30.3.13

The importance of a correctly fitted bridle

In magazines you tend to see so many articles about the importance of a correctly fitted saddle, how it can cause so much damage to the horse's back and tips on how to check if your saddle fits correctly. This has resulted in me becoming a little bit paranoid about my saddles, and I am constantly checking them to make sure that each saddle fits each horse well. However, what you don't tend to often see are articles dedicated to bridle fitting! I know bridles are much easier to fit on a horse and you don't need to worry so much about the bridle as you do about the saddle, but have you ever seen a horse's facial nerves and how bridle affects them?

Brow bands that are properly fitted on a horse bridle will place the crown piece comfortably behind the ear base. If the brow band is too small, it will rub the horse behind the ears and can cause pressure on the nerves. Make sure that yours isn't too small!

28.3.13

Colic!

The word colic causes panic and a barrage of questions in every horse person's mind. What has it been caused by? Stress, heat, food or sand etc? Is it so serious that we need to take him to the vets? If it's not too bad, how do we get rid of it without veterinary assistance? The questions are never-ending during the stress.

Last night, an evening of panic and a terror ensued after I realised that Basse probably had colic. We went out at 8pm like normal to do the evening stables - give evening feeds and hay, skip out, fill up waters and get morning feeds ready. When I went to give Basse his evening meal, he refused to eat it, his breathing was very laboured and his eyes looked as if he was in pain.

25.3.13

Waiting for spring

The weather has take a turn for the better recently, which has resulted in us receiving some sunshine and temperatures above 0℃! The sun has started to melt away some of the snow, exposing land that we haven't seen since the end of last year. This means happy people and happy horses! 
Nelli outside without a rug, enjoying the evening sunshine!
With the warmth and sunshine, improvement in the horses has also arrived. Rama is starting to become stronger with his newly aligned hip, which means that I have been able to start working him a little bit harder, doing more lateral movements, such as shoulder-in and leg yield in trot as well as flying changes and tempi changes! Everything is a little bit rusty, and we are taking it slowly, but it all feels so much better than before.
Rama attacking our apple tree!
Vallu has also become quite chipper, and his leg has started to look much better. Riding consists of him attempting to trot constantly, and if I don't allow him to trot, then he will piaffe! Considering the vet's orders of only allowing him to walk, I'm not having much luck. But at least he is happier than he has been in a long time. Tomorrow our chiropractor Erika is coming to check him out, and hopefully get rid off all of the sore spots in his muscles. Since Vallu was in full training before his holiday, I believe that his muscles are now sore from the lack of training and proper exercise, and this is making him quite stiff. Hopefully he will feel even better after this!
Vallu in his new gear from Fur Feather Meds
I have been on a bit of a training break. As my parents have been on a holiday to USA for a week, I haven't had the time to go to any dressage lessons, since looking after and riding our four horses at home has become a full time job. My next lesson is on 28th with Rama and Karita will be coming to teach us. Hopefully it will go as well as our last lesson!

16.3.13

Personality quiz for horses

This morning I found this amazing website Horse Personality based on Dessa Hockley's book, Is Your Horse a Rock Star? On her website, you answer several questions about your horse, after which you get a chapter that gives an insight into your horse's character. I did this quiz for Vallu and Basse and mum did it as well for Rama and Nelli, and the results are scarily correct! All of the quotes below are extracts from each chapter, and describe each horse perfectly! In our little herd we have a People Pleaser, The Steady Eddy, The Rockstar and The Goddess...



"They are sometimes described as delightfully sensitive, at other times incredibly needy and uncertain"

"Easy to love! They are touchy, cuddly, expressive, cute, lovable and smart. They try so hard but worry so much. You want to wrap them up, take them home and keep them safe."

"Because they are Submissive and Friendly, a lot of their fear is rider directed. They are trying so hard to please, that it comes across as not listening, because they are over-responding and over-reacting."

"They are insecure, so they need a confident, relaxed rider on whom they can rely. If the rider gets nervous, tight or tense, they will respond likewise, getting nervous tight and tense. If left without input, before long their busy minds will send them off in some direction that will take their rider totally by surprise."

