The Diamond Moment (Including a New Schooling Exercise!)

Today I had THAT ride.

You know the one I’m talking about… that ride where that one thing that has been most difficult for you (and that you’ve nearly given up on a million times, but keep pushing and trying anyway because it is something you know you have to try to improve as much as possible) finally clicks and you feel it! You feel that glimpse of correctness and you and your horse come together in that perfect little moment of harmony and you flow together. It’s what keeps us trying. It’s what keeps us coming back. It’s our ultimate addiction. That glimpse that the thing you’ve struggled with for so long might actually become something real one day.

Today I felt the wave. It lifted me forward from behind and I felt it! I felt the wave and that “push” that I’ve heard so much about and yet have never fully understood.


The wave I am referring to is that pushing and lifting feeling you’re supposed to feel when you drive your horse into a lengthened or extended trot and their back is engaged and they drive from behind to lift you (or suck you down) onto their back and carry you forward.

I have a nice sitting trot, according to my trainer and others. But finding that following seat in a lengthened trot has been very difficult for me. When the horse’s power kicks in and you’re not quite following through with your position, it’s enough to make you feel like you’re going to be launched out of the saddle and up onto the horse’s neck!

In our journey, however, Aragorn’s toughest gait has been the trot lengthening. He has always been prone to running forward and being just enough on the forehand that he is slower in front than he is behind and this makes it virtually impossible to have a true lengthening.  For close to 2 years I have been working this gait with various exercises trying to convince Aragorn that he can carry more weight behind to push himself forward into a lengthening while staying round and supple. And he’s  finally, FINALLY, beginning to show a true understanding!

In this process of improving our trot lengthenings, I school many different exercises to assist in engaging the hind leg and developing more pushing power from behind. Over time, these exercises have evolved to become more challenging and expect more from both myself and Aragorn. Today, I will share with you my current favorite.


Here’s How I rode this Exercise (See diagram below)

  1. Begin at a medium or working trot tracking left. As you come through the short side of the arena past C, use a series of half halts to prepare your horse for the shoulder in as you come out of the corner and approach H.
  2. At H, go forward into a shoulder in left without losing impulsion and rhythm- maintain a forward flowing medium/working trot.
  3. As you approach E, straighten your horse for 2 strides only! Use this time to half halt and prepare your horse for travers.
  4. Travers (haunches in) to K. Again, maintain a forward flowing medium/working trot with good impulsion and correct rhythm.
  5. At K, straighten your horse.
  6. (This is my favorite part!!) As you come through the corners before and after A, think about “Powering up” your horse to further prepare him for the coming lengthening across the long diagonal. Use a ton of half halts and think about loading a spring.
  7. Explode across the long diagonal from F to H in a proper trot lengthening being mindful that your horse is not running or rushing forward, but is pushing from behind. If you need to help your horse take longer strides, post the diagonal staying up longer in your posting and sitting down a bit later than you should.
  8. Immediately at H, come back to your medium/working trot and repeat this exercise the opposite direction.

For blog


Some Helpful Things to Remember When Riding This Exercise

For every stride I ride of this exercise, I am constantly checking in with Aragorn to be sure I am truly loading his hind end as much as possible. Many horses, when developing a shoulder-in or travers, will lose their impulsion and desire to move freely forward with the added challenge of moving laterally at the same time. This is why it is important to also think about using the few strides before each of these movements to think about “powering up” in order to load the hind end enough that the horse is able to maintain his forward impulsion and rhythm and move in and out of the movements easily.

As you come past B and E, take the time to truly straighten your horse for 2 strides- don’t go right into the travers from the shoulder-in. This increases your horse’s responsiveness to your aids, forces the horse to pay closer attention to you and what you are asking, and also gives you that time to “power up” again before moving into the travers.

As you explode across the diagonal in a lengthening, do not allow your horse to fall on the forehand. Maintain that feeling of the horse lifting up through the withers- that feeling is created by the hind end engaging. If your horse starts to fall on the forehand, you can straighten and ask for a few strides of leg yield to engage the hind leg again and then go forward in another lengthening. More on this below.

