Thursday, September 10, 2015

Penn's First Lesson

Ok guys, I am constantly impressed by Penn. He is so smart and quiet. Even his baby moments aren't that bad. I just can't get over how confident he is in the world even though he hasn't seen much of it. He takes new things in stride for the most part.

Aside from needing more dressage training, I've learned the following:

1. He knows how to ground tie fairly well. I don't trust him to stay, but I can put him in the aisle and grab his bridle from the tack room a few feet away, or I can set him outside and he doesn't try to walk away or eat grass while I'm washing him or tacking him up (this was helpful when I couldn't tie him to my trailer when we went XC schooling).

2. He is not keen on cross ties, but he's getting better. He hasn't broken out since the first week he was here. I spent a week ground tying him, then I used one cross tie (tied with baling twine to the wall) and his lead rope looped through the ring on the wall for the other (NOT tied to the ring). I'm putting the end of the lead rope through the ring, then wrapping it loosely back on itself so it offers resistance if he moves his head against it, but if he were to lose his shit, it would give. I'm not confident enough in him to use two ties right now, but we have time.

3. He doesn't like being sprayed with the hose at first, however if you spray his mouth, he drinks and then plays mouthy games with the water, quiets down, and you can spray him everywhere and he doesn't move an inch. Even in the face. He closes his eyes and turns his ears back, but puts his face down and into it. He doesn't understand sponge baths though, haha.

4. He seems to really enjoy being ridden and going to work. He's very agreeable under saddle for the most part. No calling to other horses, not too many shenanigans, just baby mistakes. He tries very hard to do what I want, and he doesn't say no.

5. He has a date with a creek and/or river. He does NOT like water or soft footing. At all. That needs to be rectified IMMEDIATELY since I don't have an indoor and I'd rather fix it on my own terms. But to do that, it needs to rain so our river trail puddles properly. And it hasn't since before Mikey died, over a month ago (edit: it rained a good bit as I wrote this post, so maybe I can get a lesson down on the trail this weekend- this particular vice I'm not willing to take on alone)

6. His only other major riding issue is the mounting block and being quiet up at the barn while mounted. He'll walk up to our huge block, side step behind, I tap him back over with the whip then he stands solid until I get on and ask him to walk on. At that point, he almost panics and becomes a nervous speed demon. I tried walking him around the driveway, the yard in front and behind the barn, near the trailers, and he just about loses his shit. As soon as I get him on the road for a trail ride or to go walk to the outdoor, he settles immediately. He's going to have a day where all we do it walk and trot laps around the barn and between the trailers until he's quiet. Then I'll get off, go back to the mounting block, get on, and repeat.

7. He oozes confidence under saddle. Yes, he has baby moments where he's trying to spook, fling backwards, or shy away, but he's either doing that or confidently striding forward. He understands that the whip means move forward. One light tap is all it takes. He is game to try almost anything. I am so impressed that he can lead trail rides when he's only been ridden outside for a few weeks. I don't know if this is because I've pushed him to find a forward button and he has confidence in me, or if he's just naturally confident. I've been very careful not to put him in any situation that would damage his confidence. He's meek in the field and gets bossed around by the other horses. He cantered up to me the other night when I called for him (yes, he's awesome and comes when called), and of course the other horses came with him and tried to chase him away, but he held his ground near me and I scared them off. I can play that game- I can protect him from other horses. I did that for Mikey too until Mikey was confident enough to chase other horses away from me. So I'm going to call it that I give him confidence.

Probably the least photogenic picture I have of him. He totally did not understand that I wanted him to stop on the road and look pretty for a picture.
He had quite a bit of time off Labor Day weekend- we had scattered storms Thursday evening (none of which hit my house or the barn so I skipped riding for nothing), then I was away all weekend in Philly with my in-laws at the Temple vs PSU game (come on Penn State! You can play better than that!). I was away Friday - late Sunday. It was fun to hang out with family and see my Alma Mater play, even if we lost. It occurred to me that I now have a horse called "Penn" who I dress in PSU's blue and white (and black). Sigh, haha.

"What's over there?"
Monday I had my first lesson with him! Trainer and I agreed on half hour lessons every two weeks or so. I don't need to be babysat with him, and he's not naughty so I don't need someone watching me to make sure I don't kill myself. I do want direction and checks on my work, but I need the time in between lessons to get the work done. Everyone is pretty cool with the arrangement- over the winter when Shea just arrived and Trainer didn't have a lot of extra time, I would ride her and work on improving the quality of her trot. Trainer didn't ride her for a week, but I did ride her several times in that week, and when Trainer got back on her she was impressed at the progress Shea had made. I'm confident I can teach Penn what he needs to know on my own, so we're going to do every other week for now.

