Thursday, January 31, 2019

You win this round, Mother Nature

I'd started to think I was going to make it through this winter without a break for weather.  Work, sure, but Theo was still marching around while I took planes, trains, and automobiles to get to our Manhattan office.
Watching the sun rise over NH with Venus and Jupiter putting in an appearance with Antares just barely showing in the photo, then the grid of NYC as we came in to land

No, seriously, I took a plane from NH to Newark, NJ.  Then I hopped in a car with our CTO who drives like an absolute lunatic.  Then we got on a train to get to Penn Station in New York.  THEN we got on a subway to Greenwich and then we walked about six blocks.  I left NH at 6am and made it to the office at 9:45 am  It took two hours to go from the airport to the office.  I will never, ever live near NYC.

Back to Theo and his work schedule.  I toughed out a lot of cold nights to try to work through the winter and not lose any condition or progress.  On Monday night I saw that it was 18 degrees.  That's below my threshold for actual work because I don't want him to breathe hard.  He did in hand work and some bareback jogging in a rope halter and two coolers.  Thank goodness he didn't decide he needed to do the dance of his people again, I would have slid right off.

  Looking super wild and crazy

Tuesday I packed up his surcingle when I went out for his farrier appointment.  I figured it would be warm enough in the early afternoon to get him on the lunge for 20 minutes or so, but that failed.  It was 16* at 1pm.  I gave up, put him back in his field, and accepted that a break was upon us.

Eyes closed asleep while getting his feet done, this horse is ridiculous

Last night I got caught in a snow squall and had to pull over to wait out the white out conditions.  Today, the high is 3*.  All he's getting is an extra blanket, extra hay, and a kiss on the nose.  Tomorrow will be more of the same.  Saturday we're supposed to pop back up to normal so I'll get him going again (aka stick him on a lunge and pretend I'm flying a kite for 30 minutes while other riders gasp and run in terror).  On Tuesday, I leave for my next work trip.

I am so done with winter already.   How many days until spring?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Being extra

Riding horses makes them tired, right?  I'm not making a fundamental mistake with this assumption?  Because my pony appears to be very confused.  He did get two days off while I was off making money to support his habits (new PSoS outfit arrives tomorrow!), but since then it's been at least one ride a day and sometimes two.  Despite that, he was being quite extra yesterday.  In a ring full of nervous adult ammies.

This is why we don't get invited places, Theo.

Post workout selfie practice

On Sunday he decided that the arena drag being parked in a different corner than usual was unacceptable and after passing it a dozen times, he pulled a spin-scoot on me.  I'd say out of nowhere but he had a hump in his back big enough to require me to have his girth a hole looser than usual.  I suppose it's progress that the land porpoise dance stopped after one jump and we went right back to work, but still.  Really?  REALLY?!

So I did what any self respecting owner of a yak/land porpoise cross would do:  I put him in the biggest trot I could get while doing serpentines and connected circles all around the ring.  If you've got that much energy, you can totally use your back and get your hooves completely clear of the footing.  I like trot for explosive ponies.  Canter makes it too easy to buck, walk just bottles them up.  Trot is where it's at.

He's so freaking studly looking when he does this.  I wish I dared to stop and set up my phone for video.  Or ask any of the slightly horrified riders to take video.  He's like sitting on a ticking bomb, but it's such a pretty bomb.  He gave me one more porpoise jump but that one I had coming.  I got in his face a bit when he tried to go out the shoulder in the canter and he informed me that feeling trapped was not good for his self control.  Right, right, get out of the pony's face before he decides I'm no longer a nice partner that he wants to take along for the ride.

He wasn't nasty or even that naughty, just fresh and full of energy.  Which is nuts because not one but two riders told me he was dead when they rode him last week.  Huh?  Three rides in a row with him right up on the bit for me and yesterday was the hottest one of the bunch.  I don't even know how I'm going to manage him tonight.  Trainer A said he was fresh and sassy with her, too, but dead with anyone else.


