The Crooked Way

ike-and-alison-at-culpeper-aug-2016

Photo by Melana Krivitsky

 

We are all crooked in some way, shape or form.  Your left side is more dominant or maybe it’s your right side. Maybe you have an old or even a new injury that causes one leg to be weaker than the other. Maybe you had a Big Wheel accident as a child and chipped a bone in your wrist.  Or, perhaps, like me, you have some minor scoliosis that for the most part is a non-issue…until you are trying to train a horse.  And let us not forget we also ride half ton animals that have their own crookedness and stiffness to manage.

Add the two together and you have a recipe for a challenging, crooked path up the levels…a path that looks like it was cleared with a plastic butter knife.  The talented riders know how to compensate for their body’s issues and can easily address the issues of their horses…but where does that leave the rest of us?

There have been a multitude of books and articles written about straightening the crooked horse.  I particularly like the image that Lilo Fore paints in her article for Practical Horsemen of the horse moving in a “crooked, crab-like position.”  I have ridden that crab and left many points in the sandbox due to that crookedness.  Reading about how to straighten your horse is one thing.  Actually putting those words into practice can be much more challenging.  How can you effectively straighten your horse’s shoulders when you are collapsed to the left/right due to your body issues?

My scoliosis is not a new issue for me. It has been a lifelong conformation fault.  But it is only recently in my riding that I noticed my imbalance and it’s effect on my riding. Guess it took developing an independent seat to realize that the range of motion of my left hip is different than that of the right hip.  It comes across most in my struggle to help Ike with the left lead countercanter. Try as I might, I cannot move my left hip as easily as the right. While we can earn 7’s for our right lead countercanter serpentine; the left is a hot mess with me flailing about and praying that Ike can interpret what I want. Even when I consciously try and make my movement more pronounced,  it is still barely enough. I often wonder how this will affect our progress to the other levels.  Our goal in dressage is to show straightness and equivalent movement on the right and left sides. Hmm, when you don’t have the same range of motion with the left hip that you have with the right, how do you compensate when your seat is such an important piece of the puzzle? Ugh, the struggle is real.

There is no quick fix for this issue and there will be no cumbersome back braces to correct the alignment. I practice yoga which helps me focus on my body alignment and balance. Yoga quickly exposes your “weaker side” when you are balancing on one leg.  The wall has saved me more than once.  But if you fall down, just get right back up and try again.  Eventually the balance poses get easier (only took me 7 years to master scorpion pose…) Yoga helps me to maintain my flexibility, and I focus on deepening the hip stretches to increase the range of motion.  The warrior poses are all in my repertoire; and pigeon pose (http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/pigeon-pose/) and I have a love/hate relationship.  Pigeon pose is the ultimate hip opener especially as you move towards the bound king pigeon pose.  Lotus pose (http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/lotus-pose/) is for those days when you just don’t feel as flexible.

I will continue to try Ms. C’s patience as she repeatedly screams, “move that left hip!”  For that, I must apologize.  Thank goodness she is a patient trainer!!  Acknowledging the problem is a start, and making an effort to minimize its damage on our progress up the levels is the goal.

Time to go practice that countercanter!

alison

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Start Where You Are

Ike November 2014

I have practiced yoga for over 12 years now.  I remember struggling with even doing plank pose; and the thought of mastering scorpion pose, crow pose, or half moon pose seemed a pipe dream.  Yet now, I can perform all of those poses without a second thought.  As Baron Baptiste tells you on one of his DVDs, “Start where you are and from there you will progress.”  I try to remember those words as I struggle with mastering the skills necessary to progress to Second  Level.  You have to start somewhere and if you never start, you will never progress.   

The thought of Second Level  is daunting.  For more accomplished riders, they are probably thinking, “What is the big deal?”  I am thinking “Yikes!  This is where the crap hits the fan!”  No more posting the trot, no more big circles or bee bopping around on half speed.  You need to be fully present during every stride – much like you need to be fully present when attempting scorpion pose. 

I have spent some time checking out the new 2015 dressage tests for Second Level.  There is A LOT of work to be done this winter.  Well, let’s be honest, we might need spring  and some of summer to get into Second Level show shape.  I’ve broken down the tests and decided these are the key items for Ike and I to master.

Sitting Trot – This one is all on me.  I still tilt my pelvis in the wrong direction.  I still stiffen rather than relaxing.  I still lean either too far forward or too far back.  When I lean back and brace in my stirrups, I look like I’m water skiing.  (This is as close as I’ve ever come to actually water skiing.)  People say, “strengthen your core.”  My core is strong, but yet I still struggle to find the sweet spot. 

Collected Trot – Phew!  It is a lot of work to get the giraffe to sit down and really engage his hind end.  It is also a revelation to me to feel what a correct collected trot feels like.  It is not just slowing the horse down.  It is all about mushing the energy inwards and upwards.  When Ms. C yells, “there is your collected trot!”  I am thinking, “You have got to be kidding me!  How am I supposed to maintain this?!”

