Boot Camp: Robbye II and III

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Once I had a base built via Hollywood (the GP schoolmaster) and some fun installed via Tonka (the retired pro barrel racer), it was time to meet back up with Robbye and show each other what we learned! Here are some notes from the first two full lessons I had on her after a month of separate boot camps:

  • Forward forward forward. Now that she actually responds to leg, I can get forward when I want it, and I can insist that it’s the amount of forward I want! Walk is still a bit tougher, but trot and canter – it’s magical. I love Robbye’s trot.
  • No more “wiggling” my hands to ask for roundness. Like I asked on Hollywood, Robbye responds better to a gentle pulling side to side – it’s more like I change the bend in the neck until she gives in her jaw. Once she gives and rounds, I can play a bit smaller to maintain the roundness.
  • THOSE STOPS THOUGH. When I ask for a halt like I’m riding a barrel horse, Robbye really sits on her butt and stops.
  • When we get into an argument – especially about roundness – I need to immediately get on a circle. 20m is okay – 10m is better. This gives me the advantage because she can’t use her favorite weapon – bracing into my hand.
  • Speaking of bracing and hands – I really need to cut that habit. When Robbye feels my bracing arms, she responds (understandably!) by bracing back.
  • I also need to remember my releases. I’m trying to teach self-carriage, and in order to do that I need to let her carry herself.
  • It’s time to start practicing lateral moves! She has baby leg yields and shoulder-ins!
  • She really needs a haircut. We’re playing a fun game of how-high-can-Robbye’s-mane-grow-before-falling-over.

Boot Camp: Hollywood V

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My fifth ride on Hollywood, and my first after having ridden Robbye. I went into this ride knowing that he was teaching me things I would take back to her.

  • I DID A CANTER PIROUETTE! It was awesome. For Hollywood, you just push the shoulders into a smaller and smaller circle until he sits on his haunches and pirouettes. It felt very weird. A lot like Robbye’s canter when she doesn’t want to move forward.
  • I practiced test 1-3. It was a really nice way for me to see everything I’ve learned. I had to maintain bend – especially during the counter-canter – maintain roundness, leg yield off of the wall, get a confident canter transition without losing my seat, and (of course) pay attention to geometry the whole time. It was a really really fun exercise and not easy even on a very knowledgeable horse.
  • I need to be even more consistent about my left bend. It’s really an issue for me.
  • I also need to be more vigilant about my core/trunk position – I like to twist, and that’s silly. I also like to get popped out of the saddle. I think this is going to be any easy change for me to make, as soon as I focus on it. Goal time!
  • I’m gaining so much confidence. I warmed up by myself doing shoulder-ins, leg yields both onto and off of the wall, and checking my own straightness and bend. I couldn’t have done that a month ago.

Boot Camp: Tonka II

I’m so sorry for the lack of media for this lesson – I really want some photos of me running the barrels, but my normal picture-taker is recovering from surgery 😦

How awesome is barrel racing?!? IT’S SO FUN!

I was pumped for my second lesson on the barrels, but it, again, started slowly, with some fear with me. Tonka’s navicular makes his right lead canter really off-kilter, and that, combined with the western saddle and my natural fear produced a whole lot of perching on my end.

And for Tonka, perching means go.

Luckily, Tonka also has nice brakes. So I’d ask for the canter, get it, get scared and perch, get more scared because he was speeding up (like I was asking him to!), and then whoa. Nice, Annye.

But you know what? As soon as Kim coached me through keeping my butt in the saddle, we got quite a nice canter – controlled but forward – and I wasn’t scared at all.

(I like cantering. It’s my favorite gait by far. This damn fear from my stupid accident just has be completely discombobulated.)

The key for me is that I need to keep my seat in the saddle during the canter transition. I caught a glimpse of this revelation during my rides on Hollywood, but I didn’t really feel it until Tonka wouldn’t take anything but.

So that was my first light bulb moment. The second came as we were attempting to run the barrels at a slow canter. Tonka kept getting more and more upset, I kept getting more and more tense, and our runs kept getting slower, messier, and scarier.

As I get tense, I brace. I think I’m half-halting – I’m trying to half-halt – but really I’m leaning on the horse’s mouth and transferring all of my tension there. And that really doesn’t make for a happy pair.

Instead, my half halts have to come from my core, not my forearms. Of course I knew this, but I didn’t really understand the difference between my bracing and a nice half-halt until Tonka kicked my ass at my lesson.