This is going to sound a little silly, but it really helps me during those “power ups” to get myself rev’ed up. I try hard to get myself pumped up and excited for the explosion of pent-up energy and the possibility that I may, once again, feel the wave. And, by using this excitement within myself, I am able to more influence my horse’s level of preparedness- after all, he can feel me getting very excited about something and he get’s excited too!


Aragorn’s Thoughts

I did this exercise only two times through each direction because I expected a lot from Aragorn. We were thoroughly warmed up by the time we got to this exercise and we had more to work on afterwards as well. But, I expected him to give me his best effort through every movement of this exercise and he gave me just that. He was forward, willing, supple, happy, focused, and giving me more than 100%. He had to focus carefully on me because of the changes came quickly. He had no time to become lazy or complacent because we did not stick with the pattern long enough for his disinterest (which can come quickly) to settle in. Those moments in which he gave me more push than ever and in which I was able to truly sit and flow with his movement felt so good that I rewarded Aragorn profusely and he, of course, couldn’t help but feel proud.


Ideas for Modifying This Exercise

  1. Is your horse not yet to the development level that he can perform shoulder in or travers? Move in and out of a leg yield along the railing (keep your horse at a 45 degree angle in the leg yield). Try to leg yield to just about the center letter, straighten for 2 strides, and leg yield again.
  2. Want more of a challenge? Canter the long sides in travers for the first half, straighten, and travers again for the second half. Medium trot through the corners before and after the long side.
  3. Does your horse struggle with setting up for shoulder in? Begin each long side with a 10 meter circle to aid in positioning him properly for this movement. You can also set up for the travers with a 10 meter circle at E or B as well.
  4. Has your horse not quite figured out how to bend his body around your inside leg for the travers? Start with a counter shoulder in: put your horse in the shoulder in toward the railing. Begin encouraging your horse to look more into the direction of travel with each stride with half halts on the outside rein, a strong inside leg at the girth, and the inside rein asking for bend in the direction of travel.
  5. Does your horse fall on the forehand or lose engagement during the trot lengthenings? Lengthen the trot for only a few strides, then move into a leg yield for a few strides, then move back into a trot lengthening. Gradually build up to maintaining a trot lengthening for the entire diagonal.
  6. Working on developing your following seat at the lengthenings like I am? Do you start to lose your position and bang on your horse’s back or feel like you’re about to be tossed in the sand? Sit a few strides, post a few strides, sit a few strides, etc. until you’re able to develop your seat enough to sit the entire diagonal.

Let’s revisit “The Wave” for a moment. 

I want to tell you what piece of advice helped me finally become one with my horse’s back for that small moment.

I found this piece of advice on an old discussion thread. The discussion was about learning how to sit a lengthened or extended trot. The piece that stuck out to me was when someone said to try thinking about using the inside of your boot soles to feel like you’re hugging up under your horse’s belly and only using that part of your leg to “hold on.” The reason she said this is an effective means of first training your body to follow the movement is it allows you to relax the necessary muscles in your hips and legs,  find the correct lifting feeling, and have the sense of security that is required in this stage of the learning process.

Now, does that mean that you need to be forever gripping on for dear life with the insides of your boot soles? No, of course not. But, I will say that the person who suggested this method was a major player in the role of me finally feeling “the wave” for the first time. The same day as reading this thread, I put it to work during my ride that evening. And I felt it- I felt the wave for the very first time. This is the entire inspiration for this post!

It’s what keeps us trying. It’s what keeps us coming back. It’s our ultimate addiction.


Do you have tips to share for developing a better following seat at a lengthened or extended trot? Do you have different ideas for modifying the exercise I have shared with you? Do you have comments or observations you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them! Please comment!

Advertisements

Jo Hinnemann and The Most Important Warm Up Exercise

It’s interesting to me how certain videos pop up over and over again on social media.

I first saw this particular video (below) of Jo Hinnemann discussing what he considers the most important and most difficult exercise of riding: Trot Canter Transitions, a few years ago.

