Thursday, July 31, 2014

Product Review: Noble Outfitters Perfect Fit Glove

I've personally found that I end up liking most of the products I buy horse-wise. Even the cheapo items handle my abuse pretty well, but, while I like most items, there are only a select few that I absolutely love. These gloves are one of the select few (and my half chaps are and a I would do a review but they were discontinued).

I never really thought about wearing gloves at home until I suffered, er, I mean, took those lessons with Miss E. Now that I'm actually riding on contact and have steady weight on my hands, that one area on my ring finger has been torn up quite a bit. The skin isn't like it used to be, and I still actually have discoloration from last summer (whoa, it's been a year already).

On Instagram, I happen to follow a lot of companies, one of which is Noble Outfitters. They repost pictures of people who use their items. They, along with another biggish account that I follow, were going crazy over these Perfect Fit gloves that they sell. I was needing another pair of breeches, and Equestrian Collections also sold the gloves for $20, so I said, "What the heck," (I didn't actually say that, it's just a phrase), and I threw the gloves in the cart too.

The first ride
About a week later, the gloves showed up. They're nothing amazing to look at; I just bought some inexpensive, black gloves. I tried them on, and, honestly, they should be called the Almost Perfect Fit gloves. The only part that doesn't sit right is the thumb, and it's only on one glove. Otherwise, the fit was actually perfect.

However, these were meant to be riding gloves, not wear just because your hands felt exposed gloves. I've had these gloves for over a month. They have seen multiple rides and one show. No matter what time of day it is — whether the burning heat of noon or the coolness around sunset — my hands DO NOT SWEAT in these gloves. Not at all, not one bit of sweat disgraces my palms, knuckles, or any other part of my hand. The top layer is thin enough that my hands can breathe, but you can't see through it. The bottom side is reinforced, so that one area of my ring finger sees no damage whatsoever.

There are even more colors to choose from
I actually forgot to put my gloves on for one ride, and I regret that pretty quickly. These gloves are like a second pair of skin. They get the job done and get it done well. I'd say, due to them being thinner, that they're not suited for cold weather riding, but, if you're in a warmer environment or need something to get you through the summer, these gloves are something to consider.

Where To Buy:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

That was my best course . . . ever.

I am so happy with how this weekend ended. I almost didn't want it to end! It was going so well! The medal, unfortunately, didn't run today, so the girl who didn't qualify wasn't able to get her points, but, the way that the medal is described in the rulebook might allow her to ride in the final.

I schooled during a break and Baby went over everything. She stopped at one fence, and I'm not really sure why she did. We had a nice distance to it, then she just slid to a stop (perhaps she was practicing her reining). Everything else was fine. Funny story, one of the lines was the the same from yesterday, except it was one stride longer. Baby is notorious for going slow, but I would like to put some emphasis on how short she can make her stride. The line was set for seven. She made it in nine. Not bad for a HUS horse.

Junior Eq. wasn't bad at all. I had one stop in my first course. I had been feeling a bit queasy since Friday. My nausea was partly due to my actual health and partly due to my own nerves. I'm feeling better now, but I wasn't able to eat or drink much today. Anyway, it hit me right as I was going into the line, so I gave Baby no support going to the second fence. I got her over it a second time, and I did so with a lot of help from the crowd. Lots of clicking and clucking and middle-aged women yelling "Leg!". It kills me how willing people are to help riders out, whether they know them or not. I don't know about the rest of this sport, but, around here, you find more kind, educated, and genuinely helpful people than you do rude ones. The repulsed "Hunter Sass" doesn't exist much around here.

The second course had two stops at the same fence. It was a rollback from an oxer to a little vertical, but I was ignored by my mount going up to the oxer, so the distance was screwed up, and I had to scramble to get myself together then go for the vertical. Of course, she stopped. No biggie, the oxer wasn't great, so I brushed it off and went for it again. When she stopped the second time, I was not having it. No more asking, time for telling.

On the flat, she was pulling on me quite a bit and collapsed on her forehand at the canter. It felt like left lead the entire time. I ended up fourth though, and got an 8th in my first course and a 7th (yay purple ribbon!) in the second.

I decided to add Delmarva to my classes today. It was right after Eq., so I had a little break, then went back in. The first course was rough. Most of the distances weren't pretty, and I think we missed all but one lead, but there were no stops, so that's good. We placed fourth.

The second course is what I am currently relishing in. Never have I ever had a course that nice. The pace was there. The turns were on point. The only thing wrong with it (besides my equitation because that's still requiring some work) was two leads and two distances. Everything else was just great. I couldn't believe how perfectly Baby pulled that course off. That is what I plan on shooting for with every course that I do. We placed second.

