Horses lend us the wings we lack.

In riding a horse we borrow freedom.

The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Crest Release

The crest release vs the automatic release is probably one of the most debated topics when it comes to jumping equitation. Relatively new to jumping, I was taught the crest release but when my release was recently questioned by a fellow rider who uses the automatic release, I took it upon myself to do some research about how the crest release became popular and why it is used by modern day coaches in the jumping world.

Over the years, jumping techniques have drastically changed. Most techniques derived from military influence. Barbara Ellin Fox, has explained beautifully the evolution and major influencers of the modern day crest release. She writes:

The biggest change is attributed to Capt. Federico Caprilli, an Italian Cavalry officer who started the jumping world toward making the transition from the backward seat to the Forward Seat.  Caprilli, who was able to devote hours a day to riding and training, firmly believed that the hands should follow the horse’s mouth over the jump [the automatic release]...

The Automatic Release; the hand following the horse's mouth

In 1938 , Capt. V.S. Littauer, published  book titled, “More About Forward Riding”, he argued, “Following the movements of the horse’s neck and head through the air requires a very strong seat and a great deal of rhythm, and might be impractical in many cases of amateur riding.” Littauer was a public instructor and believed a riding technique needed to be developed for the occasional, less athletic rider. [Littauer suggests that] “keeping a firm position, while having the hands in the air, requires a very athletic body and constant daily practice, I would suggest that you help yourself remain in balance by supporting yourself with your hands laid on the horse’s neck.”

Barbara Ellin Fox continues that...Caprilli believed that the horse should be allowed to travel and jump as naturally as possible and that it was the rider’s responsibility to impede the horse as little as possible.

Then came George Morris, the one accredited for popularizing the crest release in modern riding, especially in the hunter/jumper ring. Barbara Ellin Foxs simply explains the crest release:   

The crest release is a method of placing the hands on the horse’s neck during jumping, so the rider does not interfere with the horse’s mouth. Riders are encouraged to support their upper body via their hands on the horse’s “crest” 

The Crest Release; the hand pressing on the horse's crest

Caprilli, Littauer and Morris all influenced the evolution of on the forward seat and the modern day riding technique of the crest release all to minimize interference with the horse's mouth and to stabilize the upper body over a jump with the forward motion of the horse.

Of course anything practiced or taken to the extreme isn't a good thing. The critique of the crest release is that some overemphasize George Morris's technique by being too forward out of the saddle, too flat against the horses neck and thrust their legs back too far. The dependency of the rider to lean their forward weight onto the horse creates a weak forward seat, and the weight on the horses neck can cause the horse to become unbalanced during the jumping motion.

The extreme crest release, note the rider's flat upper body and backward motion of their lower leg

The crest release, if executed properly can be a very useful tool to help riders learn how to engage a forward seat without impeding the rider's balance or the horse's mouth.  Originally introduced to help novice riders, it now used by all levels of riders to safely get over a jump.  Though it may not be the only type of release, it is definitely the most common practiced technique in North America.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tips for the Perfect Test by Jane Savoie

Following my last post about my dressage test, I stumbled upon a great article by Jane Savoie geared to help ride the perfect test. Read below for some great pointers from the article:


So you want to be able to do the dressage test on autopilot, so that you can reserve all of your focus for riding your horse. You want to be riding your horse not concentrating on what comes next in the pattern.

To help you do this, start memorizing your test early on.

Visualization-I know that it takes approximately 21 days to develop a habit. So I start visualizing my dressage test every day at least 3 weeks before a show. I sit in an easy chair or lie down on my bed, close my eyes, and take 3 really deep breaths.

When you visualize the perfect ride, you program your subconscious mind to ride correctly. That’s because when you do “perfect practice” in your mind’s eye, your muscles will fire in the correct way. Experience yourself feeling calm, relaxed, poised and the harmony of being at one with your horse.

Do your test on foot.
Another thing I do walk and trot, and canter the parts of the dressage test at home in my living room as if I were riding them. Just mark off a rectangular  area and trot down the center line, do your halts, trot off, plan where you’re going to turn, walk where you’re supposed to walk, canter where you’re supposed to canter. So you actually have a chance to physically practice.

