Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Good Times

Not the post I intended for today...

Came home to this yesterday... neighbor's dead tree in our yard and on the house. No one was hurt. There are some holes in our roof, our air conditioner is damaged beyond repair, and our gutters will need to be replaced. At least it was a dead tree- the top seems to have broken apart on impact and mostly bounced off the roof into the yard. If it had been alive, we probably would have a tree in our kitchen and missing cats.

Yay for homeowners insurance!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ride Log: High Volitility

I'm finally done having lessons for a little while, so I'm able to jot down a ton of a few notes about my recent rides that seem to have extreme highs and lows, both within the ride and from ride to ride.

Thursday 3/16: Rough but back to work.
I wasn't feeling like riding (time change, cold, poor weather), but I hadn't ridden since lessons with GP rider and I needed to do something with Penn before the obstacle clinic. I started right off with SI/renvers/SI in walk. Penn was not pleased and lost a lot of energy. Eventually we moved on to trot and did that down each long side. He started anticipating the change, so I made the change happen later on the long side. Once I did that, the changes in bend became very smooth. After working it both directions, I went on to left lead canter. Nothing really spectacular to write home about, I just struggled with getting the correct lead (my timing was way off), but he was happy to hold the canter, but was kind of faking the sitting. I mixed in some simple changes on the diagonal but he anticipated those a small amount and they were not very crisp. The right lead work was OK, I lost a good bit of the connection and never really found it, but it's simple changes were still better than the left to right. I ended up finishing by doing tear drops on the left lead back to the wall of increasing size to get the left to right simple change to step down into walk from increasingly bigger turns. As we progressed through the canter work, his head tilt started coming back.

Wee, he's been head tilting for a long time.

Sunday 3/19: Playing with leg yield for some interesting moments.
I started with the ground work LM assigned me for homework. If I can mange to do it right, he should start thinking more about his feet and stepping under more. I didn't get the lick and chew he was giving the day before, but I did have his full (if tired) attention. I figure it certainly can't hurt and should mix nicely with GP Trainer's work.

I hopped on and walked around, trying to come up with a good warm up. LM had me do a bit of leg yielding to shift his weight onto his outside shoulder before transitions. The only thing that worries me about this is the fact we're trying to develop straightness and sit (she had me give and he lowered his neck more than I'd like). I decided to go for: we'll leg yield until you give in your jaw and poll, then straighten and do whatever I wanted to do next. I eventually turned that into bouncing him back and forth between the aids when he'd disconnect from one of my reins. I tried to make the bouncing back and forth smaller and smaller each time so that if I lost it in a test, I could bounce one step each way and have him back. Mixing that with SI/renvers/SI and he was getting to be a pretty solid walk/trot citizen. I tossed in some walk/halt/walk and a hair more forward in walk to help my timing, and he started picking up a halfway solid left lead canter. Anytime I felt him shift onto the inside shoulder (it's almost a dead feeling that makes me want to pull my left rein, and I didn't really notice until LM pointed it out), I'd think about leg yielding him back out and releasing my inside rein. I rode the inside track to give me space to actually shift out if I wanted to (I don't want to). This really made him work a bit harder and we had fewer breaks in the canter while still maintaining a slower rhythm.

I started mixing the simple changes back in: shift him on the curved line before straightening on the diagonal. Since he was off the inside shoulder, I could really sit and give my hand and leg on for some forward thinking sitting, and place the canter-walk transition ALMOST where I wanted it. I tried to pay extra attention to my timing for the walk/canter and in turn had very prompt walk/canters.

The right lead became very hoppy and easy to canter/walk, and the left lead was just less work, so on the final change I did I set him up as if I was going to canter/walk right to left, but instead of cuing walk, I asked for left lead. He gave me a lifted back, mostly through, and I'm fairly sure clean flying change and then cantered off to the left like NBD. I didn't even have to ask very hard. I gave him big pats and let him be done.

Aforementioned new rope halter than I never got a picture of.

Tuesday 3/21: Shitful everything with a side of super half pass.
The title pretty much sums up Tuesday. I am going to scrap the ground work after this ride until I can ask LM or the other lady who went with us to the clinic about it. I am getting ZERO lick and chew from the work, so I must be doing something wrong, but I really have no clue what that is. He's being respectful of my space and moving away, but if anything, he jaw is getting tighter and tighter.

Penn does have a funny lump on the right side of his neck- to be honest, it looks like an abscess from an injection, except he hasn't had any injections. It's super hard and he doesn't like when I push on it. He had something similar on his chest a few weeks ago that also had a pocket of fluid hanging between his legs, and the best we could figure was he got a tick bite. This lump is super smooth, no blood or marks, no bulls eye, but we just can't figure out what else it would be. If he's going to react like that, I'm going to have to look into those scary chemical treatments to keep the ticks off (an old COTH thread listed Ovitrol spray?)

Anyway, I'm going to chalk up the shitful ride to that bite. He fought me tooth and nail for no left bend. If the right side of his neck hurt, I can see how stretching the muscles on that side would hurt, so left bend would be terrible. I could not make him connect to my right rein and stay there for more than a step: leg yields or SI/renvers/SI. I did them all on a straight line, circle, etc. After a while he just started ignoring my left leg. Everything was very frustrating.

I tried to finish on something good and we haven't worked half pass in a while, so I pulled the SI-10m-half pass out and he was thrilled. Seriously, the horse loves doing half pass. After I got control of his shoulder so that I had some input into the line we rode, he found a new trot gear and lifted his back way up and whooshed sideways with reach and steady flow and rhythm with virtually zero cue from me. It was super fun and gave me a great place to quit.

Lump. By the end of this past weekend, it had gone down significantly.

