we gave a wide berth. And my hip gave me the bird after 30 seconds of posting. But my joy would not be deterred!

It was a quick hack, up the road, over a small bridge, and back. We had a couple of trucks pass us. I picked up my stirrups for the first one but didn’t bother for the others if that tells you how much she cared about them. When we got back to the barn, it was buzzing as there was a grand prix trainer coming in for a clinic in a little over an hour. So we snapped a quick picture (that I posted yesterday) and put ponies away.

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Notice one of us stole the other’s stirrups? xD

Like I said, I struggled in places over the weekend but it was awesome – none of it was because Nibbles was saying no or being silly. In fact, except for being wiggly the one time in the cross ties, she was foot perfect. If I asked in the right way, she said “Yes, absolutely!” If I asked in the wrong way (ahem pulling on the reins too much), she was a big fat tattle tale and giraffed it out until I fixed myself/asked correctly. Some other takeaways about my position/riding…

  • Really engage my traps and think about pulling my shoulder blades together (like in a low row at the gym) and softening them down. This is more correct and effective than just “shoulders back.” Desk job is killing my position.
  • Hip to heel line is generally good in walk and trot… cantering I definitely close my hip angle but not sure beyond that from this trip because of my mutinous hip!
  • Hands need to be UP (at least one fist above my saddle) – lower is not kinder.
  • Do not nag her with your hands.
  • Really make the outside rein your anchor, especially tracking right and in the lateral work.
  • Send her forward – she will suck back a little if I let her. Forward is the answer. Always forward, even if you change gait, just keep her on the track.

We knew this from the massage therapist back before her show in September but she is out in her C5 vertebrae and needs a chiropractic adjustments. This shows up especially when tracking and bending right. Her mane is also flipping very closeby and I have a hunch it will go back to one side after a few adjustments. I also want to bump her grain up just a hair; she could stand to gain 30-50 pounds.

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Elise and Atlas in the clinic this week. Stole this from her Instagram like a straight up bandit because GOALS. How amazing do they look?

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The Right One

I spent the weekend in a private mini-clinic with Elise to prepare myself to take over Nibbles’ training. Elise will still very much be in our lives – for one, she’s a dear, favorite friend. But more than that, she will be transitioning from trainer to coach – instead of putting the rides on Nibbles, she will coach us as a team while I ride. That’s been the plan all along and the time is finally here.

I am working on a recap of what our rides consisted of (spoiler alert: much awesomeness) but I learned something that, to me, is so much more valuable: Sometimes, it takes a lot of wrongs ones to know when you’ve got the Right One.

I have the Right One. The right horse and the right coach.

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I walked away this weekend being more energized about riding than I have been in a long time. I found myself counting down the hours to the next time I’d be able to ride. Not only to be able to school the next thing or get something quicker, but to be able to swing my leg over and beam like a little girl. But it was more than just being energized, I was joyful. I was bursting with pride at being able to ride my horse. My horse who is so much fun it’s not fair to everyone who hasn’t ridden her.I remembered why I do this, why I love it beyond explanation. And it was more than joy, it was hope.

I have hope for my future with horses. I don’t know what it will look like in the long run and that’s okay. I’m here for the ride.  Because I have the Right One.

I Love My Not-A-Pony

This weekend turned into a bit of an adventure although not because of Nibbles. When we left on Friday, the weather was clear and cold. On the drive up, we got caught in a lake effect snowstorm. Within 15 minutes, we had minimal traction and highways were going 15 MPH. We decided to stop tempting fate and – 30 minutes from home – get a hotel for the night.

The next morning, the roads had been plowed and salted so we headed back out. On the way to the barn, we stopped by a local tack shop that was closing and got a steal on an early Christmas present for Nibbles (but I’ll be doing a new post just to talk about Christmas this year so you’ll have to wait). From there, we headed to the barn to see my pony.

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Candid happiness

And my pony is not a pony anymore. You guys, dressage done right completely transforms a horse’s body. We sticked her at 15.2 but I swear she grew two inches and has put on 25lbs+of muscle. It could be that I’m also more used to Joker who is 14.1 on a good day but wow, I couldn’t believe how big she is. I could tell a huge difference in her posture as well – and those gaskins<3

Nibbles hadn’t been turned out in 24 hours so she was tense and up. *sigh* One day, mare, you will come out with brain firmly installed and floor all of us. But until then, to the lunge! Elise popped on her first which was helpful for me to watch in person. She sure loves to canter now and wasn’t too keen to trot. One day all three gaits will be installed in equal measure but until then, I’ll take finally having a lovely canter.

