Blog .:. October 2010 8 Entries
After chomping at the bit to get a hold of the clinic video, I was able to pick it up today.
For some reason, I thought having half a dozen media players—most of which claimed to have editing capabilities—plus a stand-alone program or two would mean I could, you know, do some editing.
Two hours later, I managed to get a very short clip with video quality that didn’t completely suck (the DVD is great—clipped-out versions, not so much).
I give up, give in, and generally never want to go through this again. This clip may be all you get from the clinic.
She’s been under saddle (somewhat inconsistently) for about six months now, and this is only her second time off the property. Watch the difference in her trot from the first 3-5 seconds and the rest of the time—towards the end, she really starts swinging and moving like a real horse.
She’s such a good girl!
One of the advantages to auditing a clinic is that you can often see how the same general idea can be adapted for a variety of situations. The following exercises were all from the Eddo Hoekstra clinic this weekend. A couple general points: he never had riders focus on any one exercise for very long. He wanted horses and riders to get the idea of the exercise but stressed that perfection would not come in one session. He also said that there is no value in drilling an exercise endlessly; work on it and move on. Finally, work in opposites: if you do an exercise to the left, do it (or something similar) to the right. If you do a strength-building exercise, follow it with one to stretch out the horse.
One of the first exercises he introduced—and a staple for the first session with every rider—was the octagon. For a green horse like Ro, the shape of the octagon was the point of the exercise: ride the corners correctly, without bulging through either shoulder, and use the straight lines to reestablish forward. For more advanced horses, the straight lines could also be used to work on shoulder in, haunches in, shoulder out, or renvers. He also had some riders spiraling in or out on the octagon—testing the ability of horse and rider to maintain balance and straightness as the turns became more pronounced and there was a shorter period of straightness between them.
From the octagon, riders moved on to a circle. Again, for a greener horse, the balance and correctness of the bend could be enough of an exercise. For more advanced horses, he would then add some lateral work. One of his favorite variations was to have the rider move the shoulders in a track and back out, while the haunches remained on a single track. The horse would increase the bend in their body for a step or two, but the size of the circle stayed the same. Pairs that handled that capably moved on to haunches in, shoulder out, and renvers. From here, sometimes he added transitions (e.g. shoulder in, shoulder back to the track, trot or canter, shoulder in, walk, shoulder on the track) or had riders spiral in while in shoulder in and then spiral out in haunches out (think baby half passes).
The Straight Line
Down the long side, he had most riders working on variations of yielding the shoulders or quarters. To introduce the idea to green horses, he had the riders halt, do a single step of turn on the forehand, and walk out. After a few repetitions, the halt was omitted. Once the general idea was there, riders would yield the quarters, straighten, and trot off. This could be repeated with any variation of yielding the shoulders or quarters. He also had riders leg yield off the wall, straighten, and leg yield back. In this exercise, he wanted the riders to maintain a slight bend to the wall—so the leg yield back was essentially a baby half pass again. All of these exercises could also be performed on the center line, which obviously increased the mental difficulty since there was no wall to act as a visual guide for horse and rider. For that matter, they could also be performed on a diagonal line, although that idea blew most riders’ minds—which I think is a reflection of our tendency to think of yielding anything only in relation to the long sides and not in relation to the track the horse is moving on.
The Mini Arena
On the last day, he introduced the idea of working within a sort of mini arena ten meters wide and about forty meters long. Riders would start on a ten meter circle at one end and work on a strength-building exercise, like walk to canter transitions. Then they would cross the diagonal of their mini arena and work on some sort of stretching exercise—free walk, lengthened trot, canter, etc. At the far end of the space, they would go back on a ten meter circle and work on a strength-building exercise again. Accuracy was important here—he had them all working in the middle of the ring, between the quarter lines and off the short sides of the arena. There were no rails to help guide the horse, and the turns were tighter and more difficult than if they had been using the full arena.
