Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dressage Exercise: Leg Yield from the Diagonal

Last Sunday I had a dressage lesson, and we did something that I have never even heard of before, so I thought I would share it in case it is new to you as well.

I think my instructor's original intention had been for us to continue with our counter-canter work, but Nimo was really struggling with it - possibly because that has been something we've been working on really consistently for awhile and sometimes he needs a break.  So rather than push him, my instructor shifted gears.

She asked me to do a shoulder-fore in both directions, and he did really well, so we worked on it for a little while and then she asked me to cross the short diagonal (F to E) and then when I got to the far quarter line, she asked me to leg-yield the rest of the way to the wall.

Ideally, we probably would have continued on the same angle as we'd been when we were on the short diagonal, but I distinctly remember that we used a slightly more shallow angle when we tried it.  The exercise involves really slowing your horse's shoulders down while simultaneously speeding his hindquarters up as you change from forward motion across the diagonal to leg-yielding.  Once we got the hang of it, it felt kind of cool - Nimo was very fluid and the movement of his hindquarters felt like he was swinging them around.

So we next tried the exercise from the center line.  In this case, we were on the long diagonal (F to H), but it could be done from the short diagonal too.

As before, the leg yield would ideally occur on the same diagonal line you started on, but I created a steeper angle for the leg yield in the drawing just so you could more clearly see the point where you change from crossing the diagonal to leg-yielding.  And you could easily play around with the exercise by switching from the long to the short diagonal and changing the angle of the leg yield.

Once we'd mastered leg yielding from the center line, we tried it from the close quarter line.  Say what?

I'm glad I didn't have time to think about this one too much.  The quarter line came quickly and then we were leg-yielding across a huge amount of space.  If you'd asked me before we started this exercise if Nimo could leg-yield across 3/4 of the arena, I would have laughed and said a resounding, "No!"  But we did, and he did it pretty easily too.  We used the full arena and we maintained the same angle as our diagonal this time, so there was lots of time to realize how cool it was that Nimo could do it:)

For those of you who are doing simple leg-yields from the quarter line as well as those doing more advanced leg-yield work, I would highly recommend this exercise.  It definitely took us a step farther in our work and if your horse does it right, I think it will feel a bit like he is dancing:)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Learning a New Language

My daughter started talking a little later than the average child.  At first, we were a little concerned, because that's how parents are.  Any milestone that is not met or exceeded automatically sends us into a tailspin of anxiety.  But, it turned out that Gemma was probably really just focused on developing her climbing and counting and mathematical skills, which are well ahead of schedule, so her brain just couldn't handle the verbal component too.  Now, she is talking and even uses complete sentences.  (That is a both a good and a bad thing...)

But, as is typical with learning a new language, she sometimes has trouble pronouncing things or knowing the best word to describe something.  A couple of days ago, she really wanted me to put her lunch into a big bowl.  I assumed that she wanted a little bowl, because she has always, without exception, wanted her food in a little bowl.  And she constantly reminded me of that.  For whatever reason, at that moment, it was her most sincere desire that lunch be served in a big bowl.  She knows the words for big and for bowl, but maybe because she wanted the big bowl so much, her desire short-circuited her brain, and all she could do was cry with dismay because I was attempting to put her lunch into the little bowl.

I'm pretty sure that in her head, she was thinking that she had told Mommy to put lunch in a big bowl, but Mommy screwed up or didn't listen and it was SO IMPORTANT that lunch be in a big bowl.  So, she was beside herself that lunch was going into THE WRONG BOWL.  (If you've never raised a toddler, this situation might seem to defy reality, but I assure you toddlers get very committed to things that seem very strange to adults on a regular basis.)

Meanwhile, I was getting really frustrated because all I wanted was to make Gemma happy so she would stop crying and eat her lunch.  I've been living with this child for over 3 years, so I have some insight into what she wants and likes.  And still, I COULD NOT FIGURE IT OUT.  We must have spent 5 minutes trying to communicate with each other and getting nowhere before I finally figured it out.  (Note to self:  Saying words louder does not help.  Saying words more slowly does not help.  Saying the same word or phrase over and over again does not help.  Banging one's head into the wall does not help...)  (Note to Gemma:  Crying hysterically and saying no to everything does not help.)

And that's when I had a bit of insight into what it must be like to be a horse learning something new.  I can't tell you how frustrating it was to desperately want to make my child happy and yet I could not find a word that she would acknowledge or an action that made her happy until finally I was at the end of my rope and offered up the big bowl as what I thought would be the very last thing that she could possibly want.  Then at last joy prevailed in the household and I was ready for a nap.

