Hippoi Athanatoi

Dogs & Horses

Hit and Miss

I’ve ridden Heddvig the last two weeks as well and its continued to be a little hit and miss. The second to last time we tried a new saddle which moved around less on her broad, round back but which ultimately ended up being a little too low in the back. The main thing I took with me from that lesson was to keep working on being more decisive; I need to ask for quicker responses and I need to assume that she will play along. Once I did that, towards the end of the lesson, I got some really nice canter departures. Oh, I also need to work on how I sit her canter at times, since I don’t quite have my hips aligned right. But I think the saddle made it worse than usual.

Last week we combined the canter departures exercise with the riding good corners exercise and rode a curved line along the length of the arena so that we effectively were riding a counter-canter through that curve. Heddvig once again started out feeling a little off—Ulrika isn’t quite sure what’s up—but once we got to the cantering she got rather charged up and we had some pretty explosive departures. Still, I hope they get a handle on what is bothering her; it seems quite subtle, but its hard to say if its just something seasonal or an actual issue. She sweats a bit more than she should (though she is a bit overweight and not in super shape), but that’s the only really clear sign of anything.

The main issue for the these last weeks have otherwise been my back, which has been fiercly bad. I am pretty crippled for a couple of days following each lesson, so need to figure out what I can do to strengthen my lower back and limber up better before the lessons. I suspect its Heddvig’s broad back that is the culprit, at least in part.

Two for One

The chaos continues, so no wonder that I completely missed writing about last week. I’ll just have to make it two for one.

The previous Tuesday we had our second of two jumping lessons. I had Nelson, just like the week before, and we continued to work a lot with turns. The trickiest part of the exercise was a two-jump line across the middle of the arena. We were asked to start turning just right before the second jump and I kept underestimating how fast Nelson would turn. It felt like a very useful exercise for getting a better sense of turns and how to prepare for them. We also jumped some more straight-forward lines, again focusing on letting the horses sort most things out themselves, and Nelson and I got to jump a bit higher than usual which always is fun. We generally keep the jumps pretty low to keep from wearing on the horses too much, but its one of those things I like doing because its something that could scare me but it doesn’t. Have to appreciate the little things.

This last Tuesday it was back to dressage and back to Heddvig. Good canter departures was the theme of the evening, from walk on a small circle and going into canter on a larger circle around the others. I wasn’t really happy with how I did, on the whole. Heddvig was very sweaty before the lesson and Ulrika pointed out that she has sweated a bit much lately. So, when she felt a little less energetic than usual to start with, I think I ended up being cautious about asking too much for her. And cautious Linda tends to mean way too cautious and generally ineffective.

So…end result wasn’t so inspired. I am getting better at just taking for granted that she will canter and not overdoing my aids, but the work outside of the canter wasn’t focused enough from my side.

Jumping, Part 1

I’ll just pretend that its entirely on purpose that I am posting last week’s riding recap on the day that I am going riding again. ;P And in any case, I can’t think of too much to say about this lesson. We jumped for the first time this semester and I was put on Nelson. He’s a pretty uncomplicated jumper and as we carried over some of the dressage work from last week (like working on making sure the horses do not turn until asked to do so) he caught on to the exercise pretty quickly. Looking at some photos afterwards that were taken during the lesson, I do need to keep working on not getting too far forward over his neck when he jumps, however. We’re jumping again today, so I will try to keep my own position in mind since he doesn’t really need a lot of help.

White Pony Week

Things continue to be rather chaotic around here (I am not sure, for example, if I am doing 1, 2, 3 or maybe 0 classes this semester), so a lot is slipping through the too-wide cracks. Hence, just a few short lines about last week’s lesson before its Tuesday again.

Black pony (Heddvig) was exchanged for white pony (Nelson). Continued focus on good corners, but the main exercise was transitions. This is very good for Nelson who is very good at picking his own pace at any gait and barrelling along, putting a lot of weight in your hands. You really need to get him a bit off-balance in order to be able to affect how he moves and find a calmer, more balanced pace.

In the past, this has been a definitive issue for me as my own sense of rhythm is shaky. But something really does seem to have clicked over the summer and I was able to get Nelson to a stage where he carried himself quite well at the trot and even came down and forward with his head and up with his back. Considering the set of his neck (he’s got a very well-muscled underside and a very short neck), that’s a good accomplishment. We also managed some pretty decent canter.

Of course, I can’t put my finger on quite what I am doing differently now as opposed to before the summer…

Cornered and Straightened Out

Oh, look, its Tuesday again. Life has just piled up on top of me lately. I am hoping this weeks lesson will help perk me up a bit and if it goes like last week, the chance is good.