Ten Meter Circles
He had Ro and I start a ten meter circle at A, at a walk. We were focusing on forward momentum and maintaining the correct bend. After one or two circles, we changed direction on the centerline—again, focusing on rhythm and correct aids for the change of bend. After one or two circles, we’d change direction again, but always so that the chain of circles progressed from A towards C (not doing a figure eight, in other words). After the first circle or two, we added transitions to the trot. However, we always came back to the walk to change bend. Obviously, this was an exercise geared towards a green horse. He commented that one of the reasons we could do this on a ten meter circle is that Ro is a smaller horse. If she had been larger, I think he would have had us doing this on a 15 meter circle. A more advanced larger horse could also do this on a ten meter circle, and at a more advanced level again you could repeat it at the trot with transitions to the canter. You’d want to match the horse’s ability to maintain a particular degree of bend through particular transitions to the exercise.
By far his favorite canter transition exercise was to turn across the arena, change directions, and canter. Ro and I flunked that exercise on Saturday, so he had us switch to coming in off the long side in a shallow serpentine. When we returned to the wall, we cantered. He did not have riders stayi in the canter for long; he was much more interested in the quality of the transition. Riders would return to the trot, turn across the arena again, and change direction, and canter. I didn’t see him use it in this clinic, but I have seen video from a past clinic where this turned into a lead change exercise: the rider in that case maintained the canter, and the transitions were moved from the turns to the center line. As the transitions got sharper, he asked for them from walk to canter to walk—and eventually to asking for a flying change.
Sonesta Farms held a clinic with Eddo Hoekstra this weekend. I audited some sessions on all four days (Thurs - Sun) and had sessions on Ro on Sat/Sun. I had video taken of my rides, and I’ll put the highlights up once I get it.
Some general observations:
He wanted the riders to do less but do it correctly and allow the horses to figure things out for themselves. He told several riders to use less or quieter aids, and he was very consistent about asking riders to keep their hands upright and close together. Most riders who wore spurs were told to use them less. On Ro, I was told to use only my leg right below the knee when asking her to straighten and move into the outside rein—not my entire lower leg. You could see all the horses respond to this. As the riders got quieter and softer, so did the horses.
The word of the weekend was “rebalance.” There was some discussion among the auditors early on about what he meant by that, and the general consensus was “half halt.” I don’t think so. When he said “rebalance,” you could see the riders fixing their position first and, sometimes, also half halting. The few times he said just half halt, the riders would half halt without fixing themselves. By the time I rode on Saturday, I was pretty sure that rebalance meant “fix yourself first, then the horse,” and that held true through my session with Ro—every time he said “rebalance,” I had crept out of position. A half halt might be part of the overall rebalancing, but the two are not synonymous.
The phrase of the weekend was “If you were in a car, you’d be in a ditch right now.” He very much wanted riders to maintain the pattern no matter what the horse did. They could miss a transition, get a transition late, or just flub everything up entirely, but he wanted them on whatever line the exercise was supposed to be on. If you were on an octagon, you needed to stay on the octagon. If you were on a circle, stay on the circle. If you were going down the long side, you needed to stay on the long side—not wander into the quarter line.
If the horse offered something unexpected to the riders, he wanted the riders to differentiate between “no” and “not now.” He never wanted the horse punished for breaking into a canter. You let them canter on and then come back to the trot. If you ask for the canter and get the wrong lead, you continue on—especially if it’s counter canter and harder for the horse. If you are at the walk and the horse trots, you continue the exercise in the trot—but make sure it is a connected, purposeful trot. You didn’t go on and on in the unexpected gait, but you went on long enough to acknowledge what the horse wanted before saying, “But this isn’t what *I* want, so we’re going to try again.” It was the difference between constantly shutting a horse down so they would be afraid to offer more later and negotiating with the horse so that things did not go entirely off track.
But it did not mean the horse could blow through the riders’ aids and do whatever they wanted. On horses that were consistently blowing through the aids, he often turned to a series of rapid-fire exercises designed to get the horse and rider thinking and back together again. Although horses may be naturally good at some things and those things are fun to work on, you can’t entirely ignore the things that are hard for the horse just because the horse doesn’t want to do them.
