Embrace the spookiness

Mondays are usually very spooky days. I am mostly away over weekends which means that Bitou has his off days over weekends. So he is always a bit fresh and spooky after not being ridden for a few days. This week, however, I only popped in briefly on Monday morning to see him before work and give him some carrots, but I didn’t have time to ride and I couldn’t ride in the evening because of my sister’s graduation ceremony. That means that Bt got an extra off day. So I anticipated Tuesday’s ride to be even more spooky…

Additionally, the weather has (and is) been really dreadful – windy, wet and just rather unpleasant. But, we have a little training show on Thursday (public holiday) so it was quite important to get a ride in yesterday.

My default ride is to go out (ie outride) into the wetlands. So I went to fetch Bt from the field at his yard. He was very enthusiastic and met me by the gate, pushing his nose through his bridle when I held it up and dropping his head so I could put it over his ears, as he usually does (I really must take a video of how he puts on his own bridle – it’s very cute!).

As we walked down the road I could already see him being very looky, so I mentally prepared myself for a very spooky ride. And I wasn’t wrong. I mounted, he had a good look, and we set off at a walk.

Now – because I know he was very spooky, I made a point of riding with a loopy rein and heavy legs. In fact, I went the entire ride with either a loop in the reins or a very light contact. Basically a check for myself, so I  don’t accidentally become too strong when he spooks, hence causing a ‘conditioned fear response’, the thinking being “this object is scary and now i get jerked by the reins (a punishment), meaning i was correct in thinking that the object was scary”. My reasoning is that if he spooks, I would first have to take the loop out of the rein to take up a contact (a default and incorrect reaction of wanting to use the reins to keep balance, which is useless anyway since my core muscles must keep me in the saddle!). This would then allow me time (i.e. a split second) to think and stop the default reaction before reaching the point of contact. It’s possible that this is not the correct way to go about it, and I would be most interested in others’ opinions, but the reasoning, in my opinion, is logical and it worked (for me). So I’d use that method again!

 

Bitou was indeed incredibly alert and fresh, having a second and third look at everything but… he was so amazingly responsive and so very, very forward. We were trotting and cantering with him looking elsewhere, but 100% focused on my aids.

This is the first time I experienced this. Interestingly, I was recently made aware and have spent a lot of time thinking about how unaware we are of our horses whilst working with them. We expect them to concentrate on us, but then we get distracted (chatting to someone while tacking up, looking at something else etc) and we don’t return the favour of being focused on them and giving them the required consistent signals that is good horsemanship. So I’ve really been concentrating on concentrating on Bitou even if I am doing something else. And it seemed yesterday, as though he was doing the same.

 He would look in any direction, but he would keep going straight in our direction of travel and he would respond to my aids immediately (even perfect canter – walk transitions on voice cues). We discovered a new path recently that is a lot of fun to ride. It is very bendy and you can really use it to do nice schooling exercises. So we had a trot through there. Then there is a nice grassy patch where we always stop for a quick graze, but because it’s in a slight blind spot (which can make for an accident if a horse suddenly comes cantering past!), I use that spot as an opportunity to practice turn on the fore (as that is where we struggle in schooling sessions); so now he knows: we have a nice canter, then we stop, turn on the fore to face the opposite way in order to see oncoming equine traffic, wait, and then he is allowed a snack when I drop the reins.
Also, because the weather was unpleasant, there weren’t many riders out, so we had the place mostly to ourselves.
Stunning, stunning ride on a spooky, spooky horse!
Lesson of the day: embrace the spookiness and ride it forward!

Setting up for success

Bitou and I rarely have bad rides. In fact, I think most of our rides will be classified as an 8/10 or more. During my lesson last week I realised why that is. Because we set ourselves up for success…

My lesson almost didn’t happen because the weather was very dicey. As I drove into Noordhoek it started drizzling. I have a light cold, so I wasn’t keen on tempting fate and riding in the rain, so Jenny and I were messaging back and forth to discuss whether we would have a lesson or not. We ended up taking a chance and I tacked up while Jenny came over the mountain. The weather in Cape Town can literally change within 5 minutes and when she arrived the wind was rather hectic and the clouds had become increasingly ominous.

Now I want to interrupt myself first to say that Bitou is not a winter horse. He is terribly grumpy when it’s wet and cold. Interestingly, with the Facebook reminders of what happened 1/2/3/4 years ago, it’s amazing how I see that every year since I became Bitou’s human, I said (around this time of year), that Bitou hates the cold.

