Friday, June 5, 2015

Ups and Downs

Happy trail riding.
So I had this big long post of how my rides have been, but I'm going to scrap it for things I learned in the last three weeks:

1. Don't come to ride with an agenda.
2. Don't come to ride with an agenda AND when feeling moody.
3. Spend 10 minutes walking Mikey in warm up. No exceptions.
4. Mix it up- not just go hacking and ring work. Ring work needs to get mixed up too.
5. Long lining really helps when Mikey is feeling like having a discussion.
6. Mikey needs his hind shoes back

About three weeks ago, Mikey went from being super to lead flip flopping to the right, refusing to do trot/canter circles right, looking left when bending right (no matter how hard I sunk my right spur into him and did give and take on the right rein), not able to canter an entire lap around the outdoor to the right since he was fighting me, and in general being a snot face brat to the right. The solution ended up being find more forward with more activity from the hind legs, more jump in the canter, and a deeper connection. Plus some long lining revenge.

I found that days I came to ride and wanted to work on something specific, Mikey changed my plans quickly and I had trouble working the basics. Mikey started evading pretty hard to the right, to the point where I couldn't ride a circle to the right in canter. He'd come across the centerline and lunge forward and drag me to the left, like he does when he evades through a flying change.

The first thing I did was swap his bit from his eggbutt mullen mouth to his french link loose ring bradoon. He tends to lean on the mullen mouth if he's going to be naughty, and he was grabbing the bit and pulling me around. The first time he tried grabbing his bradoon, it flexed in his mouth and I had control back. He was very displeased.

The next thing I did was pay attention to what my hips were doing. I had a lesson last year where I thought my right hip was engaged to bend right, when in reality I was sinking my left into him. It was completely frustrating. Mikey had gotten a couple tune up rides from my trainer, so it was quite obvious to me that my hips were not cooperating with my brain and he was so sensitive to the proper cues that I was shooting him off one direction or another. So in the past two weeks, I rode around to the right with my upper body turned to the inside as if I was going to circle because that forces me to engage the proper parts of my leg and seat for right bend. I have to ride that exaggerated right now to make sure I'm not inadvertantly telling Mikey something I don't want (ie, him flip floping his lead in a weird half flying change on the long sides... since we're also having a look left when tracking right problem too).

So as everything falls apart, I got pissed, he got upset, I shortened his neck because of the amount of evading he was doing, he carried a ton of tension. Receipe for success right?

My trainer came down to teach a lesson at one point two weeks ago while I was down there struggling. She pointed out his short neck and said go back to pushing him down into the bridle and make a deep connection to fully engage in front of his shoulders. That let us get around the arena in canter.

I did two long long sessions with him- the first one was two Sundays back. It did a good job correcting his drifting out to the right and ignoring me. He can get away from me when I'm sitting on him, but he can't when I'm on the ground. He had a major tantrum, then worked beautifully.

Revenge is a dish best served from the ground.
My trainer suggested to work him deep down in the canter, big time half halts to bring him up (like 10m canter circle half halts) for several strides and then stretch him back down, repeating the pattern multiple times in one lap of the arena. The goal being to make him comfortable with anywhere I put him, and make the changes in balance happen within two strides, no fumbling. Doing that really helped, and I had a floppy eared relaxed horse for the last week of May.

I used a half vacation day to come out and ride him. We had a good ride on a lovely day!
Last Saturday, I had gone to be a groom for my trainer for xc schooling, and when we got back the weather was turning to crud rather quickly, so I tried to squeeze in a ride. I skipped most of the deep relaxed walk work that puts him in a good state of mind and he spent the rest of the ride wanting to discuss everything. I was so angry. I ended up quitting on an ok note and took him for a walk through the woods with one of the ladies. I decided he needed to do his hack in a connected frame. He turned that into being a spooky bastard and chomping on the bit like he was going to chew it in half.

A student hopping down a bank. She has a neurotic thoroughbred who was quite the gentleman that day. They hopped around Training/Prelim fences without a batting an eye! He's for sale, by the way.
The second long line session was the next day and we spent most of it having flying backwards tantrums when I asked him to move forward into the bridle, and wouldn't let him drift left or turn left when he completly lost his shit. He finished on an ok note, which was good enough for me because we were both being eaten alive by horseflies. He did a two-a-day that day: 30 min of long lining then a 40 min trail ride about an hour later. Some of the ladies don't know the trails very well and want to go out on easy loops, so I've been taking them out every weekend. It's good for them, and for Mikey and me.

More happy trail riding from about 3 weeks ago.
I spent a large portion of this past week avoiding riding him.

I made homemade apple turnovers one night instead of riding my horse.
I finally went back on Wednesday and had an ok ride. Nothing bad, but nothing spectacular. My trainer had left 4 half crossrails (alternating low sides) set at bounce distances at X, across the short side, with some flower boxes set on the edges. The half cross rails were much too high to encourage Mikey to step over them if I went straight through all four (he'd jump, which is a strict no no for him now), so I made up my own pattern linking the lower end of the two middle rails together as we went across the diagonal. Mikey thought that was a hoot and suddenly became very straight (which is the only way to hit the low end of each pole when moving diagonally through a grid meant to be jumped straight on) and responsive and pliable.

I added in some 10-15m looping turns to be able to mix the flower boxes into our little pattern. We had a good time. I did a little canter each way, and he didn't try anything dumb. Any mistakes he made were quite obviously mine and instantly forgiven. He was a bit guarded about his hind end, which makes my trainer and I think he needs his hind shoes back (he's been tender footed behind out on the trail as well when we need to walk on gravely type surfaces).

Horses that might be bad get to carry their long lining equipment down to the arena.
I rode again yesterday, and we infringed on a lesson with two older ladies who do basic flatwork and don't really jump much. My trainer had changed the jumps in the outdoor to be 4 jumps on the "rail"- one on each short side and long side. Each one consisted of a placing rail on each side of a vertical. She took down all the verticals for this lesson, so each one was set as 3 canter poles. Its a huge arena and I made sure the lessons had right of way, and I followed in line over the poles too.

Mikey had a blast! I spent a long time in walk getting him through, relaxed and connected, and keeping it over the poles instead of inverting. I took that into trot over the poles, keeping the same connected idea and encouraging him to keep the connection or stretch lower as he went through each set of poles. His trot work each direction was great, but I did have to let him take a break every couple laps because his hind end would start to wag and get gimpy. I'm sure it was more a strength issue than a lameness, and after the first couple breaks my trainer noted that he's really trying but really needs his hind shoes back to be comfortable.

The ladies took a break and I used that opportunity to canter the poles each direction. What fun! The poles kept him listening and tuned in to me, and I was able to get him very nicely connected between them (invert over the poles, immediately drop back into connection after with light prompting). They really got his hind end jumping and active. I mixed in a few 10-12m circle between pole sets- mostly when he'd hit the poles and start running.

Trainer commented that he seems to have just needed a change of pace in the arena, and he could use to do the pole exercise again for sure. I plan on doing it again on Sunday this weekend since I'm taking the ladies out on Saturday for our Saturday morning trail rides.

He has the day off today because we had such a productive ride yesterday. He's getting his hind shoes back on Monday! Yay! Then we'll actually have a lesson with my trainer next week for some more feedback and ideas.

Does anyone know of a good arena exercises book that is strictly polework, preferably aimed at dressage? I have '101 Jumping Exercises', '101 Dressage Exercises' and '101 Arena Exercises' already, but I'd like to buy a polework only book if it's out there.

Shiny and fat and happy.

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