(I went home and stumbled across a really cool show-jumping round where the rating from the rider was so obvious – and he was doing it all from his seat and core. No bracing! It was a great emphasis to my lesson learned.)

I ended on a super-fun run around the barrels that made me feel accomplished and proud. I’ll tell you what – these lessons are doing wonders for my self-esteem, as I encounter timely aha! moments and grow more and more confident.

On to the next one!

Boot Camp: Robbye I and Hollywood IV

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Some very quick notes from my first ride on Robbye since her training began, and my fourth ride on Hollywood, the GP schoolmaster:

Robbye:

  • I need to be even more forward on Robbye, at the trot. More, more, more!
  • Insist on a frame right away; ask just like how I’ve learned with Hollywood
  • Remember – I’m the boss with this mare!!

Hollywood:

  • And even with the gelding…be the boss. When I really insist, I get great movement. I didn’t really realize how much of a difference this makes, even with a schoolmaster like Hollywood. When I told him I was serious, he tried harder and we made a better team.
  • At the same time, I need to try less. When I overthink the shoulder-in, it’s rubbish. Just let it happen – let the horse do his or her job as I do mine!

Boot Camp: Tonka I

Part of my boot camp agreement with my trainer was that I would not be just riding dressage horses. As soon as I felt comfortable with a horse, I’d be moving on to the next one.

When I arrived for my fourth lesson, a saintly big paint horse was giving a very young girl a barrel racing lesson. He walked at the slowest possible pace, and let her steer him with just a touch of his sides. I was very, very impressed by his kindness and patience.

…And then the lesson was over, and I learned I’d be riding him next – a barrel racing lesson of my own!

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Tonka is an older, tall paint horse with navicular. He took my trainer’s daughter to the junior championships when she was a junior, and my trainer showed him competitively in barrels as well. This is a horse who really knows what he’s doing, and used to be able to do it really well. Now, he makes the perfect beginner barrels horse, and seemed perfectly comfortable (and having a lot of fun!) despite his navicular.

First, we warmed up and I got used to the western saddle. I’ve never really ridden seriously in western tack – and definitely never taken a western lesson – so it was great to have some time to really feel how my seat was different in the big saddle. Kim emphasized that I had to really sit on my butt with Tonka, or he’d either run away from me or lurch into a back. A good lesson for me, since I have a horrible habit of perching.

Kim and her daughter insist that their barrel horses have good dressage foundations, so we next moved onto getting Tonka round. This was a perfect exercise for me; Tonka was a little harder to get round than Hollywood, and I learned a few tricks I can use on Robbye. Again, I did more moving of the head and neck than just “playing with the reins”.

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Also, as a western horse Tonka has more of a “set it and forget it” type headset. He doesn’t have to be held constantly like Hollywood. I’d never really experienced this phenomenon – it was neat. I’d tell Tonka where to put his head, then just remind him if he deviated. This let me have the looser, more relaxed frame and reins that you see in western.

For my actual barrel lesson, I started out with some basic theory. Each barrel has a “pocket”, which is even with the rider’s leg. The rider must ride straight into the pocket, not turning or even looking to turn until she’s in it. For the turn, the rider should stay an even distance from the barrel the entire turn around it, and absolutely must NOT look at the barrel! Looking at the barrel pulls the horse into the barrel, risking a knock-down.

So I started my barrel racing career by first walking the pattern, stopping in each pocket. Then I trotted the pattern, stopping in each pocket. Finally I cantered the pattern!

At one point, Tonka got a bit strong and wanted to control the pace (I wanted a slow canter – I was nervous – and he wanted to run). After a few repetitions of making Tonka canter into the pocket and then stopping in the pocket, he started listening to me and cantering at the pace I chose. This was such a great illustration of being the boss and getting an immediate reaction to that dominance.

I learned a lot about Robbye during this lesson – and even a few things about dressage. More than that, I had a sudden realization to what I love about riding. After my barrel lesson, I suddenly wanted to start jumping again. At one point I was “galloping” home from the third barrel and let out a happy whoop.

I love dressage. I think it’s really fun. I’m wondering if the fact that Robbye doesn’t think it’s fun has ruined the fun in it for me, too. And I wonder if her own boot camp will instill that joy for both of us.

I remain optimistic!

Boot Camp: Hollywood III

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WOW. SO BLAZE. MUCH FLASHY.

