Monday, August 25, 2014

Intro and Clinic Recap: le TREC

In June, +ADW and I attended a horsey clinic headed by World Champion Thierry Maurouard at Cadogan Farm in Caledon, Ontario. This is a relatively new initiative/equine sport being introduced in Ontario; it originates from France and is very popular (not surprisingly) in Quebec. What drew me is that pretty much any horseman/woman can get involved and it tests practical skills. It's less technical and hence easier for anyone to learn; of course, the more technical you can be, the more skilful rider you might be but that might not be necessary for this purpose.

Le TREC was originally created to test equestrian trail guides with a goal to develop safe, well-trained trail horses that are able to deal with anything that they'd encounter on a trail--solo or in a group. It consists of 3 parts:
  • Phase 1: Parcours d'orientation et de Régularité (POR)
  • Phase 2: Maîtrise des Allures (MA)
  • Phase 3: Parcours en Terrain Varie (PTV)
Parcours d'orientation et de Régularité (POR)
This is the most rigorous phase and requires the rider to think on their feet and be familiar with orienteering and assessing terrain, as well as being a proficient rider. Your mount must also be capable of being patient while you sit atop trying to figure out the best route to take. Riders start by entering a map room with a copy of a blank map and they copy the planned map to the best of their abilities and then use that traced map to complete the planned route. The planned route is arranged so that specific trails or paths must be taken because there are random checkpoints plotted throughout. Checkpoints are not marked on the maps so if you arrive at the checkpoint by the incorrect path, you get pointed deducted. Riders can also lose points if they lose their POR record card or miss checkpoints. Riders must carry and wear specific items: helmet, high visibility clothing, hoof care items, first-aid kit, halter and lead rope, map and compass. Depending on the level of competition, the plotted map can be as complicated as a true map with all the elevation markings and true north, all to scale. Or, as simple as a bunch of pictures and arrows plotting out a sequence of events/points to follow. In addition, the ride distance ranges from 12km to 45km.

Maîtrise des Allures (MA)
This phase translates to "Control of Pace" and is tougher than it seems. A lane 150m long and about 2m wide is marked and the rider must gallop (or whatever gait is determined) in a slow controlled pace, then dismount and walk the horse back to the start line. Deduction of points are made for breaking gait or going off course. The main variation relative to skill level is the width of the path.

Parcours en Terrain Varie (PTV)
This phase is essentially an obstacle course that ranges from jumping, mounting/dismounting or trailer loading or riding through "low hanging branches". Riders have the option to perform obstacles at varying gaits (where applicable) or skip it all together. Points are awarded on successfully completing the tasks but can vary dependant on the gait chosen or style (i.e. too fast/slow etc) or even a misbehaving horse or cruel rider.

The clinic started with a classroom lecture that provided a background (above) of le TREC. We also learned the experiences that Thierry has, competing. While it was a lecture format, it remained informal and we asked questions as it progressed. This lasted for the better part of the morning before we broke for lunch and had the opportunity to enjoy the property. The afternoon section included the MA and PTV sections on horseback for those who brought their mounts with them; the rest of us watched from the ground.

Google animated my photos!
The above animated photo is part of the PTV section where the horse is required to get through that windy 'path' without touching/knocking over any of the bars or kicking the pails etc. It's certainly trickier than one would think depending on how bendable your horse is and the "style points" are judged on the way the rider initiates those turns and how the horse looks, as a result. And I do believe breaking pace is a penalty. I can't imagine getting a horse like Bonspiel through this obstacle.

Another obstacle is the "low hanging branches"; you can see the obstacle in the centre of the photo. The rider basically leans forward towards one side of the horses neck and plods forward. I'd say the tricky thing here is to maintain your weight over your heels so that you wouldn't fall off, when you were doing this at a canter. I wish I knew how to do this one when I took Ariel on a hack the last time.

Horsey limbo!
Other obstacles included the opening of a 'rope gate' where you needed to open and close a gate while on horseback. The challenge here was to get the horse close enough so you could lean over and pull the rope off the post and then continue to hold onto it while 'doing a dance' of sorts into the arena and turn around and place the loop back over the post. A few horses were nervous about getting so close to the fence and others just couldn't figure out how to turn around without getting tangled. As the skill level increases, the 'gate' becomes a lever type where you need even more precision turning yourself around because dropping the gate is not good.

