Thursday, June 16, 2016

HALT

Ben has taken the last week pretty easy- standard protocol post-hock injections. He had the rest of last week off, and then we picked back up on Saturday for a quick ride. Sunday off, back at it on Monday.

The Saturday ride was okay. But we didn't do much, I intentionally left it very very light. The thing that stuck out the most was that the left canter felt loads better than it has.

The Monday ride, on the other hand: ICK BLECH BARF GROSS. Ben was just not on his game. Everything felt pretty icky. I began to question if the hock injections did anything, because it sure didn't cure our ills. Ben was sluggish, stiff through his topline, heavy on the bridle, and really just blew off every.single.aid.

I decided to focus just on our transitions, and mainly the down-transition. Boy was it hard. Ben decided my outside rein was not something he needed to care about. Leg aids? Nah. I actually had to get quite strong on the down transitions a couple of times, just so he would at least register them. And he did, and they got lighter. I was very careful not to drill anything, but I was just going for a decent response. And once I got it, we ended it, because what happens next is never any fun to deal with.

There have been a handful of these rides in my history with Ben. For whatever reason, he is in checked-out mode. And it sometimes takes strong aids to wake him up - where I am asking him to respond to an aid - go up, come down, turn, whichever. And then from there, he usually goes into tension mode - drops the bridle,  over-reacts to my leg, gets antsy. Its like he is sleeping and then I startle him awake, and then he is overly sensitive the entire time. These rides are not pretty, they feel horrible, and they are disheartening. I wish I knew why and thus having a better way to address it. Thankfully they are rare, and I suspect lots of riders go through something like this, but I always walk away feeling pretty awful about everything.

So then on Tuesday we had our lesson - lo and behold he was better, like the day prior never happened. The transitions clicked, the outside rein was there. We worked on a lot of trot without having the do much warm up in canter and my trainer thought his trot quality looked much improved. We kept it short and sweet knowing this was to be a light riding week.

Back at it yesterday, Wednesday. Initially, our first few minutes felt like we were going to go down the road of Monday. My heart began to sink. But then, just after a few minutes of warm up, POOF - magically he was with me. Right there. On the aids. Everything lightened, got sharper. His canter felt amazing - rocked back and powerful, on both leads. His trot had springs. We did some halt-trots. And at one point he kept trying to offer half-canter, and so I changed the plan and let him offer it to me for real. He nailed it on the first one, so we ended there.

What a nice ride that was, wasn't more than 25 minutes, but it restored hope in an otherwise miserable start to the week.

Its a reminder- progress is not linear. We all have good days and bad. Now to figure out how to best handle those bad days, because I do feel like I am doing a crappy job in that area.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Week of Surprises: Counter Canter, an Itty Bitty ___, and an Exam

Ahh horses. Sometimes it feels like progress is super slow, or even non existent. Sometimes it feels like when you are learning something new the things you knew how to do really well fall apart. And then come those moments of pure greatness- usually when you are least expecting them.

That was my ride on Ben on Monday. Having had 3 days off, I went to the barn preparing myself for a "back to work" ride which usually involves inspiring the young man to actually, you know, MOVE. My ride started out that way. I actually decided to use the beginning of my ride to do a bunch of walk and stretches - circles, shoulder in's, square turns. I've pretty much abandoned the idea of doing much trot work in the beginning - just enough to get the engine turned on - seriously probably a couple of laps in both directions and then straight to canter. The trot work is SO much better after the canter.

So I followed that plan. But what I wasn't expecting was Ben's canter to feel as good as it did - to the right anyway...which is funny because the left is the one always feeling more solid. But lately it has been the right. In the canter work, I've been playing with picking up counter canter - usually on the quarter or center line. Also doing shallow canter loops down the long side. I've also been doing lots of simple changes through walk. All pretty normal for our work lately.

What isn't normal, and totally surprising is that I got such a great quality and balanced counter canter that Ben was able to hold it along the short side...which is your standard 20m. WHOA. I was in heaven! And to make matters even more interesting, at one point he did get a little confused in our canter work and by golly, I got a change. Holy crap, yes, I got a change. On my horse. On my Standardbred. Totally not asked for, totally not dressagey- but it was a change none the less. And his legs didn't get tangled. And it felt like something he could totally reproduce.

Ummm....wow. It's in there...it is almost ready to come out.

In other news, yesterday a much respected lameness vet came out to our barn and I had him look at Ben - mainly wanted his take on the hind-end soundness. In the past, Ben has flexed unsoundly in both his stifles and hocks - the stifles being worse. And we've always taken the path of seeing if strength works, along with Pentosan or Adequan. Well - yesterday he flexed totally clean on his stifles. CLEAN. I was shocked. He did come up sore on his right hock (explains the left canter, eh?), and a bit sore on the lefty too. So we made the decision to do injections - given his level of overall soundness and his increasing abilities to do more work...it seemed like the best course of action. I'll be interested to see how he goes in a few days when he can go back to light work.

