Monday, September 4, 2017

Release and reset

When you've had multiple negative rides in a row, there's really only one goal worth working toward:  have a positive ride.  I love the fact that I know mi papi well enough at this point that I can make a positive ride happen.  No matter what's going on, no matter the weather, no matter the causes, I can make a ride pleasant.  I have cookies.  So many cookies.

I got on today with about a quarter pound of treats in my pocket.  I would have a pleasant ride, damn it.

Theo's a positive reinforcement pony, a lot of the progress we've made has been built on pets and cookies.  He has no natural work ethic.  If you punish him, his reaction is basically 'wait until you see what I do to you for that'.  When things get difficult, I can fight with him (and probably lose) or I can go to what I know works.  No trainer I've ever worked with has supported my positive reinforcement training.  Ever.  No One.  They universally roll their eyes and accuse me of spoiling my horse.  So I just do it on my own and ignore the commentary. When they're pleased with the results, I smile and carry on.

After my Saturday ride, we were furious with each other and my left shoulder hurt so much I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get my saddle off.  I said stretch, he said no, I said do it now, he said no, and then I tried to push the matter.  He's stronger than me.  My left shoulder quit and he had me on the ropes.  I was ready to get those draw reins out for the simple reason that he was dragging through the contact, running me into the wall, and getting his rewarding release due to being stronger than me.  I made myself back up, compromise, end in a good spot, and go for a trail ride.  But I was so ready to put a big ol' bit in his mouth and tell him no more!  No more dragging on me until my shoulder fails because you know you can outlast me!  He shouldn't get a reward for pulling until I can't physically stop him!

Today I broke down the negative behavior.  Theo likes to stretch down and release, he's figured that out, but it's not a locked in behavior.  He doesn't really 'get' that I'm looking for that.  It's just an exercise, not a behavior to offer.  I decided to lock that behavior in.  For our warm up, I'd get a big, chewing, to the ankles stretch (with his nose in) in the walk and then he'd get a pet and a cookie.  Repeat about ten times.  Then I sat and waited.  Sure enough, with no action from me, he gave me a big stretch and chew, hanging out there until I pet him and gave him a treat.  And on we went, him offering the behavior and me rewarding it.  I weaned him off of the cookies fairly quickly since it's a behavior he knows and added the cue back in so he did something other than drop his head and chew, but the trick was to get him to do it on his own, to offer the behavior rather than push him into it.  He's the king of offering behaviors when he thinks he'll get a cookie for it.  If he sees it as a thing that I will reward for, he will offer it happily.

I was able to get him walking, trotting, and cantering with a big stretch and a light, non-painful for me contact pretty easily.  He enjoys it, he enjoys being told how smart he is, and he enjoys getting cookies.  It was wonderful to see him chewing away and lots of foam around his bit in both directions.  He was relaxed and happy.  He was also behind my leg.

Now this is the part that's probably going to take me weeks.  I need to add forward without losing the chill.  I played with it today, finding the tipping point between chill and negative tension.  I don't think Theo is good at managing positive tension yet and it all tends to tip over into negative tension.  I start to create positive tension, I start to feel power and forward, and then it snaps and I have a braced, non-existent connection with fast feet.  It's a pretty concrete reaction.  We're good, we're good, we're good, we are DONE.

Okay, I can work with that.  He has a point where he mentally feels like he can't take any more and he quits.  It's ridiculously close to going as slow as molasses in January, but I'm not here to judge.  Okay, yes, I'm totally here to judge, but it's where it is and I need to work with it.  I ditched my whip because that brings in too much negative right now.  I tried gradually building and when he pushed past his previous wall, he got big pats and I removed the pressure.  I wanted him to see that I won't, in fact, press forever.  And with each iteration, I want him to go a little further.  Push a bit more, handle a bit more pressure before I back off again.  And when he just coped?  Pats!  Many pats!  Cookies!  All the good things.

It's going to be slow.  Very slow.  I can get quick feet and power now, but it's braced and pissy or it's due to the influence of another.  Getting him to give me that power without the bracing and negative tension is going to take a lot of time and work.  And cookies and pats.  He doesn't like to work hard, he needs to know that there's something in it for him.  Any behavior can be shaped if you're patient enough and have enough rewards.  I will buy those treats in bulk if that's what it takes.  I did have a few moments of a completely tracking up pony that was also stretching nicely to my hand without my shoulders screaming in pain.  When I got off today, my shoulder felt okay.  And he was like jello again, relaxed and happy.

I'm glad I chose to not get the draw reins out.  This was a better lesson.  I want him to offer the behavior, not be shoved into it.  I can't fall into the trap of taking the mechanical advantage.  If my shoulder is too weak to ride in that heavy of a contact, then I'm just going to have to find another way.  He will always be stronger than me.  I better be smarter than him.  You get more flies with honey.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Two steps forward . . .

One step back.

Not surprisingly, considering someone's sudden behavioral issues and distraction due to being a schoolmaster, we had a setback for our Mary lesson on Friday.  After three lessons were we showed marked improvement, we had a lesson where it was 'what happened?'.  Mi papi was not having it with this idea of stretch down and go forward at the same time.  Just not having it.  It was the exact same stuck feeling I'd been having since he started having his August blow up.  He wasn't going to give and stretch, so you could just go pound sand.

Poor Mary.  She had to get up and chase us with the lunge whip for most of our lesson.  As she put it, it's all I can do to manage the neck right now, someone else has to manage the butt.  Theo had locked me out again.  Not as bad as our first lesson, but not nearly the nice connection we had in our third lesson.  We've had a relapse while trying to find the forward.  It was all we could do to get to the point where we could trot and canter in a stretch in both directions.  My shoulders were absolutely killing me and my left hand was throbbing so much.

Oh, right, I took a massive chunk out of my knuckle on my left hand while cleaning my trailer.  Just my luck.  I was getting some sawdust off the ramp while it was up and managed to bash against the window frame in a perfect way.  Blood.  Everywhere.  I wrapped it up, asked a nurse friend, and was told it wasn't a candidate for stitches.  Elevate, pressure, ice, carry on.  I wore a glove on that hand to make sure the bandaid stayed put.  I looked like Michael Jackson.

So our lesson was brief but brutal.  I got a firm comment on my fitness.  It's fair, I'm only riding three times a week right now.  It won't do.  It's hard to get us both fit at the same time.  I need to ride more, be more fit.  Her working student could have mi papi bouncing along like a firecracker, but she rides seven horses a day.  I remember being that fit.  It was a long time ago.

So we've been ordered back to downtown and to find someone that will chase us with a lunge whip.  It really is the best way to get him popping along as opposed to trying to pop me off.  I didn't find any volunteers last time, now it's a number one priority.  I'm sure I can find someone if I try hard enough.  Who would think it would be hard to find someone to chase me around with a whip?  You'd think I'd have a line!  But yeah, we need to find someone to chase us because holy crap he's powerful once he's done being resistant.  Mary managed to shove us through the wall and get us clicking again.  My goodness he's got a lot to offer once he's going.  Both shoulders were aching, my legs were shaking, my hand throbbing, no damn oxygen, but we got him to stretch to the dirt and chew while cantering.  That woman does not give up.


It's going to be an interesting couple of months.  Mary is traveling at the end of September, so I'm going to do two more lessons in a row.  Yikes.  And then in the beginning of October when both his leaser and I are traveling, I'm dropping him off with Mary for some boot camp.  He's going to get a week or two of 'love' from the working students under Mary's supervision rather than sitting in his field or teaching beginners.  It'll be good for him!  And then Mary can teach me what else I'm doing wrong after Theo's been worked properly for a couple weeks.  Sure, he may eat her barn and try to kill her employees, but I did warn her.  It's ethical to warn her that my horse was pretty dramatic in his dark past and might lose his shit with zero warning.

