Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Perks of Outside Forces

The past few weeks with Penn have been a bit of a struggle. We've hit a bit of a plateau and we're just fighting each other in my effort to get to the other side. I'm all, "Can you just sit down please" and he's all, "OMG NO! I'm going to (insert an activity that is not sitting) instead" and then I'm all, "Oh FFS, if you'd listen this would be over already."

This felt quite festive and fun!

Penn went on a little vacation from Christmas until what will probably be this Sunday. It's been between -2 and 23 degrees from 12/24 until what looks like 1/6. I really don't like doing much when it's like that, but he's worked a few times since the Northeast decided to relocate to the Arctic for various reasons (I was stir crazy, we had a "heat wave" where it got to 20+, and snow riding!).

I purposely don't give Penn these long vacations. He becomes obnoxious and spooky. Sigh. Anyway, we had a few experiences in the last week that seemed to give Penn one hell of a reality check... yay!

Saturday 12/30/2017
We got a bunch of snow, and I had to go to the barn and work anyway, so I decided we were going to go for a snowy trail ride, temperature and wind be damned.


Ok, it was really cold and I wore two pairs of pants and two coats in addition to my two layers of shirts, and I rode in my Noble Outfitter muck boots (which I NEVER do) so that my toes would stay warm. Still so worth it! Penn got out and got to go for a walk, and he had a great experience going down the slightly steep gas well road back to the barn.

I told him to slow down, get lined up straight, and sit down. He decided I was full of shit and leaned on me and his own shoulder... and promptly slipped out from under himself because of the frozen ground under slippery snow. We didn't fall down, which was good (I thought we were going down). He got himself sorted and I kicked him on down the hill and told him "Sit down!" Don't you know it, he got very light in my hand and sat. A nice dressage sit that I would have liked to have in the ring! He kept it the length of the gas well road (which is a long time- it takes 5 min or so to get down the hill in good weather), and I gave him a ton of pats at the bottom. My thighs were hurting from telling him to sit, I bet his hind end was sore too!

Sunday 12/31/2017
I worked at the barn this day too, and I was planning on riding Penn after. It took a long time to get the barn work done- it was 1 degree at 8:45 when we started, so we fed, hayed, watered, and starting cleaning stalls while the horses were still in them. This takes FOREVER. Especially when I leave Penn in his stall to clean it.

Stall snuggles <3

And Penn wasn't the only one who wanted cuddles, Syndrome came down from the stall walls for hugs and snuggles and we had one big cuddle-fest in Penn's stall. Penn even got in on it! He put his nose on the cat and flapped his upper lip around in an almost petting motion.

Cat for breakfast?

By the time we got stalls done and horses out around lunchtime, I had had enough. Penn still needed to be worked, he had far too many opinions about working when I rode him the day before our trail ride. He felt good that night, but wanted no parts of speed regulation or right bend and was spooky and tense.

I opted to set out cavalettis and break out the long lines. I haven't long lined him in ages, and he could really use a good work over cavalettis. I set the poles out on a curve (so I could stay on my circle), and raised the inside of each. My theory was I could force him to take smaller steps, but also force him to take loftier steps at the same time by having that end of the pole higher than the outside. I didn't want to be completely sadistic, so I kept the wide end of the curve on the ground.

Penn handled the work to the left well- he adjusted his stride after bouncing the poles (jumping the first two then panicking and jumping the last two), and trotted nicely through the poles. He understood he needed smaller steps on the inside, and added a small amount of lift to his trot step. Nothing spectacular, and he was content to clip the poles with his toes when he passed through.

Oh tracking right. The hamsters that control Penn's brain went crazy on their wheels and ran amok. You would have thought I asked him for something crazy. Nope, he wanted to trot around at mach-12 with his head in the air, looking to the outside at the other end of the ring, spooking, all while leaning in at a dangerous level. To be honest, it was how he had felt under saddle tracking right when I rode him two days before, except I could force him to look in and stand up straight.

He lost his ever loving mind. I tried rather forcefully on the lines to break his staring to the outside, almost forcefully putting him "in frame" by pulling each line to flex his nose out and in and work it down, and then holding the outside and then pulling the inside rein in bursts to bring his head down. It didn't work all that well and he did his own mini-bolts on the lines, complete with twisting bucks (aimed at me) and then more running and spooking. I got dragged around my circle quite a bit. I was trying a bunch of things to try and keep him on his feet- letting go of pressure, bending his nose in with the inside rein, pulling the outside in an attempt to stand him up.

He basically cantered and galloped amok until his bucking and kicking knocked himself off balance and he got his hind legs tangled together and lost his hind end. Then he got a bit smarter and started listening. Of course by this point, he was a bit tired and wanted to walk.

NOPE. Trot through the poles dammit. Not my fault you wanted to be spooky and run instead of working! He had a huge medium trot going on though when he realized I wasn't letting him walk. He took the poles two at a time on the outside edges. Wonderful shoulder freedom.