We stayed with the theme of very controlled turns and straightness without the help of a nearby wall. To start with we worked on weaning the horses off from automatic turns at the corners by riding straight into the corner and coming to a half as soon as they wanted to start turning on their own. Heddvig responded quite well to this, though she did get a little stressed at one point but Ulrika reminded me to make sure to always make it clear to her what she needed to do to get away from any pressure. She made the point that mares often get stressed more easily since they have to think about protecting themselves and a foal, and Heddvig has had some foals as well.

Once she felt we rode the corners fairly well, we added turning in down the center line. The turns onto and off the line were important, of course, and also the straightness of the line itself. Again I had some issues with turning too late to the right at first, but after a while I had the hang of it and Heddvig ended up very nicely balanced. She often gets a little rushed, but her trotting towards the end felt very good. Its probably the best balance I’ve had out of her so far, so that did perk me up a bit.

First One Down

So, time for the autumn semester at the riding school. Or rather, it was time for it about a week ago, when I had my first lesson for a while. The second one’s coming up tomorrow.

I rode Heddvig (so far, that’s an “of course”, don’t really have any other options right now) and we didn’t exactly get a soft start, though Ulrika didn’t push us too hard either.  We worked on straightness and tracking by way of turning in across the arena and riding towards the central mirror. Turning onto the line and turning off the line was done with minimal bending so that straightness could be achieved faster afterwards.

On the whole, Heddvig is fairly straight. She throws out her right shoulder a fair bit when coming towards the turn away from the line, so it took a bit of work to avoid making the turn to the right too difficult for her, but other than that she tracks pretty well both at walk and at trot. We also managed some decent cantering towards the end, though I had forgotten which side was her difficult and tried going right at first. That wasn’t so successful to start with.

She seems to have stayed at more or less the same level as before the summer in terms of cantering, though she seemed to tire a bit more quickly. But hey, so did I, and my legs felt it the day after.  As for my motivation…well, its still a bit lacking. I feel pretty directionless with my riding right now and that is very odd because I didn’t really realize I had a direction before either. Not until I lost it.

Head, Meet Wall

It has been a while since an update on what we’ve been up to with Ringo (and what Ringo has been up to with us). That’s not so much for a lack of things to report but because I’ve generally been feeling too frustrated with him. Today, that cup just about flooded at the Boxer Championships.

Shows this year have been generally abysmal in terms of his behaviour. First day of My Dog in January was a disaster with him being super-charged and not very friendly towards other dogs. We even withdrew from the second day. At the local special at the beginning of the summer, he growled at the judge. Last weekend in Sundsvall, he had major issues with other dogs, but showed okay other than that. And today he so crazy the judge disqualified him because she couldn’t judge him. He actually behaved very well towards the other dogs, making me think he was in good balance, but then he just whirled around when she was going to check his teeth and feel over his body. Worst, however, was how he got stuck staring at something (I have no idea what) when I was going to run him. He almost dragged me out of the ring.

And that (well, the summer shows, anyway) followed on 10 weeks of obedience training with a very good trainer and some pretty significant steps forward in terms of obedience. We’ve also seen the trainer’s trainer twice during the summer for some one-on-one consultation. Now, I know it will take a long while to sort things out, but I don’t know if I have the energy for it. If I manage to improve on one thing, a new problem crops up. Right now, I feel like giving up on shows and obedience and forgetting all about Ringo being a working dog. Problem is, he really needs the training, but I find it hard to motivate myself to do it if I can’t have the goal of competing him.

I think someone is getting a lump of coal for his birthday next weekend instead of a stuffed toy. ;P Then again, he’ll be looking at me with a sad, wrinkly face all week…so probably not.

Last One

Taking a little break in the Midsummer eating & drinking (well, eating, anyway) before it is time for the cake, the whipped cream and the strawberries to write a short concluding post for this semester at the riding school.

For our last lesson, the weather was a bit windy and chilly, so we rode inside. We had the option of riding bareback and I gave it a go on Heddvig. I did last year too, on Murphy, but that worked a little better as I actually managed to canter then. On Heddvig I could feel when I tried it that while I might manage the canter itself, the transition would likely see me on the ground. Other than that, I was able to ride her pretty efficiently at a walk and at a trot while bareback, so that was still very good. I was just as amazed this time with how aware it makes you of how you sit on the horse, and I wish I had the opportunity to do it much more often. Heddvig seemed to like it too.

