Friday, November 30, 2012

Field Trip Recap

Wednesday had some low-lows (letting Star go), but it also had some high-highs in the form of perhaps my best ride to date on Miss Prairie.  Maybe such a fabulous ride was Star's parting gift (if mare's can communicate that way... pretty sure they can), or maybe Prairie just knew that I could use a pick me up.

Either way, it was a very productive ride, and for the first time in a while Prairie seemed very relaxed and happy in her work.

This is her third time working with this trainer (the first lesson I rode, last week S took P2 and then yesterday makes three...) which I think contributed to her increased relaxation, But I also think that hauling down with a gelding helped out too.

While S was tacking up and getting ready for her ride, I noticed that instead of screaming and looking for her trailer buddy, Prairie just munched on some hay, drank lots of water and snoozed in her borrowed stall.  While I think she is more at ease at this barn now, I don't think that explains it all.  S and I got to talking and nearly every time I've hauled Prairie it's been with a mare who she becomes fiercely attached to even in a 20 minute trip.  But the last two trips have been with a sweet gelding and the last two trips have seen less bellowing, searching and desperation to be reunited with her friend.

Maybe it's the hormone-less gelding? who knows... but it's an argument for a mare-ish supplement or perhaps even experimenting with Regumate again...

Regardless, I was grateful for the calm demeanor and excited to ride.  We started out just walking long and low around the ring before we picked up our trot and again worked on slowing the tempo while keeping the hind legs quick and underneath her.

Nancy then had me halt.  Get Prairie low and deep (and soft) in the bridle, and slooooowwwwlllyyyy  (key word there) back her up encouraging her spine to roll up and rise under my seat.

which it totally did.

Then, trying to keep the lifted back and low/deep/soft neck, we moved into a walk, and eventually back up to a trot.  Whenever Prairie started to brace (or I did), we returned to the halt and repeated the process.

It seemed to work wonders, and after a few short repetitions Prairie was soft, blowing and floppy eared.

One of the hard parts is keeping the rein-back slow.  Prairie wants to invert and shoot backwards like she's avoiding a punishment.  You can see the anxiety in her eyeball and she's a little wary.  So coaxing a slower, controlled rein-back is a little tricky, but it results in a nice stretch over her back and once she figured that out, the mare seemed to readily oblige.

Then we moved into some nice haunches in/shoulder in work that felt looser and nicer than our recent lateral attempts.  I was reminded constantly to keep Prairie as soft in the bridle as she is during that slow rein back.  If I can't get it with some easy suppling, then it's back to the halt/rein-back to dislodge the tension.

It certainly helps Prairie but I found it a really effective tool for me as well to ensure that I don't get rigid in my shoulder/elbow.  I really liked it.

Finally we moved into our canter work was was mind-blowingly-amazing.  You may recall our early canter work as resembling a runaway freight train plummeting down a hill.  So finding a nicely balanced, cadenced, contained canter is always exciting.

I worked on nice half halts during our suspension and also asking Prairie to contain her frame even during releases of contact and pets on the neck.  We kept the halt/rein-back move in between each canter depart and it was fairly magical.

Compare this screen shot from yesterday:
blurry but you can see the general shape.. kinda
 to this shot from our first show back in June:
I recognize the first shot is slightly earlier in the stride, but not by much.  Even with all the blur you can tell how much farther underneath her body Prairie's hind legs are and that her weight is farther back.  Also, I'm not dragging against her face with all my might like I was back in June.

Aside from keeping my arms loose and soft, I also lightened my seat a lot more than I'm used to.  My tendency is to always SIT down and really ride with me seat, which I don't think is helpful for Prairie's hammock of a back.  But it's a position I feel safe in, and like I can defend myself against scoots/inversions/etc.  However, unlike on P1 or other horses I've ridden, I think with Prairie I tend to drive her a bit hollow.  Even though my intention is the opposite.

