Doing Work and Getting Homework

You know those lessons where things aren’t perfect, but you hop off and feel really good about the work you put in?

We had one of those this week. We made some mistakes, my bad habits popped up, but I felt like Frankie was really workmanlike and we were super on the same page about fixing what needed to be fixed.

Aw so sweet

One highlight was a long approach single vertical on the wall that showed up every course. First try: we got to a decent spot, but for some reason my body totally pretzeled and we took the rail down. Second try: we got to a decent spot, but Frankie thought it was boring and we took the rail down. Third try: Trainer decided to give him something to focus on and raised it to 4’ish, and we left the rail up.

When left to his own devices, Frankie jumps SO much better and cleaner when we amp up the difficulty and engage him mentally. Tighter turns, bigger jumps all are interesting enough to him to get him really firing off the ground and thinking about his job. My job is to create that fire and get him focusing and thinking, even when his job is a little bit easier.

On that note, it’s super cool to see what engages him and what doesn’t and how that changes over time. Things that used to be difficult (and therefore interesting) for him have slowly become easier (and boring), and we’re able to turn up the heat to ask for more. He’s delightfully trainable and not bothered by pressure.

When going through a bending line (bending left, four strides that needed some woah once the jumps went up), Trainer made the rail very uneven with the left side higher. My job was to still jump the center of the jump, with the uneven rail encouraging Frankie to keep his body straight over it instead of leaning to the left through the turn. When I let him jump the low side- yawn, poor form. When I kept my leg on and got him to the middle, we got a great effort. Trainer commented that going to the low side is a green horse move- it gives them more room to fit the stride in, makes the track a little easier, and keeps the question simple. Frankie (and I) both know better, so we need to perform at a higher level.

We used the gag converter in this lesson, and I gotta say- I love it! 90% of the time I don’t need it and that gag rein has some flop in it. But the 10% of the time that he’s kinda tuning me out and bopping around singing LALALA I AM FRANCIS, it’s been just the right amount of “oomph” to get him back under me. I really like that it’s the same plain snaffle too. I felt like he got a little backed off on the slow twist, but with the plain one he feels more comfortable in the mouth. I’m excited to take it for a test run at McDonogh this weekend! We’ll be doing the 1.10m Ch/AA division as a nice soft season opener to get our sea legs before Ohio.

We also have homework from AT! She put her first ride since October on him last week, and gave me the following instructions for my own rides on him:

  • Ride him off the rail, and don’t let him fade out through our turns. He’s developed the habit of fading out to the rail and picking his own track, and we want him tuned in. No more just following the outside- lots of figures and working off the rail and CONTROLLING THE DANG HAUNCH THROUGH THE TURNS.
  • Amp up the intensity. He’s getting one pro ride from her, one lesson with me, and one day off a week which means four days of flatwork. Those are no longer allowed to be toodling. If we want to build enough fitness and muscle for the bigger tracks, we need to work towards that. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) high impact work, but tons of transitions between and within the gaits to get him firing harder and develop those muscles. She mentioned that every horse has a weakness, and our job is to make sure that we’re not stressing that weakness. Frankie’s is that he’s a little bit over at the knee, so we want to help make sure he can rock back to use his hind end more, and use his body effectively over the jumps so he lands comfortably.
This angle makes it look more pronounced than it actually is, but you can see that he’s definitely over at the knee
  • More carrot stretches! His left side is stiffer than his right- it’s naturally his weaker side and I’ve only made it worse with my own unevenness. We’re going to incorporate more stretches every day to help him even out and build that suppleness. Along those lines, we’re also going to be incorporating massage/chiro to make sure that as he’s working and getting more flexible, we’re removing any barriers to that and keeping him comfortable.

I feel super super motivated after getting these instructions from her. I absolutely love that she takes the time to explain the “why” of the work and how it will help keep Frankie in top condition. It makes me even more determined to follow through- we’re not just doing this so Frankie can jump big jumps, we’re doing this so that he can be healthy and safe for a long time to come.

PS- Every person to whom I’ve mentioned, “oh yeah, my horse will start getting regular massages this year,” thinks I’m a total nutcase. But I know all y’all are nutcases too. Anything for the ponies, amiright?

Upperville Envy and Homework

Hey gang!

Sorry about the pseudo-radio silence this week, my browsers have been acting up. I was saying that it was my internet acting up, but I’ve been reliably informed that my internet is just fine, and it’s just that all my browsers decided to go on the fritz. Oh well.

Anywho, this week has been super great in some ways and super sad in others. Let’s get the sad out of the way so we can focus on the good.