Anyway. We decided to give it a shot and just cut the lesson short if need be. We started warming up and proceeded to trot quite quickly so that Bitou can warm up as he was extremely fluffy (with all his hair standing upright to trap air, which is a heating mechanism) Here I let him choose the pace and the most important thing is to ride the corners of the arena properly. From the get go he was nice and forward and warmed up quite quickly considering the cold temperature. He trotted beautifully with me having to do nothing except focus on not interfering with him. We then proceeded to do large 20m circles, focusing on bend: at A, at B, at C and repeat.

He bent beautifully on the left rein, kept a lovely rhythm and was soft as butter in my hands. We then started riding 3 loop serpentines, focusing on riding the shape properly and bending nicely. Every time we did the loop that went around on the right rein, I could feel that he was struggling a bit, and then it corrected when the loop went around the next left bend.

Realising that the right rein bend was a bit difficult, we stopped and I asked for the right rein bend in the walk. Still he was resisting, even at the slower pace. Bitou is incredibly sensitive to my legs. As I’ve said before, often I only have to think something and he will react to it (with me having given him the active cue without realising it). However, this time he really didn’t respond to my inside leg, asking him to swing his rib cage out. To avoid nagging him by doing the same thing over and over and him not responding, I then layed the whip behind my leg (literally just lay the whip on him very softly). Bitou hates the whip. He doesn’t mind it touching his shoulder, and he’s gotten used to me riding with it, but do not touch him with it anywhere else than his shoulder. He became extremely agitated, ears back and tail swishing violently (and I was barely touching him, my hand was just a bit more ‘out’ than usual), so Jenny told me to drop the whip and not to ride with it at all anymore, because he reacted so badly to it.

Interestingly, after that, he became increasingly distracted. There could be many reasons for it: i) I had forgotten to tighten the girth once mounted, and the saddle slipped a teeny bit forward (not enough that anyone would notice, but if he notices, it’s game over – he doesn’t take lightly to his saddle being in the wrong place!), ii) there were activity behind the trees and fence on the other side (where we couldn’t see, but we could hear), with people grinding stuff and doing manual work, iii) the weather was miserable iv) i often lost focus and wasn’t feeling 100% or anything else, we really wouldn’t know and to be honest, it really doesn’t matter. Fact is, Bitou wasn’t giving his all as he usually does, and we had to act on the horse that I was riding at that present moment, rather than the horse that I usually ride.

So we took a step back and took the pressure off. We went back to the left rein, doing some canter work, and then another curious thing started happening: every time we turned the corner between A and F, he started leading with his shoulder, resisting all aids and running through my hands. It happened twice and then we decided to change the approach as what I was doing was not helping him get off his shoulder. Then, as I turned the corner i pushed him forward, and lifted the outside rein (up-release-up) and also bump-release-bump with my outside leg. We did this a few times and by the last time i only needed to give a soft squeeze with my outside leg to keep him going straight.

We went then switched between left and right rein, riding a 20m circle and at B and E, halt, turn on the forehand and go the other way. Again I learned something interesting here. I wrote previously about how Bt rushed through this, and now I realised why: i ask him to do the turn by turning 90 degrees and then stopping and then doing the other 90 degrees, so keep it slow, correct and controlled. But what was happening was that Bt reacted faster than I could respond. He is so unbelievably sensitive to aids and quick to learn, as I’ve said before, always one step ahead of me! So what Jenny had me do, was initiate the turn but then immediately ask him to halt again, because I was too slow which meant he seemed to be rushing, whilst he was actually just responding faster than I could!

I tell you- this horse responds to thoughts rather than cues!

A very valuable lesson: we weren’t at our best, but instead of pushing him and forcing him to do new things, we took a step back and made sure to set us both up for success by the things we did. So a session that could potentially be very frustrating turned into a super positive one! Thanks to my wonderful coach who reads horses and their humans so well!

That man who listens to horses

In Science, we publish our research as we go along. But every once in a while you get a landmark study: the study where the investigator finds something groundbreaking, where his work (be it a new discovery, understanding or a method) changes things forever.

A lot of work is then built on that. Sometimes the method or the discovery is improved upon as it evolves, sometimes it gets a different shape or package, but that original paper and author is always cited, even if it is 100 years later.