I genuinely love the fact that he's still a dead head with the beginners.  They don't love it so much, but it's great to see that he can still be safe with them in the winter while we make him very reactive to the aids for the advanced riders.  He has apparently figured out how to do both jobs.  Conserve energy with the riders that don't push him and then let it all out when someone with a hot seat gets in the saddle.

We'll see tonight if he's still dancing the dance of his people or if he's decided that six days in a row with me and Trainer A is enough to take the edge off. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Lack of adult supervision

I appear to be entering a new phase in my horse life:  no regular lessons and no full time trainer.  This is terrifying, folks.  I've had weekly lessons since I was five years old.  It's just what I do.  Sometimes I even take two lessons a week.  I enjoy taking lessons.

Reality is that Trainer A isn't available when I can take lessons.  I have a 9 to 5 job that increasingly needs me to actually be available during those hours.  During the summer I have early release on Fridays but the rest of the year?  I'm not reliably at the barn before 6pm.  She's usually done teaching by 4pm.  On Saturdays its a parade of lessons that really don't suit me and he's already in the 8am lesson with his other rider.

I took myself completely off the lesson schedule today.  During the summer or when I take a break from work I'll pick up some lessons but I'm no longer in regular lessons.  We have no adult supervision.

Do we look like we should be left unsupervised?

It's not really a surprise to anyone that I'm bringing things to an end with my regular lessons.  As Theo settles in as a Second level pony (got clean changes both ways without porpoise impressions today!), I'm increasingly aware that I'm the most advanced student Trainer A has ever managed.  Mistakes are made, confusion abounds, and there's a certain amount of mutual flailing as we figure out what mid-level dressage is supposed to look/feel like.  Eyes on the ground?  Excellent.  Teaching me how to get that shoulder in down quarter line dead straight?  More problematic.  Knowing when we're ready to go show at Second?  No idea.

Second level pony or not, he sure is pretty

So now what?  Good question.  I've looked at all of the barns that are in a reasonable drive from me and there are no trainers for dressage that are more experienced than I am.  Almost all of the barns in my area are up-down barns or have no training available at all.  So there's no point in moving barns, I'm not going to get more training.  That leaves me with trailering out and clinics.

It's January in NH, I'm not going anywhere right now.  After the last flood and freeze, my trailer is behind a wall of ice that I need to take out with a sledgehammer.  My road is dirt with ice and then a layer of sand on it.  No, I don't want to trailer anywhere right now.  Come March, I'll need to start heading out again.  Mary Howard is an obvious starting spot.  I could work something out with my boss to let me go out for a once a month lesson, I'm sure.  There's also rumor that the clinician I rode with last year that I really liked is coming back.  A couple of repeating clinics, some trailer out lessons, it should keep me from sliding into the abyss.  And occasional sanity checks with Trainer A as opportunities allow.

It's very scary to think I'm on my own now.  In some ways I had been before, but now it's all official.  I'm my own trainer. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Together again

I got to go to the barn!

It's sad that just putting on my breeches was the highlight of my week.  And then I got to pull into the barn parking lot and that was a new highlight.  And then my pony saw me, whinnied, and hustled up for his cookie.  Definite highlight.

Good gravy he's fluffy this time of year.

I needed to take pictures of my western saddle so I could post it for sale.  I'm lazy, so I tossed it on.  It also meant I could ride in my winter boots.  Double score.

Hopefully it will sell and I'll be able to combine that with a bonus from work for my new saddle.  I was all set on my DP Variofit but then I stumbled on the Harmony western dressage saddle and it looks very promising.  I think I'll have their demo saddle sent up for a trial.  If it fits, I'll order up one of my own.  It's a very pretty saddle with lots of options.

I hate saddle shopping so much. 

