Friday, November 4, 2016

No, Not Dead or Disappeared- Just A Bit Banged Up

Sigh. Just when you think you are prepared for life, it throws you a curveball and messes everything up. Back in September, shortly after the clinic, I was rear-ended on the freeway on my way to work in the morning. Thank goodness for my Subaru, I really believe it saved me from being more hurt than I am. I am a bit banged up and have had to take a bit of time off from the horses to allow my body to properly heal. Some days are better than others, but such is the course of things. I am told to expect a lengthy road to recovery. And so I will take it as it comes.

All that to say, I had to hand over the reins to my trainer. I'm lucky to have her and she's been doing an a great job with him. His counter canter is getting confirmed and his trot work is amazing. He is looking strong, muscular...and hairy...oh boy is he hairy. The next order of business is a body clip.

Not much else to report other than that. I just haven't been out to the barn much. The accident has definitely impacted my physical abilities but has also taken its toll mentally - I'm not too keen to get back on the freeway even if it means going to visit my horse. I will do it when I must, but it is not a fun thing for me, nor do I take it lightly. I suspect over time that too will get better, but for now, I'm allowing myself recover in all ways.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Believe - Clinic Report w/ Video!

Working on our jump in the canter
Leading Up

Ben and I participated in our very first dressage clinic this weekend. Honestly, I was dreading the event and super stressed about it. Initially when I signed up I thought it would be a great experience. Then, not 2 days later, I found out that not only would I be traveling, I'd also be stuck in meetings from 9-5 each day in the office (on top of my day job (read: working at night as well to keep up)), which is a cool 2 hour commute to the barn many days of the week. This meant that my riding time would be limited to only the weekends. That is no way to prepare for riding in a clinic. Add on to that getting a respiratory virus during my work travels - I was really setting myself up for success [insert sarcasm].

With the help of my trainer Ben is keeping fit and ready to work. But me, I'm the weak link here. My body, specifically my hips, seize up when not put to work in the saddle. Day 1 after a long break (specifically one that included sitting in a conference room chair for 8+ hours) is hell - regardless of how much off-horse walking/stretching/exercising I do.

You might be asking yourself why on earth I didn't cancel. Canceling is not an option once you commit. Sure, you can "cancel" but don't expect your money to be returned.

Day 1

True to form, when I first mounted, my both of my hips screamed and immediately cramped. Thank heavens no one was actually near the arena, because I had to contort myself in the saddle in such a way so as to prevent myself from screaming. It was really something, and definitely the first time I experienced both cramping at the same time. But luckily/thankfully, after a couple of minutes of deep breaths both passed and I was able to let my legs hang down and relax. A few more minutes of letting Ben's walk loosen them up, I was doing much better.

The clinician came down to the arena, hooked me up to her communication radio thingie, and we got to work. She already knew the backstory on Ben, and was ready to help us. We started with some in hand work,  with her working the reins, me using my seat/legs. The point was to get Ben to accept the outside rein without pushing through it, while I asked him to step under himself. It was hard, but so helpful.

Then when we got to riding, my gosh. I had to hold Ben on a much stronger contact that I generally ever do on my own, but boy did it force the issue of really listening to my leg and pushing onto the bit, and then the contact got much much nicer. He showed me that if I am persistent, he can in fact carry himself.

The canter work, WOW. The boy is really figuring out his jump. We worked a lot on the jump, and getting it on a smaller circle - which seems to really help.  It was a ton of work and we were both sweating buckets, but it was so worth it. There is SO much more in there just waiting come out - the clinician said now it is just a matter of time for him to blossom.

Day 2

I began in much better form for this lesson. My body did NOT cramp up and felt pretty limber in general (okay so I was a little sore from the previous day's ride, but it was the good kind!). Ben felt tired but otherwise okay. We started with some in-hand work again, but this time with the rein-back. Once we got a nice soft rein-back, we were released on our own to do transitions from walk to halt, immediate rein back, halt, walk or trot out. We mixed it up with plain old halts as well, so Ben never knew what was coming.

