Vallu's progress

For the last week Vallu and I have been working on leg-yields and shoulder-ins as well as attempting some flying changes!
This was our second time riding in a double bridle after his holiday, and he felt really good! Looking at the video I can see that he needs to come higher and I need to push his nose more forwards (he's very prone to going behind the bit) but it felt like we'd reached another major milestone. The shoulder-in in trot and canter went quite well, although we need to work a bit on the left canter shoulder-in to try to get him to stay more in rhythm and less tense. And during the flying changes Vallu became a bit hot and over-excited and once again it felt like I was sitting on a ticking time bomb! The change from right to left needs to be worked on as he pushes his hind out to the side, but I think all of the left to right changes were nice, big and clean.

On Tuesday, our chiropractor Erika Torronen checked him over and opened him up in a few places, especially his shoulders (but more so the right one) She gave me several exercises for 'homework' so that I can try to help Vallu's muscles stay good. I lunged him after Erika had worked her magic on him and he looked good!

Vallu has also been going for a walk in the woods twice, and has been such a good boy with no major spooking and both of us were able to relax! (Minor miracle...) He really enjoyed it, and I think it will be very good for him to do quite a bit of walking there since his walk improves massively - I think he pays more attention instead of just daydreaming like normally.

On Friday I have my first lesson on Vallu since forever! Sanna luckily has some time in her schedule to teach me, and I'm so excited because I know that she will be able to give me new ideas to think about regarding my seat and posture. It has been way too long since I have had lessons that have focussed more on me than on my horse, and I think it's super important to have these kind of check-up lessons every so often to ensure that you are still sitting correctly, and able to use your seat the best way possible.

On 30th June there is a practise competition at Vihti Dressage Center (rataharjoitukset) with VaB:0 (a medium level test) that I would love to take Vallu to. This place has really great indoor and outdoor arenas, it's close by to us (not a two hour drive like normal) and since it's not an actual competition there would be no pressure which makes it the ideal starting place. But we will see how he looks and feels, I have no rush to take him out if he isn't ready.



“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to live, then you deserve it.” ― Frank Zappa 
My OMG-I-can't-believe-I'm-sitting-like-this face!
"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult."

Summer is here...

Nelli and Rama have been exercising by going out to trot + gallop in the woods recently. Rama has finally learned that you don't have to do a collected pirouette canter and that you can actually go pretty fast forwards. I don't believe that he has been hacked out a  lot with his previous owners, and I'm very happy with how calm and sensible he is when we're out. I've taught him to slow down from a gallop to walk by giving lots of pats and using my voice, so that you don't have to pull on the reins. 
Rama's new green matching Eskadron set ♥

Even Vallu has managed to go out for a walk in the woods, once in hand and the other with me riding! Super brave boy, we were able to walk past the scary wood piles and had no major spooks! Finally, we might be able to start enjoying summer.
Vallu realised that it was safe to be in the woods
because there's so much to eat!
Ever since Vallu started coming back into work, I've been lunging once or twice a week in order to be able to see how he is moving. The last couple of times that I've lunged him, even my paranoid mind has started to see that he is moving very well, and that there is hardly any difference between his front legs in the way that he moves (e.g. both front legs take the same length step)


Dressage training with Ville Vaurio: straightness and control

Last Sunday I had a lesson with Ville on Rama, and we worked on getting Rama to straighten throughout his entire body as well as me being able to control how he moves. The most rewarding moment of the lesson was when Ville said that Rama was much better than before, he is more straight through the body, stronger and has more power in his hind legs. He still has the same problems as before (no surprise there...) but they are much smaller than before.

"You have to be able to influence both ends of the horse in order to be able to ride the whole horse"

Our first exercise was to alternate between shoulder-in and half-pass ridden on the track. Both of these movements are very common in medium level Finnish dressage tests, so it was great that we were able to focus on them. Ville was able to teach me how to really ride the movements, and how to prepare for them. A good remainder for me: I know I should always prepare for the movement but most of the time at home I won't prepare well enough, and then wonder why I struggle with them during a lesson. 
First exercise: shoulder-in (pink) and half-pass (purple)
Preparing for the movements with Rama means that I have to ride deep into the corners, do some flexion towards the inside and use my inside leg to active his hindlegs and keep him moving forwards actively. During a dressage test, riding your corners will give you precious and very much needed couple of extra meters during which are vital in getting you prepared for the next movements.

"Remember to give your horse the freedom to move"

When the previous exercise went well, Ville decided to make it even harder, by making me ride inside the track, 2 meters away from the fence. Luckily I have been working on riding inside the track with both Rama and Vallu throughout the winter, and so this wasn't as difficult for us as Ville was expecting, I think! Riding inside the track is a simply fantastic easy way to check if your horse is truly through and straight through the body as well listening to your aids.
Second exercise: shoulder-in and going straight inside the track
One of the things that I really wanted to focus on was the half-pass in trot. Nearly all of the tests have it, so it's a really important movement to get right. Rama and I both know how to do the actual movement, but getting it flowing easily and fine-tuning my riding to Rama is the next step. 

