Monday, June 29, 2009

Life at Ironhill

Dow, BJ, Charisma, Frisco, & I settled in to our digs in Alberta in short order. We arrived on Monday, June 22nd, late in the evening. By Thursday, I was packing up to attend the Calgary Area Alberta Dressage Association's Annual show with the gang from Ironhill, this time serving as groom to my friend, Irene Hill. Irene and I met during a Tom Dvorak clinic at Horizon Equestrian Centre early in 2006, hit it off and quickly became fast friends. She and her husband were in the process of building a new facility, which is now very close to complete, with only odd projects left. Here is a link to Irene's website: The horses and I are really enjoying the benefits of the Hills' vision of a high end dressage facility. There are acres of rolling pasture, turnout fields, aspen groves and evergreen stands, and miles of prepared trails. Irene is showing three horses this year: Montevideo, an 11 yr old Hanoverian gelding she has trained to Intermediare I herself; Moxie, a 6 yr old Hanoverian mare, half sister to Monty, she also trained herself, to Third level; and Valentino II aka Rudy, a 7 yr old KWPN gelding that Irene bought as a re-training project.
I have been taking lessons with Irene, as well as with the head trainer, Shelley Malbeuf, and I've had the privilege of not only riding Charisma with them, but also Monty and Moxie. It's been a fabulous learning opportunity. I also watch other lessons, and with three riders in the barn riding at advanced levels, it is extremely inspiring and helpful for my own growth as a rider. With only six weeks left to go in our stay, I'm trying to absorb all I can. Charisma's strength and straightness have really come along. Frisco has spent the summer with the herd of yearlings, and Dillon is his best friend. They are all getting fat off the lush stand of grass.
Next weekend I will go with the Ironhill gang to serve as barn groom at the first CDI*** to ever be held in Alberta.
That will be an exciting opportunity to see the top riders and horses in Western Canada and I'm looking forward to it!
Below are some notes I've taken from my lessons so far. I'll have more to add in the next six weeks, but enjoy these for now.
  • Establish a more honest bend(check the right shoulder for better right bend) before transitions, and keep the bend through the transition.
    Keep the bit moving, keep the jaw softening, keep the arms soft.
  • If it isn’t done in shoulder-fore, it isn’t dressage.
  • Slow the tempo, so as to allow the hind legs to catch up, and ultimately, to carry.
  • Do not use harsh rein aids no matter how much the horse is bearing down, it simply doesn’t work. Instead, MOVE the bit, as well as the jaw, via the arms. The “take ten teeth out” methodology is not acceptable in correct riding. Use your mind, not your might.
  • The rein connection must remain dynamic in all transitions, but especially downwards.
  • While the leg must stay on the horse, it must just drape. NEVER pinch, hold or clamp. Give a couple of big slaps with the sides of the calf if the horse is dull to the driving aids, and teach the horse to work from the smallest leg aid and mostly from the seat. Tempi changes won’t happen if you can’t ride off the seat.
  • To collect, stretch tall from belly button up(chest up-shoulders back & down), sit very deep with seatbones, repeatedly-tuck the belly button in towards the backbone, tightening the glutes, and keep the legs soft and long. Stay light with the reins and active with the fingertips. Ask each stride at first, then encourage the horse to hold it on its own. Ask-RELEASE.
  • Tempi changes: “1-2-3-Aid-Change”=Four tempi’s. “1-2-Aid-Change”=Three Tempi’s. Use canter one stride, walk one stride, to get the feel of the rhythm for two tempi’s. Unless the horse responds instantly to the aid, the count will NOT work. Sharpen the horse up to the seat & leg first.
  • Half Passes-do not hold with the aids. Ask-release, ask-release, and get big responses to little aids. This holds true with everything, but half pass gets especially stuck if you hold with any aid-reins, legs, seat, all must ask/release in the rhythm.
  • The lightest aids yield the best results, because then the rider can keep her position correct, therefore being a better help to balance the horse, and the weight aids become very heightened in their effect.
  • Keep the elbows bending and soft, and keep the horse very round no matter what. Only add difficulty so long as you can keep the roundness.
  • Hands light, “carry” them out over the wither, keep the reins short and keep the bit moving. Do not give her one split second to settle onto the bridle.
  • Ride the corners and turns very carefully, keep the outside leg guarding and don’t let the haunches lose the line of travel by falling out. Losing the haunches to the outside in turns and corners gives away critical power.
  • Ride off the rail, in shoulder-fore and/or shoulder-in.
  • When riding flying changes across the diagonal, keep the new outside shoulder pushed away from the new outside leg, so she doesn’t try to suck to the track, compromising the straightness and thus the quality of the change itself.