Medium Trot – This fall at the regional championships, we received a 6 for our trot lengthening with the comment “Conservative.”  I could not argue with the score or the comment.  If I tried to push for more, poor Ike would get unbalanced and we’d get scores of 5.  It was better to be conservative.  I am happy to say that our trot lengthenings are coming along.  They are not quite medium trots yet, but I am hopeful that they will be there come spring…of course, I still have to figure out how to sit that medium trot.

Collected Canter and 10 meter canter circles.  What size?!  I am pretty certain with Baby Huey that a ten meter circle is probably  a canter pirouette.  Still not sure how we are going to master this.  Any circle smaller than 15 meters usually ends up in trot.  Our collected canter quality isn’t always the best; Ike gets a little sticky and the canter feels like a pogo stick.  Just need more time and less help from the neighborhood wildlife (Ike wants to move quickly away from any wild creature.)

Counter canter.  Still our nemesis.  The shallow canter loop of the First Level Test 3 test is about the extent of our counter canter success.  A full three loop serpentine?  No way.  Even just riding the short end of the arena in counter canter is a crap shoot.  I have to over ride and over emphasize the counter bend and yet the boy can still throw in a flying change.  All we can do is keep trying.

Simple Transitions.  Slowly, but surely, we are progressing with our simple transitions.  Our walk-to-canter transitions are better than our canter-to-walk transitions.  The down transitions are better when we train in our double bridle; not at all surprising.  Ike still needs a few trot strides before the walk when we work in our snaffle.  I am still pleased with where we are. 

As if the above isn’t  enough…we also have….

Shoulder in and Travers.  If I had to pick Ike’s stronger movements, I would say it is his lateral work.  How could it not be with those long legs?  As long as I set him up for success, both shoulder in and travers are going well.  At least we have two strong points in our quest for Second Level success.

Rein back.  Rein back is one of Ike’s favorite movements when evading my aids for turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches.  Unfortunately, he also likes to duck behind vertical and give me more than the required number of steps. 

Turn on the haunches.  The best I can say about this required movement is that it is not in Test 1.  This is definitely a work in progress.  “Start where you are.  Start where you are.”

Our work is currently on hiatus as I fight the flu.  Have no fear.  Ike and I will be back to work before you know it.

Hello All You Happy People!

Ike shares his latest thoughts...

Ike shares his latest thoughts…

A happy hello to all my friends!

My Mom is yet again a slacker, so I am tasked with filling you in on the latest news from my little corner of the world…Seriously, I don’t know what that woman does with her time.  I mean, she is only at the barn for two maybe three hours a day.  What could she possibly doing that is more important than spending time with me?!!

In fact, Mom left me for another week recently.  She went on what she called a “vaycashun” and said that I was getting one too.  Hmm, I think I got the short end of the straw.  She went to some place called a beach and came home with brown skin and a peeling nose.  I didn’t go anywhere!  How is that even close to being one of those “vaycashuns”?  I stayed in my same stall, hung out in my same paddock, saw my same friends each day.  No sign of a beach anywhere.  I hear a beach has sand and water.  I didn’t even step foot in our arena which is the only sand at the farm.  Water?  I had to paw the water trough to make the water slosh around.  To express my displeasure, I decided to rub off a large section of my mane.  Let’s see Mom try to put a braid in it next weekend!  Muwahaha!

And yes, you guessed it, we have another show next weekend.  Mom says we are going to yet again attempt the test with the canter loops.  Since after she arrived home, there were only two weeks until the show, she has been a bit of a maniacal slave driver.  We had not one,not two, but THREE lessons this past week.  I know that I don’t need that much help, so Mom must think she needs extra help from Ms. C.  I think it is funny when Ms. C asks Mom, “So what did you think of that transition/leg yield/circle/halt?”  Mom gets this blank look about her because she knows that obviously there was something lacking, but she isn’t quite sure what it was.  Why don’t they just ask me?  I can tell you when Mom is noncommittal or making a half-assed effort.  It amuses me to only kind of commit.  Ms. C then fusses at Mom to try harder.  Haha!  The problem is when Mom finally does, we both have to work a lot harder.  Ms. C gets all excited and tells Mom, “there’s your working trot,” “that is your lengthening!”  Phew!  It is hard work to get those comments.  Ms. C says that kind of work is what we need to continue to strive for during each ride.  No more putzing around.  Hmm, all this hard work makes a fellow tired.

At least we will be better prepared for those canter loops than we were at the last show.  Did Mom really think that only two weeks of practice were going to make us proficient?  After all, she’d never ridden countercanter before…and of course, neither had I (at least not intentionally).  Now we more often than not can ride a shallow loop without me showing off my flying changes or dropping out of the canter.  Thankfully, Mom is more refined with her aids.  She even knows where to put her legs.  What a good Mom.  She should get a cookie.  No wait, I get all the cookies at the lessons. 🙂

At least it hasn’t been blazing hot this past week for all this extra work.  Usually by now, we are roasting like marshmallows.  I’ve heard the term “unseasonably cool” used a few times.  That is okay with me.  I hope it is this way next weekend at the show.  If you are out and about in Culpeper, come see me!  I love when folks come and cheer me on!  It is okay to cheer for Mom as well, but we will know you are really there to see me.  I promise not to tell.

Ike