Basse aka The Steady Eddy

"Most owners form a deep and lasting relationship with the Steady Eddy. They are friendly and a pleasure to be around. For a person who has a soft personality and who does not constantly like having to be the boss or leader, this horse will be a delight, going along for the rider without a lot of question."

"They make the ideal pleasure mount. They do not require a lot of exercise. In fact, they prefer minimal activity, so they can be left in the field for weeks and still be enjoyable. They do not need to have a job, they are quite happy to 'tootle."

"These horses will try anything for you and will positively glow from compliments and approval."


Rama aka The Goddess

"If a goddess has found a way into your barn, you are lucky. If you wise as well, you will not let him leave. They do not change hands often as they work their way into your heart and stay. You should feel honored to be one of their subjects. They will give back as much as they receive."

"They are emotional and sensitive and yet still confident. They are wonderfully sensible and safe. They aren't inclined to get into trouble with you or with the environment."

"Everything about their demeanor denotes expression - they are talkative, have expressive ears and eyes, active movement, love to touch you, love to show off and act sassy but never in a dominant way, just enough to endear them to you more."

"If you want a horse to love on, then this is your baby. They like to be clean, pretty, pampered, blanketed, groomed and fussed over in any fashion."



Nelli aka The Rockstar


"The Rockstar loves to be in the limelight. They have the cool confidence to pull off feats that would leave most horses quaking in their horseshoes! They love the attention from beginning to end."

"The Rockstar has a strong ego, bordering on cocky but personable and charming enough to endear them to you. The world revolving around them is as it should be. Their feed schedule, their exercise program - they expect you to have that at the top of your to-do list."

"Retirement is hard for this regal horse. They have loved being in service, so find it hard to slow down. Keeping them going as long as possible may be the best."

"If this horse has come into your life, it is time widen your horizons and go play!"

15.3.13

Shopping delivery!

Recently I went on a bit of a shopping spree at Fur Feather Meds, an online shop where dressage items are the main products, but they are especially dedicated to providing coordinated, matching outfits for the horse and rider! Perfect for a dressage diva!
All the lovely things!

13.3.13

Horsey update!

All of our horses are doing fine, Nelli's leg has improved, so that she is now back in some light work (she is semi-retired e.g. working 3-4 days a week) and is being a natural matriarchal mare, keeping all the boys in order! Basse's nose has healed up fully now, and you can barely tell the difference! He is very happy with his two riders who are leasing him, and is being a great schoolmaster for them. 

Basse and his rider, Ritu ♡
Rama has been working really well for me during the last week, ever since our lesson with Karita, I've been able to ride him much more efficiently (beforehand, it took me the entire duration of the ride to straighten him and engage his hind legs, whereas now we achieve this in less than fifteen!) and for the last couple of days we have worked on straightness in the canter and his flying changes. Getting Rama straight through his body in the canter helps him produce much nicer, more expressive and correct flying changes. However, because Rama is so sensitive to my seat, getting him to straighten and to not change is something that I really have to work on! 

For this, I have been using the same exercise that I use with Vallu, something that Ville Vaurio taught me early on which has been very useful. In a normal working canter, ride off the track, about 10-15 meters in along the long sides, and straighten the horse by using your seat, legs and hands. Since you are away from the wall, the horse will have to listen to your seat and legs to know where he is going, instead of just using the wall. By getting the horse to listen to your aids better, you have most likely already improved the canter's straightness massively. Then, by using mirrors, correct the rest of the crookedness so that you are left with a sensitive and straight horse! With Rama, I have had to learn to ensure that my hips stay 100% straight, and that I don't lean to one side even a little bit, since this will unbalance him and he will do a flying change immediately!

Today Rama got a break from the training, and we went for our second hack out in the woods, and he behaved impeccably well!

Rama out in the woods today!
             
Vallu has been enjoying his holiday, of which there is less than 3 weeks left and has been busy growing an enormous hay belly! I am getting more excited and nervous as the days go by, mainly because I so badly wish that the vet will give him the all clear and we can get to work trying to get him to slim down for the summer. Vallu felt great today, he was the happiest that he has been in a long time, and all he wanted to do was to trot and piaffe instead of walking like he should be doing! 


