Friday 9 March 2012

Learning to Dance at Lannigan's Ball

I used to do Irish dancing as a child, Lannigan's Ball is a ceili dance/group dance that we had to learn for performances. There is a song that goes with it which has a line that goes something along the lines of:
"She stepped in and I stepped out
I stepped in and she stepped out again
Learning to dance at Lannigan's Ball"

Or something to that effect, in any case working with Kika can sometimes feel like Lannigan's Ball...for every step forward we make there can be a couple back or even side-steps.
After our enjoyable solo spin which I posted after our successfull unsuprvised outing on Monday evening, I asked L (aka The Guru) to ride Kika on Tuesday as we were due to go to dinner with another friend form the barn that night and between work and our dinner plans I wasn't going to have time to ride. As L's shift gave her the afternoon off (well she worked till 2pm) she agreed to ride Kika for me.
The friend who I have been borrowing the saddle from (which i hope to buy pending my saddler's opinion of it when he brings back my saddle in a week or so) was planning on using said saddle at 7pm - and L was riding between 6 and 7pm, so she decided against lungeing Miss Kika before riding.
Now she wasn't bad (meaning there was no rearing or refusal to work) but there was also 20-25 minutes where she refused to settle - meaning she kept her head up and blocked herself so that she couldn't work properly. L did manage to get some nice work out of her after that amount of time, but when you are on a time-limit it's not an ideal way to spend the time allocated 
My plan had been to ride without lungeing had i ridden, so the same would have happened me - so at least we have that much out of the way and can get to work on remedying it!

So my new task is to slowly wean back the amount of lungeing i do prior to riding from 10mins (as it stands) to nuthin and just walker and/or walking - lead around the arena for a couple of laps to get comfortable with saddle positioning and arena etc etc...

Keeping all this in mind, L and i had provisionally agreed to a supervised riding session this evening (Thursday - Kika had a good session in the pessoa with me yesterday evening). I had hoped to start eeking back the lungeing prior to riding from 10 to 8 mins, but didn't quite manage...I shall work on it 
So up i hopped anyway and we set to work, walking at first till we were both happy and I sorted out my contact so that my reins weren't drooping - I think I'm slowly getting better, L didn't have to remind me near as much this evening as she did Saturday just gone.
We started our trot work on a circle then changed rein a couple of time son the diagonals and continued looking our circles that was till Kika and I were working more like a settled team, then came the 'volts' - I use inverted commas as they are often larger than they should be and not exactly symetrical!
Obviously my weak aids fault, but Kika really doens't help me as she is a lazy bag of bones at heart - so unless i am 100% she doesn't see why she should compensate - which i guess is fair enough really
We stuck to the small circles till she relaxed her neck and into the movement, once she did that correctly we went back on track and restarted the small circle with a learning curve as we were both better for the second one so we circled for a smaller amount of time - reward!
Changed the rein, rinse and repeat - all much smoother as (a) I had the feel of what was being expected of us and (b) we had started on the bad rein so when we changed rein it became easier for both of us!

Mixed it up a bit with a couple of serpentines, making sure I used the track and the arena as we had the whole space to ourselves - being sure to keep Kika straight and not turning till I hit the track, cheating habit of mine (where is the list C gave me about fixing problem areas - just hit upon a cheat of mine!).
Then practised bringing Kika back to walk without letting off my leg - who'd have thunk you've to keep the leg on when slowing down? Probably common knowledge but lightbulb moment for me, plus L has me trying to make sure I don't allow Kika to trot unless she carries herself properly in striking off - aka: not throwing her head up in the air and hollowing - therefore not doing what is being asked of her...This can be a tricky one to work on and it is best to judge Kika's mindset prior to attempting it...if she's in resistance mode to many gear changes from trot to walk and vice versa can frustrate her and drive her batty - cue head tossing which can lead to rearing. Thankfully this was not on the menu this evening! Happy Days