Watch the video here:

The moral to this video is what Jo Hinnemann gives us when he says that trot-canter-trot transitions is “the best exercises to get our suppleness.”

I’ve been reflecting on this almost to the point of obsession lately- and for good reason!

Aragorn and I are now training to show third level. To get to this point, we essentially have skipped showing second level in order to please my I’m-Bored-With-Simple-Work-And-Thrive-Off-Of-Learning-Tricks horse, Aragorn. Here’s the thing about Aragorn- he is a star in schooling, training, and clinics. However, in the show-ring he is the prettiest-damn-fire-breathing-dragon you’ll ever see! In other words, Aragorn is extremely stubborn and hyper-aware and has no respect for his snaffle bridle, but becomes soft as butter in a double bridle. I know, I know- you’re thinking “but proper training teaches the horse to become softer in the bridle and you shouldn’t need to ride a horse in a double to get his submission.” Well, you’re absolutely right- this applies to most horses- MOST HORSES. But not all. In fact, did you know the world famous Totilas was one of those horses that was quickly pushed through the lower levels? They pushed him through as quickly as possible and he did not begin to really excel until he was competing FEI. So, why can’t other horses be the same and still progress correctly- developing the top-line and core/hind-end strength and increasing suppleness systematically? Of course it can be done- Aragorn and I are doing it now!

Yes, Totilas’s training is surrounded by a lot of controversy and Edward Gal has been criticized for his use of Rolkur and LDR methods to force Totilas more quickly into submission. I am in no way a proponent of these training methods and I believe in following the training scale and respecting classical training methods as much as possible. I do not believe that there are shortcuts to training, but I do believe that it is important to listen to your horse and find what makes him or her tick.

As for Aragorn, the moment I tried him in a double bridle, he became the softest and lightest he’s ever been- and no, I am not riding the curb constantly! I am able to ride him mostly on the snaffle with only a light reminder with a curb when he becomes heavy, unfocused, or disrespectful. The problems in the show ring would come from his lack of respect to the snaffle even after years of conscientious training (6 years!!!!) were just not cutting it. With the help of my gold medalist trainer and an international level clinician, we were able to determine that Aragorn thrives off of challenge and that introducing him to a double bridle may be what helps him get over the boredom he was feeling and the behavior problems he was demonstrating with first and second level work.

With all that being said, we are facing a few training challenges as we prepare to show at third level. The main challenges we are facing right now is the sharpness of our transitions and maintaining the quality of our gaits through those transitions. Through my dressage journey, I am learning that everything needs to continuously improve because more advanced movements require a higher degree of precision, response time, and quality. Because of this, my rides have not only included exercises and practice focusing on developing more collection and improving lateral suppleness, but also expecting more through all of our transitions.  Through this work, I have discovered that Jo Hinnemann is quite correct in saying that the canter-trot transition exercise is indeed one of the most difficult exercises to execute- especially when not only focusing on maintaining or improving gait quality, but also on promptness of response and the development of improved suppleness through this exercise.

When riding this exercise in the later part of my warm-up, I always begin by making sure I have a good quality trot with suspension. I make sure I maintain this feeling as I ask for Aragorn to canter and I expect him to jump up into the canter and maintain that jump within every stride. Oftentimes this takes a while- I may have to ride the canter at least a time or two around the circle to get Aragorn honestly on my aids and not trying to flatten out and run forward. Once I have a nicely cadenced uphill canter, I am ready to ask for the trot again, but I am careful to use enough leg to encourage him to step right back into the suspended high quality trot we had before we cantered. If the quality of my trot is where I expect it to be, I will again ask him to canter. As I stay on this exercise, I see him become softer to my aids, quicker to respond, and more focused on me and his work. Where I may have cantered a time or two around the circle during our first canter stretch, by the last time in the same direction we may be only cantering a few strides before I ask him to trot again. I am careful not to go into this exercise with a time limit or a number of times around the circle preset in my mind. Instead, I take the time it takes to get the desired response. I am noticing, since I’ve been incorporating this exercise into all of my rides the last few weeks, that I am having to spend less time on this exercise before we are ready to move on to more challenging work! Someone once said to me: “In training horses, if you take the time it takes, it will take less time,” and this exercise has certainly proven this to be true.

