April 7, 2010

Bending Problems, Confidence Problems, and Kyra

I've hit the training wall.  I'm frustrated and suffering from both a lack of confidence in myself and a fear of being watched by my instructor.  I'm convinced everything I'm doing is wrong and that we're not getting anywhere and that I'm not ready for this class.  I know most of that isn't true, but it's what I'm feeling.

We've been working lateral movements, getting more control at the walk and trot, gaining his rib.  He IS learning, but it's very two steps forward, one step back.  We stepped forward on lateral movement (even though he's giving at the shoulder rather than the hip, he IS yielding so much better and gets the concept of going both forward and sideways at once, which is awesome.)  but we stepped backward on one-sidedness.  He's so strong in the left rein, to the point that he evades contact with the right by bowing to the inside, and it's frustrating for both of us.

All of this is happening at the same time that I know I need to be working canter transitions harder in preparation for the final, but I have so much more to establish at the walk and trot - really basic stuff - before I want him careening around the arena at the canter.  We canter about twice a lesson right now.  I'm feeling pinned between Sara's expectations, the final exam/my GPA, and what he needs.

I was ready mentally for this class, even if I wasn't ready riding-wise.  Riding him has been so eye-opening in that I feel things on him that I could never feel on the school horses.   That's a whole other post I'm not going to write right now, but it's coming.

I want to share this post from Horse of Course.  She took notes on a Kyra Kirkland clinic and it was exactly what I needed to read tonight.  Text follows:

March 22, 2010

Clinic with Kyra - Back to basics!

A couple of weeks ago I was at a clinic with Kyra Kyrklund.
I know some of you have been waiting to get some information about this, so here are my notes.
(With emphasis on NOTES.)
Lousy pictures, I know - but better than nothing?
And as always, it's back to basics.
A short introduction of Kyra from her home page:

Few riders in the world have managed to train and successfully compete so many different horses in international Grand Prix dressage.
Kyra is a fundamentalist and believes strongly that the quality of the paces reflect the basic training. Every horse that comes for training is evaluated along the same lines - is it forward, is it straight and is it submissive in a relaxed way.
Every pace, every movement depends on the quality of the foregoing exercises.
The riders, even international Grand Prix riders, are evaluated for their effect on the horse and their correct way of sitting and influencing the horse.

"How can you describe the taste of strawberry jam to someone who has never tasted it?"
That is how Kyra describes the difficulty of communicating the feel you need when riding.
She stated in her introduction that she often let her pupils ride one of her own horses, to "taste the jam", or she herself mounts her pupil's horse to let her pupil sit up afterwards and get a taste of the right feel.

The trainer has to assess his pupil, and start to work on one of the things that needs improvement. If it doesn't work, leave it be for a while and work on something else instead. She said that often when a trainer gets frustrated it is because they don't change the approach on how to work with things:
"You need different tools to change things. Do not be frustrated if things doesn't work out , just try to use a different tool instead. Riding is matter of balance and coordination both from the rider and the horse."
She also stated that her best pupils were the adventurous ones - the ones ready to try new things out.

Two lovely pony riders enters the arena.
Kyra watches them for a while, and then starts to work with them.

One rider is sway in the back, and that makes her seat weak. The horse pulls his rider slightly forward, out of center.
The rider has not total control - who leads who?
"Sometimes the horse takes over, and then the rider loses her balance. When the horse puts weight in the reins the rider is easily placed forwards."
Kyra states that the rider is not to be strong, just to be steady and counteract until the horse relaxes.
"The rider needs to sit in center - like on a balancing pole.
If the rider is not placed steadily in center, the horse's hind legs might work behind him instead of under."

How should the rider to be able to sit steady and to counteract the pull from the horse?
Not by pulling back on the reins, but by using the body:
Keep the elbows at your sides.
Have someone standing on the ground beside you, and to keep a flat hand against your elbow. Press the elbow against the hand, and feel what happens in the abdomen. You should feel stronger in the body instead of being stiff and hard in the hand.
Your body should be like a frame in where the horse should work - the more educated and fitter the horse, the tighter the frame.
"If the horse gets strong in one rein, imagine your helper at your elbow and use your body to keep the frame. As soon as the horse gives, relax yourself.
Sit deep, but imagine it's the earth gravity that draws you there, not active muscle power."

