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Dealing with resistance when riding

Dealing with resistance when riding

It is easy to feel frustrated because I don’t know what to do when Kasane says “no I don’t want to do this.” I know how I used to ride: I’d insist that she do something. With Isis, if I insisted and she wasn’t clear on what I was asking (or more likely I wasn’t sure of how to ask her to do what I wanted), it would end up escalating. Where escalating means that I might kick her and really push her. And then I would be mortified and frustrated because it didn’t feel right but I didn’t know what else to do.

Saturday I talked to Jennifer (dressage instructor) about what I can do to work through times when Kasane resists what I’m asking. It was enlightening because on Saturday Kasane started pulling the same thing she had been doing earlier in our ride on Friday. She didn’t want to keep an even tempo, she was evading contact, rolling from a trot into a canter, etc. She’s a great mare but she can be a handful.) Again, I wasn’t sure exactly how to deal with it.

Jennifer luckily had a little bit of time to be able to watch me ride and give me some pointers. She noted that Kasane’s speeding up and slowing down was indeed an avoidance. She wanted to do what she wanted to do and how dare I ask her. In fact, letting her stretch long and low on Friday night was letting her do what she wanted to do. Not necessarily a bad thing, but she needed to also understand that yes, it’s okay if I insist on something. It’s really a lot easier to do what I ask instead of doing yet more work.

This was what I learned that surprised me. Half-halts have a lot more uses than how I used them. I’ve usually used them for downward speed transitions, like from a trot to a walk for example. My old cue was to squeeze the reins slightly. Not hard, but enough to momentarily increase contact and then return to regular contact. Jennifer taught me a more subtle cue: squeeze with your upper thighs like you are giving them a hug. Gradually, Kasane understood what the cue means and now we can do that instead of pulling on her mouth.

The half-halt can be a way of saying “are you with me?” and checking in when riding. She had me use the half halts in the places where Kasane was speeding up or drifting off the line we were riding. Sure enough, lots and lots of little half-halts. The half-halts did not nag her, instead we suddenly communicated a lot better because we were both paying more attention. The surprising thing was that Jennifer said she might do hundreds of half-halts in a ride.

Kasane being ridden in the ring
Kasane being ridden in the ring

Then came the moment when Kasane became resistent (head up, shaking head, etc.) and did not want to work in a circle at the Scary End of the ring. She was being silly but I didn’t know what to do. Luckily Jennifer hadn’t left yet and saw me having trouble. She came back into the ring and reminded me of some cues I already knew. If Kasane wants to look to the outside, I needed to set my inside arm against my side with steady contact. The outside had opens and provides support. Inside leg pushes her towards the outside while the outside leg provides support. (I hope that makes sense.) It worked. I was asking her to work harder every time she tried to look to the outside instead of being focused with me.

This kind of riding is really like dancing. There are so many things to remember and do. Jennifer pointed out I knew the cue to use to help ride through the problem but I don’t always remember when to apply it.

In some cases, this feels like such a break through because with Jennifer’s help I could ride through what Kasane was doing and not feel frustrated. Instead there was a calm “yes, this is what we will do, and you can do it!” kind of feeling. And boy, doing half-halts while doing a posting trot is a real work out.

Saddles and shoes

Saddles and shoes

Since Kasane has been undersaddle, we’ve gradually discovered and corrected several problems. We did a saddle fitting and discovered that my Courbette Magic dressage saddle didn’t fit her at all. Got a new saddle which made a huge difference.

Over this past winter, I’ve noticed Kasane moving oddly on her back legs. For example, her stride when trotting looked uneven like the paces were not the same between one side and the other. Sometimes it looked like she favored one back leg (i.e., her stride was shorter with her back left verses her back right), and another time she appeared to favor the other leg. Never consistent. When she seemed to be off like that, we would work a little to see if she exercise helped her work out of it (nope). She would have a few days off just in case she had pulled something being stupid out in the fields. We would then resume work and see how she was.

