Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lunge Lessons from the Abyss

In an effort to deepen and educate my seat, this week and much of last week was spent in a combination of lunge line lessons with and without stirrups, and much off lunge riding without stirrups.  (An aside-- when your trainer says "ok take away the stirrups" in 100 degree Houston summer heat you get immediate street cred from any barn buddies that happen to be within ear shot.)

DON'T WAIT is the take (to-the-barn-not-home) lesson.  From the mounting block I need to raise my expectations that Rijkens will be prompt off my leg and light in my hand.  If he isn't, I must create stored energy in him with my strong position, and even-ness in both reins (no knitting).  The rider must create the energy and brilliance in the horse that a really startling spook, such as from a semi truck or other very scary object, would create, but that it is controlled and submissive.  Yes I know it's not easy but if there is ever a time where I can cultivate this kind of awareness between a horse and me it is definitely with Rijkens.

Added to the lunge lessons and stirrup-free riding at home this week and last, my barn buddy Lisa has graciously allowed me to pick up a weekly ride on her wonderful horse Nate, a very close cousin of Rijkens.  The focus of those rides also has been to get to the point in an efficient way (a must-have in this Houston heat) with an emphasis on collection and engagement through the bio-mechanics of the centaur human-horse dynamic.

                                Nate in his stall before our ride:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Silver Medal

Rijkens has allowed me to realize several life goals, including earning my United Stated Dressage Federation Bronze and Silver medals.  On April 29 2017 at the Shoofly Farm CDI HDS open show Rijkens earned my final score for our silver medal.

The local dressage community has been very congratulatory toward me on this accomplishment.  One well wisher, an "L" graduate and grand prix rider, added a warning to not be in a rush toward my gold medal, but to enjoy the moment, the learning experience and the journey.  She mentioned that she too often sees people surging straight from their silver on toward gold.  I appreciate and agree with her perspective, and even felt backwardly complimented that she thought I might even be capable of zooming toward that lofty goal.

A discovery I've made in dressage, as in anything academic, is the more you learn, the more you know you actually don't know.  Yes I've gotten a few rides down centerline at Prix St Georges, but I am far from being where I want to be in competently riding correct collection and engagement for the FEI levels.  I couldn't rush headlong toward my gold, even if that is something I want; I lack the experience at the PSG level yet to move onward.

The good news is I have a perfect horse to allow me that additional experience in the FEI ring.  Rijkens has been called "almost a really good horse" by someone whose opinion matters.  Meaning: he isn't necessarily a perfect specimen, but what he is capable of he does really well and occasionally shows brilliance.  Rijkens is a very good small tour horse, earning his adult amateur our bronze and silver medals, and qualifying this year (2017) for local SWDC championships with me at PSG and for USDF Region 9 open championships at Intermediaire 1 with our trainer.

For now I will continue striving in the Prix St Georges, with our eyes on I1 possibly next season.  I've now ridden the PSG in all of four weekend shows, so eight rides.  As my friend suggested, I am in no hurry to rush toward the big tour.  Admittedly I want to ride it one day, but for now my focus is on improving my ride in the small tour and learning all I can with the capable and wonderful horse that I have at the moment.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Shoofly Farm CDI Open Show April 2016 snapshots

Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Carol Lavell Grant

Rijkens and I are the recipients of a 2016 Carol Lavell Gifted grant for adult amateurs.

The Dressage Foundation press release is here:

An excerpt from our grant application:
My 2001 Holsteiner gelding Rijkens is a capable schoolmaster that I have owned and shown for three years.  When I purchased Rijkens, we started showing at the level I was capable of at the time, USEF second level.  Together we completed the requirements to earn the USDF bronze rider medal, and we have qualified at fourth level this year for our regional championships.  We have very good access to competent training at our home base, which includes an ongoing relationship with Lyndon Rife, a Grand Prix rider and trainer that has a decades long history of helping students reach their training and showing goals.  With Lyndon Rife’s help, in 2016 I plan to take on the challenging task of emerging as an FEI rider and earning my USDF silver and possibly gold rider medals.  

To that end, I plan to go beyond my regular training with Lyndon Rife in the clinics I currently participate in several times yearly when he travels to my home area of Houston.  The difference will be that with the Carol Lavell Gifted scholarship I will be able travel to Lyndon Rife’s farm in Dallas to spend a week in the beginning show season of 2016 in an immersion program at his farm, taking daily lessons and having him school Rijkens both in hand and under saddle.  