That work really got Ben rocked back and starting to sit. The resulting canter work was amazing. His jump got super big. Not perfect, but he was really trying to sort it out, I could feel him trying super hard, and I was simply supporting and encouraging it.

He tired quickly and from there we transitioned back to trot work. The result was a big uphill trot with him carrying himself in a much nicer position.

He got lots of praise from both myself and the clinician, who said she has a lot of respect for us as a pair. She said while this is not easy, it is achievable and now it is just a matter of time.

I am SO proud of Ben, just thinking about all that he has achieved and how much of himself he gives to me brings tears to my eyes.

If you made it this far, here is a video of snippets of our ride. Go Ben!!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Into the Woods!

One of the perks of having moved up to my trainer's barn is that it sits right next to a very large tree farm with tons of trails - trails that are accessible simply by walking down the street- zero hauling required.

You would think that with that being the case, Ben and I would've been out there all summer long. That would've been really great...except that up until a week ago, I had no idea how to access said trails nor which ones to follow once in the tree farm. Kind of puts a damper on things - not really wanting to get lost out there!

We finally had a chance to get out there with someone who knew the "main loop." That was a perfect introduction. So yesterday, Ben and I took to the trails on our own. We explored some of the smaller off-shoot trails and generally had a blast clip-clopping under the blanket of trees.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Dream

I love talking to people about Ben. It is one of the best parts of taking him out in public. He is tall and handsome, with a big white brand on his neck. Without fail someone will always ask me how I got such a tall mustang. I get a kick out of that.

What I don't get a kick out of, is when folks ask me what he is because they couldn't figure it out, based on his movement. Yes, it is an opportunity to talk about Standardbreds. But it is always coming from the place of "Oh we thought he was a weird warmblood or something" Yes, weird. No, not a warmblood.

I harbor a secret dream - one in that Ben moves so "normally" that no one picks up on the fact that he's different. One in which we can walk, trot, and canter, and that no one gives him a passing glance due to the differences in his gaits.

I'm not sure that that day will ever come. But by God, we're working on it. We've been working hard over the last 10 months, and it is cool to watch the progress being made. I try to blog about it as often as I can, so I can look back and re-read those moments that were good, bad, and downright ugly. But nothing compares to SEEING the progress. I don't often get the chance to record rides, but last night I asked my trainer to video his canter work to the right, as he's learning a bit of collection. And so without further ado, I present to the blogosphere 3 videos of our 10 month progress of right-lead-canter:

November 27, 2015. Big arena (100x200) - cannot sit on his back, cannot do smaller than a 90 foot circle:

April 2, 2016.  5 months later - regulation dressage arena. I can sit on him, at least.


August 24, 2016.  60 ft indoor arena, which generally really works against Ben - he gets sucked onto those walls and generally goes much better outdoors. Nevertheless - I can sit, and I can ask him to collect and take jumpier steps.

Hopefully, by November 27, 2016, essentially 3 months from now, I will have new video to complete the year. And with a little luck, even more progress will be shown.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Small Victories

Things have been fairly quiet in our part of the world. Work, for me, has gotten a bit busier, thus keeping me away from the barn more than I'd like. For Ben, this has meant extended breaks of the 3-5 day variety. You all know by now how much I hate stringing multiple days off for this horse. Not much I can do about it right now, though.

We are making do. Our trainer was also on a long vacation, which meant that we got to work with her mom. I'll admit, I was terrified to work with someone else - I have this fear that anyone other than our trainer will tell us that we're not worthy. So while I could've just skated by for 2 weeks, I knew I had to overcome this fear. Fully clothed in my Big Girl Panties, off I went to my lesson.

As it turns out, it was a really great thing to do. #1, I got lots of compliments - which is the exact opposite of what I was expecting. I also got some direct feedback about my, uhmmm, wayward left arm, especially when it is serving as the outside rein. It has a mind of its own. But fresh eyes and a laser focus on it, and it got much better. Imagine that.