My first two lessons on Hollywood were at Kim’s barn in her nice little indoor. For my third, Kim brought Hollywood to my home barn, and I got to ride him in our big outdoor.

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He really does have a striking face.

Overall, it was the best of the three lessons. The light bulb moment from my second lesson proved persistent, and my confidence grew once again. Riding in the outdoor also gave us much more room to do some extended gaits and changes – neither of which I’ve had any experience with!

  • When I move my leg, I’m not moving my lower leg. I’m moving my whole leg. If I move just my lower leg, my seat isn’t affected at all! This made the most sense in asking for changes, where the cue comes from both the leg and the seat. If I ask for the change just by bumping with my new outside leg, I’m completely ditching half of the cue.
  • I need to keep more weight in my heels, with my toes up. Ultimately this will both improve my lower leg and allow me to use my whole leg better – not to mention the improvements to my seat!
  • He likes to take my reins away. I need to be more aggressive about keeping them. Really, I need to be more aggressive about everything – downward transitions, staying on the bit, disobedience.
  • I twist my body to the right. Stop it!
  • I’m overthinking the shoulder-in. Surprise, surprise.
  • Kim keeps telling me I need new, stiffer dressage boots. Any recommendations for a budget pair?.
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“I’m pretty sure this small ditch is going to eat me.”

At this point I was getting pretty comfortable with Hollywood, and I was creating some decent work. I should have expected what would greet me at my next lesson..

Boot Camps: Hollywood I and II

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Obviously, this was before my light-bulb moment re: my hands.

In very late July, I decided to put Robbye into training. One of the main factors in that decision was the exciting revelation that I would get two lessons a week on my trainer’s schoolmasters – so Robbye and I would be in separate, simultaneous boot camps!

I’ve now had four of my lessons, and am obviously way behind on journaling about them. I always come home exhausted and overwhelmed, and have only managed to write bullet points of my notes. These recaps are truly for my own reference, though, so I’m trying not to feel bad that they’re super boring 😉

My first mount for boot camp was my trainer’s 20 year old Intermediare 2 thoroughbred, Hollywood. Hollywood is truly a schoolmaster. He has some really great buttons, and is generally a very willing mount. He only refused to work with me when I really truly was asking the wrong question, which I appreciate. There’s definitely value in riding a horse who only gives the correct answer when his rider asks perfectly, but right now I’m way too much of a noob for that horse!

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“Mom, I’m not exactly sure I want to be here…”

So here are my notes from my first lesson on Hollywood. He taught me a ton in that first hour:

  • Need to get my lower leg under control. GAH.
  • Need to start asking for, or maybe installing, big-girl turns on Robbye. Horses can truly turn and make a right angle, using their back ends. Robbye doesn’t need to make baby turns anymore and Hollywood certainly doesn’t need to.
  • Need to sit on my butt more – more weight directly on my seat. This point was really hammered home when I realized how much I could control Hollywood’s pace with my seat!
  • I need to make my dressage seat my “safe” seat. I consistently pop myself into a half seat in the canter, and that’s confusing and weak.
  • I need to be more vigilant about bend. At times I’d just let Hollywood fall out of his bend, or even become counterbent.
  • I need even more of a “slouchy” dressage seat. Less hunter!
  • My hips should remain open – this will directly result in more weight being put into my butt.
  • I need to cut out the tension. It’s not fair.

The second lesson was more of the same, although I started out more confident and ended much more confident. I did have a major aha moment about holding my hands like I’m driving a clown car: all of a sudden, it all made sense and I could keep my hands contained, with my thumbs up and my outer hand lower.

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KITTY BREAK

I also took two mini lessons with Robbye, on the ground. Kim and her daughter are working on instilling constant submission from Rob, and they of course need to teach me how to do the same! Here are my notes from those sessions:

  • Things need to happen quickly. Horses in the field, in their natural groups, don’t move slowly and don’t nag. I should be quick and aggressive.
  • When leading, Robbye should stop when I turn and face her. She should back immediately and quickly when I touch her chest.
  • She should never invade my personal space. My reaction to that invasion is “bites” (grabbing with my thumb and fingers) and aggression, until she submits. Again – quickly respond, then quickly remove the aggression.
  • She needs to give her neck from side to side more – carrot stretches, but more extreme and at any time in her workout. Trot > halt > immediately bend. Her willingness will show both her submission and her softness through the neck and jaw.

I’m excited to tell you about the other lessons I’ve had so far… one of which was… Not dressage!