Wednesday 3/22: Well That's Interesting
I googled "dressage head tilt" during the day because I was so frustrated by it. It's something I've never been able to fix, only create (Mikey did it too because who is the common factor here? ME), and to be perfectly honest, I don't really understand how to fix it.

I found this, a magical Jane Savoie tutorial.

Armed with a poll suppling exercise and the determination to try canter half pass (because when everything goes to shit, why not, esp since Penn seems to enjoy trot half pass), I went to the barn. I skipped ground work because I can't seem to do it right, and had to borrow half chaps because my right tall boot zipper has given up, yet again. I find it frustrating that it continues to give up 2" into zipping the boot. It didn't even have the decency to get to the meaty part of my leg. It's off to the shoemaker who can hopefully fix it yet again.

Anyway, I put Penn on the rail and worked Jane's exercise at the halt, as instructed. It made me very aware of how I hold my hands... I tend to hold them at 45 degrees, pointed in (opposite as the suppling direction in the exercise). The exercise made me put my thumbs up and really pay attention to neutral and indirect rein. Penn was happy to flex the poll right, but not happy to flex it left- he wanted to bend the neck badly. A few reps each way and I did her suppleness check. No problem, he held each flexion on his own.

I warmed up continuing Jane's exercise and halting/walking and SI/renvers/SI, and eventually moved off to trot. Penn came out swinging at the trot- a big bold trot I haven't seen in a while. He felt really super. Any time he got iffy in the bridle, I would repeat the poll suppling exercise in each direction within the trot. We ran through SI/renvers/SI, SI/10m/half pass, trot/halt/rein back/trot, and anything else I could think to do. He did it all easily and without a fuss.

Off to the canter! His left lead canter was a bit erratic in rhythm and felt a bit broken under my seat. I tried to flex his poll and he was having none of that- he quit instead. I said fine, haunches in instead. That threw him for a loop- he struggled to do it left as I struggled to not brace on him and interrupt what little rhythm he found. When I brought it around to half pass left in canter (wall to centerline), he absolutely couldn't do it. He'd break, I'd put him back together, and then try again. Each time he got a bit rounder and steadier with his feet, but he rarely got even 3 strides into the half pass before breaking... so I made him trot to finish it- no quitting.

I did the same to the right- he was able to carry that much better (go figure, that direction is stronger now). He got so good at the right canter half pass so quickly (shout out to GP Trainer for teaching me to look up, pick a line, and stick to it!) that he'd reach a point of no return on that line: we either change leads and carry on to the left or I figure out how to turn right again. So naturally, I asked him to do a flying change. The first round wasn't good- he wasn't properly set up for it because I decided to do it about 2 strides before I asked. No worries. I did the left again and a simple change back to the right. I brought him straight onto the diagonal, asked for half pass around the quarterline, asked for straight again at the next quarterline, then asked for a flying change. He answered with some huge leaping motion that caught both of us off guard. I was laughing because he gave me such a big, uphill, through answer, albeit large and leapy, and he was discombobulated because his legs were everywhere. I have no idea if he actually changed, but I gave him a pat for the effort anyway because I know there was zero buck in there. I came around and repeated the exercise and he answered this time by a since clean change (I think), and immediately wanting to collapse in the left lead. I made him lift back up and let him trot and be done.

Excellent effort all around. His canter became much more rhythmical when I applied half pass to it, even if the canter fizzled out. I really like that poll suppling exercise- it really helped put his head on straight (pun intended, lol). I'm going to continue haunches in on the rail at canter- no recognized second or third until the left lead can do haunches in/half pass.

Need this in canter.

Thursday 3/23: Quick Ride
My goal was to work the haunches in and half pass again, but I quickly realized I wasn't going to have the indoor to myself for long (the vaulters were getting ready to vault). Normally NBD, but the vaulters use so much whip cracking to keep their horse going that I find it very unproductive to ride while they're working.

I structured my ride the same as Wednesday's, but hurried through the warm up. Lesson learned. He never really settled into the work and his canter stayed a bit more erratic than usual.

By this point, I was really struggling with my leg. There's a reason I ride in tall boots- they give my leg a certain level of stiffness which gives me a base to sit on. With the cloth half chaps, I really struggled to sit the trot adequately, and I felt like I needed to lengthen my stirrups 2 or 3 holes because I was jamming my leg down and it kept creeping back up. Sitting properly in the canter? Ha!

Anyway, I had the vaulters grab a quick video that I shared in my last post, and then let Penn be done. He started anticipating the diagonals, and without the proper warm up or time to break it back down, I had to stop and let it go. I am not going to mess with his flying changes for a while- it's neat to see they're still in there, and that's good enough for now. Once he can reliably sit, I'm sure GP Trainer will tell us when we can start doing them again.

Leaping late. Still fun.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Quick Video

I have been messing with half pass and haunches-in at the canter as a way to make Penn sit on his outside hind (the inside comes up and under nicely usually it seems), and while Wednesday's work was much better than Thursday's, it's Thursday's work I have on video. Thursday's ride was a bit hurried since I was trying to get out of the ring before the vaulters came in, so Penn didn't get the warm up time he got on Wednesday.

So baby canter half pass to an expressive, leapy, and late flying change.

No worries, I'm going to stop messing with the changes since I know they're late now, and we shouldn't be doing them anyway. I'll replace them with canter walks or continue on to counter canter, or I'll plan properly and try to aim the half pass so I can 10m half circle back around. I know they should bother me since they're late, but Penn is putting 110% into them and is proud of himself when he's done.

Shallow half pass, straight, leap!

And maybe one day I'll sit up and sit down too, so Penn stops leaping :)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hi, My Name Is Dug! Er, Penn!

A while ago, erm over a year ago, Austen did a blog hop of what cartoon character was most like our horse. I didn't really have anything for it. As of February last year, I had only owned Penn for 6 months and didn't really know him all that well.