Now she gets a lighter workload for some weeks and then a complete rest for 3-4 weeks. I expect her to be rather round in August… For my own part, I don’t think I will get a chance to ride anything before the lessons start up again around mid-August, though perhaps I will see about arranging something. I will busy training Ringo, though, so that might have to be enough. I am hoping I will feel a little better about it next semester, too, though it might take longer still to get my heart really back into it.

Dangerous Logs Ahead!

This week we finally got to jump out in the field and we all had a great time. There’s not a lot of jumps, just a few logs, but that was plenty for Heddvig. She has shown herself uncertain about new jumps indoors and logs in a field were clearly very scary. I had quite a few refusal and it took a bit of work each time to get her over the logs. However, her actual jumps were rather wonderful, with no effort spared. She has very quick legs and tucks them in nicely, not exactly what one would expect from that kind of horse. I was certainly pleased that I didn’t find myself at all unnerved by her being a bit skittish and that I was able to firmly tell her what I wanted her to do.

And, for extra fun and games, someone was there with a camera…

In case the log wants to eat me, I will jump waaaay above it.

I look good, but my rider needs to straighten up.

I couldn’t help but to feel sad that I didn’t get a chance to do this with Murphy though, as he would have loved it so much.

A Confusion of Canters

Of course it rained during the day when we had planned for some jumping out in the field. So, more dressage and more counter-cantering, though at least we could ride in the paddock. Usually its too dusty by the time its warm enough to be outside, but the rain made it just right.

To get us thinking about riding for counter-canter, we started off riding the horses bent against the curve in corners and on circles. I think it worked surprisingly well on Heddvig; I probably concentrate more when doing it the opposite from “normal”, which would account for some added efficiency. But that’s about the only advantage I get from doing anything reversed. The rest is…confusion.

Left and right is not something I handle well as it is and I can easily confuse myself about just which leg do I sit down on in a rising trot (not only do I suck at sensing it, I also find it impossible to see if I am sitting down on the correct leg so I usually think of it as rising with the opposite leg instead) and how to tell which canter I’ve got (again, I suck at sensing this). Imagine what happens when I am asked to make the inside the outside and the outside the inside, to keep sitting down on the correct leg (which is now the opposite of what it normally is) and to ask for counter-canter.

So, yes, not only am I trying to do this on a fairly hot-headed draft horse (albeit of a fairly light model), I am trying to do this while being confused about what is what. Given this, the result wasn’t too terrible, but it still annoys me that anything like this gets me so confused. The best part was probably after Ulrika helped me sort out how to ride Heddvig before canter when she’s getting really charged up; I could really feel it when I found the right balance.

Just Do It

Last Tuesday’s lesson was one of those that didn’t necessarily deliver any “wow” feelings during the lesson, but I guess I did alright anyway. When it came to cantering Heddvig, I assumed that she would manage fine. I used the whip to just tap her on the shoulder during the canter to keep her going, and didn’t get all worked up about keeping her going. I just rode and expected her to manage.

And for the regular canter, she did. She really is capable of keeping it together for quite a while now.

Then we got to the counter-canter, and this week Ulrika told us to just ask for counter-canter without the aid of a circle or a turn that would make it more like asking for regular canter and then ending up in a counter-canter. It felt like a tall order, and it was, but I did try and on a few occasions Heddvig actually managed. Afterwards, Ulrika told us that she had asked us to do something too difficult on purpose, just to see if we’d keep riding decisively. I’d say that worked pretty well for me.

Short and Shorter

Last week was a theory lesson (discussing training methods and horse behaviour) and this week Ulrika was missing in action after an encounter with a rusty knife. So, we had a substitute and we did some strengthening exercises for us riders.

This basically involved starting out with what we thought were stirrups for jumping and successively shortening them until they really were. ;P Seems all of us had gotten used to jumping with rather long stirrups. I know I have from riding smaller horses, because really short stirrups for jumping makes me feel too tall. But, actually, it didn’t feel so bad on Heddvig with four holes shorter than usual. Although, it was a bit hard to follow her jumps from trot like that and to help her find her canter after the jump. But just galloping her like that worked quite well, and she once again managed a pretty nicely balanced and not too fast canter for several laps on a circle.

My legs also managed just fine, and no sore muscles the next day. I’ve got pretty fabulous thigh muscles, it seems. ;)

Onwards with Heddvig

More of the same this week; I am still not feeling that my riding is quite “right” but Heddvig is making rather amazing progress. And, admittedly, this week I did get something of a good feeling with some of the canter, with things clicking both mentally and physically.

Ulrika told me that Heddvig actually cantered a full circle in one of the lower groups last week and that she’s not seen this sort of development in a horse before. Certainly, it is very striking how she’s progressed over (I think) around two years at the riding school. For the first few months, she was apparently pretty difficult (I don’t think I got a chance to ride her more than maybe once during that time), and then I guess she made slow progress during the following year. And now, in the last few months, the pieces have started to fall into place.