She stopped with most of the pulling on the flat, but then the left lead canter was very heavy, so I was perpetually half halting for the right lead. We placed fourth.

I'm over joyed with how this weekend turned out. I only had a total of six stops, I was riding better, and the number of people looking out for me practically doubled. I greatly appreciate all the support, assistance, and helpful comments, both from my friends and strangers. I couldn't imagine doing all this alone. I'll have to someday, but thankfully that day is not today.

Actually did qualify this time

Yes, I can say with certainty that I did qualify for the medal finals! I'm so excited! The course had some bumps in it. I missed my strides in the line, then got a weird distance to the second fence in an oxer to oxer rollback (yes, there was an oxer to oxer rollback). Neither of those looked pretty equitation wise, but we got over everything.

I was a bit worried in the morning because Baby just wasn't going well. She was rushing on the flat and over fences, and I was struggling to stay with her. There was another schooling break a couple of divisions before the medal and Junior Eq., so I schooled then, and she was still fast. Izzy highly offered to watch me school and help out. I went around and over a couple jumps, and she was still running, so Izzy had me stop for a minute to relax and then had me do just a line. My strides were off, but that was because Baby went through it much slower and more relaxed. I came back to Izzy and she had Mr do a bending line which was amazing. Then I had to practice that oxer to oxer rollback. First time was eh. I came in nicely and got ass cost add I could to the first jump, but then I took the turn too sharp, and Baby slipped in the back. Thankfully, we stayed up, but I didn't even try to go over the second jump. Izzy explained that I should use the nearby jumps as a marker good where to turn, so I did  the rollback two more times without a fault.

I didn't place in Junior, but the second course and the flat weren't bad at all. The first course, which was the easier of the two, had me looking plain stupid. I don't think I got a single good distance. Everything was just off, but the second course, which was the same as the medal, was much better. Got every distance except for the last fence. Funny story, I finally got my butt back over the second to least fence and supported through my core, but the course ended with a bending line. I was so in shock (and slight pain because suddenly engaging your core over a fence is subject to cause some soreness) that I wasn't really paying attention to the next jump. Baby slowed down, and we got too far from the second fence, but I wasn't ready to take a long distance, so I asked her for another stride, and we ended up doing a skip over and knocking the back pole. Otherwise, it was a great course, and I probably would have placed if not for my painful epiphany.

The flat class was good, but then the judge asked us to drop or stirrups at the posting and sitting trot. Yeah, we were not going to place in that.

Today, Baby was a bit heavy and forward to school, but it wasn't as bad as yesterday. I haven't shown yet; we're still in waiting mode.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"The Game"

It is almost 11 o'clock at night. I should be getting ready for bed right now, but the lesson tonight was so late that I couldn't get to sleep if I wanted to. I'm just not tired, even after two hours of riding.

In today's lesson after warm-up we played "The Game". There are actually two games that we have at my barn; one is the game that I came up with before I rode in the advanced group, and it was a terrible game. The game that we played today was actually a game that I found on the second episode of "Along for the Ride". It's simple, really. There are three rounds, and for each round everyone does the same course, and they are judged by the others in the ring and given a score out of 10. If you have a refusal, go off course, or knock down a fence, it's an automatic 0 for that round. Loser has to put the jumps away. We did two rounds instead of three, but that was the only rule change.

Baby was a bit uppity today. She wasn't liking the downward transitions, and, while she wasn't rushing the jumps a lot, she wasn't entirely relaxed. She was more than just forward.

The first round was okay and only judged the horse. Unfortunately, she's starting to do the lead change on her own and will only switch in the front (agasfghkjlksd), so that's something to work on. I would like to mention that we were in the indoor arena, and we did not set the jumps up nicely (I was basically head jump placer person too). I could feel myself going in strange places over some of the fences, but it was good for the most part. I got a 27 out of a possible 50. Most of the points deducted were for missed leads and this one jump that I could not help but take at an angle and she hesitated at. 

The second round judged equitation, and it was way better. My rein length and hands felt a bit all over the place, but I was working on sitting inbetween fences rather than half-seating. Baby started doing the simple  changes by herself, and I was seeing the distances a lot better. It flowed so much better than the first round. Shelby even said I looked completely balanced going into the two stride. That's huge for me. I'm going to guess that my right stirrup feeling longer is actually do to me putting more equal weight in my stirrups. I got a 38.5 out of 50.

