Thursday, February 18, 2016

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Penn wore this sheet for one day and this happened. *facepalm*

Between work and cold and frustration, I didn't really plan on doing any ride recaps. Penn's jumpy contact frustrates me and makes me think he's regressing. In the past, I have tried: More aggressive riding- which led to him getting really nervous. Less aggressive riding which I'm pretty sure I took as "ride like a passive lump and stop moving with the horse or doing anything at all to help him in any way." I tried riding outside the other weekend- he spooked hard at the dog 20 feet away and kept ducking behind the contact which made him feel like a bomb. I tried making the work more complicated, "fine, if you think this 20m circle is boring, let's leg yield and lengthen and shoulder in and 10-15m circle and... and... and..." That one worked halfway decently.

Oh! And he had his teeth done, and nothing was overly amiss. So we can now safely rule out teeth troubles. He was a bit better after having them done though.

One of my rides last week, he was having none of the leg yield work. I eventually changed it to shoulder in down the long wall, lengthen the trot across the diagonal, repeat. I changed shoulder in to the leg yield zig zag from 1-3. He really responded to that- it seems the lateral work mixed with a forward moment kept his brain working. That same day we did a mix of 1-2 and 1-3 canter work - canter at A, 15m circle early on the long wall (I ride in a small arena so I just went far enough down to get a 15m circle that wasn't in the corner), then lengthen the canter down the long wall, collect well before the corner, across the next diagonal, and then either simple change over X or trot at X and have the next lead by the time we got to the wall, repeat. His brain totally clicked on when I asked for more canter. He was like, "Wheee! Fun!"

So I think mixing up the forward and come back is going to be key for him.

"Hi, my name is Penn and this is my friend Fiction."

"I enjoy licking him and pulling his clothes."
Yupp, I stood there and watched Penn lick Fiction's neck.
I am so glad he found a friend that tolerates his ridiculousness.
In all fairness, Fiction likes to take off Penn's hood, so it goes both ways!

This past Monday I was messing around with the idea of giving him more to do, so I worked's Karen's figure 8 bending exercise on a tight 3 loop serpentine. That gave his brain something good to think about. Or maybe it made me ride every step? Another thing I did was stand there and ask him to bend his head right and left. Man, he was on the struggle bus. I figured, if he doesn't get that he can bend his head right or left, how is he going to be ok changing his body? We now include this move in our warm up, and then do it in walk. He really struggles with it, and the worse side flip flops depending on the day.

The ride was good, then took a downturn when I opted to do some sit trot work. I decided, "Screw it all, I am going to ride you!" I have a nasty habit of locking my body when I try to "be quiet". In walk, I steadied my hand and made sure to find the nod of his head in walk before taking my inside leg and kicking him up into the bridle. He of course giraffed and tried to trot away but I insisted on walk. He eventually gave in, but got heavy. Fine- he was heavy but steady. Trot on. I insisted that yes, he must move off into trot without giraffing. Then once we were in trot he was a heavy speed demon. I took a good hard look at my position. I was trying to tuck my butt under me, but my lower leg felt like it was water skiing in front of the girth. Looking down, sure enough, there my toes are in front of my knee. Bracing. I brought my leg back just an inch or two, enough that I found his sides with my ankles. I changed my seat from tucking (and I'm sure goosing) to that 3 point contact while letting my thigh get longer. I worked hard at absorbing the bigger trot Penn has started to develop (my abs protested so I think I got that right). I tried to keep my hands steady but loose, and I shortened my freaking reins because I realized my hands were creeping into my lap too much. Neck length comes from long arms, not long reins! After a few insisting moments, Penn became steady on the contact again, but heavy. But I had access to his body again, so yay!

I suspect this is going to be his training cycle- good contact, we ask for something a bit harder or new, it goes ok for a little while, then he'll get jumpy off the contact, then heavy yet steady, then good contact again. That's a very normal training cycle I think.

When I watched his sale videos, he was steady and heavy and I was like, PLEASE HALF HALT THE HORSE. When I test rode him, I half halted and he was like, 'why yes, I can stop laying on your hand!' Then he got a bit jumpy off the contact and Trainer got after me to 'stop being so nice to him and ride!' And then we dealt with heavy and steady, then a couple months of good work and then we made it harder again. Cycles people! Horse training is a cycle of the same thing- degrees of connection.

Penn says, "Why do you keep doing things to me?"
In my defense, his mane was trying to return to the left side of his neck. We can't have that.

I had a wonderful ride Wednesday night. I pulled out 6 poles and my cavaletti blocks and finally worked him through that stuff.

