Dressage with Dusty

On Sunday, Dusty and I went to our second dressage show together. This was my third time ever competing in ridden classes and I made the decision to try my first prelim test as well as an intro test.

Until about three weeks ago Dusty and I had only been working in walk and trot, so if we were going to do a prelim I had to start cantering again pretty quickly! I wasn’t entirely sure how he would react to cantering again, so to begin with I put him in his hacking bridle to give me better brakes should he become too strong.

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(His hacking bridle at the time had a Waterford mouthpiece – this is a metal chain with beads on it – this basically means that he can’t lean on the bit and pull. Recently his owner has been experimenting with different bits for his hacking, but I may do another blog post about that soon as there is too much to write in here.)

The first canter was fine, but when I began cantering him in the snaffle I did start to feel that he was getting away from me a bit. However I found that my posture was really affecting him (I’m still trying to break my habit of hunching over as I ask for canter) and if I sat up and pushed my shoulders back I could control the pace without having to use my hands so much.

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By the time the competition came around, both of us had got used to cantering again and I was starting to be able to ask Dusty for a little bit more of an outline in this pace. I felt fairly confident that we would be fine to do the prelim.

On the morning of the show I headed down to the field to prepare Dusty… and promptly realised that I couldn’t remember either of my tests… cue me jogging round the field pretending to be Dusty!

Our intro test was at around eleven so we headed over to the venue in plenty of time in order to get Dusty warmed up properly. Whilst he was good in the warm up, Dusty really switched on once we were in the ring. It is amazing how much more he is prepared to give when he is on a proper surface!

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He did spook when we first went in (benches are really scary apparently) and this took me by surprise and distracted me, so when we had completed the test I wasn’t sure that I had ridden as well as I would have liked. However seeing the video from this test made me feel much better and I am actually really pleased with how it went.

We received some lovely comments from the judge, who said that we were a ‘super combination’ and that we worked well together. There were three circles on the left rein in this test, and we got marks of 7.0, 8.0 and 8.0 for them – this was particularly pleasing as Dusty used to really struggle to bend on the left rein: he would turn his head but the rest of his body never followed through – but since his back surgery he has improved so much and seems a lot more comfortable with working over his back.

Our overall score for this test was 70% and I am thrilled to announce that we placed first! This marks the end of us doing intro tests now I think, as I need to challenge myself and am hoping to start moving up the levels.

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Due to my choice of classes, there was a four hour gap in between the two tests so we took Dusty back to his field for a couple of hours and I was able to walk Rusty and grab some lunch before we returned to the venue in the afternoon.

Our warm up began well, but as soon as I asked Dusty to canter I realised that things weren’t quite right. He started doing little hops and bucks accompanied by him throwing his head in the air – it was nothing major but he doesn’t usually react in that manner. His owner got on and asked him to canter several times with the same results.

In the end we decided that I would still go into the ring but explained to the judge beforehand that I may not ask him to canter in the test. I was a little disappointed about this as I had been looking forward to completing my first prelim, but there will be other opportunities and we have to figure out what is best for Dusty.

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We discussed the situation afterwards and have come to the conclusion that he may still need to build up more strength over his back, and after having a break for a couple of hours he may have stiffened up and become a little sore.

For the next couple of weeks we will take things easy and will continue to build his strength up. At the next competition we will go straight in for a prelim test and will just do the one (or two if they are close together and we can keep him moving in between).

Thank you for reading today’s post on Wild Call – I have more things to share over the next few weeks but in the meantime you can find me on YouTube and Instagram for more regular updates.

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Dusty – kissing spines update

Some of the people who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I help out with a horse called Dusty. Last year he was diagnosed with kissing spines – this is where the spinous processes are too close together, causing pain for the horse.

As a result of the kissing spines, Dusty had several problems in his ridden work. These included him being reluctant to work in a proper outline (he would lower his head but wouldn’t actually be working over his back), he would struggle to bend and pick up canter on the left rein and would often trip up.