It finally came to me over the weekend after watching Penn mess with the obstacles at the clinic.

Pretty much. Just add "I love face rubs" to the end and you have Penn.
Penn's concept of personal space. Minus the licking. He prefers lipping you instead.
I've often taken him for hand walks under the guise of "I'm going to walk my puppy now."
How Penn "plays" with his "friends".
More of how Penn jumps around and plays with his friends.
He always looks so wounded when you get mad at him.
Lacks focus.
Sometimes I get a blank look from him, but he's always watching and happy.

There you have it, Penn is the fun loving, happy go lucky, very puppy-like Dug.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

3/18/2017: Desensitization and Obstacle Clinic

(warning, this is a long post!! much longer than I originally thought, but there's so much good stuff!)

A local trainer (we'll call her LM) had an obstacle desensitization clinic last Saturday. There were 7 45 min private lesson slots, then free obstacle practice after everyone had their private session.

LM used to compete actively in dressage and got her Bronze and Silver Medals, and did the whole dressage working student thing, but eventually started working for a local natural horsemanship trainer when she realized that most dressage horses don't leave the ring and they suffer mentally for it. She is filling a niche in the area of "cowboy meets dressage", much like the natural horsemanship trainer she worked for does, and doesn't actively compete in dressage anymore. I didn't realize until later that I had met her before when she came out to work with a blind hose at our barn who developed a behavioral problem last winter.

I am super slacking on my videos and pictures here because 1) I didn't think to take pics or video myself because I was too busy paying attention, and 2) I didn't want to ask a stranger to video for me (because that never works out for the video!).

I had a 4am wake up again as the clinic barn was about an hour and a half from home barn and she requested we be there before the first lesson started so we could watch and get a feel of what was expected... I am tired of waking up at 4am and then driving the trailer around. Another boarder went with me to the clinic, so at least I didn't haul alone! (she couldn't video or take pics for me because our lessons were back to back and she needed to get her own horse ready).

The horse participants:

  • A green broke Percheron/paint 4 year old mare
  • A rocky mountain trail gelding
  • A h/j OTTB mare
  • Penn (dressage)
  • Beau (basic dressage/trail riding/obstacle trail, from home barn)
  • There were two no shows- the weather Friday night was shitful and Saturday was in the 40's but rainy and had a chill that froze you to the bone.

Our private sessions were all in hand work- the riding portion was during the open ring time after everyone's private session.

The green broke mare did quite well in their private session- their in hand work focused on being able to move the shoulders, then she tackled most of the other obstacles in the ring with classic baby horse curiosity. The trail horse had the same "move the shoulders" work, but was not as confident in himself as the mare was and got through fewer of the obstacles. The OTTB again needed the same "move your shoulders" ground work, and lacked the self confidence and so got through a similar number of obstacles as the trail horse. Where any of them lacked the confidence to get through an obstacle, the obstacle was broken down into smaller and smaller pieces to give the horse confidence. There were excellent lessons in patience, when to push, and when to give the horse a chance to think and walk away.

Penn's 45-min Session:

I got a rope halter for the occasion (as we were instructed to bring one if we had it), and it arrived the day before the clinic, so I didn't have a change to use it or even try it on Penn before lesson time. I borrowed a long lead rope that usually goes with it (I didn't listen to Amazon's "other people who bought this also bought..." suggestion), and did some basic warm up lunging. Penn stayed out a lot better than I thought he would, but he was a horse on a mission- so forward and quick. We were to warm up over trot poles, a tarp, and canter poles on large carpets (like 12' by 12' squares). Penn barely reacted to the tarp and carpet- he just showed off a big bouncy reaching trot, then tried to buck and play when I asked him to canter.

This is where LM took him from me to work in hand- she said Penn has plenty of forward and moves the shoulder well (this is where the other horses got stuck), but he's quick and unyielding in the poll and jaw.

Here's what she worked on (that I wish I had thought to video because I could have used some original dialogue to fall back on when I practiced the next day on my own):

  • Do more close up work in hand to slow him down and make him focus and think. The other horses need to work on their self confidence and yielding the shoulders, and so need to spend time as far away from their human as possible, working on shifting the shoulders in changing directions etc. Penn has confidence and has legs that move faster than his brain. SLOW HIM DOWN! (gee, I've only heard this from EVERY trainer we've ever worked with, lol!)
  • Wiggle the chin knot on the halter right and left and release as soon as he lowers head (Penn caught on to that almost immediately and soon he was putting his head on the ground for her), and then he was licking and chewing too.
  • Where most of the horses in the clinic held their stiffness in front of the whither, Penn holds his at the poll and jaw (yupp knew that), and is reluctant to step under himself. He needs to do a ton of walking turn on the forehand where he yields at the poll and jaw while crossing the front legs (and hind, but he's good at that). He wants to speed through it and "roll" his hooves as he takes sloppy steps. Example: Stand on the left side, gently bend his head around using the same knot, and push his shoulders and ask him to cross his front legs as he steps to the right. He wants to lean on the left shoulder and step by putting the left side of the hoof down first and rolling the right side to the ground. Instead, slow him down with a half halt from the knot and shift him onto his right shoulder and make him step flat with the hoof instead of rolling it. This will also encourage him to step under himself. He should do several steps before stopping and getting a pat, and if he's licking and chewing he can have a short rest before continuing. No lick and chew, no "rest" (the idea being he's not completely focusing on the task or relaxing into it). Do a lot of "changing directions" to work each side evenly.
  • Penn does not read subtle body language cues, only large obvious cues (could this be why he absolutely sucks at horsey communications and gets his ass handed to him when he's with intolerant horses?!). He's developed enough forward that we can safely back him up in hand (I told her of his rearing issue when we got him and how we just recently started touching rein back under saddle because of it). She said to do a rein back and then move forward and back again to work on subtle body language and to make him focus and pay attention. I need to walk like he's going to get out of my way. If he doesn't, shake the line at him. If he still doesn't, take the dressage whip in my hand and tap him on the chest. If he still doesn't, make each motion bigger until I get a big response, then immediately make smaller more subtle cues.

