Mustang Madness

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had the pleasure of attending a BLM mustang adoption event. My friend graciously allowed me to share this special experience with her as she went through the process of adopting her very own mustang.

For those of you unacquainted with the BLM Mustang and Burro Adoption process, here is a quick run-down. More information can be found on the BLM’s website:

The basic terms of adoption outline that if your application is accepted, you assume responsibility for that animal’s care and safety, you will not transfer the animal for more than 30 days to another location without prior approval of the BLM, and most importantly, the animal’s title will remain with the Federal Government for at least 1 year after the Private Maintenance and Care Agreement is executed and until a Certificate of Title is issued by the BLM.

The application is fairly straightforward but detailed. You’ll need to provide all the basics: name, address, pertinent numbers, and contact information.

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Next, you’ll need to outline the exact dimensions of your corral, shelter, feed, water, and trailer.

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The specified minimum dimensions for the corral are provided on the last page of the application and vary on a state by state basis.

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Once all the paperwork is approved and you’ve selected your mustang or burro, you will pay the adoption fee. The fee is typically a flat $125, but can vary depending on how many times the equine has been featured at an adoption event. Several of the adoption horses that we saw in the pens were on their third and final adoption event and their fees had dropped down to a sad and ominous $25. If they weren’t adopted at the event, then they would be sold outright and all the adoption safeguards would be dropped.

The Paul’s Valley facility in Oklahoma is known as a “final destination” for many mustangs and burros. They get circulated through holding facilities throughout the country, and Paul’s Valley is usually the last stop before the animals are simply sold outright when they exhaust their three adoption chances.

I try not to get sucked into the cliche of the “scrubby little mustang,” since I know that as a breed, they truly come in all shapes, sizes, and types. However, I honestly didn’t expect to see such good looking horses in such an odd place.

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The mare pen

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The pregnant mares, some of the nicest colors of the lot.

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The burros were skeptical

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This mare was super affectionate and desperate to be taken home. Sadly, she was tiny and had structurally questionable conformation.

The real stars of the show were the separated mustangs that had already been adopted via online auction. We suspected that they set aside the best looking mustangs for online auctions.

 

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This sexy surfer boy tho….

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Step aside, Friesians! Mustangs are here to kick your butt!

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I would have taken home this gorgeous boy in an instant! He had the most bright, kind brown eyes I’ve ever seen.

My friend and all of us in her entourage finally came to a consensus on this adorable gelding:

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He’s a three-year-old bay-dun (not sure if that is an actual color?) gelding with a dorsal stripe. She thinks she is going to call him Spartan, which I think will fit him very well. He seems to be very bold and curious and seems to be a decent mover. It has been about a week since he arrived in his new home and my friend has already been able to approach him for the first touch and remove his lead rope! I’m so excited to see all that she’s going to accomplish with this awesome little guy. You can follow their progress on her youtube channel, Morseman Horsemanship.

And who knows? Maybe we’ll go on this journey again some time and I’ll be able to try it for myself.

 

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Show Recap

Tali was an angel for the show. I’m quite sure that if he would have had a better rider than myself, he could have definitely cleaned house. We competed mostly in the English Pleasure classes, which are a dressage rider’s dream. You just have to keep your horse’s frame consistent and relaxed in all three gaits and you’ll do well. However, those English Pleasure people don’t mess around! Don’t be surprised if you have to perform several walk-canter transitions and rein backs, not to mention the dreaded canter-halt transition. That was the only part of the classes that really threw me off (figuratively). But speaking of being thrown off, there were a few falls in the warm up ring, and some near accidents where the saddle seat people were warming up. There was so much nervous energy palpable in the rings, it’s a wonder more horses didn’t dump their riders!

We were in seven classes in all and we placed in six of them.

 

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Reserve grand champion, a second, a third, two fourths, and a fifth

I met Tali bright and early in the morning and got him as clean as I could short of bathing him, then I made my first ever attempt at button braids (a major feat with an unpulled mane).

