Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Home Court Disadvantage

Winter can really stick a wrench in a regular riding schedule. All I really want to work on are canter transitions and baby horse jumping exercises but my arena full of snow is just too slippery.

Shiraz has been an absolute saint at the indoor, but I have only been able to afford the time and money to get there once every two weeks. At home I have a different horse. She keeps all her attention on her buddies over in the paddock and basically llamas around spooking at her shadow, acting like the arena is going to swallow her whole and I do not exist.
So laid back - why can't she be like this at home?!!
It is a bit hard to reconcile this in my head. Every time I get on at home, I think of the horse I have at the arena -- one that feels like old faithful really, steady beyond her young 4 years. Then she reminds me that no, she is definitely a baby horse and cannot walk a 20-meter circle without flailing, scooting and pleading to be back with her buddies. I am not too worried about it though. Savvy is also a bit more challenging at home than she is at an indoor arena.

It feels like a good 20-minute trot set of serpentines and lateral work would help so much but it is not an option at home. Unfortunately right now the ground conditions do not allow me to increase to trot and canter to work out her tension. And, lunging doesn't seem to help how she is under saddle; she can appear relaxed from lunging and then becomes tense all over again once I get up to ride.  So, it is time to become a bit more creative.

Completely soaked after a lesson. I might consider bringing a blowdryer to lessons because waiting for a sweaty horse to dry before heading out in -20 takes a LONG time.
What I can do based on ground conditions at home:
  • Lunging: She seems to be okay doing walk, trot, canter on the lunge and only slips when she gets nutty and starts gallop/bucking. She also handles lunging over smaller jumps okay if I am very careful to give her a straight canter on the landing to avoid slipping.
  • Riding: Basically can only walk, but can handle trot and maybe canter if only going straight. (This may seem over-cautious but I have been on a horse that slipped doing a 20-meter circle in the snow at a trot. All four legs went out from under her and we came down hard. So I will remain forever cautious.) 
What I want to accomplish:
  • Fitness: I need her to be able to handle the demand put on her at our indoor lessons.
  • Retention of training: She is pretty great at the indoor, but she is still very green and I want to not just hold onto what she knows so far, but actually progress as well before spring.
  • Establish a better leadership role: The fact that she tunes me out at home and spends so much time keeping an eye on her buddies speaks volumes for what she really thinks of me at the moment. When she is forced into relying on me, like at the indoor, she is willing to look to me for guidance but at home I am definitely not her first choice.
Winter heating pad hack ftw! I hate putting a cold saddle on my horse. This seems to work great! I also stick my bridle under there so the bit gets warmed up at the same time.

Lunging is a easy way to keep her fitness up but does nothing for her training or our working relationship. I think adding poles and cavaletti into the lunging may be a good way to address that. There are endless variations I can do with this and should certainly grab her attention and get her thinking about where her feet are.

Even something as simple as this three pole lunging exercise set at canter strides has proven to be challenging for my baby horse. She hasn't quite figured out that she can adjust herself to avoid the poles... Also, yes those are tiny snowmen decorations, because why not.
Second, it is time to pull out some of my horse agility obstacles and put them to use again. This includes tarp, curtain, barrels, bridge, hoolahoops, makeshift gate and 'scary' objects. Working on these tasks really help build a language and encourage the horse to think and seek answers, and honestly it is a lot more fun than simple pressure and release ground exercises. I did a lot of this with Shiraz when she was a baby, but most of 2017 I have not done any of it as I was focusing more on riding her.

Finally, with riding I will help her stay focused with lots ground poles, keeping at a walk mostly and working on relaxation. I would be thrilled right now with a flat, relaxed walk (right now she can only jig at home) and two ears on me.

Seeing how great she is at the indoor now is so encouraging. That horse is in there and it feels like time, training and maturity will help bring out that quiet horse on a more consistent basis. For now though I will have to keep working on it and try to stay patient. We'll be out doing all the fun things in just a few months. In past years I have found all the road blocks Manitoba winters provide frustrating to say the least. This year so far I am just not letting it get to me. I have two really great horses that I love to bits, and I feel confident that what ever progress that does not happen now will be made up for in the spring.


  1. omgggg this reminds me of the early days with isabel, who was a holy terror at home but turned into the quintessential professional on the road. ugh. horses sometimes. i love your idea about obstacles - that's exactly where my mind went too. creating obvious, tangible visual markers can really help both horse and rider understand what where how and why, without getting lost in the weeds of which shoulder is popping out where. wishing you luck! i also found that the very simple in hand type work i did with charlie did actually translate over to improving his focus and attention in riding. not so much just lunging, but asking him to step this way and that way, in random patterns and configuration.

    anyway, good luck! and that heating pad hack is GENIUS OMG.

    1. The ground work and obstacles are really helping! Moving from one task to the next is proving to hold her attention and distracting her from obsessing over her buddies. Its not jumping practice (saddness) but at least it is saddle time!

  2. Ah just like Carmen. It takes a while for a horse to figure it out at home. It takes persistence and patience. The ground exercises are a great way to get her tuning into you.

    1. So far so good! Although when you say "just like Carmen" I would much rather it be relating to something like how beautiful she is...lol

    2. But Shiraz IS lovely. You are so fortunate to have her from the beginning. I think that Carmen would be very different if that had been the case. She will always be sensitive but not so defensive.

    3. Yes I think so too, considering what a good job you have done with Carmen and how much she has already transformed she would be different. But you will get to the same end point regardless because the work you are putting in seems to be working! (and yes, I think Shiraz is sooo lovely!! :D)

  3. My older horses that I didn't train myself from the ground up are both way better off property than at home. It's so frustrating to work them at home knowing they are so much better away! More repetition seems to help them settle in though. Ground work absolutely helps! I hope Shiraz will settle some with time.

    1. Well we have no excuse since she has lived here since she was a baby :P Maybe it is just the transition from all that time growing up getting to be mainly a pasture puff to working grown up pony that I will just have to work through.