Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Weekend Focus on Connection

So way back in November, GP Trainer told me not to worry about Penn not being round at the moment. As long as he felt like if I pushed for it, I could make him connect again, it was OK.

We've finally gotten to a place in the trot where I don't feel that way, and in fact, the trot is kind of a traveling shit show. After several frustrating rides where he would not bend or connect or go forward in a constructive manner at the trot (aka if I put leg on he was just going to speed off and not try to meet the bridle), I decided to pull out the long lines.

I love double lunging. I have a feel of both sides of the horse's mouth and so can apply independent half halts, and I can't hold up the horse or get off balance myself and impede the horse.

That time I got to the barn and the lights were on, then I got out of my car and the power went out.
I tried to work the horse anyway since it took me an hour to get to the barn that night. Penn  was not amused and was extremely bothered by cell phone light and spotlights.

Saturday I broke out the lines and hooked him up, but with one addition: I tied a polo wrap to his surcingle and looped it loosely under his butt, right above his hocks. I hate putting the outside line under his butt because his own leg action interferes with my feel of the outside rein, and the line inevitably ends up creeping up his butt and getting stuck under his dock, which will rub him raw if I let it stay there. What I do love about the outside line under the butt is that it helps remind him to tuck his hocks under himself. Polo wrap to the rescue!

I hate the pessoa lunging system because it ties the horse's mouth to his hocks. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I'm making my own.
Also, he's been working without boots because the first time I didn't use them (because muddy horse and lazy human), he kept getting upset that he was interfering, so no more boots for you for a while!

He started out doing his shit show trot- using the under neck to power around while being on the forehand. I had some success to the left in getting him to use his topline again by sending him forward with the whip (I broke out an actual lunge whip instead of a long dressage whip like I normally use), and then giving him some good half halts with the outside rein and working the bit with the inside. I wasn't fully happy with the progress, but I was at a bit of a loss of what to do because I did not want to further open the can of worms, and he had improved slightly.

I swapped to the right where Penn promptly moved uphill and met the bridle and used his whole topline. Well then. I let him carry on to the right just trotting and moving forward and establishing a good rhythm. I was able to fiddle with getting him more uphill with the whip and applying good half halts to take that forward and sit him down with it. The canter was much better than it was last time I double lunged him. However, he is still weak in it and can't hold it for more than a circle, and that's with a lot of support from me (timing my steps with his strides and the whip to encourage him to keep trying). One neat thing about the right lead canter was the jump he had in the inside hind that the left lead canter was severely lacking. I had him do several trot-canter-trot's before returning to the left.

This time to the left, Penn was more pliable and willing to meet the bridle. I got his upper neck muscles crunching through to his whither- I had trouble getting him to use the very base of the upper neck the first time I took him left. He did a lot of super work- taking nice big trot steps that had some suspension, and really making an effort to sit down and be uphill when I'd push him more forward and apply a big half halt. His canter left can carry on for longer than the right, but that is because he wants to lean in and over the left shoulder instead of sitting and using his hind end. This is where the polo really helped- it reminded him from the beginning to keep his butt under him and I didn't have to chase him so much, just support him. Mega halt halts with matching forward would get him to sit and stand up straight in the left canter for about 2-3 strides before he'd fall apart and/or trot. Totally cool though, we finished with a better-than-we-started canter that I had him keep for a half circle and then trot when I cued him.

Very pleased with the pony.

Really not representative of the work he did. I was having trouble managing the lines and phone and being effective with either. But you can see the meh frame he wanted to carry at the start of our work to the left.

That double lunge work was incredible in helping create the horse I got to ride Sunday and Monday. We were able to work outside (yay! I can push a few more buttons out there since it's bigger), and I learned a couple things:

  • Penn is getting very very sensitive and in-tune with me. I absolutely cannot ask loudly when he is this in-tune. More on that later/throughout.
  • He gets stuck in the front end. Especially in the walk. When he wants to jig or anticipate, I need to focus on making his front feet take bigger steps. By focusing on the front feet, I wasn't throwing him away or stretching him like I have been when he gets jiggy in the walk, I was able to make something constructive faster without straying too far from what I wanted.
  • Post the trot to start, focusing on making it very round and connected to my elbow. It has a low hand feeling with weighted elbows that tug on the collarbone. Maintain the sitting up to create some uphill (I have trouble creating the desired uphill when not in sitting trot). Put some 10m circles into this work to get him bending.
  • Sitting the trot means sucking my belly button into my spine, filling in the hollow that wants to be in my lower back, yet still keeping my shoulders up and back while simultaneously tucking my butt under me. I used to watch a lot of America's Next Top Model. I call this move: the model slouch, but with shoulders up and back. If my abs are burning, I'm doing it right.
  • Speaking of sitting the trot, if I want any lateral moves at all, sitting in the above position is not optional. Otherwise I jam my seatbones into Penn, which makes him hollow because he just can't bring his back up and do the movement.
  • YOU MUST FOLLOW THE CANTER WITH YOUR ELBOWS. This is not optional. When you don't, and ask the horse to go from collected canter to medium, he bucks. Bring the hands up a hair more than in the trot, and use that to force the elbow to follow. It also counteracts Penn's want to go downhill when he's quite round.
The horse I had for both rides was soft (but spooky because it's still Penn and we have to spook at inanimate objects), and man was his back UP. Sunday's canter work was a struggle for me because he was pushing me out of the saddle and I couldn't work out how to get myself back in the saddle.