He also wanted riders to take risks and make things more like fun and play. One of the first comments he made to me was that Ro wasn’t a baby horse and I needed to sit back and ride her like a real horse. With other riders, he wanted them to push for more in the gaits. Or he wanted riders to just try something for the fun of it. He thought Ro could be doing flying changes in a couple weeks—not schooling them routinely, but he bet that if I asked just to see what happened, she would give them to me.
The idea of risk tasking goes back to the rider doing less and negotiating between no, not now, and yes—the rider needs to keep doors open for the horse to do things. Maybe unexpected things—he likes a forward horse who isn’t afraid to be a little naughty and test what it can do with the open doors.
And if you take a risk and things go wrong? You rebalance and reconsider the situation—maybe repeat the exercise, maybe find a different exercise to achieve the end you originally wanted. As he said to several riders when things went wrong: “You are just as close to something you do want as something you don’t want.”
Some of the best rides to watch were not the riders who were finessing things at whatever level they were working at, but the ones who had things going “wrong” all over the place—very energetic horses, horses blowing through the aids, etc. He had the riders work with that energy, or he had them focus on the horse/rider communication, and by the end of the session there were some very dramatic changes in their way of going. Whatever went wrong could also go right—and he got the horses and riders there by never shutting the horse down entirely. Make sure the rider is correct, make sure the horse is balanced, straight, and forward, and everything else is variables you can play with from moment to moment until you get to the place you want to be at.
When we started Ro under saddle in spring, she was a little light and muscle-less. Underdeveloped, you could say.
Actually, what people said was, “Is she two? She looks like she’s two.”
Poor Ro. If she were human, she’d be destined for a lifetime of carding. She’s five.
Fortunately, my trainer had a saddle that fit her beautifully, and I bought the saddle when I bought Ro.
And we began working and progressing and figuring things out, like how to turn right and how to trot more like a real horse and less like a giraffe on crack.
And some little switch inside Ro went Oh, crap! Work! Need more muscle! Develop!
Naturally, the saddle that fit beautifully to start out with quickly became too tight through the tree.
Ro, never shy about expressing her opinion, let me know that we needed to address this right the heck now. It’s better to listen to the early warning signs with her—Ro has figured out the whole “ask nicely, ask sternly, then demand” concept that people use so often in training. She uses it right back at me.
My hopes of holding on for another month or so dwindled and disappeared. We need a new saddle right the heck now, before Ro decides to move beyond the “ask nicely” stage.
As everyone knows, buying saddles is as much fun as going to the dentist, but without the nitrous oxide. Which meant that I not only had to find a saddle—I also had to come up with an immediate alternative plan.
The obvious solution: ride bareback. It’s good for the horse and rider. Builds character. Plus, the rider will magically develop glowing hair and the horse will turn into a thundering black steed with a long, thick mane and tail that will blow in the sea breeze. I’ve seen it on TV, and there were no disclaimers like “Ocean scene not included,” so it must be true.
I got on Ro bareback. We walked around. She thought it was weird but ok. Then we trotted.
Here’s the thing: picture a horse who is still finding her balance and rhythm, and who sometimes still acts like a giraffe on crack. Picture a summer-slick coat. Add a roached mane. Subtract any sort of stirrup leather or grab strap around the neck. Now picture the idiot who thinks that’s a recipe for success. Now you know what I look like.
I didn’t fall off, but that’s all that can be said about that.
Time to revise Plan A. Plan B: Bareback, with a bareback pad!
I bought a bareback pad and put it on Ro. She gave me the evil eye, but I girthed it up anyway. Her ears went flat back and she threw a fit.
I pulled it off and checked her back for soreness. Nada.
I put the saddle on her and she looked mildly annoyed but tolerated it.
I put the bareback pad on and her ears went flat back.
Apparently, we will not be riding with a bareback pad any time soon.
The next day, I went back to the tack store. Their eyes light up when I walk in anymore. One of these days I’m going to show up and they’ll hand me a glass of champagne and some cheese and crackers.