Today (3 June 2016) I got to meet that person in the horse world, the one who brought about the change, whose methods are still widely used, and a lot of people have used that basis to build on and from.

He was the one who said that violence has no place in horsemanship.

My absolute horse hero.MR2

Lesson update

Each week i say that that lesson was our best yet and last week was no exception.

After our usual warmup, we started by trotting with a light connection and Bitou could choose the pace. Then, Jenny would give a cue which meant I had to balance back: this balance back serves to get Bt to wait for the next cue, he is then prepared, balanced onto his hindquarters and waiting so he can respond instantly.

Ever since we worked on sublimation transitions (trot to halt), which taught me to prepare Bt properly before asking, he is incredibly sensitive to a balance back. When i say balance back I literally mean “think of closing your thighs and sitting deeper for one moment “. I swear Bitou is responding to my thoughts rather than my muscles. I must be giving an absolute minuscule movement whilst thinking ‘re-balance ‘, because I can’t feel that I am actually doing anything other than thinking!

Anyway, once I have prepared, I must be very careful with my next cue to ask incredibly softly. The next step was a trot-walk transition immediately turning into a volte (a circle of 6-8m). Here the bend is very important to ensure that Bt’s body follows the arc of the circle with his nose staying in the middle of his chest. Once again the outside rein is important to keep stable to ensure that his neck doesn’t bend too much (in relation to his body). On the left this was more important since Bt bend very well to the left. However on the right he did it perfectly even with his struggling rider!

We then proceeded to trot, doing a 10m circle in each corner of the arena. Interestingly I found this quite difficult as posting the trot makes it difficult to use my seat as effectively. I kept turning my shoulders to ask for the bend, after an inside calf cue, instead of turning my hips. After working on the canter, I tried the trot again, but doing sitting trot instead. This worked much better!

We then proceeded to canter, doing a 12m circle instead of 10m. I found it easier to ride this than the trot, but I have to be very soft in the way that I ask. The left rein was great. Of course refinement is necessary as we get used to these new exercises, but I was thoroughly impressed by how willing Bitou is to try it and to put up with me fiddling with the aids until I get it somewhat right! And at how easily he does it every time! (As a result we actually cantered a 10m circle by accident- i tell you, i felt like we were doing a canter pirouette in a grand prix level dressage test. It felt like we were standing still, yet cantering. Hard to explain that feeling of power!

We then went on to the same on the right rein. My first words were that I don’t think we can do it on the right rein. First mistake- doubting myself and Bt. Of course we can! We gave it a go and managed to actually get it right, but I psyched myself out and couldn’t ride it again. Bitou was thoroughly confused as I was asking him to balance onto his hindquarters, but I wasn’t asking effectively, so he saw it as a slow-down cue, but then I was asking him to canter. So complete mixed signals. You could see how he was trying to figure out what i was asking. To make it easier for me, we then went on to do a 20m circle at E instead. Because Bt isn’t overly fond of the whip, I ride with it in my left hand when on the right rein, but my left hand is very dumb and I struggle to use it independently, ie when i want to lay it on his shoulder, i end up dropping the outside rein connection, effectively dropping him mid-movement. And although it’s a light connection, it is still like holding a rope steady on both sides and then suddenly dropping one side, causing the other side to lose balance. I changed the whip just to see if it made a difference and immediately we cantered a beautiful circle! Next step is to educate that left hand of mine!

We ended with a connected and extremely powerful trot, riding deeply into each corner, and letting him go on the long sides. The power of the trot is incredible. It’s actually somewhat difficult to post at times: it feels like i could have a cup of tea during the rising phase!

I say it every week, and this week I want to say it with a Monty Roberts quote, there is nothing like the willingness of a horse, trying his absolute best for you (whilst you are actually the one needing to catch up!).

 

MR

Starting self carriage

Last Thursday was lesson day again. We did a warmup as usual – luckily it was quite a warm day, so Bitou got warmed up quite quickly and then we could work.

Bitou, who is a South African Boerperd, is a naturally gaited horse, which means that he is 5-gaited and not 3-gaited (as most horses are). But, because of this, his default is to move his legs, but keep his back very still. This is very nicely illustrated in the rack (one of the additional gaits). It’s a very fast gait (as fast or sometimes even faster than canter!) and is recognized by it’s 4-beat rhythm and extravagant leg movement. However, doing the type of riding that we are doing (which is classical dressage orientated), we want him to move his back, not just his legs. So all the work that we are doing, is to encourage him to round, with his hindquarters pushing (rather than his shoulders pulling).

