August 10, 2009

Assessing fitness

When we take the horses home from the pasture, we have to check what form they are in so we know how to plan the work ahead.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I like the pasture where we have our horses very much.
It is natural meadowland, so they have a wide menu of grass and other green plants to choose from, and they don’t put on too much weight.
In addition it is hilly, stony and full of trees. They have to move around and watch where they are going to get the belly full. Nice, huh?

When we get them home they are normally in a pretty good shape.
They have lost a bit of top line and you cannot ask for too much of the more collected work, but the ground condition is there.
And you can tell they think it is fun to get to work again, just like us!

What I notice when we get them back is that they are used to think for themselves, so they show their own opinions a bit more.
Not getting opinionated, but you get a slight hesitation sometimes. I don’t mind that communication. They are also bit more watchful of things and sounds in the surroundings.

I believe the break does a lot of good, both mentally and physically.
Many people keep the horses going through the show season during the summer, and then give them free a month in Nov/Dec.
Not much grass then, but if the horses have been working hard during the summer it does them good to get some time off anyway.

So back to the work at hand.
Fame had now had free from training for six weeks, so when I took her out to the arena I had planned to keep the session short but a bit up in tempo, to check out how much energy she had.
I decided to work a bit on the David Oliveira exercises.

The day was warm, so before we started the work, I gave her a shower to cool down.
She loves that, and moves around a bit like they do when you scratch them...a bit up to the left, please! And now on the other side?
I then walked off and mounted her from the mounting block, which I always use to spare her back and mine (and the saddle).
When she walked past the shower she stopped.
I put my leg on, and she took two more steps and stopped again.
I just had to laugh. She was clearly showing me that she wanted to be hosed down some more. As I wasn’t pressed on time, I jumped off, and gave her another shower.
She enjoyed it very much, and when I mounted her again she was ready to go to work.
(Aren’t our horses wonderful?)

After warming up in walk and posting trot, I started to canter her, just getting a nice forward canter in a light seat around the arena first.
Then we started with the exercises.
Leg yield in canter along the long side, moving into a small volte at the end. Transition to walk. Canter again, other lead, needed a quick reaction. Leg yield, small volte, transition to walk. Rein back, and new canter.
As I would like Fame to be a bit quicker in her reactions and in the hind legs, this is very good training for her – in particular now when she is returning from the pasture and I can feel a small delay in responding to the aids.
She has a good canter and lateral movements, but we have not been working with leg yield along the long sides before, just along the diagonal.
When David worked he asked for much sideways movement, almost keeping the horse to a 90 degree angle to the wall.
We worked with a smaller angle, to make it easier and to keep the forward movement, but steep enough to get a good workout.
Once Fame got the hang of it, she thought it great fun!
So we just played around for a bit, checking things out. I kept the session short but I actually felt I had a tougher time returning to work after a lazy summer than she did, lol!
When I trotted her to round off at the end, she offered extended trot by herself. A good sign that she had worked well with the collected work, and that she was feeling fine and in good shape.

We finished with a new shower and some green grass ;)


Anonymous said...

She sounds like a lovely horse - willing to work and very expressive! She does seem to like her bathes!

trudi said...

sounds like you are both pleased to be back at work :-)
With the canter leg yield I'm assuming it's quarters out/shoulders-in to the school as you are riding a volte at the end (unless the volte is in counter canter, erm yes now that would be good too if it was a large enough volt) tell me more as I love collecting exercises.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think it's wonderful that you turn the horses out for a rest in the summer. Our horses are out all day everyday and they seem to keep themselves in good shape. They are usually worked in the morning or evening depending on the weather.

Fame loves her bathes, I think she was so funny, telling you she could use another shower. These horses are truly amazing and I like a horse with opinions and those that can think for themselves.

HorseOfCourse said...

Trudi - we worked with the quarters in actually. So what I did was to place her in a slightly travers position approaching the corner, then just shifting weight a bit more towards the inside, turning upper body into the turn and raising the outer hand slightly going into the volte (placing the volte close to the corner towards the inside).
Difficult to explain riding patterns in words.
Do you understand what I mean, or should I add a sketch?

Another comment btw.
David also worked with lateral movements on the volte. Not as preparing for a canter pirouette – he did not care if he had bend in the horse or if it was centered - he just wanted those hind legs to get to work, and get quick reactions.
He was very clear in his weight signals and left it to the horse to find the balance and handle the quick turns.
They just HAD to step under with those hind legs, lol!

trudi said...

