Monday, March 4, 2013

Yesterday's Visit From Alex

As I mentioned in my last post, Alex came out yesterday to work with me and Lilly. For those of you that might be newer readers, Alex is a friend of mine that I first met back in June of 2008. She was hosting a clinic and I was having some serious issues with Lilly being herd bound to her trail buddies, so I signed up. It seems like forever ago, and things have drastically changed for the better since then. Alex has helped me immensely with Lilly's training, and while I might not always be receptive to her ideas at first, eventually I come around, because they just work.

We started out the day with a little warm-up and I chatted with Alex about what I needed some help with. I've been having issues with Lilly's lope transitions, so I was hoping she could watch what I was doing (or not doing) and give me some pointers on how to improve them.

Warming up nicely at the jog.
Initially during our warm-up, Alex thought Lilly looked a little stiff. It was cold, she hasn't been ridden much the last couple weeks thanks to the rain, and because the BO decided to sleep in, I pulled her away from her breakfast hay. Being a little stiff and perhaps not in the best mood was to be expected. I thought our warm-up went pretty well, so we decided to move on to the lope.

I posted previously how Lilly's right lead transitions were a bit rough and it felt like she was "popping a wheelie". After describing everything to Alex, she told me to just go ahead and show her what I meant. She had the camera ready and took a series of pictures during my transition:

Popping a wheelie...
Engaging hindquarters...
Leveling out like a good girl.
After checking out the pictures, I agreed with Alex that it didn't look quite as bad as it felt, but when she pops up, it feels like she's about to smack me in the face with her poll. They are quite clearly not the best looking transitions. She had me turn around and lope in the other direction so she could see the difference:

Ask for the lope...
Away we go!
Clearly a much better transition this way... so what's the difference? I hopped off and let Alex get on to investigate. It's always interesting to watch Alex ride Lilly. She rides with a lot more seat than I do, and she's much more demanding. Lilly always tries to get away with not doing what she's asked and Alex demands that she stop being a hussie. Eventually they come to an understanding... Lilly understands she had better do what's asked of her! It's fascinating to watch because I swear I can see the gears turning in Lilly's head!

After setting the ground rules, Alex rode her around at the jog and lope and it became quite obvious to her what the problem was. Lilly was traveling around with her inside hip stuck out, all crooked and whatnot. She doesn't really do it going counter clockwise, but travelling clockwise it's quite obvious. Well, it was obvious to Alex, but clearly not obvious to me... at least not until she pointed it out. I could see it quite well at the jog, and as soon as Alex told her to put it back where it goes, it was like night and day. Here's Lilly jogging around with her hip stuck out like a goon:

Bad pony!
So, why is she doing it? Could be because she's out of shape and it's just easier to travel that way... or she could be doing it just 'cuz she can. I mentioned in my post yesterday that Lilly tends to be a little passive aggressive. Alex says it about her all the time, but it was never quite as noticeable to me as it was yesterday. Since Alex is always right when it comes to Lilly, I suspected she probably was, but because Lilly is the sweetest, most wonderful pony in the whole wide world, I just didn't want to believe such a thing could be true! Little did I know, Lilly has been giving me just enough to keep me happy, all the while cheating the system and half-assing her perfect jog.

Lilly, you cut me deep!

I could really feel it at the jog, and I felt it the most when we were jogging in a straight line. The good news is, as soon as I ask her to put it back and travel correctly, she obliges. She feels taller, more round, and I can feel her shoulders open up as well. However, in true passive aggressive fashion, she decided to transfer her objection to traveling correctly. We went from a hind end objection to a front end objection. Behold! The head twist!

"I don't wanna jog straight!"
Once I manged to fix the hip and the head, she had a bit of an attitude. She wanted to let me know she wasn't happy about doing things the hard (correct) way, but we worked through it. The transitions were better, but I still wasn't getting the kind of transitions I wanted. We did many more until Alex finally saw it... it was my turn to be fixed! When asking Lilly for the lope, I have a tendency to just "throw her away". Why I do it, I don't know, but as soon as I ask for the transition, I put my hands forward and give Lilly a bunch of rein. So as Alex describes it, all that newly found impulsion we're getting from the hind end just blasts out the front. I need to hold her together and support her, and think of the lope transition and subsequent lope strides as a circle. Once I managed to figure out how to support her with my reins, we had some gorgeous transitions. The kind where you just think about loping, and you roll right into it. Magnifique!!

So, from now on, when we do anything, she needs to keep her hip in line with the rest of her body and it's my job to be diligent about asking her for it, and make her travel correctly. This should also improve the work I'm doing with flying changes because it'll be much easier for her to change when her body is straight. She gave me a gorgeous flying change yesterday when she initially picked up a wrong lead. The change was like butter!

Here's Lilly giving me a nice stop. She is always hunting for the whoa, and is more than happy to do so when I ask for it. If you're not sitting deep, she'll throw you right out of the saddle.

Hittin' the skids!
We also made the decision that it's time for me to get a pair of spurs. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I'd be shopping for spurs, but here I am. It almost feels like she's getting a little lazy, but I think it's more that she's really, really hunting for the whoa, and also for the slow. Getting her to move out at the jog takes a lot of leg these days, and she's a bit slow to respond to some of my other cues as well. It's a far cry from years past where even the slightest touch with my leg would send her off like a rocket. The spurs will be just what I need to find a happy place where she's still hunting the whoa, but also quick to give me what I want.