Know your dressage test “forwards and backwards”.
The third way that I memorize a test is to learn it the way it’s written from the first entry to the final salute. But then, to know that I “own” that test, I pick any movement and ask myself what comes after it. And here’s the real thing that tells the story, I ask myself, “And what movement comes before this movement?”

What you do as you go around the arena really depends on your horse. I find it helpful to just walk around the arena with tense horses. 

For the horse that tends to be a little behind the leg, you might decide to do some rising trot lengthenings outside the arena. That way you can make sure that your horse is in front of the leg and that you really get his motor going.

Or let’s say you have a horse that is spooky or to tends to get a little on the forehand. Do a little shoulder-in when you’re still outside the arena.

The next thing that you have to think about is whether you’re going to enter from the right rein or from the left rein? If your horse is fairly straight, enter from the direction you’ll be turning at C. That will trigger your memory if you blank out and forget which way to turn at C.

So, if I’m going to be turning right at C, I normally enter from the right rein. I enter from the left rein if I’m going to be turning left at C.

However, let’s say I have a horse that’s really hollow to the left (meaning he likes to bend his neck and carry his hind quarters to the left then); I’ll enter from the right. That’s because he’ll be straighter, and I don’t want the judge’s first impression to be that my horse is crooked.

Now, as you come down that centerline, look up, and make eye contact with the judge. This is part of showmanship. No matter how you’re really feeling, look confident, put a smile on your face, and come down that centerline like you own that arena.  As you finish your centerline, keep your horse straight. Pretend you’re going to lengthen toward the judge so you ride him between the channel of your legs and hands. Then warn him that he’s going either left or right by asking for flexion at the poll when you’re a couple of strides before C.

Okay, you’re in the arena. No matter what level you’re doing, you have to ride corners. The general rule for riding corners is that you don’t have to go any deeper into the corners than the smallest circle done at each level.

So, the smallest circle you’re asked to do for First Level is a 10-meter circle. That means you need to get into the corner to the depth of one quarter of a 10-meter circle.

But if you can show a difference between the line that you follow when you’re going into a corner and the line that you follow when you’re on your 20-meter circle, you show the judge that you’re a savvy rider.

Your rule of thumb is to ride into the corner as deep as your horse can manage. That is, he can keep the same rhythm, tempo, balance and quality of his gait.

The next things that all the tests have in common are diagonal lines. Here’s what I’d suggest. First, ride deep into the corner before you turn onto the diagonal. Then look at a point about a half-meter before the final letter on the long side. Aim for that spot when you go across the diagonal. By looking a little bit before the letter, you’ll have more time to really balance your horse for the next corner.

Another thing that all the tests have in common is that you have transitions from gait to gait. And with the more advanced tests, you also have transitions within the gait.

First, let’s look at transitions from gait to gait. Always prepare for those transitions with half halts. However, the particular version of the half halt you give depends on the way your horse feels prior to the transition. This is because a transition can be no better than the stride just before the transition.

If your horse is well schooled, obedient, and is solidly on the bit, you can give what I call “Preparatory Half Halts”. That’s a momentary closure of seat, leg and hand–Take/give, take/give, take/give.

Direct those half halts to the inside hind leg. Give the half halts when the inside hind leg is on the ground just before it’s ready to push off. You need to time these half halts when the inside hind leg is on the ground because that’s really the only time you can influence a hind leg. Once it’s in the air, it’s already committed to its flight.

Your goal is to engage the inside hind leg prior to the transition. Give three Preparatory Half Halts prior to the down transition. Let’s say, for example, that you want to go from trot to walk. When you feel the inside hind leg on the ground, say something like, “Engage, engage, engage, walk”. Or you can say, “Now, now, now, walk”.

When I’m getting ready to do a downward transition, I tune into my seatbones. I feel which of my seat bones is being pushed up in the air or forward.

So I get into the timing of the inside hind leg being on the ground. Then, 3 strides before the letter, I give my half halts. I’ll say, “Now, now, now, walk,” or if I’m cantering, and I want to trot, I’ll say, “Now, now, now, trot.”