I ended up placing 3rd out of the five of us with a final score of 65.5 out of a total 100. That's a D, which is passing, but we're going to play again next week, and I plan on improving that percentage. After we played, we switched horses. I got on Duke, but we didn't change saddles at all, and I was too lazy to lengthen my stirrups, so I went around with an 11-year-old's stirrup length. Mind you, I'm short, but I had basically no leg, and Duke is a butt about the whole moving forward thing. I got him to trot and canter (with the help of the crop), and we did the two stride twice before I got bored and got back on Baby. God bless the horses with big strides. I did some sitting trot and cantering without stirrups, then I did the oxer twice avec stirrups, then we cooled out. All in all, a good ride.

I've already starting some prepping for the finals, which basically means that I'm learning how to braid. I want Baby's mane and tail braided, but I'm not too keen on paying, so I'm learning how to do it myself. The braiding kit was not available, so I was only able to practice her tail. I stopped when it started to look back, but it looks okay considering how I usually do it. Eh, I've got time to practice.
Miss S also said that I could do the Dom Schramm clinic, but I just need to find out the new date. If that date doesn't work out, we're trying to see if we can get him to come to our barn, so it's up in the air for right now.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

So, you need to improve your Dressage

Welp, here is a nice, informational post with three exercises that might help you (actually, any rider) out a bit. I don't suggest that you attempt these the first time without a qualified trainer or on a horse that isn't completely trained (unless you're a professional and know what you're doing, in that case, have at it).

Three movements not found in Dressage tests that you should be doing!!
There are plenty of classical movements that have, over time, been forgotten about in competitive 'D'ressage. After discussions with a few members here in PM- it seemed like a good idea to pick a few of the most useful ones and make a thread.

'D'ressage tests were created to do precisely that: TEST a pair. The movements are not laid out in an order or a fashion that is conducive to schooling them. What's more- there are plenty of variations on the same movements, or even separate movements that have been left out altogether... sadly, this leads a lot of people to school only what is on the test, rather than school a dynamic, gymnastic system in order to better EXECUTE the test.

Here are three movements that historically, were very valued in the training of the horse, but because they are not tested, many are unaware of their benefits or even their existence!

1) Fléchi droit

This was essentially taking the historical flexions and applying them in movement, on the straight.
This is a classical movement that was included in both the French and German cavalry manuals.
German cavalry officer:

This movement is essentially, asking your horse to stay bent while moving on a straight line. It is a VERY good test to do on any horse and see if he is following his shoulders, or his nose. Obviously, in English disciplines, we don't want the horse to follow his nose. The horse should be able to bend any direction and have his shoulders move regardless of this bend.

The easiest way to begin fléchi droit is by asking for a slight bend (with an open poll!!) in the corner or on a circle, and then moving straight while keeping this bend along the wall. As this becomes easier, start to ask for more bend. 45 degrees is the ideal, but in walk, you can go up to 90.

A rider showing about 90 degrees in walk:

Personally, this is the very first movement I do with all horses immediately after mounting. For me, it is a 'systems check'. It allows me to see right away if my horse is favoring a particular hindleg, contracted behind an ear, resistant to bend one direction, etc. When you start this movement, pay close attention to what your horse is doing. Is he twisting the poll? Trying to close his poll? Is he avoiding the bend by bringing in his haunches? OR, bringing in his shoulders? Is he offering too much bend? Is he resistant to bend? All of these attempts on his part are to avoid STRETCHING his outside muscles and it will help you to find out exactly where he is most contracted/where there is the most resistance.

Play with it and see what happens. Do it again after your normal schooling routine and see if it is any easier. If it isn't- your ride did not address some areas of contraction in your horse. Even if it seems as though this is only addressing the neck- it is addressing the WHOLE body of the horse. It takes good balance and muscle suppleness for a horse to bend a clear 45+degrees and keep his four feet on the same two straight lines.

Remember that in this exercise your outside rein is critical in helping to keep the horse straight. Being able to open it towards the wall or close it towards the center of the arena (indirect rein) is crucial in controlling the shoulders. Also remember that ANY bend is useless of the horse is not holding it himself and just hanging on you. So allow your inside rein to be very soft and even slack occasionally to TEST that the horse is holding the bend on his own- sometimes, the horse will then show you a whole new evasion so you can see a way that he was trying to cheat the exercise.

2) The Strong Trot

The strong trot came before the extended and medium trots and is SO important for muscular symmetry.

