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 :)