Thursday, February 25, 2010

Advanced Dressage

Ok so first of all, not at all theory, but if you have competed in any dressage ever you should seriously consider reading Dressage for the Rest of Us. This was put together on COTH when I still had time to lurk there (yeah I *might've* contributed to the list; not that I'd ever admit that of course :). Funniest dressage thing ever. COTH is one of the better Equine BBs out there. Worth a read.

The things I could write in this section could (and has!) filled many books. I've decided that for today we limit discussion to some of the basic lateral movements, but it'll be more of a "what is" than a how-to. Honestly, for the how-to, my advice is simple: find a qualified coach. I'm adamantly against arm-chair riding lessons. These are not things to be learned off the Internet. No matter how many horrendous videos are out there. The what, however, can be :)

Lateral movements are ones that require sideways movement in some way, shape or form. They encourage flexibility, obedience, and coordination (of both horse and rider :)

Shoulder-in: in shoulder-in the horse's front legs come to the inside, so that the outside front is directly in front of the inside hind. The horse is flexed and bent to the inside (approx the same degree as for a 10m circle). The inside hock is engaged and carries the most weight. The horse travels forward on a straight line maintaining the inside bend to create the lateral movement. In this situation the horse is moving away from the direction of the bend. The most common fault when schooling shoulder-in is to overbend the head and neck; this causes the horse to lean on the outside shoulder and thoroughly defeat the purpose.

Traverse: in traverse the haunches come in instead of the shoulders -- the outside hind moves just slightly inside of the inside fore. The horse moves in the same direction as the bend. As with shoulder in, the most common fault in traverse is to overbend the neck, this is compounded by bringing the quarters in too much so the horse is at too steep an angle.

Renverse: is a combination of the above two. The shoulders come in off the track as in shoulder-in, but the horse is bent in the direction of travel as in traverse. The legs also move on four tracks, as in traverse (think haunches out rather than haunches in). Wanna guess the main fault in renverse? You got it, overbending the neck. This leads to the horse having to step just sideways instead of forward and sideways. Loss of rhythm and activity are also very common in this movement. This movement is rarely asked for in dressage tests, but is an excellent training exercise.

Half-Pass: my favourite :) Half-pass is essentially traverse on a diagonal. The horse moves forward and sideways on a diagonal line, bent and flexed in the direction of the movement.

So there are more of course -- pirouettes, tempis, and not to mention all the longitudinal movements! hahaha see how many of them you can pick out in this example (one of the few tests I've ever watched multiple times; could do without the commentary but as it's appropriate to this Theory Thursday I figured it'd be a good one to use):


Intermediate Dressage

Dressage is training. Literally -- if you run the Babble Fish and translate French to English it'll tell you dressage is training. Therefore to properly do dressage, you have to understand the training scale. At this level I expect my students to be good at the first two steps and working on the third. Obviously it depends what you're sitting on at any point, but really they're pretty important.

So the idea here is simple: start at the bottom and work your way up. It is not, however, easy.

"Rhythm comes first" -- anybody who has ridden with me more than about oh 30 minutes will have heard that at least a few times :) And there's a reason for it. Nothing else works unless that base is there.

(Note: whoever created this example was way too big a fan of Photoshop - to the point of obnoxiousness, but it does make the rhythm point well; esp worth noting is the lengthen stride to collected stride bang on the beat. Turn your sound on.)

Once you have some rhythm, then there's hope for relaxation (yes you worked *that* hard to relax. And yes the friend who told you you were insane was accurate. Enjoy it - normal's boring.). The relaxation we're really hoping for here though is the horse's and comes along with suppleness (can you bend both ways without tension?). It's not so much that you seek relaxation as that you try to eliminate tension; when you succeed in ridding your horse of tension, you're left with relaxed and supple. Sweet.

From relaxed and supple you can have hope for contact. That elusive "on the bit". Notice though that it came from a rhythmical and relaxed horse!

Beyond that, well now you need impulsion - aka power. Just pretend you're setting up to jump a 4' oxer off a roll-back turn. Now land from that nonexistent jump going straight. This should be a breeze after all your suppling work earlier.Then take all the pieces and collect them!

That's all it takes to master dressage. You're welcome :)

How it looks when you get to the top of the pyramid
(turn sound on)

Ok so you've got your horse going forward, bending properly in both directions and the hind end's connected to the front by more than anatomy. The world is good and it's time to go show off. Dressage tests are set patterns ridden in a measured arena (see beginner) in front of a judge (or sometimes more than one -- but that's not something you need to worry about at the beginning).
At this level it is *really* important that your test be accurate! Transitions that are supposed to be at a specific letter, should happen when your shoulder is beside the letter. 20m circles should be 20m. And round. Artistic interpretation is frowned upon in dressage >;-P

Corners should look like corners and circles should look like circles. This means if you're doing a 20m circle right at A, the corner between F and A is square while the one between A and K is rounded off since it's part of the circle. There should be a noticeable difference. An easy way to practice this is to put pylons in the track -- square corners go outside, round ones inside. This is obviously an imperfect technique, but it does make the difference apparent.