I walked out with a demo saddle—with no other short-term option available, I am going to have to work Ro in whatever demo and trial saddles I can find, until I find one that fits her.
When I checked the fit of the saddle on her, it was a little large. But not too bad—I have a fleece half pad and I thought that might work well enough. She’s still got a lot of muscle building to do, so slightly large might work out ok.
I took the saddle off and put the half pad on. Ro gave me the evil eye. I put the saddle on anyway. When I asked her to walk off, her ears went flat back. When I took the half pad off and just used a regular pad, she walked off happily.
At this point, I honestly think she just hates fleece pads.
That saddle ended up not working—it kept riding forward on her, and it was really too small for me. So the next day I went back to the tack shop and picked up a different trial saddle. You know I can’t walk in there to switch saddles and not buy anything. The tack store and my credit card, they are BFF.
Fortunately, this one seems to be working pretty well for her. I got on her yesterday and she was in some sort of go-go-go mode, so all we really did was gallop around. The saddle stayed in place and she seemed happy with it. Today we did real work and she was pretty soft and responsive (read: tired from yesterday). We’ll see how things go after a couple more rides.
But I am sort of dumbfounded about the fleece pad thingy. As much of a princess as she it, you’d think she’d have loved it. She’s probably holding out for ThinLine or something even more expensive.
Ro is semi-trained to ground tie.
By that I mean she can be trusted to stand next to me as long as she thinks a cookie may be forthcoming.
If a cookie is not forthcoming, she will wander off to find one.
I think someone marketed this form of training and called it “clicker training,” but I just call it bribery.
Here’s what I’ve learned about
clicker training bribery: if you bribe a horse enough, she will wait for you at the stall door, bright eyed and expectant. This is how Ro greets me every day. I am the Treat Dispenser, and she knows it.
Other food-related things she has figured out:
The Treat Dispenser (that would be me) has access to a magical source of Hay That Is Better Than the Barn Hay. Ro does not like the barn hay. She thinks it is inedible. She wants the good hay. It’s all grass hay, so I don’t know what her problem is, but she is Very Definite on this issue. I am Very Definite on the point that she is not getting another flake of hay, even the good hay, when there is perfectly good hay in her stall. No dessert until you eat your vegetables!
Through trial and error, she has learned that simply ignoring the barn hay gets her nowhere. I can wait her out. She has tried spreading it around the stall, but I just pile it back up in the corner for her. So she upped the ante: she spreads it around the stall and then trods it into the shavings. Imagine a kid trying to hide a salad in their napkin. Same idea, same effectiveness.
This battle may go on for a while. Right now, I am winning in the stall (barn hay and only barn hay), but she wins in her paddock at night (the good hay).
Actually, now that I think about it, I show up, feed her treats, ride her, sometimes let her out on the grass to graze a bit, feed her dinner, and then turn her out where the good hay lives. Someone else brings her in in the morning and consigns her to the stall filled with undesirable hay. No wonder she likes me. All I do is feed her. She probably doesn’t even know the Battle Of the Barn Hay is with me; she probably blames that on the morning feeder.
But she proved beyond a doubt tonight that she knows how our evening routine goes. Which is to say, she knows what she is supposed to be eating when.
After our ride tonight, I put a halter on Ro and stripped her saddle off. Since I like to pretend she ground ties and she likes to humor me, she stood there for a minute. Then she walked off into her stall, where she checked out her feed bucket (empty) and hay (barn hay). Since there was nothing edible in the stall, she decided tonight must be a grazing night and came back out of the stall and hung out waiting for me to finish tidying up the tack locker so she could go eat grass.
God forbid she ever figures out where the feed room is. I suspect she’d expect me to walk her through it every night, letting her pick out what she wants for dinner: I’ll have the alfalfa pellets tonight, with a side of beet pulp. And for dessert, a flake of hay. Not too big; I’m watching my figure. Feed the nasty vitamins to the horse next door; I don’t want any of those!
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