Today we trail ride.  We've been super intense lately, I want to make sure we keep things positive.  We're coming out the other side of the temper tantrum, I need to make sure he's well rewarded for his return to work.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Falling out of love

I'm sure a lot of people saw this coming, but as a friend told me last night, it looks like I'm falling out of love with Trainer A.

I'm tired of having my lessons rescheduled and bounced around.  I'm tired of feeling like I need to question what I'm being told.  I'm tired of not being ready and not realizing it until I'm already at the show.  I'm definitely tired of feeling like I should hide at shows because I'm there with riders that aren't ready for what they're doing and it's embarrassing. 

It's an awkward situation.  I had a lesson this morning (7am because that was the only availability after my Saturday jumping lesson got cancelled) that wasn't at all positive.  Theo was giving me the stink eye about flexing and going forward at the same time.  It's our latest battle and one that will take awhile since he needs to develop a lot more muscle before it stops being a struggle.  He currently drops behind my leg and then bucks when I use the whip to reinforce my leg.  He'll flex, sure, but only if he can go slow.  He'll go forward so long as he isn't connected and flexing.  Combine the two and it's just too hard for him to deal with because he's a special little princess.

 Very, very special

She wanted me to open my inside rein and guide his muzzle in.  Not like a little bit, because yes, opening up my inside hand is a useful thing to do at times.  She wanted it way open.  I finally threw down and said no, I wouldn't, because I don't want him to break at the shoulder, I want him to break at the poll.  I lose control of the neck when I open my inside rein like that.  I have a very tiny target and I will never, ever get it with an open inside rein.  He's way too good at evading.  I have better results with a correction that's slightly indirect, then release, the way Mary told me to do it.  And if he doesn't give, get after him but you have to release every time.  No 'guiding', he flexes and stays there because he was told to, not because he's being 'guided'.  Sure enough, after a couple of reps, he started to give.  He was just being stubborn about it, trying to see if he could wear me out.  It's his favorite trick.  Once he started to give and chew, we were able to move on in the lesson.  And suddenly she was instructing me to use that half halt to get the flex instead of the open rein.  I think she was genuinely wrong and I'm just now figuring it out.

Theo and I are now pushing our ways through all of the struggles I probably should have had over the past two years.  Submission to the bit, submission to the leg, impulsion, not bucking to get out of work, etc.  The stuff he is most resistant on.  No, do not tell me to slow the tempo right now, I want his hind legs to snap.  I can always slow this horse down, now I need to teach him to pick up the tempo when I ask.  I need both sides of the pendulum.  He's pulling through my left rein, my left shoulder has failed, I need to try something else.  But there's nothing else she can give me to try.  Don't tell me to pick his head up, he'll retract his neck and brace.  Downtown is his home, he only gets to come up when he's relaxed, hauling his head up isn't going to get him off his shoulders all by itself.

I don't like this.  I don't like change, but I also don't like having two disparate views.  And after bumping into Mary at the show where Theo was carting his leaser around, I watched her adult ammy warm up.  She was prepared.  She was very prepared for the level.  Her horse was together and ready to go.  Not perfect, the indoor was super scary!  But definitely prepped and ready to go lay down a trip.  Her student was confident in the work and you could tell it was bread and butter for them.

As my friend said last night, that's what showing is supposed to be.  Not an exercise in survival.  And she was pleased to hear that I was finally remembering that.  Theo may be a half cart horse mutt (or a short angry goat as he was dubbed over beers, another story for another post), but he's a correct mover and perfectly capable of good scores at the lower levels.  Good scores being upper 60's.  If I'm not consistently getting upper 60's at Training, what the hell did I think I was doing at First?  Don't blame the horse, the horse is fine.  You just weren't ready.

Totally not ready and got a 57% to prove it

This is the same friend that tore into me about the spur rubs.  It's important to have educated, honest horse friends.  I wish she didn't live so far away, she'd come out and chase me with a lunge whip to inspire forward any day.  That's a real horse friend.

The realization is settling in and I'm still shifting my viewpoint to this new reality.  I haven't really figured out what to do.  I don't want to change barns, Mary's barn is too fancy and far away so I'd still be trailering out for lessons.  Most barns want you to be in a program with them.  Theo is happy at his barn, with his shed and field and 24/7 turn out and pony to beat up.  I may just need to take a break from my weekly lessons and training ride, take responsibility for my horse's training back.  He'd still have his leaser, but be mostly my problem.

I really hate change.  This may take awhile.  But the process is getting started.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Definition of good

I'm not sure if my horse was good or not.  It's a weird sensation.


His leaser had done one, maybe two shows in her life.  When I heard she was signed up to do Training 1 and Training 2 at a sanctioned dressage show, I was rather surprised.  Really?  I thought it was a schooling show.  Steering and going is still a bit spotty.  But hey, it's a dressage show.  It should be fine.

But of course, Theo is his own beast.  He goes or he doesn't.  It doesn't matter what you do.  If he's not in the mood, you can forget it.  He jumps out of rings, spins, bucks, and generally does what he wants.  With me, he's figured out his job.  With Trainer A, he's sorted out enough of a relationship to go in and do his job, though it's still a bit spotty in places.  With his leaser?  Well, it's a much less balanced relationship.  She tells him to do things, and he usually does.  Because he likes cookies and pets and ear rubs and she doesn't ask him to do anything hard.  She demands nothing.

On Sunday, she asked him to do something hard and I wanted to puke because I was on the sidelines and could do nothing to help.  He'd never been to this show.  The whole thing was rather overwhelming for his leaser with a big, sweeping facility and official show secretary stuff.

He handled warm up like a champ.  Absolute champ.  Even when a horse nearly mowed him down, he coped and didn't give her a bit of trouble.  For that alone, we're all grateful.  She'd never done a warm up like that and the fact he let her manage traffic while he minded his manners?  Priceless.

Test one, he walked in very nicely.  Gave her one spook on the outside, but went down centerline like a champ.  He gave her one real spook heading toward C in the canter, but she booted him along and he coped.  The test was overall good with some piloting errors.  Her circles were too small, her focus points out of whack in the large arena.  He started to canter at one point, thinking he was doing a First level test.  Otherwise, he was very good.  He got a 57%, which was a fair score when her geometry was out of whack.  She came out smiling because she's pulled it off.

After a break we went back for test two.  Lo and behold, papi was tired and didn't want to play.  I knew because when we went to head down, he bulged out the left shoulder and tried to turn around.  He only does that when he's decided he's done.  Shit.  SHIT.  His leaser hasn't seen that behavior.  It's not easy to manage.  If you overcorrect, he explodes.  If you ignore it, he leaves.  You have to finesse him along.  Or correct him and take the explosion.

Trainer A was reading for his leaser and was able to casually walk with her into the ring.  Since they both had to go the same way, right?  And it was an opportunity class, everyone wanted her to have a good day.  When he started to refuse to go around the outside, his leaser did a great job of sitting through it and Trainer A quietly talked her through it.  They went down center line, halted, and he tried to turn again.  She booted him along, won the argument, and finished her test.  Steering errors and a seriously wonky entrance cost her points, but 54% is a lot better than an E.  She seriously needs to practice 20m circles in a large arena.  Theo defaults to 15m now and, well, he gets to drive a lot more with her than he does with me.