An old article by Karl Mikolka about the importance of neck flexions which mentions the use of the classical strong trot:

The strong trot is the ultimate forward trot. It asks the horse to take the LONGEST steps he possibly can, regardless of speed. It REQUIRES that he speed up and have a lengthened frame, so a more extended neck position. This trot is especially important for those horses that tend to have straighter shoulders or choppy gaits: QH's, some TB's, some arabs, some Baroque's, etc.

Developing a strong trot takes practice, but it will undoubtedly improve a horse's relaxation, suspension, length of stride, straightness and balance- all through muscular symmetry. The trot is the most diagonal gait the horse has and it gives the rider an opportunity to work both sides of the horse equally- this is important to make a horse STRAIGHT. A straight horse is a horse that is moving symmetrically: meaning he is not holding any stronger contractions on one side than another. NO horse on Earth is born straight, we as riders have to make them this way through schooling.

You must first be able to ride your horse in a extended neck position- not too low like long and low as this will block his shoulders. It's important that his poll is MORE open than not in the beginning- even if it is totally open like a nice hunter or WP horse. Then, ask the horse to trot as big as he can without breaking into canter- really push the limit of what he can do even if it feels like you are running around like a crazy. For some horses, it is easier if you do this at the beginning on a circle, but eventually, you should be able to do both: on the circle and straight. Do this even for only 10 strides and then come back down to your normal trot. Do it again in another say 20 strides. Continue going in and out of the strong trot until you feel that the horse is not just running but REACHING. (some horses will reach early on) Do NOT stay too long in strong trot, it is a movement remember so it's in and then out, not a whole ride like this. Otherwise, you are teaching your horse to RUN instead of reach. If he just thinks about running, he will think about how to conserve his energy while doing it, which means NOT reaching.

After you have practiced the strong trot for a several lessons (and not necessarily everyday), you will feel that even though the horse is speeding up, he is starting to really REACH, both with his feet and his body. This is a strong trot. Now you can work to bring the benefits of this movement into the rest of your work. When bringing him down from the strong trot, ask him to keep the longer strides and reaching frame but just at a slower pace. As him to do the strong trot with a higher position, but without sacrificing the length of stride. Ask to do the strong trot for SHORTER periods of time. Ask the strong trot to be stronger- with him reaching MORE.

Watch a video of your strong trot and especially pay attention to the horse's hindlegs. If you are able, you can feel it in the saddle also- one hindleg will always very obviously flex less than the other. His hips will drop and rotate MORE in one direction than another. In your hands, you will feel the contact be stronger in one rein than another (another reason why the strong trot on a circle is a good thing to practice). It is very difficult for the average horse to keep a concentric (shortened) contraction when doing a true strong trot- this is why these weaknesses become so very obvious and clear, because he is unable to 'favor' and 'protect' himself (due to the speed and his balance: very forward) in the places where he is contracted: he has to MOVE every part of his body.

You can practice lengthenings where you increase stride length without speed all day and NEVER get the same benefits. Without seriously altering the balance of the horse (via the longer position AND the speed) and making his body MOVE, he can hide his contractions in even the smallest degrees so that you cannot feel. And even if it is just a small contraction in his lengthenings, as you move on to other more difficult work, it will become bigger and bigger.

3) Lateral work on the circle!!!

Lateral work on the circle is arguably older than lateral work on the straight! We know that the very old classical masters all taught lateral work first on ONE pillar and wrote extensively about the importance of having a horse move around ONE axis.

I'm sure many people have heard of leg yield on a circle- spiraling in and out, but if it is done correctly- it is NOT a leg yield!!! It is a shoulder in! Leg yield should not have bend- in the circle exercise you have a bend inside and viola: shoulder in on the circle.

Shoulder in, counter in, travers, renvers, can ALL be done on the circle. Sadly, Dressage tests today ONLY ever ask for working/pirouette- which is when the work has evolved to another level of difficulty. Practice travers on a 20m circle first!!!!

SI should always be the one you start with first. The key here is to make sure the horse is supple in the bend (just like with the fléchi droit) and your circle stays the SAME size. Again- it is a movement so go in and out of it, don't expect to do a whole circle in SI your first time.

Why on the circle? On the circle- you can isolate the movement around ONE leg. For example: In SI it's the inside foreleg. In Travers it's the inside hindleg. When you do it this way, it helps to feel very clearly with which leg the horse is more likely to cross and less likely to engage and with which leg he does the opposite. Example: SI on a circle going right, the horse might offer a LOT of bend and even though he REALLY swings his haunches out and is crossing a LOT behind, he is not stepping UNDER himself and so the gait becomes slower with less reach (he is also likely to try and make the circle smaller this direction). SI on a circle going left however, he offers very little bend and is keeping the same pace and circle, but there is almost NO crossing behind and it is difficult to get his haunches OUT.

