Follow Up Report on Use of CDCTA Scholarship Awarded to Kacey Buckley
I had the wonderful opportunity to receive a CDCTA scholarship to assist me with my now 5 year old German Riding Pony, Jack. He was 4 when I purchased him and, while I have ridden for years, I knew I would need help to correctly bring along a young horse. The scholarship was used to attend a series of six talks and training sessions with Dressage Trainer Alison Johnson “To prepare you and your horse for the 2016 season”. I submitted a report on the first three sessions previously and now would like to follow-up with a report on the final three sessions.
During the fourth session with Alison we focused on the basics of understanding the importance of pieces that go into completing a successful test. Jack tends to get behind the leg so we broke down and focused on one key component of the training level test which is to have a steady rhythm. Ali told me to visualize a forward free trot and keep that in mind and not deviate from that image. I also tried to be effective and clear with my aids so as not to confuse Jack. Focusing on a forward rhythmic trot helped improve Jack’s gait quality in all gaits because he began to develop an understanding of my goal to have him in front of my leg. In addition his overall quality including stride length, impulsion and connection from his hind legs up through his body to the bit began to improve.
At our fifth session we began to practice specific pieces of the dressage test including centerline, circles, transitions, free walk and stretchy circle. I tried to keep in mind, lessons from previous sessions such as effectiveness of my aids and his steady rhythm and tempo. We did multiple transitions of walk to trot, trot to canter and transitions within each gait. We worked on making those transitions clear and crisp and practiced them as they would be during the test. We also worked on the geometry accuracy of the 20 meter circles and straightness of the centerline. I found that an exercise of establishing a 20m circle and transitioning form a working frame at the trot to a stretchy trot really helped open up his stride and engage and relax his topline. Then when we went back to a working frame he was more relaxed and supple. The centerline was a challenge with keeping him straight, especially into the halt and going towards something that was frightening to him – such as a judge’s booth. I continued to keep him forward and channeled between my legs and hands. I realized that the more forward moving Jack was going down the centerline, the straighter the geometry was so this was another reason to focus on keeping him in front of my leg. This lesson was very helpful in focusing on the pieces of a test separately to ride each movement to its fullest without being overwhelmed by the whole test.
During our final lesson we planned to do a format of riding the dressage test, getting input on how it was from Ali, and then ride it again improved from the first ride. We rode Training Test 2. During the first test the main things that needed improvement was the first centerline – staying straight into the halt. Also during our free walk he got distracted and started looking around instead of staying focused. The second half of the test was improved in the canter work since he was becoming more relaxed and the stretchy circle seemed to help soften his back. It was helpful to get Ali’s input after the test and then try again with her comments in mind. The second test ride was improved from the first. All of the lessons leading up to this final session of the series helped prepare us as an improved team both for riding tests for shows as well as a closer partnership.
My original goal with Jack for the 2016 season was to work with instructors, attend clinics, compete at Training level at schooling shows and end the season with a recognized show. In addition to working with Alison Johnson and Ann Guptil for lessons, we also attended the CDCTA Ride Critique Ride clinic and had a successful experience. We also participated in a total of 4 Schooling Shows and some did very well and some not so well, especially later in the season. We had a problem develop as the season went on with sensitivity in Jack’s back which was having an impact on his ability to move forward freely. Even though I had him fit with a saddle fitter, it appeared the saddle I was using was a little too long for his short frame and was creating a pressure point. I decided to back off on lessons and competition to work out this problem. Over the past couple months we have worked with various traditional and non-traditional practitioners and treatments and his back has appeared to be slowly getting better. We were also able to locate a wonderful new saddle fitter who has extensive experience with smaller, short backed horses and we are hopeful that she has worked out a saddle solution.
Because of the issues with Jack’s back we did not meet our goal of participating in a recognized show this season but that is fine. Jack is only 5 years old and we have many more years together to build on what we have learned this past year and attain many other future goals. It was much more important that I listen to him telling me about a problem, find a solution and adjust as necessary. I will always be grateful to the opportunity provided by a CDCTA to put a great base of training on my young talented horse. After our break to find a solution to his back soreness, we have begun working again and it is obvious he has remembered everything we learned through our 6 session series and we plan to continue to build on this base and look forward to 2017.
I am very grateful for the opportunity provided to me with a CDCTA scholarship to participate in a program being offered by Alison Johnson, Dressage Instructor, to prepare me and my new pony Jack for the 2016 dressage season. We are halfway through the program so I wanted to provide an update.
My first session with Ali focused on myself as a rider. I could clearly see how my riding related to Jack’s performance. He is small, 14 hands, and is easily influenced by my weight and position. Ali explained how important it was for me to lift my collar bone which would help me not collapse into the saddle which in turn would help Jack lighten his forehand. Another focus was on securing my elbows by my side and connecting them to my hips, and while keeping them elastic, providing Jack with a steady contact to reach into. She encouraged me to visualize the connection between my elbows and the bit almost as side reins. This helped me to ground my arm and improved our connection. The last area I needed to focus on with my position was to teach Jack to move forward with an aide or reminder and then sit quietly and let him do his job of carrying his rider around. By quieting my legs and seat Jack started to hear me and listen to me when I put on my aids, without the constant nagging of my leg.
My next session with Ali was on a focus on Jack’s strengths and weaknesses. His nature tends to be quiet which is a strength, however, can also be a disadvantage when he likes to be on the lazy side. On the positive side, because of his quiet nature, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him to be very well behaved even in new environments, which allows me to be more relaxed and focus on the work we are trying to accomplish. While he has very nice natural gaits, Ali feels that he carries a fair amount of tightness in his back which inhibits his forward movement. Ali also feels that Jack doesn’t always reach as much with his left side. Jack has a very nice naturally balanced canter with a nice jump. Because he is young he is a little on the forehand but as he grow stronger we believe he will have a beautiful canter.
In our third session Ali focused on working on improving Jack and me as a team utilizing a number of exercises. To help him activate his back, Ali taught me how to use the dressage whip for light taps on his croup. This exercise helps him loosen his topline and move more freely forward using his back. To help Jack move more evenly into the left rein, she has us do an exercise where we do a circle to the right but counter bend to the left and then go straight encouraging him to fill in the left rein. Ali also has us doing multiple trot to canter transitions to help him loosen his back, improve his balance and move forward. Once he is forward we focused on some lateral work such as turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. This helped activate his whole body through isolating specific body parts. He was then more focused mentally on me, willingly looking for what I was asking of him. It has also helped improve his coordination. He has a tendency to sometimes fall behind the leg and this exercise allowed us to get him mentally focused and physically ready to respond to my aids.
Alison is a wonderful, encouraging, knowledgeable instructor with a great eye and numerous tools and exercises to help the horse and rider achieve their maximum potential and goals. I have three more lessons in the program and am excited about continuing to work with Ali to improve Jack’s and my partnership.
Clinic and Event Participants.