The Art of Natural Dressage

Learning to ride... Speedy
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Author:  admin [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 1:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Learning to ride... Speedy

The basic ingredients: :green:

- Speedy: hasn't been ridden in 2+ years, didn't like riding much for years (bucking, pulling against the reins, laying down with rider and all)due to back problems that were eventually solved, but it wasn't his favorite. Welsh sportpony-type, 1,38 m high
- Miriam: hasn't ridden horses in 2+ years, never liked it that much because I didn't like using pressure, reins and bits on horses that didn't really like riding either. 1,66 kg & 1,75 high 8)

So we're a great team! :yes: ;) I've started playing with Speedy from the ground february 2010 and about two months ago I started wondering if riding wasn't a possibility either? Not really riding riding, but more using it as a variation on groundwork, practising stuff from above that we traind from the ground before. I'm keeping a more elaborate Speedy diary on a Dutch forum (sorry guys, but his owner is over there too and it's nice if she can read along too), but as I'm now experimenting with riding for the first time ever on the AND way, I could finally post a topic in this Riding forum as well! :cheers:
This is what we've been doing the past weeks - all thoughts and ideas are welcome - also on the question if I should ride a pony of Speedy's height, because that's been a big question for me.

Session 1-5
I was puzzling with the question if I should ride him with my weight/length and thought Speedy would probably give me the feedback I needed. The first five times I sat on him with cordeo (just sitting for about 2, 3 minutes), Speedy was quite clear in his feedback: he couldn't stand still, just walked back, made angry faces, kicking with his hindlegs at my legs :huh: and started making tiny, 10 cm bucks. Nothing that would hurt me, but I got the point. :blush:
So I started thinking: If my weight was the problem, I thought maybe a sheepskin as pad might help? It didn't. So I started wondering about what it might be that bothered him exactly and decided to study the area I used to sit on - my area. :green: I had been sitting in a relaxed/curved back/Hempfling-like position that Parelli calls 'sitting on your pockets'. When I reenacted that while sitting on a chair on the upper half of my hands - OUCH! :ieks: Where other people apparently have seatbones, I have nasty spikey pointy things!
Another thing was his reaction to my legs. I realised I needed to desensitize him to human legs flapping around his belly, but more important: he needed to learn that human legs flapping around pony bellies are fun! :cheers: 8) So the next groundwork sessions every time I clicked and started patting his belly in a very enthusiastic way while I gave him his reward. He first thought this was really weird, :huh: but soon accepted it and the funny thing is that when we're doing groundwork, for example during an energetic passage, if I pat/'slap' him on his hindquarters with my hand, he instantly relaxes and comes to a halt.

Session 6
During a session the last week of May I wasn't thinking of riding as I didn't have a cap or halter, and I had decided that maybe a halter would be a bit safer if Speedy continued to buck. However, after doing our groundwork I decided to go and have one final try - if he didn't like it, that would be it. So when I got on with nothing but the cordeo I felt a bit deflated (Speedy would probably start bucking again and I would reward and then get off) and decided to try and sit a bit more tilted forward, more like with a straight/hollow back (not really, but you get the point), more like the 'three-point seat' of the classical dressage (your seatbones being two points, the front of your pelvis the third), kind of sagged in that position - and no protest! :cheers:
So then we could finally start experimenting with riding. We tried walk and halt for about three minutes 8) and then stopped again.

Session 7
Next time I was sitting in the same posture, but way too tense as I was afraid I would slip back in the old posture and Speedy responded by bucking again. I asked him to stop, rewarded him and then got off again.

Session 8
First real ride ever! I got on with the cordeo, found the right relaxed upright position, focused on belly-breathing to keep myself loose and relaxed and then we walked! We have a lot of tyres lying around in the paddock and Speedy walked towards one of them and placed his foot on it. :cheers: Good pony! We walked to another tyre and then Speedy found his way to the paddock fence and we followed the rail for one lap while we practised walk/halt (not that well, but it's a start) before I rewarded him Big Time. :D