Lost time doesn't seem to have affected my fluffy friend too much.  The sass monster is still lurking, but he's keeping it in check.  I appreciate that.  I've got one more work trip and a break out of super cold weather coming up that will disrupt things again, but I'm hopeful he won't lose too much fitness and we'll careen into March ready to break out of the indoor.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Adulting sucks

I found out I'm going to be traveling for work.  Jan 22, I have to go to NYC to meet with a bunch of execs and part of the Board of Directors for one of my projects.  On Feb 5, I'm off to New Jersey for an all company meeting.  For the next two weeks, my project is going to require 12 hours a day, at least, and some weekends. 

Guess what doesn't happen when I'm on that kind of schedule and taking work calls until 8pm?

Yeah, that.  Also sleeping and eating, but the riding is what's actually ticking me off.

My job pays for my horse but sometimes it makes it very hard for me to enjoy my horse.  I called Trainer A today and told her to consider Theo a lesson horse for the next two weeks.  Use him in lessons, ride him, whatever.  His other rider also got a text saying that she can ride him lots and lots over the next two weeks and she sounded excited.  Theo will be well exercised and well loved.  With the cold snap forecasted for early next week, it's really for the best that I just hang up my spurs until this work emergency is over.

I'm still pissed.  Theo and I were really getting into a groove!  Yeah, yeah, gotta save the company so that I can get my paycheck, but can't someone else do that while I go to the barn?  Or maybe tell the Board I need a couple more weeks because I need to go see my horse instead of working all night?  He's got needs!

Reality sucks.  When I was a kid, I thought being an adult would mean I could ride any day I wanted.  Now I know it's quite the opposite.  The more money you have for your horse, the less time you have to ride them.  It's a terrible equation.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The running life

Yup, I still run.  Not nearly the crazy levels I was running for awhile, but enough to keep my cardio up and avoid Theo having the upper hand.  Hoof.  Whatever.

In 2018 I ran around 450 miles and something like 25 races, everything from one mile to a half marathon.

In my team uniform and everything

I made all sorts of friends and learned a lot about being an athlete.  Let me tell you, when Theo has an off or creaky day after a hard work out, I am far more likely to just let it go.  I've had many days with a scheduled work out that got rescheduled for a hip or knee that just did not want to work.  I've learned that prevention really is everything, nutrition is huge, intervals for strength training are not to be rushed, and the right equipment makes a tough thing a bit easier to manage.

My goals for 2019 are a bit different.  2018 was all about learning and trying a little bit of everything.  I did road races, trail races, obstacle races, short runs, long runs, group runs, solo runs, big races, little races, you name it.  I loathe running, so I wanted to find the least awful way to get it done.
My running bff with me for the Snowflake Shuffle 2019 (freaking 17* out)

 I now know that I'm not a really long distance runner.  My knees started to crap out once I was running 8 to 9 mile long runs each weekend.  Ow.  This year, I'm going to stick to 10k or shorter.  I may have that one 10 miler again, but I'll relay it or walk chunks of it.  No more halfs, the body just doesn't tolerate the training.  The actual race was not bad, but the accumulated wear and tear isn't something I want to repeat.

I'm also not a fan of obstacles.  Seriously, how does anyone do any of that nonsense and live to tell the tale?  But I have now actually experienced a friend yelling 'do a barrel roll!' in a non-ironic, non-joking way.  Is that an accomplishment?  I feel like it should be.

I prefer trail races.  I like the challenge of uneven footing, the slower paces, and the scenery.  Something about running through the woods is much more fun and my knees appreciate the break from the pavement.  Down side?  Holy hell the deer flies we get!  So not in deer fly season, but the rest of the year, I want to hit the trails.

I enjoy shorter races where I can get out, knock out my miles, and get my beer.  Because I'm all about the instant gratification.  I got to a sub-30 5k in 2018, I want to aim for a sub-60 10k in 2019.  Interval work and runs that are typically five miles or less should keep the bod happy and the pony on his toes.