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I was blown away when we got to the facility. You too can keep your horse in this palace for the low low price of $750 a month! Yikes, I’ll keep my pasture board, thank you very much. The wash stall was all stone, and might also be rented out on Sundays as a cathedral, you know, so you can wash your horse and also commune with the almighty and bathe in angelic light.

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All in all, it was a very successful show. I’m terribly disappointed I didn’t get any pictures of me actually in the show ring. The lighting was awful, and I felt bad asking Tali’s owner to follow me around with a camera when she’s already paid my registration fees and made all this happen for us. She does have a few pictures on her Ipad that I will hopefully get access to at some point. Photography seems to be the bane of my existence in the blogging world. Until I find a hapless horse husband to help me out, I’m in the process of finding somebody photographically inclined to meet up with me once or twice a month so I can remedy this failure.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak of my up and coming steed, Kalua and Cream (AKA Kally). We just started trotting (with a bonus unexpected canter strides) a few days ago. She’s going to be lots of fun!

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Happy horsing around!

 

Shows, Symposiums, & Mustangs, Oh My!

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I’ve been busy heeding the great Swanson’s advice in my equestrian life. Honestly, I’m quite certain that I would be happy whole-assing dressage for the rest of my life.  I’m having a blast with my lessons. My unicorn of a school horse (Beaux) is one of those wonderful ponies that makes me feel like I might actually know what I’m doing…then I come home and try to practice and I realize what a newb I am.

My last lesson was legitimately the best ride of my life. I’m learning movements that I always thought would be out of reach in my skill set as a rider. With my previous trainer, all we seemed to do throughout years of lessons was make small improvements in the basic paces and geometry, with a few shoulder-ins and leg yields thrown in. Now, I’m actually learning something new in each lesson, as well as building on the old. In my last lesson, I learned how to transition from the shoulder-in to the travers. Then we carried that buttery smooth suppleness to the collected canter. My cheeks almost cracked off from smiling so much. For the first time in my life, I was actually able to feel my horse shifting his weight back onto his hind quarters and really SITTING. I could feel that imaginary wheel of energy we always talk about rolling from back to front, truly uphill and active behind. After my lesson, one of my fellow students came up to tell me that was the nicest canter she had seen on Beaux. I really love this guy. I dread the day I “graduate” to a more complicated horse. I would have never thought a few years ago that I could be riding collected canter on a half Andalusian wonder horse. Dream big, people.

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In other news, Tali and I are going to a show next week! Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) it’s not a dressage show. We will be entering the English Pleasure Class and the English Equitation Class. English Pleasure should be fun and different since we will be sharing the arena with a bunch of other riders and simply be going through the paces. I think English Equitation will be a pattern, so that should be more familiar territory for the dressage inclined. I’m not aiming to win anything and I keep repeating my mantra of “just have fun” whenever I start to worry.

I love the idea of showing, but the past couple shows have been a series of cluster-fudges and that girl moments that have left me slightly traumatized. There was the time my horrid pull on dress boots wouldn’t come off and required the assistance of three horse show dads and a leather cutting tool. The time that the ex-jumper pony got bored of dressage and jumped his little pony self right over the white rail. And my personal favorite, the time the floodgates opened on my way back from my 9th test of the day (yes, my trainer was a slave driver) and I ended up ugly-crying on the ring steward’s shoulder. I’m hoping for some more positive experiences.

Also featured in my fairy tale weekend will be a trip to The Judge’s Perspective: Training for Riding a Dressage Test, a symposium with William Lee Tubman. Lee Tubman is a USEF ‘S’ Judge, USDF Gold Medalist, and FEI 4* Dressage Judge fresh from judging the World Cup in Omaha. The symposium is taking place right after a show at the venue, and Mr. Tubman will take the riders that competed and explain to the auditors how he would proceed in the horse’s training and what exercises he would use to raise scores on certain movements. The event will also feature question and answer sessions for the auditors. I can’t wait to meet this dressage great in person!