Session 9
When I got on I was too tense again: I was sitting in the right position, but I was clenching my things too hard and Speedy started walking back again, looking evil and threatening to buck - and I decided not to ask for a halt and get off but instead relax my seat and see what would happen. Speedy came to a halt, accepted his reward gracefully and then we walked around a bit, moving point-to-point from one cone to the other and touching it for a reward.
Next challenge: finding a common language for which side Speedy could collect his rewards! :funny: I thought it was a good idea for our straightness to reward with me holding the food next to my right knee the first time, then next to my left knee next etc. However, Speedy was holding his head at the wrong side most of the time. 8) First I tried tapping on his shoulder the side the food was, directing him towards it with the cordeo and it all failed.
Then I remembered desensitising him to the leg by patting/pusing him against his belly whenever I rewarded him from the ground, and thought that maybe I could use that now as well: if I held the food to the right, I would push my right lower leg against his belly. And that worked! It was even better as in order to reach the food while I held my leg against that side of his belly, he really curled himself around my leg and swayed his ribcage away, just as horses are taught to do in dressage, so I wanted to see what would happen if I held my leg in place when the treat was finished while asking him with the cordeo for a turn. Speedy thought for a few seconds, gave me a nasty look, swished his tail and then turned his hindquarters away! :) So we practised some turns and then got off. Maybe we rode for about 5 minutes, but still it was the longest ride so far. :)

Session 10
Yesterday: After we had done some groundwork I asked myself if we should ride a bit too or not. Well, the reasons not to were clear: I didn't have my helmet with me, Saartje the Shetland pony had sneaked her way into the paddock as well, :roll: and I had left the cordeo in the stable and had no tack/tools whatsoever - and I had just decided that the next time I would ride I was probably going to use both cordeo and halter in order to be able to explain Speedy more about directions when walking. So as I didn't have any of that with me, of course I got on and for the first time ever sat on a completely naked Speedy! 8)
Up until now I had done quite a bit of (ineffective) steering with the cordeo, that's why I had wanted to use a halter as back-up. However, now I didn't have anything with me and just had my seat and legs.
First problem: walk. I couldn't move the cordeo forward for walk now, and so I carefully closed my lower legs around his belly. Speedy looked thoughtful for a moment, then accepted it as cue and walked forward!
Next challenge: halt. Speedy had up until now ignored my voice&cordeo cues and now he ignored my voice cue as well. :funny: So I started laughing and just snapped my fingers (from the ground our touch-the-hand-cue) for the fun of it. Speedy's response: 'What? Where? What should I touch??' Yay, we had a cue (well.. ;) ) for halt!
Final challenge: changing directions. For now I was simply lifting along with Speedy, but he was the one doing the directions and stuff and I didn't have a cordeo to turn or anything (not that that worked that well before either, but still, it felt like I had at least some control). Then I treid what I did the last time again: after a reward keep my reward-leg 8) in place - and Speedy turned around it.

It was so cool to sit on Speedy completely at liberty! :) It also was quite a good lesson for me as I was still thinking very traditional in how I gave my cordeo cues (íf he doesn't respond, enlarge the cue untill he does). Now I was completely helpless in a way and really had to experiment finding new ways to communicate with Speedy that weren't based on upping pressure, but simplu finding the right cues for him.

Of course we aren't really riding yet, now about 80% of my cues resulted in Speedy doing something that I meant and it's just in halt and walk, but I'm quite happy with it (and will probably drop like a log once we start trotting :funny: ) but I'm so happy if I look back at where we came from!

Author:  Donald Redux [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 1:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

A fantastic amount of thought you've given this Miriam. Lucky pony.

No, you aren't the only human afflicted with sharp pointy seat bones - ischia. If you look at a book of human anatomy you'll see we all have this, and even those of us with fleshier bottoms, as soon as you assume a sitting position, the bones present themselves without the covering. Odd evolutionary thing. I'm not sure what purpose it would serve.

There is a way of riding that will put more weight to the thighs but it's not a very successful way for other reasons (balance problems mostly, as one squeezes one's self up off the horse - or rather the horse out from under one's self like a pinched watermelon seed).

Some horses will have enough padding of their own to avoid pain, but in the end a firmer saddle material (whether treeless or not) is called for.

I think you are wise to consider the weight to carrier ratio as a distinct and important issue. I give Altea weeks and weeks of conditioning in circle work (longe line) to prepare her for carrying me, and even then I often walk long distances with her as we go out for rides up the mountain. Certainly that last quarter mile up the hill.

I am 200 lbs, (91 kgs) and though she is a baroque model AndalusianxArabe that is very strong and stout, still, she is only 14.3 hands, (1.4986 m) though she looks like more at her 950 lbs (431.82 kgs) weight.

I have zero experience with Welsh ponies, so I do not know if they have a higher weight carrying capacity then one would think.

There is also the psychological component to consider, as I think you clearly have done. With all our deliberate breeding programs we still have not bred out the "wild," in horses and for some that is more than for others. Thinking ancient prehistory horses, a large creature on one's back is not a good thing - what might be next?

I don't want to discourage your exploration though. It may be the pony will quite like the novelty once accustomed to it and accommodations for comfort are made.