Circle vs Corner

Now that you've learned all the basics, it's time to put it together. Practicing the test over and over and over again is not such a good idea because your horse will start to learn it. Seems like a great plan until he starts to anticipate the next move -- suddenly your transition is three strides early and nothing that resembles relaxed. Remember step one? Yeah. Oops.

Click here to download Training Test 1 (technically the level before First Level -- but hey, in eventing there are three levels before you get to Preliminary so what did you expect? :) This is where you start.

Now since it's not such a good idea to ride it multiple times, you need other ways of memorizing. Well -- you can practice the test without your horse. Depending on your level of self confidence you may wish to wait till there's nobody else in the arena, but seriously walking/running the pattern you're going to ride, will help. As always, accuracy is important. You're not just memorizing the test, but actually practicing it. So 20m circles, should be 20m. The FXH diagonal should actually touch each letter. And so on.

There's always the good old "visualization" -- practice riding it in your mind (more on this another week). This has been proven multiple times and works brilliantly so long as you can focus ALL the way through the test. Otherwise the first half will be remarkably better than the second *g* Not that I learned that the hard way or anything.

One last technique -- you can learn it draw the test out. Download this sheet and print off a few copies. Then in each box draw one movement. If you're feeling particularly creative each gait can have a different colour. Good luck!


Beginner Dressage

So you've got the hang of going up and down with the trot; you can canter -- and even ride a big circle at one end of the ring. And now your coach has told you you're going to be doing a dressage test. Test?!?! What? but it's riding. It's supposed to be fun! No tests.

Ok - let that go. Seriously. The far more important word in that statement was dressage. Scary, intimidating, and boring. Why would anybody want to do that? But it's not, not really. Not any more than XC is insane anyways :) Dressage is figure skating on horseback. Accuracy, grace, controlled power. Seriously impressive when done right!

Dressage at its most basic is training. Training your horse to respond to the subtlest of movements. The sport originated out of training horses for war. You can't fight well with a sword if you have to use the reins to steer! So soldiers trained their horses to respond to the slightest of leg cues. This is eventually what you want to be able to do. Well, minus the sword. I hope!

Less traditional dressage!

At the lower levels it's all about basics. Can you make your horse go, stop and turn. Can you do this seemingly effortlessly? Have you ever heard somebody tell you "riding's not a sport; you just sit there!"? This is because they've only ever seen the pros who are so good, it looks easy. Just like it looks easy to do a double back handspring on a balance beam. A little bit of common sense would tell you it's not. Sadly common sense is not all that common >;-P Have them watch any beginner rider trying to get their lazy horse out of the middle of the ring :)

Anyways, you want it to look easy. And once you've got the hang of stop/go/turn/easy then you'll get to refine it into GOOD stop/go/turn. And eventually IMPRESSIVE stop/go/turn. But really, the general concept never changes.

Dressage, which is the first of the three eventing phases (more about those another Thursday), is also a sport all in itself. It is ridden in an arena that's either 20mX40m (often seen in low-level eventing dressage, rarely in straight dressage) or 20mX60m (not until Training/Prelim in eventing, but at the beginning of dressage). Those arenas have letters around them:

Easiest way to remember the letters around the side:
All King Edwards Horses Can Manage Big Fences
For the ones in the middle: X marks the spot (dead center).
The others read: After Dressage Go CrossCountry.

The extra letters read RSVP (counter-clockwise). But most riding schools don't have these so I wouldn't stress about it!

Why are the letters in this order? Nobody knows for sure. They were randomly introduced for the 1920 Olympics. Two standard stories are:

* They were the first letter of the names of cities conquered by the Romans. I read this one and it amused me, but you'd think it'd be relatively easy to verify -- I just haven't had time yet *g*.
* My fav option: in the old German Court apparently the walls of the stable yard where the soldiers drilled were initially marked with letters indicating where each horse was to be parked to await its rider:
K = Kaiser/King
F = Furst/Prince
P = Pferdknecht/Ostler
V = Vassal
E = Edeling/Ehrengast/Guest of Honour
B = Bannertrager/Standard Bearer
S = Schzkanzler/Chancellor of Exchequer
R = Ritter/Knight
M = Meier/Steward
H = Hofsmarshall/Lord Chancellor.
And since the riders schooled and trained there, they began to use the letters and so set them that way when they hosted the Olympics.

There are, however, lots of fun ideas -- here are some of the less serious ones:

* After riding 500 20m circles in rapid succession, who can remember the alphabet?
* The letters are consecutive and in alphabetical order, in a now extinct language spoken only by early 18th century Hanoverian carriage horses.
* The very first dressage arena was designed by the lowest-bid contractor.
* The letters were originally laid out by beleaguered riding pupils to facilitate pranks on their instructors, in which the pupils would pretend to be schooling various movements and figures while actually spelling out slanderous curses, in German, against their cruel and heartless instructors, their diabolical horses, and whatever silly person invented this dressage thing in the first place.
* The letters are actually advertising billboards paid for by Sesame Street (This piaffe-passage transition was brought to you by the letter G!).
* Well, the letters are supposed to be in alphabetical order, but somebody's Trakehner keeps getting out at night and rearranging them.
* The other letters in the alphabet are there all right, they're just invisible--what do you think your horse has been spooking at all these years?
* What, you mean they're NOT in alphabetical order? Hey, that would explain why nobody else seems to understand how I've organized the office files...