We didn't get through every single obstacle that will be sanctioned for the Equine Canada rulebook (in the works from what I've been told) but got a good taste of what's standard and how they are judged. I'm very excited to see how this activity unfolds and develops in the area because it would be a really exciting activity to participate in.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lesson #125: She's Baaaack!

I arrive with the expectation to ride Bons or another again. As long as it wasn't Hank... he's SO MUCH work and on a Thursday night, I just don't have it in me to deal with more work. When I see Sheri, she tells me that Ariel's back in work and that I'll be back with her! Hooray!!! Not surprisingly, when I go to get her, she's rippin' around her old paddock and making stops on the dime. I know... she's got to slow down! She seems pretty happy to see me and we get going to get tacked up.

Hiya! Sometimes I wish Deb would just keep quiet up there and let me do my thing.
I hop on Ariel and giggle a little because from having ridden Bons, I feel like I"m on a pony (though Ariel is taller than a pony at 15.1hh). G's riding today and we get started with a posting trot warm-up. I make it my point to pay attention to diagonals. Next, add in lots of bending lines... circles, serpentines, shallow serpentines etc. We're on quite the pace today and now get into the canter. I've been working on proper canter transitions with Bons and Hank and I think it's better today. I don't have any of that crazy pony trot into the canter and she initiates precisely.

Then next exercise is a series of trot poles and an X jump. I'd say the start of my loss of control starts here. I don't know what goes on in my head but it's as if I stop riding every stride. I mean I'd suppose that's sort of natural considering it's a lot going on. Ariel's okay for some autopilot when we're puttering around the arena but once she's put into work, she needs clear direction well in advance of every single action. We worked up to a small course of 3 jumps and I had zero straightness--keep in mind this is the trot. We were webbling and wobbling all over the place and I couldn't get her into the jumps on a straight line. Our goal? Getting through things on a straight line.

One of the problems was incorrect bending. She'd turn her head out and then lead with her inside shoulder. I needed to flex her head back in and maintain her from dropping inwards. This led to my man-handling her during the lesson. At least I thought it was man-handling. Apparently, that's what she needs and I wasn't doing anything wrong! I rode so long trying not to mess with her mouth because I know she hates it, that I pretty much lost contact with her mouth. So I spend the lesson working on keeping her flexed where she needed to be and adding to that with my inside leg. Half halting was another thing I had to employ to get her attention and refocus on going at jumps with a steady pace. And a hard lesson to learn when I don't have a plan... coming out of the last jump, I wasn't sure which way to go and nearly flew off when she made a turn to avoid the wall. I still struggle with riding through the autochange because it's a skip in the stride and often my position isn't in the right place to absorb it.

Needless to say, my equitation was miserable. But, focusing on one thing at a time and in some ways, being reminded that I needed to be more assertive with Ariel.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Visits with Ariel 1

I keep forgetting to post about my visits with Ariel. It sounds like she may be out for several months so I may not ride her again until the new year (but we'll see what the vet says). In the meantime, she's being turned out in the small round pen so she doesn't have the chance to do too many dumb things to further injure herself. I like to visit her after lessons to groom and give her treats.

Hello! Those carrots must be for me. How thoughtful of you. Now, come closer...

So here's a funny "Ariel story".... I went in to get some carrots and when I came back out, she was following me around. I decided to move further into the pen but she didn't like that and tried to stick me in a corner with her BUTT!!! Wow, was I not impressed! Though, the first reaction was surprise and then annoyance, I was a little late to show my dissatisfaction with her actions. I determined that the bossy mare was not getting the better of me! I bossed her back and smacked her rump and shoved her away. A typical horse (even a mare, I'd bet!) would probably back off and timidly return to ask for treats. Not Ariel: she decides that was so rude and pins her ears and lowers her head like those times she's chasing the other mares from the hay bale! Good thing I didn't immediately react by moving away but, unknowingly stood my ground, then approached her instead, with a stern angry voice and body language. She soon backed off and turned around to the far side of the paddock. I think I just won the disagreement with Ariel. LOLOLOL. Whodda thunk it!