Best wishes,

Author:  admin [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 2:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

Donald Redux wrote:
There is a way of riding that will put more weight to the thighs but it's not a very successful way for other reasons (balance problems mostly, as one squeezes one's self up off the horse - or rather the horse out from under one's self like a pinched watermelon seed).

Heeheee, that's exactly what I did when I got tense and clenched my upper legs around Speedy! 8) And he didn't like that at all, we went back to the backing up, bucking and nasty looks so I think that's a no from him. ;)

I have zero experience with Welsh ponies, so I do not know if they have a higher weight carrying capacity then one would think.

Well, Speedy is quite slim and more a welsh sport pony, so not necessarily the big, burly welsh cob that I could picture carrying a lot of weight...

I don't want to discourage your exploration though. It may be the pony will quite like the novelty once accustomed to it and accommodations for comfort are made.

I did start thinking about (treed/flex tree) saddles when the sheepskin didn't work either as sharp seatbones still can feel quite pointy under a treeless saddle, but you can only really test a saddle completely for both rider and pony if... you can ride the pony. 8) Some paradox. Then Frederieke (owner) told me that Speedy still has an old Barefoot saddle lying around somewhere so I might start using that in the future, but for now I'll stick to bareback for a while for the psychological effect for both of us (me: that I can't force Speedy and just have to sit and let it happen, Speedy: that he is completely free to express all his thoughts even when a human is sitting on him as he has this whole past of fighting with riders).
We'll start thinking about the saddle again once we've mastered the stopping and steering in walk and halt :funny: and are ready to move forward to trot - I don't think I want to burden Speedy with me trying to cling to his back while he's trotting - I don't want to traumatise him any further! :funny:

By the way, my goal isn't to ride for an hour or go out trailriding. 10-20 minutes during groundwork in the paddock is just fine with me. I see it more as just another exercise we can play with, like the back crunch, lying down and passage and I wish for Speedy to see it as something like that: just one of those playful things we do during a training that he likes or at least doesn't mind that much.

Author:  Glen Grobler [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 3:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

:clap: Miriam, I think it's absolutely fantastic that he's allowing you on his back now. Well done.
I had similar concerns about riding my pony. My vet and my farrier both assured me that, as long as I paid attention to his level of tiredness, it would be fine.
My vet also made the following comment which I am using to guide me:
:yes: Don't think that you ride a small horse, rather think that a small horse is carrying you. Keep the emphasis on the horse and be tactful and balanced on his back. You will know when he's had enough - get off. Most ponies have few problems with the weight of adult riders for short rides, and when they do have problems it's more from the height of an unbalanced rider.
My Rocket is only also around that height (13.3hh) and I weight 70kg. I'm a tall person at 5 foot 10 so the pony's back is level with my boobs. :funny:
I ride my Rocket 2 or 3 times a week for 20 minutes or so - walking and jog-trotting in the hills around our farm (working trot and canter only when he wants to.) If I don't do it he gets grumpy as he enjoys going out. Anyway, he is quite clear about how much he can and will do and how fast or slow he wants to do it.
:ieks: He even "took off" with me once last month because he was having fun chasing my dogs and they turned towards home :funny: I was quite shocked at how strong he felt.
Anyway, I put a thick, shaped saddle-pad on him with a sheepskin on top of it and strap it on all around him with a "surcingle" I made using an elasticated girth and two old stirrup leathers.
It is interesting sometimes as I can only get part of my calves on his sides, but it has taught me an awesome amount about balancing on top of him without gripping. ;) I still have a bit of bounce to work on in trot transitions and working trot.
I am certain that, with your tact and understanding, you could never do him any harm by sitting on him or riding him as part of your work with him.

Author:  Colinde~ [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

I think this is truly awesome :D 8)
Really taking the time to analyze everything and not restrain/overload the horse (pony). I've been watching a fellow boarder train her young horse to carry a rider and I think when it comes time for me to own one who has never been ridden I'd much prefer your method. :yes: I also love the idea of starting in the cordeo and waffling between that and wondering if the halter would be safer... I can relate. That cordeo really does do alot to keep you from getting in the horses way so to speak. You have nothing left but to concentrate on balancing yourself alone. It also somehow makes bailing (when things go sour) alot more inviting somehow than if the horse has a bridle, tack etc. on. :huh: Dunno why...

And your descriptions of Speedy's reactions give a really good picture of the way things went down. Very cool...