And that's about all you need to know for now. But keep in mind, while many take dressage *very* seriously, there are still some who have fun with it:

Pas de Deux


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Advanced Tack: Review

Name 3 parts of the horse that are affected by the bit.

You're watching an intermediate level lesson and your coach sends you back to get a pelham for one of the riders. There are these two bits hanging in the tack room. Which one do you bring? Why might she have decided on this bit?

Note - for answer to the bit question above, click the image :)

You've been given the opportunity to start a green horse. What sort of bit would you use when first starting him? Why?

What are four things to consider when deciding on a bit for a specific horse?

What is a combination bit a combination of? What are two combination bits? Which one is more likely to be used by a child? Why?

Give an example of a direct pressure bit.

Give an example of a leverage bit.

Name the numbered parts:

Did you ever know so much could be said about bits??? Well done!

Advanced Tack: Double Bridle and Misc Bits

At this level you should know about more interesting bits, how they work, and when/why to use them. Snaffles were covered at length in Intermediate. Now we have some of the other miscellaneous items: hackamores, leverage bits, gags, combination bits, and of course the double bridle.

A hackamore is a bitless bridle. It functions by applying pressure to the nose and the chin groove. Some horses, particularly those with really sensitive mouths, respond much better to a hackamore than a standard bit. The strength of this is determined by the length of the shanks to which the reins are attached. This is not legal in dressage, but is in the jumping disciplines. (random side note -- my spell check apparently knows what a hackamore is?!?! It doesn't know any other riding vocab, but it's got that one word. Gotta love it :)

Alright, so leverage bits multiply the pressure applied to the mouth; this means that however hard you pull, the horse feels 2,3,4x that amount. Generally, the longer the shanks, the greater the leverage.

Curb bits are leverage bits (usually also used with a curb chain that applies pressure to the chin groove as the reins are used). Curb bits may also have a port (a bump) in the middle of them. If there is no or very low port, most of the pressure is on the tongue and the mouth. If the port is medium height it shifts the pressure off the tongue more to the bars. If it's high, there's a chance it may put pressure on the roof of the mouth, which in turn acts like a fulcrum to significantly increase the pressure on the bars. Some curb bits may look very much like snaffle bits, but all have extra rings for the reins to be attached lower than the bit -- this is what provides the leverage. The longer the shank, the greater the multiplying effect. Curb bits should very rarely be used alone; they are generally used with a bradoon (tiny snaffle) to create a double bridle.

Curb Bit

The double bridle is ridden in at the advanced levels to give ultimate sensitivity -- assuming the rider is capable of that. There is a standard curb bit and a bradoon (which is basically a super-small snaffle). The rider carries two sets of reins and uses them independently depending on the desired effect.

1. Bradoon Strap
2. Crown Piece
3. Browband
4. Curb Cheekpiece
5. Cavesson Noseband
6. Throatlatch
7. Curb Bit (low port)
8. Bradoon
9. Curb Chain
10. Lip Strap
11. Snaffle Reins
12. Curb Reins

For those not quite ready for a double bridle, the pelham is a combination of snaffle and curb bit; it also uses two sets of reins. The top one gives a snaffle effect while the lower one gives the curb and leverage effect. Kimberwicks (which are often seen on strong ponies being ridden by little kids) have a similar combo effect, but use only one set of reins. The severity of the bit is influenced by where the reins are attached (loose or in one of two slots).


Gags are leverage bits which can also look an awful lot like plain snaffle bits (in fact some snaffle bits have the option of turning them into gags depending where you fasten the reins). Most gags should be used with two sets of reins -- one in the usual snaffle position and one on the leverage ring. These bits tend to be fairly strong and should only be used by those who know what they are doing. They are mostly seen on very strong horses in speed events.

Elevator Bit

This elevator bit is a pretty standard example. If the reins are on the big ring, it acts as a snaffle. By the time you're at the bottom ring, you've got some pretty serious leverage happening. You will often see people fixing two sets of reins to this bit so they can ride primarily off the snaffle, but have the leverage if they need it.

So now that you know all that -- how do you decide what bit to use? Well, there are a bunch of things to consider:

- Age, training level and temperament of the horse
- Experience level of the rider (remember even the softest bit can be inhumane when held by hard hands)
- Type of work (ie - often in eventing you'll see a horse going XC in a slightly stronger bit than they do dressage)
- Shape of the horse's mouth (a thick bit may be theoretically soft, but in a tiny mouth it'll be uncomfortable)
- Horse's preference (ie - some horses really don't like pressure on their tongues, others may not like the pinching feeling of jointed bits, etc)


Intermediate Tack: Review

What parts of the mouth does a snaffle bit influence?

Name these bits:

Which of those bits might you use on a young, nervous horse? Why?

Which of those bits is the most severe? What makes it that way?

Why might you choose to use a full-cheek instead of a loose-ring snaffle?

Name the three nosebands:

For the first and third nosebands give one advantage of each.