It’s pretty easy to feel the inside hind leg in the walk and in the trot. In the canter, feel the moment when your seat is deepest in the saddle. It’s also the moment when your horse’s mane flips up. So you can coordinate what you see with what you feel.

That’s how I prepare for transitions so that I ride a very accurate dressage test. I know how much ground my horse covers with each stride. So, when I’m 3 strides away from where I’ll be doing a down transition, I give my 3 Preparatory Half Halts–a momentary closure of seat, leg and hand directed to the inside hind leg being on the ground.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Perfect Dressage Test

It has been a long summer full of lots of riding, schooling and showing (yes I consider 5 shows a lot!), oh and also a big wedding too... Our dressage is slowly improving. We are now past the point where I want to hang on for dear life and now into more of a compromising situation - you give, I give. My hands have gotten much more softer, my seat much more stable and my core more stronger yet more supple.  That's a lot to achieve in just one summer and I wouldn't have achieved it without my amazing coach who is nothing but encouraging (I don't learn well when I'm told I suck - lesson #1 find a coach who teaching methods best suit you). Unfortunately, I am still at the point where I ride best when I'm being instructed, left independent of my coach, my riding tends to go backwards. Hence why I always feel that my dressage tests don't reflect my true potential - but hey, Rome wasn't built in a day! Someday, I will stop over-worrying about remembering the test and start concentrating on the art of the perfect test (bending in the corners, straight lines, acceptance of the bridle, balance and that forever craved but not yet acheived "uphill" motion). Someday.... *sigh*  Perhaps a swig of Baileys before my test will help?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Run Away Horse...

With our next show in a matter of a couple days, I have been trying to cram as many lessons in as possible to prepare ourselves for our first dressage test.  Eddy was a superstar last weekend, so I was feeling that Eddy should be on his best behaviour during our lesson. Well, I felt wrong.  Though he is getting much better at the downward transitions... his prior life he only was given the "go" and never the "whoa".   (It took me a year and a half to get him to stand beside the mounting block and another half year to get him to only walk as I got on).   

Eddy was as hot as hot can be.  Realizing that I had been practicing the walk/trot test for the last couple weeks instead of the entry test which I was suppose to ride, I needed to work on my canter.  And away we went..... Goodbye Ali and Eddy.....

Usually the canter is our best gait, best form, best impulsion, best carriage, but last night it became all about going stronger, faster and lest more and more out of control.  Because he is a jumper, I sometimes worry if I can't steer him I may find myself jumping out of the ring  (Yes, he is a point and aim kinda guy...)

I could see my coaches blank expression meant - OMG, we're doomed for Sunday's test.  "Maybe he just needs a good run?" She suggested. Well, that's fine and dandy I complied, (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right?)  IF I had any type of brakes. We switched the bit up to a western snaffle. I am not hard handed, so this bit isn't cruel it just gives me a better insurance policy for stopping.  It actually makes Eddy quite soft when he is one of "those kind of moods" but for everyday riding, it is much too much of a bit.  (I used to put my old mare in this bit when the spring time came and the happy bucking and bolting fits began. It made her very sweet. As my coach would say "you could melt butter in her mouth".  I don't really get that saying, but it really sets the tone...  )

Out I went for a run.  My mind is thinking  "am I crazy ?" - or -  "this may be kinda fun". Not everyday does your coach condone you running your horse to take the edge off.  Low and behold, it was what we needed. We did a beautiful controlled canter all around the fields of the farm AND I HAD BRAKES! We returned to the barn. I thought we were going to call it a night, but back we went to the ring.  Let's test the theory.... yup, it worked. We did a perfect dressage test.