Author:  admin [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 5:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

Thanks Glen!
And I completely agree with the mental picture of a small horse carrying me instead of me riding a small horse - in my case actually quite literal as what I'm doing is much more sitting than riding. 8)
My lower legs don't touch Speedy at all either, I actually start wondering now if my knees touch him at all? All I can remember is that when I have my legs just hanging down, I can feel his body up to right above my knees, the rest is hanging loose. It sure does teach you to sit by just... sitting! Nothing to cling on to, just let the gravity do the job for you and hope for the best. :funny:

Oo, and I loved your statistics! I turned thim into cm's for comparison and our situations actually are very similar:

Speedy: 1.38 cm, Miriam: 1.75 cm, 66/67 kg
Rocket: 1.35 cm, Glen: 1.77 cm, 70 kg

Made my day! :cheers: I do agree that the height of the human very likely is more problematic to the horse if the rider doesn't have that much balance. If you're tall and the pony is narrow and small, then you can really rock him from side to side by just swaying with your shoulders. But the weight in itself still is something I keep in mind as Speedy also has a past of back issues. The great thing is that they've almost completely vanished in the year that we started groundwork at liberty. So I'm keeping my eye on him, especially to see if he keeps lying down and rolling over from one side to the other. When we first started training, he couldn't do that and after the first months he slowly started doing so again and as the osteopath then saw that the problems in his spine has solved themselves, I now regard the lying down & rolling as a good sign for back issues.

When thinking about that yesterday I was actually very happy that up until now I haven't used a halter when riding, because I know for sure that I would instinctively have used it to correct Speedy for the backing up/protesting/kicking/bucking - while now I know how Speedy communicates 'get off my back' to me (okay, it looks nasty but actually it's quite mild), and Speedy knows that he doesn't have to go for the big guns to get me off. :D

By the way, some time ago there was a test in the Netherlands on padding and weight distribution and sheep/lambskin had the best results. However, you needed to put it with the fur down right on top of the horse. If you put it on top of another blanket or put it with the fur up, then it's weight distribution and shock absorbing qualities were much less. Maybe that's an idea for Rocket too?
(even though of course the fur-side of course is very comfy for the human bottoms as well, :D that's why I luuuuve the idea of these treeless sheepskin saddles: :D

Author:  admin [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

Thanks Colinde!

It's actually quite scary to post these 'in between' results as I have no idea where this road will lead us. It might be Speedy and me doing wonderful ridden dressagy stuff together, but it might also be Miriam wrapped around a paddock fence pole. :funny: We'll see... 8)

Colinde~ wrote:
I also love the idea of starting in the cordeo and waffling between that and wondering if the halter would be safer... I can relate. That cordeo really does do alot to keep you from getting in the horses way so to speak. You have nothing left but to concentrate on balancing yourself alone.

I actually noticed that when I was riding Speedy yesterday without cordeo or any tack at all, that I had been quite hands-on with the cordeo before (you know, pulling harder if he didn't follow the first cue to stop or turn). The funny thing was that without cordeo yesterday I actually felt more safe, probably because Speedy didn't really follow the cordeo cues either and for some reason having a tool that isn't completely reliable feels much less safe than not having any tools at all. The only thing was that now I kept wondering where to keep my hands. In the end I just put them on top of his withers and that felt quite relaxed.
So it might very well be that the next time we ride it will be without cordeo or tack again too - although I hope that I have my new helmet by then, because my old one gave me a headache as soon as I put it on and if you really put me under pressure then I might have to admit that as the last rides weren't planned, they weren't really helmeted either... :blush: Shame on me! :rambo:

Author:  Glen Grobler [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

:funny: Miriam, I chose the saddle-pad to do the weight distribution for Rocket because it is one of those that has neoprene inserts on top of the muscles next to the spine.
:funny: :blush: The sheepskin is actually for me so I can have a little butt-grip and also prevent those nasty little round "burns" that people get between the butt-cheeks when they ride bareback.

I'll think about some video of me on him so you can see how silly it looks with a tall rider on short horse, but I'll have to make peace with my ego first.

Author:  admin [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

I know what you mean - it will probably will be a couple of years before I will ever make or watch a video of me riding Speedy. Ego's are very protective of themselves. :yes: :funny:

Author:  Josepha [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 7:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

so great you are riding again! wow!

Speedy is not to small for you, O is to big for me ha ha ! :kiss:

Author:  admin [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 9:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

I was just thinking about my horse-riding past . I did ride for two years on a Lusitano stud, but that must have been in eight years ago. If I have been riding ten times since then, it's a lot... :D

So I guess I'm a bit rusty (and good thing I didn't do those maths before thinking about sitting on a halter/bridleless pony!). 8)

Author:  Donald Redux [ Mon Jun 13, 2011 9:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

Trust yourself to know what to do about riding Speedy. Do a lot of dismounting before he can complain. Get him anticipating your dismount and his disposition will very likely change for the better. Madeliene (from Canada) I think laughingly named this technique when I suggested getting off the horse a lot, as UPR - Ultimate Pressure Release. It was in fact a training tool used by my students (an Eventing team) to work with rehabbing ex rodeo broncs. The young women and the horses loved it, though it was hard work for some less athletically inclined.