Balance your weight on the triangle of the seatbones and the pubic bone.
Hip joint absorbes the movement.
Feel the horse in your elbows.
The more speed the more difficult the exercise will be. If you cannot do something slow, you won't be able to do it fast.

"When riding forwards, you can either choose to change rythm, or change stride length."
The rider has to decide what she wants.
To be able to do passage, you have to be able to ride the small and quick steps.
The more control you have of the horse's strides, the better control you have over the horse's body and mind.
"Somewhere you'll find the ideal working rhythm for each horse, but you have to be able to ride variations."
Check your position.
Ride slow, check the rhythm.
Change to a quicker rhythm, but the horse should not run faster. Check that you are not getting strong in your hands.
Transistion to longer steps, but keep the same rhythm this time.
Do not let the horse get long and strong! Keep the horse supple, keep your position. Short steps again, without shortening the neck! Some more leg, keep the contact and rhythm and engage the horse and see if you can get him up in the neck. The horse is not allowed to run faster!

One of the riders had trouble with her pony that weighted his left shoulder, and avoided contact on right rein.
She tried to solve the problem by flexing the horse to the left, something that Kyra explained would not help the problem. "The problem is not in the mouth but in the body."
Kyra wanted her to imagine a ring around the neck:
"Imagine that you are to slow the horse down with the neck ring, keep the ring still but sit against the horse - and let the horse carry himself."
When asked, the rider admitted that she had 90 % of her concentration on the horse's head, and 10% on his body.
Kyra: "You must ride his entire body, not only concentrate on his head or mouth. When he gets strong, imagine that you slow him down with the neck ring."
"As soon as your horse is doing something you are changing your goal as you concentrate on your horse's head. Remember that your horse works in a correct outline only when he's working correct in his body."
Concentrate on equal weight in the ring.
The difficult side is the side avoiding contact!
Left rein means go left, right rein means go right, ride the body instead!
Do not shorten your left rein, use your legs instead!
Concentrate on the ring!
Your horse tries to run away from the problem, but in a tug contest you need two participants.
If he tries to weigh down his left shoulder or if your horse tries to run away, slow down with both hands.
Check that you have equal weight in both hands!

The two pony riders had their ponies working very nicely in the end, and were exchanged with two horses where the riders were using double bridles.

One of them had a problem as the horse was going too deep.
"If your horse gets too deep, a common fault is that the rider raises her hands.
The curb lowers the horse's head, and the bradoon raises it - so when the horse lowers his head the curb automatically influences more.
You must learn to know the difference between the curb and the bradoon when riding, and how they influence the horse.
You cannot lift the horse through the bit, you must ride them up."
Kyra then asked them to change the way they held the reins; the curb rein going in on lower part of the hand and the bradoon on top of the hand to make it easier to separate the effect of the two bits.

She then asked them to imagine that the horse's body was like a ball.
The riders body must act like dribbling/bouncing the ball, where the rider's body increases or decreases motion.
Small, fast dribbles or long high ones.
"You need to pump air into the horse with your legs. You cannot pump it by squeezing.
Somewhere the ball has its highest point, and somewhere its lowest. You can sit behind the movement, or in front of it. You can also sit off center left or right - and your horse will act accordingly! Your anus ring should be in center"
(sorry guys, a bit blunt but I am just quoting here, lol!)
If you tense up in your bum, you will not sit deep into the saddle.
Keep your neck ring centered, and use your lower leg to pump up the ball, and increase the amount of energy.
Imagine that the neck ring will move faster, because the desired activity is in the horse's back - not in his legs.
Imagine that you have a spring between your knees, they also have to play with creating energy into the ball.
If the horse takes control and speeds up, make a transition to walk.
The horse has to take full responsibility for his self-carriage.
The horse has to carry the rider, not the other way around!
If your horse wants to run away, imagine that you have to keep his front legs under you.

If you cannot change your horse's way of moving in trot at a circle - long strides and short strides as well as his form; long neck and high neck - how are you to handle the more advanced movements?

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