Today I learned that even when you are on time, sometimes, you still wind up with no clothes! 😜I'm talking about picking up my laundry! I packed VERY efficiently, probably too efficiently because as of Sunday, I was mostly out of everything! So I called ahead to drop off laundry (I'm not comfortable standing around in a laundromat during COVID-19) to make sure they could do same day work. Got the scoop, followed instructions, finished teaching Livi's student and raced to get my clothes before 7pm closing. Arrived 10 'til 7 to a dark store! I already today had to borrow a shirt from Jeanne and reuse a sports bra (not stinky). Thankfully, I took a shower before dressing in this final complete outfit of clean clothes for the FEI workshop, so it is all still wearable tomorrow! OMG!
The workshop went great! Lilo Fore (our instructor and "O" judge) said we 3 are ready to take the exam! They will work on scheduling it while I'm still here 😇 She said she "really enjoyed" the lesson I taught and was impressed with how persistent and bold I was about insisting on correct contact, carriage and use of the aids! She loved the conversations I had with the rider (a pro riding her personal, lovely PSG gelding) about how what we were working on translates into the even more advanced movements 🥰
(1/23/21 post is a few posts down - look for the one with the photo)
So today, Livi and I planned to work my Dreamylicious Pumpkin spice in hand to begin training the piaffe. As most of you know, I've done quite a lot of in-hand training over the years and have taught many horses piaffe both in hand and under saddle. But, well, Dreamy is super special and I wanted to make sure I instill in him the correct understanding, mechanics and reactivity, all with relaxation, swing, elasticity and suppleness. I've never accomplished training the first list WITH the second list myself. Frankly, I've rarely seen any horse whose piaffe can actually be described by both lists, so it's my ultimate goal to have a horse piaffe in mental relaxation and confidence with exceptional mechanics.
Livi appeared to be running slightly late playing with her main man, Lono (Rassing's Lenoir- her international GP horse) before our lesson, but in reality, she'd decided to hand me Lono's reins so I could experience the finished product and know what the goal is we are going for with Dreamy. I was shocked at how light and easy Lono was in the contact given his 17.3+ hand stature. He softly and easily piaffed beside me with little effort from me other than to make sure he stayed active enough behind and sprung enough off the ground. What an honor to get to work Lono in hand!!
Then we worked with Dreamy. Livi got to work with someone this past summer who starts horses from an even more basic place than I've ever seen. This person was trained to start the in-hand work by initially teaching the horse to take very small steps forward with their back really up and swinging and the butt really under, all while not pushing down with their chest/shoulders or cranking their head/neck up, so the quality of the feel in the snaffle reins is of the utmost importance. If they do either of these throughness evasions, they reinback in large ground-covering steps until the back is up and butt tucked, with a softly draped neck.
Livi started him and then I took over. It was amazing to watch the progress over the session (and also to see his utter boredom from having to pay such attention to detail and stay so focused!) In the end, just from setting his body up in this position, he was already beginning to find swing and quick steps that were clearly only one notch from piaffe! So exciting!!
What I learned today: saddle fit influences EVERYTHING. My saddle was completely custom made for us both, but Kate adjusted it 4 weeks ago to fit the way he was shaped and moving then. However, I sent Livi the following video and in Dec and we discussed it for about an hour. We loved everything about it, except the fact that he appeared croup high. So, the next day, I went about fixing that. So, now he's obviously moving differently and the flocking in the back panels of his saddle had to be softened to allow room for him to lift his loin up to tuck his butt under in engagement.
Today was my first lesson! What a great experience! Livi was super impressed with our progress since she last worked with us. We basically worked on getting even better front to back connection, especially in the upper thoracics on the left. Dreamy is like riding a big elastic band that now has pretty good structure throughout - that's been a lot of work to develop. What I learned today was how to get him to reach his leading front leg out and up in walk turns (evolving into shoulder-in, half pass, pirouette, etc.) so that he carries the whole leading shoulder and thoracic sling up. I had to compress him even more in the walk with more activity and try to make his back feel like from withers to tail, it was a solid pole (no rubber bandy wobbly bits). When I got that figured out, then we could canter with more uphill expression and fluidity! It was amazing!
Hi lovelies from sunny FL! Today, I learned that the stretchy trot ridden sitting from the FEI 7 yo test is an amazing way to teach self carriage, and get the horse to honestly respond to your seat for rebalancing. This is a surprisingly difficult movement to do well! Because the requirements are that the horse reach nose down and out into solid contact with unchanging swing, balance, ground cover and elasticity! So, Dreamy is learning how to independently maintain his hugely expressive trot with little influence from me! That's a wow in my book! The feeling I got today sitting that trot was that I was suspended between two huge rubber bands, one anchored to the floor and one to the ceiling, and I was slowly swinging up and down in them! I've never felt anything like that before! My 1st lesson is tomorrow! Can't wait!