The payoff was so very powerful. These were horses that some of them had been sold off not because they wouldn't buck in rodeo, but because they bucked so viciously and bad style for the events that they were sold off. They later competed and WON repeatedly in eventing and show jumping and English equitation classes.

When we think about this question of riding horses it would then seem natural (at least to me) that the best reward i can give them is to dismount. I think too that some clicker and treat work might be worth a try as well.

You are having SOOOO much fun. Wish we could see more. Please reconsider protecting your ego and share some vids and pics. We promise not to laugh (well, not out loud). My own vids in the past have been, or would have been, great in clown acts and comedy routines. Trust me.

Author:  admin [ Wed Jun 15, 2011 9:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

Session 11

Whoohoo, yesterday I finally received my new helmet! :cheers: The great thing is that it's less heavy than the old one and it doesn't squeeze the juice out of my brains as hard as the old one. 8)

So I thought it was a good idea to go out and try it when sitting on Speedy. Speedy didn't agree. 8) After our groundwork I asked him for a halt next to the cavaletto (low jump that I use to get onto him). Speedy stopped a few meters away from the jump but who cares, so I dragged it to him, rewarded, patted his back and place my leg over his back. Speedy went to steps sideways away from me so the leg fell off again. So, in case he didn't understand me, I dragged the cavaletto towards him again, put my leg over him and Speedy moved away again. And in case I didn't understand him, I tried again. 8) Then we did some groundwork, I thought that maybe it as the helmet (and yes, I do realise that that sounds a bit desperate :roll: ), took it off and tried to get on again but no, Speedy moved away. So no riding yesterday.

I did notice right the first time that when I stepped on the cavaletto and pushed with my hands on his back as preparation for sitting there, he lifted his head in a somewhat tense way and I immediately thought 'this isn't what I would want to see, as I want him to be relaxed when I get on him - maybe I shouldn't ride today?' but then still wanted to give it a try and of course Speedy corrected me for that in quite a nice and gentle way. :yes:

So, it might just be that session 10 was the last ride on Speedy if he doesn't let me on anymore... :huh:

Author:  Josepha [ Wed Jun 15, 2011 11:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

no dispair... When I gave up riding on O he suddenly found it such a good idea each session ha ha !

Author:  admin [ Tue Jul 05, 2011 9:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Learning to ride... Speedy

When was my last post? *scroll* Half a month ago? :ieks:

Well, that was half a month without riding. Actually without riding attempts too as I didn't feel like repeating the last disaster of not being allowed to get onto Speedy. My ego can only take so much 8) and therefore we just went on with groundwork, moving Blacky and Sjors to Speedy for the summer and that kind of stuff... :D

Sunday I went to Speedy (+Blacky+Sjors :cheers: ) again and decided to do a bit of groundwork with Speedy Gonzales. That went very well and after about twenty minutes I realised we had done about everything I could think. Speedy was walking next to me and then for some reason brushed his body against mine a couple of times, really funny: not in a 'I'm gonna push you over'-kind of way, but more like a cat brushing her body against your leg. Weird.
So I asked Speedy to give me more space and walk behind me. I was walking in front of him with my targetstick in my left hand without asking him to do anything with it, and then Speedy suddenly moved forwards and pushed his head an neck under my arm between me and the carrot stick! He has never done that before and I started asking myself what was going on, when suddenly a thought popped in my mind: Pony, do you want me to ride you???? :ieks:

I didn't know what to think and therefore just walked to the jump I usually use to mount... Well, by the time I got there, Speedy was standing there already, parked next to the beam, waiting for me to climb on board! :ieks: :love:

TOO WEIRD!!! I thought that stuff only happend in movies (horse walking to rock so that person can climb on his back and that kind of romantic nonsense 8) ), but apparently Speedy has seen them! The most amazing thing is that normally when I ask him to park next to the jump so that I can get on his back, he parks a bit too far to the side or stops too late so that I have to adjust the jump before I can get on. Now he was standing right next to it. :funny:

So I got on, rewarded him to death, we walked/stopped/turned for 30 meters and then I got off and fed him the rest of my treats.
The direction-button apparently has left the building completely again, but who cares, we're riding again! :cheers:

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