It's the end of the month, so it's time to give my current training program, goals, and Gogo's current status a thorough going over, and it's also time to make plans for February.
1) Be able to ride a smooth, consistent stretch down and back up at walk and trot.
Well, I didn't expect this to totally resolve itself in one month. I have a small mental block about it, because in the past especially, when we're working well and I go to stretch, Gogo's just mentally done and gone and I can't ever get her back to where she was before - which makes me want to not do it when we're working well. That being said, even though I did not do it every day I did try to incorporate it more often into my daily work. One of my problems is that I tend to stretch her at the trot when we're done, and she's been giving me some AWESOME stretch but that is going to make her associate it with the end of a workout. It's LOADS better than before, but we'll still keep working on it!
2) Ride First 1 Monday 12th, Ride First 2 Friday 16th, Ride First 3 Friday 23th, Ride First 4 Friday 30th.
Did NOT stick to this at all. Part of it was that my schedule changed, part of it was I didn't always remember, part of it was that she wasn't always ready to put together a full test. The only test we ever actually schooled was Training B (the eventing test). Ah well. We schooled all the individual movements, just never strung them together.
3) Be doing steady, consistent canter shallow loops (counter canter exercise) – not just coming off the rail and then diving back in!
Another FAIL! This goal changed on purpose though. It became clear that taking Gogo off the rail at the canter meant in her mind that we were going to either run off across the diagonal or go shooting sideways in a disjointed shallow loop back to the rail, and the concept of going straight to X and then transitioning to trot was WAY beyond her. So, the goal changed to going straight across the diagonal with no wild lead changes, and no wild shallow loop diving - just straight, and smooth transitions. She's been doing AWESOME with that.
4) Do body stretches (especially stretching her stiff side) before every hard workout (not a goal, just something I want to do every time).
This was, again, something hard to work into my schedule, with my dressage lessons being right in the middle of the workday and me usually being subsequently late for them. I did the best I could though, and I will continue to incorporate bodywork into our daily rides.
5) Be able to nail lead changes while jumping!
Gogo, I have to say, has been doing AWESOME with this one. Finally, it feels like we're consistently getting our changes CLEANLY from the right to the left, for the first time ever. We've always had them going the other way, but right to left was about 50-50, 50% being clean and 50% being crossfiring and running. Now, it's about 90-10, with the 90% being accurate changes when asked. I think she's just getting more balanced on that side of her body with all this correct dressage work.
Here are my new goals:
1) Continue to develop consistent stretch down and up at the walk and trot
2) Jump a larger gymnastic - building to 4' if possible
3) Have accurate, balanced, smooth trot-canter transitions (she tends to pop up into them)
4) Develop trot and canter lengthenings on a 20m circle
5) Develop shoulder-in and haunches-in exercises further
I know they're pretty basic, and some are a little vague, but there are some very important things to work on in there, especially concerning the fact that I'm probably only going to be doing Novice and Training level dressage tests this summer. I may not get to do any dressage shows at all. Therefore, the most important things to work on are smooth transitions, quality of gaits, stretchy walk-trot, simple serpentines, and lengthenings.
As for the jumping, I'm looking at trying to take some jump lessons somewhere else. It's really friggin' hard to do jump work here - we just don't have the jumps! I'll keep you updated on how that develops. Because you can dork your way around a Novice course with fairly simple jump schoolings, but Training? No, you need to be out doing real x-country work all the time, and it needs to start now.
Training Pyramid Evaluation:
1) Rhythm: Check. Gogo maintains a beautiful four-beat walk, two-beat trot, and three-beat canter at all times, and maintains a steady, clear tempo.
2) Relaxation: Check, with occasional lapses. Gogo gets easily tense, so the focus of my entire ride always centers around her relaxation. Wen she is relaxed, her strides are even and swing through the back, her tail gently swinging, her poll loose, and her breathing relaxed. She makes smooth transitions, is easy to position from side to side, and willingly reaches down into the contact as the reins are lengthened when she is fully relaxed. When she is not, none of it comes together. Our most important element.
