Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just for fun!

Well I haven't ridden every day this week like I hoped, but oh well. I took some video of him playing out in the pasture the other day, and got a little creative with it last night! The funny thing is that he wasn't jumping over anything, he was just leaping into the air for the fun of it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Balancing time, balancing training, balancing progress

Monday I was good about setting aside time to leave to ride at lunch break. After his Friday of huffing and puffing up the hills I realized that Bear is pretty out of shape. Now I don't expect to canter circles for 20 minutes straight, but building up some muscle and endurance is only going to help make my job of training him easier. It really started me thinking. I don't think I've ever owned a really athletically fit horse! I've ridden plenty, but they weren't mine. My horses growing up were lucky to get ridden once a week, maybe twice if a show was coming up. That fact never stopped us from going all day long at shows or hauling their sorry butts out to horse camp for a week of being ridden several times a day in the grueling heat! No wonder my pony ran away from horse camp! (Literally, she busted past me while I was closing her stall door, bolted off past the barns, broke into a brisk trot straight towards the main gate like she knew exactly where it was, and then turned right on High St making her debut in downtown.) Thinking back all my childhood horses were saints to put up with me!

So apart from conditioning the old mare for a 30 mile endurance ride (back when she wasn't old) I haven't ever had to think about the fitness levels of a horse and what they should or shouldn't be doing. When riding other horses in clinics I've had to suggest we stop, or do something easier, lower, or at least take a break because I know that the horse is not in regular riding shape, and the clinicians expect a horse with the stamina to work and compete. So this is my dilemma. When do I start getting lessons? I don't want to tell the trainer that we would like to do mainly walk work because he can only canter a few laps. If I go to the show this weekend, how many classes should I do? Sometimes I'm even exhausted after a class, especially those big walk-trot classes full of the hundreds of people who don't want to canter their horse in public. I've been making things easy for Bear, we stop before it gets uncomfortable, he rarely breaks a sweat, and we move on to easier things. So where is the fine line of babying him so much that we aren't able to progress, and preserving his natural enjoyment of what we're doing and protecting all his young horse tendons and joints?

So Monday we worked on two very different things that sort of complimented each other. He is still figuring out moving off my inside leg to balance on the outside rein... I guess its not one of those things that they get over night, but still we need to get a move on! So we are breaking things down a bit. He has know how to move his shoulders and move his haunches almost from the beginning because I worked on that with his groundwork. However, he's needed a bit of a refresher lately. I think he is still trying to sort out all the different ways to move his body. Circles on an arc where his whole body follows the bend is much different than the square corners where he moves his shoulders, which is different than a one rein stop where I disengage his hip. All ways of turning... he just has to pay attention to the subtle differences. So we started with the refresher from the ground of moving shoulders, then haunches. Then we moved on to side passing along the fence line. He has the concept, just not the perfectly correct form. But we were able to do a little under saddle as well, so I was happy. So we balanced all this mentally challenging work with some long trots and a few canters up the hill. The hill in the pasture is not so steep that they really have to grunt and labor to get up, but enough grade that it makes it a work out. Overall a great use of the time I had, and I was happy with his effort. But we still hardly broke a sweat!

Tuesday night class was mainly devoted to getting some of the other horses to canter, so it was a while before I even got on. I specifically made a goal to keep trotting a little longer than when I naturally wanted to quit. I had to really think about establishing a rhythm while trotting because he either wanted to fly around, or just break back down to a walk. But we did alright when I really made him follow the rhythm of my posting, then we did a little sitting trot too. We cantered both directions and he got his leads perfectly! I have been asking for canter departs on the lunge line lately, and he is doing really well with that. So last night I asked for the canter from the walk both times, and although it wasn't a perfectly clean step into the canter, it was calm and controlled and he picked up his leads, and he really couldn't have take more than two steps at the trot to do it. I'm so glad for the easy things!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Just when we're on a roll...

I have the hardest time balancing all my commitments in life and staying consistent with each one. As I mentioned in my last blog Bear is a whole different horse when he is worked regularly. The trick is making that happen. I feel like I should be out there everyday, but to make that happen I feel like I am squeezing it in and letting other areas of my life fall to the wayside. Its a tricky balance that I need to sort out quickly, because I feel like we need to start looking for a dressage trainer so that I can get back into lessons. If I'm paying for training, we darn well better be doing our homework between lessons and keeping up a certain fitness level to make it worthwhile! Now that the weather will be clearing up it will be the real test since I can no longer blame it on the rain!