I finally put together the trot work from 2-3 and 3-1 on Monday: shoulder in to 10m to haunches in and shoulder in to 10m half circle to half pass. As long as I remember the sitting trot rules, he does not shut down and he stays soft and tries very hard. I was really happy with this work. It all still needs to be better, but he made big efforts to try.

It needs to stop raining. The outdoor ring held up well, but my yard (and the fields) are not.
I bought a chest freezer off of craigslist Saturday, and we couldn't get the truck out of it's space (yes, we tried 4WD and the truck went sideways down the slight grade into the neighbor's bushes). We ended up using Husband's Camaro to pull the truck out. Not the intended use of a Camaro!

His 3 loop serpentines on Sunday were wonderful to ride. I got to thinking I was over schooling the counter canter (or schooling it into submission as GP Trainer said you need to do for 2-3), and I was concerned that he may not do flying changes, so I worked on simple changes Monday (I am not touching the flying changes until the show Feb 5). Umm, he has not forgotten how to change leads. I asked too hard for a right to left simple change and he was so quick to pick it up, and lifted his shoulders so much, then kicked out with his left hind. Sorry man, I'll learn one of these days.

After jazzing up the simple changes, I spent a bit of time working on quiet canter-walk-canters on a circle, no simple changes. I was over cuing the new lead, and he was responding by trying to put his head between his knees in the canter (very bad now that he's bucked a few times). I did lose a little of the prompt upward transition though- he'd take a trot step into the canter.

I turned him out and he hung out at the gate for face scritches and cuddles.

Penn bucking through a collected canter-medium canter transition finally made me find my seat in the canter, sit up, and follow with my elbows. After that, he happily transitioned between collected and medium and collected (mind you he still has trouble holding collected), and I found a nice uphill left lead canter, with a very clear 3 beats. I felt like a noob pumping my arms at him, but I have a feeling I wasn't moving all that much. I generally stop moving altogether, so any motion is going to feel like a lot of motion. I used a 10m circle to get a prompt canter-walk and let him be done.

I had a super foamy mouthed horse at the end of my Sunday and Monday rides, and I was very pleased with the work he offered because he was just so connected throughout it all. I need to get my act in gear pretty quickly though- he's going to put me in the dirt if I keep getting him sensitive and tuned in, yet keep over cuing and then blocking him.

"Hiiiiiii, more scratches please!"

This weekend was the first time I thought, "The show in 3 weeks might actually go well." That thought was quickly followed up with, "Or it might be a shit show. You know, one or the other."


  1. I do so many of these things! I'm so bad about holding tension in my lower back because it arches.

    I'll keep my fingers crossed for the awesomeness for the show :)

    1. I know none of those realizations are new to me, but they are excellent reminders! I'm keeping my fingers crossed too.

  2. I have been working on sitting the trot more with Ruby and I laughed at "If my abs are burning, I'm doing it right."

    I'm probably still not doing it 'right', but it sure does make my abs burn! Haha.

    Here's hoping your show is a smashing success!

    1. I've found if I'm getting sore, it's probably right (unless it's my arms falling off, that's probably not good!). I hope it's a success too!

  3. Ugh. Hate the pessoa too. I have no idea who would look at a horse and say 'let's connect his mouth to his butt!'

    1. I guess the reasoning is that the hind leg action keeps the bit moving in the horse's mouth, and if they do something wonky (kicking out or not staying under themselves) they punish themselves. But the amount of motion any of that does is so much more than any hand motion. I just hate it.

  4. That polo wrap behind the butt when long lining is GEINUS! Love all your positional notes too -helpful stuff!

    1. I really liked the idea, I saw it on Facebook and wanted to give it a try!

  5. Ugh, following with elbows. I need to emblazon that on Taran's neck. IT'S SO HARD!

    1. Ear bonnet that says "elbows!" on one ear and another phase of choice on the other?

  6. Lol! One or the other. It's so funny that we work hard to get the horse better and better and better, and the next thing you know we're the sucky ones in the relationship! Eek! :)

    Btw. My old trainer's trainer came up with this weird thing: It's basically what you're talking about. Easy to make with a length of rope and some basic skills.

    1. The show will be a success if I keep my act together and don't forget to ride while in public, haha. So def, one or the other. He's not going to be the failure in this venture! But it is funny how once the horse gets knowledge, we become the crappy one in the relationship! To be honest, I thought Penn was channeling his inner red headed thoroughbred when I was doing it wrong, haha!

      That system looks so neat! I saw something similar rigged up with polos on Facebook. I'll be looking up some more pics of it and seeing if I can find some cotton rope and make my own!

  7. Penn just has the sweetest face! Awesome that the long lines worked so well for you too. Can't wait to see how the show goes!

    1. Sometimes he gets super cuddly when I turn him out... and then I spend like ten min cuddling him over the gate, haha. I love the lines, they let me remove me from the equation.