So was he a good boy?  I dunno.  Trainer A was pretty livid at his stunt at the start of the second test.  He's done so many shows, he has no excuse for that nonsense.  However, having sat and managed so much of what he can throw, he really didn't throw anything at her.  He was a bit spooky on one, a bit baulky on another.  For him?  That was pretty dang minor.

She has no connection or real control over his body.  It was a wake up call for me, how much he relies on me taking control and telling him to focus, that I had things under control, that he was safe because I say so.  He's brave because I am.  His leaser doesn't have that relationship with him yet.  He went around the ring out of nothing but the goodness of his heart.  The fact that he has a 'goodness of his heart' is actually quite new.


Was he good?  For him, yes.  He didn't try to dump her, attack anyone, bronc, spin, or be dangerous.  He was a bit of a jerk instead of a dangerous horse.  Was he good for most horses?  No.  He was looky in his first test and flat out quit on the second one.  I feel proud of his leaser that she managed him, got him turned around, and rode with finesse beyond her experience.

Will she show him again?  Yes, absolutely, she actually enjoyed herself.  He packed her through the parts she found scary and she didn't get rattled by his behaviors.  Because she walked in, he didn't have the power to explode outside of the ring.  She's scheduled to do a two phase with 18" fences in October.  That gives us a month or so to teach her the basics of managing Theo when he's trying to look around.  I didn't want to give her a scare before her show, but now, I think she's ready to have a bomb proofing lesson.  She realized she didn't have the right tools when he started to look because he never looks at home.  So time to add a new tool for her.

She's excited to take that next step in being a rider, to start learning to manipulate her horse's body.  So yeah, I think Sunday was a win.  And I think he was a good boy.  As good as can be expected from mi papi.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Two phase pic spam

Turns out that I did have a photographer for my two phase show.  With no further ado, mi papi at our two phase at Beginner Novice!

First off, the dressage phase where we got a 27 despite him throwing a temper tantrum due to a water truck being in the wrong place.  He sure doesn't look like a brat, does he.

I love this picture.  I love this picture so much. 






And then on to the jumping phase.  My pony's got hops!  No courage, but lots of hops.

After refusing the red oxer, I guess this counts as turning off the outside rein? 

Get over it, papi!  Also, Catie, don't jump ahead when your horse is stopping, do you want to die?

Holy crap, Theo, it's 2'6", not 3'6"!



 Kind of flaily on take off on my part, but it was a super nice, straight, forward line from mi papi and you can see that he's just toying with this height


Flaws he has, but he is certain photogenic.

BFFs

There you are

The thing I love about my horse is that he is, 99% of the time, very safe.  Even when he's being a jackass, there's a good chance I can make him stop.  I own nothing but snaffles.

And then he goes and pulls a bronco seemingly out of nowhere.  And then Trainer A rides him and texts me saying 'he was a total pig'.

We talked during a lesson on Wednesday and on Monday, she was so frustrated with him she could barely see straight.  All of their progress, right out the window.  All he wanted to do was stomp his feet and pull on the reins.  He also took a shot at her, which he hasn't done in almost a year.

A year, you say?  Oh what a coincidence.  I told her about my posts from one year ago and how he has his little temper tantrum each year at this time.   And the look on her face was classic.  All of a sudden she remembered last year at this time and what a puke he was.  She said she put him on the lunge line on Tuesday before she got on and he put on quite a show of bucking and squealing.  Then she got on and he was a lot less piggish, just stuck and not wanting to flex evenly.

Today I got on with the goal of forward, forward, forward.  Not the nose out forward I'd used in the past.  I still wanted my connection, but I was not going to let him keep stomping his feet and being a brat.  The absolute best thing for him in this mood is to break through the resistance and let the energy out.  With Trainer A's work to get the bucks out (while I was stuck working late), I got my horse back today.  He started with some head shaking and generally unsociable behavior but once he got up in front of my leg, he was back.


Flex in both directions, stop, start, steer.  Only one kick out and that was for the whip.  We had some more evasions than usual, but nothing dramatic.  He was back to work today.  Trainer A and I were both completely relieved to see that, in the end, all he needed was a chance to get the temper tantrum out of his system with the dropping temps.

With his schoolmaster gig this Sunday, he'll lunge again on Saturday to make sure all bucks are out.  He'll be ridden every day (sometimes twice) until the show to make sure nothing builds up.  And then I just have to believe that he knows his job.  He'll go in that ring, trot down center line, and sigh because he knows what to do.  He's a dressage horse and he understands the sandbox.

I'd forgotten how stressed out I get when I let people show my horse.  Please, please, papi, be a good boy.  Good boys get cookies, days off, and lazy hacks.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Patterns

We've been here before.  In 2015, we were having the abscess wars, so I had no idea what was Theo and what was the fact that we were fighting lameness for two months.  August 30th of that year did have this post, though. August 26, 2016 we had this.  It appears that when the heat breaks and the first hints of fall show up, Theo loses his gods damned mind.  The heat broke a little early this year, it's been gorgeous out.

Wednesday he was a bit up with his leaser, giving her some trouble on his trail ride.  Nothing dirty, but it was her first introduction to 'stud mode' and that's always interesting.  I rode him Thursday night and he gave me a big head shake and little strike with the front feet when he was corrected for throwing his shoulders.  He generally overreacted to corrections and was heavy in the bridle.  Huh.

I already wrote up my lesson where he was a bit temperamental and distracted.  Quick with the front feet, quick to bite, stomping his feet in his work, not wanting to go forward, oooooh, I know what this is.  Mary chased him forward into the big work he needed and he was jello afterward.  He was good on Saturday for his leaser since he was tired from our lesson.  Today it was my turn for a bit of cross training.  The plan for the day was a long trail ride with lots of hill work.  We never made it to the trails.

He was fine when I brought him in, but I noted he was a bit rude about his blanket coming off.  Old bad behaviors resurfacing.  Yeah, no, nipping this in the bud.  Ground work was a go.  I swung on afterward and headed out.  The Ritz was open so I decided to do two laps of hill work in each direction before setting out.  Staying home turned out to be a good call.  He was just up, distracted, looky, and generally not interested in my input.  Several times he did his little mare squeal buck combo.  Most horses work down, papi tends to work up until I get to the bottom of the problem, so the ride got more challenging as we went.  He didn't want to flex correctly, he wanted to crane his head and look outside of the circle.  He didn't want to put his head down and power up the hills, he wanted to look like a giraffe.  He didn't want to go forward unless it was a bolt.

He finally let go and gave me an all out bronc once we were jumping some little logs. I went to collect him coming off of a downhill and he just threw a huge fit.  Jump buck jump buck jump while grunting and squealing.  What the actual fuck, papi.  Then he braced his legs and dared me to kick him again.

I had a split second of wanting to get the hell off of that horse because he was looking to toss me.  He's got a big damn bronc and I was so thankful I had him in my jumping tack where I can ride through it without the saddle fighting me.  But if I got off, who else was going to get on?  I knew that would be the worst possible move.  He was being a bully and trying to scare me.  Last time he pulled this, I didn't have a full set of tools.  This time, I was ready.  Want to have a hissy when I use my leg?  Let's see you buck while your legs are crossing.  Turn on the forehand, disengage the hind quarters, drop your head and flex.  Now turn on the haunches, marching, get your head down.  Go forward, go forward right the fuck now.  Now leg yield.  Halt, back up, half passe, trot off in a steep shoulder in.