Bah.  So I ended up thinking about putting 50% more weight in my stirrups and quieting my hips.  I doubt I shifted more then 10lbs into my stirrups and I still sit pretty deep but I think it changes my mentality.  Whatever it was, it was working yesterday so I'm looking forward to playing with it some more.

Here's a quick video of the same canter about halfway through our lesson.  I dare say we got even a bit lighter and more collected in our later work, but that video is like 5 minutes and I don't feel like sifting through it all :)

It was a great lesson.  Prairie felt so relaxed, happy and content.  She worked happily and her trot and canter were beyond words.  She was 100% between my aids and focused on me.

Here's hoping we can replicate some of the magic back at home... 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Goodbye.

The Matriarch.

Goodbyes. They're inevitable. 

With love, comes the possibility of loss and with our animals(/teachers/supporters/friends/confidants), it's almost a certainty.

I've been extraordinarily lucky with all of my animals.  I've only ever lost one dog (he was ancient and perfect and ready to go) and a few cats (some to age, one to cancer and a couple presumably to coyotes).  

I've never lost a horse. 

I've sold horses, and I've lost track of horses who I spent years with.  I suppose some of them have probably long since gone onto greener pastures, but not knowing is different than knowing, and yesterday I had the new experience of knowing that my dear, sweet (sorta mean), wise old pony was indeed ready to go. 

In her grand old age of forty-something, her body finally betrayed her age and after suffering from a few seizures, yesterday she had a bad choke.

Nothing was able to clear it, leaving surgery as the only option. 
A surgery that she probably wouldn't survive, and even if she did - what for?

So, one of my oldest and best-friends made the call.  She let me know what was going on, and since I was still hauling Prairie back up from our lesson, there was no feasible way for me to get to the pony without delaying her relief - something I couldn't even begin to ask of her.

Star hasn't been part of my daily riding life since I was 14.  But she's always been a part of who I am as a Rider, an Owner and a Person.  Some of my best moments and biggest achievements were on that pony.  She was the first horse I stayed up with all night during a colic.  The first horse I ever gave a bath to or braided for a schooling show.  She was the first horse I fell off and the first horse I qualified for nationals on.  She taught me pretty much everything I know about not getting bit, or kicked, or scraped off on a tree on the trail.

She professionally refused to acknowledge any previous training and taught me to teach her.  I'll never forget the first Prelim cross country fence I took (or rather, she took me over) and I'll certainly never forget my first Musical Freestyle.  More importantly, she was that perfect friend and supporter through adolescence and gave me the unconditional affection that every 12 year old girl needs from somewhere.

One of my favorite memories was one night after a fight with my parents (presumably about making my bed or math or something equally epic) and I decided that I was running away. I thoughtfully packed a backpack of snacks and books (I was really going to be prepared), but then after slipping out my window and making my way to the barn I realized books weren't as important as grain for my pony, so I dumped out my backpack, filled it with Star's grain and then legged up and trotted away bareback. 

I'm pretty sure I was only gone for a few hours, but for those few hours I had my pony, some granola bars and enough grain to keep Star motivated for a couple of days.  It was all a 13 year old really needs. 

So I'll miss her.  Even though I wasn't the one making her mashes every morning or bringing her in from her pasture every night, I'll miss knowing that my old, cranky pony was tootling around enjoying her retirement.  And I'll miss the occasional text with a picture of her doing something absurd. 

But I'm glad that the last time I saw her she was trotting around a giant field and scratching her rump on a pile of lumber. 

And I take (almost) total comfort in the fact that she was a strong, healthy, happy pony for the last 20 years of her life that I had the pleasure of knowing her. 

So Star - I thank you for all of it (even the hard parts) and I'll never forget you.

One of my first rides on the lady.
and one of my last visits to see her.
A few more details on the pony are here and here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We're back, we're back....

Whoops another week went by... Sneaky how that happens!

The mares are good.  If you had asked on Sunday, I would have told you that both of them were for sale - but today they are both back in good graces and I'm sure that none of it had to do with holiday exhaustion or PMS.
(not actually for sale anymore,)

But onward. 

