Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gymnastic Sunday, part 3

So I'm waaaaaayyyyyy behind on writing about my dressage lessons over ground poles/cavaletti with Allison at Sprieser Sporthorse.  This is in part because of the blizzard we got a little over a week ago and also because I've just been busy and haven't had the time to do the diagrams.  Anyway, I'm back on track...I think...

I wish I could tell you a humorous story about my third lesson over cavaletti, but I literally can't remember anything about that day, except the actual work.  It was probably insanely cold, or had recently snowed, or was going to snow, or was 65 degrees because that is the only kind of weather we've had this winter.

Here are the diagrams of the patterns that we worked on.  I'm going to show you the arena set-up first, followed by the different exercises because otherwise I think it's a little confusing to see how things work.  I will say that seeing this set-up in person was pretty impressive.  (Also, note that my memory of the day is seriously in question, so it's entirely possible that I missed a pole or got something a little out of place, but I have to work with the brain cells I have.)  Seeing half the arena basically covered in poles was a little daunting at first, but after going through the exercises, the set-up made a lot of sense.

This next diagram shows you the first exercise we worked on.  The exercise can be done from either direction and it involves turning the corner to approach the poles as a square, not a circle.  The poles were set at a distance that encouraged a nice working trot.  Because of the square approach, the exercise targeted balance and rhythm because the horse had to really focus on shortening the trot a little to make the corner of the square while being ready to move into the working trot quickly.

The following diagram shows you our second exercise.  The way it worked was to come in toward the center of the poles and then proceed to do an incredibly tight circle around the inner four poles at a walk.  After going around a few times at the walk, we would simultaneously go into a trot while expanding the circle to the second set of 4 poles.  After doing the trot circle a few times, we would slow to a walk, while simultaneously decreasing the circle back to the inner 4 poles.  You'll notice that the circles on my diagram are not really that great.  That is because I am no better at free-hand drawing circles in Photoshop than I am at steering my horse in the arena.  That is how our "circles" really looked:)

We repeated that exercise a few times and then came out of the circle at the pole closest to A.  As Nimo took his last step over the pole, I would ask for canter.  The combination of the exercise plus the last pole had the effect of making Nimo quick off his hind end and gave us a nice canter transition.  I think one of the times we did this canter transition, we actually attempted the canter poles as you see in the diagram, but you'll notice from the tight spacing that you really need to do a square corner before the canter poles, and Nimo's balance just wasn't there yet, plus he is still a little intimidated by ground poles at the canter.  So what we did instead was to come off the trot pole at A, canter, and then aim for the arena wall and skip the canter poles altogether.

And finally here is our third exercise.  Let me note here that I get my money's worth out of my lessons with Allison.  She asks us to do exercises that I would never attempt on my own and am pretty sure when she asks me to do them that my horse will lay down and refuse to move anymore.  In reality, Nimo seems to really like the cavaletti work and steps up to the plate more often than not.

So, what we did for this pattern looks pretty simple on paper, but definitely felt a little overwhelming at first because of the tight turn and all those poles!  We trotted down the long side of the arena and then turned in a fairly tight circle (probably less than 10 m in diameter) to come into the cross-like structure of poles on a diagonal, push for a little bit of lengthening, trot over the center of the cross and then continue the lengthened trot over the group of three ground poles before trotting on our merry way.  Allison added a bit of a twist after we'd done the exercise a couple of times by raising the outside of the 4 inner ground poles about 12-15" so a giant raised pinwheel was created.  Visually, I think it was very intimidating to come into, but it also had the effect of directing Nimo to the very center of the poles.

Overall, the effect of all these exercises was to create a more balanced and forward horse.  By the end of the lesson, Nimo was trotting in this huge, self-motivated trot that I literally did not have to do anything to maintain.  At which point, Allison reminded me that my legs were really out of position and needed to come forward with heels down.  It was awesome to be able to actually only worry about my legs instead of a hundred other things as well.  I'm pretty limited in my capacity to do more than one thing at a time, so whenever I have to work on steering or getting more balance or engagement from my horse, my legs and arms wander off into strange positions.

Anyway, my fourth installment on these lessons should come fairly quickly.  I've locked myself in the office in an attempt to get caught up on my blog and so far, it's working:)


  1. "I'm pretty limited in my capacity to do more than one thing at a time" - heh, aren't we all?

    This all looks quite complicated to me and I'm impressed you didn't run into things.

    1. Actually, Funder, I'm pretty sure we did run into things:) The first time we go through the exercise is usually a little dicey and Allison often stands close by to do a reset. But once Nimo figures out what to do, he's usually pretty good unless I really suck at telling him where to go.

  2. I love these posts! Things sound complicated, yet so fun!

  3. What program do you use to make your diagrams?