#2 We fixed the right canter. Ben has a habit of not connecting to my left outside rein (see wayward left arm comment above), but also doesn't much respond to my right leg. He will move off, sure, but he is not fully supple and gives me about, oh, 20% of a step in response to that leg. So, with me on top focused on my stupid left arm, our instructor worked with Ben's response to my right leg from the ground. That is, I put my leg on and he MUST step under. a real step. Turn on the forehand. She reinforced by following with a tap of the whip. So we'd get a few good steps on a 10 m circle, then I'd ask for a canter, and reinforce that feeling of him stepping under. And wow, did that ever help with the strike off and push in the canter. The steps got cleaner, the gait got more pure.

It was a quick, but intense lesson, maybe 25-30 minutes. But it has had lasting effects. Our canter has gotten even that much better. Now the canter to the left is feeling a bit left out, so we've been working on that side too.

The canter, while it is the hardest of all 3 gaits for Ben, is the most fun and enjoyable. Truth be told, I have to remind myself to put some work into the trot. I just don't like it as much, haha. And honestly, even those the purity of the gait is the worst in the canter, I do think Ben actually prefers the canter work over the trot...but maybe that is because of his rider ;)

Friday, August 19, 2016

More Show Pictures!

Pictures from the show are trickling in, and here are some of my favorites. These are all taken by Karen W. of Awakened Soul Photography.

I don't always do halter, but when I do I make sure they see everything :x



Monday, August 8, 2016

Analyze This - Facing the Fear of Reading My Tests

I will fully admit, I have a not-so-great habit when it comes to my dressage tests. I don't fully read and digest them. Sure, I'll look at the general scores, read the comments, but I always keep myself distanced from them. In my head I can hear myself saying, "yea yea, I know, I know." I speed read it and try to get it over with as quickly as possible.

This is not great. After all, I've paid for the judge to watch my test, you would think I'd be more interested in what they had to say. So, this past week I changed my tactic. I decided to turn my tests into data points. So I took all 4 tests and transcribed them in Excel. Movements, scores, and comments.

My 2016 1-1 tests transcribed

I have 3 scores at 1-1 and 1 at 1-2. So I took a look at the tests and on a second tab, grouped all the common movements together (for example: entry, final salute, stretchy circle L/R, 15m canter circle L/R, etc). I color coded the scores. I pulled together averages.

similar movements, compared

What I found was interesting. I knew, without doing this exercise, my weakest area  (canter, especially everything to the right). But what I didn't realize was where I could easily clean up/pick up better scores. For example, we have a great final centerline/salute. Our entry is sometimes really good, or really bad. Never in the middle. But my highest scoring movement is the 10m 1/2 circle to the right, as well as our trot lengthening to the right. I would have never guessed that. In general, the score I receive the most is 6.5, followed by 6, and then 7. If I had to guess I would've thought it 5.5, 6, 6.5, in that order.

This exercise, while time consuming, really helped me. My test riding needs some serious work. I hardly ever do it. In fact, prior to this show, I never actually strung together 1-1 and 1-2 while practicing. Sure, I've done elements of it, but never all  together - which is a totally different beast.

It makes me want to get out there and keep trying. Now I have a clearer picture of what is going on, I feel like we can most certainly do better.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Champion Reigns