I've been at a bit of a loss as to what to do with Miss P.  She's clearly ready to work, and even I'm bored walking around the property - but our basics are not there.  She's re-learned how to run away from people (everyone).  She's darted off while being led with me, S, and even the guys who work at the barn.

Naughty girl.

That sort of crap makes me think we have a lot of groundwork to solidify, but Vet Lady said to get her moving and back to work, so we're doing that.  Sunday I started by working on some liberty/join up stuff that resulted in nothing productive.  Whenever I moved P off or away from me she turned, shot her feet at my head and snarled.

I tried to stand my ground and stay "alpha" but there's no denying that I got defensive and protective and she had the upper hand in maneuvering.  Very frustrating.

Finally, totally against Cowboy Man's philosophy I gave up, used a halter and started running her through a jumping chute.  I know I should have worked free until she joined up.. but like I said, I was PMSing, the mare was bitchy, and I got bored of failed attempts. 

Frankly Pia seemed as relived for a change of exercise as I did.  P also looked pretty darn cute.  The line was simple, a small X bounce to a bigger X, one stride to a vertical.  We bumped them up once but didn't take anything over 3'.  After 10 repetitions one way, we swapped the direction and repeated.  Pia seemed interested, engaged and comfortable going through the whole thing.

She's definitely much better at sitting back and using her body than she was in Spring of 2011, which is helpful.  It's nice to know that the $$$ spent on bodywork got us somewhere....

After playing in the line, I decided it was time to tack up the mare and go for a walk.  I was nervous from the aggressive groundwork though so I politely requested that S take the first few laps, which she graciously did before I legged up myself.
Tacked up with her cute new pink/purple rope halter...
P seemed totally content under saddle.  No nervous head twitches, no chest biting, no anxiety.  I walked the mare around for a good 10-15 minutes.and she was alert, but loose, head swinging and calm.  I tested my brakes (reins attached to halter) and my steering with no bad results.  But since she had worked well over the jumps I kept everything at a walk and called it a day.

Always nice to end with some success.

its a happy P!
After I put Pia away I grabbed Prairie who was about as cooperative as Pia had been on the ground (that is to say, not at all).

We also worked through a small grid, but the big mare was Loony Tunes and after a series of increasingly tense/rushed passes through, she scooted off like a rocket and began bucking around like a moron.  Not like she was trying to get me off per se, but like a predator was attempting to gnaw on her hind leg or perhaps pulling on her tail.

I hopped off and found absolutely no explanation so I got back on and we proceeded to finish on a slightly improved note.

Not a good day at the barn.  Totally frustrating and discouraging and obnoxious.

Fortunately, my morning out there today was better.

Pia lunged politely in the outdoor and rocked her leading exercises and Prairie decided that maybe (JUST MAYBE) she could actually jump a small grid without loosing herself in a rage blackout. 

Tomorrow S has Pia and I take Prairie back down south for another lesson with Nancy Free.

Field Trips help all things :)

all better :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Radio Silence

Sorry for the off-air interruption.  I've been swarmed with our annual exec retreat, out of state depositions and.. oh yeah, an extra horse at home :)  I guess that explains my lack of online mutterings.

But never fear, the girls are well.  Both of them have been enjoying their new routine (I think) and P1 is settling in fabulously.

Here's a succinct synopsis of what we've been doing.

P1 is proudly and confidently enjoying her walks around the property.  She's officially calm enough to eat grass while exploring.

P2 got to go for a ride in a Happy Mouth mullen pelham.  She seemed to enjoy it.  (2 reins, not a joiner)

In the pelham - P2 had two days in a row with 2 perfect flying changes per lead.  in a row.  No mess ups.

P1 got to do some liberty work in the indoor.

I got to try P2 in the pelham and loved her canter work, but feel like the leverage might back her off too much.  I tried loosening my curb rein a ton but she was still a bit explosive. 

P1 got to eat snacks in the wash rack and work on her ground tying.

