Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Conditioning with Saiph

I have really been struggling with our endurance conditioning work this summer.  We have had almost non-stop heat and humidity since early May and I haven't been able to acclimate to it.  I think I might be going through the stages of grief because our weather went from unusually cold winter to why-is-it-still-so-blasted-cold-and-wet spring to why-does-if-feel-like-July summer.  For awhile I was in denial and thought that the heat was an anomaly and it would go away, so I didn't ride much.  But then when I realized summer was here for good, I was really angry and upset and I didn't ride much.  Now I'm sort of moving toward acceptance, but this stage may take so long that fall will be here before it really sinks in.  So while I now understand that I'm just going to have to endure the heat and humidity for the next couple of months, I'm still having trouble getting motivated.

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you'll know that I occasionally get together with a fellow endurance blogger, Saiph, for conditioning rides.  We always have fun, so I was excited that after Saiph moved her horses to a new barn recently, she invited me to come up to ride with her because she has access to quite a few miles of trails from her barn.  Even though the drive is a bit farther than I like to go on a regular basis, I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to ride with a friend and to get some decent conditioning in.  I knew I could count on Saiph to help motivate me, and I knew Nimo would do better with a buddy too, so Saiph and I made plans to get together on July 12.  As you may know, her horse, Lily, had a terrible accident the week before that, so our plans were up in the air for a few days.  But it did work out that Lily was home by the day we planned to ride and Saiph could still ride her other horse, Gracie.

I got up bright and early that morning in hopes that we could finish our ride before the heat of the day.  I had the usual adventure of trying to find my way through the Maryland countryside with a truck and trailer.  For those of you who don't live in this area, let me explain that it is common for roads to randomly change names or even to come to an end and then start back up somewhere else.  Road signs are often not visible because they are hidden by trees, and sometimes they are twisted so that the signs show the wrong name.  Other times the signs are just missing.  Or, as happened on the day I went to Saiph's barn, my GPS just gave up near the end of the trip.  Luckily, I am used to these things by now, so with only one u-turn, I was able to arrive safely at Saiph's barn within about 5 minutes of my planned arrival time.

We got the horses ready, and we were out on the trail by around 10:20, I think.  And we spent the next 2 and a half hours roaming the fields and woods of the property where Saiph boards.  I think she said there were over 200 acres, and the whole property was accessible to us.  It was an interesting ride because of the variety of terrain and obstacles: some shorter, steep hills; railroad tracks to cross (our first!); gravel roads; a river; an airplane runway; a giant construction debris pile; cross-country jumps; and lots of fields.  At one point, we went down a road Saiph hadn't been on yet, and we discovered a way to cross the river.  Our first option ended up not working out so well.  Neither Gracie nor Nimo were too excited about the 3 foot drop off with rocks, but Saiph did some exploring and found a much nicer way to go.

Nimo and I waiting while Saiph explored the river bank (photo by Saiph)
Nimo checking out a cross-country jump (photo by Saiph)
It was still a hot ride toward the end, but we managed to eek out about 10 miles because we had such great company.  I'm so glad that we were able to make the ride work, and I'm actually going to make conditioning with Saiph a more regular occurrence.  She's learning the trails at a couple of parks in Maryland that I've always wanted to explore, and she does such a great job of keeping a good pace.

It's interesting because last year, I really did prefer to ride by myself.  I wanted the solitude and I also wanted to be able to set my own pace and distance.  But this year, I've noticed that riding by myself doesn't have the same appeal that it once did.  Now, I really do want the company, even if it isn't an endurance rider.  Just having someone to ride with seems to make the miles go by faster and the chance to talk to an adult is nice too!:)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dressage Exercise: Zigzag 10 m circles

You may remember my posts on the ground pole and cavaletti exercises I've done with my riding instructor during the winter months.  I decided that I'd like to do similar posts for dressage exercises that I particularly like or that have been really effective for us.  During my last lesson, my instructor had us do an exercise that was actually kind of fun (gasp! dressage and fun in the same sentence?) and worked really well to loosen Nimo up, so I thought I would share it with you.  I played around with several different ways of drawing it, and finally gave up on producing anything that looks professional, but hopefully, you will get the gist of it from the diagram below.

In dressage-speak, here's how the exercise is ridden:

1. C to M: Working trot
2. M: 10 m circle right, working trot
3. M to E: Change rein, working trot
4. E: 10 m circle left, working trot
5. E to F: Change rein, working trot
6. F: 10 m circle right, working trot
7. F to A: Working trot

For normal people, here's how I would describe it.  At C (or before), ask your horse for a working trot, which is a forward, engaged trot that is comfortable and sustainable for your horse.  As you turn the corner toward M, half-halt and prepare your horse for a 10 meter circle.  At M, do a 10 meter circle to the right, while maintaining the working trot.  (Nimo has a tendency to fizzle during the second half of the 10 meter circle, so I have to really ride him forward.)  As you come around to M again, turn toward E and trot across the short diagonal of the arena, making sure you really keep all the energy you generated during the circle, so your horse's trot is even more engaged then when you started at C.  When you get to E, do a 10 meter circle to the left.  As you approach E again, turn toward F, and again try to really capture the energy from the circle and get even more engagement from your horse.  When you get to F, do another 10 meter circle to the right.  As you pass F, continue working trot until A.  You can either keep going and do the pattern again on the other side of the arena or change direction and do the pattern in reverse.

I would say this exercise is appropriate as written for horses working at First Level because of the repeated 10 meter circles.  However, I think you could modify it to make it easier by enlarging the circles to 15 meters or you could make it more difficult by riding smaller circles (think 6 meter voltes) or do it in the canter with simple or flying changes on the short diagonals.

What I like about this exercise is that it includes frequent changes of direction, which really help Nimo loosen his neck and shoulders.  Alternating between the bend of the circle and the straightness of the diagonals is also great, because it helps with loosening and suppling.  When I was doing this exercise, my instructor had me think of using each circle to build energy and then almost sling-shotting out of each circle across the diagonal.  While you could do lengthenings on the diagonals, our goal was really to just improve the quality of the trot with each diagonal, so my instructor was looking for increased engagement and power, rather than an actual lengthening of the stride.

I hope this exercise is useful to at least a few of you, and I think it will become a regular part of my dressage work in the future.