Like this, but not. Because my phone died. The right spacing for Penn? 4 lengths of the muck boot, and some extra toes.
I'm pretty good at walking the distance off, but my muck boots are a size 11, and pretty much a foot long, so when looking for 4'6" spacing... well they're kind of perfect.

I started with all poles on the ground, and walked him through several times. He does not have the best multiple pole track record: hitting every single one; tripping over the first one, attempting to jump the rest, running to get away from it all; just speeding through them as fast as he can.

After some walk work that included bend changes and walking the poles, off to trot we went. I did some more of the serpentines, and tried to insist he maintain contact. Then off we went through the poles. I can't say I didn't have falling down flashbacks and some jumping fears- Penn's past performance in this department does not inspire confidence.

He did ok- we had some crookedness and speeding, and eventually he settled into the rhythm. I tried some halts after the poles and was ignored. So he may have found the wall. I asked for rein back and he didn't want to, but grudgingly did it eventually.

I got off and changed it so the 3rd and 4th poles were raised, and the rest still on the ground. I walked him through that, and his little brain went, huh? He paid much more attention and tried to work out how best to approach them.

So you know how I don't jump anymore? There's good reason. Because my eye for distance and pace is bad as soon as you involve jumps or poles. Poor Penn. A couple times we were coming up to the poles and I panicked and tried to do too much in front of them, he tried his best to respond and tripped all over his face. Sorry buddy :-(

At this point, I had Penn's attention, but I wanted to make it harder, so I added in canter. Trot the poles, several strides out, canter. Canter large around the arena (keep the harder stuff simple, plus we were sharing the ring), come back to the quarterline and trot once we were straight, letting him balance himself and use the poles to force him to do it. That made little gears turn in his head. all of a sudden, he was a light horse in the bridle, but still connected and soft, and he suddenly had great respect for the downward transition.

He was doing so well, that instead of quitting, I opted to raise the 2nd and 5th poles (the entrance and exit pole were still on the ground, the rest were raised). I put him through those, just maintaining trot because he was tired, and he did very well. He started reading them many strides out and adjusting his step, as well as taking loftier steps before entering the poles. He stopped trying to speed through them (not that he had been, but he toned down the tempo on his own), and worked very nicely through them. I made him do them a couple times each direction, then a stretchy trot... which is probably the best stretchy trot I've ever gotten out of him. He could stretch down more, but he maintained his tempo, stretched, and didn't fall on the forehand.

Throughout our ride, his contact issues went away and stayed away, he became light and manageable, and he respected the downward transition from canter instead of dropping out of it like a stone or dragging me through it. I like this exercise for him. I'm going to try it again Friday if the poles are still out, and get the last set of poles up. Then, in a few months, I'll break them into two sections of 4 poles (because I only have 8 blocks- I need to make more!). Since he's reading the loftier step before the poles, I want to encourage that step to continue for longer outside the poles- so let's break up the poles into two sections, and then put 4 steps of trot in between sections. Then make it 6 steps. Then 8, until we're down the whole long side. I don't like putting 2 steps in between the poles themselves, only because I raise just one side of the pole, so I don't want him constantly stepping higher with just one side of his body.

Very happy with our ride. Penn was tired! I don't think I've worn him out since I've been at winter barn (wear out in a good, relaxed way). I need to make sure I keep cavalettis happening once a week!


  1. I love cavalettis! I feel your pain on the contact issues.

    1. Since I just built my own over the summer, I didn't have a lot of experience to go on for more than 4 poles or 2-3 raised ones. I just never have had access like I do now! I love doing ranges of more than 4- it's enough to keep the horse thinking and both Penn and Mikey got wise to them very quickly. Mikey improved so much in a few rides working through them, so I'm hopeful Penn does as well.

  2. Oh man, I do those same bending exercises with Taran at the beginning of the ride. He's just so stiff in his poll and neck, he gets sort of stuck going one way or the other and can't change up. It's getting better, but those bending exercises at the beginning of the ride seem to help some.

    1. When I have Penn patched, the patches end up focusing near the poll. I should probably have the patch lady out again, but she's $60 and as much as I love having him done, I had some other bills this month (ie the dental work was stupid expensive)

  3. interesting that it made such a positive difference in his contact issues! i love cavaletti exercises.... just need to figure out how to get my horse to *trot* them instead of jump haha

    1. Haha, getting Penn to trot them was interesting. He totally didn't get it. Biggest thing I can suggest is to maintain your posting trot, no matter what!