Note: Answers to noseband questions by clicking on the image :)

Intermediate Tack: Snaffles and Nosebands

Ok so let's get the necessary vocabulary memorization out of the way first. Various snaffle bits in all their glory:

Got it? Good. But by this point you should be doing more than simply memorizing -- you should be thinking! A dangerous hobby, I know, but worth it every once in a while :) These bits -- it's all well and good to know what they are, but what do they do? Why would you choose one over another? How do you tell how severe a bit is? How do they work? Where do they put pressure?

For today we're going to focus on snaffle bits (see adv for others :) with a brief foray into nosebands since they are so often used to supplement the bit.

So to answer the last question first (why do things in order?) -- Snaffle bits apply pressure to the bars of the mouth, the tongue and the lips. But there are many ways of doing that! They are direct pressure bits, which means that the amount of pressure you put on the reins is what the horse feels in his mouth. (sidenote: the bars are the area between the molars and the incisors - if you stick your thumb in the corner of your horse's mouth where the bit goes, you'll discover there are no teeth there. But that's a lesson for another Thursday!)

Severity -- it's important to remember though that any bit's severity is entirely defined by the hands that hold it. That being said, once the hands are educated enough the rider can start to consider appropriate bits for their situation. In general, a thinner bit will be stronger than a thicker one (consider if you're carrying a really heavy bag by handles. Thin handles are going to cut into your hands, whereas thicker ones you'll be able to carry for a longer time -- the pressure is dispersed over a wider area). Anything with a twist will be stronger than something flat. Twisted bits of any sort apply quite sharp pressure (think of that whole thin bit vs thick bit idea -- the edges of the twist are very thin). Since most horses will run from pain you're often better to use a softer bit with a different noseband (ie flash, figure-8) that restricts the horse's ability to open their mouth, then to use the harsher bit. Double bits (esp when twisted) do the same thing but times two as now the pressure points are doubled. While remaining in the realm of snaffles, those are your primary severity considerations: width of bit and is there any sort of twist to it.

A secondary consideration is the type of bit rings (what the reins attach to). A loose ring will rotate as the bit moves in the horse's mouth. It encourages relaxation and is loved by dressage riders everywhere for this :) The main downside to a loose ring is that they can pinch the sides of the mouth -- bit guards (little plastic circles) are sometimes used to counteract this. A full-cheek (and to a lesser extent, a D), will push against the side of the mouth as the opposite side is pulled (so if you pull the left rein, the right side of the bit pushes against the horse). This can help clarify steering requests. The down side to these is that the cheeks could potentially get caught on something, and/or twisted the wrong way -- less than fun for your horse in either scenario. Keepers are often applied (attaching the top of the full-cheek to the cheek piece) to help avoid this issue. An egg-butt is marginally softer than a D in that it doesn't have the straight edge to help with steering to the same degree, but stronger than a loose-ring as it's fixed so there's not as much play.

Now, knowing that a loose ring encourages the horse to salivate (and therefore relax -- the two items are connected pavlovian style in horse's little brains. And in ours too I guess -- when you see a drooling person, they're usually overly relaxed...), what do you suppose bits with keys or rollers are for? Yup, same concept. They also have the bonus of giving the horse something to play with -- especially for young horses, this can be a great thing! Keeps their little brains engaged (so they're not thinking of the goblin in the corner or a million other things that lead to trouble) and gives them something to do that will encourage the relaxation response. All good :) And bits that have copper on them? Same thing. Because of this effect these bits are all illegal in dressage (cheating!).

Some bits are almost straight (ie mullen mouth) or double jointed (ie french link). These reduce the nut-cracker action and disperse the pressure more evenly across the tongue. Which is better depends entirely on your horse. Some horses seem to prefer single joints, others multi- joints. Most of the TBs I've known seem to like the multis; the heavy crosses seem to go better in the singles -- could have something to do with the size of their mouths *g* but this is entirely incidental wisdom. Basically if your horse seems unhappy with one, try the other. If they have a tendency to lean, you'll want to avoid the unjointed bits.

An exercise - go to your tack store (or even your tack store's website -- here's one I use: Bahr Saddlery) -- and look through the bits. Pick three that you don't recognize and see if you can figure out what they do, how they work, and why you would use one. For instance, here's one you may have seen before, but we haven't discussed yet:


Now you can see it's a loose ring snaffle, so it's going to encourage playing. It seems to have balls on it too, but they don't roll so it's not really a mouthing bit. It is multi-jointed so it'll lie flatter over the horse's tongue with less nut-cracker action on the bars and lips than a single-jointed. It's not particularly thin and it has no leverage component (see advanced) so it's probably not all that severe. So why would you want it instead of a say a french link? What's the advantage here? The advantage is that with the balls the horse has less opportunity to lean on the bit, but they are softer than any sort of twist so generally don't get the angry response a twist might in a sensitive horse. So if you had a horse who was heavy in your hand, this might be a good one to try.

Run through that thought process with a few more random bits. Good luck!