It completely stopped the cycle.  Theo seriously didn't know what to do with that response.  He would try to scoot, but he was going sideways and it just made things harder for him.  I can control his shoulders now.  He'd try to throw them and I shove him back the other way.  He tried to tear through the reins but I already had his number.  He balked and I could safely kick him through it.  He was rip shit, but he didn't have a lot of choices.  He was so relieved to go straight ahead that he didn't try to fling his shoulders and bolt.  If he started to be an ass, he went sideways.  He didn't want to go sideways any more, so he'd settle.  Then I'd trot forward quietly and leave him be.

Once the lesson was jammed into his tiny pony brain, we jumped the two logs on a soft feel, no bucks, stopped straight.  Long rein, many cookies, and long walk to cool out.  He was blowing hard.  The whole ride had been up and down hill, working on uneven footing.  He's going to have a sore tush tomorrow, I expect.  I was going to feel bad for him, but when I turned him out, he had a bucking, farting gallop.  I guess I didn't find the bottom of it.

Should be tired.  He's not.

His leaser has her first real dressage show on Sunday.  FML.

I have to find the bottom of Theo before Saturday.  Fortunately this nonsense usually only lasts a week or two, we should already be managing the worst of it.  It just means that there will be a whole lot of sweaty saddle pads this week as we work through it.  It's not evasion or naughty, he just feels really good with the heat gone and needs to get it out.  At least this time I have all of the tools installed so I can short circuit the behavior before he crosses the line into dangerous.  We'll tag team him this week, get those energy levels down and ride him outside as much as possible.  I can't give him the gallop he needs when he's unrideable, but I need to gallop him hard to get the bucks out of him.  Oh, what a quandary.

I'm going to try to squeak in an extra lesson this week to get a tune up on his ground manners with our natural horsemanship trainer.  Chain shank/rope halter/bridle and dressage whip for at least a week to make sure this stays under control.  He's so damn fast with those front feet when he's like this.

He's lucky he's cute and only pulls this nonsense once a year.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Push

I knew I was jinxing myself, posting about how my horse is so good with the trailer and how well it's been going.  I got up on Friday to absolute downpour.  The forecast was for the rain and storms to continue all day and into the night.  Local flood advisories were going up.  But my lesson was already scheduled and I'd already taken the afternoon off from work.  Hell or high water (literally), I was going to my lesson.

I budgeted a lot of extra time since I figured the drive would be slow.  I arrived at the barn and tried to back into the paved parking lot.  Nope, not going to happen when it's raining so hard that my back up camera and mirrors are borderline useless.  It's an angle going down hill over uneven terrain, the trailer just was not going straight and I didn't want to hit the rock wall.  I gave up and went to my usual turn around spot.  I didn't want to turn my truck around in a pasture in the pouring rain, so I tried to turn around by backing out.

I'll just skip to the part where I got myself so tangled up that I ended up between two paddocks with no wiggle room and a horse laughing at me.  About this point, I realized that I am really not that good with the trailer yet, especially when all of my mirrors are useless.  I extricated myself enough to point my hood at the Ritz, opened the gate, apologized to Trainer A, and turned around in the Ritz like the rookie driver I am.  With four wheel drive the truck had no problem with it and fortunately left only one small mark.

I got all of my junk moved to my trailer without getting it too drenched.  I pulled in my rather wet horse, cleaned him up as best I could, and let the summer campers rub his ears while I put on his shipping boots.  I tried to wait for a break in the rain, but it just kept coming down harder.  I finally gave up, grabbed my horse, and headed down to my trailer.  Important note here:  I couldn't find a chain shank anywhere, so I went with a regular lead.  And his regular halter.

I dropped the ramp, said 'Up-up!', and walked him up.  He got his front feet on the ramp, stopped and backed up.  Huh.  He does that sometimes.  I shrugged, turned, and started over.  Nope.  He suddenly decided that he does not know anything about loading into a trailer.


I did figure out that it was the absolutely torrential rain on the roof of the trailer.  It sounded like a freight train in there and papi wanted no part of that.  But I had a lesson to go to, so we spent about fifteen minutes getting his butt on that trailer.  I eventually got some help so they could grab the butt bar (and lend me a chain shank).  I was ten minutes behind schedule, absolutely drenched, and my horse was throwing a temper tantrum in his trailer.  Great.

I hit the road, dropping down as far as 35mph in a 65 zone when the rain was just unbelievable.  And all the cars around me were doing the same, so I know it's not just me.  I managed to still make it to the lesson with 20 minutes to tack up.  Mary is really sweet and let me park my wet, upset horse in the aisle to tack up.

After all of that drama, I was not expecting much from my lesson.  And Theo has been rather studish this week.  I think the mares are cycling and I looked back at my August entries for the past two years.  He always acts up this time of year.  It's little things, like being a bit too quick with those front feet and looking to bite when we'd mostly stopped that behavior.  He didn't want to focus and was giving me little temper tantrums while I walked and warmed up for Mary.

In the end, we had another good lesson.  Once he stretched and started working, it was okay.  It wasn't his best, but as Mary said, she doesn't want to see him at his best.  She can help more if he's at his worst. And as Theo's worst is being distracted and some head shakes, I think Mary is starting to actually like him.  She was very happy with our work on stretching and the much more honest, even connection.  She tested us with some leg yields and while we've got work to do, he can now leg yield neatly without bracing through his neck and throwing his head up.

Our new focus is going to be the push.  He doesn't have enough thrust right now.  His neck is now lovely, the connection is an actual thing, so now we're putting all attention on the hind end.  A lovely connection is worthless if there's no energy coming forward.  She described him as having this big gap in the middle and the energy isn't cycling from the hind to the bridle.  It has to cycle or nothing works right.  His trot is currently his natural gait, the one he chooses.  It's not a working trot.  He needs more push and not because I'm begging him.

First exercise was a lengthen canter right into a 10m canter circle.  Papi did not like that much.  The reasoning was that he doesn't have enough oomph to do a 10m canter circle right now unless he comes in with some extra power.  Getting him to come back without breaking to trot is doubly hard when he's in a bad mood and wants to suck behind my leg and stomp his feet.

Mary nodded, got up, and picked up a lunge whip.  Wuh oh.  20m circle, trot - canter - trot, with a little outside influence to get him in front of my leg without me begging for it.  She wanted me to feel the correct transition with no hop or head pop.  I have to say, the powerful, correct transition?  That's something worth working for.  It felt awesome, and frankly, I think Theo enjoyed it himself.  Once he was actually up in front of my leg, we went large.  Mary would get behind him in the corner and help drive him forward into a lengthen trot.  And we never came back down.  We just added and added, pushing him to really find what he can do.

By the end, he was over tracking by about half a hoof print.  Mary's sure he's got a medium in him which by her definition is overtracking by a lot (it looked like a foot, she put her hands up about that far apart), he just has to find it.  He was puffing hard after that trot work.  I can't remember the last time I felt him stretch and push like that and certainly not down a whole long side.  I may have never felt it before.  I can't do it on my own currently, he just says no.  So we have been assigned fitness for our homework.  Yes, work on the connection and softness and transitions, but mostly go forward.  Not our current forward.  More forward.  Still more forward.  Take him out for a gallop, do hill work, jump, raised trot poles.  Anything that gets him forward and using his hind end.  He's too weak right now, he needs to be stronger and his cardio needs to be better.

Well, gee, that I can do.  That I know.  And I'm sure Trainer A will be more than delighted to chase us with a lunge whip to assist with our trot sets.  Gallops and hill work and gymnastics are a go!