So to wrap up with a few other thoughts:
1.) I see exactly what Alex means when she says Lilly is passive aggressive. She's not the type of horse to buck or rear, so she uses her brain to come up with other ways to make her life easier. It'll be up to me to recognize those tactics and get her back on track.
2.) I need to ride with a little more seat and more energy. I think the spurs will help with this as well because I'll be able to refine my cues a bit, but I want her to say "yes, ma'am!" rather than, "welllll, okay..." I've conditioned myself to ride with a super quiet seat and legs so as not to unleash the speed dragon that lurked within Lilly's body, but we're past that now, and she's ready for a more active rider.
3.) As much as it gives Alex seizures to hear me gush about my pony and dote on her like I do, it's extremely difficult for me to think of Lilly as anything but a "friend". She means the world to me and sometimes when I'm riding, I let that relationship get in the way of the kind of training that Lilly really needs. Alex said Lilly and I have a democracy, and instead I need to be more of a dictator. She said, "you know, be like North Korea..." I gasped in horror! She said I should always ask first, but when I don't get the response I want, I need to demand that she accommodate me, rather than have a discussion about how we can compromise. I know this to be true, but putting it into practice is difficult for me for some reason. Lilly has some kind of super power, and she uses it on me

I mean, just look at this sweet face... you'd never guess that she's a pony who likes to manipulate me into doing her bidding, would you?

"Me? A manipulator?"
Thanks again for another great lesson, Alex! It is much appreciated!


  1. Sounds like a pretty good session with Alex! You guys look great in my opinion, wish Ava could look like that!

    1. Thanks, Emmi! It has been a long time coming, that's for sure.

  2. Replies
    1. She uses it to her advantage, that's for sure!

  3. Really enjoyed this post. Just goes to show you how important it is to have another "eye". Your trainer sounds awesome. And, yes, she has a sweet face... but so does mine and he can be a stinker :)

    1. Thanks, Margaret! Being able to see pictures of myself, and having someone on the ground to help out (and shout orders!), is great. I also trust Alex to ride Lilly, so it's helpful to be able to watch how she handles different situations.

    2. Me...Shout?!?! Pffft I'm an angel. LOL

  4. I got a kick out of how you described Alex's training/riding/evaluation of Lilly. It's great you learned so much and she was able to help you so quickly and productively. Love the photos. And her conclusion was the same as mine (albeit mine was just from photos and not as in-depth). I thought it looked like you were just 'throwing her away' and she could use some help putting her s**t together for the canter transition. I have to say, it's one of the better riding 'flaws' since it means you're getting out of her way. It doesn't HELP her, but it doesn't harm her either.

    1. Also, that whoa photo is awesome!

    2. Thanks, Dom! I think the whole "throwing her away" thing must come from years of lessons, hearing the trainer tell me to stay out of my horse's mouth when I ask for a canter. I'm always afraid of bumping her mouth when I ask for the transition, which would cause her to throw her head. It's going to take me a while to retrain my brain for that one!

  5. That was an extremely informative post. I especially like your 1.2.3 summary. A lot of it makes so much sense to me, I just wish I knew how to apply to my own horse and my own riding.

    1. My main problem is that I don't like to be really demanding of Lilly because of our relationship. It has lead to a lot of issues because Lilly knows it, and takes full advantage. The little brat!

  6. I'm so proud of both of you. You work so hard to have a good relationship with your mare! Now raise those expectations and strive for more!

    I still think you need to come ride Apple and Emmett one day.

    1. Thank you! I have a new outlook since Sunday, so I think we'll make really good progress with our transitions, and our rides in general. Hopefully the weather allows me to ride again sometime soon!

      I rode Apple once a few years ago, but it would probably mean more now than it did then because of the progress I've had with Lilly. We'll have to set that up!

    2. Can you make today's weather go away? I'd appreciate it.

      I'm glad you are optimistic. I think you guys are doing a great job and on the right path.

      You need to come again with fresh eyes and feel....I MIGHT even let you sit in a saddle. You def need to sit on Emmett too....he is a whole other world of horse.

    3. I wish! I'm hoping today is the last cold, rainy day EVER!

      A saddle? Oh boy!! Can I have a bridle this time too? :)

    4. LOL a saddle on both. You can have a bridle for E but you won't need one for Apple.....I promise.

  7. The first thing I thought of when I saw your post and wheelie photo was the same thing Alex said to you: throwing away the reins. I have the same problem with Milo, but the last few rides I finally seemed to get what people have been telling me for so long. Finding that perfect low level contact before, during, and after the transition are super important to keeping Milo engaged and on the hind end.

    Also, an exercise Mario taught me to do to improve the lope transition is working on a large circle in the center of the arena and utilizing the fences/walls. The visual of the fence helps put the horse on their hind end. Approach the wall at a forty five degree angle and a stride or two away from it, ask for the lope departure. Eventually wean away from the wall and you can ask anywhere. But initially it really helps.

    Finally, I dont know how much you use your seatbones, but the last piece of the puzzle for Milo and I was asking for the lope correctly. I can get Milo to lope just from shifting my weight from both seatbones to the outside one. And the reason for sitting on the outside seatbone is because a right lead lope starts from the outside, left, hind or drive leg. Vice versa: left lead lope comes from the outside (right) hind leg. So by sitting on the outside seatbone, you are asking that leg to initiate the lope by grounding so the opposite (right lead) shoulder can open up and lope off.

    Hope this helps, it sounds complicated but its really not.