So, I close with saying that this will forever be one of those exercises that I will keep returning to and, when it comes across one of the pages I follow on Facebook, I will always watch the video and be reminded of how beneficial this exercise has been to us in the past, how amazing it is in the present, and how it will help us to improve even more in the future. Just because an exercise seems basic, does not mean it needs to be ridden in the most basic of manner- how can you make it forever better and better?

Confessions (Not Really) From the Worst Blogger Ever

I’m not really sure how I wound up leaving my blog sitting here in the dust of the arena footing… but, I’m back and I promise I will work hard to start sharing some of my exercises and homework with you as well as introducing some reviews of the equipment I have in my tack trunk.


It’s ironic to me that I named my blog “From Canter to Pirouette.”

When I started writing two years ago, Aragorn and I were struggling with the canter. He was unbalanced, often uncontrollable, heavy on the forehand, and consistently behind my leg. I dreaded working the canter because the effort that was required on my part just to keep him going was about a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being almost no effort required.

Well, two years later and we almost literally have gone from canter to pirouette.

We went from struggling with simple consistent bend in both directions and maintaining a connection two years ago to training 3rd level with the intentions of showing this year!


I could keep writing about this and talking about all of the trials we went through to get to the point where we are today, but I’d like to save that for a scattering of future posts. What I’d like to focus on today is saying this- I don’t know why I haven’t posted in so long, but I’d like to apologize.

However, I see my exercise posts being frequently repinned on Pintrest, and my Facebook page still gets visitors. So, thank you- thank you for your continued interest in my past posts, thank you for giving me the motivation to return to the keyboard, thank you for affirming me as a potential writer that can truly help and continue to help other Adult Amateurs just like myself.

I’m excited to be back!

aragorn-looking-over-his-shouler-in-cross-ties
See y’all soon!

 

 (Re)Developing Connection

I’ve experienced an overwhelming amount of change in my life the past couple of months (hence the reason my posts have gone MIA for a while), and with those changes I’ve lost a lot of my connections: close friendships just around the corner, intense support and friendship with coworkers, knowing where I am and how to get to where I want to be, and, most important to this Blog, with my riding partner Aragorn. Because of the changes in my location (moving from North Carolina to Florida) and the many responsibilities tied to these changes, my riding times have been inconsistent. However, we are finally getting back into a regular routine of riding and working to redevelop our connection.

When we first arrived at our new home in Florida, everything seemed to exist in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Our rides seemed to lack the focus and purpose they had had prior to moving. I’m not sure what the reason was for this lack of focus, but it was becoming quite frustrating… until this past weekend.

I will say that the weather here has been much better for summertime riding than it was in Coastal North Carolina. Yes, there are high temperatures and humidity, but the rain showers are more frequent and with them generally comes lower temperatures and less humidity. I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to catch my breath as if I were breathing through a tiny straw when I ride here! So, we are able to put more effort into our rides and spend more time on what challenges us. With that being said, however, we have been having heavy thunderstorms for more than a week straight intermixed with sunshine and partly cloudy skies. There has been little time for puddles to evaporate and riding arenas to gain back their quality footing.

But, if there is one thing I am good at, it is being creative in my riding and finding ways to work towards our goals in nontraditional settings. So, our focus: redeveloping connection.

As you know, suppleness is an eternal challenge for us, particularly to the left. But, suppleness has been almost completely missing in our few rides since our relocation to Florida. We would get to the point where we would be finally focused on one another and developing an understanding, but it would be after a good 30-40 minutes of discussion and argument.

This past Saturday morning, I arrived at the boarding stable only to find the arena under a flood of water. I have to admit that I was excited about this: I could go ride down the dirt road and work on some suppling exercises and get a bit creative! Here’s a view for you to get an idea of what we had to work with:

The perfect setting for creative suppling!
Pretty beautiful, right?!