And last but not least, in the same week, I will be accompanying a friend to a mustang adoption event. This has been a long time coming, as we have had to wait for the event to be held in an area remotely near us. I’m excited to see my friend’s process for selecting her mustang, as she is also a dressage rider and former eventer. I always love seeing non-traditional breeds in the english disciplines, and mustangs truly take the cake. This should be an awesome photo opportunity as well.

Just Say Yes

I’ve never been a big believer in fate or meetings with destiny. But something weird happened to me the other day. I was cruising on my local craigslist as we do, and I landed on a nice collection of bits. So I contacted the seller and got this sweet deal on a nice Baucher bit with a french link.

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When we met up to exchange wares, we started talking about what kind of riding we each do. Both of us ride dressage. Both of us have been to Arabian Youth Nationals. Both of us used to work with my former trainer.

She turned out to be an old acquaintance, Lynn, from back in my high school days when I was a working student for my former trainer. As it turned out, Lynn has several horses and she was about to go pick up another. This horse used to be the main competition horse for a youth rider that had decided to retire him. I recognized the horse as one I had been drooling over since I first saw him all those years ago. He’s a gorgeous saddlebred/arabian cross with three incredible, expressive gaits. I never got to ride him back then, but even if I had been allowed, I don’t think I would have been able to handle him.

 

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I had to do some intense facebook mining creepery to find this pic from way back in the day…

 

As I stood there in the rain next to her car window with my new bit in my greedy paws, Lynn casually invited me to “come ride sometime”. Normally, I would have blown it off, but this was too good a deal to pass up. So I called her back, and after playing phone tag for a week, we finally sealed the deal. I finally got to ride him.

It’s like he hasn’t aged a bit. He’s 21 years young; I guess saddlebreds and arabs are the equine aging equivalent of Asians. His registered name is Color Me Not, but I’ve only ever known him as Tali. He’s a tall, elegant gentleman with a very animated face and intelligent eyes.

We had to dig through her shed to find tack that would fit him, since Lynn is kind of retired from riding due to health issues. Apologies for not having many pictures for this post (my phone died), but I’ll try to get some this weekend for you.

I rode him in the round pen first, because we didn’t know how he would do with this being his first ride after a few years of retirement. After a while, it was apparent that he had his head on straight and I got to take him out into the pasture, which has a gorgeous rectangle plateau built up as a flat arena.

I don’t know how to describe our first ride without sounding weird. He just felt so good underneath me. All I had to do was think about what I wanted to do and he was already doing it. He was everything I’ve been missing out on in my practice at home horses: sensitive, intuitive, flexible, amazing work ethic. He never left me hanging. I asked him a question and he was right there with the answer. We did an impromptu flying lead change (my first ever success in that department), and he gave me a lovely lengthened trot, which I haven’t gotten to really try in years.

It was some crazy telepathic centaur juju. Lengthen stride? Bam, I’m there. Collect in the corners? Heck yeah, let’s do it. Sail across the arena in a leg yield? Sure thing. My cheeks actually hurt after riding him from smiling so much. I’m starstruck. I think about Tali all day, just waiting for the clock to strike three so I can get my butt in the saddle. I’m almost afraid to keep riding him for fear of ruining him.

But ride I must. I’m addicted. Lynn basically gave me free rein (heh heh) to ride him whenever I want. And the best part? She lives only ten minutes away from my work, so when I get off in the afternoon I can zip right over and get my fix.

I’m so excited that I finally have a horse that I can really practice on between lessons. Also, Lynn invited me to take him to a little schooling show in April and compete him in whatever classes I want. The prospect of getting back into showing is mega exciting for me.

But there’s a catch, too. In exchange for letting me ride this incredible national champion gem of a horse, I am going to help Lynn start her little six-year-old Arabian mare, Kahlua and Cream (Kally). Kally is a cute tiny chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail and an oversized personality. She’s extremely friendly and in your pocket, but also skittish with loud noises and visual distractions. She’ll probably be a handful, but I’m so ready to start a forward-thinking horse, one that thinks as fast as her feet move.

