Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 Goals in Review, 2014 Plans...

Not much has been going on in Ben's world. He's had a bunch of time off, and I have not been riding him regularly at all. Much of it has to do with my work schedule, and really having time to work with my youngster, Finn. If said half-arab was a good boy our sessions would be shorter and I'd be able to sneak 2 rides in...like I did last night...but that has not been the norm. So Ben has been getting exercise in turn out, I've been doing some round-pen work with him, and riding 1-2 times a week. All in all, it has been a very light fall/winter for the boy.

I thought now would be a good time to review 2013, and maybe make some plans for 2014. Let's start with the 2013 in review :)

2013 Goals
  • Continue monthly training. This has been a lifesaver for us.  We did this, through June, and then transitioned to just lessons which have become few and far between. 1/2 accomplished.
  • Raise our Training level scores, consistently. Of course I want to earn the highest score possible, and will always try my hardest to do so. But I will be quite pleased if we can get consistent scores in the low to mid 60's. We did not do a single dressage test all year.
  • Dressage Stretch Goal: Attempt a 1st Level test, preferably at a schooling show and not at home. This is going to take a TON of work to get to, but hey, I have 12 months :) While I can say we have SCHOOLED 1'st level movements, see the above bullet...no formal dressage tests in 2013.
  • Start Ben over low fences. He'll be 5 in April, and for cross training purposes, I think it would be a nice, fun change to do something different once a week. Nope, didn't do this one either. I have popped him over some cross rails, and we did the ground pole course again at our Summer SAFE Benefit show.
  • Outings: go on trail rides, go to schooling shows, get OUT. YES!! We went to 4 shows and a couple of trail rides. Ben won English High Point, Reserve High Point, Champion Rescue Horse, Reserve Grand Champion - a distinction at every show we attended.
  • Outing Stretch Goal: attend a rated dressage show. NOPE
  • Ride bareback. This one is an odd one, but I'll admit, I never, ever do this. I want to be able to just hop on my horse, if even to dink around at a walk. We did this...once.
Other noteworthy things:
  • Spent 1 million dollars on saddle trials and finally purchased a Black Country Eloquence X.
  • Moved 2 times
  • Tried Trail, Showmanship, and Halter and kicked some booty!
And now, for 2014 Goals!!!
  • Show again. This time I'm gonna be smart and not say what type of showing, because I have little control of which shows I can get to!
  •  Start jumping, for serious
  • Work on the canter...a lot...like enough to be able to do the canter classes at English open shows.
  • 12 bareback rides (1 a month)
  • Take regular lessons (2x a month)
  • Take more pictures and video of us. We seriously sucked at this in 2013...not a single bit of video to be had anywhere.
That's it - that is all I am committing to at this point. The reality is, with my little guy up and coming and requiring much attention, Ben will likely take a back seat this year. I simply cannot afford both in time and $ to keep both in active work and going to shows, even small ones. And lucky for Ben, he's such a stand up guy that it takes very little to bring him back after a break.

Now, the one wrench that might change all this is if I a) put my little dude in training and/or b) sell him. I'm not entirely sure we're the best match, but he's also young and maturity level is changing, so it is hard to say. Additionally, I do feel like he needs to explore the world a bit, gain new experiences, and the most reasonable way I can do that for him is to put him in training with someone who can get him out places. IF I do that, I will be back to working with Ben and Ben alone...though with little spare cash to pay for showing, hauling, etc.

2014 stands to be an interesting year. I am going into it with less certainty than I did going into 2013, but perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm and wonderment on what the year will bring.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clinic Report: Despooking Success!

Pool Noodle Hell
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a Despooking Clinic held by Bill Richey, Director of the National Mounted Police Services. I did not take Ben, but did take my young half-Arab, Finn. Ben would've been so much more fun and enjoyable, but his little partner in crime needed it so much more.

The approach is a very interesting one. The first day begins with a bunch of classroom lecture on the equine eye, vision, and how horses spook. You can pretty much predict when/where/how a horse will spook by where an object is in relation to the horse. That, combined with some body awareness demonstrated by light "liberty" work in a round-pen using the eye-sight principles, you begin to understand when and how your horse sees objects  and how he reacts to them.

From there, we mount up and begin with basic mounted drill maneuvers. Everything is done at a walk, and initially in a single file line, and progresses to a paired line. The idea is to get the rider to start looking ahead and placing the horse where it needs to be, and also to get the horses working together. This was a major win for Finn, who has never been in an arena with more than 1 horse at a time. So he had to learn how to cope with horses in front of and behind him (lots of attempts at kicking others, but as he settled into his job, he forgot all about that), next to him, and coming at him.

