Friday, February 16, 2024

There be dragons here

 For the most part, my yearling spends her time growing and tormenting the other fillies in her field.  She gallops, plays, eats a lot, and sleeps.  Occasionally tries to mug the other fillies for their food.  It's a full schedule but she somehow manages.

It really is the best way to grow up.  She's got her bff who is the same age and two fillies that are a year younger (but already her height, such is the life of the pony at a dressage barn).  She also has the supervision of a mare that keeps the little herd in line.  The Moose is turning five, starting her under saddle career, and has no patience for fillies that think they are in charge.  It's fantastic for Kiki who is quite used to a boss mare telling her what to do.  We don't want her to start thinking she's in charge.

As for her training, it's somewhat intermittent as it should be at this age.  When I have time, I bring her up to the little barn to practice being tied and groomed.  She enjoys the attention quite a bit and is an enthusiastic student.  With repetition she's gotten used to the idea of walking away from her friends.  They mind a lot more than she does.  She ties with a blocker ring to prevent any bad or scary experiences at this age.  She respects the pressure on her halter and instead spends her time systematically knocking over anything she can touch.  Boots up to dry?  She goes down the row like a cat, knocking them all over.  Box of mints that seems securely closed?  She can open that.

But Catie, why do you allow her to do that?  Why not tie her somewhere with nothing in reach?  We live in a world of cross ties and Kiki is too young to be introduced to those.  I clip her blocker ring to the ring for the cross ties and use that for her tying practice.  It allows me to tie her just about anywhere the grown horses go but it also means she's close enough to the wall to touch things.  It's fine, once she's knocked everything down she doesn't have anything else to mess with.  I keep things down to 15 - 20 minute sessions since she's just a baby.  In hand work consists of starting, stopping, turning, and we recently started to work the turn on the forehand.  She'll start working on a longer line this spring to introduce moving around me and letting me manipulate her body more.

She got her year end ribbon from the National Dressage Pony Cup and that warranted a trip to the indoor for a quick sock scrub and some pictures out of the mud and snow.

They are definitely not professional photos (and her socks did not wash up well in the cold) but she is looking so very grown up these days.  She has started to chunk out and her shoulders have caught up with her butt.  I'm really excited for how she's maturing and can't wait to take her out as a two year old.  I was also excited that she walked up the road and into the wash stall while ignoring the shouts of the stallions that had noticed the new girl in town.  She stood for mane shortening and sock scrubbing and currying before walking into the indoor.  What you can't see are the two young horses being worked in lessons while she's in the ring and the winter storm blowing in.  She handled it all gracefully for a filly just short of two years old.  No chain shank, no rope halter.  She was also shedding and very, very itchy.

She wanted to roll in the dry sand so badly but it seemed a bad idea with the ribbon and lessons going on.  She settled for scratching herself thoroughly with her blanket off and having a big shake.

When she was younger Trainer Z used a feed bag for her meals like she does with all of her babies and I have to say, it's genius.  Putting on her halter is the same gesture as putting on a feed bag so she is very relaxed about it and associates it with her favorite things in life:  food and attention.  When I held up her ribbon to let her get a look, she automatically put her head through the loop.  I expect she'll accept her bridle with grace this spring when we start getting her ready for the breed shows.  She's also very used to her blankets now and I was able to adjust her leg straps with her loose in her field.  I'll probably introduce her to a surcingle this summer so she can carry a saddle pad while doing ground work.  

This is far from my first Welsh and honestly Theo might as well be an honorary Welsh with his sense of fairness, mischievous streak, self preservation instincts, and his habit of choosing specific people as 'safe'.  For Trainer Z, it's a new adventure.  Kiki is the feral swamp creature, the ceffyl dŵr (Welsh water horse, hopefully the southern Wales version) that won't stay out of the pond and storms around the field causing havoc while the warmblood fillies stare at her in confusion.  She's the punk rocker in with the European debutantes.  She's a native pony and, more importantly, a Welsh Cob.  She is not a dead head or beginner friendly.  She is very smart, very aware of her environment, and absolutely ready to take charge of a situation if she believes she needs to.  She is as much dragon as she is beloved princess.  She has a strong sense of 'stranger danger' still and the biggest side eye of her adventure to the indoor arena was when I handed her to a stranger and walked away.  It's good for her to practice but she always softens when Trainer Z or I take her back.  