It’s like that saying: when a door closes, a window opens. It’s not the right timing for me to take on that free quarter horse from my trainer, but I still get to go through the training process and I get to ride an amazing dressage superstar for the cherry on top. That’s like a door closing, then me saying “screw it,” and taking a sledge hammer to the entire wall.

Moral of the story–just say yes. Say yes to everything you can, because you don’t know what amazing things can come from it, and even if it doesn’t work out as planned, you’ll still have a story to tell.

Happy riding, people!

Random Rehash and Rabbit Trails

Apologies for being gone so long. Lessons are still amazing, but having to wait an entire week between each lesson is absolute torture. I wish my instructor would just go ahead and adopt me!

I’ve had some interesting new developments in my horsey life while I was away. This post is kind of everywhere, but I promise after I catch up I’ll make more regular focused posts.

  1. I finally got Cooper to lay down…somewhat on command. No ropes or irritating lengthy bowing stretching sessions necessary! My inspiration came from this awesome youtube video tutorial. Basically, I just tweaked Cooper’s natural after-workout rolling habit and worked a little each day until he understood the concept. It took about three weeks, in contrast to the Youtuber’s sensational 10-minute demo, but hey–it’s the little things, right? Clicker training for the win!

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Also, we are buckling down on canter work. I’ve found that my problem is bend. If he’s over-bent, he’ll run through with his outside shoulder and pick up the wrong lead. If he’s not bent at all, he’ll pick up the wrong lead period. If I try to bend him, he braces and falls inside the circle. It’s a vicious cycle, but we are learning together, and I’m trying to be very forgiving by yielding my half halts on the inside rein when he bends. It’s a weird hod-podge of split second BEND-YIELD-NO, BEND!-TINY YIELD-BEND-WHY ARE WE DOING A BAD CANTER PIROUETTE? (Let’s just establish that all internal dialogue is in caps when cantering.)

Of course we still have our moments.

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Canter? Let me show you the dance of my people!

In my lessons, my trainer always tells me to “turn my boobs” and physically establish the bend that I want by turning my torso. It feels so wrong, since my last trainer always told me to stop turning my body, and now I feel like I forced my body to stay locked up. That’s one of the most ground-breaking things that I’ve learned so far from my new trainer:

For heaven’s sake, it’s OKAY to MOVE in the saddle when you ride!

Dressage is a sport of proprioception, learning to control your body in the spaces it moves through, without letting anyone know that you are actually working up there. In other equestrian sports, you are allowed (and expected) to move with your horse. Think stadium jumping, cross country, reining, and vaulting. As I’ve gone down the dressage path, I’ve become more and more self-conscious about trying not to ride too aggressively, and it’s created a stiff, tense, and ineffective position in the saddle. Luckily I’m finding more confidence to ride boldly, even if I have to bust some undressagey moves. That was a rabbit trail, but’s interesting to think about position stigmas in various equestrian sports.

2. Let me introduce you to my new best friend, the Kobratech Triflex Mini.

It’s amazing because the flexible arms can grab on to almost anything, or you can set it up like a normal tripod. It took some time for me to plot out what the field of vision was so I could video myself without disappearing out of view for half the video. And the best part? It goes everywhere with you. This camera man doesn’t complain when he steps in poop. He doesn’t exaggerate a yawn and ask how much longer you’ll be. He needs no bribing or payment for his work. All you need to do is set him up and turn your camera (or phone, in my case) on, and go. It also has a blue tooth shutter, but it only has a ten-meter range so it’s only good for staged shots. This tripod is very cheap on Amazon and it’s well worth the investment.

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I named him Pierre

3. I got to meet this cutie. She belongs to a family that used to let me board on their property. They were concerned she wasn’t nursing. Luckily, she was standing with her mum having a snack as I drove up, so I think she’s going to be fine. There’s just something about baby horses that makes me feel hopeful.

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4. Horse shopping deliberation.