Jenny wanted us to start with a very active trot, so that Bitou is literally punching through with each step. usually, in a trot, he would put his head down for a moment to reach for the contact, and then immediately bring it back up. So the first part of the session we spent trotting, but then the moment he reaches, I give a forward cue (squeeze) with my legs and then give with the inside rein, keeping the outside rein very stable as to not ‘drop’ him.
My default reaction, when Bitou reaches for the contact, is to release. I ride out a lot, and I mostly ride with loopy reins/on the buckle. Now I have to teach my hands (and my brain!) that I cannot drop the contact like that! I have to keep the outside rein when we are doing flatwork, otherwise I drop and hence, unbalance him!
Either way, we worked on this for a while and I managed to keep my grip and feel on the outside rein but giving with the inside which resulted in Bitou reaching and taking the contact and keeping that contact (and hence the entire frame) stable! I literally squealed and had to stop immediately to tell Bitou how amazing he is. (Even though he was, once again, waiting for me to finally get it right so I don’t interfere with his job! 😉 )
Next, Jenny wanted to see that it was Bitou doing the work (keeping the bend, the rhythm, the speed, the frame), rather than me.  We started working on a circle, having that nice, active, punching trot. When we were in a nice rhythm with everything perfect (i.e. the bend, rhythm, speed and consistent frame), Jenny asked me to go completely passive. Initially I went into sitting trot, so that we could be sure my legs were completely passive. This meant that I am not allowed to influence Bitou at all. During that time, I am only allowed to keep my seat at the same angle (for riding the circle), but I am not allowed to use and weight, leg or hand cues. The aim being to see whether he changes any of the variables.
The first time we did this, Bitou kept the bend and rhythm beautifully, but he lost some of the activity. He stopped using his back and started using his legs only, again. But, I wasn’t able to feel this because I was concentrating on the sitting trot too much! So I asked Jenny whether I could rather stay posting, but just ensure that I don’t use my legs during the passive phase. When I stayed posting, I could feel the change immediately. It was as though the trot lost it’s bounce.
The next step was then to try and encourage him to keep that activity as well. So that he literally carries himself without me influencing him at all. We did exactly the same, but the moment I feel the bounce in the trot disappear, I would click (voice cue) and then touch the whip to his shoulder (literally just lay it on). Bitou is electrically responsive to my legs, and he absolutely hates the whip behind my leg (in fact, even if we’re standing still, the moment I touch him with the whip behind my leg, he starts swishing his tail and pinning his ears. If I do it to his shoulder, he doesn’t mind in the least), so we thought we’d try it to the shoulder. It worked fantastically well! So much that a click was later enough to get the activity back and he would keep everything constant with absolutely no input from me!
We did the same on the right (previously weaker) rein, but Bt got quite tense and started rushing. Jenny then had me change the whip to my left hand and immediately he slowed down, concentrated and carried himself even better than on the left!
We then proceeded to canter. The left rein was absolutely amazing, he carried himself with no input right from the beginning. The right rein was a bit more tricky, but the only reason being, that my left (then outside) hand is very dumb with the whip holding it! So I couldn’t change the angle of the whip to use it as a cue, without dropping the outside rein completely!
So my homework is now to ride with the whip in my left hand so I can actually hold the outside rein effectively! And to do exactly what we did, when we ride out. Bitou must carry himself, I can’t carry him.
All these things feel so amazingly advanced for this farm rider! That my horse can carry himself so perfectly, with no influence from his rider. Bitou is such an amazingly willing, but also so patient, horse. He is really the best partner to learn with!

Snakes and seats

Very recently, I’ve started riding on outrides trying to ride on the neckstrap rather than the reins. The reins are there, but I don’t touch them – they hang on Bitou’s neck while I hold the neckstrap with one hand and then the other hand is loose. (Edit: Don’t tell my coach, I’m supposed to be working on my hand position!)