My dressage instructor, Jennifer, asked if Kasane might be a little tender footed on her front feet. Jennifer had noticed during lessons that Kasane didn’t seem to push off as much on her hind legs as much. This made me start thinking about how she moves and when she moves best. Over the next few weeks, I made mental notes of her movement when the ring was soft after a rain or when the footing was harder. We have a nice riding ring: the footing is good, but it can get a little hard even though it is dragged regularly. There are some small stones, but nothing major. Nothing I would have considered.

So we did an experiment. Instead of trying to have the vet out and do a lameness exam ($$$), I decided to try front shoes ($) on her sparkly toes. What a difference!

This first video is of Kasane being ridden in her old saddle, the Courbette Magic dressage saddle. This saddle fit Isis beautifully, but was too long for Kasane. That’s why the saddle looks like it’s too far forward on her. She never tracked straight when being ridden in the Magic saddle. She would two track — and no wonder with pressure over her kidneys and pressure on her shoulder blades. My brave little girl never complained. I felt so bad when we found out how much the saddle didn’t fit her.

This second video shows Kasane being ridden in the Prestige Monoflap dressage saddle. She uses her shoulders a lot more than in the first video. See how she reaches more with her front legs? She is more animated and her stride is longer. This new saddle is amazing. I love it and she moves like a complete different horse in it. This video has my dressage instructor riding in it.

And finally, a video from this past week showing Kasane being ridden in the Prestige dressage saddle with her new front shoes on. The biggest change is how much she reaches up underneath herself with her back legs. If you watch her walk, you’ll notice that her back feet land in front of the hoofprints from her front feet. (This is very good.) She is now pushing off more with her hind legs. Her back sways more, she reachers more with all of her feet (instead of just her shoulders — which was the big change with the new saddle). With her shoes on, she is using herself more, which means she can be more athletic — and I can ask more of her doing our rides. It’s like suddenly having running shoes instead of trying to run in high heels.

Overall, pretty awesome. Now I just have to correct my own riding issues with keeping my balance and not dropping my shoulder (which causes her to drop her inside shoulder).

Week 2.5 of riding bareback

Week 2.5 of riding bareback

I never expected to be having great schooling rides bareback. We’re walking and trotting bareback and I’m not losing my seat any more. The differences in how Kasane responds to my aids are subtle but amazing.

For a while, we had trouble free lunging. She’d race from one corner to the next and not pay attention to me. We’ve had several weeks of primarily lunge line work using larger spaces. We’re still working on rehabilitation from the stifle injury, so we aren’t doing any small, tight circles. I walk in large circles with her when we lunge, so it’s more like a huge oval than a circle.

Monday she was better free lunging: instead of galloping around me, she (mostly) paid attention. She kept ignoring me when I’d ask her to walk on. Instead, she would stop and eat grass and be like “Oh you want me to do something?” She’d wait until I was next to her and then mosey a few steps and keep eating. I had to get after her. I don’t normally do that, and I always feel bad when I do, but better to have one sharp reminder and then be gentle again instead of nagging at her. She at least didn’t stop in the corners and then gallop to the next corner and stop and then gallop to the next corner. We only lunged for a little while, long enough to refresh her memory on what it meant and then reaffirm that she would free lunge well.

And then we rode. Bareback again, since I’m currently saddle-less. Kasane and I are getting used to being bareback now. I feel like my seat is back: that I’m secure on her and can (mostly) handle things. I would probably be okay even if she did a 180. The coolest thing? We’re getting to where Isis and I were when we rode: where I can think something and she does it. I thought “Let’s trot a figure 8, nice and gentle trot, nice wide circles for the figure…” She did it, too. We trotted the circle and did transitions to a walk and whoa (mostly) without touching the reins. All of the turns were just by gently turning my hips and thinking where I wanted to go. So awesome to feel that connection and be able to ride like that.

When we rode with the saddle, she would drop her back and ride with her nose out. At first we thought it was just because she was a youngster and I hadn’t asked her to come down onto the bit much. I think she was poking her little nose out because the saddle hurt her. (I am glad that I’m a good rider. It would have been so much more uncomfortable for her.) And now, she comes down onto the bit so much easier when I ask. She’s so light for queues. Just delightful. When I gave her a longer rein, she stretched her head down and really started using her back and legs. She was so relaxed.