What's on the itinerary for Saturday?  A good run on the trails. LOL

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our first show... setting the bar

Back from our first show of the season! Apparently, according to my friend, I was suppose to set the bar low for my first show, so there is room for improvement. Unfortunately that will be a hard target to reach.  We got reserve champion!  Out of a class of 24 - an unusual large turnout, we managed a 2nd place in our first course, a 1st place in our second course and a 2nd place in our third course.  The hack class we totally bombed, but what do you expect when an averaged sized outdoor ring is full of 24 horses... mostly ponies and I am on one of the biggest horses out there. Yes, I almost ran over a pony in our canter (the ponies brakes were better than ours) and yes, I was on the wrong lead (oops), but there wasn't enough room to concentrate! I was trying to keep everyone alive!  Well, I guess there will be room for improvement after all.... hahaha. I am so proud of Eddy, he lived up to his show name, Steady Eddy. Someone even joked that he was drugged.... no! just "chilled" and I am just fine with that!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The man from snowy river

On a whim, I decided to go for a quick ride on my retired mare. Having to catch up to the other riders already on trail, I  threw on my helmet, a halter bridle and proceeded saddle-less.  My stiff mare was feeling quite limber and (breaking all rules) I pushed her into a jog as soon as I got on.  Sheylan (my mare) was all business. 

I bobbled along bareback down the driveway, to the back hill which leads to the creek where the other riders were waiting.  I steadied her into a walk at the hill, but halfway down, a walk just wasn't going to cut it for Shey and she went into her trot again. Did I mention it was slightly muddy, I was bareback and going down a hill??  (again with the breaking of all rules - hey, you gotta have a little fun on the retired one's, right?) I felt like the man from snowy river, galloping down the steep ridge. Well, I wasn't galloping, and though the hill is steep, it probably wasn't as dangerous - my horse can maneuver down anything if you give her her head.  Despite that I sure felt like I was going to go "over the handlebars" as my fiance would put it. Squealing all the way down, I sat back as far as I could and "rode it out".  I survived.

We joined the others and set out in a swift trot around the meadow.  The more we trotted, the faster we were getting (yes, I was leading) and the more I began to realize I had very little control with the halter bridle (why the heck did I put that thing on anyways??). We switched to the back of the line when one of the other horses decided that being nudged forward to catch up meant leap forward on all fours, buck down a slight hill and then buck all the way up it (wow, I wish I could creatively write how funny it was to watch the rider's eyes scream "OH MY GOD" whilst her mouth formed a slight smile as she got him back under control). 

I decided enough of the shanannagans, I gotta get this beast under control before the other riders never ask me to ride with them again.  Well, a little too late I guess, as I took up my reins, sat a little deeper, Sheylan took full advantage of the small hill in front of us and squealed (that's my warning bell), bolted forward and bucked all the way down the hill. Again I found myself in the same predicament going much faster than I preferred downhill. I do know enough to keep her head up, but unfortunately the halter bridle was no such help. Her head was so low to the ground I thought this was it, over the handlebars I go.  Well, if I wasn't gifted with coordination I was gifted with supreme balance - I have survived spooks like you wouldn't believe.  My wonderful center of gravity saved me and I stayed right on her back the entire way down until I finally managed to pull her head up at the bottom. I was having too much fun to tune her in... and burst into laughter as did my fellow riders.  Nothing makes me smile more than when my horse feels good enough to grace me with a few happy bucks :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's Show Time

After much procrastination, I finally buckled down, and admitted I am not going to get any younger - it's time to compete again.

No, not endurance, I am flying my flag in another territory now. What?  Oh, just hunter/jumper, dressage and cross country (You know, the whole eventing thingy, oh plus a few hunter shows on the side). Yes, I have my work cut out for me, but I have the horse who will take me where I want to go. I have always dreamed of being an all-around rider. I want to say: been there, done that!  But sitting idle in my saddle at home won't get me there. It's time to put in place an action plan and nothing says that more than when I tell my coaches, I am going to a show! Suddenly your casual riding turns into serious time in the saddle working hard to improve all your flaws just in time for the show.