Friday afternoon was gloriously sunny! That alone is enough to get me excited to ride, but with rain predicted for Saturday and Sunday I was even more anxious to get out and take advantage of the day. So I took off at 5 on Friday to ride. It was well worth it (even though the consequence was going in to work on Saturday to finish the grant report). The sun was perfect, and the timing was just right. I tacked up both horses thinking that if no one else showed up I'd just ride both individually since the old mare probably could use a tune up. Luckily my mom drove up the driveway just as I put the bridle on the second horse! So while she looked for some boots, I trotted Bear around the pasture and worked on a couple things to warm up for maybe 5 minutes. Then we were off!

He does surprisingly well on the trails considering he is used to getting lunged first. He wasn't antsy or excited or spooky or anything! We went down the road and decided to check out the trails for the first time in about a year. Right now everything is overgrown and unused so the trails really only consist of deer paths! Hard to follow, and not great footing. Add to this that it is very hilly, has lots of gullys, switchbacks, and tight squeezes between tress, and it makes for a pretty challenging ride. So it would have been logical to have the old mare lead and let Bear follow along, but I knew which of the deer paths were trail to where I was looking to go, and which not trails at all! So I lead, and Bear did great! It was amazing, he totally listened to wear I needed him to go, and just plugged right along no matter how hard the trail got. I was SO proud.

We were only out for an hour, so we didn't continue down the trails very far. It was enough to test how he would behave on trickier trails, and see what state the trails themselves were in. I had forgotten how bad the poison oak was down there! But by the time we were done Bear was hot, tired and sweaty. Hills are a workout!

It was a great way to end a Friday, and a good step forward in training. As predicted it rained pretty good both Saturday and Sunday, so I didn't get out to see him again except to drop off feed. The good news about the rain is that I think the show was rescheduled for next Saturday, so I might get to go after all!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Regular work makes for a happy Bear

So I dragged my butt out of bed Saturday morning in order to have a decent trail ride before tackling all the other plans for the day! It was well worth it. My sister and I ran out to the ranch, hooked up the trailer and loaded up in record time, and took off to a new trail. Being new, the two horses were high as kites when we go them out. We tacked up as quickly as one can when its shedding season, and based on the continued kite-like behavior of both of them we lead them up the first hill. Now with Bear that's enough. For a forward moving and leggy horse he is lazy deep down in his heart. As soon as he's gotten his heart rate up, he's ready to settle into a more sensible state of mind. The old mare on the other hand is an endurance breed arabian and would suffer the heart attack rather than stop going! And at her age that's what we're afraid of! So at the top of the hill I get on, and Bear stands fairly well while stirrups get adjusted (mom was the last one to ride the old mare). Then we're off like a rocket! (Unfortunately!) It took Bear a bit to really settle in and relax, but he did, and he was a saint on the way back. The old mare alternated between speed walking and jigging. (Now that I have a chance to watch from behind I realize that she walks in front, and jogs in back, its CRAZY!) Luckily he relaxed enough that we didn't need her to be the sane one, and even let her walk way out in front after a while since he was comfortable following a ways behind and catching up when she stopped.

The trail was a good work out, lots of hills and switch backs. We rode for just over an hour, which was probably plenty considering the terrain and the fact that even as well behaved as he was, it was all very new and exciting for him. I'm hoping that the next time we're out we'll have more time to get out farther, and they can both relax a bit more. We did get to cross a big echoey bridge which was good, and the creek had a pretty good water fall in one spot. Plus there were a ton of other horses, walkers, dogs, and kids out there, so plenty to see and get used to. Overall it was a good ride!

Monday I snuck out there for a little bit. I only had two hours for lunch and I had already used up a chunk running errands. So I threw on the saddle and hopped on. I wanted to work on trotting around the pasture to put a little more steering on him. So we warmed up a bit at the walk and then picked a spot were we could do a big circle so that we could work on bending and moving to the outside rein. I think it helped a lot. Then we picked some straight paths to trot. He's getting so much better. Then we tried to do a couple trots up the hill, but he was not a fan! Lazy... I didn't want to push the issue because it was wet and we had a limited space to trot anyway, but we did trot up twice. Then I grabbed a rope for the old mare and started the first part of my new project. Ponying the old mare off Bear. Its not going to work great until he has some neck reining so I can steer with one hand, but I want to get him used to the idea now while he's still used to having her in such close contact. So we just did it in an area that I could let go at any point, but I didn't have to. She followed right along, and he doesn't mind the rope along his side or butt. It was a good start, and it will be very usefull someday, but certainly nothing I'll do out of an enclosed area for quite a while.

Tuesday at class we took some time to encourage everyone to try cantering for the first time. Its not the first time for Bear, but we had plenty to work on since we still don't really have canter departs down and the left lead is tricky. He was great tonight! He wasn't silly at all when we started, and we just got right down to business. Amazing what regular work over a few days will do! He's trotting out really well, and he's starting to follow more of a relaxed rythm by responding to my posting. He will transition down to the walk with just a big breath out, and he is following his nose much better. In fact I hardly remember him shaking his head or showing attitude at all tonight. He HATES me scrathing his neck while he's working, HATES it! Which is good since its a bad habit of mine to try to soothe the horse by rubbing up their neck as they trot along. He flips his head every time, like "Just ride why don't you?" He'll get me trained just the way he likes me eventually!

