December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

My parent's house

On December 22 we left for Sweden to visit my parents, and to celebrate Christmas together with them and my brother and sister's families.
Lots of people in a small house with children everywhere and a lot of laughter and good food...we had a wonderful Christmas!
Thanks Mum and Dad!

This winter has broken all low temperature records, but it is so very beautiful outside - like a winter fairy tale.
So in spite of the cold, we enjoy being outdoors.

We took out two cats with us to Sweden.
King of Hunt is not affected by low temperatures, even if he spends more time in the sofa corner than normal.
But our little Sofa Princess is...well, a sofa princess. She does not get much coat to isolate from low temperatures, so we decided to take her for a short walk:

...inside my daughter's jacket.
At least she got to see something different!

A new year is on our doorstep.
It will bring new possibilities for us all.

May the new year come with many happy horse-y moments, wonderful rides and may it keep you safe and sound.
All the best!

As one who grew up in Sweden during the 70's I cannot help myself from adding a New Year's greeting from ABBA - Happy New Year!

December 23, 2010

A Merry Christmas

To all my friends around the world -
I wish you a peaceful Christmas, with time to relax together with family, friends and horses.

December 21, 2010

White Christmas with problems

Central Europe is paralyzed by large amounts of snow.

In Belgium they haven’t seen snowing like this since 1945 (in the Ardennes Offensive, “Battle of the Bulge”, the temperature in January -45 gave large problems)

Many are spending their third night in a row at Brussels airport.
The airport has run out of de-icing fluid as the trucks can’t get through due to bad road conditions.

Heathrow, Schiphol and Frankfurt are affected too, where many of the long distance flights take off.

Weather like this is always bad, but my thoughts go to them that are longing to see their near and dear ones for Christmas and can't get home.
I hope the snowing subsides, so the airports can resume their normal activity again.

December 18, 2010

Someone has to take care of things?!

I do believe that any horse needs variation in  work, but youngsters in particular.

I have been hacking out with Fame ever since she was started under rider.
In the beginning  I walked part of the way, to save her back.
Sometimes we got to some scary stuff.
Most of the time, she crossed by herself after searching for crocodiles without finding any.
Once in a while I had to help her by getting off and walking over the scary stuff beside her.
"See? No crocodiles."
When safe over she got a pat and a snack.

Now I have a very reliable trail horse that handles everything from water to mud and moose.
So I relax when we are out.
Let my mind wander.

And Fame crosses whatever is in front of her nose.

Thing is, I don't pay attention.

So she has to remind me.
Whenever we have crossed something scary, she goes in slow-motion mode.
"Hey, you, upstairs - you've forgotten something!
And if I am still lost in my own little world, she stops.
"Uh, what?" I suddenly get aware that something is happening here.
Snack time.

Then we carry on.

Somebody has to take care of things.
Mind the traditions, like.

I have got some in one of the pockets, somewhere...

You might also be interested in: What's in it for me? 

December 13, 2010

Correct?....or not?

The debate around dressage lately is good, but sometimes also a bit black and white. Or blurred.
We get a lopsided view if the discussion only relates to the position of the horse's head - which is one part of the picture, but not the whole.
We also have to discuss how the horse is using his entire body, and in particulary his back and hind legs. 
The position of the head should be a consequence of educational level and correct training. 
If you look at the correct body posture and neck position of a young horse, and compare it to that of a Grand Prix horse, it differs quite a lot.

Jan Brink/Björsells Briar

Within the training, you might also need to position the horse's head and neck differently.
To loosen up the back you often work the horse in a lower outline in the beginning and end of a training session.
It is also important that you vary the form throughout the training.
The horse's individual preference and body conformation also comes into play; a horse that wants to work deep often tends to be on the forehand and needs some more "up" work, and a horse who wants to work high often gets tense and needs some deeper work to loosen up.

A correctly educated dressage horse will get stronger over the years, and will be able to collect more.
The forward energy that the young horse shows will become more expressive as the older horse develops collection and "schwung".
Collection in a dressage context means stronger in the hindlegs which again creates more upwards movements and posture - including a higher neck and head position.
This is not something you can achieve with your hands, it is something the horse offers when he is getting stronger.

During the time it takes to educate the horse, we will experience periods where the horse is not working correctly.
All of us are working towards an ideal; a soft and agile horse, strong and straight - but sadly we will not get it from day one!
The horse needs to learn how to balance the rider, and the work towards the ideal is not always that easy.
A horse that works with the head behind the vertical is not working correct, but a horse that works with the head in front of the vertical, or aligned with it, does not necessarily work correct either.
(And by the way - behind the vertical does not equal rollkur. Rollkur is an extreme, forced position of the head. Behind the vertical can happen due to a number of reasons, and is an overall indicator of incorrect work.)

I managed to lure my daughter the Photographer out to take some pictures of Fame and me, to get some illustrations from a normal rider's daily struggles.
I will use our shortcomings to show what I mean, because this is definetely work in progress.
Please chime in with your thoughts and comments, if you want to - I am happy to get some feedback and discussion here, whether you agree with me or not.
I will present the photos first, without any comments.
Look at them, and compare your own thoughts with mine at the end.