Ville was able to point out a couple of hints and subtle movements for me which really helped to improve the half-pass. When riding towards the centerline, focus on keeping Rama working from behind, and make sure he doesn't push his hindlegs towards the inside (makes him wonky even before you try to half-pass = nearly impossible to ride a good half-pass!) During the actual half-pass, I have to focus on alternating between half-halting (keeping the trot in a good pace, ensure soft contact etc) and asking for flexion with the other rein.

Although Rama is weaker one side and will always struggle a little bit more with that rein, both ways were acceptable, and the easier direction started to feel quite good!
Third exercise: half-pass

We also managed to practise a couple of flying changes as well as extended trot. The canter has to be bouncy before the change so that the actual change is clean, straight and big. The main thing for me to do is to ride it properly by organizing myself. I have only ever done flying changes with Vallu before, and because they are so easy for him you can ride them without really knowing what you are doing. Since flying changes aren't as easy for Rama, this was a real wake-up call in how much you can improve changes when you know how to actually ride them!! (No surprise there again...) Timing is important as well, bounce → leg aid → flying change, and this is what will make the change either be a 7, or a 4 if I don't organise myself.

Rama's extended trot has improved quite a bit since Ville last saw him, and I was so happy with Rama when he really showed off to Ville during the lesson. (Ville even said wow!) Sitting to a big moving horse doing extended trot has always been incredibly difficult for me, but I've now learnt that I must remember that it is easier to sit to an extended trot that is full power rather than to hold it back. So always let go and let the horse move!



Even Basse is tired!
I'm so so tired. Ever since mother's operation on her shoulder, I have been looking after the horses on my own, so morning stables on my own and riding 2-3 horses a day. And I'm not complaining, because I love my life with horses, and I would far rather work outside 10 hours a day with my lovely ponies than be stuck inside. Luckily mum and dad help out as much as they can, and mum is probably doing too much!
So tired that I sleep with my mouth open
All the horses have been good. Basse is working well for his riders, but we had our first falling off incident of the year when Basse spooked as a hells angels motorbike accelerated right next to our arena and it made a huge noise! I don't understand why they can't drive by slowly until they have some distance to our arena?

Nelli has been amazingly fun to ride. Whenever I ride her, we either go out for a hack round the woods and gallop pretty fast! Nelli really loves going fast, and I have to stay sharp and not relax because as soon as I chill, she will throw in a few sharp bucks to remind me to stay awake! Last week we also had a jumping day when this dressage rider managed to jump a massive 50cm (1ft8) Jumping every now and then reminds me of how much I would love to have a horse that I could properly practise with because jumping is just so much fun!
Nelli outside
Rama has been in such a great mood recently, he really is a summer horse. He is so happy when I ride him outdoors, and we have been able to practise a lot of half-pass and leg yields, which have improved  quite a bit. I also changed our warmup to have lots of transitions in it (walk-trot-walk → trot-canter-trot) and this has also paid off. Rama is starting to become a lot sharper and quicker thanks to the transitions, and I'm learning to ride him more with my core muscles + seat, and less with hand and leg aids. We were even able to practise three tempi changes, which were all clean and very bouncy! Yesterday I had a lesson with Ville (separate post to follow about it!) and he gave me so much to think about once again, and ideas on what to focus on in order to improve.
Vallu has again improved a little bit more. His left canter is starting to feel normal and good, and I have even managed to do two flying changes!!! I never thought that I would ever get to practise them again with him, and even though they were crazy, not in control, weird bouncy/explosion changes, they made me so happy. I'm hoping that sometime this week after a hard training session we could possibly go for a walk in the woods, but he has to be tired so that no crazy accidents happen.
Ewww mummy don't kiss me!


The fat pony returns

After Vallu's freak accident (which you can read about here) he has now finally started coming back into work. Although his left canter is still a little weak, the rest of him is starting to feel and look normal, so hopefully in a couple of weeks I can have my first lesson with him.
Vallu has been extremely brave when I ride him on our own arena and as cars goes past he doesn't spook. Even when the enormous trucks drive past us, he hasn't reacted to them at all. This is a huge improvement considering that last autumn I couldn't even lunge him on the arena without it ending in a catastrophe.
On Sunday I lunged him and for the first time in a long long time he looked absolutely fantastic. There was hardly any difference in the movement of his left foreleg and right foreleg. His trot was very bouncy and even his canter started to look good. I'm really happy with how much he is progressing towards becoming healthy again, and I hope that we don't have any more crazy accidents for some time...
Next week I can start training him properly, so leg yield, half-pass and shoulder-in are what we are going to focus on for some time. I also hope that soon Vallu will be relaxed enough so that we can go for a small hack round the woods!


