Thursday, September 26, 2013

Biomechanics, Naturally: Part III

With a side of mouth injury.

I didn't have a lot of time to play with Royal on Monday, but couldn't resist this cute face waiting for me at the gate.

D'aaaaaawwwwwwwwwww, how sweet. And look how far away the other horses are. So I had to play with Happy Face for a little bit, doing more Basic Alignment Exercise and helping him stretch out. It only took a few minutes for him to relax and let loose.

So the next day I tried to see if I could do the same thing under saddle. I (luckily) knew to make sure that Royal was 100% with me on the ground, and that ended up not being the case. At all. I don't know if it was the cows or the weather or what, but he was distracted and would not relax. Every time I sent him out on the 22-foot line, he would take off like a wild horse and leave me hanging on to the rope, desperately trying to stay in the same place. I tried doing the "you'd better run," sideways without a fence, moving massage, everything I could think off. And Royal was still head-in-the-clouds ignoring me. So I sent him out again, he started zipping around, and then he tripped. He popped right back up and kept going, but a few strides later, I saw blood dripping from his mouth.

I was even more panicked when I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. There was so much blood that I was honestly worried that he'd bitten off a part of his tongue. So we scurried back to tget a towel so I could at least mop up some of the blood and figure out what was going on. Luckily his tongue was intact and he'd taken a bit out of his upper lip. It looked fairly superficial, and he didn't seem too bother, judging by his appetite. So, not wanting to end on a bad note, we went back out to the pasture to finish our session on a calm and sane note. I managed to set up my phone to video it:

All in all, I was pleased with how it turned out, considering. I gave him a bit of bute, just to be safe and let him back out with his buddies.

Today I decided to try BAE riding, again. The wound had scabbed over (although it still looks kinda gnarly), and when we started our ground warm-up, I was extremely vigilant in not letting his attention get away from me. The moment I saw an eye or ear wander, I asked for something: sideways, back-up, change of gait or direction, anything to keep his focus on me. And it worked. Even though the cows were right at the fenceline and staring at us, he kept his cool and didn't start freaking out. The BAE on the ground went well, and I hopped on.

We started with just letting him wander where he felt like it. He wanted to trot and canter, but it was pretty warm, so he settled down quickly. I began playing with basic energy levels at the trot; trying to get him to go from just-above-walk to regular trot to just-shy-of-canter. He was a bit confused and broke gait a lot at first, but soon got the hang of it. Then we started walking on a 20-ish meter circle and doing some BAE. I've noticed that Royal frequently doesn't bend his body on the circle; he just makes a series of turns with his nose pointing out. So I started gently tapping his inside hindquarter until I could feel his hind legs cross over a little bit. He started stretching, but as first it was the "I know I'm supposed to stretch, so I'll just do it" but gradually became the "Everything's balanced and I want to stretch" stretch. It was only at the walk, but it feels like a good start.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Biomechanics, Naturally: Part II

Last week I briefly touched on how I've been starting to play with biomechanics with Royal, trying to get him to relax and unlock his body. I think the underlying tension in his body is what preventing us from having a really good connection with each other when riding. I've talked about how he can hold tension like nobody's business, probably because that's how he's lived his life. I recognize that tendency in myself as well, so I'm trying to work on that too.

The first step is helping him to be "let loose" in his body, completely free of tension. It looks something like this:

Obviously this is a tall order for the Fuzz, and we've had a few interesting sessions so far. Our ride on Tuesday was one big experiment, some of which went well, some didn't. I tried a few different exercise, mostly relating to the Basic Alignment Exercise and melting brace. The hypothesis behind the Basic Alignment Exercise is that somewhere between crooked and the opposite of crooked the the place of alignment. So if your horse is falling in with their shoulder on the circle, instead of trying to get their shoulder on the angle of the circle, yield the shoulder past the circle for a bit and see what happens. By going to the opposite of crooked, you and your horse go through the place of alignment, which feels good. Eventually, after doing that enough, you find where you and your horse feel balanced and good.