Both P's got a tail wash and plenty of apples courtesy of Supermom.

Oh yeah.  and S dug through the depths/archives of her parents' tack room and pulled out this gem:

I think P has her Halloween costume picked out for next year....

BAHAHAHAHA.  Poor Mare.  I think she misses Summer Camp

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

P2 Grids It

S spent a day jumping everyone through a small grid last week - which means that P2 and I got to take advantage of it for our lesson (grin).

It was low, but it was all bounces. Which in retrospect is something I'm not sure Prairie has ever done one of, let along the four in a row that we worked up to....

Mostly the goal was to work on my setting Prairie up more actively (in front of my leg, balanced on her butt... not strung out..).  Which is hard for me.  My current "strategy" over fences is to just slow her down to a crawl and let her push herself over.  So far it's worked pretty well for us, but it's not what I would call a fabulous foundation....

We also thought some bounces would help Prairie manage her own body a bit more and also help her sit back when she lands instead of letting herself get stretched out and flat.

We were mostly right.

The only sketchy trip through was when S added an extra fence and Prairie backed off at the beginning and it felt like she couldn't quite "see" her route through the grid.  But she lumbered over them all. I just slipped my reins, slouched in the back seat and tried not to get in her way. 

Mostly though it was super fun and super cute and Prairie did it without much support from me...

The impressive part is that the grid was set for normal horse strides.  Which is something we could not have shoved our big long selves into a few months ago.  So yay for that!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back to Beginnings

I had a great evening out at the barn last night.  Mondays tend to be pretty quiet anyway, but there seems to still be a bit of a hangover from Daylight Savings and not everyone has returned to ride in the dark and cold. 

My girls were waiting patiently by the gate when I arrived and I realized that there were a lot of things about "two horses" that I haven't really considered - Who do I work with first? does the other one stay out in the pasture? come in? if they come in, who do I take in first? does it matter? probably not... but still...

Since their third pasture mate was already in for the night I didn't want to leave a lone P out to run amok.  I briefly contemplated the thought of leading them both at the same time, but figured I might want to save that maneuver for when they've known each other a little longer and Pia feels a bit more at home..

Since P2 is used to the place I grabbed P1 first and ambled slowly back to the barn with lots of halts and backing on the way.  She was good.

P2 was moderately patient about being left behind.  She has a really cute head waggle that she does when she's impatient.  It's not the worst bad habit I've seen but I also try to not to encourage it... regardless any time your horse looks like they are waving to you and nickering for you to hurry up and come get them I think it's moderately adorable. 

But on our walk back, P2 was pushier than P1, so we had a few "opportunities" for some leading exercises as well as we made our way to the barn (and all of her friends).

If there was any doubt as to whether the mares would become horrifically attached to each other - it's been answered (repeatedly.  and loudly).  Pia was anxiously nickering and shoving her head out of her stall trying to find Prairie when we walked into the barn aisle.  Prairie answered her, but went in her stall and shut up like a good kid.  I'm hoping Pia figures that move out soon.

My goal with Pia for the night was to start putting in place the consistency and relaxation that P1 had at Summer Camp.  So I made up a hot mash and placed it in our wash rack, looking to replicate Cowboy Man's initial "standing" exercise that he often works for new horses at the farm.  P's anxiety about the wash rack from Sunday was totally gone and the arrival of a familiar snack seemed to trigger her memory of the standing game. 

I didn't think to snap on my lunge line so I could really stand at a distance, but I think I'll try to remember that in the future. 

P was good, and didn't think to start pushing out on my space until after she had finished her snack (typical).  I got a few good moments of calm standing without any attempts to push her boundaries and then we went for a property walk. 
Snack (and standing) Time
Our farm is laid out nicely with good "alleys" between all the paddocks making for lots of routes to explore and paths to zig zag around.  It was dusk when we headed out and a neat/creepy fog was settling in over all the grass which sorta put me on edge but Pia stayed pretty relaxed. 