 Ben and I are still recovering from our 3 day showcation. In fact, yesterday he pulled a shoe so as to ensure he'd get a couple extra days of R&R.
I've been struggling on what to write, and how to write this blog post. I think it is because last weekend has left me with a mix of emotions, the experience was so many things, I'm having trouble forming a solid opinion on the show. And if I am super honest, it hasn't left me with this feeling of overwhelming success. So I am going to take the time to write about the great and not-so-great things that happened, to see where the chips ultimately fall.
The Great:
  • There were 230 horse and rider pairs at the show. Ben, as a the sole Standardbred, held his own in every class we entered, many of which were 15+ horses deep.
  • Ben was declared Rescue Horse High-Point Champion for the weekend.
  • He won his halter class, eq classes and his 1st level dressage class.
  • Both of his dressage scores were over 60% (62.6, 62.7), again at 1st Level.
  • We talked to MANY competitors and spectators about his brand and breed, even the English show judge.
  • He did the canter classes, and even Advanced English Pleasure.
  • We got a good laugh doing the costume class.
Photo by Angela Farnsworth
The Not-So-Great:
  • Nerves. From the moment he stepped on the trailer, to the end of the show, Ben was a bundle of nerves.
  • He did not haul well, nor handle well - he felt trapped and the opposite of relaxed.
  • He could not relax and stand still for longer than 45 seconds.
  • Tension = gait problems, especially the canter. Tension means he loses the ability to lift his back and articulate his joints, the canter gets flat and lateral looking.
  • Tension=grinding on the bit, a lot.
2016 High Point Rescue Horse Champion
Ribbons and wins are not everything. Had he won all that he did and was his normal chilled-out self, I would've been pleased. But a big part of me is bummed that my guy seemingly didn't have as good a time as I wished he did, or that he used to have. I do think his nerves were a combination/perfect storm of things, all of which I am responsible for fixing. I feel bad, pangs of guilt, for having him participate. On the other hand, I think participating is just what he needed, and that a huge part of his problem was that he hasn't been off his quiet farm in months. He just isn't used to going out like he was years ago.

I guess I am also holding on to my hope that he would've felt amazing given all the work we've been doing. That the quality of his gaits would've been proven and shone through. All our hard work paid off. And that didn't necessarily happen. He had moments of greatness, but it wasn't consistent, and certainly not in the way he has been at home.

This weekend has left me with the feeling that we have SO much more work to do, but also with that lingering question about the value of doing the work. Is it worth it? I know I love riding and developing Ben, it is hugely rewarding to me. But is it torturous to him? Is he just entertaining me because he's a good guy with a huge heart who never says no? Am I taking advantage of that? Should I just leave him be, perhaps find a way to give him an easier job?

Ultimately I cannot based my decision on 1 show. It could very well be that he simply has lost a bit of his mojo due to not getting off the farm in months. It could very well be that given more opportunities, he will return to his normal self. In terms of the work, it is not like he sees me and runs the other way. He is my buddy and will follow me anywhere (which is why I feel guilty about possibly taking advantage of that), and do anything I ask. He doesn't give me snark about it. He always tries, and resistance is passive and not explosive.

So what to do. I think I need to keep trying. In my head I have a "deadline" or a check-in point of Spring 2017. So between now and then, what would happen if we keep chipping away at it and get to a few more shows, maybe even a clinic or two - anything to get off the farm and into new territory. That would essentially mark just about a year of earnestly doing work, and a good milestone point to look both back and forward. In the meantime, I will keep on trying, and writing about it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Are We Ready? Roller Coaster of Daily Changes

Maybe I should start blogging every day to keep up with the constant shift of Ben's development.  The latest and greatest is that on Thursday last week, Ben was a bit sore on his right front - he was unwilling to have a clean jumpy canter transition. The overall quality was not so good. So then investigating the trot work, we could immediately see the same issue at the trot. Quickly called it a day, and he had Friday off. We think he likely tweaked something when he "played Arabian" out in his field. A photoshoot was happening for another horse and Ben was certain it was he that needed to flag his tail and run around like a turkey - for far longer than called for, I might add.

On Saturday, he was feeling much better. Ride was short and sweet but clear canter transitions and decent leg yields. Sunday was even better. Today and Wednesday he has off.

On Friday this week we leave for our annual Benefit Show. Ben didn't go last year, or the year prior due to his nose issue and lay up time. But he's back for the 10th anniversary show :) I'm super excited because the show is being held at a newer venue and the footing is supposed to be divine. Plus, it is only a short drive from home which means I don't have to camp and be stinky all weekend!