L then asked how i felt about doing some canter work - to which my response was: no problem, rather work on it in this larger arena than the small lungeing one as I know she struggles in canter and balancing properly with my weight so the larger area we have to turn within the better she is and less choppy/resistant with her head up in the air. So she had me do some sitting trot first and then when I was happy, start my circle and give her the aids.
To begin with I was unhappy with my sitting trot and asked 'would I be mad to try it without my feet in the stirrups?' as i dsitract myself by trying to keep my feet in them as the weight doesn't stay in my heel cos i still grip with my knees! I just can't seem to stop myself!!
Turns out this was a bad idea, as L pointed out i tense up when i do this and she reacts and blocks herself - so no use in trying to get her to balance & relax if she has her nose stuck up in the air!
So she told me to take back my stirrups and that we'd have to continue working "en suspension" (aka my ass out of the saddle - sort of jumping position i this what is often referred to as 2 point I wonder?!)
First strike off was wrong to which she highlighted my leg is too far back to not exagerate it so much and that in fact I ride with my legs a little on the further back side anyway so there really isn't a massive need for me to move my leg back when asking for canter - so basically i've to move my legs forward more (another to work on tip! )
Each canter after this then we got right, although now that I think back on it bar the first one after being corrected I'm not sure i was as concentrated on being lenient with my leg movement as i should have been! But can't be perfect straight away or these updates would become fewer and a lot less wordy (Phew - I hear you sigh...Bring on the day - goes the chorus )

Lo and behold, I found out the not so pleasant way that cantering with my backside out of the saddle in a dressage saddle is considerably different to cantering in my GP saddle (and all previous GP saddles I've ever ridden in!). With my legs elongated in the longer stirrups (to have my knee in the right place for the rolls and as such not hurting that way!) I found it harder to find my balance and more tireing on my legs - as for using them...FORGET IT! They were no longer functional from the knee down!  As for keeping my heels down - or attempting to, YIKES was that an effort - to say I'll be walking like John Wayne tomorrow will be an understatement!
We kept at it for a couple of circles and then wide around the arena with my being advised to not have myself so far out of the saddle - which did help, but still the legs literally couldn't stand it for very long.

But basically this very long story not in anyway short is that the saying one step forward a few steps back deffinitely applies to both Kika and myself - although touch-wood we stay to going more sideways that actually taking a step back. Lesson learned that lungeing is still going to be required prior to riding - although i shall be trying to cut back to cut it out and see if we can get the same level of concentrated work from her without so much lungeing.
And I am uber-happy with our three spins under saddle since riding in the dressage saddle - even if i am finding the adjustment period challenging I can still feel an improvement and am hopeful of purchasing this saddle when the lady selling it gets her new saddle (a few weeks) and if my saddler says it fits Kika when he comes back with my altered GP (hopefully early next week!)

As to how Kika's and my dancing progress "One step in and one step out again" ... I'll have to wait and see which partner shows up for tomorrow evenings lesson with L!

Thanks for reading...sorry it's after getting novel length again - but all good news from my point of view!!


  1. Loving these blogs still!!! Keep em coming!! Actually gives me some relief that everytime I get the backwards progression I feel that I'm failing and can beat myself up terribly to points where I start to think of giving up altogether.. But reading your blogs make me realise that I'm not the only person struggling to keep things progressing forward.. So your struggles seem to help mine - if you get what I mean.. Although you are way ahead in the flatwork stakes - it isn't all brill progression everytime.. I make 2 strides forward and then about 10 back.. Very frustrating - but when I'm sharing the pain - its not so bad!! Big hugs to Kika from me!!!


  2. People keep telling me that as Kika and I progress certain things will become easier, but the back and forth will always remain - it's just that the variation will decrease.
    Meaning we will still have our ups and downs (hopefully not literally as i've had enough rearing to last me a life time!) but that the ajustment period between and the severity of the ups and downs will decrease between them.

    I can already (perhaps prematurely) feel this coming to fruition.
    It also helps that I am finally getting the message that when she starts her rear threats its best i get her back/saddle checked - so when we fix that it returns to pretty smooth sailing. In that way i am blessed with an expressive beastie - she is not really a martyr when it comes to her back, while very forgiving of my dismal riding skills when her back tweaks - she is sure to let me know!

    Touch wood this bounce back to form lasts through the spring/summer as, as of this moment I couldn't be happier with her and myself. Although obviously i am harsh on myself and know i need to front up a lot and improve considerably more. But I am now going to try and be a little easier on myself and take each day as it comes, enjoying the small victories - no matter how small or whether they are a rebounds from bad behaviour the day before - every victory counts!
    Even if it is just my sitting up and walking her around the arena - Lord knows in our dark days last year - that simple task was a challenge!

    Chin up hun, keep at the lessons and try to ignore your head (mine is my worst enemy) take each day as it comes and yourself and the Sollyman will be back flying in no time! *hug*


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