Monday, September 10, 2018

Post show season doldrums

2018 was such a weird season.  I wasn't even going to have one, and then it was suddenly a parade of shows all back to back.  And then boom, done.  Five weeks, four rated shows, and now my calendar is completely clear again.  It's like that moment when you walk out of a loud bar.  You didn't really notice how loud it was until you walked outside and all of a sudden the silence is so weird.

Soooooo . . . now what?

I suppose I could work with my new FEI prospect . . .

I don't even have clinics scheduled right now.  There's some schooling shows going on in the area, but they all seem to fall on the same weekends as my two half marathons I signed up for.

Still doing this whackiness on my free weekends

Yeah, two.  I'm on crack or something, I swear.  Or maybe it was the margarita I was drinking post race when one of my running friends convinced me to sign up.  Sure, I did a 10 mile race recently, but that doesn't sound as scary as a half marathon.  Half marathons are for real athletes, not crazy middle aged women that just want to be able to breathe while keeping their rather lazy draft crosses going forward.

Do I look miserable?  Because I was so miserable. #whatthehill

But I'm signed up and I'm not big on skipping things that I've paid for, so those are going to happen.  Which means I have no schooling shows closer than two hours away.  I don't really want to drive two hours for a schooling show, especially when I have no idea how the judging will go.  If it was for a rated judge, pony would go on the truck so fast it would make his head spin.  But a lot of these shows are TBA or an L judge listed.  That's a lot of hours of travel for an unknown L judge, especially when I can have one come to me.

I called up a friend of mine that just happens to have her L to bribe her into coming out and playing judge for an hour while I run through my Second level tests.  She's successfully competed at Grand Prix and has even ridden Theo once (recent Theo, not dark past Theo), so she's well suited to help me set my goals for the winter.  She knows where we're going, knows Theo's limitations, and knows what a judge will be looking for at the start of Second.  She also doesn't watch us work pretty much ever, so she's a fresh pair of eyes.  I can probably drag a couple other riders into the ring as well and turn it into a useful morning.

She's also offered to help me choreograph my freestyle this winter, so that will be fun.  I think.

I'm trying to scope out a jumping clinic as well.  It's not a primary focus, but that's no excuse for totally slacking off and letting those hard earned skills disappear.  I didn't spend thirty years falling on my head while developing an eye just to forget how to ride a distance.  I'd love to get Brad Giuda out again and take a private.  I think I'd get a lot out of a tune up with him.  Vitor Silva is probably going to be out at Gelinas soon, so I'm on the watch for that clinic.

I put on a coat today for my commute to the office, so fall is definitely on my mind and the impending winter.  We'll need a plan and some goals if I'm going to make it through the long, dark hours trapped in the indoor.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Cure to what ails you

After Theo's oil change, I've been very cautious to come to conclusions.  I'm just so damn hopeful that this is the fix for our canter woes that I don't want to inflate any differences that I feel.

That first ride, though, I saw several inches more over track at the walk.  Trainer A saw more hock activity in the canter and he was far more willing to canter on that left lead.  He suddenly had a counter canter and a 10m circle on the left.  Perfect?  No, but a noticeable difference.  About ten minutes into my ride I had to conclude that while he was working better left, there was something wrong.  After comparing notes with Trainer A, we concluded that my beloved jackass had a sore ass after being a complete idiot on the lunge line with her the day before and suddenly having more reach.  We kept it light, easy, and positive.

A week of consistent work later and I'm very confident that he's comfortable, but he wasn't symmetrical when I brought him out.  Slightly short on the left.  I felt no hesitation, but he was uneven.  Trainer A and I talked, we studied, and we decided that we would try to push him to square since he's been travelling slightly uneven for months.  I was in jumping tack so the answer was obvious.  If you want Theo to happily push off from behind and offer some impulsion?  Time to jumpa da jumps.

His favorite thing to do 

A couple of warm up jumps, then the fences went to 2'7" and we started the course work.  Four stride to a two stride, bending lines, skinny jump, all the fun.  It took Theo a course to figure out that we were doing his favorite thing for real.  He smacked the first jump pretty hard when he didn't realize they had moved up to an actual jumping height.  After his first course, I felt him hit the bridle for the first time in a long time.  Pony switched on and I could get up off his back and enjoy the power we've been developing.  He suddenly wanted to devour the fences.  Six strides to the skinny on the first pass, five strides on the second.  With his confidence to the fences, I focused on the big release he loves so he could fully use his neck.  I had to take a check heading into the two stride since pony now knows he's strong enough to take it as a one stride.  Not something I want him to start doing.