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Last Summer he had steroid injections in his back to alleviate the pain: these worked for a while and I think his owner made quite a bit of progress with him out hacking (I was still struggling with learning how to ride him properly!) However, after a few months the effects of this treatment wore off, so at the end of February this year Dusty went back to the vets to have his back operated on.

Initially I thought that the surgery would involve pieces of bone being cut away to create more space between the spinous processes (and I think this is what was originally suggested) but Dusty actually had a different type of surgery where the ligament in between the close spinous processes is cut.

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After his operation, Dusty then stayed at a yard in Burnham Market for six weeks of rehabilitation. This began by him going on the horse walker every day for four weeks (and yes, apparently he was bored by the end of it!), followed by him being lunged each day for two weeks. He was then ridden a couple of times at the yard before returning to the field.

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However, the rehabilitation does not stop there! It is important that Dusty now realises that he isn’t in pain anymore – he still has habits such as tossing his head and lifting a back leg when I go to tighten his girth, but seeing as he often does this before I’ve even started to do it up I think that this may be a learned response to the old pain.

I have been schooling him in the field since he returned home: he isn’t really allowed to canter yet but I’ve had so much to work on in walk and trot that I haven’t minded at all. We’ve been doing lots of circles of varying sizes – from large 20m circles to tiny loops around tyres laid on the ground. I also set out a variety of trotting pole exercises – as well as ordinary trotting poles in a straight line, I’ve had some at angles so that I can ask him to bend over them. Spacing the poles in an irregular fashion encourages him to think about where he is putting his feet more, which is also good for him.

Despite all of this (and my best efforts to correct the bad habits which I know have crept back into my riding) I still felt that I wasn’t quite ‘getting it’ – that he was still just putting his head in a pretty position and not actually working over his back.

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In an attempt to fix this, I had a lesson with Dusty yesterday at the field. The lady that taught me is a ‘ride with your mind’ instructor. It may sound a bit strange (or at least that’s what I thought when Dusty’s owner first told me about it) but since I had my first lesson a year ago it’s completely transformed the way I ride.

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Having begun my journey with horses in a riding school, I was constantly told ‘heels down, shoulders back and sit up’. This was fine when I started out, but when I wanted to learn more than how to go forwards, steer and stop it suddenly wasn’t enough and despite lots of help from various different people, I still really felt like there was something lacking in the way I rode.

I’m still a long way from where I want to be, but the ride with your mind techniques have brought me so much closer and as I discovered yesterday, when I am riding properly Dusty is able to work over his back correctly, without me fiddling with his mouth or kicking him.

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Over the next few weeks I am going to continue to practice what I learnt in my lesson and I will try to gather some more videos to share. The video below was taken two days before the lesson, so there are a few mistakes in there which I am going to work on but it shows some of what we’ve been up to…

Thanks for reading!

Dusty – kissing spines update

 

At the beginning of November I had a reading week so went home to Norfolk for a few days. I took my riding boots and hat back with me, and was glad that I did as I ended up riding Dusty four times while I was back!

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It was great to catch up with his owner and to hear about how he has been progressing since I last saw him in the summer. (A quick note – I have acquired a few more followers recently, so if you aren’t aware of Dusty’s back problem you can find a previous blog post about it using the menu on the left hand side).

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His owner has continued to be successful in getting him working over his back when out hacking and this has also begun to show in the school as well. We each had a lesson on him and I could see the improvement in him from watching him being ridden.

When I was riding him in the lesson and in the field on my own I still found him to be quite tricky but after a good forty-five minutes of warming up I could occasionally get him working nicely for a few strides…

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He often lacks energy when schooling, but with the cooler weather and him having not been ridden in the field for a couple of months he was a little bit more lively and even started to get quite strong with me at one point. I was able to use this to my advantage and it definitely made it easier for me to encourage him into an outline as he was stepping forwards with much more power. We also practised plenty of trot poles as these require him to engage his hindquarters more.

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After each ride we ask him to perform particular stretches using treats such as chunks of apple – these stretch his back and help him to develop muscle. Strengthening his back could alleviate the symptoms of kissing spine and reduce the need for surgery.