The only indication of tension was that when we did halt, she immediately stopped paying attention to me and started staring intently at everything.  Her current interruption to regain focus is to hold your fist back under their chin (like you have a treat) and ask her to "soften".  CM teaches all the horses that they only get treats when they flex and soften up, but eventually he stops treating them and just uses it as an interruption to get their attention.  P wasn't so interested in the "softening" (even for a real treat), but she was still very responsive to "head down" which is also a good attention release and results in eating grass. 

So I used that as my relaxation method and we worked our way around the farm.  P puffed up and snorted loudly at an ugly stump, but after a few requests to "touch,"  She marched right up to the thing stuck her nose all over it and instantly deescalated. 

That was it for Miss P.  I worked on grooming her a bit in her stall while she ate and tried to be big and dominating if she pinned her ears or wanted to get possessive.  She was pretty good, but still a bit of a snake.  I think that will be an ongoing issue for us, especially as she spends more and more time in a stall again.

P2 meanwhile had been munching her dinner and displayed equal joy (and volume) upon P1's return to the barn.  But when I swapped my attentions and pulled P2 out for a ride, P2 got quiet and calm and P1 resumed the concern for being abandoned.  At least (right now) they both seem to focus well as long as they are the one doing the leaving.  I'll be curious to see how this little friendship develops. 

I put P2 in her jump tack even though I only intended to ride on the flat because I've been feeling like my leg is more effective and secure in my shorter stirrups again (somehow that statement flip flops between my dressage length and jump length like twice a year.. I've never entirely understood why).  She was feeling a bit strong in terms of momentum, not contact - so I worked hard on trying to rate her down to where we were in our lesson with Nancy a couple weeks ago.  Working in the indoor arena is very, very good for keeping us honest with our rhythm and our balance since Prairie eats up the long side pretty damn fast with her big stride...

All in all it was a great day.  Two horses is going to be a very different routine, but at least last night I really enjoyed making myself switch gears and focus on different goals with each of the girls.  

loving it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The P's

She's back!  The girls are together (for more than a weekend) and so far everything seems to be settling in well. 

Pia came off the trailer super relaxed and calm.  Interested in the world around her, but chill enough to keep her neck at a nice relaxed angle.  No snorting, or llama neck, or need for a chain (!!).  Cool Mare. 

She got thrown out into a nice paddock to unwind from the haul with her buddy from Summer Camp, Aspen. 
Cute P and Aspen
 That was about when the human people opted to grab an early dinner and warm up with a few margaritas before tucking the ponies in for the night. 

P was either upset that she didn't get a margarita, or was thoroughly not impressed with Aspen's company, because upon returning to the barn she was glistening in a nice coating of icicles (looked like glitter), from frozen sweat on her big fluffy coat. 

Super sad.

But we got her warm, and dry and tucked into a stall without too much effort.  She spun up again when we loaded Aspen back in his trailer to go home, so I opted for a small dose of ace to help quiet her and take the edge off.  (I figure if I get a cocktail, or two - she should get a little something also).

I was a touch concerned, so The Boy and checked back in around 11pm and all seemed to be right with the world.

By morning the P was totally chill, happily munching her hay, saying hi to passersby and generally alert but calm.  P got turned out with P2 and P2's pasture buddy, Sadie all without too much fuss.  Sadie was none too interested in sharing Prairie with a newcomer, but the drama was limited to some pinned ears, nasty mare looks and a few threats of a kick.  That was about as crazy as it got though.

So I spent the day making grain baggies, unpacking P's stuff into her locker and trimming her ridiculous yak fur.  Mostly I just chopped her mane, took 8" off her tail (it was dragging) and gave her a thorough currying.  I don't really want to trim or clip much of anything else until we're back to work - which I think is a couple weeks off.  Cowboy Man suggested a few weeks of just good solid groundwork and letting P feel totally comfortable in her new home before introducing some rides.   She's been just awesome in all of her under saddle work, but when she's stressed she still reverts to old habits and anxiety. 

