Friday, December 6, 2013

Back to School and Field Trip Planning

So our last lesson was back at the beginning of May, before we left Illinois. While Oliver and I have really made some great progress this summer (solo and group trail rides, increased harmony in our riding, etc), it was time to get back into a structured program.

Wednesday night we had our first lesson with our new trainer, C. The BO has worked with C for many years, and I've heard nothing but good things about her. It was a nice night, and we had our first outdoor night lesson.

We worked on transitions between walk, halt and trot, and transitions within and between the gaits on a 20m circle. The main goal was to leg yield on the bending line, keeping Oliver on the bit  and moving nicely forward into it. She had a few position things to correct to make my leg and core more effective, and I was able to nearly immediately see the change.

She had many nice things to say about Oliver though, which was nice. She said it was clear that he tries hard to please me, and that he is well built with a nice neck. Her directions were simple, easy to understand, but still effective which was really great. 

I also really like her philosophy. C adheres strongly to the training pyramid, and was keen on showing me how the movements we were doing served as the foundation of advanced movements, and that it was very important to praise and reward Oliver when he did the right thing. "The horse must volunteer," which was a tenant I really liked. Oliver seemed to appreciate it as well.

I'm going to try to have at least 2 lessons a month with her.  Since I don't have a trailer, I might have to go up to her farm and have a lesson on a schoolmaster if she can't come to us all the time or we can't go to her, but I found I really enjoyed my lesson with her. 

One of our local dressage organizations, Austin Dressage Unlimited, runs a program called ADU University which tries to keep riders on task in their training goals through various events and functions.  I'm going to sign up for it, so I hope it will keep us on track.  You're assigned a mentor who keeps you accountable, and you must hit certain training goals for the year (show at 1 USDF recognized show, etc).

I also talked to the BO about trying to get off the property more for our horses. There are a lot of really nice places to trail ride around us, and a farm not too far from here typically holds hunter paces every 2-3 months which we want to try.  The competitive trail riding group holds similar outings, which we also want to go to to get our boys more exposure.

Finally, depending on how our training goes, the CTDS is holding a schooling show on Feb 22 and I would really like to take Oliver provided we're ready at home and the BO can take us.  It would be nice to get him out and about (it should be pretty warm in Feb) to a show setting, so I'll keep my fingers crossed that we can stay on track.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beauty and the Beast

I've been bad and haven't updated in about a month, but it seems like there's a general malaise in the horse blog world around this time (or at least those I follow) where updates have really slowed down. So, I don't feel too bad.

I've been busy and it's been raining so Oliver's had a bit more time off than I'd usually like. The rain did manage to fill the dry creek bed with water though, so have some pics of the BO and I (and our trusty steeds) in front of it (and various other beautiful areas around the farm)!

A bit pissy because posing for photos means he can't eat grass while we're stopped
The BO and her cutie horse

The hill we ride up sometimes
Mobile buffet

Flowers blooming along the arena fence

Self-grazing pony!

It was the first time we've really had water, and I wanted to see how Oliver would react if I asked him to get in and cross it.  We had to walk over the bridge that actually had water flowing under this time and he didn't care, so I don't know why I thought he'd behave any differently. He walked right in, and started drinking and playing in it with his mouth, so I think he quite likes it.

After that I had a bunch of time I was busy working on my Halloween costume, where I ended up making a large set of fully articulated wings. So that ate a lot of my time.

They flap!

Last night was the first night I was able to get out in a while. I figured we'd just do some very light W/T/C to get stretched out and do some real work today.  Well, the weather has gotten a bit cooler, and really I should've probably known - something similar happened around this time last year, under similar circumstances - but we were cantering and I was doing something I guess he didn't like but he bucked a big buck and I ended up coming off.

BUT, I realized what was happening, tucked my limbs in, rolled lengthwise for sec once I hit the ground, and then stood right up, marched over and yelled at him for a bit. Then, I got right back on and cantered a bit more. I was so incensed I didn't even get scared or shocked I just shot up and gave him a piece of my mind.  Then, went right back to work.

Once I was finished riding, I got my lunge line and whip and proceeded to explain that he can and will canter like a gentleman until I tell him to stop.  He seemed to get the message though. Most likely if it's cooled off a bit and it's been while since he worked I should probably lunge him a little first to get any residual stupid out. He did seem contrite afterward at least.

But hey, I am really proud of myself for handling myself like I did. No fear, no adrenaline spike, just sprung up like a daisy, a "how dare you" and right back to work. I wish I could go back in time to a few years ago and tell myself what happened. See, it does get better!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Adventures in Babysitting

I went out to ride Sunday with the BO, but unfortunately her horse was a bit sore.  So, instead of going on a long trail ride like we'd planned, she figured we could take her yearling up to the arena for the first time to start getting her used to being around horses while they're working.

