Monday, January 25, 2016

Post Weekend Update

Wow, what a weekend. I'm not sure where to begin - I am still on a high as a result of a few wonderful rides on my big bay gelding.

In an effort to change it up a bit and keep things fresh in the indoor-sandbox, I decided to start playing a bit with lateral movements. Ben can already leg yield at walk, trot, and canter. And in the past I've dabbled with a bit of shoulder-fore at the walk only. So what the heck, I decided to start playing a bit more with shoulder fore again, to see if I could get a bit closer to a true shoulder-in. He is definitely beginning to get the hang of it and is pretty reliable in walk. Yesterday we tried a bit of it at trot and got a few good steps in both directions, but it is definitely much harder to do!

A couple of things I've noticed immediately with the shoulder-in: the connection to the outside rein is WAY (as in light years) better, as is to the leg. I've also noticed a lot more adjustability and lift and less pulling down on the forehand (duh). In addition, the canter work has gotten WOW-level great.

One thing that has got a bit to hell in a handbasket is the trot transition. For some reason, shoulder-in at the walk has got Ben pacing as the immediate response to my trot aid. It feels a lot like jumbled legs and confusion from the command center between the ears. I'm sure it is a temporary thing and given some time he'll figure it out.

So, Shoulder-In trials have been a mega success. In addition, because now I have a much more adjustable & light horse, the canter pole thing has really taken off. Up until yesterday I was asking Ben to canter over a pole on a 25ish meter circle. Enough to get some bend where I can influbenence the jump a bit better without confusing my leg aid for speed. He has totally taken to the canter pole. It has increased his jump in the canter, as well as his balance. Yesterday, some poles were set down as left-over from a jump course, one set was a double combination that was obviously a straight line and not on the bend. It was placed in a manner that I could start on a wide circle - which is exactly what I did. Ben was able to maintain his canter through the set up - WOW! Elation over here.

From there we were able to practice a bit of sitting trot to canter back to sitting trot and over again. That is an especially tough challenge. The initial trot-to-canter is getting pretty smooth but our back down to trot can use a bit of help. We did however get a couple of decent ones in there - much room for improvement though! f

I had really hoped to get some video of our work this weekend, so I could measure it against our past video (and also be able to match what I am seeing to the feel from the saddle). Unfortunately that did not happen, but I'm hoping to get something in the coming week or two.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pole Dancing

The rain has come back to the PNW in full force. It has been absolutely lashing out there. In an effort to keep our indoor rides somewhat interesting, I introduced a pole yesterday. Ben has lots of experience with trot poles - in fact, they have been key in helping Ben develop a trot AND canter (trot in canter out has done wonders for the transition and the quality of canter).

However, yesterday, I was a bit lazy and took out only 1 pole. My intention was to walk and trot over it, just keep things interesting, no big deal. Ben was stuck inside all day so I knew our warm up would take longer. We did a long warm up walk on a loose rein, and then started doing some trot work, which was, I'll admit painful. I quickly transitioned to adding canter in, with the hopes that it would loosen him up enough to get some better quality trot.

That it did, but then something else happened. Each time I had gotten down to where the pole was, I either walked or trotted over it, then cantered after. Things were getting marginally better, but nothing amazing to speak of. Then I decided, what the hell, let's mix it up a bit. I asked Ben to canter approaching the pole...knowing full well this could be disastrous. But his approach felt good, I could feel him looking and acknowledging that the pole was there. And just like that, he hopped over it at the canter. It wasn't a jump per se, but there was an obvious jump injected into the stride, and then for a few strides after.

Whoa, that felt really nice! Must do again. So we played with it, lots of praise and walk breaks and gushing all over him for a job well done. Not every attempt was great, but there were way more good than bad. His canter, for the indoor, felt really great! It was slower, balanced, 3 beat, and jumpier than ever. He also seemed to really enjoy his new found skill.

And, for the first time, he actually broke a bit of a sweat, haha. We had a long cool out of hand walking and lots of stretches (of the carrot variety) afterwards.

So, yay! While a lot of the ride felt really sloppy and icky in the beginning, we ended up both happy and in a good place. As always, lots to clean up, it is the never-ending story with us!

In other news, his vet appointment has been scheduled for next week. My goal is to gain a realistic picture of what Ben can/should be doing as well as having the peace of mind that I'm not causing undue pain and suffering to my horse who gives me his soul each and every day with no complaint. I'm guessing we'll be injecting something, but I'm not sure what. I'm terrified that he'll find something so horrible that will either limit Ben's capacity to continue his training, or worse, he'll need to be permanently retired and unrideable. I'm pretty sure the latter is just plain old fear coming out, because there is really no evidence indicating that full retirement is in his immediate future.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Great Outdoors - What A Difference!

