Sunday, February 7, 2016

Leaving the plateau

So we had a guest instructor out yesterday for a ride/review/ride.  Lately things have been feeling very good with Theo.  We now have a sense of forward and power where before, we had a lot of begging and nagging.  We've also had some lingering resistance from Theo's week off.  A week of being able to boss riders around didn't do him any good.  Forward?  Sure, that's easy now.  Stay on the contact?  Eh, it's easier to brace with those still over developed muscles on the underside of his neck and throw his head up in the transitions, especially up to canter.  Or when he's corrected.  Or any other time he thinks that the rider needs a correction.

I rode in the morning, letting him stretch and get some yayas out from the swinging temps out.  He did do some of his bolting and acting up, making it difficult to focus on much more than getting him forward and not barging about.  Frankly, I was a human lunge line.  Somehow we've managed to break his downward transitions while developing a half halt, so I was battling that a bit. 

When it was go time, I had a short window to warm up.  Never a good thing with me and the papi.  I have had a lot of luck using a longer walk warm up with lateral work, but that wasn't an option when I only had the rail.  Then we had some time to ride through the whole ring, but the time was short.  I never got Theo back on the contact.  With everyone sitting around and staring at me while they waited for me to finish warming up, I panicked.  I had him nice and forward and got his downward transition fixed enough to be able to halt at X, so I went ahead and rode the test rather than waste my entire time getting papi's mind totally on the game.  I figured I could finish getting him soft before I rode the test a second time.

You get to watch most of my warm up.  You can see him start to go on the contact, then pop back off.  Sigh.  But hey, look at him go forward like a real horse, even if he looks a bit like a giraffe.  You can fast forward through the start where I'm introducing myself to Leslie, not entirely sure why the hubby recorded that.

And then this was us at the end of our ride, working with Leslie Grandmaison and actually going the way we should be.

For comparison, this was Theo back in June when we first started working together.

We got a 64% on our test.  I was so mad at myself that I had a temper tantrum in front of my husband once I got home and no one else could see me.  I KNOW how to get him on the contact and how to soften him up, I just couldn't get it done in the time allotted and blew the test rather than do the warm up I know how to do.  You'd think I would learn to stick to my guns and do my warm up at some point.  I had to wait until today to write anything because I had to calm down and look at the test rationally. 

64% for a craptastic run through does tell me that we're a go to qualify for regionals.  You need two 63% or higher scores to qualify and if a test I'm flat out embarrassed of gets that score, then we should be okay even if he's distracted at the show.  For comparison, Miss Thang and her junior rider got a 57% on their first run through (67% on their second).  This judge wasn't exactly tossing points around.  I probably would have gotten a 68% if I'd run through again, but it didn't seem worth it for Theo.  He already knows the pattern by heart and he was hitting his threshold at the end of our work with the instructor.

I also have to say that everyone is still impressed that Theo isn't jumping out of the ring or doing anything else ridiculous, so I have to keep that in mind.  He also took the half halt before the corners and to set him up for transitions, which is pretty new.  He was happy and willing through the test, Leslie loved his kind eye and willingness to work with her, he just has that one little issue that really hurt our score.  She called him a very capable cutie pie that's actually elastic and a good mover.  So yay?

She did say something that really stuck with me.  I said he was a lesson horse when I met him and only recently has he been my project.  Several times she mentioned that the evasions were from being a school horse.  She also commented that the evasions weren't going to go away so long as he's a lesson horse with riders that can't make him do his job.  He'll have to test me every single ride to see what he can get away with since he doesn't have to really work with others.  This really throws a wrench in my situation, since I was planning on letting Trainer A continue to use him in lessons.  Now I've had my face smacked right into the reality of the situation.

Theo and I are leaving our current plateau and moving up again.  I can tell after our challenging ride yesterday and my hard work today.  My expectations have changed.  When things get difficult and I feel that burn of frustration, I know we're on the move again, leaving the previous plateau behind and heading to the next one.  Theo is now forward enough and strong enough that holding the contact shouldn't be an issue.  Instead, we have resistance because it's optional in his mind.  It's been optional for most of his life.  His upside down muscling is evidence enough.  While it's improved, it won't go away so long as he has people letting him travel with the underside braced.

Including me.

I slapped the draw reins on him today.  He's no green horse or blank slate.  I can spend years fighting him to break habits he's had his entire ridden life, or I can use a technique I know well to get the change made.  Unlike this summer when he wasn't forward enough or strong enough to manage the draw reins, he did a solid 20 minutes of work with the draw reins in use today with no temper tantrums or frustration:  two sets of 10 minutes with a break in between.  He did his transitions, up and down, without having the option to toss his head up or use that annoying hop up to try to get me to take the pressure off with my seat or leg.  It was a weight lifting session, pure and simple.  The draw reins allowed me to keep my hands steady and not do anything too whacky to guard against the head pop.  After a couple of minutes of protest, Theo settled in nicely and gave me his new forward and correct transitions with a steady contact.

Tuesday I'll chat with Trainer A.  I'm thinking twice a week weight lifting sessions for a month should help get that muscle development where it's supposed to be.  He's matured enough mentally for me to make this mandatory, not something I'll negotiate on.  He shouldn't be struggling with using his topline in the transitions like this.  It's because I haven't pushed the matter.  I'm also going to talk to her about putting him into boot camp for the month of March.  No one riding him but me and Trainer A.  Six rides a week with a plan to transform him from lesson horse to show horse.  I think a month of nothing but educated rides will change his outlook significantly.  Not all hard work rides, we have soccer games after all, but no rides where he can take advantage or plod around with his neck braced.  After that's done, we can let other people ride him again.  There's a potential half lease with an adult that goes Training level in the works, which would be perfect.  She knows enough to keep Miss Thang in line and has been working on keeping an educated horse on the bit. 

I've got a lot to think about.  I suppose that means the clinic worked, but that doesn't mean I enjoy having to sit down and think this hard about what is best for Theo and what is best for the barn and what is best for me.


  1. Moments like that make everything very clear.

  2. lots to chew on, that's for sure. and it's so frustrating when we can't make a thing happen in a test when we *know* it's something we can do in schooling... seems to happen all to often for me tho, le sigh...

  3. It's hard to share a horse that you want to advance and have in lessons. I totally get your frustration.