I gave her some time and approached her to give the rest of the carrots and then moved onwards to brush her and pick her feet. She was wonderful and stood still for me and didn't do anything bossy or otherwise. She seemed keen on the attention and decided to help clean me up a bit by using her snout to "groom" my shoulders. After finishing the grooming session, I hung over the fence just patting her and giving her scratches. I'd like to say I got a little lost in the moment and we were both just "talking with" with one another until +ADW appeared in the doorway and called to me to get along. You should have seen Ariel jerk her head up at him as if voicing her displeasure with him interrupting our time :P

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lesson #123 & 124: It's not about Perfection...

Thursday's lesson was a flat work version of "Sheri Says" and I rode with J and T. A little intimidating, considering both have been riding since they were tots and each are riding their own horses. But it's time to learn. We didn't canter at all, during the lesson. Instead, the exercises were solely focused in the trot and walk gaits, with lots of transitions, bending and collection. We ended the lesson on some leg yielding and Bons is a beautiful mover even though he hates doing dressage exercises. I've also been getting the incorrect diagonal for a few lessons now... and it's making me crazy. I don't seem to notice it until Sheri calls me out on it. Otherwise, the lesson was relatively uneventful.

Come Sunday, I was assigned to ride Hank. He's a chestnut... one of the many chestnuts at the stable. All I know about Hank is that he needs A LOT of leg and that he otherwise knows his job in the ring. He places regularly places at shows with his rider, and is ridden by both beginners and experienced riders alike. I should have no problems. WRONG. I didn't anticipate what "a lot of leg" meant and I spent the entire start of the lesson trying to keep him from slowing down or dropping in, on the left rein. It was maddening. There I was smacking him and man-handling him to do what I wanted of him. I was usually too late when I realized he was falling in and so correcting him was a real pain: inside flexion to get that bend and then lots of inside (left) leg pushing him back out while maintaining the contact in the outside (right) rein. He's miserable on the left rein and the rider has to do most of the work. I was riding square corners and they still didn't look square.

As we were going into corners (and circles), I needed to first, prep him but keep him 'straight' and continue to go straight until the end and just nudge ever so slightly to turn. I literally have to ride every single stride. After lots of circles over the arena, we continue on cantering around and maintaining deep corners. Hank has a wonderful canter transition from walk. It's not launchy or all over the map; he makes my transitions look good! Then we move onwards to a very small X jump... Hank steps over it. So Sheri ups the ante by having me go at it in a canter instead. Again, a lovely transition into canter and an autochange! I don't know when I"ll get used to those things; it feels like the horse is doing a little skip mid-stride. I think the reason I'm "not prepared" for it is because my seat isn't always as secure and so my weight is actually off-center. I do spend some time with remembering to post appropriately and keeping my posture etc. It's probably something I need to focus working on in the next few weeks while I can.

I do see what others mean when they say that Hank knows his job and does what he's asked to do without any major issues. As long as I tell him what I want nice and early (and clearly), he's good as gold. I think my biggest lesson is recognizing that I didn't do as poorly as I thought I had. I was lamenting that I didn't feel like anything went well. Sheri corrected me and reminded me that I hoped on a new horse, got the walk, trot and canter and added a little jump. Each horse is different and most riders aren't immediately perfect right at the get-go nor do they get perfection every single time. In addition, they often have to work a lot of up there.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blog Hop: A Close Call

The majority of non-riders don't get it.

It is no easy feat to climb on top of a +900lbs beast and then proceed to tell it what to do; you can't out-muscle these animals. Climbing on top is a risk we take and I'm sure there has been more than one occasion where one either does something dumb, didn't know any better or just let your guard down for a second and gotten your butt served to you. I'm participating in the Chronicles of a Moody Mare's blog hop: what is one close call that you have lived to tell the tale about?