Awesome ride. We’re really getting there. Having to ride bareback for a few weeks has been a real boon.

Riding in the Prestige Venus K

Riding in the Prestige Venus K

Today was the second day of the test ride in the Prestige Venus K monoflap. Yesterday when I rode, it was in the small square ring behind the barn. That ring is on a slight incline and not quite large enough to have a straight line for any distance. Kasane did very well in the small ring yesterday, but I didn’t have a chance to ride in the larger ring because of a lesson going on.

This afternoon was a good opportunity to try riding in the saddle in the larger ring. I lunged Kasane on the line and then put the saddle on her. Chris fro the barn kept me company and watched Kasane while I road. This was the interesting part: I hadn’t had someone watch me ride Kasane to report how she moved in the Venus K saddle versus my Courbette Magic dressage.

Since I first started riding Kasane, she took a while to start to track properly (for her front feet and back feet to track the same hoof prints). I had thought it was because she was adjusting to having a rider, etc. I never thought it might be the saddle fit. Chris said that from the time I asked Kasane to walk on after I got on her, she tracked straight. That’s a HUGE difference. Kasane was also more forward at the trot. She felt freer with her movement.

Chris corrected my position a few times, which was very helpful. She pointed out that I was holding my hands at an angle instead of thumbs up. (I was taught to hold my hands at the same angle as the horse’s withers.) Once I corrected where my hand position, Kasane responded better to the reins. At one point, Chris had me stop and drop my stirrups. She checked the position of where the saddle puts my legs and where my legs fall naturally (great match). We decided that my regular stirrup leathers were set too short, but we weren’t able to fix them at the time.

Towards the end, I asked Kasane to trot again. This time I sat and rode like I was riding Isis (sitting back, riding by visualizing lifting up the front end and freeing her shoulders). We trotted around the end of the ring and then turned to trot across the middle and changed direction. When I did that, I heard Chris say, “Oh my.” 🙂 Chris said that was the first time she had ever seen Kasane trot with suspension (in other words, Kasane had lift and hang time in her trot.).

BIG improvements. Chris, who has watched me ride Kasane since the first ride, said it was the best she had ever seen Kasane — and it was the best she had ever seen me ride.

Wow. Huge endorsement for this saddle.

Comparison of saddle length

Comparison of saddle length

For comparison purposes, here is a picture of Kasane in the Courbette Magic Dressage. I took these pictures to show off the new saddle pad, but they turn out to be pretty good at showing the saddle fit. See how long the saddle panels are? You can tell by where the saddle comes over her back — it comes over her lumbar. When you look at the front of the saddle, see how the middle of the seat doesn’t look balanced? It looks tilted a little forward? That’s another problem. (These pictures were taken after riding.) The saddle would shift forward a little. I always felt tilted forward on her, but I thought it was just because she was in a growth spurt and had been butt-high for a while.

For comparison, here is the Courbette Magic on Isis. I purchased this saddle for her, and it fit her very well. Notice where the saddle length ends and how the center of the seat is balanced.

Here is the Prestige Venus K monoflap on Kasane. See how much shorter the panels are? The seat ends before her rib cage, so I’m not riding on her lumbar. The seat is also balanced and not tipping forward.

Saddle fitting pictures

Saddle fitting pictures

Here are pictures of the saddle fitting. After the saddle fitter took Kasane’s measurements, we went through most of the saddles in the shop to find one that fit me and had short enough panels for her. Most of the used and new saddles I sat in didn’t fit my seat bones.

The Prestige Venus K monoflap fit my seat and was so very comfortable. (It is the pretty saddle with the fancy stitching on the flap and the large knee blocks.) Generally I don’t like large knee or thigh blocks because they usually get in the way. The Bates Innova dressage saddle has such large thigh blocks that riding in it makes me feel like I wouldn’t be able to get out of the saddle in an emergency. You are locked into place. The Venus doesn’t feel that way. The tree width (gullet size is 32 cm) and panel length were good for Kasane.