First competition

After two years of a break from competing, I decided to start again. On Saturday our neighbors had a small competition where I decided to try riding my first Vaativa B/Medium test! Although the judge didn't agree with us, I thought it went very well, and I had a lot of fun riding Rama.

Unfortunately, Rama was quite tired by the time it was our turn, since we were last to go and they were running behind schedule. The positive thing is that I learnt that Rama doesn't need or want a long warm up, 15 minutes would be fine for him. Our warm up today stretched to nearly 45 minutes (!!) even though a lot of it was just walking. 

The great thing about Rama is that he tries his hardest whenever you start riding a test. His extended trot and canter are explosive yet easily controlled, his walk is smooth and relaxed and his collection comes naturally. His flying changes have also become so much better; they're more uphill, straight, and bouncy. I'm so proud that I have been able to improve his changes, and I'm sure that once he becomes a little bit more secure with them Rama can score 7s and 8s. Because he was so tired, I had to push him forwards a lot - which is totally abnormal, since I normally just try to slow him down. His tiredness also caused him to go behind the vertical a bit, which the judge absolute loathed and she penalized for it a lot. 

Things that I am happy about:
  • Rama's reinback (which he learnt during 3 rides) were good
  • Canter and trot extensions were nice
  • My nerves of steel came back! Once I started riding the test, I was super calm
Things we need to work on:
  • Staying relaxed in collected walk after the extended walk - Rama started anticipating the next movement
  • Lateral movements - have the ability to do the lateral movements and at the same time stay uphill and more open in front as well moving forwards
  • Not spooking when the judge stands up at the end of the test
  • For me to become more sensitive to whether Rama is behind the vertical
The funniest moment of the test was right at the end when we were coming down the centerline for our final halt and salute, and the judge stood up. Rama totally flipped out, and refused to go to G where we were meant to be halting. According to Rama, judges that stand up eat horses alive and we shouldn't go near them. After some convincing, we made to it to G but the final halt was tense and uneven. Poor horse!!

I learnt so much today, and it has really re-ignited my want to compete! I absolutely love competing, and with a great horse like Rama, this summer will be so much fun. Oh, and I simply adore the rosettes that you get! Check out our first one below!


Great start to this week!

I had one of the best Mondays for a long time, finally it felt like spring/summer had arrived! The sun was shining, it was more than +20c under the sun, and the horses were incredibly happy. It's a great feeling when you have a happy horse underneath you.

After Vallu's freak accident last Monday, I have been taking it very very easy with him in order to let him recover. Wednesday to Friday I had lunged him very lightly to let him move a bit and to check if he was still moving okay. On Saturday I rode him for ten minutes just to see how he was doing, and in all honesty, it didn't feel that nice. The trot was unbalanced, he was unsteady in his mouth and the canter felt all choppy. I felt equally horrendous. Worried, stressed and incredibly anxious. Ergh, basically horrible. So, to improve I decided to lunge him properly on Sunday, with side reins and everything. Although he wasn't too happy about the fact that he actually had to work instead of just larking about the arena, in the end he worked well through his back and looked nice and soft through his mouth.

And so I returned to the saddle, to be more than pleasantly surprised. Underneath me was a very happy horse who wanted to work, who wasn't spooking at all and who was very excited! Even though we only worked for about 20 minutes (15 minutes of trot and 5 minutes of canter) Vallu was completely soaked through with sweat, as it was the first proper hot day of the year. It was great to be able to ride outside in a t-shirt and to be warm! Mum was watching and said that even though he is fat, he is moving fine and that I can carry on bringing him back to work :D
Rama and I have our first ever competition this Saturday at our neighbor's riding school! I'm really excited, and even though it's not a big competition or anything official, I'll get to see how we work together at a competitions and see if we can go to some bigger competitions later on. We're doing Vaativa B MB Special (a medium test if converted into the BD levels I think?) which a great test since it has lots of canter work (flying changes, extended canters, canter-walk transitions) and it also has shoulder-in and half pass in trot.
Naked ponies!


Learning from others: Ville Vaurio

On Thursday I had the pleasure of going to watch one of my trainers, Ville Vaurio ride his 6 year old gelding, Mara. I hadn't seen Ville for a long time, since he has been busy with his university studies, so it was lovely to get to meet up with him again and to see how his horse Mara is progressing. The last time that I saw Mara was in Germany last year in August, so I could really see the huge difference. I think that there is so much that you can learn from just simply watching other people ride, and it was also fantastic to see how much Mara had improved.