I've previously written about the closest call I've had: my epic fall in the middle of a corn field with Ariel going full tilt. Strangely enough, hacks aren't really my friend. The times that I have gone out (with J), usually result in something ridiculous happening. I manage to laugh it off because it's generally pretty funny. The first time, Ariel tripped (at the walk...) and fell forward and I slid off over her head and landed on my feet. The second time was the epic fall and the third was the bugs.

The epic fall hack started out wonderfully. It was nice weather and everyone was out having a good time. We were nearing the stables through the brush at a trot/canter and one of the ponies did a deek at the fork and his rider slid off and landed in the bush (she ended up fracturing something in her wrist) he continued running which only freaked out the other horses because they all probably figured he was running from a big baddie. The lead horse took off too and then Ariel got it in her head (I probably should have gotten off, in hindsight) that she needed to chase after the others. For what reason? I'm not too sure. Trying to keep her back was challenging because of the mare in her and she just wanted to turn around and lead the others out of there. It was becoming increasing difficult to keep her still or even turn back while J went to help the fallen rider. Like I said, no way to out-muscle a +900lb animal mare. I let her trot in a very uncomfortable manner to get some of the jitters out and I thought that might help but once she reached open space (i.e. corn field), she just took off. I have never galloped in my life and was both terrified and trying to remain calm to go through what I should do to recollect her--both brain and body. Then, I lost my left stirrup: the straw that finally broke the camel's back. Off I slid too.

I don't even remember much of what happened except hearing +ADW calling at me to stop and turn around. Once I hit the ground, I knew I couldn't stay down long because I needed to be sure she didn't trample me. I got up quickly (I'm surprised at how fast I got up) and looked around and saw a large rock a few centimetres away from my head and Ariel... standing a few feet away munching the grass/corn stalks. She was suddenly calm and collected... looking at me as if to say, with a mouthful of grass, "Oh hey. So I told you to hang on but you didn't. I hope you're okay. You really should just let me take the lead next time."

Typical Ariel.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lesson #122: Dressage App

The primary purpose during Sunday's lesson was to continue to work on the dressage test we started. For me, I needed to work on collection for downward transitions and collection for the turns down centre line. Otherwise it felt like I was driving an 18-wheeler. It's funny how Bons really doesn't enjoy dressage because he's such a big guy that he has difficulty getting collected and I'm riding him for just that. hahaha! During warm up, we were puttering around the harrowed arena and approached a very slight indentation in the footing where the big lug had a panic at what it possibly was and did a bunny hop over.
Artist David R. Dudley
I slowed him down and took him back over at a walk, to assure him that it wasn't anything to be scared of. He absolutely refused to step over it and would continually walk around it. It took Molson to nonchalantly walk over it, to finally convince him that it wasn't going to jump out and eat him.

We moved on, from there, to the dressage test. Sheri couldn't locate her binder with the tests but earlier in the week, I had downloaded a new app (Android) called Dressage Lite and input the entire test onto it; there is a full version but at this point, I think I can make do. I'm a visual learner and reciting the call sheet didn't help because I still don't know where the letters of the arena are anyway. App to the rescue! I was trying to memorize the test through the app because it was a visual learning aid that played the steps over and over again and was even colour coded to help: red for canters, green for trot and blue for walk. For a free app, it was decent and I was able to input the test with a few modifications since they didn't have the type of move, listed.
Dressage Lite Android app
Despite the few adjustments to those steps, it did the job and we had the call sheet and a visual interpretation of what the entire test should look like! It is definitely a good tool to have and I would recommend it to anyone who's just starting out with dressage and trying to memorize their tests or get a visual of where they should be. Depending on how things go, I may eventually pay for the full/pro version but until then, this is a really great app for my purposes!