Today I tried to give Theo the day off after my 5k and he started rattling and slamming his gate as he realized I was leaving the field without him.  Well, fine then.  You can come out and play.  We played soccer for ten minutes straight with him chasing the ball without my input other than some tricky corners.  I need to buy a Pixio, he's so cute trotting after the ball and shaking his head before giving it a mighty shove.  It gives him an outlet to play and rough house without broncing during our ride.  He was quite well behaved after ten minutes of play time.

Took his braids out to reset them, the long, wavy mane makes him look even more like a Friesian

I still hate running, but the right shoes, company, and rewards makes it bearable.  And being able to kick my pony's butt when necessary is plenty of reward.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The magnificent land porpoise

Theo decided to remind us all that while he's a good boy, he is no saint.  The temps plummeted, the chiro gave him an adjustment, he got an extra day off, and we suddenly have a sighting of the rare and magnificent land porpoise.

One second I'm cutting across the short diagonal, the next I'm hanging on for dear life as my horse leaps magnificently into the air, props and attempts to bolt.  We've got enough miles that I felt it coming and didn't get rattled.  I sat up, halted, and looked over to the door to see someone looking horrified.  Theo heard them walking on the ice outside of the indoor and lost his mind.  It was a pity, he has so much more energy when he's sassy and we were getting some great work.

I dropped my reins to let Theo's brain reset while the teens yelled commentary about how cool Theo looks when he does that.  Yeah, yeah, it's great.  I'll be feeling that in the morning.  Jerk.

I worked him hard, then Trainer A worked him hard the next morning, and then his other rider got on him.  And he dropped her.  A little drop due to dropping his head and shaking it after a jump, but still.  Don't drop her!  We need her!

So I got on him today and did what I could when temps are at 23*.  I don't want his respiration up much, I don't want him to sweat, but I still need to get the energy levels down.  Ha.  Ha ha ha.  I went for forward trotting with bits of cantering on a long rein over 12 inch fences with walk breaks after every 4 fences.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  It certainly did the job.  He never got huffy or sweaty, but he was noticeably happier and calmer by the end.

He did squeal and leap in one of his changes, but at least the change was clean?  It was Trainer A's favorite, but it might have been because of the noise he made.  Seriously, he's a porpoise complete with really high pitched sound effects.

Hopefully he'll be done with this soon.  I don't need a lot of reminders on just how big and naughty he can be.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The matchy match life

Hi, my name is Catie, and I am addicted to matching horse accessories.

I currently own 8 outfits for my horse, not including his formal wear.  It really doesn't help that he's black bay and looks amazing in just about every color. 

Azalea pink
Pink and white browband from PS of Sweden
Monogram Azalea Pink saddle pad from PS of Sweden
Pink polos I found in the clearance bin at the local tack shop, can you believe it? 

Bright blue (with glitter boots)
Silver Clincher browband from PS of Sweden
Bright blue earnet from the clearance bin of a local tack shop
Monogram Blue saddle pad from PS of Sweden
Glitter boots from the local tack shop (or white if I don't feel like getting glitter on everything)

Navy blue
Midsummer Joy pearl browband from PS of Sweden
Navy earnet from the local tack shop
Midsummer Joy saddle pad from PS of Sweden
Navy boots from Smartpak

How do I have no pictures of my navy set?!  Here's my show set, at least it has the earnet and browband (and my navy coat, totally getting a navy helmet for next year)

Black Delight browband from PS of Sweden
Onyx Stripe saddle pad from PS of Sweden
Black jumping boots from PS of Sweden (I nabbed these used from a local rider)
And in the dead of winter, black square cooler from Smartpak that I refuse to take off for pictures

Bold Merlot browband from PS of Sweden
Monogram Merlot saddle pad from PS of Sweden
Merlot polos from PS of Sweden
My rarely seen white bell boots

Yes, I bought the merlot vest I'm wearing to match this outfit.