And as if that weren't enough... Remember the comment about using a noseband instead of increasing the severity of the bit? Well in order to do that, you need to know a little about nosebands! The main ones you're likely to see are:

Cavesson - this is your standard noseband
Flash - the flash is an extra strap attached to the cavesson that does up below the bit. This keeps the horse's mouth closed and prevents the horse from crossing her jaw. It also can hold the bit steadier in the mouth, which some horses seem to prefer.
Figure 8 - much like the flash, but forms an 8, imagine that! The top half of the 8 goes much higher than the usual cavesson, which gives added steering ability. The theory behind this design is that it allows the horse to expand their nostrils more freely which is necessary for high-speed work. These nosebands are often seen on eventers and jumpers.
Drop - same effect as a flash without using a cavesson; these were popular in dressage for a while but have since fallen out of fashion.
Note: If you plan to use a standing martingale you MUST have a cavesson (or a cavesson w/ a flash attachment) to attach it to.

Example of a cavesson, a flash, and a figure-8

A note re fit: none of these photos are ideal. The cavesson should be a little lower; the flash should have the cavesson tighter and the flash closer to the bit; the 8 should be adjusted so the cross is slightly higher. I'm sure Google could show you lots of images of these (and various other) types of nosebands both good and bad! These are just shots I happened to have at hand. :)

Wow, so that was a mountain of information for one day -- but most of it isn't memorization so much as thought process, and since you already know how to think, you're good to go!


Beginner Tack: Review

Taking the time to review? Good for you! Well as important as it is to learn diagrams; it's even more important to be able to understand the real thing!

So -- what piece of tack is Rye modeling?

If you're not sure at all -- go back and read the lesson! If you think you know, but would like confirmation, hold your mouse over the photo to read the alt text.

Identify the numbered items (note: 10 refers to one of the "miscellaneous pieces of leather" -- but which?)

Now that you know all the parts -- your next challenge is to take a bridle completely apart and then put it back together again! Good luck :) (ummm two pieces of advice before you do that: write down what hole everything goes on so it will continue to fit your horse after you're done, and don't try this right before a lesson - it might take longer than you anticipate!)

Bonus points -- what type of bit does this horse appear to be wearing? (answer to that is in the alt tag -- hold your mouse over the image)

Since almost every shot I have of a horse with a saddle on it is either an unlabelable angle or includes a rider blocking much of the saddle, I thought we'd stick with a diagram for this one:

And what's the belt that holds the saddle on the horse called? And the things you attach it to (roughly directly underneath #8)...?

And lastly (but of course not least! Is anything ever least?) the bits:

What are the two types of martingales?

You see a child riding their pony down a hill; the pony stops to graze and both child AND saddle slip comically down his neck. What piece of tack would've prevented this moment?

If you've got all that down, you're good to go :) Congrats!

Beginner Tack: Parts and Basics

I'm very much afraid it's more terms and memorization today -- I know, it sucks starting out. But just think how much more like a pro you'll sound when you know all this stuff!

Today we're doing tack -- you know, the stuff you put on your horse! At this level, I'd expect my students to know the difference between a halter and a bridle, they should know the parts of the saddle and bridle, and they should know at least the very basic snaffle bits. Really, that's not all that much is it? :)

So the halter and the bridle both go on your horse's head (usually not at the same time :). If it's got reins and/or a bit and/or a brow band, it's probably a bridle :) Now, for that explanation to make any sense whatsoever, you must know what at least one of reins, bit, or browband are! Let's see...

hmmmmm so it occurs to me that the text is a little light. Sorry about that -- if I have time I'll fix it later! It'll do for now though... Now we've discovered the reins are the things you hold in your hand when you're riding (comeon, you already knew that right?). The bit (in this case specifically an egg-butt snaffle bit) is the piece that goes in the horse's mouth. And the browband, not surprisingly, goes over his brow. Remember, horse people weren't terribly creative when it came to naming parts of the tack (they used that up on dressage letters! Tune in next week for more about that :). So the crown piece is where the crown would sit (particularly amusing image if you happen to have a diva of a horse), the noseband goes over . . . ?-- work with me here... That'd be the nose! The cheek pieces run alongside the... cheek :) Surprised yet? And where do you suppose the throat latch goes? That's right -- it's basically common sense rearing its ugly head. See now that wasn't all that difficult, was it?

Let's see, what else -- oh, the keeper is the little thing you tuck extra leather into to keep it still; the runner is the same little thing that's not fixed -- it runs up and down the length of the leather. Stupidly picky detail, but one examiners love, and again -- something to make you sound just that much more intelligent in conversation! Generally though "keeper" is used for both those little beasts.

Now, I pointed out the egg-butt snaffle bit. Snaffle is a category of bit, and the only category of bit beginners should be worrying about (other future items include things like curb bits and gag bits - but for now, the snaffle is enough!) Within that category there's a fair amount of variety -- you need only think about three: the loose-ring, the egg-butt, and the D-ring. Now, remembering the oh-so-creative naming convention of the other bridle pieces, you can imagine this is not particularly exciting. The loose ring, has a ring that's, well, loose. You can spin it around in circles. The d-ring, has a ring that looks like a D. Surprised? hahaha egg-butt is the only stretch; I don't think I want the omlettes that person's making. But even it's somewhat understandable. And just in case you're now totally lost -- a picture's worth a thousand words (or at least a paragraph!):

So a few items to note -- rubber is gentler than metal; bits for starting babies are often made of rubber, some of which is advertised to taste like apple even! Loose-ring bits let the horse play a little, which makes them slightly softer and encourages the horse to relax and salivate (a good thing, I promise!). The down side to them is they can pinch the corner of your horse's mouth (try it -- hold the bit between two fingers, right where it meets the ring and then spin the ring. You may find you get pinched. To avoid this you'll sometimes see a round rubber piece that goes between the horse's mouth and the ring). D-rings and Egg-butts are fractionally stronger as they don't rotate, and can give a little extra steering (pressure on the side of the mouth as you turn the head). And that's probably more than you need to know @ this point, but really, you're here to learn right? :) And better too much knowledge than not enough!