The lesson itself had some short comings that I'll need to continue to work on...
  1. Collection before the turn, up the center line--though the test actually asks for entry from A and not a what we were doing where we trot from E and turn up at A. Except the end where I am required to turn up the centre line...
  2. The canter transition (into) on the right rein needs work because I can't seem to get him into it when I want him to. The left is no problem at all though.
  3. Preparation for transitions (down, specifically) with plenty of half halts to prepare Bons.
In addition to the actual lesson specific items, I should continue to improve my personal fitness and schedule the week ahead with various activities like running and yoga. Also, my back and neck issues from the epic fall are still bothering me so I really need to be diligent about the daily physio exercises I've been prescribed. And how can any of this be bad? I might just have a looser dress come September, for the wedding!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Lesson #121: Round and Round

Yesterday's lesson felt like one of those lessons where everything just... requires so much more effort. It's been like that a lot lately. It appears that Ariel might have done more damage than originally thought; Ariel is one of those type of mares... she's bossy and opinionated and loves nothing more than bossing others (riders included!) around. Sheri was telling me she's caught that mare kicking about and just making a fuss in her paddock before so it's no surprise she's gone and hurt herself. So, this might mean a lot more time with Bons. heh.

Last night's lesson was all flat work. I've resolved to become more active and started running (how I loathe running...) and my legs have been like jello for the better part of the week. I just need to find time to soak in an epsom salt bath to draw out the sore. The trot warm-up was tolerable but I could feel my legs wanting to give out after a few rounds along the rail. My legs were definitely not as still as they could be.

The lesson was focused on pace, rhythm and knowing how to maintain that as well as bringing the horse back, to the right pace and rhythm (be it slower or faster) should they get off it. Bons was slow and pokey at the start of the lesson, but I've started to figure out how to tell him I want him to go and then to get the immediate reaction I'm looking for. For example, the walk transition up: if I sort of just nudge a bit, he ignores me like a fly on his back; but, when I use both legs with conviction and real omph, he 'hears me' loud and clear. There aren't any quick walk steps or any funny business and I know it's successful because I don't need to use any verbal clicks or even the crop. This is great! I've figured out how to get him into the trot as needed.

But, with every positive thing, there's bound to be a negative. My loopy right leg is doing its own thing and it creeps up and this usually happens while Bons is slowly pulling me onto the forehand. Resolution? I need to resort to half-halts or I need to sit up even MORE--but, whatever I take with my hands, I need to add with leg. Are you tired yet? I am. Sheri has me interject sitting trot and reminds me that my upper body remains still and engaged (shoulders) and open (chest) and it's the lower half that has to move with Bons--relax the hips, lower back but maintain the weight in your heels so that your legs are still too. There is a heck of a lot going on simultaneously.

Sheri lays down ground poles along the short end of the ring around C and Bons decides that going faster is better. My half halts aren't as effective when my hands become "nags" and I'm no longer pulsing but holding with them because he's "running through my aids". Sheri has me progress to lots and lots of transitions: walk, trot, walk, trot... And I need to get the transition right on the letter. After a few tries, I realize that I need to start the slow down well before the actual point and that it's much more effective when I am sitting up and in the seat.

The lesson of flat work was pretty dull--I easily admit, but I know that strong flat work is the foundation to jumping well and at this point, that's what I need so that if any horse I'm riding is zooming around the course or out of control, I'll be able to regain control and set them up with the right distance for a jump.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lesson #120: First Foray into "Training Level Test A"

Happy Civic long weekend, to my Canadian friends! It is a nice temperate summer weekend and most of the city is away at their cottages or otherwise. I'm sticking around and had a lesson Sunday morning. I'm riding Bons again and we're working on training level dressage tests today.

Our warm-up consists of the usual trot and today, I didn't have any issues getting into the posting (hooray!). For the remainder of the lesson, we worked on this dressage training level test. We are told that Cadora Inc. makes tests for a provincial level of dressage. Everyone gets the same list of tests and when you show/compete, you will have the same selection of test as everyone else. The expectation also includes the rider to memorize the test but they may request to have a caller.

A standard dressage ring looks like this:
We start entering from A at working trot and then halt, immobile and salute at X. The immobile part is a requirements of 3 full seconds of immobility. Then we continue forward in a working trot towards C. From there, we track left in trot to K and continue A to F and then make a change of rein through X to H. And here's where things start to fall apart for me: between H and C, I am to initiate a working canter into a 20m circle. I've always had difficulty with initiating canter and it's probably because when I'm so focused with doing everything else, I think it but I don't get my legs to translate my thoughts. But, good thing Bons is obedient and just does as he's asked to when I try it again. It isn't completely miserable but it isn't great either. The rest of it isn't too bad but the canter departs continued to be something I struggled with. +ADW on the other hand, did wonderfully with his buddy Molson and the pair looked like real pros.

