Dressage lesson with Karita: straightening a horse

It had been way too long since I had been to a proper dressage training session! Today I had my lesson with Karita Kotikulma with Rama. I had one of the best experiences in my life whilst riding Rama during my lesson, when at the end of the lesson we attempted some extended trot!
Ramazzotti's sire: Flemmingh
After warming up in trot and canter in a very relaxed way with a long and low neck, we worked on getting Rama to straighten and to become more active from behind. At first, we started on a 20m circle on the left rein in trot with a round neck and very soft contact, asking for Rama to bring his left hind leg more underneath him. To help him, Karita told me to try to imagine as if I was doing shoulder-in on a circle, so that the neck is set slightly inwards, and the left side is activated. I used my whip near his hind leg to gently as Rama to really step under with the leg. Although this made Rama much better from behind, he still felt like he wasn't properly straight. Because of Rama's slightly crooked hip, he needs some help getting his body to really even out and straighten. Using the whip on Rama's shoulder whilst still asking him to put his inside hindleg underneath him, Rama became a different horse! Since he was able to become even and straight, Rama was able to lift his front legs up high!! Amazing. We then repeated the same on the right side, but I kept my whip on the left side, where I was able to use it on his shoulder whenever it felt like Rama was falling against it and not lifting it as much as the other leg.

After a short walk break, the same idea was repeated on both reins but this time in canter. During the canter, Karita asked for me to shorten my reins because Rama was naturally collecting so much that my reins were far too long! With the same exercise, Rama suddenly became much lighter and his gait became bigger and even more expressive. Even though Rama already has a big canter, with this exercise he just felt so much better! It felt really really good, and I cannot remember the last time that I have had such a great time riding.

Again after a short break, we went back to trot, asking for shoulder-in on both reins along the long sides. Once again, we focussed more on getting Rama to step under with his hind leg instead of getting a perfect shoulder-in, as that will come with time once Rama is stronger. Although the right rein is easier for both of us, I was very pleased with the left rein as well. Rama was going so well at this point that Karita decided that we should try some extended trot along the diagonals. Our first attempt wasn't very good, because I didn't straighten Rama enough and I was concentrating too much on getting him to go forwards and extend his stride. But oh my goodness, the next three extensions were  mind-blowing! After getting Rama to lift his left shoulder and straighten his whole body, he was able to lift his front legs really high in front of him, with his hind legs active as well! These will be the highlight of my week!

The main homework for riding Rama is to continue stretching and practicing lateral movements to work on his back, to get him to become more flexible (and 'bendy') Hopefully, the lateral movements, such as shoulder-in and leg yields, will become a little bit easier. We should also work on small circles, as this will bring us more flexibility and quicker turning ability. Karita was impressed with how easy it is for Rama to collect and shorten so easily, when considering that Rama is still building up his muscles and is not yet at his full strength. Karita is coming again next Thursday, and next time mum will come take some photos and video of Rama if the lesson goes as well as it went today!

Rama and I have another lesson on Saturday morning with Ville Vaurio at 8.30am(!!) I have no idea how either of us will be awake enough to be able to actually do anything, and it's also supposed to be incredibly cold again, -16℃! Hopefully the camera will work!
Henri is competing this week and next week in Vidauban, France at the Spring Tour Dressage 2013 with no less than five horses! Today he competed with three of his horses, and did quite well. In the FEI Preliminary 6 y/o class, with Rosamunde Henri placed 2nd with 74%. In the St. Georges class (for 7-9 year olds) he was 7th with Amador with 68.5%. Unfortunately with Antonello in the Inter II class, the pair only got 63%. Hopefully the rest of the competition goes well!


Exercise, escape and exhaustion

It’s been a killer of a day. Our night hellcat kitten Max decided to keep me up since 5am, and my day has started from there. Our farrier came to shoe our three boys today, starting at 8.30am. Normally we start our normal day routine of turning out and mucking out at this time, so you can imagine that we had to start an hour earlier - a shock for both us and the horses who were all sleeping when we went out after 7am… 

Joey being very careful with Vallu's foot!
After finishing our morning stables, our weekly Pilates lesson commenced. Normally, we have had 15-30 minutes of theory before starting any movements, but today we had a full hour of working out. Now that all of the theory is starting to sink in, each time the lesson is becoming harder and more intense because I know how to make each exercise as functional as possible. We did familiar movements again, but they all felt much harder. 