I told her about our schooling show and getting an 8 on a stretchy circle.  She said 'See?  Stick with me, kid, I'll get you through this'.  She also reiterated that I'm not to show First right now.  When I go back to First, she wants us completely confirmed in the bridle, in the impulsion, and in the movements.  I will be going back into the ring to win, not to get a 60%.  Which is kind of a new world for me.  Me?  And Theo?  Winning at shows in New England?  I'd never considered that.

This is what I needed.  This is so simple for her.  She's been doing this longer than I've been alive and for her, getting a perfectly reasonable horse ready to go First is bread and butter.  Well worth driving through a monsoon.

Monday, August 14, 2017

State of the papi

I feel like I've been super focused on my training updates and haven't been putting enough attention on the actual star of the blog.  If someone had read just the past three weeks or so, you'd think a certain someone is some sort of serious business dressage horse that is heavily schooled.

Yeah, not so much.


Mi papi is doing very well.  We still have a schedule of 3 dressage schools a week, including shows and lessons.  All other rides are hacks, fitness, babysitting his leaser, or jumping lessons.  Sometimes jumping lessons take the place of one of his dressage schools.  The bugs are still awful, but we cope.  Okay, we bitch wildly and go way too fast on the trails.  It's a form of coping.

Theo's getting a level of spoiling that shouldn't be healthy.  With summer camp going on, Trainer A has munchkins to groom, tack, bathe, and turn Theo out on his training ride day.  Theo is awfully pretty and friendly, so it's not a quick process.  There are much worse things in life than having a couple of little girls brushing his tail and rubbing his ears (because his owner showed them all how to do it correctly).  His leaser bought him the giant bag of Crack Cookies.  It's huge.  It takes up an obscene amount of space in my locker.  Theo is pretty sure she's the bestest leaser ever.

I've been taking the extra time to groom him till he's sound asleep with his lip drooping at least once a week and I'm trying for twice.  It takes me a full hour to groom him when I go all in.  He's got liniment and massaging and moisturizing the corners of his mouth and treating his hooves and . . . you get the idea.

He's been getting some days with two ponies for company and three fields to romp in.  Clearly one pony and one field wasn't enough.  To give his field some more time to grow in, he's been on established pastures with his tiny companions.


They make quite the trio.  Theo's not a friendly horse, but he has been spotted playing tag with the ponies and even letting them chase him.  Sometimes.  I'm happier when he's getting extra socialization and I'm sure he is too, even if the socialization is making sure they understand that everything is his.  Everything.

Soon the bugs will be gone and my new trailer will be put to much more enjoyable use.  My friends from my previous barn are clamoring for me to go trail riding with them.  I think it's a fantastic idea.  Just a couple more weeks until the bugs are gone.

In the meantime, we'll work on some other skills.


Respecting a stall guard is a very important skill.  So is posing for the camera.


We're still working on that one.

Theo still drags me down to the ring and, despite our recent challenges, gets to work with minimal fuss.  He's spoiled rotten almost beyond words and hardly anybody can remember the days when he was the hated school horse.  Yes, his trailering schedule has been rather intense and I'm asking for more out of him than he's ever seen, but he seems to think we have a pretty good deal going on.  I annoy him for about an hour, but there's lots of cookies and pets in it for him.  And then a massage, his tail brushed out, and Crack Cookies before going out to torment his very own ponies.

It's good to be the papi.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

He's my big, bad, handsome man

He's the devil divine,
I'm so glad that he's mine,
'cause he's my big bad handsome man.

Imelda May - Big Bad Handsome Man


Sometimes it only take one damn thing.  One seemingly stupid little thing to change the game.  I went to my show with the intention of schooling my rather naughty horse on his manners around the outside of the ring.  Sure, I was going to use the stuff I've been working on with Mary to improve our connection, but the goal was not to score well.  It was to explain to my horse that the rules have changed and certain hijinx are no longer allowed.

On Saturday I took him into the outdoor and had him do a run through.  Lo' and behold, he forgot everything I did in the indoor as soon as I saluted.  Mom doesn't know how to actually ride in a test, so it's a free for all!  I can do whatever I want!  I had to school his naughty pony butt hard through the test to make an impression.  No, you cannot throw your head in the air, invert, and act like an idiot just because I'm doing a test pattern.  That picnic is over.

Today I put it to the test.  I also decided that its a two way street and that I should probably stop pushing his buttons outside of the ring and then getting pissed when he explodes.  I walked in on a long rein, asking him to stretch down and forward and swing.  I freakin' moseyed down the long side, smiling at the coach that had just finished reading a test for her student.  I got some double takes.  Long rein, totally chill, just taking a gander at the ring before our test.  The scribe seemed mystified as we walked by.  I said good evening, gave my number, and gave my horse a big pat because he didn't even change his rhythm.  He started to put his head up and I said no, you live in downtown.  And he went right back down because he'd been doing it in warm up and it didn't occur to him to argue with a request to stretch.  I just moseyed along until the bell rang.  Then I shortened my reins, picked up a trot, and headed in.

By gods it worked.  No spin, no bolt, no tension.  He just marched.  And when he tried to look at the judge's booth on center line?  I said no, downtown.  And he chewed and followed the connection down rather than fling his head in the air and put on a show.  Was my poll too low?  Absolutely, but it was a Training level test and he was soft and chill.  The judge wrote 'harmonious - a pleasure to watch' on our test.  Have we ever gotten that before?  I don't think so.  We got a 73% and unlike the last time we were at this show, I feel like we actually earned it.  This judge wasn't throwing out points like candy (we got a 75% and a 76% with a different judge at this show, but Miss Thang got an 80%, it was nuts).  We won our class.

I gave him a twenty minute break with his bridle off so I could get some water.  Showing alone requires more planning.  I kept his halter tied to the trailer so I could quickly swap him out.  I sat, drank water, and choked down a Cliff Bar.  He ate hay and wondered why his saddle was still on.  Then I put his bridle back on and he knew.  Oh, he knew.  Time to go back for our First level test.


Short warm up since he had a very long warm up for the Training level test.  I didn't want to risk hijinx and I didn't realize how effective downtown was, so I wanted to work him down.  I went in for my First level test on a horse going 'but mom, I'm tired!'.  Which was fair, I got on at 2:05 and his second test started at 3:50.  But dressage-ing is hard and I pushed him along.  It wasn't as stunning as our +70% Training level test, but it was very, very good for what we've had in recent months.  A little more braced in the canter since he was tired, but the geometry was accurate and an 8 for the stretchy trot.  6 for the second canter lengthen since he had a 'woohoo' moment, bucked and scooted.  But I brought him back easily and our misshapen circle wasn't too bad.  I can't complain about a woohoo moment (the judge wrote 'mostly harmonious - one small disagreement :)'.  I also got an error since I didn't really believe the First 1 free walk was so short, so I turned one letter too early.  With our little issues, we still got a 67%.  I can't complain.  We won our class and got high point for First level.  By seven percentage points.  We basically whomped the other First level riders.


So having an actual connection gets us much higher scores.  Go figure.  Horses also can't spook effectively when their heads are down as opposed to trying to shove their ears up my nose.  After centerline our frame was up where it was supposed to be, but with spooky pony, I'll take the hit for a low poll in exchange for him being quiet and soft.  We flexed in both directions, got positive comments for our correct bend, and generally wowed the audience.  I had several people come up to me to comment on how beautiful and polite my horse was.  He might have totally slimed one of those nice ladies, but I suppose that's still polite.  Sharing is caring.  One of them knew Theo from back when they used to close all the gates before he attempted a test, since he tended to bolt.  She barely recognized him, laying down a mature, confident test at First.