Once the horses are settled and "bored" with the drill work, Bill begins to introduce basic obstacles- a pole on the ground, or a piece of plywood. We go over it again and again, until the horses are bored. If one horse balks (mine), the rest of the participants are instructed to move around us and leave us behind. Eventually, after seeing the other horses go, Finn tries it too.

And so it goes, as the horses get "bored" with the new stimuli, Bill introduces bigger and badder stuff. We move from objects below, to objects above (a hanging tarp or carwash), and objects to the side- like pool noodles sticking out. And then we bring in the sensory objects - police car flashing lights, siren, dog barking, fire, and smoke bombs.

Day 1 could be summarized as a giant melt-down. We spent the majority of the clinic rearing, bucking, kicking out, running backwards, sideways.... anything but forward. Finn escalates from being afraid to being a fighter, very, very quickly. And once he thinks he cannot do something, he WILL NOT try, not even the slightest bit. Thank goodness for Bill, who was there to help us break the pattern of behavior.

 Day 2 started out rough, but Finn quickly became engaged in the activity and was perky and forward and wanted to try to go through it. This was a great change. The problem, however, is that he is still resistant to being told what to do. He went through because he wanted to, not because I asked him. But still, a happy willing attitude is a good change and a stepping stone to the elusive submission I seek.

He's by no means "fixed" but I learned some valuable lessons:

#1 I know what the problem is
#2 I can ride through the tantrums
#3 I know what works to break the cycle and help him gain confidence

Some pictures from Day 2:

Finn liked the fire lines the best, I think!!

These pool noodles were THE scariest thing for him to overcome, but he did it!

Walking out of the smoke bomb

 Interested in learning more? Go to:

http://www.mountedpolice.org/  or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mountedpolice

I would definitely attend this clinic again with both of my horses. The clinic is not really about the obstacles at all. It really does a great job of exposing holes and offers a safe and welcoming place to address those gaps. I definitely have my work cut out for me with this little guy, but I think we both left with more confidence in both ourselves and one another.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

W/T Champion Is Having Trouble Trotting

...and surprisingly, his canter has been the best it has ever been... more on that in a second.

So, back story...we moved to a new barn. Not going to get into the "why", but we're at a new place. It is a much bigger establishment - on 100 acres, with super huge arenas - both indoor and out. It also has 2 covered round pens, 60+ft in diameter. But with that also has many more horses, boarders, and trainers. I kind of cringed at the thought of having to share space with so many people. As it turns out, however, I am one in a very small handful that goes to ride after work. We've been there for a week and a half now, and I've ridden about 10 times in the arena, and I've been alone each time.

I've been taking advantage of the larger space to do lots of canter work with Ben. Ben, God love him, is a giant quitter - like all the time. I am constantly having to keep on him to keep going, and it has been a challenge. It isn't so much having to nag with the leg anymore, but it is more like if I even think about transitioning down, he'll break. I am constantly having to remind him to keep gait - whether it be trot or canter, or walk even. He's just lazy and will do the least expected of him at all times.

So the last few rides I've been making him own up to it a bit more. I ask him for canter and get up off his back in a half seat. And we go- for laps, breaking it up in circles and doing simple changes across the diagonal. Maybe its the former jumper rider in me, but its much easier for me to keep going like this, on a lazy horse.  I'm not trying to hold him together, he's got to figure it out on his own, with just a bit of assistance from me.

Low and behold, both his transitions and quality have gotten MUCH better. His balance in the canter has changed dramatically, and yesterday, my last few canter sets yielded a very balanced, cadenced canter that felt SLOW, but uphill- something I have been yearning for with him.

Another reason for the canter work is that his trot has gone to crap. He is just SO fussy with his head and neck at the trot, and has a hard time loosening his back and getting a nice soft, balanced trot. I get a better, more rideable, connected trot once I canter, but man it has been rough going. His transitions to trot suck (the pace steps/bunny hop have re-entered our lives). I can't help but wonder if there is a physical reason for it, or if its a training issue. This started back in the summer at our last couple of shows. I was doing body work for him, and admittedly, I've sucked with keeping up at the stretches and such. I need to get back to that regimen.

I've also been toying with going bitless temporarily. Ben is the WORST when it comes to being playful with his bit. And it is all-consuming. He chomps and fusses and chomps and fusses - doesnt seem to matter what type of bit he's got on  - size, shape, ring type, metal type- if its in his mouth he's going to play with it - from the second he is bridled and onward. Flash, drop, whatever - nothing stops him.  I'm tempted to try more as an experiment just to see if anything changes going bitless. It might be a good test, and it might get us over this hurdle.