Since we don't have an agenda, I figure there's no reason to push it.  Plus it's really nice just to actively reconnect and spend time working around her again. Also, I want to pack some lbs back on her ribs which should be a bit easier with a stall and some blankets :)

She's so cute, I'm insanely excited to have her home again.  I will say that I'm shocked at how small she feels after getting so used to P2.  It feels like I have a pony again!  Which is awesome in it's own right.

There's lots of other fun stuff to report like the fact that her feet look over the top fantastic, but all in due time.
P1 looking moderately noble while P2 looks.... like a llama
sniff sniff
For now I'll just walk around like a grinning idiot and try to figure out how I can spend more time at the barn...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Blanket Bought

It's amazing to me how much time/energy I spend on horsey purchases only to casually pull the trigger on purchases in any other aspect of my life...

Regardless, I finally purchased P2's Heavy blanket for the winter (it's cold here too sometimes, I swear).  Maybe not arctic, but cold enough.  :) 

I ended up going with the SmartPak High Neck Turnout.  The reviews seemed good, the price was great and when we took our field trip last week for our lesson there was a horse in the barn wearing one.  So after a mildly creepy "um, do you mind if I look at that horse's blanket...?" request I was able to go in and poke at it, look at the seams and buckles, etc. 

I must say the fit looks claaaaassy (at least on the horse I saw) so I'm hoping it contours well to P2 also.  Because she's a classy gal and likes to wear well tailored clothing.

Fingers crossed.

If nothing else I'm sorta excited to explore a new brand.  If it's a failed experiment then it's back to Horseware, Weatherbeeta and Pessoa for m...

ps - Pia comes tomorrowwwww!!! But today I'm going to the barn today to trick out her tack locker with my helpful Dad.   Organizing and ponies, what's better!?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Outside the Sandbox

As much as I love trails rides and tout the "outside the arena" work as Pia's primary salvation... I still hadn't taken Prairie on a proper trail ride (until today).

We've done lots of property walks (which are exciting enough, thanks).  And she worked the perimeter of the property out at Summer Camp back in September, but I haven't headed out on an honest to goodness nose-to-tail ride with her yet. 

Perhaps it's because I'm not 100% confident in our brakes, or because more often than not when we leave the property there's a not so small part of the mare's brain that is totally cool with running away with me.

Maybe that's why.. ..

But the fact of the matter is that our current barn is blessed to be backed up next to a few decent "mountains" with tons of trails.  One of those mountains is actually a horsey-house-development and it has awesome trails (some wide, some narrow) twisting all the way up and around the hills.  Basically it's extremely horse friendly and all the dogs/chickens/teenagers that lurk in the shadows are used to horses passing by and tend not to behave like idiots. 

So when the weather was crisp but clear when I arrived for my lesson this am, S suggested we bag the transition drills and go do some hill work on the trail. 


I opted to put Prairie in jump tack (with martingale and extra brakes in the mouth) just in case she was a little... distracted.  S had ventured up one of the hills with her on Sunday with no drama so my anxious mind was at east, but this time we wouldn't have a stalwart trail veteran with us.  Just Prairie and another trail-green-bean to freak each other out and no one to take the lead.

Turns out it wasn't an issue.  Prairie was perfectly willing to blaze the trail (literally, since said trail was hidden under a colorful layer of fall leaves...) and aside from snorting and blowing like a dragon for the first 20 minutes she totally held it together.
Prairie was just as confused as I was as to where the trail actually went...
 We had a few moments where she had to stop and snort at an offensive stump or fencepost.  But she eventually went past everything without much drama. 

The really cool part is that this trail system is all hills all the time and at first I nearly thought the mare was lame, but then S helpfully pointed out that she wasn't lame, she was just lifting her back and really pushing from behind.

ohhhhhh.  So that's what that feels like.... neat.

