Friday, October 30, 2009

Let Me Sleep On It

Every time it happens, I am amazed.   You would think by now, after training dressage horses for 25 years, I would be used to it.   But that is not the case.   I am still impressed by this phenomenon.   And tonight, I again sit here thinking, "WOW !   How did that happen!?"

Piper Warrior, our 1997 Olympic Ferro x CandyBoy gelding, is basically a 70% Training Level / 63% First Level horse....   That's when he is not freaking out about judges booths, flowers, or oddly shaped pebbles.

When working at home, he is really good at leg yield, walk to canter, reinback, and shoulder-in.   A couple months ago, we played with travers / haunches in along the wall.   It was not pretty, but it was a start.   Taking it to the center line for half pass was quite unsuccessful.

Tonight, after a really good session of transition work, leg yield in walk and trot, and trot shoulder in, I gave the half pass a shot again.   I don't what I was thinking.   It is the normal progression of work with Jeddien, but this was Piper!

But sure enough, starting between the centerline and quarterline, I asked for half pass and GOT IT!   And it was satisfactory!   But why!?!?

This is the amazing thing about horses.   As ridiculous as it sounds, it seems like they actually sleep on it, thinking about the work presented to them, and getting their heads around it.   Really, it makes no sense!   Horses are not recognised as being deep thinkers.   And yet, over and over, I have seen this happen where the horse, when presented with new work, does not do well, but then goes back to his stable and thinks about it, and the next time out, does the work.

Impossible!   Or is it?   Do horses sometimes need to sleep on it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cross Training

Cross training.   That's the fancy term used these days.

Ever since I started taking riding lessons as a kid in 1971, it was apparent that the average riding horse should be trail ridden, worked on the flat, and jumped.   This, after all, was what they taught at Watchung Stables in Summit NJ where I rode for 3 years.   When we moved to Dunstable Massachusetts and bought our own horses, the same point was stressed in Pony Club and 4-H.   We were taught horses are versatile and can do lots of fun things.   And FUN is definitely what we had!

In England, where I lived, trained, and competed in dressage for 12 years, cross training was and continues to be the norm.   Even FEI dressage horses go for hacks, occasionally pop a fence, or even follow a hunt!

Those who practice natural horsemanship understand cross training, as well.   They believe that allowing the horse to dabble in different activities can broaden their horizons, help them grow mentally and physically, and further strengthen the relationship between horse and rider.

Our two dressage horses have always enjoyed trail riding and jumping.   Jeddien even earned a rosette at a fun day event at Merrist Wood College (in Guildford UK) for going clear over a full colored show jumping course.   Piper has also done a bit of jumping under saddle and truly enjoys free jumping.

This winter, Piper's work will alternate between dressage training sessions with me and jumping lessons with one of our grooms.   And so far, he is LOVING it.   In the spring, the plan is for him to compete in 4-H competitions with his new jockey and USDF dressage competitions with me.

And so, with fun new training plans underway, new colorful jump poles seemed in order.   Winter will hardly be bleak and grey in our indoor arena!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dressage Radio

We get bombarded with so much advertising these days that it's no wonder if I missed ads for this entertaining and informative innovation:   Dressage Radio.

Today, while playing in Facebook, I stumbled upon the Facebook page for Dressage Radio.   So far, I've only listened to part of Episode 21, a recent interview with Isabell Werth.   But I heard enough to know I will be tuning in again.

With dressage activity quieting down up north, Dressage Radio will no doubt become a very welcome addition to the motivational toolbox, keeping the dressage fires burning during the months of winter.

Well done to Chris Stafford and Heather Blitz, and thank you to all the people behind the parent Horse Radio Network project.   Top marks!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Winter Games

If I were Australian, I would no doubt be using the word CRIKEY a lot this week.   It has been that kind of week!   October 16th and half of New England saw snow today.   Tonight, temperatures are expected to fall into the mid 20's.   And our spectacular fall foliage has been getting shaken off the trees this week by gale force winds.   Crikey indeed.

It seems Mother Nature has full intentions of providing another strong Winter this year.   No question about it.   Thankfully, our horses are getting ready, already growing thick winter coats.

New Hampshire winters and dressage training are not a match made in horsey heaven.   For serious training, indoor arenas are a must.   With the amount of snow we get, it can be quite challenging just FINDING our outdoor arena during dead of winter, let alone getting to it, and then riding in it.

(The indoor arena, sleeping.)

And then there is horse & rider health to consider.   Whether the horses are well clipped and religiously blanketed or not, riding in sub-freezing temperatures must be done with extreme care and consideration about warming up, sweating up, cooling down, and drying off.   What might have been a 90 minute visit to the barn to school one horse in the summer quickly becomes a 150 minute visit in the winter.... or just a 90 minute visit with MUCH LESS actual training time.

In general, when the temperatures in the indoor arena drop below freezing, I personally back off on the intensity of the work.   If I can't comfortably ride without wishing to cover my nose with a scarf, I don't ask my horses to work to the point where they must deep breath ice cold air.   Instead, when the cold spells kick in, we switch over to no speed / low speed winter games.

Winter is a great time for reinforcing the horse & rider partnerships through groundwork.   We bring out the blue plastic tarps, practice trailer loading, play the Parelli 7 games, do tons of walk work including lateral movements and rein back, and then maybe venture outside for a "trail ride" up and down the driveway.

This winter, we will be playing with our new Parelli Horse Balls which arrived last week.   And, just for Piper, maybe we'll even do some special training with plastic flower baskets!

Winter is coming.   Let the games begin!