Some other tips she gave out:

  • Your toes point at the part of the horse you want to move.
  • Use the lead line as an extension of your leading arm to "point" the horse in the direction you want him to go while you stay near the shoulder and use the whip as an extension of your trailing arm to encourage the forward.
  • Praise often. Do not say "no" when the horse does something wrong as horses are not dogs and do not understand no. Use your body language to correct them.
  • Only do something 3 times before you change it- after 3 times doing something the same, the horse learns that is correct and any more repetitions don't seem to have as great a value.
  • For as much correction as you give, you have to release an equal amount.

The second point was so hard for me to do- I've always worked with the heart girth line where standing in front of it will push the horse away from you or stop them, and being behind it pushes them forward. It was a bit counter-intuitive for me at first.

I should have asked to go over the in hand walking turn on the forehand myself before we moved on to the obstacles. I tried to practice it myself the next day and I think I had a lot more neck flexion than she did and not as much licking and chewing (but I was busy watching his foot placement as she worked him so maybe she flexed him just as much, who knows). I know I can always take a quick video at home and message it to her though.

Ok, I'm going to do some serious gloating about Penn. He did every obstacle in the arena, and did it with more self confidence than I knew he had. He was a bit "up" when he came in (I think traveling for the 3rd weekend in a row was wearing on him), but he met every obstacle with boundless interest and curiosity. He gave everything a try, and was successful at everything!

Pole trap
Don't worry, the pipe crushes when you step on it.
We started with the pole trap because he needs to learn what to do with his feet. He happily walked in, thought "this is too much stuff", and stepped out over the hay bales (that whole shoulders and heart girth thing I mentioned earlier? I had trouble keeping him in the chute). No big deal, he came back around and went through the whole thing with a little pointing direction and a tiny amount of whip flicking. He tripped through it a bunch of times and proceeded to pound the pipe into a flat tape. We worked it from both directions until he would walk through it with minimal tripping (he tried jumping groups of poles and cantering through too).

We walked through the double car wash on our way from the pole trap to the bridge. NBD here, Penn just had to figure out he could use his face to create a hole for his body.
The bridge was NBD either, but LM ended up bringing over her "cheat" tents to help me keep him on the bridge as he circled around me. Otherwise, he'd step on and step back off before the end!

Onto the water!
This was one obstacle that I identified in my pre-clinic questionnaire as something he needs to work on- he's a bit sketchy about water and I want to be able to take him swimming in GP Trainer's pond (that has a nice easy beach in), without falling off trying to get him in the pond.

She brought the "cheat" tents back over to give the water "wings" to help Penn learn that the only way out is over it. The first thing he did? Attempt to "drain" the water by drinking for about a minute straight, lol! Every time I'd push him to go forward up to it or over it, he'd drop his head and drink.

It didn't take much- just being mindful of his shoulders (don't be afraid to make myself big and scary by shaking the lead rope and putting my hands up so he doesn't bring his shoulder into me and run me over), and a bit of whip behind and soon he was trotting through it (stepping in it) like a pro. We changed directions a lot at this obstacle and continued until he could walk through it, NBD.

Noodle chute
The noodle chute was tough for the other 3 horses that had already had their private sessions. It had to be slightly demolished for each horse before they'd even come up to it. Penn went right up to it, but I had to walk the fine line of: correcting his shoulders for coming in, not punishing him for sniffing the noodles, encouraging forward, and getting him back in the chute. I ended up having to reset him and then he marched through like a pro, so she added more noodles back in (so it looked similar to the above picture) and we went the other way. He jumped the whole thing instead, haha. Maybe he could be a jumping horse? I brought him back around and he soon made quick work of realizing he could push the noodles out of his way and was walking through like a pro.

Windmill Alley. The biggest issue with this one? Not hooking my lead rope on the windmills while keeping up with Penn (he opted to jump out with his new found jumping skills when I was slow to keep up.)
One of the "cheat" tents hanging out.
For this one, you were supposed to stand in the tire and send the horse around in a circle over the poles. Penn did this easily, but hit every single pole every single time. LM said he should probably do cavaletti work and I said I already do that... and this much hitting is an improvement, lol. Once I worked out what to do with my hands (long rope and whip), I was able to make him change directions easily with my "arm extensions".
Tarp, pool, balloon wall.
We moved on to the kiddie pool (which was not on the tarp anymore, nor did it have the big balls in it, just empty plastic bottles). This is the obstacle that gave Penn the most trouble. It's circular, so he could avoid it buy doing his walking turn on the fore around it. He played with the bottles, but did NOT want to step in it. He pawed it and it made loud noises and eventually hooked a foot on it and "freaked out" by stepping on it and dragging it with him as he went backwards. We spent a lot of time correcting his shoulders, pointing the lead rope extension out in front of him, and encouraging with the whip. LM brought our "cheat" tents over to give him wings and then he finally went through it. This is where she really encouraged me to take my time in my changes of direction- make him do the change slower. If he gets riled up over the change, stop him, rein back, come forward, go in the new direction.

The balloon pop was NBD for Penn. He sniffed the balloons and thought their popping sound was neat.

We stood him on the blue tarp and LM picked up one side of it and waved it towards him (like we used to do with the big fabric parachutes in elementary school). He didn't even blink so I picked up the other side and did the same while she waved her side. Basically zero reaction from him.

The beach in an indoor?
I let him sniff the umbrellas and she opened and closed one on each side of him. He was only disturbed by it opening on his right side and wanted to move away, so she had it "follow" him until he stopped.