Yesterday, we went on our usual Wednesday outride. We were happily trotting along the bridlepath and went up a little incline. I was riding on the neckstrap only, and neither Bitou nor I was really paying attention as we were still warming up.
The next moment I saw a massive mole snake on the other side of the little incline we just trotted up. I didn’t have my reins, I had only one hand on the neckstrap and was trotting along on a horse who was looking in the distance at a pretty grey mare that was grazing nearby (he is quite the ladies man). I didn’t know what to do to avoid treading on the sunbathing snake, so I launched my body to the left hand side. Bitou instantly moved in underneath me to ‘catch’ me and we managed to pass the snake, missing by about 20cm. What an amazing reaction!
I’ve noticed before, that we he spooks, Bitou will always ‘take me with him’ when he shies. He doesn’t normally shy, but when he does, he does it almost in a controlled fashion (for lack of a better word). We’ve always known that he is an extremely sensitive horse (as in, he will immediately say if his saddle is a smidgeon too tight, if you put too much rein pressure on his nose, he will pull back and you will lose etc) but this was such a good illustration in how sensitive he is to weight changes.
Why do we need reins again? 😉

Lesson updates: Sublimations & Shoulder-in (1)

As I was getting ready to leave work for my lesson last week, I told Ant that I don’t feel like having a lesson (because it’s always hard work and I was feeling lazy). Her response was that the lessons you least feel like having, usually ends up being the most amazing ones. And was she right…

It was rather chilly and we know Bitou takes long to warm up when it’s cold. So we had a long trot and canter warm-up, taking care to ride the corners of the arena properly and focusing on getting my hand and seat position correct for the rest of the session.

Since the plan was to start working on shoulder-fore, as preparation for shoulder-in, Jenny wanted Bitou to bring his hind leg in further underneath him. To aid in this, we worked on trot-halt-trot transitions. Importantly, Bt must not stop on his shoulder, but stop from behind – this we get from ‘riding into the halt’. It’s difficult to explain but entails keeping the forward movement while asking for the halt. For this I found that it’s really important to prepare properly. If I didn’t, then I caught Bitou off-guard and the down-transition would be sloppy. If I did, he would literally feel like a wound-up ball of energy, waiting for my next cue and then respond the moment he feels it.

I’ve always done halts through the walk and we’ve only worked on trot-halt-trot once before, so initially I was a bit slow and we got a few steps of walk in between each time. Jenny then helped me with specifically the ‘halt’ aid. I was making the mistake of pulling back whilst asking for a halt with my seat and legs, but pulling on him is a cue for Bitou to pull against me. (He is extremely sensitive to rein pressure, if you pull, you WILL lose. No exception). Yet ‘pulling’ is such a default reaction!! So Jenny’s tip was to close the connection but not pull. So he effectively pulls against himself if he doesn’t respond immediately. So now we are basically doing a double downward transition (a sublimation, if you will!), all the while asking him to move forward into the halt. After that, Bitou got it immediately! If I prepared him sufficiently, the transition would be lovely, crisp and clear. Very cool!

Next we did turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. Interestingly, Bitou seems to anticipate the turn on the fore, and then rushes through it, rather than waiting for me to cue him. So we worked on that. The turn on the haunches is much easier (even though it’s supposed to be more difficult!). We speculated that might be that it’s a more difficult maneuver and therefore he waits for me and concentrates rather than rushing it? (I will read up a bit!)

We then proceeded to shoulder-fore. This is a preparation for shoulder-in. Basically, the horse’s shoulder is off the wall (to the inside) but he is moving forward in a straight line. In a proper shoulder-in, the horse will be moving on three tracks rather than four. Also Note that it is the shoulder that must be off the wall, not just the neck! We first did it at a walk so I could get familiar with the aids. Well – the aids aided in confusing this rider sufficiently! So Jenny had us rather do it at the trot. Although it’s faster, the trot is a two beat-rhythm (compared to the walk, which is a four-beat rhythm), so it’s much easier. We did it on the left rein and Bitou aced it! So much so that we went into full shoulder-in! He is incredibly supple, so once he understands what you are asking, he does it almost perfectly.

I was completely blown-away when we turned around, though. On the right rein (his difficult rein!), at trot, first time, and he did the most amazing, proper shoulder-in!! (We repeated it another 2 times to ensure it wasn’t a fluke!) This boykie is so athletic, he constantly amazes me! Obviously we have to practice and refine it, and “ride” it less obviously (me!), but wow!

We then finished off with some nice big, stretchy trot and canter circles. cropped 1

The absolute highlight of the lesson was however when I asked Bitou for a nice fast canter down the long side of the arena. As we turned the corner, I dropped the reins completely down onto his neck and … he kept his frame and continued cantering as though I was still holding the reins!