Excellent, thank you, that is perfectly clear now. I have used a travers (towards leg yield) on the 3/4 line into a 1/4 square turn as you come near to the track. It was taught to me by a Swedish lady I trained with for some time and she had loads of great exercises. Thanks for this one.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I'm waiting for the day when my horses will enjoy being hosed down. My oldest horse will allow me to spray the hose up into the air and let it sprinkle on her, but they all still try to run from having water poured or sprayed directly on them. That was really cute how she stopped at the shower.

allhorsestuff said...

I looovve the fact you give your horses time off when they can really enjoy the eats in the fields! And the varied terrains ...great local you've got.
Nice sounding riding day! loved when you jumped off to get her wet again, at the start!
Thanks for all the details...really could picture it all.

RuckusButt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RuckusButt said...

Nice, that is one of our regular beginning exercises and one of my favorites. I do a rather large volte though, around 9-10m, since the school horses are more accustomed to hunter/jumper than dressage. Don't you just love the effect of lateral & bending exercises on engaging those hindquarters? Feels like a different horse after. I am fairly new to all this and find it so interesting!

What do you look for specifically (in terms of fitness) when first working Fame to tell you how much you can ask for? This is "close to home" for me, as I often have the task of working with out-of-shape horses (NOT at the lesson barn!) and I am always cautious not to ask for too much. Sometimes I think I'm too cautious!

On another note - you have inspired me to be better to my tack. I've been cleaning & conditioning much more frequently and my leather is looking great! I found a product that I like a lot. I also have an old bridle that is quite dry (I mentioned it on your "favorite things" post). I've made it a point to condition it every time I do my other tack, even though I'm not using it right now. It is getting so much better, I never thought it possible. It's so satisfying! Of course, I am neglecting house cleaning instead ;)

Once Upon an Equine said...

You and Fame are off to a great start following your mutual vacations. The pasture sounds like a playground for horses. Wonderful that there is a variety of terrain they must move through. And trees! Oh, I wish I had a tree or two in my pasture. Fame sounds like a very happy horse.

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments all!

Kate – thanks!

GHM – our horses are out from morning to late afternoon when they are at home too, but the area is not so large so there is no grass left due to the greedy inhabitants unfortunately. They are fed hay instead, but it is not the same, is it? As the area is smaller and without grass they don’t move around so much either, but on the other hand they are ridden 6 days/week.
And yes, I like when they speak their mind. Not being opinionated or non-cooperative, but giving me a chance to understand what she thinks, and wants. If I insist, she does – but I want a partnership, so the communication must go two ways, right?

Trudi – that is also a very good exercise.
What was the largest difference in David’s approach to the work compared to the normal dressage work was that he "rode like Ben Cartwright” as Mugwump would have said.
His first priority clearly was to get the horse working forward and with quick reactions. He did not much care about bend or form, and left it to the horse to find its own balance (being absolutely in balance himself, sigh). The horses achieved a nice hind leg activity and outline as a consequence of the work. Us dressage riders can be very much into details sometimes, I am afraid. It is good to get some yeehaaa and shake us up a bit...and the horses find it fun too! (And I get a bit curious about your Swedish lady?)

NuzzMuzz – when I got her as a 3 yo she thought it was really scary to get hosed down, and was all over the place. I just had to get her to behave as her legs needed to be washed clean from mud and sand daily. Isn’t it amazing what a few snacks in your pocket can do, lol?

Allhorsestuff – thank you!

RuckusButt – Getting into shape: nothing scientific. I just try to see when she gets tired compared to what her shape was before the break. I start out with short but active sessions, and stop before she gets tired. I do not want too much stiffness and lactic acid making the work next day unpleasurable. And then we add a bit more for each day. As long as she is happy and eager to work I believe it is OK.
Mind: When building up a horse the muscles can handle an increased work load sooner than the skeletal system. So if your horse has had a long break, you need to be a bit more careful so you don’t run into problems with joint issues etc.
I took her out trail riding on Sunday, which was fun because I let her decide where to go and what to do (Within frames; she did not get to eat all the grass she wanted and we did not turn home at the first two crossroads…)
But it was a fun trip for both of us and I found out that she is in a good shape, haha. I am contemplating to let “her” tell about it.
And you know, clean tack is addictive ;-)

OnceUpon – We have many trees here. Should I send you some?
I believe Fame is happy. Her owner for sure is as she is the lucky owner of her!