Monday, April 20, 2009

First Horse Show!

We went to our first show on Saturday and Bear was a super star! He was fine when we got out of the trailer, but the longer he stood there with three people rushing around trying to do horse show things the more he fed off that energy and got VERY antsy! Once I had him tacked up and over to the warm up ring to lunge, he was back to his usual self and was behaving despite being pretty hot. He relaxed a ton after lunging, and I had no worries about getting on. He was great. It never fails that there are a hundred unsupervised kids running there horses all over the place and trying the jumps in the warm-up only to have their horse bolt off sideways into traffic. Bear saw it all and was very patient with everyone!
Bear with his head sky-high checking out the horse show world
Our first class was walk-trot Pleasure First/Second Year Showing (for the HORSE). This isn't always made clear whether the novice/green applies to the horse or the rider, but at this show that had clearly marked in the program: pleasure= 1st/2nd year showing for horse, equitation=1st/2nd year showing for the rider. But its not regulated, and as I saw the riders move out of the line up, there were most definitely 10 year olds on seasoned show horses! Oh well! I really don't care that we didn't place! Even if there had been 8 of us, I still wouldn't have placed. But I had chosen the class specifically because I thought it would be small, and there were 16 other horses in it! Overall it was a very good warm up for him. He was very hot starting at the trot, and spent most of the time looking around with his giraffe head way up in the air! We had a couple good spots where he would come back to me and actually work on the bit for a few strides, but he is still very inconsistant. Training-wise I knew we weren't ready to really be competitive at a show, but experience-wise I wanted to get him out for this challenge.

Our second class was a walk-trot horsemanship pattern class. I was really proud of him with that one! My main goal was to keep him collected enough to not go all over the place on the circles, and trotted fairly round circles, and maintained a nice slow even trot. I was so excited with the first circle I took for granted that he would stop at the cone since that was supposed to be the easy part for us! I asked too soon and we stopped short, and then he didn't want to settle down into the halt and just kept dancing! So I finally gave up and just moved him into his pivot which started bad because of the dancing, but ended alright. Second circle not as good as the first but not shabby. Then the second halt was better, but not straight and I was so excited about showing off his backing skills that we backed WAY more than four steps! Oh well. All the mistakes were mine, and over all I was really pleased with his effort. And I have a video!

Our third (and exhausting final) class was equitation. Watching the couple classes ahead of mine gave me an idea that I was up for a challenge! I had just been talking to a friend earlier that day saying I felt out of shape because I hadn't risked doing work without stirrups on him yet, and of course that ended up being what the judge was asking for! The same friend happened to be at the gate when I went in and commented on my being very brave to do the class! It proved to be absolutely exhausting! Bear was pretty darn good, but kept trying to stop at the gate, so I guess he thought it was a good time to quit too! We were asked for a sitting trot, then sitting trot without irons, then back into a posting trot without irons, then pick up your irons at the trot, then two point, and finally an extension of the trot in two point. He wasn't a huge fan of the irons bumping his sides, so in our pictures of the no irons work his expression progressed from happy to slightly irritated. We were all grumbling and crabby by the end! I'm pretty good with eq classes at the schooling show level, but doing it on such a young horse was definitely more of a challenge! We ended up 5th out of 8 which is not bad at all!
Off to a good start

No irons!

Just trying to stay up in two point when my legs were SO tired.SO tired, and making a face about it! Although Bear seems fine.

Overall I was pleased with the day. He stood around for hours between classes, and he was very brave and sensible about it all. There was no running down ponies, no freakouts when horses came right up on his butt or cut him off, he was quiet in the line ups, overall SO good. I'm a proud mama!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The quest to find the right instructor...

So the quest began last night. I figured the easiest way to compare the various trainers will be to jot down my reactions and thoughts after each one, and then go back to reflect once I've seen a couple places.

Trainer #1: Lesson at 5:30pm on Wednesday 4/15

Proximity: 20 minute drive, easy to get to, nice pull through parking.

Facility: Clean and tidy place with happy and quiet horses. Bear was super relaxed there, hardly even looked around, so there's a nice overall calm at the place. Covered arena, big out door arena, nice round pen for warm up, field with cavaletti and small jumps when we get to that point.

Trainer: was punctual, polite, and positive! She took the time to watch me warm up on the lunge even before the lesson started, and offered comment. She complimented both my horse and the training I had done! Bonus points!!! She works from the German Training scale, which gives a better reason for doing things than "Because that's just what I do..." But she also has the experience both in training and competing to really validate what she's saying. I loved that she put everything into age appropriate context. I don't like it when trainers expect all horses to reach perfection regardless of age, development, or fitness level. She acknowledged both his weaknesses due to age and conformation (shortish neck with muscling underneath) and what we could do to improve that, rather than what it would prevent him from doing. So far so good!