On our way to the last obstacle we walked under some pieces of fabric that were kind of like pavilion covers. He didn't even notice them.

The last obstacle was a fan with streamers attached to it that blew straight up into a cloth that would wave. She said horses either don't care, or want no parts of it and nothing you do will make them stay. Penn thought the cloth was super neat and tried to mouth it.

We finished out 45 minute private session by revisiting the pole trap, and Penn did much better walking through it.

Open Arena Riding:

I wish I had video of us working and riding! Ugh! Penn was so good, haha.

Everyone except the green broke mare came back for the riding portion of the clinic, and LM divided her attention among us as we conquered obstacles under saddle on our own.

I started our riding session with the trot poles and carpet and tarp, then made my way over to the pole trap. LM had me give him the rein to buckle and stay out of the way. And sit up. Because you know, I gave away my reins and went in the fetal position since I expected Penn to biff it pretty hard... and fetal position is sooooo helpful. Penn worked it out eventually, but he started jumping and leaping through it. LM had me keep a hold of the reins, but give a ton, but then stop him immediately after he leaped out of the pole trap, immediately turn around and go back through and stopping immediately upon exit again. No hurrying!

I went on to the double car wash and got to laugh at the face Penn makes as he shoves his head through the dangling stuff- he pokes his nose straight out, closes his eyes, pins his ears, and shoves his head through.

We rode over the bridge a bunch of times, over the other tarp, and through the noodle chute.

Then the liverpool with water was up. I rode him up to it with a purpose, let him sniff it, and then encouraged him over. He jumped neatly over it and I gave him lots of praise and brought him back around to walk over again. I did that a bunch of times: he wanted to jump it every time, but he wasn't over jumping it and half the time he was stepping in before jumping out.

LM wanted me to try and get him to stop with one foot in the water. So I did the wrong thing and I slowed him down right at the base, freaked him out so he then wanted to back up, and then he'd leap over it since I corrected so much. She had me keep his feet moving by making him step big and slow left and then big and slow right and the left and then right with super opening rein each way and letting him move forward inches each time we step right or left. The idea is he never gets planted to jump over it, or planted to back up and run away, and eventually he'll step a foot into the water. I got it to work kind of, but I would hold at the very last moment when he'd go to put that first foot in the water causing him to step in and then scramble out (and not halting in it like LM wanted, oops. We need practice!).

I did not attempt the kiddie pool and bottles under saddle- I thought I would freak out a bit and hold him when I needed to let him go. No worries, we'll get there eventually. I can't expect him to keep his cool if I'm afraid and anticipating his reaction.

I rode through the poles on the tire, but I asked him to really sit and collect and turn from my outside rein and leg between poles. Don't you know it? He stopped hitting the poles and sat and started taking very purposeful steps between and over the poles!

The 2' diameter balls were free in the ring, so I made him kick them around. He didn't really understand he could push them around and kept trying to go around.

I went back to the pole trap, and LM had me start to ask him for collection and sit through it and release (release is just as big as the amount of collection I asked for), and do it multiple times through the pole trap so he becomes more responsible for his own feet in collection. He became very purposeful with where he put his feet and stopped tripping over things.

I changed up the exercise into track left, collect and release in the pole trap, sit and left lead canter, canter the rest of the 20m circle, walk, collect/release through the pole trap, repeat. I worked that on my own for a few laps before LM came over to watch and give feedback. She had me leg yield him off his inside shoulder onto his outside shoulder in every transition, and move my inside hand forward about 4 inches in the canter because it looked like I was doing too much and he was heavy on that hand. It was super neat, I could ask for more sit in the canter and he would give it easily, hold it easily, and I felt I could have asked for canter/walk at any time and it would have been prompt and correct. The canter had a nice rhythm, but was still slow, big, and purposeful. We did that a bunch of times before she told me to stop there as he had done some very excellent work.

Overall, I'm really happy with our trip to visit LM and participate in the clinic. I wish I could do her next one on April 8th, but Penn and I are going to a show on 4/2, then back to GP Trainer 4/6-7. I cannot justify stuffing him back into the trailer the next day, not when LM will have more clinics and my BO is interested in having her out to see us. I don't think either of us will appreciate spending 4/7 days in a single week in the truck and trailer!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

3/12/2017 Day 2: Adding to the Struggle Bus

Penn came into lesson two of our weekend not really wanting to play 100%. It was cold, 8am, and he worked hard the day before. I get it. But we're there to learn and we had to go to work!

It was kind of nice for GP Trainer to see him on an "off" day. He's been quite good every time I've seen her, and I've had that problem with Trainer and Dressage Trainer- I'm having a specific issue that does not surface in lesson so we don't get to really address it.

Right off the bat, he did not want to be fully on the bit, particularly on the right right. He developed a bit of a head and neck twist as we worked though some spiral in and out. GP Trainer stressed less inside flexion to the left (reminiscent of one of our lessons last year), and I have to keep my right hand moving and active to the right (no stale holding hand).

When he's not really into connecting to the bridle, especially not connecting to the right rein, he puts himself on the right underneck muscle and tilts his head left. GP Trainer warned me it might be the left next time, but I doubt it. It became apparent to me in the last few weeks that something is going on because his right underneck muscle is bigger than his left. I would guess that the twist is very consistent and I am blind to it.

She had me do SI while keeping him rounder, then do SI to renvers to SI... annnnnd Penn hates his trot life now because of it, lol. I started by giving renvers way too much angle ("Your renvers is on like, 18 tracks. Less angle!"), and he'd lose his balance and rhythm and struggle a bit too much. She also had me keep after him with the outside leg a bit more in both SI and renvers.