We turned around after about 30 minutes and although I was nervous about descending the crazy hills that we had already clambered up, Prairie was oddly mindful about sitting back and carefully picking her way down the muddy slopes.  I was shocked that I could basically give Prairie her head and let her pick her own way down.  If I were a betting woman I would have put good money down guessing that the mare would be a loon and skid/scramble/run down without much head for footing or her limbs...

So I was quite pleased when our entire ride back home was just as careful (if a touch faster) as our ride out. 

It also didn't hurt that the weather was gorgeous, the forest was beautiful and a total break from our normal routine.

When we got back to the farm I popped into the arena for a few transitions to test her focus.  She went right to work and I called it a day after only a few minutes of serpentines. 

So fun.  Maybe she'll be able to keep up with Pia on the trail after all....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Three Days to P!

Countdown is officially on.  Miss Pia makes her way back "home" on Saturday and I'm totally excited.

It sounds like things are going really, really well over in Summer Camp and she's even behaved herself for other riders! In fact, she's been moving so well and so happily that she's *gasp* actually working on fitness! Which is more than I can say for her estranged mother (as I shove a scone in my mouth)....
oh heeeeeeeeyyyyyyy!
The plan is that both Cowboy Man and my Vet will be at my home barn on Saturday, along with one of Pia's buddies from the herd for some social/mental support. We'll have time to discuss our current facilities and how to establish a routine that will hopefully prevent too much regression, but then I think we'll head out for a trail ride and see how the little missy does.  Both girls will also get a nice hoof/body evaluation so we can see how things are progressing.

Sunday, we'll wash, rinse, repeat and then we'll be left to our own devices.

I am trying to plan a fairly immediate field trip back to Summer Camp so that I can see how well Pia is doing in that environment and also to give her a mental "pause" with something that's familiar and established.  Not to mention that I still want to make a regular habit of getting both girls out there and out of the arena to explore.

My one year anniversary with P2 is sneaking up on me and I swore that I would give her at least one month a year off from our regular training to just be a horse (ideally at Summer Camp) which means I should probably start thinking about when that might be...

But first things first! and first P's first! she's baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaackkkkk  (or will be soon)


Monday, November 5, 2012

An Ass Kicking, Whales & Some Well Deserved Wine

I have been totally remiss in writing about my Wednesday field trip to lesson with a new trainer - but I've had plenty of time to think about it, and slowly recover from the physical ramifications of a 90 minute lesson with one walk break.


I may have exhausted all of my pondering and pontificating over the weekend while I stared at the Pacific Ocean for a good 72 hours non stop.  There's something about pounding surf that just puts my body into some sort of hypnotized state while allowing my brain to think quietly (assisted by a regular drip of good red wine).
I don't think I put that glass down in two days... but it was wonderful...
 My weekend sojourn to Sea Ranch was a fabulous weekend, filled with fabulous friends and more humpback whales than I could count, but the lack of any sort of horsey sounding board meant that the digestion of my Wednesday trip and lesson had to be mostly internal, wine addled, and therefore moderately discombobulated.
This picture has nothing to do with anything aside from showing how seriously we take our yoga (cliffside), but it was pretty darn cool to watch the whales migrating just off the shore while we in theory relaxed and strengthened our bodies...
The short summary of our lesson with Nancy is "amazing" and "ow."  And I'm pretty sure Prairie would use those same terms if she could.

Nancy runs a very well respected program and somehow manages to be a wildly effective rider, wickedly charming and charismatic, well dressed and also the mother of very active 3 year old twins.  As I sit here drinking my 8th cup of coffee and still struggling with basic sentence structure that sort of list makes me feel tired, incapable, and slow.

But back to the lesson -  I started by watching S take a lesson on Poppy, the lovely Holsteiner who is lovely and stunning when she's going forward, but a botched attempt at a young dressage career has left her surly and unwilling to seek contact or even really move forward. 

S worked her ass off and Nancy coached them through a very successful lesson focusing primarily on the hissy fit that tends to ensue during canter transitions.  By the end of the lesson, S was getting balanced, through, relaxed transitions where Poppy had previously liked to be a twit.  Oh, and both student and instructor were smiling (a feature I value highly).