I don't take direct injections lightly, or any injections lightly for that matter. But I am a firm believer of making sure of doing right by the horse - and if that means a little help here, that's what it means. This vet's opinion is that conformation (straightness of Ben's hind legs) is likely making it hard on his hocks. Given that he's in the best shape of his life, and that the work has done wonders in strengthening those weak stifles, I decided to go with the injections.  My goal is to make this not a regular thing - that perhaps we get over this hump and see if continued strengthening will alleviate the need for regular joint injections. But time will tell. It worked for my mare (so far), so I'm hoping this works for him too.

So there you have a it. Lots of big surprises packaged up and released in a matter of days. It makes all the slogging through the training seem like it is worth it. Even when you cannot see or feel the progress, you are likely still making it. I have a new found excitement around Ben, as he once again has proved to me that I simply cannot count him out or lower the bar - to date there has been nothing he flat out couldn't accomplish. It may take him longer than the average horse, and perhaps a bit of creative training and exercises- but he gets there, on his own time, when he's ready.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trying Something Different

Guys, we're totally knocking our 2016 goals out of the park. Yesterday we decided to do this:

l know, we're basically doing the Grand Prix
Yes he did actually "jump" it a few times, but then mostly just trotted/hopped over. Interesting thing is that regardless of direction, he wanted to land to the left each time. However, the quality of his right lead canter improved whereas his left was so-so...and it is usually the other way 'round.

I hope to do more of this over time - trainer and I both agreed, it was quite helpful...and fun!



Friday, May 20, 2016

Balance, Lift, Straight

So we're back in full swing. My hip is still being a bit persnickety but with lots of stretches (and advil) it is much better than it was.

The last couple of lessons we've been playing around with some new-ish things - again more attempts at shoulder fore/in at trot. Walk is no problem he can easily do shoulder in on either side, and can even switch it on the long side. Trot rocks his little brain. But I'm happy to say that we can mostly kinda sorta do it. Let's put it this way, I see us doing a respectable shoulder in at the trot by the fall, vs in 200 years.

Other things we're working on are CLEAR  and crisp up and down transitions. Emphasize clear. Ben has gotten much better at reacting to my aids, however, sometimes he's all jumbles in the up and down.

We've also been working on creating a bit of spring to his trot, and his canter. The trot we've been doing lots of half halts and going in and out of a passage-like trot. It is hard work - he wants to go long and flat and we're saying no, smaller steps underneath you and vertical. Lift the knees, dude! It is hard work so we don't do it a lot, a progressive build of a few steps in and out a few times per ride.

The canter work is coming along as well. Controlling the shoulders has seemed to really help with the quality of canter. And by that it is getting him to really square up and be aligned. So to the left there is a lot of working square turns (remember we do this in trot too!) , cantering a square instead of a circle. otherwise he wants to fall onto the left shoulder. To the right it is a lot of inside leg outside rein, and much much shorter sets of canter - 5-15 strides and down. Clear downs, clear ups.

I can tell you, it is hard - oh my abs and back) but it is FUN!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Month of Non-Horse Changes

Wow, a whole month has gone by since my last entry. Yikes. Not a lot has been going on with Ben - other than getting a bit of a break while I took care of this:


In addition to being completely swamped with moving/prepping/cleaning/yardwork/cleaning/etc, my hip has decided to scream, rather loudly, that something is wrong. I've been ignoring it, but my last couple attempts at riding did not end well. Sigh. I've been trying to stretch it out and do what I can to manage the pain, but dang it, nothing is really working.  Stubborn as I am (and also lacking time to go to my GP to get my Massage referral & then an appointment with her - I know it is muscular as I've had xrays and nothing is wrong with the joint), I am pressing on. I just don't have time in my schedule to muck about with the health care system.

Yesterday I tried riding Ben again, after doing some concentrated yoga type stretches, incorporating a few more to the mix. THAT helped. Not perfect, and I pretty much lost feeling in my left foot for awhile when riding, but it wasn't too bad, and this morning, I do not feel worse for wear.

The good news is that my time out of the saddle has meant my trainer has ridden Ben more. Which means he feels lovely, haha. I did all of our canter work to start because trying to collect and post his trot with my hip just wasn't happening. His refreshed jumpy canter (thanks, trainer!) really helped loosen things up making the trot work tolerable.

Can't really say I'm having fun riding, and the reality is I'm pretty distracted with this new house and my hip, but we press on. I'll get back to it soon. Not sure what our next adventure will be since my second distraction is my mare and getting her to her first recognized shows in June & July. I might even try riding her in July if the first June show goes well, and if I can somehow fix my hip.