It's the first try at the test so we weren't working on anything other than just getting the transitions in. Right now, everything is coming at me pretty fast. Next week we'll add in the bending and other fine-tuning like getting Bons collected when we're making tighter turns because riding this boy is like driving an 18-wheeler. All our turns were over but if I didn't, then they were not enough turned in and we ended up stomping over the pylon.

This week's homework is to memorize the test before Thursday's lesson. I think it's very possible because I've downloaded an app for that! I'll input the test and then play it over and over again. For me, learning visually is the best way for me so it should work out just fine.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Lesson #119: The Bonspiel 800

Ariel's down for the count because the crazy mare somehow hurt herself while she was out in her paddock and it's to the point where she was refusing to turn left. The vet'll come see her and they'll know what's up, soon enough. With that being the case, I was assigned to ride Bonspiel--a 17.2hh Trakehener. I've ridden him only one other time and I don't remember having an enjoyable lesson in terms of feeling confident. Today felt different though.

Ostpreußische Elchschaufel
Grooming and tacking up this beast of a boy was a reminder that I'm short. And that I really don't need a horse who's huge-mongous. 15-16hh is more than enough horse for me. He's fussing while I'm grooming him... probably sensing my uncertainty and seemed to be complaining about this audacious rider assignment for him. My first attempt at getting the saddle and breast plate on resulted in a miserable attempt--hello first lesson all over again. The saddle was way too far back and nothing was where it was supposed to be. I even had to ask J to help me put things together because I couldn't do it on my own. Bons also has double reins that I have already forgotten how to use but somehow I manage. J even went as far as to ask if I thought I needed help with the bridle too. Yea thanks a bunch, J. I'm never going to live that one down....

We start the lesson walking around so I can get the feel for how he moves and how I need to "talk" with him. I already know that he is a beautiful mover... graceful and flowing. And I know he likes to know what's going on with his riders. So lots of leg and reminders about where we're going/what we're doing. The trot starts with me bouncing around because I couldn't figure out how to ride it! Bons' trot is hugely bouncy and floaty. Ugh, it felt like I was starting all over again. But, in about a lap, I figured out that my lower leg needs to be quite still and he likes to know what's going on, through leg aids. This change steadied my posting but my upper body was still leaning forward. When he lost pace, I tipped forward. With this one, I realized that he likes way more pressure/contact through his mouth and I wasn't giving him enough. I'm used to riding Ariel with virtually no pressure through the reins and everything is about using my body directions to tell her what I wanted. Not that I'm not using my body with Bons but it isn't as effective as legs. In addition to this, I have to remind myself to sit back even more and the weight needs to translate through my heels more so.

The trotting around was very helpful for me to adapt to riding another horse, after riding Ariel for the better part of the year now. We move onto the sitting trot. LOL. I gave a look of "are you for real?!" and Sheri chuckled and said, "just do whatever you can". Guess what guys. I did it! It was tiring as heck but I rode that seated trot like a boss. Hooyeah! Lots of rests though... I titled this post "The Bonspiel 800" because riding this boy is an intense workout!! My legs are like jelly today. My upper back and shoulders are sore too. It took a lot of focus to ride that seated trot because I had to remind myself about loosening my hips and back and keeping my arms where they needed to be without jossling the reins and weight in heels. And adding in those regular half halts to keep him in steady pace.

One thing that was confirmed, while riding Bons is that there is something not quite right with my right side because Bons also drifts in, on the right rein. So it's not Ariel just being Ariel but she's reacting to an unbalanced part of me that is causing the drift.

The last thing... Sheri suggested I try a canter. I've rarely said no to trying something new during a lesson because I trust Sheri's judgement about what I am able to handle. He didn't lurch forward or whip his tail around but just went onwards and it was a smooth and wonderful canter. The transition down was bumpy but I stayed on and was in control! OH YEAH! Overall, a good change up and if I won't be riding Ariel for a while, I am excited to work on something 'different'.