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

What are your thoughts?

Here are mine:

Picture 1: Position of the neck and head is correct, isn't it?
But what about hind leg activity?
My horse happily plods along here, if allowed, saving her energy for another day.
As you can see, she is not tracking up - so this is not good enough. We are starting to work here, and I have to get her back and hind legs into action. We need some more energy!

Picture 2:  Time to start with some canter work.
We are not working correct here either.
I am asking for some more activity, and Fame gets a bit strong and is pushing into the sidepull, closing the angle under her chin and coming slightly behind the vertical.
Her strong contact is a result of having slightly too much weight on the forehand.
I try to fix my body position so she is not pulling me out of balance, while I soften slightly in the contact to avoid her taking too much weight there. Then we start with some transistions within the gait to improve balance and get the hind legs working better.
A more correct form would show a more open angle under her throat/chin, more like an inverted U instead of a V, and a more even curve from the poll to the top of the neck.
When it gets better I'll get a feeling that the poll is rising up, and the contact in my hands softens. What I am looking for is a more uphill canter, without her losing the activity or tensing up in the neck.

Picture 3. Compare the trot here with the trot in picture 1.
She is a bit open in form, but as you can see there is much more activity in her body.
See how the legs are moving compared to pic 1.

Picture 4. I am trying to get her to work in a slightly rounder form here, while keeping the activity. She gets a bit strong, and pushes into the sidepull again. I am trying to fix my position (a bit more difficult when riding without a saddle) and balance her through a halfhalt.

Picture 5: Better!
Far from perfect, but she is working actively in a rounder form and with a nice contact in my hands.
Now we can get some work done.
We still need to work more on building strength so Fame can carry herself in a more collected form.
It takes time as she often gets a bit tense, too high in form and tightening in the back - which is not correct.
The blame is above the saddle for sure, but we are working on it.
Transistions, shoulder-in and half-pass are good tools to use..

Picture 6

And - picture 6: 
Half-pass. They are finally starting to come along, yippeeee!

We have also played around with flying changes lately. 
It seems as if she understands the aids a bit more so we are starting to place them also on straight lines, unrelated to changes in direction.
It is faaar from perfect, but great fun!

You might also be interested in: The crooked horse and The wiggly horse

(It was good to get the photos as I can see that the cheekpieces are getting too close to her eyes when riding. I have changed the browband.)

December 07, 2010

Winter frozeness

November this year has been the coldest ever measured in the Oslo area.
We have had steady temperatures around -20C (-4F) which is not out of the ordinary in January, but rare in November.
It is cold, but beautiful.
I just love the winter stillness, and the crisp beauty of the frozen landscape.
But riding is cold!

I put on layers of clothes and end up like a Michelin figure, with matching ability to move.
When the cold closes in in the evenings, we often get a cold fog that burns down the chest when the breathing gets deeper.
But I am not complaining - last November it rained every day.
This is much better!

Still, it brings some inconveniences.
We use wood shavings as bedding for the horses.
When the temperature goes down to what we are having now, it freezes in the container.
You have to use an axe to get it loose. And it's dark inside the container too.
It is tough work I can tell you - and I only have one or two horses to supply - poor Helene who works at the stable has 15 horses, and a string of race horses to exercise too.
The racing season is still going on for another fortnight.
Imagine those poor jockeys, in thin racing clothes and no fat on their bodies either - riding in this cold.

This weekend my daughter and I took a trip to Örebro in the middle of Sweden.
Last year we had a weekend there right before Christmas due to a meeting.
We enjoyed it very much, and my daughter suggested that we should take a trip this year as well.
It is a 4.5 hrs drive from Oslo.
We started out Thursday evening and spent the night with my sister who lives on the way, 3hrs drive from us .

Örebro is a cute little town.
There are several pedestrian streets in the centre, and waterways surrounding the old medival castle.

Last year we were at the castle as they arranged mystery dinners there Saturday evenings before Christmas.
The play was based in local history and some of the persons had existed in real life a century ago.
It gave quite an atmosphere to be seated in the banquet hall, and we all had to participate to guess who the murder was.
My Sleuth of a daughter managed to make a correct guess too.
(can't say the same about me) 

Örebro Castle

They even have horses here!

An old part of the town is named Wadköping, and before Christmas they arrange a Christmas market with sales stalls.


There is also a shop of the old fashioned type.
Not much room, but very cute!

The old shop

They even had Christmas posters of the old type, several with horses too.
We had to buy one of course!

"Tomten" tends to the creatures on the farm.

At home, even King of Hunt stays indoors.
Then it must be cold...
I give the horses more food - I want to see some extra kilos on their bodies now in the period ahead. Fat isolates nicely in low temperatures, and the horses burn more calories just to keep warm too.
We keep the fire up in the hearth, and the horses get an extra day off in between.
Our instructors won't come due to the temperatures!