——————————————————————————————————————

Here are the exercises we rode:

  • Figure eights making our circles around the trees as equal in size as possible.

 

  • Circling down the road around each tree on the left, tracking left for each circle, until we got to the end. Then, came back down the trees on the opposite side of the road, this time tracking to the right for each circle.

 

  • Leg yielding in zig-zags across the road from one tree to the next on the opposite side of the road (a great challenge that really aided us in working on adjusting our scope!).

 

  • Serpentines around the trees as we moved up and down the road.


We worked these exercises at the walk until our connection was strong and secure, then we proceeded to the trot.

——————————————————————————————————————

Useful techniques for us in these exercises:

Here are some of the things I focused on that helped us at first develop and then maintain our connection:

  • A connection is not true unless is it from the inside leg to the outside rein. I want to feel secure on the outside rein and, when I do not feel that secure connection, an inside leg aid at the girth is a reminder to Aragorn that I need him to connect to my outside rein.
  • The inside rein is Aragorn’s reminder to soften through his jaw and poll. When I feel his neck “fill up” my outside rein, I like to give him a soft rub or scratch on the neck with my inside hand- this is his reminder that he is connecting to me correctly, carrying himself, and giving me lightness!
  • My inside seat bone is my best friend in securing connection. This is the hardest thing for me to remember, but when I focus on it, everything comes easier! For example, when tracking on a circle to the left (our tougher direction) I focus on taking my left seat bone to the right (almost like I am taking it to behind my right knee) and Aragorn immediately responds by stretching through his ribcage and stepping more under himself with his inside hind leg (that’s the best feeling: when he truly steps more deeply under myself with his inside hind!).
  • Inside leg at the girth outside leg behind is only a general rule. Depending on where Aragorn’s hindquarters are (falling in, falling out), I might need to adjust my leg aid to prevent or correct an incorrect positioning.
  • It is important to keep Aragorn moving in front of my leg, nicely forward and active. Ideally, I should feel a swing in his back at the walk and, at the trot, it should feel like I’m riding on a bouncy-ball (thanks to Fie Andersen for that analogy!). Without this swing or bounce, Aragorn cannot possibly be active enough in the hind and will not be in front of my leg.
  • Ask, receive, give. To keep Aragorn sensitive to my aids, I must be sure to “give” the instant I get a response. Too many riders “hang” on their horses by never giving when they get a response. All that is going to do is create a dull horse and a fatigued rider. Back to the seat bone example from above: once I shift my left seat bone to the right and I feel Aragorn supple on his right side and step under with his left hind, I relax that aid and sit equally on both seat bones in the center of my saddle.

——————————————————————————————————————

Aragorn’s Thoughts

For the first ten minutes or so of our ride, Aragorn was more focused on his surroundings than he was on me, but this changed after a warmup consisting of the serpentine and figure eight exercises. What helped him focus on me the most was me sharing my inner dialog with him aloud; instead of just talking myself through the things I needed to do to create a true inside leg to outside rein connection, I said things like: “OK, we’re getting ready to circle right and I need you to be connected to my left rein… Focus on finding that connection to the left rein. Remember to shift the inside seat bone out!” and other helpful dialog. Aragorn has always actively seeked verbal praise and he has learned things quite quickly from verbal direction, so this dialog with him keeps his attention, helps him relax, and helps him know when he is doing the right thing (and the benefits for me are huge as it helps me better organize myself!).

Within the first few minutes of the warmup serpentines and circles, I was easily finding true connection on both reins, working towards finding equal and straight connection on straight lines before changing direction, and Aragorn was attentive, forward, and truly having fun! If there is one thing I can say about Aragorn, it is that he has an exceptional work ethic and he puts 100% (most of the time!) into trying to please me. I think Aragorn knows just how handsome he looks when he is connected, forward, and light! I was even pleasantly surprised when the weanlings next to where we were working decided to gallop and buck around their pasture at full speed and Aragorn only gave them a side glance in passing- not even once did he disconnect from me or get prancy and excited- what a good boy! Truly a fun ride for us both!