Did I mention dressage and jumping?  Yes, two coaches, two totally different ways of riding... my body is slightly confused - two point or three point? hands high or low? stirrups up or down? But, hey! others riders can do it, so can I... right?  The good old muscle memory is in training. The funny thing is, the more dressage I do, the better my jumping is and the more jumping I do, the more I learn what in dressage I need to work on to get my jumping better. Huh, who knew?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dressage and the power of your seat

Our dressage is a little rusty - okay much more rustier than I'd like to admit, but with my first eventing show in three weeks, I have been doing some catch-me-up dressage lessons. Eddy and I are finally in tune (oh, for the most part anyways) when it comes to jumping. No longer is he scaring the crap outta me and no longer am I to him. Did I mention how strong he is??  Really, it came down to me managing his strides, but... again that's a whole other tangent...  Being so strong and hard mouthed (but sensitive in so many ways) our riding sometimes becomes a fight about who is stronger - you can guess I rarely win. We had Eddy going great in a myler bit, but I have discovered he needs to be rotated when it comes to the bit department, and what works for jumping, doesn't necessarily work for dressage. 
I was out last night, working on my flatwork with Eddy being in one of his anxious moods, and me, a little tired, we began this fight. I wanted him round, he wanted to be flat and full out extended trot.  As soon as I used contact, he popped his head up and hollowed his back. Grrrrr.  Out comes my coach.  "Give him the reins!"  (I don't really want to - he is just going to blast forward!!!!!) But, I do as I am told. "Now let him extend". He trots fast.... "Start slowing your posting, and DON'T use your reins!" Some collection starts to take place, but I am still not convinced... "Relax your upper body and post just with your seat, you're putting too much weight in your stirrups" (oh that is such a weakness of mine...) "Good, good!, now start sitting heavier every time you post, while still slowing your posting".  It worked, he slowed down, came into a proper trot and was in proper frame. Never underestimate the power of your seat.  Especially with a horse like Eddy who is ultra sensitive to the aids.  Yes, he pulls, but he can only pull if there is something to pull on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Can't get enough air!

Since mother nature has decided to skip spring and go right to summer, these abnormally warm March temperatures have got everyone dying to ride.  Me, I just can't get enough air. I want to jump!  I left behind my fear of jumping this winter and gained me some wings!  Somehow the button magically clicked "on" and Eddy and I have made quite a pair through a jumping course.  Suddenly we can attack the jumps with style and grace; no longer in a battle of strength, but working as a team with trust.  Now we just have to get working on that cross country course I have been talking about...  The count down is on until April 29th, our first show this season!!!  Dressage and stadium.  Maybe I should get back to working on flatwork!??

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Horse Fever

I have horse fever. This happens every spring. The lack of motivation and energy from winter catches up with me and in the spring, every breath I breathe, every beat of my heart is horses, horses, horses. I can't get it out of my mind. No matter how much I ride, how many horses I ride, how many jumps I jump, how much new tack or riding apparel I purchase, I cannot get enough to satisfy my thirst. I want everything horsey. My mind is buzzing with excitement.  Soon, summer will be around the corner and I will realize I can't do everything at once. Afterall, I do have a wedding to plan this summer...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Horse Crazy

It always amazes me about the frugality of horse riders. I too have fallen victim to cheaping out on personal items such as shoes, clothes, and more or less deny expensive hair salons and spa days and expensive high end furniture, so my horse and I can wear the brand name items around the barn. My family looks upon me like I am crazy, but why do I do it?  Put into perspective, I spend most of my free time around horses, so I wear my barn clothes more than my regular clothes, I am in the saddle more than my furniture, and using the wheelbarrow more than my car! Like more horsenuts out there, the horse always comes first!  Put more realistically for those of us on a budget, we have a trade off. If we buy less expensive items for ourselves, we can afford better care for our horses, better saddles and better riding clothes for the days spent in the saddle.  It is the price of the opportunity cost and the horse always wins!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Myler Bit

The Myler bit - I have renamed the miracle bit.  Having ridden mostly bitless in the last 10 years, my bit knowledge did not extend much pass snaffle, french link and tom thumb.  Having accquired a horse who had bit issues, and was too strong to go into a bitless, I found myself in this endless search for a bit which would work.  Then, the myler came to the rescue. Not only did it provide the softness I needed in the bit, but also the brakes which I needed too. No longer was he running through the bit, fighting the bit or popping his head up and opening his mouth to avoid the bit pressure all together.  I have educated myself in bit 101 and have multiple horses going beautifully in the myler, whether they are in training or a seasoned professional.