And then he got on the trailer without trouble, ate his hay, and made my job so easy.  I'm so in love with my horse right now, it's ridiculous.  Screw the tests and the scores, he was so polite and manageable on my solo trip.  Tied to the trailer, stood on the trailer, was endlessly patient so long as I kept food in front of him.  He stood like a rock while I managed my whip, my coat, my gloves, and everything else.   I can't imagine showing alone with most horses.  With mi papi?  It was downright relaxing.

This was what we needed, a quiet, successful day to help us get our confidence back.  I've discovered a potential solution for a multi-year problem.  I got a pretty tri-color ribbon that I actually feel like I earned.  We really, really needed this boost.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Solo

The adventures just keep coming.  Now that I've got a trailer and I've had my first couple of trips, I'm off to my very first show on my own.  Completely on my own.  No trainer, no groom, no buddies.  It's a schooling show about 25 minutes from the barn and a great opportunity to practice getting Theo around the ring without theatrics.

I'm now realizing what a team sport horse shows usually are.  Who's going to hand me my jacket?  Pick up my whip if I drop it?  Remind me to not ride like an idiot?  Hold my hair if I puke?  No one.  And that's kind of scary.  But I'm a big girl, I'm quite used to warming up on my own for a show, and my two rides are only 30 minutes apart.  I only have to tack once, properly warm up once, and then head home.  I'll be on the grounds for about two hours total.  It's not like it's an all day marathon.

Huge bonus?  I don't ride until 3:12pm.  It's a small show, so riding in the large arena makes me one of the 'big kids' and we have to wait until the end of the day.  If I was going with the barn, I'd be there for the intro tests that start at 9am.  Instead, I will sleep in, braid my horse the morning of, and show up around 1:30pm.  Easy peasy.

Except the part where I'm showing with no one to remind me of the essentials.

I'm combining check lists today, starting with the trailering check list and then working my way through the show list.  The truck needs to be fueled up (sob), the usual check done on the trailer, and all of the essentials packed.  Then I get to throw all of the usual show equipment in.  Then I get to start with the grooming and prepping of mi papi.  It's insane the amount of work that goes into showing when you're doing it all.  And I'm still fumbling with getting a system.  My system currently currently consists of throwing everything in the gooseneck and managing it when I get there.  That won't work as well when I have no one to hold my horse.

But at least I get to sleep in.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Downtown

Poor Theo is living in downtown and he's not loving it.

My horse's new theme song

As assigned, we've been working on Theo's reflex of popping his head up when I take up the contact, when he hears something, when someone talks to him, when he sees something, when the wind blows, when the sky is blue, and when he relies on oxygen to fuel his metabolism.

Seriously, now that I'm working on it, this horse just likes to stick his head up in the air.  I gather the reins and his head pops up before he settles into a nice feel.  Can we just not do the pop up bit?  Theo says no, it's required, it's in his contract.  He also says no to stretching down in an honest way, since that's much harder than doing transitions with a head pop.

We got one transition today that was just awesome.  He was trotting perfectly chill with a nice stretch down and I asked for the canter.  No pop, no tension, just a big lift in the shoulders.  It was one transition in twenty, but it's a start.  Working with his head down is requiring him to use new muscles so we're having to take a lot of breaks to avoid massive negativity.  When he starts to get tired, he'll play fun games like twisting his head or curling back behind the vertical or rushing.  That's usually my cue to get a good transition so I can give him a break.

He's not honest in the stretch right now and frankly, we're weathering the temper tantrum part of the cycle.  It's dawning that he must now flex AND stretch at the same time.  Mi papi does not think this is possible or a good idea.  Sure, stretch down, but also flex correctly?  Relax?  Chew?  Nope, nope, and nope.

Bit Butter actually works, btw.  When I use it, he does tend to work the bit more and it's in a positive way.  I'm not sure if it's just that the corners of his mouth are more comfortable or he likes the taste of it on his bit or the texture it creates, but it does have a positive effect on my lock jaw pony.  It's also a fantastic lip balm for me.  I love sharing stuff with my horse.

We're also working on the basic concept that he can't quit working for every little distraction.  A horse he knows walked into the ring and he threw his head up to watch.  We had a discussion about no, you keep working.  I didn't notice his distraction so much when his head was already up there.  Now it's being thrown into laser focus.  Explains why I have trouble getting him to focus while trotting around the outside of the dressage ring.  Error appears to be between reins and saddle.  Hm.

But with lots of pets and rewards, he's coming around.  He hasn't thrown any temper tantrums as grand as the one where we taught him to flex.  I'm being very careful to give him lots of pats when he gets things right so he doesn't get negative.  When he starts to tense, I have to lure him into success and then reward heavily.  Then his ears start flipping around again and his jaw starts moving.  If I forget to pet and give him those verbal rewards?  He starts flipping me the bird damn quick.

Fortunately our show on Sunday is Training 3 and First 1.  Nice, easy tests.  It's mostly about calmly going in the ring and doing the job, not about the test.  Which I think is going to be my grand lesson from this season.  A test for show should be ready for more than survival, because gods know I've got my hands full just showing up.  Half of my brain is completely occupied with managing my partner and his swings between terror and needing a nap.

Expect the Unexpected, indeed.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Hunger Games: Equestrian edition

Since I've dropped back in dressage levels and I'm not doing sanctioned shows right now, I'm getting Theo off the property strictly to keep his brain between his ears.  He's not a brave soul and has bullied many, many riders into not dealing with his nonsense.  His reputation featured his ability to spin, bolt, and jump out of rings for years.  So I loaded him up for a two phase yesterday.

After our excellent dressage lesson, I was pretty sure our Beginner Novice dressage test was in the bag.  Most of my concern was in the jumping part.  This show does tend to go full height for their fences and have some spooky fences (ugggh, that purple and pink chevron they always use for the two stride is a killer).  We had a jump lesson with courses on Saturday that Trainer A set up with vicious turns and some fences set up to Novice so our show course would look like nothing.  Yee.  Haw.  Theo was entirely on board and quite studish with the change in weather.  We had a really nice lesson and I remembered how to get around a course as opposed to look pretty.

The humiliation never ends

Show day dawned beautiful, windy, very low humidity, and about 15* cooler than it's been.  Unsurprisingly, Theo was rather up on his toes.  It's a facility he's visited many times, but he's kind of a dummy about rings not being the way he expects them.  The show was running late due to the dressage judge showing up late, so I took the announcers word for it, planned to be 40 minutes after my assigned time, and headed to warm up.  I wanted to work him for about 40 minutes and burn all of that excess energy off.  Twenty minutes into my warm up, I got told I was on deck.  Well.  Looks like they've done some catching up.  And since I'm already past my scheduled ride time, I can't tell them that I want to wait and finish my warm up.

I march my fancy dancy dressage pony over and start to go around the outside.  A large truck was moved to block the dressage ring from the cross country finish flags.  Go idea on the part of the show, bad idea from Theo's perspective because that big truck wasn't supposed to be there.  He went from nicely trotting to completely stop.  Oh, yay, my favorite game.  I now have to boot Theo past whatever has terrified him and then deal with the spin/buck/tension.  So I proceed to boot, Theo proceeds to inform me this isn't in his contract.  I get to the corner of the ring and he starts to spin around it.  He's feeling amped and rips a buck when I stop the bolt.  At this point the judge flags me down and tells me to come over.