The entire farm is at Upperville. Sob. They’ve been absolutely kicking butt and grabbing tons of satin with their awesome ponies, but I’m not there with them. Instead, I’m watching the livestream during my lunch break when my stupid internet browser is working. This also means no lessons this week, so I only got to jump little tiny jumps instead of doing big fun courses.

Poor me, right??? HAH.

On to the good! Addy and I had two super productive “homework rides” on both Monday and Wednesday- we were both sweaty and out of breath by the end. We worked on similar things both days in different ways- accepting the contact and collecting.

One thing I’ve mentioned before is that Addy will move off when I pick up my reins. Smart pony is too smart for her own good. So I’ve started picking up my reins and really utilizing our walk instead of letting her assume that walking always equals relaxing. She’s still not convinced, so she spends a lot of time prancing and wiggling, and I spend a lot of time half-halting. It’s the funniest thing- this bombproof horse that will jump the moon turns into a snorting fire-breathing dragon as soon as we turn the speed down. Lots of leg-yields, haunches-in, turns on the forehand, etc. as well as circles and serpentines to give her something to focus on besides jigging along. I’ve already noticed a difference in her willingness to accept this, so I’ll just have to remember to consistently incorporate more walking into our flat work.

Addy has gotten much more sensitive and responsive to our lateral work at the walk, so I’ve started incorporating that a bit into our trot work as well. She leg-yields like an absolute pro, and our haunches-in have improved by leaps and bounds. She definitely lets me know that she’s working hard by getting snorty and prancing, but she so clearly wants to please. It’s awesome working with a horse with this kind of work ethic! I’ve also been working on my sitting trot and maintaining the power through that- to make it easier to sit, I often just ask her to slow down and we lose power. Lately I’ve been trying to keep my leg on more strongly so that we maintain the power, and just package it up into a nice round bouncy trot. I need someone to film this! Pretty Girl seriously turns into a fancy dressage horse when I ask her correctly, and it’s gorgeous (from what I can see in the ring mirrors). We got some beautiful foamy horse lipstick from this work. I also had some trot poles set up so we could get her legs moving and stretching and take regular breaks from the collection and lateral work.

At the canter, I’m working a TON on our adjustability. We can hand-gallop all day long. She does not need to practice a nice open stride. She needs to practice a short bouncy stride. I know that’s very hard for her to do, so we’re doing it in short sets to help build the muscles she needs to carry herself more. Any line set on normal 12′ striding is too short for her natural step and I need her much more responsive to me so that I can tell her when to shorten or open up. We’ve definitely gotten much better at this that we were a few months ago, but if we want any success in the jumper ring then I need her listening to my cues to wait to the base of the jump instead of charging and taking fliers. Holy crap this takes so much leg. It’s always my instinct to take my leg off when I want to slow down, but oh em gee that is so not correct. When I add my leg, I can basically get Pretty Girl cantering up-and-down beneath me with very little forward motion. It’s a super cool feeling to get her so compacted and powerful and waiting for my cue.

Until she sees a jump.

Then, she absolutely loses her mind and runs at it unless I’m holding HARD. I do think that part of this is the 20* drop in temperature, getting rained on in turnout, and lack of jumping in the last week or so. But Beastly Unicorn ran right at those crossrails I set up and took off hand-galloping away from them. Never dangerous, but if you don’t particularly like going fast then you would have had a terrible time riding her that day (I had a fantastic time haha).

We tried two exercises with varying degrees of success. One was a single crossrail that we approached from both directions, first at the trot and then at the canter. As simple as you can get. I really wanted her waiting to the base and maintaining a steady rhythm instead of laser-ing in on the jump and blowing through my aids. I also wanted her waiting after the jump, but that definitely needs more work. If you check out my Instagram, you can see a short clip of Pretty Girl giving me exactly what I asked for!

The other exercise we did was a simple line set in a normal 3 strides. I wanted her waiting for the 4. As you may know, Addy is very comfortable doing a 3-stride in a 2, and getting the 3 means she has to a work a little. Putting in 4 means she has to work extra hard. She gave me the 4 when we trotted in, but got so excited cantering in that even getting the 3 was a struggle.

My suspicion is that there are a few holes in Addy’s training, and that if we can patch those holes we can go higher and higher. She loves jumping, but needs to keep her brain in her head instead of losing her mind and galloping at it. She loves having a job to do, but needs to accept the contact so that I can accurately communicate that job.

And if we always have rides like we did this week, then it’s gonna be AWESOME to patch up those holes. Despite the snortiness and the prancing and the goofiness, or maybe because of all those things, I had a ridiculous amount of fun on both rides. No frustration, no drilling of any one particular thing, just working together and building our strength so we can keep doing awesome things together. I adore this mare.

Maybe we can even get good enough to go to Upperville next year 😉

What has your “homework” been lately? What basic things have you taken a step back to work on?