We still need to work moving off my inside leg, and he's still WAY too interested in the rest of the horses, but getting better. He picked up his right lead fine, and we were able to canter around really nicely. He felt balanced and athletic. Going to the left he picked it up fine but there were two horses that hadn't moved off the rail and were very pokily walking side by side, so just when I had come around once I had to screech to a halt to keep from running into them. He's got good brakes! Then he picked it up wrong, and seriously felt more balanced than on the correct lead, so we counter cantered the straight part, and came down to a trot after the first turn. Wrong again, brought him down quickly. Then we did a little leg yeiled toward the wall then asked and picked up the left lead! Great, except someone was right in the way, and even though I said coming on the outside, he couldn't get his horse to move anywhere, so Bear had another lovely halt from the canter while this horse danced around in circles in front of us! I think everyone knew I was annoyed at that point! We finally were able to pick up the left lead and canter a few laps with out horses in the way. He feels funky on his left, and leads with his inside shoulder, but its a start. Its all good experiences for Bear. He'll be well prepared for the show ring when I can finally manouver him successfully around the other greenies in this class.

Hopefully I stay consistant in getting out to see him now that the rain isn't so bad. I think I'll forgo the show this Sunday though. I really am supposed to be somewhere else that day, and I can't quite justify the long drive, show costs, and skipping out on another commitment just to get him out to have the horse show experience. I might as well wait until he at least is going along on the bit and might have a chance of placing in a walk-trot class! The problem is that I'm out of town for the April and the May dates for the show thats really close by. I'm afraid I'll regret not taking advantage of this weekend's show, but I've got so many other things going on. Plus I know he'll benefit more from me spending the same amount of money on getting out to start dressage lessons on him. (And he'd just like going for a trail ride most of all!)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Best in the class! Proud and ashamed all at once...

So I have a terrible problem with being competitive... I don't like it when I'm not up there with the best. Part of my perception on how well things went on Saturday was based on the fact that I was comparing my horse to the girl (looked like a trainer to me) who was loping perfect circles in a nice frame with her young but perfectly behave horse. Comparing never get you anywhere, and is particularly dangerous when comparing apples to oranges!

Its the same thing at class every week! I end up evaluating our night not based on how we are progressing, but how we did compared to the other horses. Two horses have limited training and are working at their own paces, one is in there for retraining because she didn't come along very well the first time, and one is a lazy off-the-track thoroughbred. Usually the tb is the closest competition, and her owner is one of the better riders so she does really well. The retrain project knows some of it already so it comes easily, for example she's quietly jogging around on the rail while my beast is zig-zagging through traffic, but on other things little Miss Retrain copes an attitude and refuses to progress much. Bear knows certain things better than the other horses, he learns really quickly, but he's a total nut job for the first 10 minutes of every class and tends to rush through things no matter what.

Tonight was our night! Our sole lesson for the class was to work on a bridge. Bear loves bridges! I think he sometimes even tries to make more noise on them than necessary. But when someone else went over it and made the noise he spooked and whirled around and was generally trying his best to be silly. We walked right over it a few minutes later while warming up, and he thought it was just fine. So we took it from all directions, and included poles and stopped with his front feet on, then with all four feet, and most of the rest of the night we stood around and walked everyone else fail to get their horse over it! Crazy...

Other than that we spent the time working on some more consistent trotting. He went we to the left, and I really felt like he was going forward and balancing off my inside leg. When we went to the right, he just kept diving in, and would move out as well. We did get a nice relaxed sitting trot in at the end and he started to slow down and lower his head. Oh! The bit was a huge success! Less head tossing, much better response to me asking him to bend to the inside, or follow his nose around the circle. Tonight he stopped really well off my seat, and I really only had to think walk and breath out and he relaxed into a walk! Yeah! That's to say he did all this after bolting forward and needing some one rein stops several times during the first couple laps around the arena! Silly Bear, I lunge but he still takes a couple warm up laps.

I'm hoping to sneak out to ride at lunch tomorrow, but that will greatly depend on how quickly I get a few projects done. The pasture is dry enough now that I can at least ride and trot in the upper part. So I can really work on him going where I want him to at the trot instead of wiggling about or cutting corners. With that many people in the arena I feel limited to just little circles and the rail. It will be nice to do some work on more of a twenty meter circle, and the random patterns around the topography of the pasture. The plan for Saturday is to hit the trail. Its time to tackle some hill work under saddle, and he'll be glad to get out of the arena.