I told her how he was just sucking up everything I had to teach him- classic "your horse is a sponge" type stuff. He retains a lot of information from each of our rides and is getting better with every ride.

I also told her I'm having trouble riding him like he's a green bean. I keep burying him in the corners like I'm riding a 3rd level test. I went from extremely well schooled to not schooled at all. He lets me get him in the corners that deep because he's so happy to bend his spine, so I find it quite natural to put him that deep since he allows it, but I end up making him trip over himself because he's not ready to do that.

She remarked that he's so flexible in his back/legs/joints that he moves like a model (leg crosses in front of the other leg as the model walks forward) and he just flicks his legs around (not in a good way) so he doesn't keep to two tracks and ends up interfering a lot.

He also has a case of the "roosters". Now this won't make sense to anyone but us, but I'll try to explain: There is a mastiff puppy on the farm named Rooster who is about 10 months old. He is almost 3' tall at the shoulder, is very lean still, and is all leg and noodle back and butt. When he walks, his back swings and is bent like an S. Basically, Penn moves the same way. He has so much movement going through his back and legs with every step that he's constantly tripping over and stepping on himself. That's why we were slowing him down first and asking him to take bigger slower steps. Now we need to add some "starch" to his back. Where Mikey was a 2x4 down his back and we had trouble finding bend, Penn is a pool noodle and can't find straight.

She said to take out a lot of the inside leg to outside rein half halts and make them left to left and right to right instead. She said if you want to ride a 20m circle, ride a 20m octagon instead. Straight lines only for this guy for a while, and even then, break them up a bit. Oh, and lots of trail riding. Endless trails.

Here's some of the exercises we worked on in pictures. As we worked through them, she had me give and soften my elbows a bit when I could to help Penn learn to lengthen his neck.

So the first one is simply how to ride the corners. Ride a 45 degree line from the long side to the quarterline of the short side. That will keep us out of the corner and allow us to remain straight.

The second one is how to ride an octagon at each end of the arena and in the middle, as well as how to make the octagon into a flat sided serpentine.

The third is supposed to be a triangle with flat corners. The goal is to ride the each triangle each direction, and once more proficient, offers a suggestion on how to use it to change directions.

The fourth is a modified shallow loop. Ride the shallow loop (to X or near X, rider choice), or hook the two loops together to make a change of rein across the diagonal. Add two more flat straight lines (one on each quarterline) to make a change of rein on the diagonal more interesting.

Penn was so good- the triangle to opposite triangle really threw him for a loop and he decided he really needed to pay attention to what I was asking him to do. He tends to carry left bend no matter what, so tracking right, I need to make sure we still have right bend even though that's not what we're going for at the moment. When I asked for the change left to right, he really had to change his bend and listen.

While we're doing all this work, the goal is to: 1- simply get his front legs and hind legs working independently. Now that doesn't make much sense, does it? It's all about flexibility in between the legs. For example: A horse that seems to have both hind legs "coming out of the same hole" in canter will almost seem to bring both hind legs forward and back at the same time. It's a weak motion and the horse won't be engaging his hind end. And 2- keep the right legs on the right side of his body, and the left legs on the left side so he travels in two tracks instead of trying to cross his legs to make turns.

When he hit his two tracks and traveled straight, that boy has power!! He can only hold it for a few steps before it goes kaput, but holy cow, the power is there. Power that took Mikey until 3rd level this year to find. It blows my mind how the work comes that much easier for Penn.

By the end, he was finding a much steadier tempo that he held on his own (until he got tired and rushed), better float, better connection to the bridle, and a general throughness from his poll to his tail. Really filling in right in front of the whithers. Very good boy!

Lesson lasted just under a half hour. We went back up to the barn and met up with my weekend trail ride date, and went for another half hour walk on very gentle trails. Poor Penn, he was so tired! But I think it's good for baby horses to be tired (not sore!). He's not being run into the ground- his normal work day is 20-30 min of ring work or 30-50 min of trail ride, and he's ridden a max of 5x/week. Monday just happened to have both.

No worries, he perked up considerably when I pulled out the mints.

Time for a cat interruption! Penny and Sophie are becoming quite the pair. They're usually near each other in the house now and have no problem sleeping on me at the same time.
I rode again Tuesday even though I had a migraine from coughing like I smoke a pack a day (I don't). I rode until I felt like puking, and then called it a day. I tried to replicate lesson, but Penn had a little more on his mind than he did on Monday and wasn't quite as "on" as he was the day before. No matter, he was still good, and it was his first time down to the outdoor arena without other horses or a ground person. I'm sure he was a bit sore from our work the day before too. He had Wednesday off, and I'm going to attempt to get out tonight to ride!

Good Penn. Time to go back to the barn before I puke on your pretty neck.

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