Now that I’ve started to enjoy riding Beaux (mastodon-like school horse), my focus on getting a small horse is quite a bit more negotiable. Also, as I’ve begun to take more lessons, I’m a little more confident in my skills. I still have a fairly limited budget, which leaves me in the middle range of horses, the ones that aren’t fancy but have a basic training foundation. My head is telling me to keep waiting, growing my horse fund, and learning to be the best rider I can be. But my heart is telling me to GO FOR IT. A horse, any personal horse, would be better than this constant borrowing. Of course, that’s not true. I would hate to get myself in a position where I am stuck with a perpetually lame or particularly sour dressage-hating horse.

I keep fantasizing about having my own horse again. Whenever I hear about a new type of snazzy supplement or awesome piece of horse clothing, I file it away and think to myself that I will be able to give that to my own horse one day. I feel the pony fever seeping back in around the edges of the sense of saneness I’ve steadily tried to build since selling Shiloh.

I should be glad that I don’t have a horse to spend money on, but I miss it so much! I loved scheduling farrier appointments, clinics, and trail rides. I loved the responsibility.

So when my trainer mentioned she had a quarter horse that she was looking to rehome, I felt my heart rattle against my ribs. She’s a three and a half-year-old unregistered quarter horse mare, a surprise baby that stowed away in her rescue horse mother long enough to be born in her new home. My trainer only mentioned it as an off-hand comment, because the mare had become a notorious escape artist and kept slipping out from her paddock.

She’s a cute strawberry roan, but she’s tiny and has that gangly baby look that young horses have. I can’t tell if she is going to be down-hill or will grow out of it.

That swirl on her face is adorable, and she seems decently built. I think she has the temperament to be easy to work with. Though I probably couldn’t make her the dressage star I’m looking for, I think at the very least I could “flip” her into a nice kids pony or trail horse. I haven’t said anything about her yet to my trainer.

Like the pony-crazed fool that I am, as soon as I got home from my lesson I went on Smartpak and created a wishlist of everything I would get for her, all in flattering colors and petite sizes. On the one hand, it’s a healthy, sane, and free horse (why not jump on this opportunity?). On the other hand, it’s a tiny, completely untrained baby that I could possibly ruin with my bad riding and have my heart broken all over again (this horse is literally everything you swore to avoid when getting a new horse.).

I’m fairly sure I’m going to steel myself and turn down the offer. I should stick to my principles. Or should I?

Sitting Trot Killed Houdini

I just had my second lesson with my new trainer and I already feel like I’m making considerable progress, compared with regular lessons with various instructors in the past. My new trainer is basically a superhuman dressage goddess. She’s a USDF gold medalist, trained at the prestigious European Yorkshire Riding Centre for three years, then trained in several more locations in England before returning to the states, and has trained several horses to Grand Prix level competition. Picture a British-accented tiny mash-up of Charlotte Dujardin, Meryl Streep, and Queen Elizabeth. I’m twitterpated.

 

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My new trainer and her lovely FEI mare

 

The facility is almost two hours away, so lesson days are pretty much an all day affair. That being said, I don’t mind the trade-off. I feel like I get to go to a clinic every week and the great training is invaluable. I’m considering it an investment since I don’t have a horse to support right now and all my “horse fun” budget can go into my riding education. It was a little overwhelming starting out in a new place.

It was a little overwhelming starting out in a new place. The facility is huge, very tidy and formal. Everything has its place, and everything is high quality and well bred. Every paddock was stocked with Oldenbergs, Thoroughbreds, Hanoverians, and Andalusian crosses, and each horse had his own set of monogrammed gear. I was shown around by one of her working students and gradually got my bearings.

I got to ride an adorable big teddy bear Azteca named Beaux.

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Beaux is one of those darling old horses that will put up with all kinds of shenanigans from silly amateurs like me. It was a peculiar feeling to finally ride a horse that didn’t back-sass me at every turn.

As with all beginnings, there were a few painful moments. Apparently riding around in a pasture doesn’t do good things for riding nice corners. Also, I found out I have some horrific position problems. The most glaring of which is that I have a crazy right ankle that wants to break every time I rise in the trot. I have no idea why my ankle collapses when I post. Maybe I started the habit when I was riding a really lazy horse and I was overcompensating, trying to curl my heel in to push him forward. Or maybe it has more to do with the fact that I sprained that ankle a few years back and it’s weaker now? I never noticed it before, but now I’m focusing on making my pinkie toe higher than my big toe and trying to keep my foot level in the stirrup. I could just cheat and wear a brace or buy some stiffer boots.

