Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The magic of sugar cubes and gummy bears ( AND day 3 of Andreas Hausberger clinic, brief overview)

The weather in Berks County finally turned from 90+ degrees with high humidity to lovely cool temperatures.  The mountains are topped by bright green foliage, no longer hidden behind a haze of humid, heavy air.  Regular rain has caused the cornfields to shoot up turning roads into tunnels.  Local corn is fresh, sweet and abundant.  Isaiah and I pass many cornfields on the way to camp and always comment on the height of the stalks!  I purchased beautiful grape and cherry tomatoes at a local farm stand and sauteed them with fresh basil and garlic to toss with pasta.  Fresh produce is definitely the highlight of summer here.

So.... some take home messages from the Andreas Hausberger clinic.  No constant driving.  I have always been taught this, so I don't think that I am TOO guilty of it, although I do have my moments.  Riding this morning I realized that I have been quite fortunate.  I have never had to "fight" (bad word, I know) with my horses to give softly into the hand.  Whether this is a result of me being fortunate enough to have good horses or good training, I don't know....Not that Nikki doesn't ever get heavy in hand.  I notice that when she becomes tired she gets a little heavy.  "play" with the reins subtly big and small with fingers only.  It is important that the horse respond quickly and also that the rider respond quickly.
At the inn, being guarded by Molly, the red setter

So day 3 of the clinic I witnessed some phenomenal results.  The nervous lady with the Arab showed such tremedous improvement that I texted Beth while it was happening.  The horse which had exhibited bugged out eyes and head in the air was suddenly soft and round!!  The rider displayed more confidence and we applauded her efforts when she had finished.  The horse seemed so much more relaxed as he too, gained confidence in his rider!

The rider on the Lusitano stallion had a question about the flying changes from the day before.  She said that she felt that they were flat because the horse was fatigued, and her typical response was to move to something that he does well and finish the workout.  Was this AH's point yesterday?  Yes.  Rider wanted to be sure that her thought process was the same and that it was okay to do that.  One thing that AH finds frustrating: when you are sitting on your horse speaking with him, please halt, and remain that way until conversation is over.  He had emphasized this each time he asked a rider to tell the audience about her horse.  The situation was never that which the horse was hot after working, so I am not sure how that would have been handled.

The lessons were slated to be 30 minutes in length, but all went over.  In fact, on this, the third day of the clinic we were nearly 2 hours behind!  So clearly AH was not a clock watcher.  I liked that.

Whenever a rider worked the horse in hand with AH as the "driver" and rider at the horse's head to keep him/her on the wall, corrections were expected to be made quickly, effectively and correctly.  Praise as well.  Also emphasized was the all-important half halt during in hand work.  This should be performed not by pulling downward on the reins but slowing momentum in front.  Always best to use a lunging cavesson so there will be no actual pressure on the mouth.  Yes, I know this makes perfect sense, and I am not a snatcher anyway, but well, sometimes we slip.

A new horse on day 3 was a Friesian/thoroughbred gelding.  Quite nice looking.  Bay with lovely black points and just a small amount of feathers on the fetlocks.  The rider had made an 8 hour drive from Maine with two horses to be ridden in days 3-5 of the clinic.  The pair had competed in 4th level the year before, but had to take the harsh Maine winter off due to lack of indoor.  Now they were playing catch up.  How well I know that feeling, as I experienced the same this past winter.  My winter wasn't nearly as harsh, but at age 5 Nikki was not ready for 5 days off, one day of riding.  I plan to be riding through this winter.  But I digress....  AH wanted to work the horse in hand so the rider dismounted and equipment was added.  The rider was at the horse's head and AH explained is plan:  The rider was to do what those before her had done (but I am not certain that she had observed much of this since her arrival the day before) and keep the horse on the rail, using half halts while AH encouraged him forward.  There was a fair amount of miscommunication initially (or misunderstanding and nerves on the rider's part), but once that was straightened out they worked together nicely.  The horse did some nice half steps and a few piaffe steps.  As with the others once the horse lifted his hind legs as requested (this could just be one followed by the other) the horse was halted, praised and rewarded with a sugar cube.  Seriously, by day 3 of the clinic I have visions of a Domino Dots truck unloading crates of sugar cubes in the alleyway of the Spanish Riding School!
AH directed rider to then mount.  FINALLY, a rider who quickly removed equipment and instead of walking to the far end of the arena to use the mounting block she mounted from the ground quickly and was ready to work.  This rider too has a nice seat and AH acknowledged it immediately.  Not that he wasn't without his corrections!  She too, did not respond as quickly as preferred in the saddle and in hand.  They did some very nice work and there was something very appealing about the horse.  I wished that I was going to be there on Wednesday and Thursday to observe the progress.