Ahhh winter...ick. Dark, gloomy, cold, rainy, windy...anyone who works a full time job knows getting riding time in the winter is next to impossible without an indoor, covered and/or lit arena. I'm lucky in that we have a very nice indoor to ride in.

Ben, however, is not a huge fan of indoor arenas. It is not that he protests or has any specific vice or fear - he is a very easy going dude and is 99.9% of the time a solid equine citizen. For whatever reason, though, his gaits are exponentially better when we ride outside. Always more balanced, even, and through. I was reminded of this on Sunday when we were blessed with a sunny warm afternoon. We took our ride outside and despite all of the goings on (rowdy horses, neighbors with chainsaws and a blustery wind) Ben was fantastic- specifically his canter. Wow. After our warm up we focused a bunch on the canter with the intention of doing the trot later, and my oh my he felt so great! He had such a nice cadence, a solid 3 beat non-pacey canter. I was able to adjust him, do shallow loops, ask for simple changes and even work on a few counter-canters. His trot to canter transitions have gotten so much clearer, and he has a solid jump into the canter now, and I'm even beginning to feel more of a lift during the canter itself.

It was really hard resist temptation to do too much. He was so great, it felt like such a blessing. No grinding, no fussiness, just pure fun. The way riding should be.

He got a day off and the next day we were back to the indoor, being sheltered from pounding wind and rain that blew in right for our ride. And just like that, all the greatness we had outside had disappeared and back to the same old ick. Bummer. The next day, yesterday, was a bit better but nothing close to what we had on our Sunday Funday.

So I know he has it in him, I know it is there, and I know we can do it. I will keep chipping away. The progress I'm seeing from when we started in the fall to now is palpable, changes are afoot and the change looks good. It is not all doom and gloom. I'm just looking for more, always trying to advance on the journey.

In other news, his "lameness" eval appointment has been set for 1/28. I'm going to continue working with him and we'll see what the 28th brings - basic maintenance, peace of mind, or heartache? I guess we will have to wait & see.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Goals

Happy New Year! 2015 went out quietly enough, and here we are 6 days in to the new year. Ben had a couple of quiet weeks, a semi-vacation as it were with a few days off strung together. The days we did work or ride were kept super light and easy.

So, not really much to report on the training front. I do have an interesting tack update, though :) In my quest to make Ben the most-expensive-cheap-horse-ever, I've been exploring different bits for him. If you have read any of my other posts, you know that Ben has always been a bit of a bugger with bitting. Super playful, mouthing, and then chompy and grindy. Not a quiet mouth at all. And while I have come to the conclusion that his issue is more of a fitness/possibly lameness/it-is-damn-hard-to-engage-the-hind-end issue, bitting also seems to make a difference to him.

After going down the road of special metals, super expensive sprengers, and nathe and back to basic cheapo bits with little overall success, I decided to jump into the world of Myler bits. I've not ever really had the need to explore these bits, and the ones I have used I never really saw anything special or magical about them. In any case, over the holiday break I decided to explore all their options and functions, and even sent in a contact form that Dale Myler responded to rather quickly. After asking lots of other questions, he came back with the suggestion that I had been mulling around in my head: a ported snaffle. Perhaps Ben needs the tongue relief.

Okidokie - so I ordered one with a low-port. Almost immediately I had a happier, quieter horse. It wasn't magical, but he was much quieter over all, and much more willing for a longer period of time. Hmmm.... so now I have a couple of other ported Mylers coming my way to also try, to see which might be the best one for him.

I will say, as frustrating and expensive as this horse can be, I am also enjoying the journey of learning.