The Prestige Gallileo fit my seat okay, but I didn’t like the thigh blocks on it. They hit my leg in the wrong position. The blocks didn’t pinch, but they felt like my leg would go numb after a while. The saddler said that he could change the thigh blocks so they velcroed in place and could be changed. I have no doubt that the saddle fitter could make those changes — he’s a master saddler. I just hate to spend that kind of money on a saddle without it fitting me perfectly. The saddle flaps are fitted over the thigh blocks. I don’t know how the saddle would look if those blocks were modified and the panels were still molded to the old shape. In addition to changing the thigh blocks, the gullet would have to be exchanged for a smaller size and the panels would have to be reflocked to match Kasane’s back. (Reflocking is included in the cost of the saddle.) The saddler preferred how the Gallileo fit because the panels were shorter than the Venus.

Dressage saddle fitting for Kasane

Dressage saddle fitting for Kasane

Day started early. I was at up at 7:45, tried to go back to sleep, dozed until 8:15. At the barn to meet the farrier by 9:30. Groomed Kasane and Prize and then had their feet trimmed. The farrier said that both of them had great feet, so that is always good news. No thrush (foot disease), no strange cracks, no blemishes. Just good strong feet.

We had a full house today with two students at the barn for lessons at the same time I was ready to work Kasane. I free lunged Kasane in the small ring behind the barn. Initially she was very good but then got a wild hair and took off at a canter, bucked my way a few times, stopped in the corners, took off when I approached, and then bucked some more… She was obviously feeling good. When she does things like that, I will work with her to try and get her to cooperate. Some times she calms down, other times she gets too excited. Today was one of those days, so I put her on the lunge line and we went did walk, trot, canter on the line. She was very good (except for one little bit when she pulled on the lunge line). I took the line off and asked her to go around again, and she did. No more stopping in the corners. Poor little girl was breathing pretty hard by the time we had finished lunging.

I put the dressage saddle on then and we just walked around the small ring. We trotted a few times around but mostly focused on walking and bending. After a little while, I went into the big ring with one of the other students and rode around at a walk and a little bit at a trot. Kasane seemed reluctant to back when asked — not like her. Normally when you ask her to back up, she slides back evenly. This time she was braced / tight in her movement. I asked her to pivot on her forehand, which she did, and then we stopped (ending on a good note). I rode for about 30 minutes, the longest ride we’ve had since she’s been healing.

At that point it was time to load up and go to the saddle fitting appointment at tack shop. The barn owner and I took Kasane and Missy for a fitting. They behaved very well — surprising, considering there were cows in the field near the ring where I turned Kasane out. She had never seen cows before up close. She looked at them, snorted. And went back to grazing. Definitely not phased. Maybe I have a future cow horse. Who knows?

Kasane had never had the dressage saddle fitted to her. I had thought the Courbette Magic dressage saddle fit Kasane well, but the saddle fitter, Dennis, discovered otherwise. He did tracings of her withers, measurements, etc. When he placed my saddle on Kasane, he noted that it wasn’t balanced very well for her. It tipped back. The billets where the girth attach are too far back and therefore don’t let the saddle sit properly when the girth is attached. This can cause the saddle to move and shift.

Sure enough, when Dennis felt around Kasane’s back, her right scapula was sore and her back on the right side and left side where the end of the saddle sits were also sore. She flinched away from his finger pressure. Poor girl.

This was all a huge surprise. I really thought my saddle had fit her pretty well. Normally, saddles can be customized to fit a horse by reflocking the wool underneath a saddle in the panels — if the saddle is flocked with wool. My Courbette dressage saddle has foam so nothing can be done. The billets could be readjusted but it would be very expensive. the saddle would still have to be padded to fill in areas with shims in a saddle pad. These aren’t good options for the long term comfort of her back. The panel length under the saddle is too long (20 inches). Kasane is short backed and should have a saddle that is 18-19 inches in panel length that are not gusseted.