Before our Pilates lesson, mother and I decided to bring in Vallu and Rama so that no catastrophes would happen, and because it was such a sunny and warm day, we kept both Nelli and Basse out. After coming back from our lesson, we turned Vallu and Rama out again, and went back in. We only had an hour of peace before Rama’s escape from his paddock. Because last week Rama decided to jump out of his paddock (where the fence was 1.2m high!) the fence was raised to 1.5m so that he wouldn’t jump out. Today he decided to put his head in-between the middle and the top fences and then push his way out from the paddock. Ensue panic and a very rushed exit from the house towards the cantering horse!! Luckily Rama allowed me to catch him rather quickly when mother was getting some nuts and treats for him, and all the other horses then came in as well.

After lunging Rama, in order to give him an easier workday so that he will be fresh tomorrow for our lesson with Karita, exhaustion set in… With our evening stables done (with Nelli and Vallu being walked in-hand for 15 mins each) dad and I went to rake the arena in preparation for tomorrow’s lesson! Back home after 10pm, and another day in paradise done!



Photo post

Niilo decided that I didn't need my gloves! 

Rama thinks that playing with the fence is so much fun!


I can nearly do the splits! 
Vallu ♥



Monday fun!

Today was a great start to a new week! All of our horses stayed out for about five hours (Vallu and Rama might come back in after only a couple of hour if it's a bad day!) it was a beautiful sunny day and both Rama and Basse went really well.

Happy boy :)
 Since Rama had a day off yesterday, I did some very basic work with him, allowing him to stay long and low in the warm-up and only asking him to become slightly higher once he had properly warmed up. Because of the lack of work yesterday, it caused Rama to be slightly stiffer, which meant that he deserved a longer warm up as well. After about 15-20 minutes of long and low in trot and canter around the arena, we started to work in a bit of a higher outline. We also attempted some leg yields in trot, with the result that I finally figured out how to exactly ask him for leg yield! Rama has always been ridden by men, so the aids given by a short stumpy woman are a little bit different! By putting my leg more backwards that I'm used to, and by applying a little bit more force, Rama suddenly went wonderfully well sideways! You just have to know what buttons to push to make it work. Now that I know how to properly ask him, hopefully the leg yields will become much easier and better.

 Rama is a great horse to ride since he is just such an easy guy, who is happy whenever he is working. One of Rama's best qualities is how soft his mouth is, and how easy it is for him to be in a higher, more collected outline. Now that Vallu is on his walking holiday for five more weeks, mother has been very kind and generous by letting me have lessons on Rama, and hopefully we will be going to one or two competitions soon. I have two lessons with Rama this week, on Wednesday and on Thursday. Thank you mother! ♡

Basse and Satu on today


Winter wonderland

Best day of the week! :) It's amazing what a bit of sunshine can do to your day! After our two hour long Method Putkisto Deep Stretch lesson, I rode Vallu in walk again after which I had a bit of fun with Basse outside in the snow.

Basse did a one round around our own outdoor arena (where there was about 3ft of snow!) before we went over to Equstom and did some trot and canter work around their fields. Considering that Basse hadn't been worked the day before, and it was a little bit colder today than on the previous days, this wasn't by far my best idea! Luckily I trust Basse and I know him so well after 7 years of riding him that nothing happened, he was just very fresh and a little bit out of control - hence my stronger than normal hands. He also wanted to turn left instead of going straight! 


And stretch!

This weekend, mother and I are involved in a Method Putkisto Deep Stretch course at our neighbor's riding school Equstom. On Wednesdays we have had a Method Putkisto Pilates lesson, but this course is different in the way that you are not exercising, you are stretching your deep inner muscles.

The main idea with Method Putkisto is to work from the inside out. When you go to the gym, you work on your outer superficial muscles, whereas with MP, you start from deep within, so that you first engage your core, and only then proceed to the outer muscles. When you engage your core, you also start to bring your posture back to its natural postural alignment. Due to most people working on their computers, the most common problem is the sway back posture, where the shoulders are hunched forwards. Sitting like this on a horse does not look good!

Postural alignments
You might think why would a rider be interested in doing Pilates and stretching, and that shouldn't we take more and more riding lessons to improve as riders instead of doing ground work? But as a rider, your posture effects your riding as much as your riding skills. If you have a crooked body or back, so that you are sitting and leaning forwards, this effects the way your horse moves because the horse has to deal with a lot more weight on their shoulders. A well balanced rider results in a well balanced horse,  who is thereby more responsive and alert. I think it's important to be aware of your body and how you effect your horse.
Improving your posture with Pilates improves your posture when riding
During today's (Saturday) 2 hour lesson, we didn't do anything special, it was just a different stretch after stretch after stretch. At first during the warm up I was thinking that this would be easy, that the four Pilates lessons that I have been to already have helped me and so I wouldn't struggle too much. Well, wrong once again. Deep stretching really shows you where your muscles have shortened and where you need to continue to stretch. My weakest parts are my legs and my hip joint. During the stretches that concentrated on these places I had to focus on my breathing because if I hadn't I would have either fainted, passed out from pain or had a hysterical laughing attack. From now on, I will include these stretches in particular to my exercise plan.

