Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect

In the september issue of Practical Horseman there were several interesting articles that I found particularly relevant for the pony's progress.   "Are you practicing perfectly?" by Jim Wofford and "Peak at the right time" by Melanie Smith Taylor.  In Jim Wofford's article he discusses the proper foundation for a performance horse coming from a dressage perspective.

Everyone who knows me knows that I take horsemanship very seriously and subscribe to the George Morris school of thought.  After growing up playing soccer for a man who didn't accept less than perfect, I have learned to discipline myself as a person.  This discipline has carried over into my riding, and I take "correctness" seriously.  In Wofford's article he mentions the need to understand classical theory.  "This means we need a solid understanding of the correct theories of riding and training horses to school them effectively.  If we do not have an idea of what "perfect" looks like, they we will not know if things are "pretty good" or not.  ... but we need to have that theoretical standard in our mind as a measure of our progress to date."  Later in the article he discusses the need for a dressage foundation, and describes the basic dressage seat.

For most of the summer I have ridden the pony in a basic hunter light seat.  Light aids certainly make her happy, but it doesn't always help her go her best.  Especially lately with the introduction of coming down on the bit, I feel it's especially important for her to tolerate my seat in addition to my other aids.  This also means that I must concentrate on keeping a quiet seat to relay my messages.  The difference in how she goes is like night and day when she actually uses her body.  

There was another interesting line in the "Inside Leg to Outside Rein Explained" that spoke about asking a horse for a correct movement (such as coming down on the bit).   "Once you make a correction - its never a punishment - and reward your horse by relaxing your aids, he'll begin to understand it's comfortable for him to stay in self-carriage.  If you constantly keep your aids on him, you'll exhaust yourself and start to grip, making both of you tense."  Basically you continue to repeat until the horse can eventually carry himself for two strides at a time, then three, then four.  Zena is at the point where she can carry on for one or two, and then when she hollows her back out I ask again.  Its constant work though to make sure I reward her each time for what she does. Its an exercise in my own self discipline. 

The other article I found extremely interesting was the article on how to condition your horse so that it peaks at just the right time to reach your goals.  Of course the pony is not a grand prix prospect, and we are not trying to qualify for any Finals.  Our main goal is to find her a good home.  However, I would like to make sure she is fit enough to handle horse shows mentally and physically.   I decided that I would be more stringent and calculating with her workouts each day.  Today was the first day of a calculated workout.  

I got on at 8:35am and walked on a loose rein doing serpentines until 8:43am.  Then I picked up a trot on a loose rein and I didn't ask anything of her other than to go forward.  I did extend and collect using my seat, not the reins.  At 8:50 I picked up contact and began really asking her to move from her hind end into my hand.  I continued with this, and started to add some lateral work.  Shoulders in, leg yields, and 10 meter circles.  At 9:03am she was already very sweaty, so I walked until 9:06am.  I then picked up my canter and began collecting her.  Each time I package her up into a round forward frame, she feels like she moves better and is more balanced.  Every now and then though she falls into a circle and pops her shoulder out.  She still needs me there to rebalance her.  I cantered around practicing our 10 meter circles, lots of flying changes, and even added some jumps in there again.  Only once did she fall out of that packaged frame and ran to the fence, but with correction she came right back to me.  The tight rollbacks allow me to keep her packaged to the fences, and it helps her jump round using her back and powering from her hind end.

In my counseling class we are talking about theory, and we have an assignment to consider which of the theories we discussed resonate most with us, and where we really feel "at home".  This reminds me of my feelings about equestrian theory.  Anyone who knows me knows that I greatly respect and subscribe to the George Morris school of thought.  This concept of feeling at home reminds me of how I felt the first time I read Hunter Seat Equitation. While the first time I tried to go through it I was only twelve, when I went back to it several years later so much of the information clicked for me.  I think its important though to gather as much information from as many sources as possible, and then make your own decisions about what works for you and doesn't.  That's the part of my horsemanship that I really focus on developing.

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