He wasn't very respectful of the poles, continuing to tap them with his toes, but he did better to the right than he did to the left. When I brought him all the way in so he was stepping over the highest part of the poles, it finally clicked in his brain to take loftier steps- he did two rounds through where he self adjusted his stride and really bounced up as he stepped over the poles. He had real hang time in the air- like a fancy GP prospect's half steps! I was very pleased and let him stop with that because he put a TON of effort into those steps and I wanted to recognize it.

So foamy these days though!

Monday 1/1/2018
I hemmed and hawed about going out on New Years Day, but in the end I realized I didn't want to sit at home and went to the barn to long line Penn through the poles again.

He started off MUCH better. I made him walk through the high side of the poles in our warm up. They were close enough to take a single walk step in between, but he really struggled to articulate his shoulders, hips, and joints to flex his body to take that single step with the poles that high. He got it right several times and I'd praise him loudy. I'd praise him even if he snuck in an extra step because he was still trying very hard. I'll have to do that more often- it's good for him to learn how to flex all those joints and move his body around.

We tracked left first again, and he put much more effort into finding suspension over the poles, except he was still happy to clip his toes on each rail. That was annoying, but he was being quite reasonable about everything else. I was able to spiral him in and out so he took bigger but still lofty steps on the outside, and then short, bouncy and very lofty steps on the inside.

I swapped him over to the right, repeated the walk work over the inside of the rails, and had him trot through the poles. He kept his hamsters running properly in their wheels this time, even if he still wanted to look to the outside and be off the bit. We cantered a little when he got a bit worried about the spooky end of the ring, and it wasn't too bad! No bolty bucks either.

He put a good bit of effort into the work to the right, nothing spectacular, but definitely an overall better effort than the day before. However, he was starting to get tired, and was fighting me a bit... trying to lean on the lines and talk me into holding him up... and then the best thing happened.

He completely bungled one of his final passthroughs of the cavalettis. He was so distracted by trying to lean that he was on the forehand taking too big of steps... he tripped over the first pole, managed to kick the second pole up above his knees and almost fell down as he tried to keep stepping. He'd catch himself then trip over the second pole on his chest or the next pole on the ground. The second pole ended up getting thrown out of the circle and the rest of the poles were demolished. Thank goodness for PVC poles (which is also why the one bounced with him I'm sure).

The only booboo from his incident with the poles.
From now on we need to use polos and bandage pads for cavaletti work!

He was rightfully shaken after getting away from the poles and it took me a few circles to get him back to walk. I gave him a pat and scratch and told him he was a good boy, then took him with me to reset all of the poles, then walked through them in hand with him to give him confidence in the poles again.

I sent him back through the poles in trot, and don't you know it, I had his complete and full attention. He was light in the lines and focusing on the poles. If I asked him to collect, he shortened immediately and then finished adjusting his stride for the poles himself. He showed the poles incredible respect after that- only clipping them every now and then as he misjudged his feet, and he would get a little worried when that happened.

I only made him go through them 3-4 more times to make sure he was still confident, and he was wonderful each time. A lot of lift and bounce through the middle of the poles (not even at the inside edge!).

Looking a little model-esq!

Wednesday 1/3/2018
So what do all of these experiences have in common? Penn trying to avoid doing what I want, and then an outside source exerting some kind of consequence for avoiding. I would ask again, and he'd listen.

I rode Penn for about 20 min last night, and he was simply wonderful. I had to barely ask for sit and he was "leaping" to comply. He gave me zero fight when I'd sit into him in walk, trot, and canter. I trotted him through the poles and he didn't touch them once. He paid attention, took big steps, and kept his own balance. The canter had far more bounce to it while still being light. I had far more control over his stride length and engagement in all gaits than I ever had before. It was great. Good work = short rides!

I think we'll continue messing with those poles on the long lines, and snowy trail rides when I can do them. I'll have to come up with some other cavaletti patterns for the lines so he doesn't get bored, and I have to get to them in the canter too. I want to keep the high walk poles though- that is an excellent exercise in pushing his flexibility. As much as I'd like to ride him through it all, I think he'll take more articulation chances without me on him.

Some exciting things are going on!


  1. I am excited for your two in 2018!

    1. Me too! This is one of the few times where I think, "This might be ok!"

  2. OMG Hampton is downright obnoxious from not working. He has turned into a giant asshole in the field, too. Please warm up so I can put this crazy animal back to work!

    1. Yes! These fit creatures are using their powers for evil!

  3. Oh, Penn.

    Glad you were able to help him reinstall his hamster! LOL

    1. He had "a moment" lol He's a bit scary when his hamsters run loose.

  4. oh man, i WISH charlie could have some oopsie moments like that to bring him back to his full attention? usually even some pretty extreme f*-ups, he's still only like, 'ehh i guess i can try a leetle bit harder....'

    1. Haha! Hey, Charlie started jumping better after biffing it through the jump chute though!

  5. I love the miscellaneous conglomeration of exercises winter forces us to adopt. Like Penn, my horses always seem to give me their best effort as a result. Wish I could make the warmer months go as well haha. Something about those cold temps.

    1. Winter = forced creativity. Funny how it does always seem to work out for a good result!