Ok saddles:

So pommel and cantle I got nothing. Sorry. I'm afraid they're straight memorization -- although depending on your coach, you may hear the terms in class often enough to know what they are anyway! The rest is a little easier... The seat, well comeon, we're back to the obvious. The knee roll is where your knee sits. The stirrup iron is attached to the saddle by the stirrup leather. The flap flaps :) Panels are another "just memorize it" moment I'm afriad... The keeper here isn't labeled cause I figured you'd already be smart enough to know that after studying the bridle! Under the flap, the only part you need to know right now is the billet straps or girth straps (UK and US respectively). They hold the girth (aka the belt :) on and are therefore rather important... There are other unlabeled parts (the waist --found not surprisingly above the skirt, the point-pocket -- the most useless part ever, the tree --found inside and rather critical to the whole saddle idea, etc) but these are enough for the moment!

A few other random pices of leather you should know about because you're likely to come across them in your travels:

Martingales: These are to stop the horse from raising his head beyond the level of control. If they get their head too high, there is next to nothing the rider can do about it; adjusted correctly, these prevent that. They do NOT tie the horse's head down. If the horse is behaving correctly the martingale should do absolutely nothing. There are a few types of martingales -- the most common seen in NA are running and standing. The standing runs from the girth to the noseband (now that you know what both those things are) and is the more effective of the two. The running goes from the girth to the reins and is the safer of the two. The running also has the added advantage of counteracting the effect of a rider who carries her hands too high.

Breastplates (of which there are several styles) go from the saddle (or the girth) around the chest and back to the saddle (or girth). These stop the saddle from sliding backwards -- a common issue particularly on horses with a very powerful stride.

Conversely, the crupper goes from the cantle (remember where that is?) around the tail and connects back to itself to stop the saddle from sliding forwards. This is almost exclusively used on round ponies who have next to no withers.


Ok, I think that's about enough for the moment. If you don't agree, feel free to move on to Intermediate :)


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Advanced: Conditioning Schedule

So show season’s coming! Woohoo. Your horse is still moderately fit because you’ve been all dedicated and have ridden through most of the winter, but he’s not *really* fit. Let’s be honest, rides have been fairly short and maybe four days a week instead of six.

You’re hoping to event at training level this summer – your horse has to be able to jump a 3’6” stad course, 3’3” XC @ 450mpm (courses tend to be <8 mins), and do 1 st level dressage. And really, the last few months, you haven’t done much more than lope around the ring and over a few cavelletti.

To compete safely without risking your horse, you’re going to have to properly condition him. There are many many books on this topic that can provide far more detail than I have room for here (see References – esp Conditioning Sport Horses). But in general, it works much the way you’d expect. Interval training for cardio (ie walk for ten minutes, trot for ten minutes, walk for ten minutes. Walk for ten mins, trot for twenty, walk for ten. Gradually increasing the trot and decreasing the walk. Then sub in canter.)

Now since we’re assuming your horse has been at least in quasi-work we’re going to skip the first few conditioning steps (such as the ones in brackets above :) The schedule below is just a sample, obviously it will need to be altered to fit you and your horse – and some of the activities will change order depending on where the shows are (ie it’s a good idea to school ditches/coffins before seeing them on course!), but this will give a basic idea… Remember too that you should be conditioning yourself as well! You should be able to jog @ least the length of the XC course you expect your horse to run. (This is particularly useful when you find yourself with insanely tight times and have to “walk” your course at a run! Not that I’ve ever had to do *that* before of course :).

This sched is based on two conditioning days, two jumping days, and two dressage days in every week.

(ok so my blogger is being very weird and putting a TON of blank space in here for no apparent reason. Please scroll WAAAAYYYY down to see the schedule -- n if you know how to fix this, feel free to comment that info! :)