Iced coffee (with matching polos)
Hot Chocolate browband from PS of Sweden
Stripe Prosecco saddle pad from PS of Sweden
Stripe Prosecco polos from PS of Sweden

Sleek Fudge browband from PS of Sweden
Brown earnet from PS of Sweden
Mustang Brown saddle pad from PS of Sweden
Brown jumping boots from PS of Sweden

Can you believe this set is four years old now?

Green and blue browband from PS of Sweden (their ocean colored one from a couple years back)
Green saddle pad from PS of Sweden (from their test run of pads they sold a couple years back)
White boots from Smartpak (at least until I find the perfect polos)

It's a lot of stuff.  Once I type it all out, I realize I have also become a poster child for PS of Sweden.  I don't currently own any saddle pads that aren't PS of Sweden.  I think I'm up to 10 of their browbands.  Can't complain about the quality of the product, I machine wash those pads and boots regularly and they bounce right back.  Haven't needed to retire any to date and some are approaching four years old.  It does help that I have so many saddle pads I rotate them a lot, but even my jumping pads where I've only had two are still looking great.  Still using the same set of jumping boots I bought for Theo on our first Christmas together.  They'll need to retire soon, they've accumulated a lot of strikes, but that's impressive.

My accessories were taking over my car so I finally came up with a solution.

These are storage bags from Amazon, the kind you keep under your bed to hold sweaters or comforters.  The one on the left is saddle pads, the one on the right is ear nets/polos/boots.  It keeps the chaos under control and I can just grab the colors I want to go with my outfit.  The polos and boots went into mesh laundry bags so they are easy to grab and I don't have to search for that missing one.  There's always one missing.  On laundry days, I can haul the whole bag in and wash up the saddle pads.  The polos wash in their laundry bags to keep the tangling down, leaving me with just the re-rolling.

My browbands live in a drawer in my tack locker.  They're safe from getting snagged and damaging prongs in there.  The kids at the barn whisper to each other about Theo's jewelry box.  I'm not joking or exaggerating.  I've had some ask to see his jewelry collection.  They're always very impressed by the sparkling browbands I pull out.

I've got most of the major color groups covered right now.  I snoozed and lost out on the PS of Sweden purple set.  I was very mad at myself since that's the one color I'm missing from Theo's wardrobe.  I really really want a purple browband to go with my purple coat.

The antique pink browband looks great, but I want a purple one.

I recently found a new comic to follow.

It's so accurate it hurts.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Redeeming the ratbag

It's really unfortunate that such a cute pony got dubbed Ratbag, but it's been appropriate way too many times.  When his brain breaks and he suddenly gets stuck going backwards and crashes into a beginner lesson, he gets called Ratbag.  It's just the way that works.

Dolce, like most horses, thrives on routine.  Since I've taken him under my wing, he's been put on a schedule where the same thing happens over and over.  I get him out of his paddock, take him to the same cross ties, groom, tack, take him to the ring for work, then back to the cross ties, then back out to his paddock.  Nothing bad happens to him, he gets so many scratches and pets that it's actually kind of enjoyable.  He's starting to think this isn't such a bad deal.

He's still pretty damn sure the entire world is trying to kill him, but he's decided I'm probably the exception to that rule.  He used to shy away when I pet him with a loose rein in my hand because clearly, it was time to beat the pony with the reins.  So I spent quite a bit of time trotting around with loose reins and petting his entire neck.  It's fun to mess up his mane while trotting a figure eight.  He doesn't care anymore.  He also doesn't care about me mucking around with my stirrups, patting his butt, throwing my jacket on his head, etc.

I think he's actually starting to like me.

Took the green bean for a long walk down the road to start getting him road safe.  Cars are not demons from hell, pony.

I dumped his ugly bridle and put the High Jump on him.  Fits him perfectly and is quite flattering on his little face.  Noseband is loose because I'm me, but I did notice him being less evasive with his mouth.  So there's that.  I also swapped him to Theo's spare Verdinbend bit so he would quit laying through my hands.  Yeah, full cheeks are nice for teaching steering, but that fat, single joint bit was making it way too easy for him to get a hold and drag me wherever he wanted to go.  This bit is lovely and he likes to work it with his mouth.  So much drool.  So.  Much.  Drool.  And the more he's thinking, the more he chews and drools.  It's pretty ridiculous.