I'll admit, I was ticked.  I needed to finish working that corner to end the situation before my test, but when the judge says 'come here', you smile and walk (physically haul protesting horse) over.  And she proceeded to lecture me about how to handle my frightened horse and how I should manage the corner.  So rather than dealing with the corner, Theo got to cuddle with the scribe while the judge lectured me.  No, I didn't tell her that my horse was being rude due to excess energy, not fear, and that the bucking was because I told him no for the bolt.  And then I walked him back to the truck, said 'touch it', finished our work, and went to the other end of the ring.  Because you don't know me, you don't know my horse, please don't interrupt my training.

Our test had some tension due to the all new corner of death and our entrance was a bit crooked since he was trying to stare at it, but the usual centerline sigh happened and he got a 27.1.  The video is super low resolution, not really worth sharing, but he does look very fancy and we got an 8 for gaits.  Got 5s for the movements where he went against my hand because of the truck, but 7s and 8s for a lot of other things.  If a 27 is a really bad day, I'd say that's progress.

Ready to go play show horse

After his behavior in dressage, I changed to his jumping tack, hauled his butt to warm up, and made like a human lunge line for 20 minutes.  We just cantered and cantered and cantered.  Every time he'd look at something or scoot, I added more time.  By the time we were done, he wasn't looking at a thing.  He just wanted a nap.  Then I took him to jumping warm up.

He warmed up well, but was very surprised to go into a ring with jumps.  Refused fence 1 and fence 2, but then figured out what we were doing and gave me a really nice ride for the rest of the course.  I can accept that since he really doesn't show over fences much.

We got a pretty blue ribbon as the lone survivor of our division.  Stadium was really that spooky.  Copilot was there with baby pony to do a three phase and she also got a blue ribbon as the lone survivor of her division.  Clearly the change in weather had lots of horses acting up because a lot of divisions had just one pair getting pinned.  It was like watching the Hunger Games.  The lone survivor was the winner.

The odds were in our favor

I like getting a blue ribbon and a 27 in dressage.  I don't like having a sore back due to my horse being explosive.  I'm considering how best to manage this, since he's tried a spin/bolt attempt outside of the dressage ring at three shows in a row now.  It's a bit of a problem.  Some of it was excess energy due to the weather, but I'm seeing a pattern.  We're going to another dressage show on Sunday strictly to work on this.  My attempt yesterday was to put him on the bit, put him to work, and march him by in a shoulder in.  Backfired spectacularly.  He slammed on the brakes, but once I was walking (and had my lecture), he walked over on a loose rein to investigate.  So now I'm thinking a long rein walk in with him looking around may be the way to go and I'll pick him up once I'm past the judge's booth, the bell has rung, and we're on our way in.

Tonight I will be gathering beach umbrellas and big sheets to set up a spooky corner in the outdoor to practice.

He's so lucky he's cute.  He's such a pain in the butt.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Prepared

I showed up to my second fancy dancy dressage lesson with the goal of looking prepared and not agreeing to anything that makes me uncomfortable.  Theo and I had spent two weeks working on the basic concept of him flexing right and not looking like a giraffe.  We'd had some bad rides, but we'd fought through it and I felt like we'd made progress.  I felt like I could honestly say I don't want or need mechanical help.

You know that feeling when you try really hard for a project in school and it's time to present?  That's what it felt like when I picked up my reins.  Okay, Theo, here we go.  Don't choke and please, please, please don't let us get another F.  I've had my fill of F's in the last two months.

Spooking at a chipmunk that ran under a trailer, he's such a dork

I guess I didn't need to worry.  Mary was, for lack of another word, delighted with our progress.  She said he didn't look like the same horse and once we were really rocking, said he looked like a real dressage horse now.  I swear I could have cried.  It's really been a bad couple of months for us.  Mary's not crazy with the compliments so that felt amazing.

When I updated her on what Theo and I have been doing, I said I was uncomfortable with the draw rein and didn't want to use it.  Her response?  Okay, how about a lunging exercise for the days when he's trying to tear your right arm off?  She doesn't appear to have a strong opinion either way.  Use it, don't use it, whatever works best for you and your horse.  So that's some weight off of my shoulders.  I won't be using a draw rein any more and she won't be asking me to use it.  I asked about my noseband and she likes it where it is.  It's a hole higher up his face and a hole tighter, no flash.  He can still eat treats and I easily get two fingers under it, it's just tighter than my usual completely decorative fitting.  So I guess I don't need to stress over any nefarious plan to crank his nose shut.  She also likes his new loose ring bit, a 12mm stainless steel (that I might have doctored with some Bit Butter, my latest addition to the tack box).

After checking our work with that flex right, we moved on to our next step in fixing the contact issue.  When I put pressure on the reins, Theo's first reflex is to go up and against the hands.  With Theo flexing nicely, I asked him to go low.  Lower.  Even lower.  All the way down.  Don't give away the contact, show him how to follow the contact all the way down to the ground.  Now ask him to go forward.  Don't let him fling his head up, show him that he can do this without throwing his head.  I swear, I felt like I was riding a headless horse when Theo really got into it.  Huge sigh and stretch.  Cantering like that is freaking unnerving.  Where's the rest of my horse???!!!!

Theo training hard at being low

My homework for the next two weeks is to keep working on his flex and softness, but now to show him that contact doesn't mean throw your head up and brace.  It means soften and follow.  Down is to become his new home.  Theo really likes stretching down already, so Mary is pretty sure he's going to take to this like a duck to water.  He just has to learn to stretch on a contact.  Stretch doesn't mean jam your nose out and take the bit away from me.  An honest stretch, not his jerky, half ass attempt he likes to give me.  As Mary pointed out, there's a reason the stretchy circle is at Training level.  It's a fundamental part of the basics and he needs to be honest about it.  He needs to realize what a lovely place down is, to stretch down to the contact and swing over his back.

She wants to see him following the contact down and working like that while keeping his forward with an alive, chewing contact and a flex in both directions.  Which all makes sense to me and I'm entirely comfortable with this.  After seeing his aptitude for stretching down (which got us a 'fantastic!'), Mary said she doubted I'd even need to use the lunging exercise.  After he figures out how to really stretch and release, all those little aches and cramps in his poll are going to start to go away.  Even now, just with the flexing and movement through the poll with some chewing, he's happier to have his poll handled.

So I had a good lesson.  We showed a lot of progress and Mary is very pleased.  We're on the same page as far as what I am willing to use with my horse.  It turns out that the next thing we need to work on is something Theo and I have done before and he enjoys, so this should be a good couple of weeks.  It will still be hard, he's got muscle to build and he doesn't like upward transitions while low, but he really does love to stretch.  I think she was pleasantly surprised to see that we do have the stretch trained, just not perfected.  Woohoo, not missing all of my fundamentals!

And next lesson?  She said we can start to play with the First/Second level frame and some shoulder in, see what he can handle without bracing.  If he braces and locks up, we'll stretch him down, release, and try again.  So that's why down needs to be locked in.  I'm excited!  She's talking about us learning to be a real First level pair!  I feel like I'm actually back on track!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Mobility

I'm loving life with a trailer.  I want to go somewhere?  I go!  There's a very local schooling show next weekend, I'm going to pop out and do a T3 test.  It's good practice.  Is anyone else from the barn going?  I dunno, but it doesn't matter.  I can go!  I can take my horse wherever I want, whenever I want.  Trail riding on the big network I used to ride with Fi?  Sure.  Pop out for a clinic?  Done.  The world is my oyster.

Living with a trailer is also a complete pain in the ass.