Today's lesson with Christine Traurig (USEF Emerging Young Horse coach) was incredible! I have no idea how many times she said WOW! She kept talking about how very super quality he is and how proud of me she is for taking everything she taught me in our couple of lessons last year and really improving the quality of the training, throughness, etc. She said he is a truly "top" horse with so much more in there yet to come.
In the end, she said she realized that she complimented Dreamy immensely, but sometimes the rider gets left out. She said I am a lovely rider and that I deserve a horse as special as him and that he's very lucky to have me because she's sure he would not be who he is without me. She's super excited to work with us and help develop him.
Other than the incredible praise she bestowed upon us, today's lesson built on our previous lessons, but in greater detail. Today we got to work on half pass in both trot and canter and she absolutely insisted he be bending around my inside leg so much that my inside rein could be softened and released and he would continue going sideways in the same bend and balance! This was an Earth-shattering new feeling to me! Creating honest bend around the inside leg (especially the left leg) was a topic we kept returning to.
We also worked to improve the quality of his response to my half-halt; he opts to bounce bigger behind when he really needs to get quicker and sit more behind. She commented that I have the luxury of having a horse with fabulous hind leg mechanics, so I don't have to work to get him to bring his hind legs more under or more spring off the ground.
Finally, we worked on our flying changes. She pin-pointed the reason he sometimes takes over and throws in his own changes. It's because I aid for the change, then go neutral with my legs. She showed me how to make the new lead mine and control everything about it so there's no question to him about what lead he should be on.
I'm both excited and relieved. Excited for the future and relieved that she still likes us so much even though it's been quite a while since she last saw us in person. ❤
(reprinted from the January 2015 Dancing Horse News)
A lesson I learned this year was taught by Taffy, of course. He taught me that even though he seemed to trust me enough to allow me to help him through his fear in most situations, the fact that he didn't trust me to help him in every situation was glaringly problematic at Regional Championships this year. Of course, I never expected the 1350 pound prey animal with a highly developed flight mechanism that I choose to ride to stop keeping track of his environment to protect his life. However, I did think that even when those times happened, he would look to me for more support and confidence than he did in the Rolex Arena. So, I've spent the weeks since then building an even stronger relationship with him by giving him ever more options for working through those moments of fear systematically.
Using treat-based encouragement and never pushing him beyond his stretch zone (I avoid his panic zone at all costs), I've been able to build his confidence and trust so that when he is afraid and he stands quietly near the scary thing, he gets a cookie. Then, inch by inch, he steps closer and closer to the scary thing instead of bolting or shying, getting a cookie for every brave step. When he reaches the scary thing, he now reaches out and touches it with his nose then turns to proudly look at me and ask for his cookie. I've been amazed at the new level of confidence this work has given him, evident in everything he does--even standing in his stall! To really work through this, I've taken us out of the protective bubble I used to work him in so that we could actually get some work done, and brought the scary things right inside the indoor arena.
I now have gobs of flower pots with overflowing flowers of every variety and color, 3' tall flowers, trailing flowers, billowy flowers, grassy flowers, pointy flowers, and some pots even have 1'x2' American flags stuck in them that blow in the slightest wind, or blow of Taffy's nose. Every day, one of my staff moves the flower pots to different places and creates impressive arrangements using my BLOKS and lattice show arena letter holders. We've also brought in a vinyl jump enhancer that looks like a brick wall and attached it to a pole that goes horizontally across one of the doors, so that it resembles a banner attached at fence height.
All of these additions have shrunk the amount of time Taffy and I have each day to get "dressage" work done since we spend however long it takes him to be mentally and emotionally OK with his environment. The time investment has proven already to be well worth it because the improvement in how Taffy (and all the other horses at DHF) deal with seeing new, strange things is impressive! Now, when things change, move, blow around, etc, Taffy acknowledges the scary thing and 85% of the time walks (sometimes more boldly than others) over to it and eventually touches it. Once he can stand next to the scary thing and has enough brain space to do simple tasks like flex his neck left and right and rein back, then I ask him to process it under slightly increasing pressure, first walking up to and past it, then trot, then canter. Once he can handle this series of requests, I am astonished how quickly he becomes completely okay for the entirety of the ride, each success earning him a coveted cookie, of course!
I realize that he will always be a more reactive horse to external stimuli than another horse due to his horribly "close encounter" with a manure spreader (see Taffy's Story for the full account), but I feel that this time has given him a new set of options for processing through those moments when the environment seems overwhelming. As long as I can be in the moment with him, at least for now, he is looking to me for more support and guidance proven by the fact that today he quietly and confidently walked, trotted and cantered beside our big red container that used to send him reeling backwards and sideways if asked to go within 50 feet of it. Whew! Next is testing this work in the show arena!
Jennifer Truett, owner and head trainer at Dancing Horse Farm, Lebanon OH. Jen is a Grand Prix rider and trainer who is one of the few people in USDF history to win all six medals USDF awards: Bronze, Silver and Gold medals and Bronze, Silver and Gold Freestyle Bars.