Then it was my turn.  I opted to put Prairie's "show" bit in (the corkscrew D) since I wasn't sure how things would go over, and I was glad to have the extra brakes for the first few minutes, but after that I think we would have been just fine in our regular snaffle.  That was an encouraging realization.  Next time we go, we won't bit up. 

While S and Nancy talked and cooled out, I wandered Prairie all over the ring.  Small jumps were set including a few natural logs and piles of poles which I kept walking Prairie over to get her looking, touching and thinking a little bit.  I drew some raised eyebrows from the locals, but it proved to be a good calming start for Prair in an unfamiliar place.

Then we started the real work.  After I explained a bit of our history and struggles and successes Nancy just sent me out at the trot and asked me to show her our "regular" working trot.  She then promptly removed my nubs of spurs and sent me back out telling me to slow Prairie down and not let her pull herself around with momentum. 

The whole notion of "deliberate" vs "momentum" was a theme for the lesson.  In an attempt to achieve engagement and impulsion - I tend to let Prairie move out in a pretty big trot.  In turn, Prairie is very comfortable in a bigger trot and does a really fabulous job of making it look decent even if she's moderately hollow and backed off the contact. 

That was immediately identified as a "major issue" and the primary focus of our time together.  To get away from the momentum and start moving toward a better balance, lifted back and true impulsion, Nancy started making us work.  Hard. 

The first thing she wanted was more leg.  But not more spur.  She said that she thought my spur was pushing Prairie too forward and then in turn causing me to take my leg off which removed the support that Prairie needs in order for me to help show her how to control her caboose (ring ring!). 

First we started some tight serpentines up and down the arena, with 10m circles whenever I lost Prair's shoulders or haunches... Then we moved to haunches-in down the long side in one direction and a half pass to the quarterline coming back up the other.  Prairie did great, but I needed constant reminders not to just "drop" her when we straightened out, or I was trying to reward correct steps. 

Nancy also noticed that while it's really easy for Prairie to fly sideways and offer lots of cross over, she has a harder time moving laterally at a shallow angle and really reaching up and then over with her outside hind (assuming haunches-in or half pass).  Specifically her left hind (which not so randomly is the complimentary corner to her always a bit tighter right shoulder...).

We drilled the exercise both directions until literally both my legs and Prairie's butt were about to fall off.  But it was some of the most productive, effective work we've done in a long time.  Aside from exhaustion it was clear that Prairie was really having to use her back and consequently her contact in the bridle was more even and consistent which was neato-burrito. 

We spend the rest of the lesson on transitions.  Revising the work I had done with Sabrina and really slowing our trot before popping into the canter and visualizing the balance point were Prairie can just step into the transition instead of bobbling into it.  We nailed it to the right.  It only took a few minutes to get the transitions consistent and moderately relaxed.  But toward the end Prairie swapped her hinds twice for no real reason that I could tell aside from either soreness or weakness. 

If you recall- she did the same thing in our Eq class on the flat at the first Hunter show back in September.  At that point she had jumped several courses and was on minute 22 of flat class gait work... so maybe exhaustion played a factor there too?

But of course with the rein lameness and potential stress on that "diagonal limb" (left hind) my little antenna went up and got nervous. 

Our left lead was much harder and after 15 minutes we had still only gotten 4 good transitions.  But man, when we got them they were lovely.  Nancy also held me to a really high standard on the quality of the canter, so we made a point of transitioning back to the trot before things fell apart.

And holy lord - when I managed to eek out a downward transition when the canter was still awesome we would get 3-5 strides of soft, balanced, amazing trot that made me want to hit PAUSE and just sit there forever.

Long story short, it was exhausting, but really productive.  We got some very high quality work done and Prairie really put on her game face.  I don't know when our next trip back will be but I'm eager to make this at least a twice a month venture for us for a little while.  I think it might be the best "dressage" lesson I've ever had - even if it came from a H/J lady :)

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