So, that brings me to nailing down some goals for the year. As much as I want to get all lofty, I'm going to set the bar pretty here goes:
  • Ride consistently, all year. And by consistent, I mean 3-4 days/week. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. My challenge here is riding Ben consistently while also riding and showing (hopefully) my mare. Currently they are boarded at 2 different barns and it is really challenging to make it out to see both of them. Heck, it was challenging when they lived in the same barn, too. Last year I let someone free lease Ben while I focused on my girl. I'm thinking it over again for this year, not quite sure I want to do that, but it is a possibility, and already a little bit of interest by others in that.
  • Get the boy vetted. While he's moving better than ever, I still have this gut feeling that something is a little NQR in the hind end. At the very least, he probably could use a little support. Not that I am a fan of direct joint injections at all, but I'm also not opposed to making him more comfortable if need be. So, this goal is really to put my mind at ease about the level of work he's doing now, and possibly in the future.
  • Jump, a little. A friend of mine has expressed interest/desire in bringing us along to her baby events.  I think it sounds like a gloriously fun time to get out there doing something different. I think Ben plodding around on a baby cross-country course sounds like killer fun. Mind you, we have no skills in this area (I am a former jumper, though pushing 15 years into retirement haha). And of course, this goal is dependent on the outcome of the one above.
  • Counter Canter. Last month our trainer told us that we're just about at the point where counter canter is going to be our next step.
  • Shoulder-In, Leg Yields, Lateral Suppling. I will admit, I do not do a lot of SI with Ben, probably to our detriment. I play with it in walk, but haven't really done much in trot, not even in shoulder fore. I also haven't put a huge focus on LY's or any other lateral and suppling movements. This is me saying I need to make time in our rides to do these things. I am not great at teaching these in general, and it is hard for me to judge when there is not enough/enough, so I generally shy away from it. I really need eyes on the ground and coaching in this area.
So there you have it. I'd love to say I have a goal of showing again. It certainly interests me, no doubt. But the reality is that I have limited funds and 1 horse who will be taking the lionshare of those funds while we jump into the world of recognized shows, in my personal quest of getting my Bronze medal. So, this list is probably plenty for a healthy and slightly (less) ambitious 2016 :)

Friday, December 11, 2015

We Has the Trots

I've been spending quite a bit of time with Ben trying to re-develop his trot transition. Lots of things mulling about in my mind  about why this has turned into such a big pile of crap for him- soundness, saddle fit, tension, rider (me)...among the top few.

I've come to no solid conclusion as of yet, but I can tell you that it has gotten a helluvalot better. Not everything has gotten better, but it seems like we're on our way. Gone are the canter/tranter/hop/skip/jump thing into trot transitions. That alone is great, because let me tell you, it was really not fun to ride. Gone is the pulling, yanking (on ben's part), and ginormous faux-passage.

Here is what would happen, for lack of video: I'd ask Ben to trot. I'd get the aforementioned tranter/hop/skip thing. We'd then go balls to the wall trotting down the long side if he somehow managed to put his gear into trot vs a pace or canter or whatever combination. Then on the short side he'd faux-passage until coming out of the corner at which point he'd throw his head up, rip my right rein away and just go for it -  sucked on to the wall, no steering. Then, if I'd ask him to, oh, perhaps NOT do that, he'd duck behind the contact and appear to rollkur himself into oblivion - eventually getting so tense he'd grind on his bit. and not be able to handle life at all.

Sounds like fun, eh? Jiminey Crickets.

So here is what we've been doing. #1 lots of walk, responsiveness to my leg. I've been focusing on the last month on strengthening my core (off the horse - crunches, blank, leg raises, etc). Free walk on a loose rein to picking up contact with out freaking out. I've had to adjust my seat so that I am sitting way way up (I have myself looking up into the far rafters so I don't collapse the chin), focusing on opening my hips, and holding my hand a bit higher - (feels like grand-prix high but the mirror says otherwise), doing nothing else with them hands. I basically try to get him to walk into that open space I created in front of me. I believe the effect is that he's not driving himself into the ground. Then I can ask him for more forwards, and that hind energy goes level vs down. From there, when I ask for his trot, he has the space to do it. So I ask for a trot, and let him go until I know it is going to fall apart - could be 3 steps, 10 steps, a lap...bring him down, do it again.  Over and over.  Rest breaks galore.

So once I had that going for us, I then had to address the outside rein issue. The thing is, it has been pretty easy once we got the above sorted. He is listening better to both legs, and can connect my inside leg to the outside rein. We still do have minor blips - but in general, it is happening. So much so that I've been able to get him half halting a bit.

So now,  I can get a solid transition, and a respectable trot and even some adjustability in there- I can slow it down, smaller steps, or I can ask for bigger steps or bigger movement and voila- I get it. I can do all shapes of circles. Small trot is the hardest for Ben - it is counter intuitive to his breeding. Small trot requires flexibility, softness, articulation. But with all of the above, we're doing bits of it and I think it is coming along.

The things we continue to struggle with: contact/relaxation. He's good for the first part of the ride. He's got his game face on. However, I'm detecting a pattern here. About mid way through the ride things start to fall apart after that 2nd/3rd walk break.  Tension takes over. His desire to curl behind the contact increases. He begins to grind on his bit. The quality of his work deteriorates, and his focus shifts to being "done" vs working with me. Part of me feels like it is a bit of a habit wrapped up with a physical tiredness. The thing is, it doesn't matter much what we do, it always happens. So, I could do the whole first part of his ride on a loose rein, he will still shut off mid-way. It doesn't matter if he works hard the first half and the second half all I want for him is to walk. Any combination of work does it. I'm not discrediting the idea that there is pain/physical tiredness, but I'm wondering how "mental" the issue is. Case in point, the other day I had some time so I decided to ride through it - however long it takes. I'm not getting off until he's quiet, relaxed, and not grinding. And you know what? We got there. He does stop...eventually. So maybe it is something I just have to "ignore" - aka wait for him to come back 'round and then end our ride on the relaxed note.