After Elise’s brief spin, it was my turn.

I upped my stirrup a hole just in case.

I didn’t need it. Guys, she was awesome. The trot was tense (shocker, Nibbles). Looking at the pictures, you can tell she’s tense but it doesn’t look near as wonky as it felt. She wanted to tip her nose to the left, too, which is interesting to me. Elise says that’s not uncommon for her.

IMG_4135And then we cantered. Heaven on earth. Her canter was effortless. The cue was effortless. Riding it was effortless. It had the perfect amount of suspension. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like I was floating. Unlike her trot that day, it was more forward than up and calm and just dreamy. I didn’t want to stop.

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I stayed in a lighter seat just in case although wow, I’m farther forward than I thought in pictures. But at least my toes aren’t pointing straight out? One piece at a time for me and for her… After several trips in each direction, I hugged my pony and decided it was Christmas picture time.

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But you’ll have to wait for those 😉

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All smiles

Canter Nearly Cured

Nibbles’ toughest gait under saddle has been the canter. She has found it very difficult to tolerate a rider in more than half-seat while still using her body correctly. It’s not highly uncommon for green horses so I haven’t been too worried about it. My thinking has been that the stronger she gets, the better the canter will get.

Elise has been so patient with Nibbles which is yet another reason my decision to send her there is 100% affirmed.

And because Elise is the bomb, we have lots of video to compare. Watching these really makes me appreciate her progress. You can get a feel for the change even by watching 5-10 seconds of each.

The canter 30 days under saddle (50 second mark):

The canter 60 days under saddle:

The canter 6 months under saddle (40 second mark):

The canter 7 months under saddle:

It’s not perfect yet and probably not quite yet to Training Level quality (and certainly not consistency) but it’s such a big improvement. In the most recent video, she loses balance and the canter gets a little bit lateral and tense but relaxation will help with that. Elise says it was 10 and 12 meter circles on the lunge with lots and lots of trot-canter and canter-trot transitions using sidereins that seemed to turn on the lightbulb for that particular ride. Elise didn’t have to ride in a half seat and there was a lot less dramatic head flipping.

I’ve been wanting to get her chiropracted for a while but it hasn’t lined up with moving barns. I’m really, really hoping I can get her checked soon because I think it will only really help as she learns to really use her body.

Husband and I leave later today to head up to Michigan to see her. I am dying to ride her and beyond excited for Saturday morning when I get that chance. I’ve seen her but haven’t ridden her since July! I AM READY.

 

Follow Trainer E’s Blog!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve heard me gush about my dear friend and trainer extraordinaire of Miss Nibbles, Elise. She has made her return to blogland and is already up to providing some awesome tips for riders (especially fitness – can I get a what what for shoulder struggles) as well as some awesome Spanish Riding School clinic recaps! I may be biased but she’s totally worth adding to your blogroll or Bloglovin.

Check out the Pearl Classical Dressage blog!

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PS – She is dropping Joker off a day early – tomorrow afternoon! Let the picture spam and nose smooshing commence!!

Woodbine Dressage Show: Part III

I was bursting with pride after her second test. She kept the gerbils in the same general direction and harmed no one in the process. Sure, she was more giraffe than dressage horse, but this show means we are one step closer to become a real dressage pony.

All done and all smiles.

All done and all smiles.

I won’t keep beating the fact that I’m really happy with Nibbles. I wanted to comment on the experience of the show itself. The horse world can get a really bad rap because of how selfish and nasty people can be. I had the exact opposite experience my first time back after 5 years and I think it’s important to talk about.

Other Competitors

I did not hear one word of gossip or body shaming. Everyone clapped politely and, if anything was whispered, it was about how cute the horse was or how we understood their pain. Half pass is hard, canter serpentines are hard, your horse screaming in the middle of the test happens to us all. No one tore anyone down and it was fantastic.

Case in point: I showed up at an open show with an Arabian. Not only were there a handful of other Arabians, I overheard people saying nice things. “Wow, that horse has presence.” “Oh, she’s spirited and beautiful.” “How striking!” Standing on the sidelines, I don’t think people realized I was this horse’s owner which was a great opportunity to potentially hear them talking out of the side of their mouths. If you’re looking for another story about people tearing each other down, you won’t find it here. Not today.