I'm looking forward to my week of intentional riding and training at LTR Dressage in Dallas with Lyndon Rife.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Feeds and Feeding, Rijkens edition

Each (rare) time I switch a horse's feed, I go through the exercise of reading the label, weighing the feed, and calculating how much each horse should receive daily.

In moving to Isabella Farms, they feed the premium diet called Progressive Nutrition Premium Performance 8 Sweet feed.  I weighed one three quart scoop of Rijkens' feed today at my grocer's produce scale.  One three quart scoop weighs exactly three pounds.  Rijkens is fed one and a half scoops in the morning and evening, for a total of nine pounds daily of Progressive Performance feed.

Rijkens gets three flakes of coastal hay daily, kept in front of him 24 hours a day via a slow-feed nibble net.  I haven't yet weighed his current hay but my best estimation is that one flake of hay is approximately two pounds to four pounds.  So Rijkens is eating approximately ten pounds of coastal hay daily (six to twelve pounds daily).  

Rijkens gets one half flake alfalfa in the morning and in the evening.  My best estimation is that one flake of alfalfa is approximately four pounds.  So Rijkens is eating approximately four pounds of alfalfa daily.

Rijkens spends about seven hours in the paddock each day, and probably four of those he spends grazing.  So if a horse takes in half a pound of grass for every hour spent grazing, Rijkens is eating approximately two pounds of grass daily.

Rijkens has access to fresh water ad libitum.

A very general rule of thumb is horses should consume greater than or equal to 1% of their body weight in forage per day, and less than or equal to 1% of their body weight in concentrate. Horses in moderate to heavy work have greater feed requirements than the average "rule of thumb" horse.

So Rijkens, weighing in at ~1,400 pounds should be eating at least fourteen pounds of forage daily and no more than 14 pounds of concentrate.

Rijkens' total daily intake:

  • 9 pounds feed.
  • ~14 pounds high quality mixed hay.
  • ~2 pounds lower quality pasture.

According to the feeding directions from the Premium Performance 8 bag:
1/2-1 hrs/day8-12 lbs10-20 lbs
Rijkens, with a full schedule of ~45 minutes work daily, should be getting 8 to 12 pounds of feed and 10 to 20 pounds of hay.  Being that he is 17 hands and ~1,400 pounds I would presume he is near the top end of the scale, so about 10 pounds of feed and around 18 pounds of hay daily.  Being that he is an easy keeper, Rijkens' diet does fall close to within the recommended daily allotment.  

Rijkens' dam Ladybug with her 2011 colt Lamborghini

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Conrad Schumacher Symposium warm up

Notes and video from the initial warm up day for the Conrad Schumacher symposium February 27, 2015.

Some key points:

Sit easily in the changes and just ask with your seat position for the change.

After a kick to create impulsion keep absolutely still.  A kick (or any giddyup aid) is only effective when the neck is in the verticle.  Open your legs and make your hip wide and he goes bigger.

For the flying change look through the ears of the horse, then you count to three to get the rhythm of the canter strides, then ask for the change.

To create a willingly forward horse take the whip in the inside hand in the middle and touch him with the whip on the inside shoulder as you give the inside rein. Let the horse do the job-- you just sit there. Be brave with the whip and let him go bigger.

The outside arm hangs loosely in the half pass.  Sit relaxed in the horse and sit with your butt wide and you are relaxed in the horse.

Most important criteria for a going horse:
     1)First, make them go
     2)Second, keep the neck in the vertical
It changes everything; from there the horse is willing and over the back and you can do anything.