Trainer A was so delighted to see him power up like that.  So was I.  Right lead, left lead, didn't matter.  He was right there and ready to jump with his knees to his eyeballs.  Threw in the occasional flying change.  I would pick up a contact to start a course and he was immediately offering the canter.  No kicking needed for the jumping pony.  After jumping a couple courses and practicing a correct, balanced roll back to the left, I trotted him off.  Totally even behind and overtracking on both sides.  Even at the walk he'd become symmetrical. 

Seriously happy pony, even over tiny jumps

It's been too long since we jumped for real.  We jump little jumps very regularly, but I usually jump whatever is in the ring.  With all of the younger riders, it's usually cross rails or 2' verticals.  Our lessons were focused on show prep for the dressage pony.  This was our reminder that Theo needs real jumping lessons to unlock the forward.  He genuinely loves to do it and it inspires him to go forward without me having to push or beg.

As for the oil change?  We cantered for five minutes to the left with only one correction for attempting to break.  That left lead canter issues appears to have been addressed.  He's confident and willing to the left now.  Does he need the stifles done?  Still undetermined.  I'm going to keep working him and focus on keeping him even behind.  He's been uneven long enough that I'm sure he's got some asymmetrical development and bad habits.  Once I feel like he's had some time working evenly, we can trot him off and see if he needs a second round of injections. 

I single hock injection seems to simple a solution, but maybe?  Maybe?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


I mentioned in passing the idea of inviting Theo up into a higher frame.  I feel like this concept needs a bit more explanation because it's been a game changer.  And, realistically, shouldn't have required a visiting clinician to point it out but all riders have their flaws.

When it comes to getting a horse on the bit or working on a contact, my training has been to shorten the reins and the horse should shorten up because that means it's time to work.  If the horse doesn't shorten up, they're not paying attention and you should correct them with the hand.  This has resulted in Theo typically jutting his nose out and bracing when I shorten my reins.  He's kind of an oppositional jerk that way.  Unfortunately, I will respond to that by getting in his face and away we go with one of our bickering sessions.  We're both very stubborn creatures.

During my clinic with Ashley Navarro in May, I was introduced to the idea of inviting my horse up into the higher frame.  She was rather scandalized to see me just shorten my reins up without giving Theo a hint beforehand that work was coming.  The idea was that I should let him know with my seat and legs that things were afoot and that he should rebalance.  To rebalance, he'll need to pick his head up and engage his topline.  When he picks his head up, I need to shorten up the reins so my hands don't end up in my crotch as the distance between my hands and his mouth shortens.  I shorten an inch, then ask for more with my seat and leg.  Shorten my reins again.  And again.  Lo and behold, with a couple of iterations, I was able to invite my horse up without him feeling claustrophobic or stressed.  He can lick and chew while in that frame that we're aiming for at Third.  It was his decision to pick his head up, after all.  His rider only asked him to tuck his nose a bit, nothing to worry about.  What's a little flexion between friends?

I was delighted to find out that he could lift himself without that ugly hinge spot in his neck and doing some over dramatic nonsense.  Not for long, he has a lot of topline to develop, but it's possible.  After the clinic, I worked with Trainer A to practice bringing my horse up into a contact using my seat and legs.  It's slow going.  Any project that involves teaching Theo to listen to my seat and legs requires me to tighten up my riding so I'm not making a lot of noise that he has to ignore.  It also requires Theo to listen to situations where he used to ignore.

As a direct off shoot of this concept, I've been working on making my legs quieter but also making them my default.  Confusing, right?  I need to work off of my seat and leg far more than my hands even when I'm mucking around with his head, but at the same time, my legs need to be very quiet because Theo is a rather sluggish horse.  So cues need to come from my leg and seat, but then my leg and seat need to come back off.  If Theo is getting heavy on my left hand, I need to make him step off of my left leg, then get that leg back off. 

This has taken a long, long time to beat into my thick skull.  If he's heavy in my hand, I automatically want to correct him with my hand.  Everyone knows that feeling.  Trainer, trainer, he won't stop dragging on me!  I'm having to pull so hard just to keep going straight!  While your trainer is slowly shaking their head, watching you try to play tug o' war with a thousand pound animal.  Then they say stop pulling and you yell back that you can't stop.  At this point you're not even sure why you have to keep pulling, but by golly you are not going to let go of that rein before he does!

Trainer A has resorted to throwing things at me to get me to go to my left leg when he starts to drag my left arm.  We went around and around on a 20m circle, working on leg yielding my stubborn pony every time he started to brace and drag.  He's trying to throw that left shoulder out.  However, pony is not a fool and started to travel straight after a few dozen reps.  If I pull, he has something to fight.  If I poke him in the ribs?  He moves his ribs over to make me stop poking him.  Presto change-o, that makes him get off his left shoulder and travel square.  Once he's settled into traveling square, pony has got some moves on him.  Half pass at the trot no longer bothers him and he prefers it to the leg yield for some reason.  He will contentedly do a 10m half turn and then half pass back to the rail in both directions in the trot.  I'm sure that understanding why he is better at half pass than leg yield would be a grand revelation into his biomechanics but for right now, it's all a mystery to me.