On Saturday we've got a long day of main ring flat classes - halter, showmanship, walk/trot and walk/trot canter, and trail classes. Crazy, I can take my standardbred in the canter classes now (or so I think, LOL)! He's even signed up for Advanced English Pleasure. I'm not entirely sure that he'll be fit enough to endure all the classes I signed up for, so I will likely pick and choose a couple to scratch from.

Sunday is Dressage. We're signed up to do 1-1 and 1-2. I was hoping to be ready for 1-3, and I think we could probably squeak it out but he's going to be a tired lil' Standardbred. So we're keeping it to the first 2 tests in the level.

Oh...and did I mention we're also doing the costume class on Saturday night? Yes folks, be prepared for some fun pictures!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

2 Week Check In...Are Things Still Good?

Why yes, yes they are! I've had this crazy fear that I'd get on Ben one day and all that we sorted out that one fateful day. That maybe it was just a momentary blip, that everything would slip back into our "normal" way of going and doing.

Nope, I think it is fair to say we have a new normal. This normal is one in which I say "hey Ben, lets canter" and he says "sure okay I can do that" and we canter...and canter, and canter...and keep cantering until I say "hey Ben lets change it up and walk"...


I can work on our canter. I can play with it. We can circle, go straight, do leg yields and loops. I can ask him to half halt and take jumpier steps. I do not feel like I am just a passenger and that my aids are drowned out by white noise.

His strength and confidence is growing. We've been playing with voltes - almost a spiral in to a smaller circle then canter out...and wow how that helps to get the jump.

The canter is FUN. Yes, FUN.

Now for the not so good part....our trot has gone to hell, with its handbasket. In addition to doing all the canters, we've also been trying to pepper in some more shoulder-in. And that, my friends turns out to be a big mind-f*** for my dear gaited friend. He tries. He gets into position. If he can get onto my outside rein he can sometimes get a few steps in. But much of the time, I ask and he positions his body, and falls into the pace. And then from there on, walk or halt to trot = pace instead.

So yea. One thing gets awesome another thing gets a little less-awesome. We have our work cut out for us. I have lost focus/put less focus on the trot. I need to fix that. I know I can get it back, but I'm going to need a little help in doing so. And I will rejoice when the day comes when lateral work doesn't entirely screw the pooch.

Friday, July 8, 2016

It is Always the Rider

As I look back on my blog posts to review our struggles and triumphs, I have come to realize a couple of truths:

 #1 Anything I've asked Ben to do, he's figured out how to do. It might take longer than the average bear, but he's done it. He has never said NO, I CAN'T.
#2 No matter how long it takes for us to do something, it is always under my influence to either make-or-break it. That means all of our successes, AND all of our shortcomings.

A few days ago, actually the day after my last blog post, I went out to ride. I have had fitness on my mind - mainly because I signed us up for this show at the end of the month, and I want to make sure we're both in the best shape possible to make it through the weekend. I've also been examining (over and over and over) my routine with Ben, mainly stuck on this Day 1 ride and how to make it less-awful.

I felt like I was really getting somewhere with that last ride. And I do think it helped a ton. But you know what? There were still issues on Day 2. Day 1's ride did not make Day 2 any better. In fact, Ben was a slug on day 2. It was if all he had to say was "wow, this is super easy, thanks for lightening my workload!" As much as it helped us, it also backfired a bit. I put too muck stock in it.

I was carrying a lot of the load in our relationship. I was the one constantly being pulled on, jerked on, stopped on - coming away drenched in sweat and happy when I got a mediocre response that I took to be his best effort. Things came to a head for me when I asked for some canter and while he did it, he kept dropping into a trot. I realized then how chaotic our canters are - I am so consumed in doing a million things to try to keep him going that I can't actually work on the damn canter. In the space of what was probably a second or two, so many of my rides, struggles, etc flashed through my head. I lost it. Not in a ragey kind of way, but in a deeper way. I realized right then that things had to change, and change immediately. We have been at this for literally years, and why are we still struggling with the same damn thing? No more.