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Also, I’m back to the drawing board with my sitting trot. I was previously in the “jellyfish” school of thought. Just move with the horse. Relax. Soften your belly. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Apparently, when sitting the trot you should engage your ab muscles and shorten the distance between your pubic bone and ribs, flattening the curve of your back and letting your hips absorb all the movement. She makes me ride half my lesson in sitting the trot, which I love. My previous trainer didn’t think it was important for my skill level and always made me post.

She kept saying that I had to make my waist as still and firm as possible as if someone was going to punch me in the gut and I had to prepare for it. Obviously, I still have to find that happy medium between a floppy, vulnerable belly and crunching my abs so hard I can’t breathe. Thankfully, I’m starting to get the hang of it, and I am already starting to get a six pack. Hip flexor stretches and planking also help.

 

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This WORKS.

 

With my lessons so far away and only once a week, I’m finding that my at-home schooling has become quite a bit more intentional. I love that my new trainer gives me new exercises and concepts to work on each week and I practice my britches off so I can come back the next week with enough improvement that we can move on to bigger and better things.

I’m excited to see what this new year has in store for me in this new direction!

Top 10 Lunging Mistakes With the GNEF

The classical art of lunging has been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, but has sadly experienced a decline of late as training shortcuts have become more mainstream.

Luckily, the German National Equestrian Federation is here to save the day again with their handy manual: Lungeing: The German Riding and Driving System Book 6. This is a definite must have for all dressage junkies.

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Are you guilty of the GNEF’s top ten deadly lunging sins? I know I’ve committed most of these!

1. Using lunging as a means of “getting the sillies out”.

The GNEF says: “For no matter what reason the lunge is used, it’s highest value lies in the psychological aspect…trotting around wildly without side reins is useless and counter-productive” (GNEF, 1992, pg. 1, 60).

It may be tempting to fling your horse out on a lunge line before riding and let him fly kite-like on the other end till he gets too tired to be an add squirrel under saddle, but this approach is only advantageous in the short term. You will only glean the full benefits of lunging if you work gradually and systematically to train your horse’s brain to work as much as his body on the lunge. It’s important to take the extra time to help your horse work correctly with his back, bending on the circle.

2. Using the roller by itself with no saddle underneath.

What the GNEF says: “Through ignorance, or simply because it involves less work, some people lunge horses in just a roller and without a saddle. This allows the roller a certain mobility, which limits the effectiveness of the side-reins. The missing weight on the horse’s back also diminishes the effect of the lunging” (GNEF, 1992, pg. 11).

I was surprised by this since I’ve always seen people lunging with just a roller and a dressage pad. Also, the surcingles and lunging training systems are always advertised in catalogs are always by themselves. However, it makes sense. As with a rider, you want your roller to be as stable and balanced as possible. Also, the extra weight is a great incentive to get your horse to really lift his back.

3. Lunging in a halter instead of a cavesson and not using side reins.

What the GNEF says: “A proper bridle should be used, even with a cavesson. Lunging a horse off a head collar is not correct and can lead to many problems. A head collar cannot be fitted as firmly as a cavesson and will slip around the horse’s head and can injure the eye” (GNEF, 1992, pg. 11).

The GNEF recommends using a bridle with the lungeing cavesson on top for extra stability. It also suggests that you use a drop noseband with your bridle so it doesn’t get in the way of the cavesson. Personally, I don’t own a lungeing cavesson yet, but I’m hoping to invest in one soon. I’m hoping to find a nice used leather one so I can use the extra weight to my advantage. As a naughty lifelong halter-lunger, I can attest that halters are only good for short and sloppy lungeing sessions that result in twisted halters and wild-eyed snorty horses.

