Sunday, August 17, 2014

Suki and Nikki, and Finding Inspiration From the Spanish Riding School

We have been experiencing some amazing weather for the past few days.  Yesterday it was 49F when I arrived at the barn at 7:15!  Suki and Nikki were not so interested in coming in.  I had to walk all the way out to get them!  Thankfully they didn't give me any trouble catching them!

Progress with Suki had slowed slightly because the footing in the arena was harder than what I would have liked, and her feet were chipping due to the dry conditions.  I have been supplementing occasional lunging with in hand work, stretching exercises and leading exercises.

Nikki has been working well.  The cut under her fetlock is taking its time healing, and is still causing her to stock up occasionally.  But she is working well and seems to be pretty happy doing it.  My schedule has been a bit difficult since the child doesn't have camp this week and starts school on 26 August.  As a result the girls have been a lighter work schedule.  But that's okay.  It will pick up again in a couple of weeks.  Plus with the slightly hard footing it is fine for both of them to just have light work.

Friday, 15 August 2014
A nice, early start and 51F!  I actually had a light jacket on briefly.  Really getting spoiled.  The weather this summer has been totally tolerable with only one official heatwave so far.  There have been some humid days but overall not so bad, especially compared to last summer!

Nikki had lovely energy which I used to work on shortening and lengthening of stride.  I could feel good push from behind resulting in nice suspension and lift in the more collected gaits.  The lateral work also benefited from this push enabling nicely forward and lateral responses off a soft leg.  Some of the down transitions felt heavy but I was able to lighten it up a bit with multiple transitions.  Nikki was light in the transitions within the gaits, so I was surprised by the heaviness on the down transitions. We finished as usual with big posting trot on a long rein.

I worked Suki without the surcingle, for no particular reason.  She works well in it but I am not ready to add side reins.  I should just keep working her in the surcingle anyway so that she considers it part of working.  Suki and Nikki had their feet done earlier in the week, so the rain and the chip-free feet were a great start.  Suki was happy to lunge and moved forward and free with no signs of discomfort. We worked on transitions and  trot and canter sets.  I can't wait to (hopefully!) sit on her back again!
The skin on Suki's back looks great, in spite of rolling and wearing a surcingle.  During the exfoliation process she reaches back and points with her nose toward the itchiest areas.  If I don't get the exact spot she nudges me and points again.  Who needs words to communicate??

J was dragging the arena when I left.  Yay!  I can't wait to ride on that tomorrow!

Saturday 16August 2014
Another chilly start to the day....49F!!  Is it really August?  Once again I started with Nikki and she was in happy work mode.  I was the first to ride on the freshly groomed arena, which I always love because it is easy to see how accurate my figures are.  We worked on serpentines with transitions to the walk as we crossed the center line.  The energy was superb, and once again I could feel a nice swinging in the back with good push from behind and softness in my hands.

As I was grooming Suki and getting her ready to work, another boarder arrived and put her horse in cross ties in front of Suki.  She brought her horse out to the arena, and I was about to bring out Suki when I realized that she had turned out her horse in the arena.  This is a horse that lives out 24/7 with a nice bank barn for shelter.  So it's not as though the horse spends a lot of time in a stall without the opportunity to wander around freely.  Yes, I could have said something to her but just decided to do a little in hand work with Suki and call it a day.  In that situation, if it is your plan to use the arena that way and someone else also is grooming a horse, I have been raised to (and really, this should be common sense) ask the other person if they are going to the ring.....uggh!

Sunday, 17 August 2014
Surprisingly, this morning was a little rainy when I got up.  The sky did not look too threatening so I was willing to take a chance.  The temperatures were also warmer so working the girls during a light rain would be fine.  The rain had stopped by the time I arrived at the barn, and the girls were grazing side-by-side in their pasture.
While tacking up Nikki the rain became heavy, but I continued to prepare to ride.  Once it subsided to a drizzle, out we went.  It was a wonderful, bug-free ride!  Nikki's shoulder-in was spectacular, even in my bad direction!  She even had floppy ears.  It was just one of those delightful rides where everything goes the way it's supposed to.  You never want to stop, but you know that there needs to be a reward such work.  When we finished with the stretchy trot Nikki gave me a BIG trot, not on the forehand but stretched down into my hand, and ears flopping.  I worked that in serpentines then sat and asked for the walk.  On the buckle, she walked in big swingy strides, completely relaxed.  While grooming her after the ride she kept leaning into me.  I put the big towel over her face and ears, massaging from tip of the ears to the tip of her nose.  Nikki must have started to doze, because at one point she seemed like she was about to fall over!