Nobody puts me in a corner
Honestly, it was pretty great that Oliver and I were looked to to give confidence to a baby on her first time in what will be a pretty big part of her life! 

She took everything in stride, and her nervousness or antics didn't bother Oliver at all. It was great for us because except for the first few minutes, Oliver stayed focused on me. The baby got used to Oliver trotting and cantering around her, and the BO helped me fix some issues in my cantering position! Wins all around.

As Oliver was getting tired, during one of our last canter circles, he stumbled a bit, which spooked the baby who jumped, who spooked Oliver who jumped a little too! It was funny, and I realized I could sit a canter spook just fine - something I'd been worried about.
We left the arena and walked up the trail a little ways before walking back.  Everyone was so well behaved!

No big deal
Monday evening the BO's horse was still sore, so she decided to take the baby up to the arena again.  Oliver and I had been in the arena for the last few rides, so I didn't want to drill everything into the ground, and we kept it short.  Oliver and I focused on trot and canter work again, and the BO said my canter position was much improved! "If you improve that much between every lesson you'll be at second level in no time!"

I was pretty pleased with that, and she commented some of our trot work had some really nice suspension to it, so I feel like we're definitely improving. I mentioned to her how for a long time I'd been really nervous about cantering, and she said she would never have thought that from how I act. I feel really proud of myself, and I think this barn has been really great for us.

Babysitter extraordinaire

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Just The Two of Us

So not much is new since the last time I posted.  We've been getting rained out a decent amount, and I've been super busy the past 2 weeks so I haven't gotten a ton of riding in. 

I think the quality of our rides has increased a lot though. We've been focusing on the canter lately and it's getting much better. We've been getting a really nice amount of foamy lipstick and Oliver feels really balanced since he saw the new farrier.

Seriously, how gorgeous does his neck look? Doing something right!
We're still doing our solo trail rides, and riding solo most of the time recently. Leaving a very busy barn, I thought I'd miss having a lot of other people around, but honestly, I really enjoy riding alone.  I feel like I'm able to concentrate more on Oliver and I instead of having to worry about who is where and doing what.

The solo trail rides are going well.  We went on one today, after we accomplished some nice canter work and I decided it was too hot to bake up in the arena anymore. Oliver reacted like we'd been going every day, letting me keep one hand on the buckle of the reins and the other on the cantle or thigh.

Today we went farther then we have before, down over the concrete bridge and through the woods beyond. It was really nice, and Oliver was excellent.  Didn't bat an eye at anything.

We may be having a lesson soon, our first since early May at Oakwood. I'm looking forward to it, but at the same time we've really been doing well just on our own. The local dressage societies have been having shows that I've been trying to go to, just nothing's worked out yet for transportation or cost.

So hopefully I'll have some more interesting updates soon, but for now, I'm enjoying riding more than I ever have.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Going Solo

It's been raining in the evenings this week, so I haven't had a chance to ride since Sunday.  Tonight I was feeling tired, but I wanted to go out and see Oliver.  I was feeling lazy, and not really in the mood for dressage, so I decided to try out another solo trail ride.  He was great last time, so I had every confidence he would be the same this go. 

To make things more interesting, I decided I didn't feel like warming up in the arena, so I tacked up, walked to the picnic table next to the barn and got on from there.  And I decided we'd go down the longer loop instead of the way I took him last time.

He was just perfect this time. Absolutely perfect. No jigging, or any signs of being anything other than interested or relaxed.  We walked mostly on the buckle, even. His buddies called for him, but he didn't seem to care.  We went down the loop and back, and them around the side of the barn, and the field in the front. He was so good, and I was so proud of him.

Trail pony!
He seems to enjoy going for these trail rides with me and it's doing wonders for our relationship. He seems interested and happy when I go to his paddock to bring him in, and he calls for me after I leave. I don't think I've ever enjoyed riding more than I have recently!

Waiting for me to come back

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Benefit of the Doubt

Since we came to Texas, I feel like there's been a change in the dynamic between Oliver and I. With the absence of other horses and riders, I think we are making huge strides in our partnership.

And that's what I feel we are now: partners.

I've long hated riding with a flash bridle. I think they look horrible, and that in many cases they are unnecessary; crutches to hide faults in the rider's training.  The horse must obey, even if the question is incorrectly asked because they can't do anything but submit. But the whole point of dressage is to ask the right question and willingly get the right answer. So we lost the flash. He doesn't cross his jaws, or get his tongue over the bit.  He is more relaxed without it. 