4. Not using side reins, or using improper side-reins.

What the GNEF says: Side-reins are a necessary part of the lungeing equipment. There are many different types available, but not all of them are suitable for all horses…Some side–reins have elasticated webbing– to soften the effect of the sider-rein. These are not recommended. The additional weight of the rubber ring disturbs the action of the bit in the mouth” (GNEF, 1992, pgs. 14, 15).

In the eyes of the GNEF, lunging without side-reins is as useless as trying to ride your horse without your hand aids. However, the book carefully outlines the proper bounds of side-rein usage. A horse’s first several lunging sessions should be without the side-reins, and the length of the side-reins must always be evaluated based on the horse’s conformation and training level. The point of side-reins is not to crank the horse’s head in, but to teach the horse to work straight through the bridle and push from his hind quarters up to the bit. I also found it interesting that the GNEF is not a fan of “donut” side-reins, as they allow too much play in the reins. Also, the GNEF notes that adjusting the inside rein shorter than the outside rein in the beginning of training is improper as encourages the horse to over bend and grow crooked.

If I get the chance to start my own horse again, then I will definitely use side reins on the lunge to help my horse understand the concept of consistent contact.

5. Holding the lunge line like you hold the reins.

What the GNEF says: “It is not correct to hold the lunge in the same way as holding the rein when riding. This creates in the hand a backward-pulling influence” (GNEF, 1992, pg. 32).

This one was especially interesting since that is exactly how I have always held the lunge line. No one ever taught me how to do it that way, I just thought it was more correct. Instead, the GNEF suggests holding the rein so the loops can slide between your index finger and thumb from the top. This will ensure that your wrist stays relaxed and you can keep a softer feel in the reins.

6. Lunge line trailing the ground.

What the GNEF says: “[A line] dragging the ground is heavy on the horse’s mouth” (GNEF, 1992. pg. 32).

This one’s a no-brainer but always bears repeating. A dragging lunge line could result in all manner of cluster-fudgey situations for horse and rider.

7. Lunging without a whip.

What the GNEF says:“To lunge without a whip is a waste of time, as it is like riding without forward-driving leg aids” (GNEF, 1992, pgs. 33, 34).

Guilty here again. Some of the horses I used to work were fairly hot and thought the whip was going to eat them. Instead of doing my due-diligence and desensitizing them to the whip, I just tossed the end of the line at them when I wanted them to move out. Bad me. The book has some really interesting things to say about which points on the horse are the best to flick the whip towards for different problems. Ie, where to cue the horse if you want him to drive forward more, where to cue for more hock action, and where to go to ask the horse to lift his back. I had no idea how many ways you could use the whip besides aiming sloppily at his bum.

8. Attaching the lunge line directly to the bit.

What the GNEF says: “To help the horse receive the half-halts attach the lunge rein to the cavesson so that its influence is felt on the nasal bone. If the trainer is experienced, however, and the work is progressing well, the lunge can be attached to the inside bit ring, but at first only in conjunction with the cheek-piece of the noseband” (GNEF, 1992, pg. 47).

The GNEF places a high value on preserving the softness and sensitivity in the mouth. It is improper to connect the lunge line directly to the bit, even on very experienced horses. The progression should always begin with the cavesson, then a combination of cheek piece and bit ring so the horse isn’t a victim of unintentionally rough handling of the mouth.

9. Introducing the calvaletti too early, jumping on the line.

What the GNEF says: “When training young horses loss of balance will be the biggest problem, and this has to be overcome before demands can be increased. The young horse finds his balance easier on a straight line than on a circle. This also applies on the lunging circle, although here the horse is not interfered with by the rider’s weight. For this reason lunging over calvaletti should not be introduced at the beginning of the training on the lunge…using calvaletti on the lunge too early…can cause injuries like splints and sprains…When jumping on the lunge, even over small fences, the danger of injuries is very much greater, as the inward pull of the lunge can force the inside foreleg to twist, turning the fetlock joint and pedal bone” (GNEF, 1992, pgs. 57, 58).