I've also been busy with my Method Putkisto courses, the Pilates and the Deep Stretching. Today I was lucky enough to have an Equfit lesson instead of my usual Pilates class. Sanna, who is a qualified Method Putkisto trainer, has also created her own version of exercises for riders, which is called Equfit. I have been to these lessons before, but the last time was well over a year ago, and I had to quit because  I had to allocate more time for my riding and college. I enjoyed today's lesson so much that I'm hoping to start going to it once a week, as well as going to MP Pilates and MP Deep Stretching. I'm also starting the Method Putkisto 30 days challenge soon, using the MP Stretch Yourself Slim in 30 Days book.

"Method Putkisko is a revolutionary form of exercise that complements pilates, the Alexander technique and yoga. Highlighting the consequences of tightness and shortness in your muscles, it shows you how, by elongating these muscles through deep stretching, you can improve your physique and posture, as well as creating an overall feeling of well-being. This 30-day plan is adaptable for different body shapes, and takes you step-by-step through the method, from different types of stretching and breathing, to the clearly illustrated and photographed exercises themselves. This programme promises visible results - a lifted, supple and supported body in a month!"

Ready to learn!


10.3.13

Transitions within paces

Ever since my last lesson with Karita (which you can read about here) I have been concentrating on transitions within paces; walk with Vallu, trot with Rama and canter with Basse.

The normal upwards and downwards transitions are also important. Each downward transition should make the hind legs of the horse bend and come underneath, so that the hind legs become more active and stronger. In each upward transition the hind legs should push the horse’s weight uphill and forward, making the pace bigger and more active. 

Although I actively practise transitions each time I ride a horse, I seem to always forget that transitions can also be done within the pace. Riding transitions within the paces help develop the gymnastic movement of our horses. Changes within all the paces are a great way of developing the horse’s back and hind leg muscles, as well as providing variety in the horse's training and a good discipline for both horse and rider. By changing the power and length of each pace, the horse's body becomes stronger and more supple.

The British Horse Society says that the aim of all extended paces is 

  • to make the strides to be as long as possible.
  • to produce lively impulsion from the hindquarters.
  • for the horse to remain calm, and light in the forehand
  • to keep the horse ‘on the bit’ with the head and neck lowered and lengthened so that the strides become longer, rather than higher.
  • not to speed up so the strides become hurried
Walk

In the medium walk, the horse should be marching along into a medium strength and an elastic contact. To move to free walk on a long rein, the horse should take the bit out and down when offered a longer rein,, whilst still staying connected to the hands. The horse should be walking with purpose, but with a longer frame and longer steps. 

When coming back to collected walk, the horse should accept the aids to come back into a shorter outline smoothly, without resistance, i.e. by the rider’s legs and seat asking the hind legs to step under more and the back to become rounder again, then accepting the resulting shorter rein.. With Vallu, this is particularly hard, as he finds it difficult to do the transition smoothly. It has taken many days of practice to get him to move calmly in the transition without staggering and becoming tense when I ask for collected walk. By concentrating on my own seat and ensuring that I stay calm and relaxed and move with him, I have been able to improve Vallu’s walk transitions massively (although there are days when we are back at square one) One of the best exercises for practicing walk transitions is to just ride diagonals - long and short ones - over and over again. By constantly doing the same exercise, the rider becomes more sensitive to the changes to the stride length and the horse’s body, ensuring that during your dressage test, you know what feeling to ride towards.

One thing to focus on:
During the extended walk, over-tracking should be more pronounced than in the medium walk, and the rider should allow the horse to stretch out his head and neck but without losing contact with the mouth.

Trot

The normal starting point for trot is a working trot; an active, forward, connected trot. To ask for a bigger trot, use your seat more, and ask with a little more leg for a bigger, longer, but not a faster stride. It is important that the horse stays in rhythm and round through the back,. and there is an art in asking for the bigger strides smoothly, without causing hollowing and running.