Monday, April 11, 2016

We Did It!


What a weekend! Ben tried for a last ditch effort to get out of going to the show - on Friday afternoon he pulled a shoe. Never fear, our fabulous farriers came out on Saturday morning and got it tacked on - sorry buddy, oldest trick in the book!

Losing the shoe though did mean that Ben had the dreaded 2 days off... which really sucks because he was going to get a training ride on Friday. He also had to stay in for the farriers, so no turn out. And then he was on a trailer for a couple of hours. And then stalled. Ugh, I was dreading having to put the ride on him. And at first, yes, it was rough. The time off coupled with deeper-than-ideal footing, which Ben never does well in, the warm up was icky. But once we got outside and had a lesson it got better.

The next day, the warm up again was rough, but a little better than the day prior. When headed out to go to our first test, the poor boy thought we were done and was quite shocked when we made the turn to head to the arena, LOL. I could feel his enthusiasm drop a little- and then to make matters worse, he caught sight of, gasp, spectators. The funny thing about Ben is that he never gets naughty, nor does he spook when he is scared. Ben gets very, very sticky. And true to form, he ground to a halt to take it in. The entire first test he never really got over it. He lacked confidence and thus was pretty much behind my leg the entire time. No real extensions, no stretching, just a robotic test in tension, with grinding galore. Ick.

So as icky as it was, I knew we could do better, though I wasn't much excited to actually do it. The 2nd test was 2 hours later, so time for some recovery. However, I  thought of scratching. I figured I'd do a real quick warm up and if he was still struggling then I'd not push it. But then my trainer suggested I don't warm up at all in the deeper footing, and rather go take him for a walk outside, and even go in one of the outdoors down below. So we went down there and turns out that was an excellent idea.

Ben warmed up great. He was in really good spirits so I decided to give Test #2 a try, which was 1-1 again. I'm glad I did. He did SO well...with exception of breaking the canter on the first left lead, and then bucking when I put him back into it, haha. Everything else was great. I got actual lengthenings, a stretchy trot, and nice canter work. His 1/2 circles were lovely and through. Everything felt a million times better.

The first test we scored 59% and deserved it, maybe even less to be honest. He came in 4th out of 7. The 2nd test was a 63.5% MUCH better. Ben came in 2nd, out of 6 in the class.

Elated, over the moon. 1st show in 2 years, at a new level for us, too.

No other shows planned for yet. Few other things on my plate in the next couple of months, but if another opportunity comes up, we might just go for it!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Entry-Remorse?

Last week I sent in our entry for this schooling show - choosing 1-1, after having run through it a bit with my trainer. We actually did a pretty decent job, so I felt pretty good about it. Total excitement.

Then Saturday came. Ben had 2 days off. That ride, just like the Saturday prior, was not fun. He was sluggish, stuck, chompy and just icky. Any ask was greeted with tension and running. Of course my husband was there and got a few quick videos. I will say that as compared to the videos from back in December, Ben looks loads better, as a pair we definitely look more powerful and put together. But GAH oh my eyes - I can see on the videos all the moments of ick, which is what I was feeling under saddle. There were a few good moments - don't get me wrong. We had a good canter, a good leg yield and a good extended trot. But the majority of it wasn't great at all. I found a spot where I got some relatively passable work and ended it there.

I walked away from it feeling horrible, feeling bad for Ben, and then the dread/ buyers-remorse for having entered us in this show at 1st level. Images of being the laughing stock of the show were swirling in my mind. The embarrassment of having the audacity to bring a Standardbred to a dressage show, and at 1st level no less. The embarrassment for my trainer who said I should do it. And then poor Ben - am I asking for too much? Maybe I'm not looking at things clearly and he really should just not be made to do this work? Quit now, quit now, quit now.

I knew I couldn't actually quit or bail on the show. Sunday turned out to be a lovely sunny day, so I went out to try again. My goal was to be as light and soft as possible. I also had a theory running through my mind, based on this little pattern I'm seeing with my dear gelding. 1 day off= good. 2 days off=icky. Knowing that last week my second ride was loads better, I opted to go for it.

And I'm glad I did. Everything was thousands of times better. He was forward, engaged, happy. We worked on adding some shoulder-in at walk and shoulder-fore at trot. The trot is really hard for him - his legs get jumbled and he gets pacey. However, we did get a few good strides, with lots of praise. Everything else- the canters, the trots, the circles, all were great.

So I left the barn feeling much better than the day prior- a bit redeemed, and dreading this coming weekend a bit less ;) I think we'll still stick out like sore thumbs as compared to all the fancy horses that will be showing with us, but I'm not going to care about that. This is about developing us, and not comparing us to the "competition." And so, a few more rides this week, 1 day to rest, and Sunday here we come!