No, I did not beat my horse in a fit of anger - there was no anger - there was clarity. In that moment, I knew I had to expect more of him - and to do that, I had to ride. Really ride. Throw all the mental BS out the window and get to the task at hand. Talk about being truly centered. It was not fluffy. It was not harsh. It was just very black and white - zero gray area.

And so we cantered. And cantered. I didn't care how ugly or pacey it was, where his head was. I just sat there and expected him to keep going and to carry me. Do not change gaits. He dropped, and rather than asking him to come back down and try again, nope, right back up into the canter from where he was. He kicked out. He bucked. I sat and asked. Sort it out, you can do it. Figure out where your legs are. He had to own it. No excuses for either of us.

And what do you know, he figured it out. He CAN canter without dropping to a trot after a lap or a circle. I was preventing him from realizing that. He had no idea it could be done, because I never supported him in trying to do it. I was blocking him. It was me, the rider.

Our relationship changed that day - for the better. It took me realizing I had to take responsibility for US.  It has been a week since this moment, and I can tell you that we have, for certain, turned a corner. I can actually work on the canter. I can collect it, extend it. I can do counter canter loops. I can just...canter.

I cannot change who Ben is- I cannot go in and edit his genetic code and make him an elastic moving warmblood with springs for hooves. No, I cannot do that, obviously. But what I can do, is influence the body he has, to make it fitter, more elastic, and better moving. Ben CAN. We're on a different page of our book, together.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

No, You Are Not Retired

If Ben had his way, he would request immediate retirement. As much as he loves his people, he loves his long days of doing absolutely nothing even more. If I were to put him to pasture now, at the ripe old age of 8, he would not bat an eye.

Unfortunately, for Ben, I am not independently wealthy and therefore cannot finance his dream of a life unfettered. So imagine his surprise when I show up to the barn after a 5 day absence, expecting him to, gasp, go back to work.

Now, the return-to-work ride is one I dread, as readers of this blog may know. Even the first ride after a 2 day absence can be rough. I had been giving it a lot of thought, trying to pinpoint why it feels so terrible, and therefore how I can make it better. I've also been thinking of our next show, the annual benefit show(last year I took my mare). I've decided to take Ben, just to get him off the farm - and have a crack at the 1st level dressage tests again. Because he is the Rescue Horse Champion of 2013, I also decided to put him in a few more classes to see if we can amass enough points to defend the title. Which means we need to practice a few things - like side-passing over a know, just in case we need to do that in the trail course.

So I decided to take a different approach to our first day back to work. Perhaps a bit gentler on the both of us. There were raised poles set out, and a single pole on the ground. I decided to use those and do a lot of walk work, getting ben to lift his legs up rather than the ground cover-out. Re-introduce the side-pass. Shoulder in. Small circles. Large circles. Turns on the haunches, turns on the forehand. Transitions to halt. Back up straight. I then began to mix in transitions to trot. And when it felt icky, transition down. Halt. Sometimes back up, then trot out or walk out. Basically, I focused on sharpening responses vs physical limbering like long sets of trot and canter. I did let him do some stretchy trot. We did some canter transitions. But everything was very fragmented, the focus of the ride was purely on quality of transition, softness and straightness.

And what do you know, it was a relatively nice ride. No, not perfect, but much better than we've had. Easier on both of our bodies. I certainly felt more centered, and strangely more accomplished. Ben felt limbered up and much more responsive, too. Afterwards he got some nice carrot stretches in, and we called it a night.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


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. It's in 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 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


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!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

So this is happening...