A pirouette is nothing but canter.  You basically canter a half pass on a small circle.  You sit like in half pass: sit on the inside seatbone; the inside shoulder falls down; you lead the horse along the path of travel.  Inside hand gives; inside hand gives; inside hand gives.  Keep your rider's position; sit on the inside seatbone to allow the horse to turn.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Conrad Schumacher Symposium March 1, 2015

In preparing for show riding Mr. Schumacher shared three ideas: 90%; two minutes; and mental.
  • 90%: when warming up at the showgrounds for a test, ride way more collection and roundness of neck than you will actually need in the test itself.  So if in the warm up you are riding 110% then in front of the judge you can afford to back off that little bit 10% and still be where your horse should be.
  • Two minutes: in the last couple minutes as you're making your final warmup before the bell rings and including after the bell rings, keep riding.  Too often riders stop riding in those last two minutes and the horse has said good bye even as they're going down centerline.  Instead ride medium trot to walk pirouettes back and forth along the long side, or ride several brisk walk trot transitions.  Keep riding 110% percent those last couple minutes before entering at A.
  • Mental: you can only practice ride the actual test at home so many times, but you can ride a perfect test in your mind's eye limitless times.  Ride the test mentally again and again, and really feel the horse bending around your inside leg in the corner, feel yourself preparing your horse for a perfect half pass, feel riding the willingly forward tempis.  Ride the test and really feel it mentally many, many times in preparation for the horse show.
The rider's confidence is key to a successful horse show, and by being prepared including the above three principles will add to your self confidence.  

Winter riding in the gulf coast.  This photo, taken yesterday here at Isabella Farms, is probably much what it looked like to ride under the Spanish moss in Texas one hundred seventy-nine years ago.

Video highlights:

Full lesson:

Conrad Schumacher Symposium February 28, 2015

When using a tap of the whip on the inner shoulder to increase power it is important that you let it happen, that you give on the inside rein in that moment, the inside rein stays soft in that moment. That is how you create to ability to go willingly forward.

In order for the rider's body to be straight and relaxed, all riders must have the horse go willingly forward. The straight and relaxed rider's position comes from this willingly forward horse-- it is what we all need.

Also in canter you can touch him with the whip on the inside shoulder, then the outside rein stands and allow the horse to go forward.  Animate the horse to go willingly forward with little aids, not with hard work.  Driving aids are clear and once, not nagging.  A touch with the whip in the right moment with a giving hand: that makes the horse go.

When once in a while the horse gets touched with the whip on the inner shoulder, sooner or later you can come with the inner leg and you get the same result as with the whip.  Sit completely relaxed; feel that your hip moves, the saddle is soft; how easy it is.  In the flying changes, tempis, and circles look through the horse's ears and widen you hips and let your hip swing.

Riding can be effortless when the horse goes willingly forward and your seat position is correct by leading the horse along the path of travel and not trying hard.


  • On the long side in trot shoulder in to E (or B) to volte to travers.  Look through the horse's ears and swing with the hip.  Just sit and feel the swing of your hips; in the volte look through the ears and swing with the hips with the hands to the ears.  Keep your inner leg hanging down and your inside shoulder "falling down."
  • Down centerline in trot, start with shoulder in right then half pass right keeping a brisk tempo. Then again down centerline shoulder in left to half pass left.
  • By doing good walk pirouettes you have a good chance to do canter pirouettes.  Keep the neck round, with hands up and wide.  The neck must stay round.  Go down the longside in travers left, then turn in left walk pirouette and go along the wall again in travers right (the new direction) then the walk pirouette right.  Lead in with the inner hand then ride forward.  
  • In canter left ride travers left along the longside.  Then make a canter pirouette to the left; start with the inside rein.  Then flying change and travers down the longside in right canter then canter pirouette right.  From the travers let go and ride forward and the turn happens with your position, not by trying hard.
  • An important prerequisite for understanding pirouettes: start in the walk go deep in the corner (on the right rein), at the corner letter (M) half pass to the quarterline then keeping your same seat and leg position leg yield back to the wall then the left leg brings the half pass right again, then leg yield back to the wall keeping the same position without pressure from the left leg but the left leg is guarding in the leg yield.  When we do this exercise we give understanding of the aids to both the horse and rider for pirouettes.
  • Then do the same half pass, leg yield, half pass, leg yield exercise in (right) canter.  Keep your same seat position.  Give the left rein, don't pull, use the right leg (in right canter).  The moment when you go from the leg yield to the half pass in, that is the feeling of the aid for canter pirouette.
  • Half pass in. leg yield out, half pass in, pirouette.  The leg yield makes the horse hollow, then you can take the inner rein and lead it in, and the aid for pirouette is the same like the half pass aid.
  • Cantering over poles helps Rijkens' canter stride, and gives his canter more power.  It is an easy and fun exercise for the horse and rider.  
Video highlights:

Conrad Schumacher Symposium February 27 - March 1 2015