Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Moving A Green Horse Up the Levels

He is the best at tiny panels
After my super awesome pictures from yesterday, several of the commenters raised an interesting point--Courage obviously has great form over fences and is plenty scopey--how soon do I move him up?

I've thought about it. There are a lot of different answers to that, so I've made a a helpful graph to illustrate the rates of speed at which a horse moves up the levels.
<----Slower         Faster---->

As you may have noticed, I tend not to push horses. Courage came off the track at the end of July last year, and we spent the whole fall putzing around and having fun. We did the ground poles at a local show and a baby cross county clinic (which doesn't count because we only jumped crossrails in an enclosed field). We worked on things like "not doing giraffe impersonations" and "going forward".

No more giraffe
And then he took a couple of months off.

When he came back this spring, I had a whole new horse. His body felt great and his brain had some idea of what to do, so we have progressed in leaps and bounds.

I also think our cross country weekend was really good for him--we got to ride twice a day and figure somethings out and just make pure, unadulterated progress.

My philosophy on training is to increase the pressure, then allow the horse to get comfortable before increasing the pressure again. I realize there's an element of the horse learning to deal with more pressure and running that line more closely, but I am nothing special as a horse trainer, so I prefer to go a little slower and take things easy because I'm the only one who has to pay if I screw up.

So to me, this shot from the other weekend shows a horse that is completely comfortable.

And yeah, so cute
And this shot from Monday shows a horse that is _very_ impressed with a jump.He's still plenty safe, but he's feeling the pressure of new questions.

He's tidy and clever and all is well. Because I want him to end up being a happy, fun, comfortable ammy hose (for me), I want to let him get comfortable with the height and level of fill that we're presenting him with before I move him up again.

So easy
Much like our flat work, it's going to get easier as we go on. It's already "clicked" for him that when I point him at a jump, he is to jump over it. Now I need it to click for him that even if the fill is scary, he's going to be ok.

This jump is actually taller than the panel or the barrels and he's just fine with it. I suspect in another ride or two, he'll be completely over everything we've introduced thus far.

New favorite picture
And then we'll introduce more. Oxers are on the list. Rails over barrels. Jumps in fields. Related distances. Bending lines. Triple bars. 

The list goes on.

Courage has a lot of aptitude for jumping. He's good at it and he enjoys it. He's a wicked smart horse and he tries his little heart out. As his owner/rider, my prerogative is to let him develop without pushing too hard and frying him. 

Good news for him, I am the best at not pushing horses.

He'll move up when he's ready. When we're both ready. I suspect it won't take too terribly long as long as I keep things fun and interesting. So yes, a more competent ammy or good pro could probably move him up a lot faster without frying him. I'm working within my specific knowledge base and set of limitations and everyone's having a good time. Seems like a plan to me.


  1. Sounds like a good plan to me too! And besides, there is no definite deadline that you are trying to get Courage ready for. Sure, that 3' derby later this year would be fun, but I imagine there is no real rush to try to be ready for that if you guys aren't feeling 100% confident. Do what feels right (as it seems you are already doing) and Courage will take you as far as you both want to go :)

  2. That's a really good way to describe it. I was just having this exact conversation, because I'm bored to pieces with Starter, but Connor is still a big, careful chicken, so at Starter we will stay. Eventing is too dangerous a sport to move them up faster than what they're really ready for.

  3. I really like how you'd laid this out. I think you're approaching this in a smart and thoughtful way. Move up when you both feel physically and mentally ready. Courage aside, if you push yourself before you feel ready, you could do yourself damage and have to take steps back. I think you've got an awesome grip on your goals and are being realistic. Kudos!! Go, Courage, Go!

  4. Well said. Move up when you are both ready. Clearly you are having so much fun right now, no need to push it.

  5. I love this reasoning and I think you're really smart to focus on the question as a whole, not just the height. I think there is a danger in letting a horse get bored before introducing new questions -- that is, I side-eye people who think it's impossible to go too slowly -- but understanding his job and feeling good about his ability to do it will be the key in the long-run, so it only makes sense to focus on that right from the start -- and ensuring he gets appropriate rides (that is, not scaring yourself, either) is important, too. Brava!

  6. I completely agree with your scale and the need to take things at the pace that feels right for you and Courage. I sometimes struggle with this - I feel that my lack of experience and skills are holding Hemie back. But it is what it is, and hopefully he can just be patient for his mama to catch on.

  7. I am right there with you on this philosophy. Although it is exciting for me to dream big dreams of rated jumper shows and cross country chases, I'm in no rush to get there. I'm not planning on racking up show points, I just want to have fun! I see so many people turn a horse around in 3-6 months and I'm like "Wow!" - very inspiring - but I like the slower pace myself. Less pressure, more personal reward IMO. You pay attention to all the little things and the bigger things naturally come along.

  8. I am just super jealous of how awesome your horse is. Can he teach Gatsby some lessons???

  9. I'm with you! I'm currently working a greeny and regaining my own confidence. We've been doing fab (even though at a snail's pace) and now have started lessons with a coach that seems to want progress. Last week me and my horse left the lesson completely fried! :( She is now scared of ground poles (!!) and I am now afraid to jump. Boo! Keep up your awesome work at your own pace--you are doing amazing!

  10. I love the sentence: he'll move up when he is ready!!!! So many more people should consider this!

  11. Im a go it slow person too - I mean William is just doing 2'6 now and this is his thrid year under saddle! I prefer to have extensive flat work done before I start courses and harder stuff. I think it makes things much easier for both horse and rider in the long run.

  12. Sounds like a good plan to me! The more you have the attitude of "There is no rush. I have all the time in world," the better the horses progress anyway. :)

  13. Good plan. If it isn't broken- leave it alone. When you two are ready, you will know, because like me & my pony, other people who's opinions I respect- told me. "You guys are ready to move up." Followed by, "He's right, you are ready."

    When people who know their stuff tell you to move up, be comfortable with it. You're there. Go for it.

  14. Love this! It is so easy to get into feeling pressured to move up before you feel ready. I think that happened to me a little bit last summer but now that we've backed off we are having a blast and really, for me, that is really what it is all about. Good for you! and great for Courage!

  15. I think it's smart to go at the pace you and Courage are comfortable at. No need to rush! JLE told me the other day that Dandy is ready to go Novice (and could probably move up pretty fast) but she's not training him to be her next 3* horse, she's training him to be MY horse. Gotta go with what's right for the pair.

  16. LOL I love that graph!! I think you're doing everything perfectly with Courage. Not too slow, not too fast. :D I totally beat you on the not pushing... my horse is almost five and I haven't even ridden him sixty times (first ride was the day he turned three) and I've never cantered him LOL!!!! I need to find some courage (hehe) and push us both.

  17. I needed to read this. I've been feeling kind of bummed about the fact that Lex hasn't even been started over fences yet, and there are a million and one explanations but I think we're both getting bored with flatwork. It's good to remember that everyone has to think carefully about what they're doing and not let pressure mess things up. If that makes sense. I have a head cold, I'm not sure I can even think at the moment.

  18. I seriously think Courage is awesome! He always looks so happy, so you must be doing things right with him! It's great to read about the progress you've made with him :)


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