The tack change was well timed.  When Trainer A surprised me with a request to record my ride for a sales video, the Ratbag was looking very nice.  Trimmed mane and tail, all matching and well fitted tack, and my outfit matched his white saddle pad with blue trim.  There's a reason I go down to the ring like people are watching!  He's still ridiculously fluffy but it's winter in NH, people will hopefully understand.  I'm pretty proud of him in the video.  He looks green but pleasant.  The canter departs are awful but the actual canter looks like something someone could ride.  Walk, trot, canter, reinback, trot over a pole, dodge some beginners in a lesson, it's a pretty good display for the all around pony.  I think we should add video of him walking over the little bridge and being an absolute rock star on the cross ties.

I'm taking Denny Emerson's advice to heart and spending a lot of time walking under saddle while working on correct responses.  One leg, move over.  Two leg, go forward.  None of those cues is for scooting.  Repeat until he just does it without thinking about it.  As he gets comfortable with his routine, he's settling in.  He will now stretch for me in short bursts, can trot around without looking like a giraffe, and canters in something approaching a civilized manner.  It's going to take a bit more time to get that canter depart sorted, but at least it's a quick canter instead of a frantic bolt with his tail clamped down and eyes rolling in terror.  Progress!

Still not my personal cup of tea, but he's making me more confident of my first assessment.  There's a cute, fun all around type pony under the fuzz and ratbag routine.  Hopefully I can keep getting him out as the cold of winter closes in.  We're getting down to 5* for a couple days this week.  Ew.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Don't let fear drive

Am I the only one that wakes up in the middle of the night in a panic over horse stuff?  I hope not.

I'm probably the only one that does that over teaching a horse a movement.


It's weird when you try to improve your riding off of clinics you audit, videos you watch, books you read.  You don't have the instant feedback you get in a lesson or when you ride in a clinic.  That lack of reinforcement makes it harder to stick to the plan when you're not sure.  When under pressure, most riders fall back to what they know.  It's safe, it's secure, and you're confident you can do it.

Even when you know you're doing it wrong.

I was reminded after my last post that using a pole to teach a change is inviting more problems in my flying changes.  I defended myself, I'm human, but I thought about it.  I didn't come up with Thoughtful Equestrian out of the blue.  Should I use a pole to teach a change?  I damn well know better.  A trick from ages ago when I needed to put swaps on ponies quickly so they could be sold as jumpers isn't the way to teach my horse a change so I can get my bronze.  Gods forbid I push past Third and need more than one change.

Fourth seems a stretch with this barbarian

I can defend myself with the fact that he has this weird pseudo-change that was installed before I met him and a pole prevents it.  And that will always be there as something I need to manage and combat.  He does this weird change of lead where he doesn't really break to the trot, but there's definitely an extra beat in the change like he touches the ground an extra time.  But when I'm being honest, that was a cop out for the fact that I'm genuinely afraid of getting this wrong.  Trainer A is good eyes on the ground and has put changes on a horse, but not for competition.  I'm her first rider going Second, much less schooling Third.  I need to go see Mary Howard again as soon as the roads are safe.  Stupid New Hampshire weather.  But in the meantime, I can try to play her voice in my head. 

I saddled up on Saturday with the mantra that my horse already knows how to change.  I just have to teach him the cue.  He's done it plenty of times in the past, just not in any kind of predictable way.  That's a pretty radical paradigm shift from where I was on Friday.  On Friday I was scared I wouldn't be able to get the behavior, that he was too old (he just turned 15), that I didn't know how to ask properly, that he wouldn't know how to do it.  I fell back to what I know because I was so scared of failing.