I imagine that horses might experience the very same thing when working with humans.  As Mark Rashid often points out, horses want to follow the path of least resistance.  But if they don't know what the path of least resistance is because they are confused about what we're asking, I expect it is as frustrating for them as it was for me to figure out what my daughter wanted.  In fact, I was so frustrated that if I had been dealing with an inanimate object instead of my daughter, I might have taken my frustration out physically.  Just like a horse who might kick or bite or rear or buck or walk away.

The situation with Gemma brought into stark relief the complications that can arise when we work with horses.  At least Gemma has the ability to speak my language.  Nimo doesn't.  His ability to communicate is on a much different level, and it is truly amazing that we can ever move in the same direction at all.  And yet, somehow, I manage to learn enough to communicate with him and he manages to learn enough to communicate with me. 

But sometimes, we have moments that are a lot like what Gemma and I experienced with the bowl, except I am Gemma and he is me.  So I'm standing there screaming at him and all he wants is to make me happy, except he has no clue what I want and I'm still learning how to talk to him, so I have few options to improve my communication.

I guess what it all boils down to is that the next time Nimo starts acting like he is frustrated, I am going to remember this situation, and if nothing else, I will give him a break so we can both start over again later.  Also, I will always have the ability to serve lunch with two different-sized bowls:)

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Changed Mind...

"There is nothing as powerful as a changed mind."
-Bishop TD Jakes

As we start a new year, I am engaging in the typical reflecting-on-the-past-year and looking-toward-the-next-year thinking.  Last year at this time, I was marveling at how things had changed in a positive way for me as a result of my commitment to endurance riding.  This year, I can only stand back in amazement as I realize we had our first completion, we conquered the first 15 miles of the OD trail that is our end goal, and my husband and I bought land for a future horse farm.

It's impossible for me to know, of course, how my life would have gone if I had never become interested in endurance riding, but I am certain that I am happy with the direction it is going.  There have been ups and downs, but overall, this past year is one that has no regrets for me.  

And now that I am looking forward to the next ride season and building a barn, I cannot help but think that there is nothing so empowering as a changed mind.  Over the years, I have changed the way I think about so many things, from where I buy my food to how I feel about kids to what kind of soap I use.  It almost seems as if after the first time I changed my mind about something, a door was broken and all kinds of new ideas had the opportunity to be thought.

With Nimo, I think the first change was when I realized I didn't need a riding instructor to tell me how to ride my horse.  It turns out that with over 3 decades of experience, I can actually stay on him (most of the time, anyway) all by myself.  After that, I started questioning things like keeping a horse in a stall overnight and using a farrier to trim Nimo's feet when I could really do it myself.  Then came all sorts of wacky ideas about changing the way I feed him and what supplements might work.  Next, it was whether Nimo even needed a bit in his mouth.  And maybe I didn't need to use a whip as much or with the same intensity.  Now, the opportunity to have my own barn means all components of horse care are wide open to rethinking.  What kind of grass and hay is best?  What kind of shelter should we build?  What should we use for footing in the sacrifice area and arena?  How should we structure the paddocks?  Can we have trees and grass and horses all in the same acreage?  Maybe we should put some obstacles in the tracks around the fields or build a sand pit or a mud hole so the horses can have enrichment areas.  Maybe the barn doesn't need to have stalls at all.  Maybe the tack room could have heating and air conditioning and a bathroom and a washing machine.  (OK, so that's not really a change - I've always wanted those things!)

And while I'm thinking about how changing my mind about things has lead to positive changes, I'm also thinking about how sometimes one or two (or possibly more) of the ideas that I have don't work.  And how that is OK.  It can be frustrating (can we say hoof boots at the OD, anyone?), but I've found that some of my greatest learning and best breakthroughs occur right after I get really mad and frustrated.  It's almost as if that is a necessary part of the process.  Nothing seems to motivate me more than working really hard to get something right and then having it utterly fail.  So while I admire (and sometimes desperately wish I could be) those people who always seem to have it together and who manage to do endurance ride after endurance ride with a successful completion, I don't think that is my path in life.  My path is to experiment and change my mind and fail and try again until I get it right.  And then blog about the whole mess so I serve as an example of what not to do for others:)

As I wrap up my December Daily posting and go back to my more usual once-a-weekish posting, I'd like to leave you with this video that a thoughtful reader sent to me.  It fits perfectly into how I want to look at life this year, and I hope you enjoy it:)

I wanted to share this with you because the speeches in it got me thinking for the better. It was exactly what I was needing. This goes so much deeper than equestrianism. Even if you're not into horses, just listen.. & Yes, I made this video, but I do not own the clips or audio.
Posted by Kaitlyn Brooke on Wednesday, December 9, 2015