She will be an interesting journey as a competition mare that is also a Welsh Cob.  That is a lot of opinions in a very adorable package.  I expect her to be very soft to correction and reactive to her environment with a big engine.  We don't correct her with more than voice or a tap on the chest because that's all it takes, more than that would cause anxiety.  I expect her to be a bit intense when working but also happy to mosey on a long rein because she's curious and gregarious.  She'll need to be another positive reinforcement pony that is playing a game but with the rules of unacceptable behavior set in stone.  I also expect her to command respect in the warmup.  I loved riding Fiona in the warmup because other horses automatically got out of her way.  A mature, confident mare is not to be messed with and Kiki is already showing that charisma.  Theo is, unfortunately, quite loveable and horses have no issue with getting in his bubble.  The fillies give way when Kiki storms through.

That's the Moose trying to put Kiki in time out on the other side of the pond because she's bringing the chaos.  She does this all the time and the other fillies stare at her in wonder.  Trainer Z's husband loves her because she's so bold and so ridiculous.  I'm more interested in that uphill canter.

I'm really enjoying this journey and so happy I took the plunge.  I've never helped raise a baby or watched one grow into the potential seen when she was still tiny.  Keek has been perfect for this as she loves to come in and let me practice.  She'll turn two the weekend before I graduate.  I'll have to arrange for a proper photoshoot to celebrate.  A lovely filly like her should have pictures where she doesn't look like a kelpie.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Before and After

 Not much time to write these days as I'm in the throes of finishing my dissertation but had one of those rides yesterday that make you look back at how far your partnership has come.

This was Theo in July of 2015, the earliest trotting picture I can find.  It's a screen shot from a video of me trotting him around.  For us, this was a good trot.  I was happy with it and proud enough of his progress to post it as a progress video.

This was us yesterday, February of 2024 in our lesson with Trainer Z.

That is not the same horse.  The horse I rode yesterday was uphill, light, and very powerful.  Almost too powerful.  Trainer Z was at the stallion inspection in Denmark so Theo got a week off.  It was 60* out so I figured he'd be too warm to be sassy.  NOPE.  He wasn't physically wound up so much as mentally.  He was offering behaviors very quickly and acting like a kid at a theme park that wanted to do everything as soon as he arrived.  In the interest of not repeating the magnificent capriole he gave me when he boiled over during his canter work a couple weeks ago, we decided to focus on trotting and poles.

Someone was so excited and over trying that he started to offer a passage step at the first pole.  Theo has recently started offering passage when we work on increasing collection in the trot so Trainer Z decided today was the day.  I knew how to ask and what it should feel like thanks to my lessons on her stallion Muffin.  We turned to the poles, I half halted up and dropped the cadence, and mi papi passaged.

Once he realized that bouncing was not only allowed but encouraged?  He ate this up.  All of his excess energy finally had a place to go.  And his passage is huge.  I wasn't asking for big, just cadenced in these.  These are the smaller passes.  His bigger passes almost bounced me out of the tack.  Trainer Z was wide eyed when she got a look at just how big he can get in that slow cadence.  All of that power we see when he's free lunging never showed up in his extensions.  It's been hiding in the passage this whole time.

We also worked his half steps which are starting to look like a piaffe.

No, he'll never go Grand Prix, but these are great tools to make him sit, to add strength, and to give him an outlet for days like yesterday when he couldn't handle his own energy levels.  When we were done he was chewing like a fiend and his ears finally relaxed.  Instead of spooking in the corners and jigging off the wall, he did the big walk with his back swinging.

He also did his first working half pirouette recently.  Another move where he seems to have a natural affinity for it.  I keep telling him that if he wants to do Grand Prix, he's got to be consistent in his left to right flying change!  I can't do tempis if he botches his footwork.  Doing lots of very clean simple changes from left to right seems to be helping him understand how the foot sequence is supposed to go and his new power is making it easy enough that the clean changes are starting to happen.  That drop change will probably never fully go away but it's getting better.  There really is something going on in that change since he will botch it in the simple change sometimes, its like he can't quite coordinate his feet as well in that direction.  It's weird.  

My dissertation is due April 5th.  If I hit that deadline, I walk the stage May 4th.  At that point I am done with school forever and ever.  Theo and I have a full dance card of shows this summer to celebrate and to get that Bronze.  I'm starting to feel real hope that this time we've got it.  Every move except the left to right change is on lock at this point and even that change is weird but happening on the aids.  I just need to trust that we've done the work, he's more than ready, and get in the ring to get it done.

After I submit 120 pages about organizational change and the individual's perceptions of artificial intelligence.  Gross.