3) Contact: Check, when relaxed. When Gogo relaxes, she gives me the feeling that she is taking my contact out, and offering a supportive handhold with me instead of me bringing her back in. Good contact is when the horse accepts and responds to seat and leg aids while maintaining a round outline with a mouth that is relaxed and accepting the bit. A sign of good training is that the horse's back is rounded, his hindquarters are engaged, his poll is the highest point, his jaw is relaxed, and his nose is a hint in front of the vertical. Gogo's main faults here are that she likes to stay perfectly on the vertical often times (and she's perfectly on contact, so this is acceptable to me at this point), and occasionally her lips and jaw reflect tension somewhere in her body by being more open and active than they should be. It's not noticeable unless you're standing right next to her when she works - she's not gaping her mouth or anything! - but it just doesn't always look relaxed to me.
4) Impulsion: Check, and developing further. "Free-flowing energy initiated by the rider causes the horse's back to swing, his quarters to engage, and his forelegs to articulate," which is defined as impulsion. Good impulsion is mirrored through a horse that appears to have an innate desire to go forward with active, lively steps. Gogo is currently stepping deeply underneath herself and is becoming over time more and more active and energetic in her hock engagement. Impulsion is becoming second nature to her, and she carries her own forward energy instead of me asking for it. It is further developing to a higher level, but she definitely has engagement and impulsion.
5) Straightness: Developing further. Being a horse, Gogo is obviously naturally crooked, her body tending to be soft to the right and much stiffer to the left. A horse is truly straight when the hind foot steps in the line of the front foot (or sometimes a little deeper to the inside in the event of collection). I am making an effort to make sure I stretch out the right side of her body especially well before I ever even get on. I am focusing strongly on developing both sides of her evenly, and we are making more and more progress every day. Interesting to note, her more upright foot is coming down further and is starting to match her other foot more evenly the further her body develops evenly on both sides. Amazing how that happens.
6) Collection: Starting to develop. This is the pinnacle of the Training Pyramid, the ultimate goal for the dressage horse! When all of the previous elements are present, collection just happens! It involves the lowering of the croup, lightness of the forehand, and an active and engaged hind leg. Collection is possible in all gaits, and is achieved by collecting exercises and refined by little half-halts. "A rider on a horse doing a great collected canter feels as though she can let go and the horse would still maintain perfect rhythm and self-carriage without any interference from the rider." Oh yes! That elusive feel! Gogo gives me moments, such sweet moments of collection which she cannot yet maintain for long periods of time, but from what I've felt she has a tremendous talent for it, and is built to do it. She's going to be a super UL dressage horse if her eventing career fails for whatever reason. Hell, I could just do both anyway!
(Always remember that the Training Pyramid is not meant to be worked on in that way that you master one level and then move on to the next level. These all work together in harmony, and even Grand Prix riders and horses reevaluate these basics every single day.)
We're on our way to collection. We're on our way to 2nd level. We're on our way.
On a side note, another trim tonight.... her feet are so super sexy. Love it.
OH WAIT. PS. I have a goal for myself too: EAT HEALTHIER. I'm a pretty skinny little thing to begin with, and I'm losing weight ALL the time here, but honestly? I'm eating donuts and hot cocoa and starches and carbs and cheese in huge amounts of excess and sometimes no veg and hardly any fruit. Goal for me for February? EAT BETTER FOOD! Hold me to it kids, I can't freaking RESIST my junk food! I am not doing this to lose weight, oh no. I'm not even going to ask myself to give up the junk food, just eat more of the healthier food. I just feel as though I moniter every little thing that goes into Gogo's system so carefully and ask her to be such an athlete, and then don't do the same for myself. It's just not fair to her to ask that of her and not do it myself as well. I owe that to her for sure.
5 hours ago