Guilty again here. Balance and self-carriage are non-negotiable prerequisites to training with calvaletti. However, I think riding or long-lining over calvaletti in a straight line could be beneficial for young horses as a baby step towards calvaletti on a circle.

10. Attempting in-hand collection exercises without the supervision of a qualified trainer.

What the GNEF says: “Practicing collection in-hand should only be done as part of advanced training” (GNEF, 1992, pg. 69).

As with all horsey pursuits, it’s best to dip your toes into in-hand work with the supervision of a trainer. In-hand collection work can be incredibly fun, but it can be counterproductive in the long run unless you get a knowledgeable trainer to work with you so your horse can reap the full benefits of the exercises.

In summary: go buy the book and read it two or three times!

Happy horsing around!

Lungeing: the official handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation. (1990). London:          Threshold.

Durchlassigkeit

advanced-techniques

I just finished reading the German National Equestrian Federation’s (GNEF) Advanced Techniques of Dressagewhich I mentioned in my previous post “Losgellassenheit.” I must admit, I felt like a big poseur reading through the chapters on canter pirouettes and half passes when I struggle to merely pick up the right lead most of the time.

This dense, detail-ridden text is not for the faint of heart, but it can be an invaluable resource if you put in some extra time to close-read and consult your friend Youtube if you need a visual reference beyond the multiple lovely diagrams peppered all over the book.

As in the GNEF’s other manual, The Principles of Ridingthe format is wonderfully formatted for easy access. The book can be treated as an overall advanced dressage manual (as in “take a shot of whiskey and read that bad boy cover to cover”) or as an encyclopedia to be used when you are learning a specific new movement or encountering a training problem and you need some exercises and pointers to correct the fault.

Enclosed in it’s crisp, deceptively slender covers lies the pure narcotic glory of all the theory involved in riding at the Grand Prix level. This book is dressage kosher. Unlike The Principles of Riding, it contains no pesky additional information concerning jumping or hunting, or how to ride a cross country course. Of course, all of the material covered in The Principles of Riding is a prerequisite for the theory discussed in Advanced Techniques of Dressage, though even the lay rider will be able to understand the advanced concepts in theory, if not in in-the-saddle practice.

“The ultimate aim of training is the creation of harmony between rider and horse, and hence mutual trust and confidence, in whatever equestrian discipline and at whatever level”

(GNEF, Advanced Techniques page 7).

My biggest takeaway from my first read was the great stress the text put on approaching training with a systematic and incremental mindset. The book warns over and over against confusing dressage with the teaching of tricks, or in taking shortcuts that only treat the symptoms of holes in your training. The ultimate end product in dressage is a horse that has learned to carry the rider in balance and ‘let the aids through’ (German word: Durchlassigkeit).

durchlassigkeit

Losgelassenheit-Looseness; Schwung-Impulsion; Durchlassigkeit-Throughness

The journey to Durchlassigheit is made up of many thousands of hoof beats and light bulb moments. Nary a chapter goes by without the author again cautioning the reader to keep in mind that dressage is ridiculously physically demanding for the horse. Imagine yourself trying to take part in an advanced pilates class and then getting

Imagine yourself trying to take part in an advanced pilates class and then getting frustrated because you can’t hold a pose for as long as the other participants. Anything worth learning takes time. Look for the nice moments in your riding and give yourself license to get crazy excited about them. So what if my horse can’t do a canter half pass yet? He just picked up the correct lead at the marker where I cued him, which is incredible.

I found it heartening that this training system holds rhythm and relaxation above all else. All gains should be made systematically and permanently by way of baby steps. After reading this book through, I’ve started focusing more on quality over quantity. Three good steps in shoulder-in are worth far more that twenty mediocre ones. It’s worth it to play the long game in dressage. Strength and knowledge will continue to increase if you stay consistent and are quick to reward your horse when he does well.

It’s easy to keep adding and packing down layers on a foundation. It’s hard to dump a load of gravel in a pile, try to build something on it, then have to tear it down and re-pack the faulty foundation.

Happy new year! May it be full of learning and fun on your long trek to Durchlassigkeit!