Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gymnastic Sunday!

Once again, I headed over to Clearwater Farm (Sprieser Sporthorse) on Sunday afternoon for a lesson with Allison Spivey.  I should mention that it was a balmy 28 degrees outside and that I enjoyed an invitation to hang out in the heated tack room for a few minutes before I had to get ready.  The barn at this facility is literally other-worldly.  The aisle floor is some kind of super-special flooring that defies any explanation.  It's not pavers.  It's not concrete.  It's not rubber mats.  It's some kind of solid surface that felt nice to walk on and is color-coordinated with the barn, like a seafoam color maybe?

And there is a heated kitchen with a Keurig coffee maker, sink, fridge, etc.  And a laundry room that looked like it had enough machines for a laundromat.  And the tack room was HUGE with lots of spaces for tack.  And each space with immaculate.  My tack lockers or cabinets always look like some kind of explosion involving leather, saddle pads, dirt, manure, and hair.

Anyway, while I enjoyed the eye candy of the barn, I was really there to work on my riding.  I had a ton of fun at my last lesson with Allison, in large part because of the ground pole and cavaletti work (although Allison is great to ride with even without any fancy footwork).  This lesson was no different.  Allison had different patterns set up and we worked on two of them for our lesson.

She had us start out with a regular 3-loop serpentine with normal bend.  Then we did the serpentine with each loop in counter-flexion.  Finally, we added in three sets of cavaletti, starting with just two sets at a time and working up to a third.  One set was spaced more closely to encourage a shorter-strided trot with more articulation of the knees and hocks.  The second set was spaced for a working trot.  And the third set was spaced for a lengthened or even a medium trot.  Allison said there was a difference of about 2 and a half feet of spacing between the shortest set and the longest set.

While I've worked on shortening and lengthening Nimo's stride in the past, I've never used ground poles to do it.  And I really wasn't sure if they would work...Nimo is still pretty skeptical of ground poles and I wasn't sure I had the ability to shorten and lengthen while doing a 3-loop serpentine over poles.  It turns out that we were actually able to do the exercise and it worked!  Over the more closely spaced ground poles, Nimo started giving quicker hind leg action and he really pushed forward over the poles with the most space between them.

We took advantage of Nimo's newfound longitudinal flexibility to work on trot-canter transitions.  We would go over the closely-spaced cavaletti to get his hind end really engaged and then I would ask for canter immediately after the last pole.  It worked great.  He really picked up the canter nicely and then was able to maintain a much more engaged and balanced canter for more strides than usual.

After taking a break from the canter work, we started working on actual cavaletti, which were set up on a circle in the center of the arena.  The cavaletti were probably about a foot off the ground on the outside of the circle while the other side rested on the ground.  Visually, I think it was supposed to encourage the horse to stay on the circle, or at least give the rider a little help in terms of keeping the horse from veering out of the circle, which was probably about 12 meters in diameter.

You can see in the drawing below that the cavaletti were set up so there was one in each quadrant of the circle.  We started the exercise by just doing the 2 opposite cavaletti and then doing all four while maintaining a very forward working trot.  And then we repeated going the other direction.  We had a few bobbles because Nimo tried to actually go over the highest point of the cavaletti (possibly because the circle was smaller than what we'd been working, and he was feeling a little uncomfortable about the degree of bend), but he wasn't balanced enough to really get over the pole without smacking it.  So, Allison did a couple of resets for us, but overall, Nimo did quite well and the quality of his trot was impressive after the work.

Here is a diagram of the two exercises we worked on:

I have to say that I have always believed that ground pole and cavaletti exercises are beneficial, but I've never felt very confident about setting up patterns, so I haven't done much work with them.  These last two lessons have really convinced me that I need to keep up the work with cavaletti throughout the year, plus I'm starting to better understand the spacing between poles.  I had been convinced that I needed to figure out exactly how far apart the poles needed to be for me horse, but what I've realized is that there is definitely wiggle room and having poles that aren't ideally spaced can actually help because it improves adjustability in the gaits.

1 comment:

  1. Love this! I love that its helping you two and you're noticing the differences; I love the diagram you included; I love the last paragraph about the pole spacing! And now I feel super motivated to replicate this in the spring when I have a space to ride in.