Skipping the show was a good idea...

So the weather changed entirely, and the show grounds were probably perfectly dry, but I caught another cold bug and couldn't put any prep time in. We stuck with our plans to get some riding time in at the big arena on Saturday, which was a much better idea. We were able to really work on just going forward and letting him relax into the gait a little bit. So we got some big trots in, and I took advantage of the big dry arena to try the canter again after 3 months! He was fine with cantering, but very silly about a ton of other things.

We started with lunging (of course) and just as we got started at big family with toddlers on bikes, and a baby in a big red wagon come up from the trails on the opposite side of the arena. So of course it takes them ages to make it all the way around the arena, past us, and finally out of sight! Bear wasn't being naughty, but he definitely did his best impression of an arab while trotting around! His head was sky high, his tiny ineffectual tail was sticking straight out behind him, and he was prancing as much as possible while still trotting on like I asked.

We were sharing the arena with another rider who had a horse and a dog tied up at my end. Bear could care less about it all until the dog woke up and sat up! Then it became an issue! So after a few spins and balks, we made it a point to pass and circle back until it got boring. Another rider came so I did get to share the arena with 3 other horses, which I adequately avoided even though he wanted to go check them out each time we got within 30 feet! Still a good thing I wasn't trying to dodge 20 other horses at a schooling show. We still have some work to do about rating his gait, since I spent most of the time focusing on just going forward, and transitioning back down. We even tried a canter depart from the walk at the end and he surprised me by getting it with only a half trot stride! He's going to be so much fun when he's finished!

Overall it was a good day, but I am not sure that he likes the bit I switched him to. I first started him in a loose ring snaffle (the western style with the big flattish rings) and I had switched him to an English headstall when I started back into the dressage saddle and I have a D-ring with a french link snaffle mouth piece. He doesn't seem to be following his nose as well as he was, so I'm not sure that he like the pressure on the opposite side of his mouth. Its supposed to help, and if its not, then why use it? I'm going to be digging out a standard dressage loose ring snaffle tonight, so we'll see if its better or not.

My mom came out and rode around on the old mare (who was in an epically cantankerous mood when they started!) and as requested mom spent quite a bit of the time just videoing me and Bear go around. She's TERRIBLE at it! So none of it is worth posting unless I can figure out how to edit out the parts where she forgets to stop recoding and everything goes sideways as the camera swings at the end of the cord! It was very useful for me to see though. She stopped recording right as he spooked so it catches just the beginning but missed the recovery which was a shame since I would have liked to really look at my reaction. But she did catch my canter depart from the walk which was nice to evaluate.

Sadly I was conked out with the cold again on Sunday because I over did it on Saturday, ugh! I'm hoping to get back to regular work with him over the next two weeks, since the next show that was on the goal list is March 22. Lots of work before then!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rethinking our Saturday plans

So its raining... its been raining for what seems like decades, and it is going to rain all the way up until the show on Saturday. While part of the classes are in the indoor arena, the two that were my bare minimums (the ones I felt I could do even if he was wild and crazy) will be outside in the slop and muck. I haven't been able to ride much because of the weather, so Bear is not as far along in his steering control at the trot as I hoped. He also has been penned up in the mud so he's got way more energy than usual. Put these two together and I can't in any good conscience put him in a walk-trot class where children might be present! So the classes in the indoor are out, and I just can't muster up the courage to brave the chance of the round pen being to slick to lunge in, the parking lot too wet to pull out of, and Bear being too overwhelmed for us to enjoy ourselves all to just to slop around in the mud for the two solo classes. So I think I'd rather use the first dry day to just get some good training time in.

The plan is to trailer out to the big arena, where even if its wet, its not that bad of footing. That way he can have a good lunge session, and we can get some big trots in without dodging other horses. I'm hoping to get some pictures even though I'm not showing. I'll be glad when things dry out and I won't always have to trailer out in order to do anything but walk.

Class was good tonight. We had two less horses, so it was a little easier to get some work in. Bear is still very distracted by the other horses, and want to get up close and personal in order to check them out! He started to veer towards another horse that we were meant to be trotting by, so I gave him a tiny swat when he didn't keep moving forward and he just about jumped out of his skin. He jumped forward (which was fine since that was what I was asking) but then did a little half buck and tried breaking into the canter. We trotted on, nice and forward and pretended that he hadn't just had a silly fit. He was very over dramatic tonight and felt the need to leap over pee spots, dodge shadows, and in general find reasons to be silly. It will be nice when he's back in pasture full time. He's coming along slowly, but regular work would make everything nicer for both of us.

We'll see if there are any breaks in the rain to get out tomorrow and at least get a walk in. He literally planted his feet and slid down the slope from the pen to the paved driveway when I pulled him out today. I think he's been practicing ice skating through the mud!