Sitting in this mailbox is an entry form for a dressage schooling show happening in April...with Ben's name on it! And to make matters even more exciting...we will be doing the 1-1 test! Whoa!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tack Adjustments = Results

Things have been going well in Ben's world. Not much to report, but a couple of tack changes have taken place over the past couple of weeks. #1 was that a fitter was coming to our barn so I had his saddle looked at - we did a much needed reflock and some adjustments to the panels to make the channel wider. WOW did this ever change Ben's trot! The saddle is quite stable, it feels great as it is moulding to his back. May need to make a few tweaks in a month or so, but the change is palpable.

The other tack change is a change of bit. Yes I know, another one. Ben has been, by far, the hardest horse I've ever had to bit. Most horses I've come across have been fine with a plain snaffle- single or double jointed- eggbutt, D or loose ring. Super easy stuff, costing no more than $50. My arab mare is schooling 2nd and 3rd in a $35 Smith Worthington loose ring- bless her.

Ben, however, has a collection of tried-chewed-failed. He is a natural chewer/inspector - he will always test if something can go in his mouth, and if it fits, it gets chewed. His bit is no different. I'm pretty sure I've blogged off and on about our trials and tribulations. He gets so fixated on the thing in his mouth he cannot focus on anything else. Not in a panicky way, but think of trying to pull a child away from being mesmerized by their TV show kind of way. 

Most recently I had settled on a Myler wide & low ported eggbutt. It worked great for awhile. For the first time Ben was pushing onto the bit, not trying to suck back and chew it to smithereens. The chewing-to-grinding habit had lessened to the point of barely ever happening. Yay! I felt like we were finally able to address some training issues. And we did.

And then new ones came up. Sigh. Ben went from being tucked behind the bit & my leg to leaning on my hands quite heavily. Addressing as a training issue was working - to a point. But also, I felt like we had this really dull, heavy connection rather than a live, active, soft one. So, in another effort, enter in the Neue Schule Verbindend snaffle. Dressage Extensions has 14 day trials for their 12 mm bit. Sign me up.

Immediately I felt as if the connection was softer,  clearer, and more adjustable. Ben wasn't sneaking behind, nor was he pulling. Much easier to adjust, we had better flexions and bends. Between that and his saddle adjustments, wow the trot work has soared.

The canter, however, has suffered a wee bit. Prior to the bit change I thought we were getting somewhere with the canter- but with the new bit it seems like the confidence & ability to lean on the bit has degraded the quality of canter. At least initially. However, the past couple of rides have gone smashingly well, and I feel like we are close to where we were in the old bit.

So - the result is an overall net positive - with some things to work always. But I am liking where this is going - this boy has been so fun lately!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Working on Adjustability

Ben's training ride went well. I wasn't there to see it, but I got a text reporting that he felt great- a little stuck to the wall on the right and thus ensuing rhythm problems - but easily addressed. Counter canter and 15m circles and ending with a super trot.

Phew. I hadn't ruined my horse.

So since then, I've had a couple of lessons. Our main goal has been, and will continue to be, adjustability & suppleness through the body. We've begun to get serious about schooling the lateral movements - specifically shoulder fore, shoulder in, haunches in. Amazing how hard it is but also how much better the ride gets once we do these things! Right now it is at the walk, with a little bit of shoulder fore in the trot. Ben still gets a bit confused and will resort to pacing- his legs and body can get a bit jumbled from time to time. But he's definitely giving it his all (as he always does!) and progress is being made.

The canter is continuing to develop. Working on adjustability here too- I can get a baby lengthening and some leg yields - shallow loops are our friends :) Ben has actually shown a bit of aptitude to having changes - there have been a couple of moments in my lessons when working on the canter that he's offered them. We're not ready to go there just yet- we definitely need to confirm a few more things, but I'm wondering if by summer/fall we have something. How cool would that be?!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Don't Poke the Bear

Things have been going well at the new barn. We're currently taking weekly lessons and walking away with lots of homework.