I wasn’t able to get very good images of Dusty stretching, but it generally includes him reach his head to his sides, to his hooves and to the tops of his front legs.

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The video below shows some short clips of us schooling and a couple of his stretches.

 

Dusty – kissing spines

Back in June, I travelled to Newmarket with Dusty’s owner to collect the ‘beast’ (as he is commonly nicknamed). He had been staying at the vets whilst they checked his legs and back.

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The reason for this was because his owner decided he should be looked at due to there being several issues in his ridden work, such as the fact that he struggles to bend on the left rein and often can’t pick up his left lead canter. It is also incredibly difficult to get him to work over his back properly – he will hold his head on the vertical giving the false impression that he is working properly, whereas in reality he is still very much on the forehand.

At the vets it was discovered that he has kissing spines, although it is relatively mild compared with some cases. Kissing spines is where the vertebrae are too close and actually touch each other, causing pain for the horse.

We think that this comes as a result of Dusty hollowing his back when he is ridden – and his owner believes that a previous owner/loaner of him may have used some kind of gadget on him in an attempt to force the head carriage that they wanted (despite the fact that it is supposed to come from the hind end!) I remember when Dusty first came to stay with us that she remarked on how muscled the underside of his neck was, and explained that it could mean that someone had used draw reins on him…

The treatment options for Dusty are as follows: he can have steroid injections into his back every year, or he could have an operation where sections of the vertebrae are actually removed.

He was given one set of injections before he left Newmarket, and the plan is to see how he gets on over the next few months. The operation would be expensive and would be a traumatic experience for him, so it would be better if it could be avoided.

This is where training comes into play. If we can teach Dusty that stretching his back properly will no longer hurt him (now that he has had steroid injections) and actually encourage him to work over his back, it will help to prevent the kissing spines from becoming worse and could eliminate the need for the operation.

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However this is easier said than done, and we have been battling with the prospect for some time now!

We are not fussing with his head too much at this stage, and are focusing more on getting him to track up and use his hind legs more. We are using trotting poles a lot and have been practising slowing his trot down to the point where he is almost walking before asking him to pick up the pace again (this encourages him to shift more weight onto his hind end).

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Over recent months we have also been learning more about our positions in the saddle – we had a couple of lessons with a ‘ride with your mind’ instructor. At first I wasn’t really sure about the whole idea but it was actually incredibly helpful and has benefited my riding a huge amount.

It will not be a quick process with Dusty but his owner has already had success out hacking; he has a lot more energy to give when he is out of the school!DSC_0001

Although I will be leaving home soon, I will see Dusty when I come home to visit so will continue to follow his journey.

My first dressage competition

This weekend I had the amazing opportunity to compete for the first time! I had never competed in any ridden competitions before so this was really exciting for me.

I decided to enter two tests, both of which were walk-trot – I had originally hoped to do a prelim test but changed my mind as it was my first competition and I didn’t want to overface myself.

Beforehand I practised the test in the field with Dusty’s owner acting as my judge, videoing me and giving me tips for improving the test. The video was really helpful to see where I was making mistakes.

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We also planned the warm-up that I would use on the day of the show – Dusty takes quite a long time to work in so I got on him in good time and rode him for about half an hour before we were due to be in the ring. Particular things that I included in the warm-up were: shortening his trot strides as much as I could and then letting him lengthen again, (as this really improves the quality of his trot) and we did have a couple of short canters to liven him up – with the atmosphere and the other horses around however he was pretty awake anyway!

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I had been worried about forgetting the tests and I did decide to have a caller for the second one as I couldn’t remember it. Because Dusty is weaker on his left rein I struggled to get him to bend on this side but we managed our circles without too much trouble – the judge commented that he fell in a couple of times (particularly on the left) and that I need to keep my hands still, but we did get some really positive feedback.

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In the first test I got a score of 62.61%, which wasn’t that great but we still came third.

I was incredibly happy to discover that in the second test we scored 71.74% and came first! Having been a very nervous rider in the past I have worked hard to get to this point and I am thrilled that it is finally paying off.

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My next goal in terms of dressage is to work on Dusty’s canter and attempt a prelim test with him.