I've been really trying to evaluate my riding lately. When I ask a question with aids X,Y, Z what answer do I receive, and if it wasn't what I wanted, why not?  What did the legs do, what did the hands do, to influence the result?

I listened to his answers, and learned a great deal in a short amount of time.  And I learned Oliver is an honest horse and will give you what you ask, but you have to ask correctly. I adjusted some things in myself, and suddenly I had a free walk, following the bit down and back up.  I had a trot-halt from just an exhale and a stilling of my body. A walk-trot from just my seat. A calm, easy trot-canter transition and a fluid canter-trot or canter-walk when before it was jarring.

If he's strong in the bridle, it's because I'm not pushing him forward enough to lighten him. If he's leaning, I'm not asking him to be soft enough.  It is my job to teach him the right answer to the right question, but I have to know how to ask the right question. And I have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he'll try to answer honestly.

It's still a work in progress, but I have faith it is the right way to go.  It feels right, and if nothing else it feels like more of a conversation than a demand. We've had a great last few rides, and I couldn't be happier with him. 

Oliver and his best buddy
In other news, Oliver is now a horse who can go on the trail solo.  At the end of our arena work Saturday, I rode him down the small hill toward the barn, and decided to see how far we could get on our normal short trail loop the BO and I usually take for cooldowns. 

I thought "Well let's try to get to the old gate and see how he is," then "OK, let's get to the pasture area and see how he is," then "let's get up to the old jumps and see how he is" before finally deciding to go all the way to the end.  I was watching him keenly for signs he was reaching his limit, but even as the other horses called for him, and were long out of sight he kept on going, ears perked but relaxed.

We headed back once we reached the end, and while he broke into a trot here or there, he came back immediately and calmly walked back to the barn. I was so proud of him for being brave and trusting me. He didn't call for his friends, or balk when I asked him to leave, he just walked on. 

Oliver is also now a horse that can lead on a trail ride on the buckle. Today the BO and I went for another long trail ride, and he was perfect again.  Up and down steep hills, over the bridge, through the dry creek bed, anywhere I asked, he went.  He led, walking on the buckle, in areas he'd never been, out of sight of his buddy, and all the way back to the barn.

I can't put into words how proud I am of him.  In less than 2 months he's gone from a horse who had been on 1-2 trail rides to a horse who can go out alone and lead on the buckle. I think the key to it is the benefit of the doubt: I have no reason to think he'll be anything but well behaved, so well behaved he is.  I am calm, so he is calm, and he is calm so I am calm.

I've fallen back in love with this horse, and he's showing me he really can be everything I wanted him to be.

He always stops what he's doing to come meet me as soon as he knows I'm near

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Little of This, a Little of That

This weekend was a fun weekend to ride. Saturday we decided to focus on arena work, since I had an appointment I had to get to, so I couldn't ride for terribly long. 

So we spent about 35 minutes in the arena. The horses on the property were all rotated into different pastures and some couldn't see the others, so everyone was calling their hearts out. Up in the arena, Oliver didn't want to pay attention, or bend in any direction where he couldn't see the other horses.  I decided that we would focus on trot-halt down the centerline and halt where I said when I asked.

It wasn't always the prettiest but he was listening consistently and I ended up with really great halts where I wanted them.  As we went on, they became more and more square, so I was happy.  The BO pointed out a few things she noticed that I'm going to try to work on, but overall I was pleased with him. On the ground he was far more concerned with the other horses than listening to me, so we had a few discussions there too, but ultimately he remembered to mind his manners.

Sunday he was a completely different horse - far less concerned with his friends, and way more relaxed.  The BO and I decided to go for a long trail ride through the woods on the property (it's a huge property but only a small part is really used).  We rode up and down a large, steep hill, through the woods, etc. 

Oliver did such a great job, too. He led over a large, concrete bridge, both there and back, marching along like it was nothing even though he'd never been in that area before, or seen such a thing as far as I know.  He stepped over brush piles that the other horse balked at, and led the whole last leg back to the barn, only breaking into a little trot once because we went down a little hill. I was so proud of him.

Best of all, when he wasn't leading, his ears were floppy and relaxed, and when he was, his ears were pricked forward and alert, but not out of fear.  He just seemed to be enjoying being out and about, grabbing a nibble of tall grass and seeing the sights. I was super proud of him, and he felt like he knew he'd done a good job when we were done.

We're due to go ride again tomorrow, and I've been thinking a bit about a few things I could try, so we'll see how that goes!