A couple of weeks ago we had a "step up" lesson as I like to call them - one where our trainer introduces something new and thus gives us something to work on all week (month, year, etc). That lesson was all about sharpening the response to the aids- both in the up transition but also the down. Ben LOVES to trail his hindquarters, and getting him to step under himself is always a challenge. He loves to be strung out. Yesterday was the day my trainer told me to shorten my rein and ask him to carry himself higher. Boy was that hard, and while we had glimmers of goodness, it felt really new and uncomfortable for both of us! While I always knew my reins were a little long, I was comfortable and so was Ben. However, keeping my reins long was inhibiting our progress.

The crisp transitions - wowsa those were also pretty tough. Apparently Ben and I ride together like we're on some leisurely Sunday trail - we'll get to it when we get to it. Haha - both of us had to wake up and smell the coffee. For Ben, asking for that immediacy immediately brought forth a reaction, but it was the pace. We did get a couple of great up transitions from halt to trot, but a lot of them were halt to mish-mosh of pace/trot/canter. However, we ended on a great note and had a nice long cool out on a beautiful day. I thought all was well.

All was not well. Apparently we rocked Ben's world and he was not okay with it. The next few rides were a complete cluster. Ben had somehow forgotten to do anything that required being in a saddle, bridle, and with a rider on board. He was spooky, looky, tense, and reverted to pacing at just about any request. So, my plans to practice our new "stuff" quickly went out the door. I gave him a few days off. The days I did ride I kept it light - walking, turns, a couple transitions - all on a super loose rein. Zero expectations.

Thinking I just destroyed any and all progress over the last few years, I humbly told my trainer what was going on. As it worked out, I was going on a business trip and she offered to put a ride on him. I gulped and said yes, kind of nervous what the outcome of that would be.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


First weekday sunset ride- Spring is on the way!
It has only been a couple of weeks since my last post, but so much has happened in Ben's world! All good things, too!
I made the decision to move Ben up to my trainer's barn, which he moved to at the end of January. Having horses spread across 2 barns is not something I manage well, consistently. I've tried it in the past, and for the last 8 months tried it again, to no avail. With my commute to work, getting to both horses in a single evening just isn't feasible - alternating horses also gets tricky with schedules at both barns, trying to fit in a non-horse day for myself - it just wasn't happening. Additionally, Ben and I were not getting the instruction we so need. So, though more expensive, it was the right decision. The barn is pretty quiet, we get weekly lessons, and have both indoor, outdoor, and trails up in the tree farm. They also have awesome mud-free paddocks with open stalls, so turnout happens every day. Ben is super happy with this arrangement! I am super happy too being able to see and ride both horses in a single visit. Success!
Just prior to the move, I had our vet come out and take a look at him to make sure he was fit and able to increase his workload. Because nothing seemed to be visibly off, we used a neat tool called the Lameness Locator that could detect perhaps what the eye cannot see. Ben's results were reviewed by 2 vets, both came to the same conclusion that Ben is a very even, non-lame dude. So at this point he has gotten the green light to be pushed along both fitness wise and skills wise. We've added Adequan into the regimen, but for now, there is no reason or indication that we should be looking at any further diagnostics.
With that healthy check up and a couple of days to situate at the new barn, Ben and I jumped right into our new world. I could write a whole post about all the things I love about my trainer's indoor arena, but the top 3 are: mirrors, poles, and size. Having great big huge mirrors are wonderful, and infinitely helpful when riding on your own. I had no idea what I was missing! Instant feedback without having to rely on a grounds person or reviewing video whenever I was lucky enough to get some recorded. The other awesome thing is that trot and canter poles are always set up. They are super heavy and do not budge, even when a certain Standardbred knocks them. And finally - size. The place we were boarding had a really nice sized indoor for the area. This arena, though, is a full 20x60 arena. I definitely am finding the extra length to be great, and the accurate sizes have definitely helped me in shaping our 20, 15, 10 m circles. I always had to sort of guess what sizes, and while I was fairly accurate, I wasn't precise.
And so here we are, a couple of weeks into our new world, and loving it :) More to come!

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 :)