Basically right now I don’t have a saddle that fits her. My all purpose saddle has the same tree as the dressage saddle. However, it’s flocked with wool, so something can be done with the tree. (The billets are different in the saddle so that should help.) I left my all purpose with Dennis. He’s going to call me with an estimate for reflocking the saddle (which involves removing all of the padding on the saddle panels, refilling them to customize them to Kasane’s back shape).

We tried some of the saddles in the shop on Kasane, used and new. The two saddles that fit my but and had short enough panels were the Prestige Venus K Monoflap (drool) and Prestige Gallileo. I sat in a lot of saddles and the only ones that fit my seat were the two Prestige. I definitely preferred the monoflap.

Saddles are very expensive. A “cheap” dressage saddle is $1,000. When you buy a saddle for a horse and have it custom fit to the horse, then you are making an investment in the both the soundness of your horse and in the saddle itself. A well made saddle lasts decades with proper care. My Zaldi all purpose is over 20 years old, and barely looks used. My Ashely and Clarke saddle that Mom has was given to me when I was 13 and still looks great. I take good care of my saddles and tack.

With saddles, in general, you get what you pay for. Besides the cost of the horse, the saddle is the next biggest cost. I’ve been very lucky with the saddles I found for Isis. Right now, I have to go to the various tack shops and sit in all fo the saddles. Find the models that fit me and will fit Kasane. Then I start looking for used saddles that are more reasonably priced.

Kasane with the bit and saddle on

Kasane with the bit and saddle on

Ever since Isis’ choking episode in November, I have been thinking about wanting to ride Kasane. I love riding Isis, but she can’t be stressed. (If she is stressed, it is possible that she will exhibit similar symptoms to when she had her EPM episode last summer. These symptoms will persist in some form until her nerves are fully healed. The vet said that it can take one to five years for nerves to fully heal… so low or no stress for Isis at least for a year.) So if I want to do clinics, then I need to take Kasane. Which means she needs to be under saddle.

I’ve been working with her as much as I can, mostly on the weekends. She has settled down so much now that she is almost four: she can focus and she has mellowed. I worked her for the first time with the dressage saddle on her back. No bucking, no nothing. She kept glancing around behind her at the canter, as if she caught glimpses of the stirrup irons flapping.

When we were done lunging, I showed her the bit and put it on her. Second time she has ever had it on. First time with it on her for more than a few seconds.

My little girl is growing up. 🙂 It won’t be long now before I’m on her.

Saddle fitting

Saddle fitting

After the riding lesson on Tuesday, I scheduled an extra lesson to fit the dressage saddles I’d located. I want to make sure whichever saddle I choose fits not only me, but also Isis. A new (or used) saddle is a big investment (“cheap” means under $500).

Arabians are notoriously hard to fit in saddles because they tend to have broad shoulders and round backs. Isis’ hunt saddle (made by Zaldi) is a wide saddle with a 32 cm tree. I found three saddles to try: an Albion Comfort (owned by one of the ladies at the barn), a Collegiate Jessica Dressage (brand new, at an excellent price), and a Courbette Magic Dressage. Of these, the Albion is probably the highest quality saddle. It’s beautifully made and comfortable to sit in on the saddle rack. The saddle has a wide twist, which I’m not crazy about (feels like you’re sitting on a log).

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Riding lesson

Riding lesson

I had a riding lesson today with Isis that went surprisingly well. We rode her first dressage test today (Introductory Test B, a simple walk-trot test). Last time I had ridden something like that was in college (been a looong time). We rode the test three times. The first time was just trying to get through the different movements. She tripped four times during the first run-through. She also pulled against me a lot. Frustrating.

The second time we rode the test, I was more focused and relaxed: we were going to “ride” instead of meander. Her tripping lessened. We still didn’t get the test down, but at least we could maintain the same speed for the trot and (mostly) keep the 20 meter circles round instead of square.

The third time we rode the test she was much better. Whenenver we went from the straight side of the ring into a corner, my instructor pointed out that I should bend Isis into the corners. What a difference that made! Down the last straight side towards the centerline, I pushed her into the corner. As we rounded the corner, she reached underneath herself at the trot as we moved. Amazing to feel her reaching underneath herself.

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