Next up, was rider with a 6 year old? Oldenburg gelding.  Very cute and talented (as she so informed me the day before).  He was certainly up when she got on, but she worked him through the gaits.  AH then asked about working him in hand, so she dismounted and they added surcingle, side reins, etc.  The horse was not completely accustomed to do this type of work and took a few minutes to grasp the concept.  But then he too, like the others responded well, in small increments.  Once the rider remounted she just began riding, performing lateral work, changes of gait, etc.  AH complimented her on her seat but also said that she was driving a bit too much.  As he asked her to spiral in at the canter the aggressive driving became more evident and AH commented that this could be one of the reasons he is so up.  During a breather in her ride the rider commented that he knew a horse that she used to own and had just seen again during his clinic on the west coast.  AH did indeed know the horse and acknowledged that the horse had been a bit behind the leg when the current rider first purchased him.  As her ride continued it was evident that this horse too was behind the leg which AH pointed out to her was a result of deep seated driving and a heavy hand.  As the exercises continued the horse lightened significantly and finished more relaxed and through in the back than when he had started.

Because we were already two hours behind I could not watch the remaining 3 rides because I had to head home.... I was sad to be leaving and missing the last two days of the clinic, the barbecue that night and luncheon the next day.  But I also felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to make the trip as my head spun with everything I had learned and reinforced what I had been taught.

Since I have been home I have been trying to incorporate what I have learned and sharpen my skills with a renewed enthusiasm.  By next week I believe my schedule will finally lighten up for a month or so and I will finally be able to dedicate more time to Suki's work.  My time at the barn usually enables me to ride Nikki, perform Suki's spa treatments and on some days either lunge Suki or work her in hand.  Those days where time runs short after Nikki's ride my main concern is Suki's skin care, so that often leaves little or no time to work her.  I am sometimes able to take her just out behind the barn to do some in-hand work, which has been wonderful for sharpening her responses.  I will soon get to the point where I will need a second pair of hands for that.  My goal in the coming weeks is to lunge Suki three times per week (regularly) then gradually increase it to five times per week.  Fingers crossed!
The girls enjoying a cool evening

For the past several years I have bribed Suki with gummy bears in order to apply moisturizer to her head and ears.    I simply hold my hand low, and as she gradually takes the treat I use the other hand to apply the moisturizer.  Gummy bears have also been successful in getting her to stick her nose and head between her front legs.  Gummy bears, remember, were the key to getting Suki to take her meds when she was in the hospital and at Kelly's for continued rehab.  That girl will do anything for a gummy bear!

Nikki likes the bears as well, but she tries to suck your entire hand into her mouth while taking them.  I don't think she realizes how large her lips are!  I have not done the sugar cube reward in years, and have never used it for Nikki in training.  So I decided to revisit that method after observing AH in the clinic.  Armed with a handful in the front pocket of my breeches (it is quite painful once you are in the saddle so I made need one of those pouch things for my belt), out to the arena we went.  I did a few exercises on the way, and when Nikki responded promptly she received a cube.  I did the same on the lunge line while sharpening her transitions.  They were totally on the mark!  Given our recent mounting block issue I said to Nikki, "if you stand like a rock I will give you a cube." (I know, trying to rationalize with her...).  She stood perfectly so I gave her a cube and made her stand a bit longer.  I praised her again heartily when we moved off. The ride ended up being fairly short because she was extremely responsive and I wanted to reward her for that.  When I dismounted I patted her neck, and before I could reach for a cube she gently turned her head toward me in search of one....Guess I will have to slow down a bit!

No comments:

Post a Comment