More to come on that as I continue to experiment.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Anything to See?

Thankful for this big guy

Hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. Mine afforded me some time with the hubby, who ever so graciously came to the barn one day to video bits of my ride. It was a lovely weekend weather-wise up here in the PNW - cold but several days of sunshine. I made the best of it and tried to get Ben out a few times in our bigger arena.

My goal with the video was to get a bit of a "check in" to see how he is moving, as compared to his earlier video when he was in much better shape, under the careful guidance of our trainer- oh those were the days! The theme I've been experiencing with him lately is a an okay walk-warm up, then crap trot transitions, crap trotting with lots of resistances -above, sideways, behind the bit - all seemingly stemming from the hind end. I've been trying to let him do some canter with me staying out of his way, and then when I get that, then I go back to trot and everything there is generally much better. In watching these videos I can still see the fussing, and I can see that he could be taking better steps behind, generally be a bit more forward. I can tell you as the rider, the trot FEELS much better after his canter.

Part of me is wondering if there is a lameness issue- a weakness behind yet to be diagnosed. I am interested in getting our new vet to do a work up, but that is going to have to wait until after the holidays. In the mean time, I am going to keep conditioning because I do feel like that will give me more to go on anyway.

Here are the videos - in sequential order. They are intentionally short bits so the files are smaller.

First Trot:

Canter Left
Canter Right
Trot Left after Cantering:
Trot Right after Cantering:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Gain Some (Canter), Lose Some (Trot)

Last week Ben and I finally had our first lesson in ages - well over a year. Our trainer hadn't seen him since before the nose-wiener removal. On the plus side, he was full of it - tons of energy to go go go (YAY for no more breathing problems!) On the downside, he has lost a lot of condition and strength that he had. So all of the suppleness we had worked for was virtually gone, and in its place were new (and old) evasions.

We basically worked on getting clean transitions and a bit more control of the right-side, his weak side. Ben's new thing is to grab the right side of the bit, and GO - especially when rounding the short side of the arena. So step one was to move onto the quarterline as he loves to get sucked onto the wall. Step two was getting him to give us a regular, consistent speed at the walk - no speed up, slow down, chomp chomp chomp on the bit. Third was to give us some flexion on the right - respond to my right leg, respond to my fingers closing on the right rein. OMG total tune-out. "LALALALA I don't hear you!" says Bennifer. Once those things were in place- lets be real - just an exercise to be on my aids, I could then ask him for a trot and get actual real trot steps vs a mish mosh of pace-tranter-to-trot-walk-back to trot.

So yea, that was fun- not. Our homework is, well, transitions. And getting consistent walk. And responding to the aids in turn on haunches, turn on forehand. And more transitions - try to re-establish the transition within the gait, which we were lacking (either TROTTTTTTTTING immediately to the dead-man walk). Oh, and, add in trot-to-canter.

Small list, right? We've been chipping away at it all week...and as it goes some things are great one day while others are sucking, and then the next ride things are swapped the good is now bad and vice versa. For us, it is swapping the quality of gaits - if the trot feels good the canter is crap, and if the canter feels good the trot isn't great. I am hopeful though that one day we'll be able to string it all together and have one amazing ride, LOL.

Now that I think about it, I may know why my canter has gotten better and the trot has gone to the crapper. The past few rides I've gotten on Ben's case about his walk - you know it is so easy to mess up a walk so it is careful going. The problem is that Ben's walk is so lackluster, slow, behind the leg. As if he's asleep. What I am doing, is using a metronome during our warmup. The setting is low, lower than what I'm reading other people use- but my goal is to at least get a consistent rhythm to the walk, and then maybe later see about getting it to be a bit more active. But for now, it is plenty active for where he is at in his fitness level. I'm thinking that since the walk is so closely connected to the canter, that his canter has improved by proxy, LOL. The trot, admittedly, we're working just on transitions- which does improve the overall trot but it isn't like we're staying in trot for huge lengths of time.

And so we go -continuing down the path towards excellence - picking our battles one at a time, and overcoming obstacles in the process. Next week I'd like to start throwing in some cavaletti work but will do so judiciously given his level of fitness. No sense in rushing things - we're in it for the long haul.