Of course, I can't explain all of this to Royal and have to try to help him find it. So on Tuesday, I mightily confused him by asking him to yield his shoulders, barrel, and hindquarters this way and that, hoping to help him unlock and relax. The only problem of this was that a confused Royal is often a tense Royal, and he kept locking up and refusing to yield. At one point, he almost reared, which lead to an emphatic discussion of "forward means FORWARD." After both of us were tired and confused, so I tried to fix it by doing the brace dissolving exercise. It's kind of the opposite of the GoC, where you're constantly ready to take the contact. In brace dissolving, you establish a connection with the rein, and then send you energy forward through the reins to the horse. Instead of potentially creating a brace, you basically sent yourself up as a fence post, albeit a very giving one, that it uncomfortable for the horse to brace against. That seemed to work very well, and soon Royal was reaching into the contact and pushing well from behind. It was only for a few steps, but it was among the best he's ever felt. And when we stopped, he yawned and yawned and yawned for a couple minutes. Very good result.

Although I felt like an idiot because I set up my cell phone record it, and I accidentally turned it off before we even started. So no video. *headdesk*

We had a much better OnLine session a couple days later. After playing with attention and focus (be more interesting than the cows!), we did a bit more BAE. As before, he started off very confused and tense, but then something interesting happened: he started to relax. He put effort into the yields, instead of fighting them, and starting doing little bits of stretching. Then after a bit, fully stretched out for half a circle, completely let loose and relaxed. And more yawning. We're off to a good start.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Biomechanics, Naturally

Since Steepleview, I've been playing a lot with Royal and biomechanics. I've been wondering if our troubles with a consistent connection with the reins has to do less with tension and more with his body being out of sorts. He's been carrying himself like a llama the majority of the time for the past 10 years (and probably the 7 before that), so it hasn't been an overnight change.

I made an interesting discovery while doing some Moving Massage last week when I touched his flank right in front of the stifle: he moved slightly away and immediately stretched down and sighed. And it happened on both sides. Huh. His hips have always been something of a problem area, but apparently calling attention to them was a good first step. I also experimented with moving his shoulders around on the circle, and that seemed to make a difference too. He's already started moving with more correctness and engagement.

We also went for a little trail ride... in the rain. It wasn't raining too hard, so we did alright. The CalmWafers seem to be having a positive effect: instead of freaking out and trying to head to shelter at all costs, he simply stayed calm and moved over under the tree cover with little fuss. Much better than our dressage test at Roebke's Run, but then we were BOTH freaking out about the thunderstorm barreling towards us, so it was doomed from the start.

So, yeah. Not much. I'll actually be able to put some of this into play with riding soon, but so far we've just been getting the basics on the ground, slow and steady.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Steepleview 2013 Professional Pics!

Here they are! Once again, the wonderful team of D & G Photography took some fabulous pictures of Royal and me! As I mentioned before, I'd be really interested to see the dressage pictures, since the judge's comments seemed off the mark. I still think they were, but not in the way I'd thought. The word that should have come up a lot was "hollow", not "counterflexed". Unless she was using counterflexed in a way I'd never heard of to mean "hollow", but then "hollow" was in a few comments. So, I don't know. Obviously Royal since has a tendency to brace in his underneck, and while I can usually get him to relax and soften, I need to help him not go there in the first place. So this fall, winter, and spring will probably revolve a lot around relaxation and softness on both our parts.

You can see in the last x-c photo how much the saddle pad slipped, but overall I'm very please with how it went, apart from the heat and sweatiness. Also, my equitation went to the Place Where Dreams Die in SJ. Probably because the jumps came up so quickly. I've been so spoiled by mostly doing SJ in big open fields. Go get better at keeping myself in place when the jumps come up quickly.


The Fuzz is very photogenic.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Steepleview HT 2013: Long Version

Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post:

Music chosen because this was a weird event, due to circumstances beyond (mostly) everyone's control.

The week leading up to Steepleview was HOT, much hotter than the rest of the summer. I got a couple good ride in on Royal, but I wasn't sure how we would do in the heat. I suspected that Royal would be better suited for the heat than me (him being a mix of two desert breed, and me having mostly Scandinavian heritage which causes me to melt when it gets too hot), but then he'd be working a lot harder. Especially during x-c, which was hilly as ever. I was able to walk the course on Friday, and thought it was the best one yet. All jumps, very inviting, and seemed like it would reward the bold, but well controlled ride.