Once you can do SI on a circle easily in BOTH directions... SI on the straight is like a total cake walk.

That was long but hopefully interesting.
I hope this was a little bit helpful or provided you with some new information. You can find the original post here, and I encourage you to read through the thread and ask questions as PiaffePony0412 and many others on the forum are invaluable sources of knowledge!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

That went well

I got to ride Chess again today! Whoop whoop! The group lesson was moved to the morning this week, which I can't do because of work, so Miss S was going to give me a half hour private. It turned into over an hour of intense work.

Miss S told me that I could warm-up before the lesson, so I got to the barn early and set to work. I put on the saddle with the girth loose and got his halter on. I decided to do some groundwork first because, apparently, doing groundwork right before you ride is beneficial. I have to find the article again though. The link has disappeared from my grasp. We walked all the way around the arena first, then I did some backing and yielding of the hindquarters. After that, I did a bunch of transitions from the walk to the trot and back down and back up. He was responding really well. The only issue was with the back up. He kept wanting to move his hip to the right . . . ? When he was a baby, he had surgery in his left stifle, which might be a reason, but I wanted him to back up straight, so I made him back up straight.

I got on him right after to school a bit. He was great until we got to the "scary" end of the arena. I must admit, it's a pretty scary end, but he's seen it multiple times in the past, plus that was where we spent most of our time on the groundwork. He threw a fit and flat out refused to listen on that end of the arena. Just to my luck, that's when Miss S showed up.

She had me come out of the arena so she could water it and made me ride around in the pasture. It was a slight task to get from the arena to the pasture because Chess saw the gate open and was like, "FOOD. FOOD. FOOD. FOOD. FFFFFOOOOODDDDD." Many circles and leg yields later, we get into the pasture and start trotting around and finally get something productive done. I just did a bunch of figure-8s with him at the trot. He was bending so nicely when we weren't facing the barn but then kept bowing out when I tried to bend him away from the barn. To that I say, Chesapeake, I would like to introduce you to my right leg.

We kept figure-8-ing until Miss S started telling me to do things. Shelby joined soon after. She had me canter a circle to the left just to see what his canter felt like. It's still weird. It'll always be weird with the shoes that he has on, but he's sound so I'm okay with it.

When we went to go back into the arena, Chess again associated the gate with rushing. Another set of circles and leg yields later, we finally get into the arena. It was lots of trot work at the beginning, first posting trot, then sitting trot to set up the canter, then canter. His departures weren't too consistent at first, and he broke a lot. I think that will end up being the main issue for the two of us. I need to keep him going without letting him cave or cut corners or come a whole lot off the rail. He doesn't entirely respect my leg yet, but I plan on fixing that as promptly as possible.

Unlike Baby, Chess's bad lead is his right lead because of his surgery. I could make him step off into the canter, but it was incredibly hard to stop him from breaking, leaning, and getting extremely hollow—to the point where it's entirely uncomfortable to be sitting in the saddle.

We took a little break then finished out the lesson with a tiny crossbar as a trot fence. He stopped the first two times as that is a habit that he has gotten into. Just like with the lack of respect for my leg, he will learn not to do that at least with me. He now likes to take longer distances too while also hesitating, so I was popped every jump, but I basically threw the reins down to stop from hitting him in the face. I think we got two good-ish jumps where I didn't get thrown back to New Years. Lots of pats for the good boy.

In terms of my own riding, my right leg was doing a thing. I don't even know what it was doing, but the stirrup felt long, even though I checked on Monday to make sure that they were even and they haven't been changed since then. I was having a lot of difficulty keeping the leg in contact with my saddle without pinching my knee. My left leg was completely fine. Perhaps I have thrown a joint out of place and need to be adjusted. My legs and shoulders in general have come back. They still need some ways to go. Unfortunately, I noticed in the pictures from today that my hips are farther back then usual. This *might* have to do with the fact that Miss S told me to keep my weight as far back on Chess as I could since that's how he's trained. It's something that I'll have to wait until next time to confirm, but I'm hoping it was incidental. I'm really happy about my legs and shoulders, why you gotta quit on me now, hips, why?

I've made the decision not to show Chess this season and to wait until late fall/winter. We haven't had enough time together nor will there be a whole lot of time for me to ride him in the next two months, so he's being put on the back burner. I'm going to focus all of what I've got into improving Baby and me as a team. I have planned lots of no-stirrup work, serpentines, two-pointing, and transitions (and no jumping during my personal rides which apparently we weren't allowed to do in the first place, whoops).

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