And just after one lesson, I could already feel a massive difference in my body. First, I rode Rama. He has gotten much better after his treatment, and is now nearly fully sound and isn't sore anymore. I did some very basic work, trot and canter on a long rein and then after some collection, a couple of flying changes were attempted (they have become a little rusty!) But we were both very happy, and I was able to concentrate on my body and how it had changed. I was straighter, stronger in my core and a lot more relaxed. Although I feel like I am normally relaxed anyway, the stretches that opened up the hip joint have made my legs much longer by opening my hips more, thus giving me a deeper and more relaxed seat = a very happy girl! 

I then rode Vallu, and decided to do some pole work today since for the last couple of days I had concentrated on leg yields and shoulder-in. I had put down a group of three poles at one end, and before that a single pole. 

This was really fun, and a really good exercise when you can only do walk! After spending about 15 minutes walking over these in both directions, I then decided to walk around the poles in small circles (10m) along the long side and mixing this up with shoulder-in. In the end Vallu ended being very relaxed and flexible, which was great! 

And I just had to share the photo below, my baby horse Basse looks so sweet in this! This was just before he had to go to work, which meant that I was more than 20 minutes late from my timetable because I had to cuddle him! ♡
Sweet dreams to everyone!


Whoever said that Pilates doesn't make you sweat...

Whoever said that Pilates doesn't make you sweat, is totally wrong. Today I had probably one of the most intense and physically hard Pilates workouts. I can already feel that my muscles have gotten a workout today, and I think tomorrow morning I might have to do some stretching with my legs and my shoulders! Getting your body to open up and to work properly and also focussing on only moving certain muscles is ridicilously hard. Why didn't anyone tell me before that Pilates is such a great way to exercise? 

During today's Pilates lesson with Sanna at Equstom Riding School, for the first time in my life, I stretched my sternum whilst at the same time also stretching my shoulder blades! Oh my goodness, it was amazing! 

Muscles of the upper back and shoulder
Anatomy of the thoracic skeleton (ribcage)

The picture above shows what we were focussing in our lesson. The aim was to even up any imbalances between the muscles that are used to pull up our shoulder (there are four of them) and the muscles that are used to keep the shoulders down (only two...) Because there are four muscles for upwards movement and only two muscles for 'downwards' movement, it's easy to see how some muscles might stronger and the other weaker. It is important to exercise the muscles used to pull down the shoulders, as if they are not used at all or very little, the muscles quality deteriorates and the muscle becomes very weak and stiff.

For riders, working on our shoulders is incredibly important. Since Sanna is a riding teacher as well, she tries to point out the significance of these exercises for riders. Many riders struggle with keeping their shoulder blades down, and I'm sure nearly every rider has at heard this plenty of times, as have I. But I've never realized how much I do this. Exercising the muscles that pull down the shoulder blades makes a rider's posture much better; by strengthening and straightening the back and by making the arms stronger and more still. I can't wait to ride tomorrow to really practice this whilst riding. Luckily I have our three boys to ride tomorrow, although I will only be riding Rama properly, Vallu will only be walking and Basse will go out for a hack in the woods.  With Vallu and Basse I can really focus on my own body whilst walking and hacking out, and I really hope that everything I learnt today will have sunken in so that I keep remembering to keep my shoulder down!

Vallu went out for a fifteen minute walk today outside in the afternoon, and it was so nice and sunny that I had to take a couple of photos with my phone! Look at how blue the sky is!


Change of plans...

Vallu will be walking for the next six weeks in order for his leg to get 100% fine, I don't want to risk causing him any damage. After this we will hopefully bring him back to work and start training again and hopefully do some competitions in the summer before leaving for Germany and then the UK.

Each day Vallu will either be ridden and walked or then walked in hand. A couple of nights ago I was walking him on our own arena, which has about half a meter (if not more) of snow on it, it's up to Vallu's knees! This is a very good way to cool down their legs and it's pretty hard work so it's far more efficient than walking in a indoor arena.

I've been using our Uncle Jimmy's Licky Thing to keep Vallu happy now that he hasn't been working as hard, he seems quite bored and sad. He really loves this, I recommend this to everyone. Unfortunately Vallu's stomach is quite sensitive and he can only play with it for about ten minutes so that he doesn't get too much of it, but at least he is a bit happier!