It really helped get his head on straighter though, and in rides since then, the exercise has gotten much easier and I do. I ride it right off the bat as part of our immediate warm up and whenever I feel him starting to lock on the right rein or head tilt. It really creates a much straighter, more laterally pliable horse, that is in turn more pliable all-around. I did that a ton the other day on my own, came around the next turn and asked for a medium and got a much bigger medium trot than I was expecting. Straightness FTW. I wish we could do it in canter because he's developed the same tilt and desire to connect to just one rein... I suppose that would mean he'd have to have a solid flying change though, which is kind of what we're trying to build to... so now what?

And we have video of Penn's very first renvers! So exciting. To be honest, I was going to avoid 3-2 because it has that very difficult lateral change in it and I knew Penn would really struggle with it... so maybe I should have worked on it instead of avoiding it? Lol. GP Trainer assigned it to us for homework for next time.

A good medium trot for us- but it still needs more I think.

I started the left lead canter first and Penn was very anticipatory, so GP Trainer had me toss in some halts, where she quickly found he is just as squiggly in them too, haha. As we progressed through the struggles, the halts became squarer, the walk slowed and the steps became halfway purposeful, the upward transitions were very up, the canter itself still leaves something to be desired but we are almost making it the full way around her indoor, so win? She reminded me to make sure I can take my leg off and he stays where I put him so then I can put it on and promptly canter off (I quickly found my brain current isn't processing fast enough to time that right, haha).

We got rolling to the right, and Penn was starting to get tired and resting legs in the halts instead of standing square, then he got downright sassy in his frustration that I was going to make him wait and sit and threatened to rear (unfortunately the next horse came in and was right in between Penn and the camera so it's hard to see- you can kind of see it in the mirrors). I worked a bit of shoulder fore in the canter to the right and he didn't quit on me and it actually helped, so yay! His steps are longer and slower to the right than the left, which makes it much more pleasant to ride, haha.

I'm really excited for how far he's come in such a short time, especially in the canter to walks. Even though they weren't great on this particular lesson day, they are still a million times better than they were even 3 or 4 weeks ago. Other things I'm super excited about: How about that inside hind in the walk to canter? It's got some major hops in that moment! Same with all four legs in walk as we try to put him together for the canter- every now and then he takes a big, purposeful, slow, very active step. He quickly falls apart after, but one step every now and then in a single ride is much more than we were getting before!

A little inverted, but up and prompt!

GP Trainer wants us to really work those walk/halts as we canter, and said we should see a significant difference after even just two rides of incorporating those. They will help teach him to place his feet more consciously than just throwing them around. To quote her: "Anybody who thinks building upper level skills in a horse is about half passes and shoulder in and canter pirouettes is mistaken. It's mostly about stupid stuff like this." I am going to preach the hell out of this so I don't die of boredom working on it, haha.

M had a great lesson later- I wish I could video for her and grab some video on my phone at the same time! GP Trainer went over following with the arms in walk and canter with her and how if you're trying to follow by tensing your biceps, you've already lost because your range of motion is significantly less as soon as your tighten your upper arm. GP Trainer had M think about tightening her forearms instead (hello isolating body parts, haha). It's a similar descriptor to sinking your elbows way down (which works for me), but it worked really well for M because all of a sudden her arms could move at the shoulder and elbow and her mare simply stopped plowing on her since she wasn't giving her anything to plow on. Her wrists straightened out, her elbows could move, and she got her elbows tucked in to her sides instead of having "chicken wings". It was such an immediate difference and the mare happily floated along, carrying herself, and M was amazed that it took almost zero effort from her to maintain.

GP Trainer had her ride the shallow canter loops from 1-3 next, with her newly following arms. She kind of ripped the mare through the first one, mostly overdoing it because she was concerned about lead flip flopping, so GP Trainer told her to tone it down on the next one... and then the mare promptly did a beautiful flying change, then two strides later another one as M corrected it before X, then a couple more on the way back to the rail. All beautifully through, connected, and quiet. Super jealous, haha. She rode a few more loops keeping her outside leg back to make it clear to the mare that she shouldn't change, and the mare happily shallow looped her way around the ring. Very stunning. They are going to clean up at Training level this year as M gets some more show experience under her belt before flying up the levels to get her bronze in no time. I believe GP Trainer's exact words were, "Training level huh? *chuckle*"

We got to watch another few lessons (that I'm pretty sure were Sunday and not Saturday):
  • Another student schooling GP who has a mare who wants to be very up in the neck (in addition to being very high energy), so they focus on bringing the base of her neck down so that she has a quieter power so that she can ooze into and out of the piaffe/passage instead of making very abrupt transitions. Very neat.
  • A 2nd/3rd level schooling student who was using the same canter/walk/counter canter/walk/canter 25m circle to work on flying changes that I used to teach them to Penn originally. Her horse was a bit naughty, reactive, and had opinions (bucking and bouncing) and they worked on making him patient and to wait for his rider's cue, and making sure his rider didn't take the bait he was offering. He often bucked through the flying change, but as soon as they got a good one, it was pat the horse and rest, change directions, get a good one, pat and be done.
We had a great time down in VA, but had to leave after watching a few lessons since it's such a long drive home. We did stop at Panda Express on the way though, so that was super awesome.

My fortune... hmm, lol! I immediately texted a pic to Husband and was like, "Are you up to something?"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3/11/2017 Day 1: Training Check In

Day one of our most recent trip to GP Trainer started very early- 4:45am wake up time since I had a 1:45 PM lesson. BO's daughter M came with me this time instead of my mom, and she had a 3:15 lesson. M has been dying to come out and have some lessons and this weekend worked out for her because she just started spring break. We packed up her 17h mare and Penn in my trailer and off we went! It's been a long time since I've had a second horse in the trailer, and even longer since I had one as big as M's mare- I really felt it in the brakes and feel of the trailer pulling behind me.

Austen also made the drive to come meet us for a few hours at GP Trainer's farm! It was so exciting to see her!!!