The next morning I was out in the pasture at 6am to get Royal. As much as I am the anti-morning person, the sunrise was beautiful.

Royal was most surprised to see me so early, but loaded in the trailer well and we were on our way. We took a back way consisting of quiet county roads and both of us arrived at Steepleview ready for action. I first took him up to the lunging arena to let him stretch his led and take in the event. He was pretty calm, at first always wanting to stay close to me. But I managed to get him to stretch out and do some nice relaxed trotting. Then I turned around and there was someone filming us! Seriously! Just standing behind Royal and me, filming us with her cell phone. She noticed that I noticed her, laughed, said "Beautiful!" and walked away. I managed to choke out "thanks...?" because I was so surprised and kind of weirded out. So, whoever you are, if you're reading this: if you truly thought it was nice, thank you and I hope you enjoyed it. If you were hoping to get some "Parelli abuse" footage, sorry to disappoint you.

Then I brought Royal back to the trailer, got him braided (note to self: braid straight up, if not slightly towards the other side of the neck) and got him all tacked up. I tried to schedule my warm to be less than 45 minutes long. In the past I've gone for longer warm-ups, but that usually backfires when he gets so bored and frustrated that it comes out as tension. So I tried to mostly just do some stretching and a few transitions before we went into the ring. My mother arrived, the ring steward and I joked about margaritas, and it was our turn (ten minutes after coats were waived to to heat, leaving me no time to change. Sigh).

I thought it was a good test. It felt much smoother than both our tests at St George's, apart from a few bobbles. The first came during the free walk, when I didn't release the left rein enough, causing Royal to veer to the left for a few step, but then he straightened out and stretched well for the rest of the test. The next came during the second canter transition, which is supposed to happen "approaching X", but Royal spotted a horse walking by the ring, stuck his head in the air, appeared to be thinking "friend?" and I was like "focus!" and gave him a strong cue. He flung his nose in the air and hopped in to the canter way after X, much closer to the rail. I thought we recovered well, and overall it felt like a smooth and accurate test.

It was hot enough that Royal was already sweating, so I tried like crazy to get him to drink some water. After much bribing and apple juice, he grudgingly drank a bit while I took out his braids. We were scheduled to run x-c around 1:45, right in the heat of the day. Once again, I waited to tack him back up for a while, and we headed to the warm-up around 1:15. We had a very low-key warm-up, in which we jumped exactly 5 jumps once: the cross-rail, the vertical, the oxer, a small pile of logs, and a good sized ramp, which lots of walking in between. Even that had Royal's neck drenched in sweat, since each time I aimed him at a jump, the afterburners engaged and he wanted to take everything at speed. He's not stupid: he could see the startbox and the horses running and jumping, and even with the heat, he was ready to go. I quick wiped off his neck before we headed to the startbox, trying to figure out how to keep him from overdoing it. Then we were at the startbox, and soon it was "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, have a nice ride!"

As you can see in the full starting jumps photo, this was part of a cluster of jumps, which sometimes has Royal confused about which one I'm aiming him at. Not this one. He locked right on and popped right over. We turned left and up the hill to

The Best Jump Ever: the Scrabble jump! Again, no hesitation. Lock and jump. We turn left and started down the hill to

A nice inviting rolltop. This was also in a cluster of jumps, but he focused right on this one and went right over. We continued down the hill to

A ramp. Also in a cluster of jumps, but he locked right on to this one. By this point I was starting suspect he was looking for the yellow numbers. We cantered all the way to the end of the tree, turned right over the land bridge and up another hill to

This was all the way at the top, and again, no bobbles or hesitation. He cantered up fairly easily and jumped over well. As an aside, this was the view from the top of the hill.