When the horse has become stronger in the back, then the rider can work towards collected trot when more of the weight is transferred to the hind legs of the horse, he shows greater elevation in the trot with slightly shorter strides. In collected trot, the horse can have the same stride as in working trot, but it is more active, more expressive and more cadenced. The rider must make sure that the steps do not become shorter (this should only happen in piaffe)
Pink line shows a collected trot, with a shorter distance from neck to seat bones
In extended trot, we look for a good overstep, with the hind legs coming over the front footprint of the horse. There should be an extended frame, but not a long loose connection between the hand and the horse’s mouth. As with the extended trot, like in the walk, the over tracking should be pronounced and there should be no flicking of the forelegs.

A great way to improve the extended trot and the length of stride is to put three poles down the long side of the arena.  Set them out at about 1.3m or so (that’s just a ‘normal every day working trot’, and then every day just make them a little bit longer and a little bit longer. The bigger length between the poles, the longer the stride the horse has to take, leading towards the horse and rider learning the feeling of an extended length. To improve the collected trot, the poles can be moved closer together, which makes the horse take shorter, more collected and higher steps, resulting in a collected trot. From here, the poles can be removed, and work can commence on the flat. To develop the horse’s muscles, ask repeatedly for a few steps of each pace in succession, both on straight lines and on circles.

During an extended trot, the horse should stay light, with a minimum amount of support from the hand, but this  depends on the level of collection. Lightness, however, is only self carriage. Self carriage is not necessarily just the lightness of your hands, but also the lightness of the paces. Some riders try to create lightness with loose reins, but this only makes the horse drop on the forehand and run (one of my worst mistakes before being taught how to properly ride an extended trot!) Through correct training and with a build-up of strength, the horse learns to carry himself, and take two thirds of weight (which is normally on the forehand and in the middle) onto the hindquarters) 

Canter

The same approach applies for the canter as for the trot. The horse will not be able to maintain the bigger strides in trot and canter for long at first, so the rider must build up the number of steps asked for gradually, monitoring how the horse manages to maintain the balance, roundness and energy. 

Again, the pole exercise is good in order to gain more elevation and lift to the pace. Going for a gallop round the fields is also a great way for the rider to gain a feeling of horse’s natural collection and extension. The rider can use slight inclines to help the horse to increase collection when going downfield, and increase extension when going uphill.

Too many riders give their horse a loose rein, and kick him in the ribs, and say “go faster, go faster”, but will never teach the horse to extend properly. To get that extension where the horse really sits back and goes slowly while making huge strides, the horse is ridden from behind, uphill towards the extension. Some horses are by naturally born more uphill than others, but when work is done with transitions, building collection, etc, the rider can develop the horse more uphill.

Nuno Oliveira says to...
"Never ask for more than he is capable of giving. Make him a companion, and not a slave, then you will see what a true friend he is."

7.3.13

CDI3* Vidauban Spring Dressage Tour 2013

Today has been such a great day for my brother, who is competing in France at the CDI3* Vidauban Dressage Tour! I'm incredibly proud of him, and hope that this form continues for the rest of the week!
With Rosamunde 20, Henri won the preliminary 6 year old class with 78.4%
In the PSG (7-9 year olds) Henri came second with Amador 12, getting 69.1%
With Don't Forget II, Henri placed 8th in the GP Special with 66.6%
Henri and Rosamunde in summer/autumn 2012

3.3.13

Photo post #2

2.3.13

Ville Vaurio dressage training

With my seven layers of clothing, and Rama wrapped in three woolen rugs, we somehow managed to brave the cold -16.6℃ temperature and go to our early morning lesson with Ville Vaurio. I was in a group of three, with one pony and one riding school horse and the lesson went quite well!

The main thing that Ville wanted me to work on was my posture, and my use of aids. During the lesson we did very simple exercises, walk-trot-walk transitions and trot-canter-trot transitions. Rama was rather excited at the beginning, and so our walk trot transitions weren't nearly as good as they could have been. Instead of walking, Rama decided that jogging on the spot/piaffe/trying to canter was a much better pace to use. Ville wanted  Rama to have more impulsion, and so I had to try to get Rama to slow down from trot to walk without using my hands = using my seat and core stomach muscles. After about ten minutes in both directions, we got there; but the transitions weren't on the spot, and rather it took five steps for the transition to occur. Something to work on! 