Notice the grin (and the position of that hind leg!) (Please excuse the odd angles of my forearms – I’m still getting used to the new hand position!)

cropped 2

What a horse!

 

 

Modern Dressage vs thinking for yourself

Everyone knows that there is a problem with modern dressage, but no one is changing their approach to dressage, because we all erroneously believe that we ourselves are doing it correctly, the classical way.

Therefore we are feeding this incorrect system. So what we are seeing is horses being produced and ridden incorrectly and people believing that what they are doing is correct. No one intends to do the wrong thing, after all! So if people think what they are doing is correct, but it’s actually incorrect, it’s no wonder that we see so many horses on the forehand, behind the vertical, trailing behind and not engaged at all (the exact opposite of classical dressage – in a nutshell). In every level of riding, from the basics to the top. Yet if you ask the trainer of that particular horse (or the rider for that matter) they will certainly defend themselves, stating why their approach is correct.

Of course, this is a multi-faceted problem which can be discussed in a number of ways (one of which is the drive to get results in an accelerated time-frame: I mean if someone paid a fortune for a horse, they want to see the results! Especially with our modern horses looking mature at the age of 3 already!). But I think the main problem is that people believe what they are told. People do not think for themselves.
This is not an equestrian problem only. As a scientist, I see it in my work and life every day. People haven’t been trained to think critically and to question everything. To quote something I saw on Facebook recently, “the problem is not people being uneducated, the problem is that they are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught. And not educated enough to question what they have been taught“. Therefore, I question my coach. I’m lucky in having a coach that welcomes my ‘need-to-know’ and who doesn’t get offended by me questioning every word she says.
I’m by no means saying that I am the only one riding/training/working correctly – I certainly try my best, just like everyone else does. I am merely sharing my approach here: which is, asking questions and not accepting only one answer.  I think that a massive problem is that people do not question their coaches. And the coaches do not question themselves.
I said a while ago that I believe, if someone cannot explain the exact and precise action of a bit, that they shouldn’t be using it. The key being ‘understanding what you are doing’ rather than just doing it for the sake of doing.
Another example (I got permission from the rider to post this image, which I  turned into a silhouette to protect their identity, perhaps badly, but you get the idea!) to illustrate.example of forehand 2
The rider asked their coach whether the horse was on the forehand in this moment (yes, the picture is level, for in case you are wondering!). The coach said no, that is just the position in the canter, the horse is ‘definitely not on the forehand’. Therefore – was the coach correct in saying that the horse is not on the forehand? Should the rider just accept that the horse is not on the forehand because the coach said so? Is it not possible that the coach could have it wrong?
Let’s face it: horse people are opinionated. If you ask 10 people, you will get 12 opinions. So it’s difficult to establish what a correctly working horse looks like compared to one working incorrectly. So to avoid this, I like to compare everything I learn to what I’ve read, written by the classical masters, in some form or the other. If the aim is to ride classically, then surely those are the people who should guide the process of riding classically. In addition, I like to compare that to current high level riders who I respect (ie, i wouldn’t mind if they rode/schooled my horse).
Finally, as a scientist, I like everything to make scientific sense. If I apply an aid, or a sequence of aids, I want to be able to explain it from a physics perspective. If I am unable to, then I need to go read up until I am able to. If I still can’t explain something, both scientifically AND get confirmation from the classical masters, that this is the correct way to go, I throw that out the window and look at the next possible approach.
Yes, I get that everything is not so clear cut. Yes, I understand that it’s ‘easier said than done’. No one ever said riding is easy. Both in and out of the saddle!
I want to understand why I am doing something. I feel that I owe it to my horse to know what I’m doing, to ensure that I’m doing it to the best of my ability. That is MY approach. It might not be the correct one. And in 2 years time I might feel differently. But for now, I feel that we should question everyone: our coaches, our judges, and ourselves, 100% of the time, for the sake of our horses.

The outside rein

Today’s lesson was one of those amazing ones. I started a blog lnto which I post these updates, but there is still overlap. So here goes:

This lesson was very much a follow up of last week’s which was focused on my hand/thumbs and wrist position (post on the blog).

We started with a warmup as usual. Then we worked on corners – riding the corners effectively by preparing properly, asking for bend and flexion as we enter the corner and then riding the outside through. First at trot and then proceeding to canter. It was magnificent. Bitou used to motorbike around the short sides on the right rein canter, but by preparing properly and riding the outside through rather than dropping the connection, he took the corners like a pro!