Then we went back down the hill to

Tootsie roll jump! This had caused him to do a double take in the past, but now he was more familiar and glided over. We turned right and went back over the land bridge to

The ditch! A much nicer and safer one than Roebke's Run. That one was extremely deep, which could injure a horse if it left a leg. This one was shallower than my knees and Royal jumped across well. We went back up the hill to

No muss, no fuss, not even a glance at the starter jump next to it. We went into the trees and swung right to

On Friday, I was unsure of how this would jump. This picture (which I took around 4:30 on Friday) shows it completely in shadow, but I knew it would only be partially in shadow on Saturday. And I was right: only the right third of the jump was dark. But even with that weird visual, he didn't look twice, just jumped straight over. We keep going on to

The bank. I slowed him down to a walk as we approached it so he wouldn't launch off it, because immediately we had made a sharp right turn and go out through the trees. He stepped off it nicely, we swung around like a barrel team, cantered out the trees and onto the top of the hill to

Boing! We then turned left and went slightly down the hill to

The turkey feeder where we had a refusal last year. At the time I gathered it cause a lot of problems, which is probably why it was moved out to the open this year to allow the horses to get a good look at it. Royal peeked at it a bit, but jumped over and we went down the hill and turned right to

Water. He wanted to walk though it (and probably splash himself) but we ended up trotting though and turned left to

A nice rolltop. He chipped in and jumped it kind of awkwardly, but we made it over. The course designer gave us a couple options for how to approach the next jump: we could take the short rote and jump it at a slight angle, or go around a different jump and jump it straight on. We'd had enough experience jumping slight angles that I took the short rote to

I felt him lock on and then all of a sudden, he dropped his left shoulder and spun out. I couldn't figure out why until I looked down and discovered that Royal was so sweaty that my saddle pad had slipped halfway under the saddle, and the saddle was really unstable. I'm not sure when it started, but I think Royal just didn't feel like we safe to jump. I tried to wiggle the saddle back into place and we jumped over, but awkwardly. We continues straight on to

The saddle was still wiggling, so we had another awkward jump, but we we done. I was so over heated and on adrenaline that I had to sit under a tree with my head between my knees and take some deep gulping breaths to keep from passing out. Once I could stand, we went over to the cooling-out-people by the finish line, which loaded my tack into a trailer and started hosing Royal. He wasn't the most cooperative horse, still on adrenaline from x-c, and had a look on his face like "The strangers are TOUCHING ME!" but we got him hosed down cooled down. We walked (well, I staggered) back towards the trailer, stopping to check our dressage score, where my poor fried brain got a nasty shock: we were in last place with 45.7 penalties.

What the what? How had what felt like one of our best tests overall generated such a bad score? Getting the test back only made things worse.

Apparently, Royal was "counterflexed" for ~80% of our test, and hollow for the rest. Now, we've had bad tests before, and usually I can tell. But most of the comments made no sense, to the point where I'm wondering if she was even watching our test. The free walk got "inattentive," with no mention of the wild veer at the beginning, and botched canter transition was "hollow." Yeah, hollow like Miley Cyrus is "quirky". So, yeah, I was wondering if the judge was even watching.

We made it back home safe and I basically passed out that night. I seriously debated going back, but I am not a quitter. We still had a number, dismal as it was, and the show jumping course looked nice. We headed out at 7 the next morning.

Royal seemed pretty relaxed when we got back to Steepleview the next morning, and the jumping arena seemed smaller than last year. It was a short quick course, with lots of twists and turns. Royal handled it pretty well, although there were some interesting jumps in the bunch, and we didn't add any penalty points to our score. The next person had a refusal, which put them behind us by what I found out later was .4 points, and we moved into 8th place and the ribbons.

Royal with what appears to be a bug in his right eye

So, all in all, not a bad weekend. The heat obviously played a bit role; Royal was on a mission, and I think if the saddle hadn't slipped, we could have had our first double-clear x-c round. But I am still so mystified by the dressage test. I'm usually able to peg whether we had a good or bad test, and I've never been so off the mark before, and had such bizarre comments. I'm VERY interested to see our pictures now. I know Royal has a Slinky for a spine, but I've ridden odd-shaped Royal before and odd-shaped Royal is weird and uncomfortable. So, we'll see. I could be wrong, but I'd don't think that wrong.

I'm super proud of Royal. He was the rock star of all rock stars.