I made myself follow the plan I knew was correct, not what I was comfortable with.  I developed the canter I wanted (aka very forward and almost hot), got him responsive off both legs, and then I asked for the change on a short diagonal.  There was some flail, of course.  He's a total greenie at this.  But he changed once in both directions.  No poles.  No drama.  Lots of smoke out of his ears but no disconnected changes.  Including the elusive left to right.

Once I got the two changes and administered the appropriate amount of cookies, I went and did something else.  They were super duper green, but he did them and that's all that matters at this point.  No need to harp, just another thing he has to do now, the same as a turn on the haunches or a simple change.  Nothing to stress over.  He's well rewarded for the effort so it doesn't seem to overly bother him.  I . . . almost think this is something that comes naturally to him?  Maybe?  He's certainly built for it.

And then we spent Sunday out on the trails because it was 42* in January and we'd earned a day off

He still thinks I've lost my damn mind, make no mistake, but he's willing to humor me for cookies.

Soooooo maybe I need to tell myself that my horse already has a change, it just needs work.  Because that's a totally different frame of mind.  I don't need to teach him how to do a flying change, I need to teach him how to respond to the cue for the flying change.  And deal with the smoke coming out of his ears that I now want him to swap leads after a year of convincing him to knock that evasion off in the counter canter.

Maybe I need to do the exercises to improve his canter, get him hot off my leg, and set him up so that the change is super easy rather than getting carried away with making sure that I succeed with poles and props and theatrics.  And sabotaging myself along the way.

Why are horses so hard?

Friday, January 4, 2019


I said I was going to do it and by golly, I'm not backing down this time!

Also I told Trainer A, who set up a lesson plan based on my January goal, so I didn't get a chance to back out.  Past self is smart.  I hate her.

Today was my first lesson where we were expressly going to work on flying changes.  Since jumping helps, I threw on his jumping tack.  He gave me a shaky change in each direction last week and he gave Trainer A a right to left change yesterday, so he's at least aware of the concept.  It's just not on a cue or at all reliable.  With his jumping background, the plan was simple.  Jump him, swapping leads over the fences like usual.  Drop the fences to poles on the ground and then we'll take the poles away.  It will take a long time, but we do change of lead over fences all the time because he's a smart boy and knows there's a change of direction coming when I turn my head.  Might as well build off of what he knows and where he's comfortable.

Theo is all about finding comfort wherever he goes

He was sticky in his warm up, dropping behind my leg.  He felt stuck in his hip.  Chiro is out on Monday so we'll get that fixed up but for today, I focused on forward, forward, forward.  Jumping helped because he does love to jumpa da jumps.  For the first couple passes, it was easy.  He's done this enough.  Crossing the diagonal over fences?  Change leads in the air.  But the swap from left to right disappeared quite quickly when he realized there were no bending lines or real jumps.  Not a surprise, he prefers his left lead as a rule and these were single little cross rails.  I started to ride for the change and managed to break the change over fences completely because I'm an idiot and thought collecting would fix that while jumping.  Pony knows that he dressages when in that frame and when dressaging, rewards come from hanging on to that lead.  It also had us coming in far too close to the jump and defeating all of the forward and lift we get from jumping.

We moved the jumps up so he wasn't in dressage mode but then he was much more interested in staying on his left because it's easier to jump from.  It got us forward again, but we were both more focused on getting the jump then we were the change.  We dropped the poles on the ground so both Theo and I would stop thinking about jumping.  I got changes with no poles at all last week so it was worth a try.

Right to left, he's got the idea.  Canter up to the pole, get a push from the new inside leg, swap leads cleanly with a hop over the pole.  Done and done.  No big change in rhythm, no bolting, just a change of lead.  Many, many cookies for the pony.  Once the light bulb went on, he was very consistent.  I like working on this over a pole with him since it makes sure he's going to go up for the change.

