Thursday, December 8, 2016

Training for Second

Wait, an actual training update?  Like the stuff that's happening in the arena?

I know, I'm shocked, too.

Papi and I have been hard at work on becoming real, honest to goodness Second level types.  As part of this process, I've been watching a lot of video on Second level tests.  Janet Foy refers to Second level as the Great Black Hole.  Lauren Sprieser was recently quoted as saying Second level is where hopes and dreams go to die.  Well, that's inspiring.

The very things that make Second level so interesting and tantalizing to me are the very things that keep people from actually showing at that level.  Sitting trot is a requirement.  There are collected gaits.  Turn on the haunches, shoulder in, haunches in, 10m canter circles, simple changes, counter canter, it's all introduced at this level.  Honestly, the only thing scarier than Second level is putting changes on a horse, at least for mere mortal adult ammies.  Changes are freaking terrifying.  Second level is only very frightening.

So imagine my mixed emotions when I was watching a video of someone riding a Second level 1 test and thinking 'hey, that looks like Theo'.  On a good day, to be sure, but that was Theo marching about.  Collection came and went, he was occasionally downhill, but he was willing and marched about.  And he would have gotten a score in the low 60's.  Hm.

With that bit of inspiration, Trainer A and I are pushing hard to move that Second level 1 test into the realm of possibility.  Because you can't do a good First 3 until you're pretty much a Second level pair, right?  So why drill First level movements when you're really shooting for a Second level horse?  Exactly, it's silly, so we're now pushing for Theo to be solidly schooling at Second level.  Like able to do it at a schooling show.

So we'll need (for Second 1):
Collected gaits
Medium gaits
Shoulder in
Simple changes
10m canter circle
Sitting Trot

Collected gaits:  We're getting there.  It's slow and the progress is jerky, but we're at the point where I can ask for engagement and get some.  I'm starting to really understand that collection isn't about small steps or going slow.  It's about activity.  It's about shifting his weight back.  It's about feeling his shoulders come up, not about getting his head down and neck pretty.  It's feeling like I could canter or walk at any point, no stress.  It's feeling like I could change direction without any loss of balance.  It's about having a canter where when a child on a pony gets in front of you, you close your outside aids hard as though doing a turn on the haunches and feel him lift his front end and move it over and around his haunches.

He's got a pirouette in him, I just know it.  Also, children on ponies are worse than drunks.  Where the hell are you going and who's actually driving?  Because I'm pretty sure it's the pony.

Medium gaits:  Ha ha ha ha fml.  He has medium gaits in him, but it will be a long, slow grind to build the muscle for him to hold them across the diagonal.  Medium was described by Janet Foy as the trot that gets the most off the ground while extended covers the most ground.  You should look at a medium and think that you can build a passage from that.  I love mi papi, but he's very earth bound by nature and confirmation.  I had a frank talk with Trainer A about this today and her reply was 'he has it in him, we just need more poles'.

To which I said 'are we going to chase him with the poles?'.

No, no, we're not chasing Theo with poles, it's more jumping and raised cavaletti to build up the muscles so that it's easy for him to bounce up off the ground.  Though chasing him with poles would probably be easier.  To be fair, he is building up some bounce.  He's done so many caveletti at this point that he just sees them and starts to lift himself up.  And with our grand focus on getting him up off his shoulders, I'm starting to see a difference in the overall shape of our trot.  It's lighter. 

Shoulder in: This has become something rather old hat for Theo.  We've been working on it consistently since I started riding him seriously.  Now I can put him in a shoulder in with minimal struggle and hold it.  We lose some of our trot impulsion still and we could use more bend in his body, but he'll stay on the bit and go along without trying to barge out of it. That's progress and I'll take a calm, willing shoulder in with less bend over pushing the bend and getting him evading.

Simple changes:  These are coming along.  We can walk to canter reliably now in both directions.  In my jumping lesson this week, I did some walk to canter to trot to halt to trot to walk to canter to walk transitions to get him jumping up and paying attention.  I call it the guessing game.  A horse that's completely clueless on what I'm going to do next will usually hold themselves in self carriage more effectively because it's a survival instinct.  Bitch is crazy and there's no telling what she'll ask next, better stay prepared.  Canter to walk still gets a couple of trot steps on the straight, but if I put him on a small circle and ask as he's coming to the wall, he can step straight to walk.  We've been doing a fair bit of that as a weight lifting exercise.  It's much easier to get those shorter steps when there's a wall to help.  I expect that as the muscles develop the strength, we'll get a proper canter to walk transition on the straight.

10m canter circle:  Oddly enough, he's taken to these pretty well.  I don't do a lot of these because I don't want him to hurt himself, but I'm making sure he does at least a couple in each direction each week.  As they get easier, they'll get more routine.  Yet another move that he understands, just needs more muscle.

Rein back: Rein back is not Theo's favorite, but I've been tossing them in all over the place so he'll accept them as part of life and not some sort of correction.  It sucks that we'll have to do it with the rail on the right, since he tends to swing left, but I know it's coming and can usually guard (with the leg away from the judge, woohoo!).

That leaves us with the sitting trot.  I have to show mercy on myself and say it's better.  I can sit the trot indefinitely without risk of falling off, even over poles.  It's not as pretty or plugged in as anyone wants, but I can sit while Theo powers along and not become completely ineffective.  I've accepted that this will be a never ending project.  My sitting trot will always require work, just like sitting the canter.  That's riding for you.  Will I be ready to sit in competition next show season?  Eh, probably?  Nerves play havoc with my seat, so I'll have trouble away from home.  Good thing I'm showing First where I can sit as much as possible, then bail and post when things get hairy.  I want to sit, I want to sit so much that it's threatening to become an obsession.  Trainer A is smart and pops me into rising so I don't screw up Theo's attempts at learning to do his job, but puts me back into sitting once we're settled into things he already knows.  If it wasn't for her, I'd probably try to sit all the time and screw us both up.

That's . . . not bad.  Huh.  How did we all of a sudden get here?  I see it all written out and . . . huh.  Look at that.


  1. I love watching other people ride because it reminds me about where I might place and how we're all human working on progress and its all so doable!