I still can't turn the damn thing around.  The hubby pivots it around after I get home because he likes me and doesn't want to watch me implode or set my new trailer on fire.  I turn around in the Ritz at the barn.  I can back up and do so to turn around when at Mary's, but I'm generally a straight ahead trailer driver.  Backing out onto a road is an absolute no go.

It took me thirty damn minutes to line up my truck and trailer this morning.  It is damn near impossible to line up a three quarter ton truck with a hitch when being one inch off is too much.  I take my foot off the brake, it moves more than the width of the ball I'm aiming for.  I was worried about being lined up vertically and it turns out that horizontally is just as awful.  So many attempts, so many restarts, so much profanity where my neighbor could hear me.

Believe it or not, that isn't close enough.  Too far to the left.  This is about the point I started swearing very loudly.

I'm not proud of the things I said but I meant every damn part of it.  I was hitching at 10am so a drink wasn't appropriate, but I was tempted.  Very tempted.

Once I finally got the thing hitched, I realized that I needed to move my mats back in.  After my last use, I pulled my mats out to make sure the floor was completely clean and dry.  I found some moisture and sawdust that had clearly been under there for awhile, so I suspect the previous owner didn't pull the mats.  I dumped them in the driveway to be cleaned and completely dry.  That part worked, but mats are super heavy and hard to manage.  I didn't want to put them back in without help.  I figured I'd wait until the hubby was home.

This morning I realized I never got them back in and the hubby was on a conference call for work.  Damn it.  So I dragged the mats back in on my own with a great deal of cursing and slipping.  They were clearly produced to fit the trailer, which is good, but that means they're a very tight fit.  So much profanity as I got them settled and then got the shavings down on Theo's side of the trailer.  But I got it done!

Ready for the pony! 

The driving part is getting easier with every trip, but this trip I had a serious thunderstorm land on me on the way home.  Massive downpour, everyone was doing about 35 in a 65 zone.  And lightning hit the hill right next to me!  Instant thunder, blinding flash, the whole thing!  I screamed like a little girl.  I'm not even embarrassed.  It was so scary.  I had my camera on Theo and could see him throw his head up at the boom, but he's so good in the trailer.  I stopped at McDonald's again and got him a treat.

How did it take me so many years to realize there's something on the menu for the ponies?

Slowly but surely, I'm getting a system together.  My tub from my away shows has moved to live in my trailer, keeping my odds and ends together.  My coggins, a checkbook, fly gear, and basic gooming equipment lives in the tub.  I keep a broom, pitchfork, muck tub, some shavings, a spare hay net, and two water buckets in the goosneck.  I use a five gallon jug for water right now, but I have a 29 gallon water caddy pending to make water super simple.  I really love the layout of the trailer.  Everything feels so open, especially when I'm hauling one horse.

All neat and tidy

I'm definitely struggling with making my trailering routine and easy.  Showing up to the barn completely packed and ready to go is definitely awesome, but it's taking time for me to figure out my own routine that results in being on time and not forgetting anything.  I suspect I'm going to need two sets of a lot of things.  I stole my dressage gear last night so I could pack it ahead of time.  That meant Theo's leaser needed to ride in his jumping gear.  So I might have stuck around and given her a private jumping lesson to make it up to her.

There is no greater feeling of pride than watching your horse carefully add in a step to take care of the adult beginner he's carrying.  He was a saint, carefully avoiding bad distances and ignoring her mistakes.  He never wavered.  He went forward and gave her a fantastic jumping ride over 18" verticals.  She had nothing to worry about accept her position and remembering to grab mane because a certain someone likes to jump for real when he's ridden correctly.  His leaser grinned so much I was afraid her cheeks would split.

Oh, my lesson?  The actual riding part? My second ride with the fancy dancy dressage trainer?  I'll write that up tomorrow.  But I will give you one preview:  we were called fantastic more than once.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Growing a spine

It occurred to me that I hardly ever take pictures when I'm at the barn.  So I made a point of getting some new pictures of my horse.  And they cleaned the mirrors in the indoor!

Bliss is finding a matchy matchy ear net in the bargain bin

It's all very exciting.  Honestly, I've been so boring lately.  I ride the pony in the indoor far more than I want because the deer flies are ravenous after noon and I can't ride in the mornings with the job.  Hello client deployment!  They're not interested in changing that schedule so that I can take my horse out trail riding or schooling in the outdoor.  At least tomorrow it will be a different indoor, give him some variety.  And Sunday is a two phase, so totally different.

Geraniums are not tasty

I've started reading Balancing Act by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann.  Highly recommended, I'll do a proper review later.  But it has made me sit down and really think about what's going on with Theo and how I'm approaching it.  On the one hand, mi papi's so common that it's ridiculous.  The examples of the horse hollow to the right?  That's my life, written out in clear detail complete with diagrams.  It's kind of embarrassing as I expand my reading more and more.  Theo is common place, a horse that's hollow right.  It's an example in every book I read, half of the articles on straightness and training, it's everywhere.  And I didn't realize it. 

I agree with everything I'm reading.  You can't make a horse relax with force and without relaxation, you can't get the best movement possible.  Tense, forced horses break down.  While the pendulum is swinging back in dressage, there are still millions of pictures of braced, tense, unhappy horses with freakishly high front legs running around.  I agree that force isn't the way.  And yet . . .

It's interesting working through all of the reflexive excuses my mind comes up with to defend my choices when they're in conflict with my stated beliefs.  At the end of the day, there's no excuse.  I picked a shortcut.  I picked mechanical advantage to fix my training problem.  Am I harming him?  I don't think so.  I used a single draw rein set to his side, not between his front legs.  I used it twice.  Total.  And when I curried him this week, he let me curry his poll for the first time.  On both sides.  He leaned into it and lowered his head so I could get a better angle.  This horse used to refuse to let me touch his poll, much less dig in one of those long tooth curry combs.

Shedding his summer coat already, this horse is seriously a Stark of Winterfell

Yes, I cheated.  I took a mechanical short cut that wasn't needed.  But I'm a mere mortal faced with a horse that's not a modern sport horse.  He doesn't 'go round' just because he's breathing.  He will always go with a more open poll angle.  It's how he's built.  Even with mechanical advantage, he's not vertical (it helps that the angle on the draw rein is to the side, not down).  I can't move forward if his poll is a locked up disaster area.  It took years for him to learn that, it will take me the rest of his life to fix it.  And, like a rusted in place bolt, sometimes it needs a whack to get it started.

But, continuing with the analogy, continuing to whack it won't actually fix it.  Once it's moving I need to carefully work it the rest of the way loose and then maintain it properly. 

Rebraiding the forelock for the week, letting his inner rocker out

Excuses are easy.  Making a choice is much harder.  I'm girding my loins for the inevitable moment where I refuse to use the draw rein or tighten my noseband or add a flash or any of the other things that are so common place in my area.  I may already be done with the draw rein.  I really can't justify it if I'm honest with myself and I'm not enjoying feeling guilty.  Theo had his two temper tantrum rides but has since settled in to his new reality of not being a giraffe.  Careful flexing and circles and suppling to the right are starting to get me some jaw movement.  Not a lot, but a start, just enough to get a bit of lipstick on the good days.  The active fight may be over and with it, any actual need for a mechanical advantage.  The only thing I can truly say in my defense is that I'm a petite woman with a bad shoulder.  My horse easily overpowers me.  But that's done now.  We may be ready to move on with correct training.

And it might be time for me to grow a spine and pick the longer, harder, more correct road. Because mi papi isn't a rusted bolt.