We then did some turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand. Jenny had us do this because it is very effective in getting Bitou to step and reach underneath himself. Bitou finds it much easier than I do. I have to think (left, right, leg, hand, open, close! Turn around and it’s all the other way around! Confusing!) but he does it brilliantly when I get my act together and ask properly!

Now, we’ve been working a lot on bend and flexion. But today we worked on getting Bt to step in further underneath himself. So we want the connection but also the energy. We worked on a circle for this. We started with a nice forward and connected walk with nice bend and flexion. Then proceeded to trot. In the trot I then had to close my legs (more forward), hold the outside rein and give with the inside rein. (To give Bt the room to move into). But he became very stiff, hollow and uneven in the trot. He didn’t understand what I was asking and Jenny pointed out that instead of holding the outside rein, I dropped it when I gave with the inside rein. So I was effectively dropping Bitou mid-cue: he didn’t understand what I was asking. So to make it easier for me, I would use the same cue but instead of holding the outside rein, I would move my elbow back 2-3 cm (ie my arms would work in opposite directions rather than one being dormant but stable and the other active). The result was amazing! Bitou took the gap created in the inside rein and carried his neck, taking the connection up and ‘holding my hands’! All while this is happening, Bitou is keeping a perfect 20m circle by himself, just by my seat angle (remember the lesson a while ago when we worked on seat!). So much so that if I forgot to adjust the circle, the would go straight into a branch that smacks me in the face every time! (It must look hilarious from the ground!). A good way to remember, was Jenny’s tip ‘the outside rein should hold 2/3 vs the inside rein’s 1/3 of the total weight of the reins’ – of which the total should always be a light and consistent contact in order not to drop him.

We then did the same on the right rein. Main focus being to do exactly the same, but also by concentrating on keeping the weight of my seat bones equal. Instead of riding an oval and fighting to get around the top corner, which often happens on the right, Bitou kept perfectly straight on a perfect circle with no inside rein (literally hanging in a loop – i tested it!), and just a soft but stable outside rein, enough forward and equal weight. Riding the outside effectively (remember the beginning of the session!) and he was stepping in underneath himself and reaching for the contact! 😄

I so love how Jenny structure our lessons. Everything has a purpose and fits into the bigger picture towards the end goal!

I find riding more and more rewarding (as if that’s even possible) every time I realise how technical it is. You literally have to think of 1 million things at the same time, and the timing must be spot on else you’ll lose it. In fact, to think about it means your response is already to late. And that’s why breaking it up into bitesizes and then establishing it before the next bite is so effective and so rewarding!

Best lesson! (Again…! Starting to sense a theme here!)

Adventures of a South African in Azerbaijan

ADVENTURES OF A CAPE TOWNIAN IN BAKU (this was posted on my Facebook account on 18 June 2015, but I love the story so much that I decided to post it here too):

So.. I went to the shop to buy washing powder. Only washing powder. I was a bit worried that I will end up buying some random other product because all the labels are in Russian. But I found some that is actually English!  Well, I walked out with 3 bags full of goodies to take home!

On my way to the shop, I ran into a little kitty who was dozing off next to a lamp post. I’ve posted about the Baku cats before. They don’t seem to belong to anyone and they are everywhere. They are mostly quite slim (not starving, but certainly not fat) and quite dirty. So I start petting the kitty, who wakes up and immediately starts soaking up the attention. He actually jumped onto my leg and grabbed my hand every time I stopped petting him or stopped rubbing his belly! Now, this was around 6pm. And it seems to be common that the men in the area come out around that time and sit on the pavement in little groups to chat.

So keep in mind, that I am already stared at wherever I go. Now, this white chick is sitting on the pavement, playing with a stray cat and talking to him in Afrikaans for about 15 minutes! A guy approached me and welcomes me to Azerbaijan, and then told me the cat’s name is Vaska (don’t know the spelling). Vaska absolutely loved the attention. And the men on the pavement probably wondered what the hell is wrong with me!

Anyway, so off I went to the shop. When I came back I stopped to quickly pet all the cats along the way, as I always do (which almost made me late for my bus once!) and when I looked for Vasko, he was gone! Then, a couple of steps further, I saw the little kitty, on his back with his little paws in the air. Happy as a cat in Egypt, belly being scratched and head being stroked by all the men who sat watching me earlier!!