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!

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