Conditioning and Show Schedule
Date Competition Conditioning Jumping Dressage
March Week 1   10W, T10x2, C 400m/m for 2 min   leg yield in trot
March Week 2 10W, T10x2, C 400m/m for 2 min x 2 individual fences, working on rhythm 20m circles
March Week 3   10W, T10x2, C 400m @ 400m/m x 4 + 2 min @ 400m/m gymnastics - 4-5 fences. Low 15m circles
March Week 4 Stadium Clinic off-site 10W, T10x2, 2 min @ 400m/m x 2 short course 6-8 fences, approx 3' trot lengthening
April Week 1   5W, T12x2 2 min @ 400m/m x 3 - 1 gallop instead of canter on 2nd conditioning day individual fences, rhythm, bigger: 3'3-3'6 H/T and T/H trans
April Week 2 5W, T15x2, 2 min @ 400m/m x4 simple combination in&out canter lengthening
April Week 3 CT 5W, T15x2, 2 min @ 400m/m x2, 2 min @ 450m/m x 2 XC school - ditches, small banks  
April Week 4 maintain: 2 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 2 min @ 450m/m x2 relax suppling
May Week 1 Dressage clinic 2 min @ 400m/m x 3 + 4 min @ 450m/m x 1 Low jump < 3' on a circle. Rhythm, bending, leads practice test movements improve movements from judging @ CT
May Week 2 2 min @ 400m/m x 3 + 4 min @ 450m/m x 2 XC school - bending lines W/C and C/W trans
May Week 3 SC 2 min @ 400m/m x 3 + 6 min @ 450m/m x 1 Related distances, particularly 2 strides relax suppling
May Week 4 First HT Relax - hacking. Only 1 conditioning day, same as above Gymnastics - bounces 15m circles with directional changes
June Week 1   4 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 6 min @ 450m/m x 1 banks and ditches relax bending/ rhythm
June Week 2 shoulder-in, travers
June Week 3   6 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 6 min @ 450m/m XC school -- steps Review test movements.
June Week 4 2nd HT Same as above stretching, lengthening
July Week 1   6 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 6 min @ 450m/m x 2 Rollbacks & Stadium courses, max height (3'6") lateral work: shoulder-in/leg-yield/traverse
July Week 2 3rd HT 8 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 6 min @ 450m/m x 2 XC water school, jump into water bending/ relaxation
July Week 3   Relax - hacking. Only 1 conditioning day, same as above   review lengthened stride in trot and canter
July Week 4 8 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 8 min @ 450m/m x 2 XC Coffins
Aug Week 1 4th HT Same as above Combination school bending/ broken lines W/H and C/W trans
Aug Week 2 8 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 8 min @ 450m/m x 2. Substitute 1 min @ 600m/m in last 8min set 1x on 2nd cond day XC - steeplechase fences Shoulder-in, Travers in walk
Aug Week 3   Same as above   stretching
Aug Week 4 5th HT 8 min @ 400m/m x 2 + 8 min @ 450m/m x 2 + 2 min @ 600 m/m Skinny fences Review anything necessary
Sept Week 1   Maintain: Same as above Review anything necessary stretching, transitions in canter
Sept Week 2 OHTA Champs

Now my schedule ends here at champs, but realistically I'd probably do at least one more full HT (potentially an upgrade if all has gone well) and prob a CT or SC to wind down at the end of the year; then I would gradually bring my horse down with lots of fall hacking so that both of us are ready for winter.

Remember also that feeding should be adjusted along with conditioning (another Thursday's topic!) and that shoeing, shots and such should be timed appropriately.


Intermediate: Practice Rides

So you’ve either just decided to part-board (or some variation thereof) or you’ve actually gone and bought your first horse and *finally* you’re allowed to ride without a coach. Oh how much fun you’ll have! Except that after about 20 minutes, you’re out of ideas. What do I do next? And here we have riding independently!

Step one – read and *know* basic arena rules (see beginner!). Seriously. If you haven’t ridden on your own, no matter how good a rider you are, read through that. Or else you’re really going to annoy those who *do* know what they’re doing and have to ride around you. Most experienced riders are totally kewl with steering around beginners or those just starting, but if it’s clear you know what you’re doing, it’s expected that you behave accordingly. Unfortunately, if you’ve learned to ride entirely in the school environment you may not have a clue! Yikes.

Ok so assuming you can ride in a civilized fashion with other people the next thing is, what are you going to do. Well really, that’s entirely up to you; after all, that’s the whole point isn’t it? But before you go out you should have some idea of a plan. Then you should follow the plan. But remember, the plan is always flexible. And yes I realize entirely those last two contradict each other – but such is life. >;-P

Go in the ring, get on in the middle (remember the rules!), and warm-up your horse. No matter how fun and exciting it is, getting on and cantering around is not the best plan. At least not if you care even slightly for your horse. Walk for five – ten minutes. This walk should be a power walk (go somewhere!) not just meandering around the ring. Remember, the idea is to warm the horse up! Conversely, if it’s a particularly hot horse, it’s a great idea to teach them that they *always* walk when you get on and that the first ten mins of any ride is always calm. This can be a huge help when you go somewhere exciting and your horse feels a little like she swallowed dynamite for breakfast. Ok back to the moment -- it’s also a good idea to use this walk time to do some stretching (both you *and* the horse!), some lateral work (if you’ve learned this already) – leg-yield, shoulder-in, flexing in/out, circles of various size (make sure they don’t go so small you lose your rhythm!), etc. At this point not only are you warming your horse’s muscles up, but also his mind – and yours. By the time you’re done you should have a pretty good idea how he’s feeling and have installed/refined steering, breaks and gas. Then your trot warm-up – remember rhythm is first (we’ll do another Thursday on that). If she’s high and bouncing around you might need to devise a warm-up with lots of interesting things to keep her attention; if he’s lazy and would prefer to still be hanging out in the middle, this is when you’re going to make a difference. Get him going now, so later you have something to work with.