Basse has been very good, and his nose is getting much better now that there are no remnants of any stitches left. Some skin has started to grow back, and it looks very neat! Hopefully it will continue to grow back nicely without any more problems. Basse has been hacked out several times a week, the last time I went we galloped around the woods! We both really enjoyed this, and it's good to not be working in the indoor everyday, and it keeps him happy. With Satu, Basse has been working on a more collected frame in trot, so that his trot is more collected with more weight on his hindquarters, and with his neck in a higher position. We've also figured out a good warming up plan for Satu and Basse that helps Satu get Basse really good quite quickly (within 15 minutes) Yesterday, Satu practised leg yields in trot, and we made sure that he was crossing his hindlegs nicely and that he was straight in the body so that he didn't lead with his hindquarters.

Rama all matchy matchy ready for riding!
Rama has been been struggling since Sybil Moffat treated him. This is because she did such a good job treating his crooked pelvis, that now that he is moving correct and straight he has to use muscles that he hasn't had to before. This has made him pretty stiff for the first fifteen minutes before he warms up properly. Thus Rama has been lunged a lot (it's easier for him to move without a rider) This week we will try to bring him back to work being ridden and then hopefully continue training the week after!

Nelli is recovering from her fourth case of a swollen leg... Poor girly! Hopefully she will recover soon once again! Today I took her out for a walk and she looked lovely in the sunshine.


Making the news!

Once again Henri has made the front page of Eurodressage

Henri and Marshall

This time the article talks about Henri's new prospect, Marshall Lightfoot (Michellino x Aktuell x May Sherif) If you want to read the entire article, click here!


And breathe deeply...

Method Putkisto Pilates lesson #3 

In today's lesson, Sanna made us focus on our breathing. Since breathing is considered to be one of the five most important elements of Method Putkisto, I was really excited for this lesson.

According to their website and member, efficient diaphragm breathing is the key to successful results in Method Putkisto. Method Putkisto exercises will help you to develop the necessary flexibility and awareness of your body to make this kind of breathing more accessible.

By learning how to use your diaphragm as the primary breathing muscle and the muscles that assist breathing, you will unite the body to work as a functional unit. Conscious control of diaphragm and assisting breathing muscles is required for reaching the optimum level of fitness. Efficient breathing is also the key to achieving a good posture and muscle balance. Correct breathing also supports the stretches by making them more comfortable, and far more efficient than if you were taking very shallow breaths, and if you don't use your entire lung capacity.

It’s important to know that tensions in shoulder area and a bad upper body posture are usually consequence of ineffective breathing. 

In today's lesson, Sanna pointed out that we should try to link the diaphragm to the psoas major and iliacus major muscles. The psoa spans from the solar plexus to the inner thigh, deep within your core and behind your abdominal muscles. It provides a muscular shelf that supports all organs, and should be relaxed and responsive for movement all the time. It contributes to flexion and external rotation of the hip joint (important for riders!!) The iliacus major muscles is also an important muscle, especially for riders because it flexes and laterally rotates the thigh at the hip. With the correct breathing, you can stretch these muscles to help you become stronger and gain a better posture from your ribs right down to your hips!

We did some very basic Pilates movements today, mostly repetitions of last weeks, but again this time we had to focus on something new. Last week it was focussing on the muscles, and today it was more focussing on breathing, but also including the work we already did the previous lesson. This way each week we look at the same exercises each week but from a different perspective, and build up our knowledge in the easiest way possible. Using many different movements each lesson would take away time and concentration from the important elements, such as breathing. 

Some of the movements today: including side kicks with bent knees, shoulder bridge, cat stretch, standing twist and diagonal limb stretches

Side kicks (we did this but with bent knees)

Shoulder bridge

Cat stretch

Diagonal limb stretch
Standing twist
Out of all of these, my personal favorites are the diagonal limb stretch and the standing twist. The diagonal limb stretch is a really difficult movement for me, as it requires total control over your body when changing sides, and is a very good workout for your abdominals and obliques. I tend to lose my balance and twist my hips when when I'm stretched out fully because my core just isn't strong enough to support me in this position. My wrists also start to hurt after a while, and I'm hoping to use some kind of wrist supports next time to make the exercise a little bit easier. I really enjoy the standing twist as well. Although it looks incredibly easy, when done with the correct breathing and total control of your core, this is will work your obliques to their max! Doing this movement as slowly as possible will also give a good workout to your arms, which easily start to tire as there is no resting position for them.

Our next lesson is on Wednesday 20th, and then that weekend (23rd-24th) we have a Method Putkisto Deep Stretching course. Exciting times!