Left to right, it's hard.  He doesn't particularly want to canter on his right lead, so it takes more creativity to get him to offer the behavior when he has very little idea what I'm after.  After a couple passes, I got my whip tap timing right and he hopped up into a clean change (of course it was a couple strides after the pole).  Much petting, many cookies.  The lightbulb started to flicker.  Repeat with the good side, then come again asking for the change to the right.  It takes three or four strides after the pole with me asking the whole way, but he does change.  Some passes got disconnected, but we were able to end on a clean change.

The good news is that the biggest protest was a buck due to the whip tap. Theo is not a fan of whip taps ever, so this isn't change related.  He's not showing a propensity for bolting and slamming into the bridle.  I think it helps that he is learning it with a click/treat so he doesn't want to fly around.  He wants to stop for his reward. 

The bad news is that he's not always clean with the left to right change.  He'll change behind first if he's protesting the request.  Which is super weird to me, I've always had horses change in front and forget the back.  Theo will swap behind, then get around to swapping in front a couple strides later. 

Let me tell you, our walk to canter was freaking sweet by the end of this lesson.  He was thinking forward into the canter and stepping under himself.  I was also not overriding it because I was more preoccupied with the new tricky thing.  I didn't expect that bonus.

We also completely blew Theo's mind.  We had to have a complete stop/cookies/cuddles reset in the middle of the ride because he was starting to look overwhelmed.  He was offering the behavior I've been asking for in recent months, but all of a sudden I wanted something else and it was very upsetting to him.  Counter canter = cookies!  Simple change = cookies!  He made a valiant attempt at walking for one change since simple changes are how we change leads and mostly tripped over himself and the pole.  I'm glad he didn't actually fall on his face or try that twice.  This is the same horse that threatened to rear and flip over when introduced to the turn on the haunches because it wasn't what he expected to be asked.  Theo is a total PITA to teach new things, he finds new expectations very upsetting.  I'm glad we confirmed counter canter first.  If we were going the other direction?  Forget it.

So we survived day one.  As this is super tricky and my horse is ridiculously clever at evading things that are new and challenging, I will only work my changes with supervision.  Trainer A will also be working on them during her rides.  Our goal for the month is just to get a calm change on a cue over a pole in both directions.  Once Theo has the mechanics completely sorted out in his little head and it's no longer so new and strange that smoke comes out of his ears, we can wean him off the props.  There's no rush, I don't need the change for at least another year. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Getting our groove on

I'm not very good at making commitments.  I waffle and fuss and debate for a long time.  I'd set my sights on some Latin tango music for my freestyle but it wasn't something that completely blew my mind.  I liked it, it suited Theo, but I wasn't sold.  But if I'm going to use a freestyle in June, I darn well need to get in the queue to have my choreography done.  I logged into Musikur to request an invoice and lock in my music choice.  Because I'm me, I skimmed through the music.  Hmm, a new section called Vocal?  What's that all about?

Guys, I have my freestyle music.

The trot music:

The canter music:

I can't actually identify my walk music.  The whole thing can be heard here under the Feel It Still music.  I really fell in love with the canter music.
'Cause I'm on top of the world, 'ey
I'm on top of the world, 'ey
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I've been waiting to smile, 'ey
Been holding it in for a while, 'ey
Take it with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I'm on top of the world
Yeah, I want that for my freestyle music.

I've picked my music and I'm paying for the choreography to be written up made to order.  I don't want to stress over this.  Maybe for Second Level I'll write my own.  For this one, I just want it to be done for me.

I've sent a Youtube video of Theo doing First 3 to the lady that will be writing my choreography.  It's out of date but his speed hasn't changed much.  He looks much more correct now, but he covers the diagonal in the same amount of time.  My next step is to fill out a questionnaire about how I want to present my horse.  Show off the counter canter and circles, hide the lengthens, don't leg yield off the wall.

I'll keep things updated here as the process progresses.  I'll be getting diagrams of my freestyle and a copy of the music with audio cues to help me practice.  Then I just need to wait for the spring thaw so I can set up the large arena.  I'm so excited!