Rinse and repeat in canter. Again, rhythm is first! Just going around and around and around the ring mindlessly might warm-up your horse physically, but neither one of you is going very far mentally. Think about what you’re doing and where you’re going. Your jobs: Pace, Path, Position. How fast you’re going, where you’re going, and effectively you’re balanced while you’re going there. Keep checking these as you go.

And while you’re doing all that, mix it up! I recommend never going more than half way around the ring without doing something. Could be as simple as a half-halt or as complex as writing your name (if you’re a student of mine who hasn’t done this one yet, just wait :) but either way, something should happen. Circles, serpentines, transitions (either within the gait or between gaits) are all easy things to keep life interesting. Remember to change direction regularly. But do keep in mind when doing any of said changes where the other horses in the ring are. It’s really frustrating when you’re working really hard, focused and in the zone, and the horse in front of you abruptly stops for no apparent reason. Avoid doing it to somebody else!

If you’ve actually done all the above in your warm-up (yeah right – I know you’re really just trotting around chatting with the other rider in the ring!) you’re more than ready to go to work. Now is time for the all important plan. Remember that? The plan? The plan you made before you ever got on? This plan might be to practice something you learned in your lesson, it might be an exercise you read about and thought would be interesting to try (depending on your experience you might want to clear this with your coach first), it could be working on practicing something you know needs work (those brutal transitions, circles that are actually round, lengthening that’s actually different from the working gait, etc), or it could be focusing totally on you, your position, and exactly what you’re doing while you’re hanging out up there. Whatever the plan is – give it a go. Start easy and build it up. ie) if you want to go from 8 strides to 5 in a set distance, aim for 7 consistently then 6 then 5. And when you’ve accomplished it, go back and see if you can repeat certain numbers on command. Or whatever the equiv is for your plan of choice. Shoulder-in? Start with leg-yield and 10m circles first.

Now the only catch than can exempt you from “stick to the plan” is “the plan is flexible”. Hahaha seriously – at some point, you will come out planning to school piaffe only to find out your horse is on speed and only willing to go round for as long as it takes to get extra power in her buck. On these days, the plan must be flexible, sometimes *very* flexible, because your horse is a living critter who may or may not have ever agreed to the original plan! On these days you have to let it go, because really – it’s never going to happen and trying to force it will make it worse. So revise the plan to something accomplishable – which some days may be as basic as a quiet trot. And be thrilled when you reach it, cause it was probably more than the original plan would ever have been on a good day. And remember, we’ve all been there.

Then, of course, remember to cool out your horse. Trot on a long rein, letting your horse stretch down, switching directions once in a while. Finish with another ten mins of walking (which can be on or off the horse) and make sure pulse and respiration are returned to normal before you put them away (more on that another Thursday!)

Have fun!


Beginner: Ring Rules

When you're very first learning to ride you may be lucky enough to have the ring to yourself, and hopefully even if you're sharing the ring, you've got an instructor present who's entirely capable of managing who's where at what time. But eventually you're going to want to ride is a less structured environment -- be it anything from a practice ride to a competition warm-up ring -- at which point you'll need to know some basics.

1. THINK. Really people, that's all it takes :) You can forget every other rule if you keep your eyes open and your brain engaged. It helps if you apply some common sense too, but just being aware of the world around you is a good start. That sounds so obvious, but it's amazing how easy it is to let your world shrink to just you and your horse and be completely oblivious of everybody else.

2. If somebody falls, halt. Do not continue your ride until such time as you're sure the person is ok (if they need help, put your horse somewhere safe and either help them or call someone who can) and their horse is caught.

3. Mount/dismount in the centre of the ring and out of the way of any jumps. And if you use a mounting box, make sure you position it where it too will be out of the way after you leave.

4. Pass left to left. This is the same way we drive. And walk. And ride escalators. Ironically when I was riding in Australia, where they drive and walk and escalate on the other side, I was amazed to discover they (at least the people I was with) still rode left to left.

5. Slower horses to the inside. If you're walking, get out of the way of those cantering. That being said, I've been informed that in the western world (about which I know very little) it's actually the opposite. Fast horses are on the inside. So be aware that when you switch disciplines some of the rules will change. In English though, if you're slower than somebody else, get out of the way.

6. Horses jumping have right of way. They have to be able to land, so avoid circling immediately behind a jump somebody's approaching. Likewise, don't ride between somebody and their jump. Even if there's enough space it's very disconcerting and can effect both horse and rider.

7. Horses doing lateral work have right of way (after those jumping). So if you're going straight and can easily steer away, do so and let those trying very hard to go sideways to continue. Note – if you’re in a dressage barn, the odds are good *everybody* has right of way over those jumping.

8. If you are riding around a lesson in progress, refrain from jumping.

9. When in doubt, call it. If you're really confused about everything else and have no idea where you're supposed to be, decide where you're going and announce it: "Inside" "Circling" whatever... The other rider would rather swerve around you than have you crash into them! Now this does not mean you need to announce every single thing -- that gets old very fast. Just if there's a chance the other rider might not understand what you're doing. This also applies to jumping -- don't just assume everybody knows where you're going.

But like I said – if you can remember number 1 the rest will work itself out! Have fun :)