The filth!
Most of this was from PA. As we got closer to our destination in VA, someone actually pointed and stared at us.

Day 1 was super hard for me- my asthma had a huge flare up Friday into Saturday and I didn't have it fully under control for my lesson. The trot warm up was fine and uninspiring, and after an extremely short time I just couldn't breathe. Penn wasn't fully cooperative, but he was OK. GP Trainer told me to let him swing forward every now and then, but tone him down before he goes splat. I have to say, that didn't really register in my head at the time because all I could think about was getting air. Yay for videos snagging additional instruction!

I'm just skipping straight to canter. It was more of the same, except GP Trainer remarked right off how much better I was sitting than 3 weeks ago. And Penn could maintain the canter for a lot longer this time around, with less walk shifting around, even to the left.

Just some notes from GP Trainer on my own riding and some anecdotal inspiration to continue on this left lead struggle bus:
  • Open up my knees, and little less pressure on my feet, sitting on my butt.
  • I can start making him a hair rounder in the canter, just at the jaw and poll, not the base of the neck (where he wants to collapse down).
  • Keep the rhythm slow because he doesn't have the big swinging canter, so when he's quick, he really looks like he's running and scurrying. He may break more often- but that's the risk we're going to take keeping his rhythm slow.
  • When he goes to break, SIT UP and make him splat from his hind end. Leaning forward into the splat only makes him splat harder (can't lift the front end if I'm leaning on it).
  • "So I'm sitting on the most talented horse I've ever had in my life. He's 16.2, he's not too big... this is Danny... He came to me with at 6 years old with big clean changes and a start on passage... Maybe a year ago, on the brink of turning 8, I felt like I could have gotten him around a first level test. The strength and time it takes to build that strength is tremendous. The strength required to ride the upper levels is massive and the time it takes to build it is enormous and ugly and uninspiring for a really long time. Every once in a while you get a freak show like the 8 year old that Stephen Peters is showing CDI Grand Prix. I do not know how he did it. The rest of us build the house brick by brick like this." (in reference to the canter struggle) 

To the right:
  • Sit back.
  • Try to soften my right rein when I can.
  • Sit back some more.
  • Hey, these canter walk transitions work pretty well to the right!

We worked simple changes with what was left of Penn's energy (which was just 3 changes- one right to left, and two left to right). The biggest thing I have to remember is to NOT HURRY IN THE WALK. Any shuffling the horse does into the new canter lead is completely my fault. I'm wired to think, "Ok, we walked. OMG CANTER NOW!" which is a huge reason we sometimes have lead issues on the canter out side. Penn was a saint in the changes I did in the video- on the first one, you can really tell I miscued him and he went to pick up the right lead, then shuffled and picked up the correct left lead instead.

Penn spooked hard at the next horse to come in and ran away from the door, completely leaving me behind, but I managed to catch up and stay on.

Pretending to be a big brave horse after spooking hard at the door, lol.

The right lead is so much easier for Penn- he maintains the slower rhythm and has so much more strength. Austen and I laughed that he just hasn't figured out where to put his legs to left, and one day he's going to get it and it's going to be fantastic. Until then, we will continue to spend a lot of time struggling to the left.

Nothing ground breaking in this lesson, just a check up on where everything is. The canter has improved (the left lead can carry for longer than a long side!) and the simple changes are starting to come along.

I did ask GP Trainer about repeating First Level and my chances of going to finals- she thought we have an extremely good chance of going to First Level finals in the fall. She said to get qualified and take it from there (who knows, maybe she has another plan for us?).

M had a great lesson, GP Trainer really liked her mare and they made a huge dent in correcting the pulling fights the two get into. We got to see a schooling GP lesson and a training level/first level lesson after M's ride. It was the same schooling GP rider I saw last time, and she made some serious progress on her canter zig zag, piaffe, and passage from last time.

Next lesson, help in the trot for head twisting and more canter!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

3/5/2017 Schooling Show

Winner, winner!

So on Sunday we went to the "banned" schooling show (I haven't decided what to tell GP Trainer about it since she said, "no more showing second or third" and "keep him at home", haha). First things first, I'm going to do some product shoving, because I LOVE THIS PRODUCT.

G.U.T. Paste by Uckele

Penn has raging diarrhea when he travels. It starts before we even leave home barn. I braid his tail and pull it over the butt bar to try and protect it. I sew his tail flaps up (BOT sheet) or tuck them up (smartpak sheet) to prevent diarrhea from being smashed into them. He generally has a nervous undercurrent running while he's away (excessive stall walking happens away from home) and he's a poor eater (both hay and grain).

GP Trainer is sponsored by Uckele, and I mentioned those things to her offhand and she gave me a sample tube of GUT Paste when I saw her last. I gave him a dose Saturday, and another dose Sunday before we left.

May not prevent horse derpyness though.
  • The diarrhea poop I usually have in the morning (at home) didn't happen- he still pooped a couple times, but it was all solid. No diarrhea in the trailer. None at the show. None on the way home. Nothing smashed into his tail or rump.
Look ma, no diarrhea!
  • He ate almost all the hay I brought for him BEFORE our first test. This was 4 hours into our day. I had to take it away from him so he'd have something for the ride home. He stall walked a little after that, but I don't blame him. (and no worries, a bunch of hay fell out of the net as he ate and he was sad that he had to clean up the floor instead of eating from the net)
  • He drank really well too, half a bucket in the few hours we were at the show.
Right before I took his hay away from him. No worries, there was some on the floor he was sad to have to eat.
  • He was SUPER chill when we walked around in hand. One rider's mare was super nervous and her rider asked us if we would come into the main ring's warm up area with them and be her mare's buddy while she rode her tests. He was very quiet, even for him.
  • He was in excellent spirits when we got home. He's usually a little fussy, but nope, happy as a clam in the sea.