Does it get any more adorable?

Does it get any more adorable?

The Judges

Judges get a bad rap sometimes too. They’re the people who remind you that Ponykins isn’t perfect and your riding needs work. That is, you know, what you pay them for. Nibbles didn’t even break 60% at Intro level. That should hurt, right? Not at all! She is 90 days under saddle and had never been away from “home”. You know what else, the judge took the time to tell Trainer E (who was of course riding) that she thinks she rode the horse well and to come back.

The judge I watched  most of the day (who judged Nibbles) was nice to other riders as well. She made small talk with them when they entered and thanked each and every one of them at the end of their test. She was smiling and she was kind. It was clear she made it her goal for everyone to have a positive experience.

If you want to make fans of your sport, that right there is how to do it. Did Nibbles keep it together? Most of the time barely. Did she show off her mad skillz? Absolutely not. Will I do it again? Yes, tomorrow, please, as soon as possible!


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All in all, Nibbles’ first dressage show is in the books and only made me hungry for more. One day, she will trot down the centerline like a civilized pony. This day was not that day but we made a deposit in the confidence bank and had a lot of fun doing it.

Woodbine Dressage Show: Part II

We last left our heroes in the warm up ring by themselves. Nibbles was very tense and thought going sideways was the answer to leg. Again, Trainer E showed a lot of wisdom and was careful about which fights to pick and which to let go. By the time they were to go into the ring, we had forward reinstalled but Nibbles’ preferred to go around with her nose in the air and all the tension thank you very much.

oh Nibbles, you will learn shows are fun and not terrifying

oh Nibbles, you will learn shows are fun and not terrifying

I present to you what is possibly the most tense baby dressage test ever.

If scores for “tranter” were a thing, she would have nailed it. Alas, they are not a thing and she nailed almost nothing. I had a blast watching. I cheered like a lunatic when they saluted. She stayed in the arena (although around 1:16 in the video you can see she thinks about it) , she didn’t kill her trainer, she didn’t injure the judge. Huge massive baby success!

salute - love this photo

salute – love this photo

I don’t think you can hear it on the video but the judge is totally and completely nice. At the end of the test, she thanked Trainer E and sagely added, “This is where it all starts.” Trainer was really pleased with her and concurred it was a good first experience. Super-de-duper tense but a positive learning experience and that’s what we were going for. She was scored a fair 54.8%. and pinned 4th out of 4. She did get a white ribbon so yay unexpected satin (for beating no one hahaha).

Her first test was around 8:30am and her second test wasn’t until 1:30pm so we had plenty of time to hang out and watch other riders go. I felt like I was home, even though I wasn’t riding. It hit me how much I missed showing and how glad I was to be back on this path.

As they went by, she said "Quick judge us now!" ha!

As they went by, she said “Quick judge us now!” ha!

About half an hour before her second test, it was time to head back to the warm up. Things started off spicier than the morning even though she was very laid back in her stall. She didn’t seem too pleased that it was two rides in one day.

You horse for the day, I'm done. This photo sums up a lot about the various attitudes.

You horse for the day, I’m done. This photo sums up a lot about the various attitudes.

The main warm up only had one other horse in it and was being dragged so in Nibbles went. Go figure, she could care less about the giant tractor. We joked that we wanted to request that she follow it around because she went quite nicely when she could follow it around the warm up.

Nibbles got the boot once because she was way behind the leg. That resulted in two pretty pathetic bucks. In her trainer’s words, Nibbles never does anything dirty. Her “no’s” aren’t really no so much as don’t wannas. She said she never feels like she’s in danger which is really awesome to hear because I am not a professional and this is supposed to be fun. I’m totally convinced Nibbles is the right horse for me after seeing what it looks like when her brain explodes. Frankly, it isn’t that bad (although Trainer E made it look like a cake walk sooo).

Intro Test B. It seemed to go better to us but the judge was still fair with her 58.0% this time, no surprise satin.

Again, tense is the word of the day but I feel like you see a couple nicer moments. I cannot emphasize enough how nice the judge was. She made my day with her comments on the second test.

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Stay tuned for Part III: the aftermath and overall thoughts!