Ville also want to improve Rama's canter, because even though it is a big canter, it is easily slow and long, and you want it to be more energetic and quicker. Otherwise it looks like Rama is about to fall down to trot every single stride. We also have to focus on more engagement from behind to make the 'whole package' complete, which means that we have to work on developing the carrying, lifting and thrusting power of his haunches. Ville's last bit of advice was to carry on pushing your limits and boundaries, even when you think it's enough or that you are too tired, try to ask for a little bit more from your horse and from yourself as well.


The training scales
Ville's points on my seat and position:
  • Keep your hands lower ➞ if you keep your hands in a higher position, it looks like you are carrying him ➞ he looks heavy on the hand even though we know he isn't 
  • Keep your chin up and shoulders back  looks much better  improving own posture
  • Don't leave your leg 'on' ➞ only use your legs when needed to make horse go forwards, otherwise leave leg 'off' in a long and relaxed position ➞  do not override him, enjoy traveling and sitting still when he goes well
Family ♥
Rama and dad!
Vallu ready to go for his walk
Our very sweet and kind horses during the awful process of tightening the girth
Red matchy matchy!

1.3.13

Friday...

Rama says hello!
Friday's are always tough, because it's the end of the working week, the indoor school is booked full for the riding school and the weekend is just around the corner! Today Vallu, Rama and Nelli all had a day off, which meant that all of them were walked in-hand for 20 minutes each as well as being outside in the paddocks as normal. Unfortunately this meant that Mr. Bastitini had an intense schooling session...

Although Basse may not have been happy with having to work hard, I on the other hand was super pleased with how he went! After being lunged yesterday, he felt really good. During yesterday's lunging, I concentrated on getting Basse working through his back thoroughly and relaxing into a long, full frame. Basse likes to do a small stiff trot and then when you ask him for more forwardness in order to get him to open up, he then picks up canter. Luckily, Basse has been very good recently, and is not too stiff in his back, which meant that he was very quick to relax and lengthen his stride in the trot. I think that yesterday's lunging session was really beneficial, since today he was very willing to go forward, was soft in the mouth and flexible in the back.

I started off with doing a 20m in walk and doing a small amount of shoulder-in on it, like we did yesterday during Karita's lesson with Rama. I haven't tried this exercise before on Basse, and was really pleased with how he responded. This exercise also helps me to make my hands stay more still and even, which is great for both of us. After practicing this in both directions, I then picked up trot and this felt great. No leaning on the left rein and very straight compared to his normal wonky self.

As a result, I wanted to practice transitions within canter, so from collected canter to medium canter. Usually for us to get to this stage, I have had to ride Basse several days in a row, before I think that he is ready and straight enough for this kind of work. The exercise is very simple; medium canter down the long sides of the arena, collection in the corner and collected canter during the short side before lengthening the stride again for medium canter. Very simple and very effective. My first problem was getting Basse to extend or lengthen his stride (again...) since this would require more work through his back for him. After some gentle coaxing, he was more than willing to shoot off down the long side with no control!! This meant that instead of being able to collect nicely during the short side of the arena, I was left with a horse pulling against my hand, above the bit and no relaxation or contact. After including some small circles at the end of the long side, Basse began to get the idea of slowing down and collecting, and in the end we did some beautiful collected and medium canters! 

Walking home through the paddocks
Snack time!
One sweaty and tired horse, wrapped in many many blankets to keep him warm!
After walking Vallu (which was more like trying to keep Vallu to stay calm and not jump about or walk all over me) we went to get some new hay! This is our horses' favorite hay, and should hopefully get Vallu and Nelli's stomachs to calm down...
So green...
I could eat this myself!
Tomorrow I have a lesson with Rama at Equstom with Ville Vaurio! I'm really looking forwards to this, even though they are predicting it to be really cold (-17℃) and it is at 8.30 in the morning!!
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