Lesson: Amazing! We had a complete revelation! Basically I was able to get exactly what I had been wanting out of Bear by going about it in a completely different way. My biggest pet peeve with him right now has been him diving into the circle with his shoulder. So I've been going about trying to keep the bend to the inside and keeping him pushed out to the outside, but I've been working really hard with little result. Its bad at the trot and worse at the canter and it seemed like the more I tried to push him out, the more he ended up coming in. Of course I hadn't mentioned this. I merely said that we were at a point in his training that he was going forward on a loose-ish rein, stopping, and turning, but that it seemed like the past couple weeks when I had started trying to ask for him to be on the bit more, things were getting worse, not better.

She had us warm up a bit and just do whatever we normally do, to get an idea what to tackle. The trainer hit the nail on the head after watching us trot a couple haphazard serpentines around the arena: he's off balance and falling to the inside! (I'm not helping it by letting myself lean forward either! Which explains why he's better in the western saddle.) So what I'm was thinking was him not understanding or responding to what I'm asking: bending and moving to the outside, turns out to really be his young heavy-on-the-forehand body causing him to veer in. She said that before you can work on balancing him side to side and bending, you have to first balance him front to back. We talked a lot about what's appropriate rate and rhythm for his age and considering his long long legs. She had me work on walk-trot transitions until he was engaging his haunches more, and we had a more balanced and steady trot. Anytime he started rushing forward or get strung out we'd come back to the walk and start again. Sounds simple doesn't it? It was! It was REALLY simple! Yet it fixed the problem! Any time he wasn't responding to the directional cues she told me to either collect him or bring him to a walk. He can't effectively follow directions if he's just trying his best to stay balanced, so rebalance him first in order to turn, circle or whatever, then continue on. It helped immensely. I'm not good at thinking of doing both at the same time, and he's not clearly not either, so by simplifying it we were both happy campers. So instead of a strung out and quick trot, by the end we had a really balanced trot with good consistant rhythm, and he was actually stretching down to keep contact with the bit! Amazing! We didn't get to the canter, but I've got plenty to chew on for awhile.

The other thing she was able to pick out was my inside leg coming forward. I like trainers that can pick out when equitation is hindering or causing problems, and not just ones that have a stylistic equitation approach. So there is something for me to work on, because it seriously made Bear turn the wrong way when it was out of place, and helped him move on like a happy horse when it was in the right place. I'm thinking he's quiet enough for some no stirrups work, but maybe to be safe I'll start with a few sessions on the old mare!

Overall impression: I would be more than happy to schedule a lesson a week all the way up to summer! I swore I'd look at a couple places before making a decision, and I'm sticking to that. I was happy with the progress we made, and it was a very positive experience! I feel like she will be conservative in what she asks of such a young horse, which is wonderful because I would rather have a trainer that is too cautious and babies them a little than one that pushes past what I would have thought was too much and makes me regret it!

Bring on the next barn! Until then, I'll have some fun to report on from the horse show on Saturday! Should be exciting!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Same horse every time

I just can't believe my luck sometimes. I was out of town for spring break, and spent much of the week before preparing to be gone. So last night at class was the first time I had as much as seen Bear in two weeks! Aside from a swollen cut on his leg, he was exactly the same horse that I left two weeks ago. He wasn't wild or crazy, he hadn't regressed. He was just good old relaxed and happy Bear. (And who knows when the cut happened! Its old enough that its all scabbed over, and thank goodness it isn't hurting him. But its definitely one of those things that doesn't get noticed if I'm not around! Grr...)

Two weeks ago we started lunging with side reins again (which I had given up while he was rehabbing from the injury), and he's already doing better breaking at the poll under saddle. Then we worked on the usual walk, trot, canter. He's been really leaning to the inside and leading with the inside shoulder so I took advantage of there being two less horses and a little more room and rode just about everything but the rail! We did straight lines and pivots, lots of little circles, serpentines, and anytime he wanted to go the center we mad lots of circles there. So by the time we got to the canter he was almost relieved to canter around the rail on a loose rein. Any time he came into the center he had to work on circles!

Our fun challenge for the evening was working a gate! Its the type you find in any trail class, you know the kind horses look at and say "Hey Stupid! Can't you see we can just go AROUND the gate?" But that's not the point, now is it? Bear has been ponied through many real gates so he has no fear of them, but he hasn't ever been the one responsible for actually opening it. We took things really slowly. Step by step. First we did a little warm up of one step turn on forehand, one step turn on haunches, and so on until we had sort of done a shimmy side pass along a pole. Then I turned that into a more legitimate side pass. Then we just came up along the gate and stood there. I want him to know the best place to be is right by the gate. He can always have a break if he's right up next to the gate. The fun thing with Bear is that he's not afraid of a darn thing, but he does like to play with new objects a bit too much. He got scolded for trying to open the gate himself, and trying to shake the whole thing over! We took the gate very slowly, so that each step was what I was asking for, and pausing in between so that he didn't even think of rushing. We did it twice and called it a night!

He's such a fun horse, and I already forget that he's so young. He's going to be such a great horse to do cross country with because he's so bold and eager to try new things! Even the terrifying horse eating llamas can't ruffle his feathers anymore. He's on his way to being an amazing all around horse, we just need to start committing more time to actual training!