As I slowly trudge forward into the world of mid-level dressage, I'm trying to hang on to Theo's personality.  He has the mind for dressage, but his personality isn't exactly easy.  I don't want blind obedience and he certainly isn't offering it.  I don't want him to become tense or angry or resistant to the work.  Part of the problem I had with moving him to a connection was my reluctance to force the matter.  If Theo isn't chewing and licking while we work, I'm not happy.  My early attempts at a higher frame resulted in a dropped back, locked jaw, and tense neck. That's not okay.  Now I'm learning to make the higher frame something that he offers and I can reward. 

I have to do this a couple hundred more times until he automatically comes to me when I ask with my seat.  Then he'll do the same when the aliens have landed, taken over the arena, and set up flower covered bases from which they will enslave the world starting with the equines.

If Theo were a human, he would be an alien conspiracy believer.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Love affair

Believe it or not, this was not inspired by Theo winning a big ribbon.  Or me finding out that there's another, even bigger ribbon in the mail.  It was inspired by a conversation with the vet during Theo's oil change.  We started planning since, let's face it, arthritis is degenerative.  It's all about keeping him happy and comfy as long as possible.  Joint injections, Adequan, eventually some Legend but we'll hang on to that.  Vet expects we've still got many years to chase that Bronze.

And probably some more adventures in this tack

So the current plan is a five year plan.  Start small, have plans to go further when needed.  When he's 19 or 20, he'll probably be ready to step down from competition.  And the vet asked what happens when Theo can't compete anymore.  I shrugged and said 'someone in this barn is going to be incredibly lucky and get to ride a very nice schoolmaster until he's ready to be a pasture potato'.  Because we all know Theo is a rampaging nightmare when he doesn't have a job.  He will be such a high scoring Training level school master for someone that I carefully pick out.

Only Pez dispensers need apply

And then I blinked.  Huh.  Somehow he has become my heart horse that I could never sell.  I went into this with the belief that he might be sold.  He was Mr. Right Now more than Mr. Right.  I haaaaate riding pokey draft crosses!  I could decide I want a more competitive dressage horse, Theo could decide that he hates the show horse life, whatever.  He's also got some serious short comings.  That spin of his is legendary for a reason and his rear is not my favorite.  Or the buck.  He loses his damn mind twice a year.  He's terrible in the open and even schooling cross country at home is inviting disaster.   He's much better as a trail horse now than he was before, but he's not exactly a super star.  Casual walking is usually okay, group trotting or cantering?  Instant land porpoise.  He's not invited for hunter paces or long weekend trail getaways which I really miss.  He's so bad in a stall.  So bad.

On the other hand, he whickers when I yell for him in his field.  He doesn't always come up when he's called, but he does always call back when I call for him.  If he could climb in my pocket, he would.  He absolutely loves to be groomed and immediately falls asleep.

The only drugs he's on are liniment and curry comb

He loves people, he doesn't understand the concept of strangers.  He will drag me over to visit.  He loves to set his chin on my shoulder with his nose touching my cheek and just breathe.  I can mount him safely even with chainsaws cutting trees or loose horses.  I can do Second level dressage, then head outside and jump around a 2'6" course without him batting an eyelash.  In a ring or the dressage arena, he is steady steady steady.  I can toss a rank beginner on him and know they'll be safe.  He will teach anyone how to jump with a forgiving nature that no one knew he had.  He's freaking gorgeous.  The highlight of any day is getting that horse out of his field.  I'm always proud to walk next to him.

Somewhere along the way I quit calling him papi or jackass.  When I call for him, I call him Gorgeous.  Hey Gorgeous, get your chubby ass up here!

This is what happens when your horse misses work due to lost shoe/hock injections/pink eye epidemic, you get out the girth extender

He lets other horses pass him in the aisle now.  When a beginner careens into me while I'm riding, it's a sigh, not an emergency.  We go for long walks in the woods together and it's no big deal.

Bugs are gone, time for all of the trail strolls

Allen, my first horse, needed a safe place to land.  He needed somewhere to retire and traded me some wonderful years of learning in exchange for his field full of TB mares.  Fiona needed a teacher to give her the skills that would land her a job.  She got that, then moved on.  Theo needed a partner.  Someone that considers getting him out of the field the highlight of their day.

So dear ol' Theo is stuck with me.