Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Big Picture

At the beginning of 2017, I had a fluffy, opinionated pony that mostly could not even canter without telling me where I could stuff that nagging leg of mine. My hope was by the end of this year I would have a more obliging partner who could make it safely over the small sticks in a xc field. The verdict? Well, still so many opinions but sticks have definitely been jumped!

Sometimes horse training can feel like spinning wheels in mud. It is awesome when you can see real progress happen, but sometimes the improvement is too slow to see in real time. I admit to getting occasionally frustrated when I can't see the progress. For me, looking at one big goal compounds that frustration. I have to break things down into steps and I try not to look beyond each smaller goal until it is completed. This way I can enjoy small successes and stay motivated to keep on chugging along.

And so at the beginning of this year I set to work designing a realistic training plan for Savvy and I. Not only did Savvy have much to learn, but I wanted to push myself as well to ride more assertively and build up the courage bank account.

There were so many moments this year I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone and loved it!
I was starting out with a pretty awesome little horse and there was a working relationship already in place. Even though Savvy is quite a handful to negotiate with (omg SO many opinions and happy to tell me ALL of them) I still felt safe working with her and approaching work that she was not particularly designed for.

Really when it comes down to it, I would not recommend teaching a horse to do something they are not particularly talented at. But with that said, I am so glad I pursued teaching Savvy to jump and diving into very low-level cross country courses with her. Even though all of the work felt so much harder than it needed to be, at the end Savvy appeared to enjoy it and I had the time of my life!

Even our dressage improved, though I must admit little attention was paid to the importance of flat work...
With all the work I put into making this year happen, I felt it deserved a bit of reflection. So, I decided to piece together a few of the highs and lows of 2017 with Savvy and her training (please forgive my horrible video editing skills!) Enjoy!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

A + B = C

If C = a fun 2018 summer at XC events with Shiraz, then A = hard work and B = time...right?
Baby Shiraz. Smoochable nose from day one :)
We all know bringing along a baby horse is never as easy as simple algebra, but having a plan and seeing it work with Savvy gives me hope. With phase one of the grand plan accomplished (get Shiraz officially green broke w/t/c), I am moving on to phase two which is to start trailering for arena time and lessons.

Ah, but can you solve this?
Although having this horse in my life since she was just six months old, being on her back and learning who she is as a riding horse is a whole new adventure for us. She's no longer a baby, wandering crookedly trying to figure out why dis human is on her back. Her understanding is still extremely basic, but she now shows a better understanding of this is what humans do and shows a bit more confidence in knowing some of the answers.

Sitting on Shiraz and asking her to horse kind of still feels a bit surreal. She miraculously learnt A LOT in her short stint away at the trainer's and my brain needs to catch up to this new level of ability. I can ask and expect more from her but at the same time I am struggling with not 'knowing' her under saddle. Now that real work is happening I can find out the finer details that just were not showing up in the gradual low-pressure training I had been doing with her this past summer.

Maybe I roll? - Shiraz, many times
Her rides now can be more structured with longer, more focused work. How does she react when she doesn't understand? How far can I push her and what are her go-to behaviours/responses?

I am also just taking note of simple things like what is her easier side? How easy is it to get her straight/bend and what does she tend most towards? And then there are the more subtle things that you feel from a horse like what their back feels like when they are tense versus relaxed.

It is all just so new and I am having quite a bit of fun figuring it all out.

Having a look at jumps we will be using in the somewhat near future!
Now that there is frozen, snowy ground in my backyard, it is time to start trailering out for riding. Our first outing was to the large heated arena. I planned this outing to be a simple introduction to the place and made a plan to proceed as far as felt comfortable. I just took my time with letting her see the place, getting acquainted with the mechanical overhead door opening and closing. I started with leading her around inside and setting a tone for the session. I wanted to show her she can have a brief look at things but her main focus must be on me and rewarded her for staying attentive. I did my best to give her a purpose in all areas of the arena so she could indirectly check out her surroundings without any of it being allowed to be a big deal.

Once I felt like she was settled and ready to work, I saddled her up and began lunging. I wanted the experience to be quiet and relaxed to establish a good first experience for her. I made sure the lunging had plenty of transitions, tons of walk as well as halt and stand quietly for well-earned breaks (and of course stuffed her face with carrots for being such a good girl).

"This place has no 'winter'. I like it." Me too Shiraz, me too.
By the end of lunging she was downright lazy. So really what could I do but hop up and ride?! I kept it all in the centre of the area, away from the automatic door and scary far-off corners, but seriously I was just being over cautious because at this point, everyone had left and I was alone in the arena. I didn't want to push for too much on my first ride in the indoor without eyes on the ground.

I kept it to about a 60-meter circle doing walk/trot and focusing on forward, correct bend and not nagging. I discovered (like with all of my previous horses) she was far less forward in the arena than at home. I also could start to sort out some details about her way of going in working gaits. She felt quite stiff and a bit anxious going right. Going left was fantastic though and it was almost easy to get her shoulders where I wanted and a lovely soft bend off of inside leg to outside rein.

And (*gasp*) riding!
My hour there seemed to fly by. I just wanted to keep going because Shiraz was being so fantastic and it was so much fun to be riding her.

My plan for the next little bit is to trailer over a few more times and ride on my own (if my truck cooperates b/c engine lights are worrisome and putting a sticker over it so I can't see it doesn't seem like a long-term solution) and then start lessons with my coach from last year. I did try to arrange lessons with the girl who worked with Shiraz, but after leaving two messages with the barn manager to get permission to trailer in there, I have still not heard back. I haven't given up on that though and will try to get something arranged, even if it is just for a couple of lessons because the more places I can take Shiraz, the better right?