Obviously this is just one outing using it, but I will never travel again without it. I found Amazon had the best price (purchased through Big Dees). I think if you buy enough of them though, Uckele will give you a bulk discount if you buy direct from them. I already added their daily GUT powder to Penn's SmartPaks (long story short, I didn't want to pay $9 shipping for his SmartMuscle so I added it to try it out).

Oh, and the G.U.T. products are all legal to use- they contain no banned substances!

Anyway, sorry to push a product, but I really liked Penn on it and I know there are people out there who have similar nervous horse problems.

Back to the show itself.

I didn't really have the warm up I wanted for my tests. Some of the boarders at this barn were in warm up riding and were cantering laps around the inside, which made lateral work and going a different direction really difficult. They also got a bit close, but such is life and you have to roll with the punches.


My own comments: I need to practice my centerlines. For like, an entire ride and then some. I lost so many points at this show for stupid stuff on them. Much better trot lengthening than he used to give at the start. The leg yield right got an 8! It almost looks like the haunches are leading... but I didn't see a comment about that, and she wouldn't have given me an 8 for it if they were. The leg yield left was a little stickier than the right and earned a 7.5. Excellent stretch circle, per Penn's usual. Cue the first of 3 terrible shortening-of-the-reins from a stretch on my part... need to review that too. He was very much against having right bend for the next bit of trot work, and we lost points on all the right bend work. He stepped right into the halt from trot, which was awesome. Hopefully with some work we can do away with the little bit of fiddling behind, because that ruined it by preventing a clean halt-trot transition (note how the first step he had to get back under himself). Good left trot work, good free walk, second terrible shortening the reins. The canter is much improved, but he looked to the outside in the lengthening right and it stayed conservative. Wonderful shallow loop, and a slightly clumbsy simple change through trot. I had to tap him 3 times with the whip in the 15m left lead circle to get him to keep going. I never really got him back from the left lead lengthening, he spooked and fell out from under me. I walked him, put him back together somewhat and went immediately into the next shallow loop. A better trot lengthening and a better centerline to finish.

He still gets me with the flinging hind end (still working on straight yo), but it was more tracking right this time- you can really tell when he's straight on in front of the camera.

I just can't win with the collection thing. She wrote: "keep working on thinking forward for the working gaits at this level, sometimes too collected, especially at canter." *facepalm* But I kind of knew that. He's just not adjustable with his collection yet. It's all or fall-on-our-face nothing right now, and I'd rather have all.

67.647% - 1st out of 3, winning by 7%.

We won the 1-3 class by a whopping 7%. It's not quite fair I suppose since we were 9th in the region last year in this test. :-p


I ran through the lateral work in warm-up (I had two tests between 1-3 and 2-3), but some guy decided to hand walk some girl's horse ON THE RAIL of the warm up ring to cool it out. Penn got his confidence in the haunches in shaken because this guy appeared in front of him and Penn didn't know how to cope with that. I tried again on the next long side and he still wobbled. Didn't have enough time to boost his confidence again.

More of my comments: Seriously, WTF is up with my centerlines and halts? He must be so unsteady on all 4 feet that I didn't even notice the shifting. Better mediums- he had a little more to give for them to make them different from his lengthenings. The lateral work suffered as a direct result of our warm up's lateral work. I'm still happy with it because even though he wobbled, but came back to me and kept trying. The halt rein back was an oops on my part- he wanted to fall out of the trot early (I've been practicing halting at C and A), so I had to push him through it and then halt quickly at the letter while falling down onto the forehand. Then he backed up crooked, for the first time ever. The walk needed march (but it falls apart with more, see canter). The first turn on the haunch got stuck, but the second one was good. He stretched way out on the free walk, but at the cost of marching, and then I did my third terrible shortening-of-the-reins. Begin the left lead disaster. The medium was conservative and I fought him from the moment I asked him to collect through to the moment we attempted to simple change left to right. It's all a strength problem. He seemed happier to go on the right lead, and I was very pleased with his right lead medium because it felt very powerful (probably because it stayed STRAIGHT), even if the judge found it conservative. I had to really work for the serpentine, and he was just about out of juice by then. He tried to break early on the diagonal before the simple change, which caused the simple change I'd been preparing for to end up a jumbled mess (push through the bad, only to end up doing bad later). I need to practice making the simple changes happen later on the diagonal so he's not thinking about quitting so soon.

There were so many places in this test where if we had managed to do just slightly better, we would have gotten over 60%. And I'm not talking about the 4/20 for the left lead serpentine, the 9/20 for the left to right simple change, or the 10/20 for the right to left simple change (man, we botched A TON of the double coefficient moves). The entering centerline should be at least a 6 or 6.5, I just seem to be riding them poorly and letting him twitch around, same with the final centerline. There's the 1.5 points it would take to make 60% in that test. The major mistakes we had were all strength related. He simply just couldn't hold himself up and do whatever the move was. I'm excited to see how much stronger he is in a month at the final show!

59.634% - 1st out of 2

The judge wants more forward, even in collection, for greater activity and carrying ability. I totally get what she means and can see it in the video. When Penn gets cruising in trot, his gaits have a bigger quality to them- engagement/collection becomes linked to expression. We can do that in trot, when I remember to let it happen. We cannot do that in canter because splatting happens. He's just not ready for that yet, so we er on the side of too collected while he builds the strength. And so we will continue to test it at schooling shows until has does have the strength. I don't think it will take long!

Penn and Syndrome having a moment on Saturday.

Overall, I'm pleased with his progress (and it's not just better scores- this is schooling, so it doesn't quite count for me). He's much steadier on his feet, and for the first time, we didn't get any comments along the lines of "needs more engagement" or "needs more collection" or "needs a more uphill balance". We got comments of "too collected". I'll take it!