Suki seemed anxious to get to work today.  Toward the end of my post ride grooming with Nikki she started to bang on her door and talk to me.  Standing in the cross ties she was not very patient so I shortened the pre-work grooming and brought her out to the ring.  I am loving her attitude about work and her focus.  Suki looks around on our way to the ring, but in a curious way, not fearful or anxious.  To me she seems more relaxed about her surroundings while working than she did when she was younger.

Suki also worked beautifully.  Wonderful energy, sharp transitions and a general happiness that makes her sparkle.  When I tell her "good girl" she looks into my eyes in a way that is different from anything I have ever experienced.  Nikki and I have strong bond, but the one with Suki seems to come from what we have shared since the fire.  It may seem crazy, but I think that when you go through something as tragic as the fire, Suki's injuries and the recovery process things change.  There is an understanding and a closeness that is above other relationships with animals.  Don't get me wrong, Suki is a diva through and through, but she does let her guard down in a very personal way.  Today was one of those days where she had a shine from deep within, happy to be working, and happy about life.

After working I was able to do a thorough grooming and moisturizing while Suki relaxed in the cross ties, clearly pleased with herself.  Back in her stall she munched her hay contentedly.  I guess she just wanted to work!  She was even content when I pulled Nikki back out onto the cross ties to pull her mane!

Nikki is really funny when you pull her mane.  She almost falls asleep.  Sometimes I have to get off the stool to do it because she is hanging her head so low with her eyes closed!  Today she was licking my leg (I had wiped my hands from her foamy sugar mouth on my breeches and I guess she could smell it! Then she started looking in my pocket for more sugars.  How can you not laugh while this is happening?!  These girls are just too funny!  How I love them!

I have been reading an older book (from 1972) about the Spanish Riding School.  "The Spanish Riding School" by Hans Handler translated from German by Russell Stockman is a nicely complete history of the school and its horses.  I MUST find a copy!  Actually I have found some on Amazon.  Those in new condition seem to priced close to $200, so maybe a used copy is in order this time!  I am okay with that as I have purchased other out of print books used.  With this book I feel like a used copy read by other people with similar interests is pretty cool.  Anyway, back to the book.  The introduction accurately describes how I felt the first time  stepped into the riding hall in Vienna for the first time: It starts with a description of the horses entering the arena.... then: "The visitor witnessing this scene for the first time will fall under the spell produced by the hall itself, the music, the harmony between horse and riders."
The history portion is wonderful, but what I have been most struck by is the training section! So many times it seems that riders misunderstand the concept of "on the bit".  Many consider it just a "frame" and achieve it primarily with the hands.  This book describes the horse moving from behind, and is "on the bit" when he willingly follows the taking or giving hand with no stiffness in the jaw or neck.  There is discussion on the importance of lungeing, and how it mentally prepares the horse for future work.  We often observe trainers who rush the training of the horse, which ultimately, often comes back to haunt them with holes in the training, physical injuries the horse and mental meltdown as the horse was not sufficiently prepared.  "Though much time is devoted to procedures which may seem slow and too cautious, it later proves to be time well spent, for setbacks can be avoided to a great extent through adequate preparatory work." The author emphasizes the importance of riding the young horse straight and forward, and not over facing him.

I (and I'm sure many of you) have observed horses competing in the upper levels who are not "correct" in their movements.  proper collection can only be achieved through increased impulsion and will depend on energetic, rhythmic forward motion.  "Unfortunately too many people ignore this basic principle and thereby fail to understand proper collection.  As a result one sees dragging hind legs and moving wide behind to compensate for lack of strength and development."

When I was first learning dressage, these principles were hammered into my brain.  I am grateful that I was trained properly.  One thing I was taught was to "test" for correctness by relaxing my hands to see if the horse could maintain the head carriage for a few strides, then gently chewing the reins smoothly out of my hands.  This concept was discussed n this fabulous book.

The bottom line to me is that this classical training at the SRS has ben done for hundreds of years, resulting in happy, well-trained horses.  Short cuts and gadgets do not work.  Horse and rider must be trained correctly.  This takes time and patience in our world where the end result is expected quickly, and short cuts mean saving money.  I guess I can understand, to some extent the conundrum presented to trainers.  Some clients want things done in a short period of time because they feel they are getting more for their money.  Not everyone, certainly, but it is a tend that I have observed on many occasions, and it is quite disappointing.

So I continue my quest for proper training and doing what is best for Suki and Nikki.  They make me laugh, and teach me to appreciate life and all of its joys.  I love sharing this with Isaiah, and know, that even if he doesn't continue riding he is developing an appreciation for horses.

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