The main exercise was the same as last week, with a change from one circle to another to produce a figure-of-eight pattern and where we would start with regular canter and move over into counter-canter at the changeover. I was mindful of my co-ordination issues and tried to concentrate on not changing my seat at the change of circles. It was easier to focus on that this time around since I was also told to let Heddvig handle the cantering mostly on her own, just supporting her with the whip on her inner shoulder and a properly pulled-back outer leg. In the end, we managed half a circle of counter-canter on two occasions. Very well done of a horse that a few weeks ago couldn’t manage a full circle of regular canter.

In other news, I was drooling over the latest addition to the stables. Sort of a bigger version of Heddvig, at least in terms of his looks. He’s Zimba, ten years old and half Frisian. I think I would like to try him, but I am not sure I can handle him. He looked smaller than I had thought at first but he seemed a little frisky. Maybe I will consider taking a private lesson on him to see. Gorgeous horse, at least.

More Canter, More Improvements

This week continued the trend of improvements from Heddvig but a slight feeling of dissatisfaction with my own riding. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, so it might just be my general mood, admittedly.

We stayed focus on cantering this week too, though we started with an unusually lengthy trotting section. That gave me plenty of time to feel out my own seat as well as my effect on Heddvig. I tried to focus on the corners, in particular, and on using them together with half-halts to get her more together and off the front-end. I suppose I had some intermittent success at this.

It does seem to have set her up well for the canter, at least. To begin with we just cantered 20-meter circles to get a feel for what they were like on the day, and Heddvig showed quite remarkable improvement in her left-lead canter; she was able to keep a much less rushed pace and was able to take cues to keep it up for several laps. The right-lead canter was still a bit more rushed than what is practical to manage several full laps when there’s other horses around, but it was improved as well. Ulrika told me that now I need to make sure to switch gears, basically, and adjust to being able to ask for more of her. It probably will take me a little effort to make that change, because I didn’t expect her to improve this fast.

Of course, the next exercise was still rather tricky; going from canter to counter-canter by riding a figure-of-eight. At first I made the angle too steep when crossing over from the first circle to the second. Then I had issues with shifting my seat too much so that I ended up sitting as if I wanted to switch to the regular leading leg once on the second half of the figure-of-eight. My co-ordination (or lack thereof, rather) definitely becomes an issue with counter-cantering, but I must say Heddvig did quite well. I really didn’t think she would start developing like this when its gone fairly slowly up until now. But maybe she’s reached a stage of fitness and balance that allows a lot of pieces to fall into place all at once.

In-Between Week

A so-so lesson this week (last week, btw, was a theory lesson I was unable to attend as it was scheduled later than our usual timeslot). I had a choice between Heddvig and Nelson and went for the former, but considering the amount of cantering, Nelson would have been a little wiser. Especially since cantering Heddvig went far less smoothly this week than it has recently.

The lesson started off well, though, with Heddvig chewing on the bit and coming up a bit through the back of her own volition. She couldn’t keep it up in the trot, but I think its showing her continued progress. We warmed up with quite a bit of trotting, during which I tried to focus on good corners and my own seat (and not looking down!), and then went straight into a good deal of cantering. At first, just along the whole of the arena, paying attention to good, balanced corners. Ulrika reminded me not to just let her canter until she fell back into a trot once it became too difficult but to transition back down to trot regularly to make sure it was done when I wanted it done.

After some of that, we moved to a circle at a walk at the start of each long end of the arena, canter out of the circle and down the length of the arena, trot along the short end and back to walk for a new circle-to-canter at the start of next long end. Going clock-wise, she struggled a lot to get the right canter, though once I kept her pretty straight, kept myself still and was quick to apply the whip on the inner shoulder, we managed a couple of times. Going counter-clockwise, the main issue was how she’d launch herself into canter, which took some adjusting to. On one occasion she almost lost her canter part-way down the arena and I managed to remind her to keep going, but then we ended up going back down to a trot too quickly after that. Ulrika told me that its better for her learning that if I have to reissue the canter aid to keep her going, then I should keep cantering some distance after that to avoid confusing her.

There were bits and pieces that worked, and bits and pieces that didn’t. Pretty normal, all considered. Though going to the stables and being there still doesn’t feel normal; I just miss Murphy too much for that. And right now, its quite a struggle for the riding school as a whole, as we have lost a lot of horses this year and we have a lot of sick or injured horses right now. It doesn’t look so good for getting another horse I can ride, either.