Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Progression in Jumping

The best at no hands. Both of us.
It is the last day of July, otherwise known as "the month of no lessons". Everything sort of conspired together and while I've had lots of help on the ground and in the saddle from redheadlins and Alyssa, I haven't just straight up taken a lesson since sometime last month. That launches my overachiever self into a fairly annoying tail spin of feeling like I can't accomplish anything, especially when it co-ordinates with my horse deciding that grids need to be attacked in new and creative ways.

So instead of a super boring wrap up of Wednesday's ride and how I didn't feel like doing anything and just trotted around the field and did some cavaletti and then realized that good rides really are good for the soul, let's look at where Courage is at jumping-wise. Over the past year! Because yes, I do have that many pictures. You should know that by now, even if you started reading my blog yesterday.

August 2013, just a couple weeks off the track
September 2013. Keeping things small while he figures it out.
October 2013. Getting the idea while it gets cold.
November 2013. Learning to launch.
March 2014. Wild world when your body feels good.
April 2014. He's getting it...

...nope. April 2014.

May 2014. First time in a grid.
And second time. May 2014.
June 2014. Lunging and flatwork.

Lots of lunging. June 2014.
July 2014. The things we make our friends do.

July 2014. Looking good.

It's easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing (ahem, REBECCA FARM) and feel down on myself for not having my horse at that level yet, but he really is making steady forward progress. So yeah, it's not always exciting and cool and photogenic and I don't really feel like a badass when I break grids down to their most basic elements and just practice trotting through them. 
Calm and jumping across=win
More important than chasing the high of bigger jumps and harder combinations is the boring day-to-day of letting Courage understand what all this new job entails so that he actually can step it up and be the best at it. It's not sexy, but it's what he needs. 

To an 18' placing pole. That's how we make it easy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Words to Live By

Looking like we could be cover girls for a training book
I'll just be upfront here and say I have a hard time digesting large blocks of text in training books. To me, riding and training is incredibly application based and the best sounding theory in the world is worthless if it doesn't work for your horse. There's also a hearty helping of "the best theory in the world isn't useful if you don't know how to apply it."

That said. I like to pick up training snippets and actively apply them to my work with Courage.I don't take as many lessons as I'd like due to being poor-ish, but I love to watch and learn and cherry pick what I can apply. My favorite snippets of late:

Forward. That is where we're going.
1) Horses react very quickly, but think very slowly. 

It's so basic and obvious and true. I like to let this phrase shape the way I interact with Courage on a day to day basis. Yes, he can get himself out of trouble in a hurry, but that doesn't mean he's LEARNING anything other than a basic fear response. Move slowly towards goals--he has to figure things out at his own speed. 

Funky left arm move as I give the inside rein.

2) Give a little. 

I audited an Allison Springer clinic recently and this was a game changer. I swear she almost choked because she said it so often, but with each rider, she was driving home the point that horses learn from a release of pressure, so give IMMEDIATELY when the horse even thinks about doing the right thing. Most of the really exuberant/naughty behavior Allison deals with is all about the horse trying to find that release of pressure. 

Long and low enough for an uphill horse
Little snippets like these are easy to keep in my head and cross apply into my day-to-day training. It's amazing how much easier the whole training process is when you start with the horse's perspective and put everything in a framework that makes sense to them. 

Anybody else? What specific ideas do you keep in mind when working with your horse?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Things Don't Go According to Plan

Not like poles. Poles are pretty freaking linear.
Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

I think I need that tattooed on something I look at on a regular basis. Not my forehead, because who sees that anyways?

Look at us floating through trot poles
Sigh. I wrote up this bubbly happy training post about how Courage is going really well on the flat and I can feel progress every ride and we can trot and canter through lines of poles and jump single fences and all is well. 

And then I set up a perfectly logical trot in grid. 4 poles, 9' to a crossrail, 18' to a little vertical, 9' to a placing poles. Or thereabouts. 

The best at launching over placing poles.
And yeah, epic fail. In case you doubted his scope, I can assure you that my little man is capable of clearing both an 18" vertical and the placing pole set after it in a single bound. Multiple times in a row. 

Since I wasn't doubting his scope at all (let's face it people, the horse hasn't even had to try yet), I was not thrilled. Especially since I couldn't really make it better. We knocked the vertical down to poles and got the back side slightly more combobulated, but it was never what you'd call good and his brain was perilously close to just fleeing the scene altogether.

No, I don't know why this placing pole is ok.
So we finished up with something else and called it a day. 

I've pretty well been in a funk since then, despite two days off and a pretty kickass ride (with no poles) on Monday. 

Don't misunderstand me here--I'm not mad at Courage or blaming him or even upset with our program (such as it is). I know it's green horse stuff. I know we'll work through it (or not. And then just never do grids, which I guess isn't the end of the world either. It's not like we're aiming to be competitive grid jumpers). 

I have wanted these so so long. Finally mine, argyle polos.
I know all that. I'm just frustrated right now.

I tried making myself feel better by playing with racehorses, but I just got hit in the face so hard that I couldn't see straight. 

So then I thought I'd try retail therapy. 

That helped a little.

Making the bitching wait time worth it
Then this happened... I think I feel a lot better now. 

So I don't know where I'm at. My inner traditionalist screams that it is impossible to have a jumper who can't do grids, which are the very foundation all of decent jumper training. 

My modernist side reminds me that we must tailor the training to the horse, not the horse to the training. 

My rational brain keeps chanting "NOT A LINEAR PROCESS" and whatever's left is like "STFU I GOT A DAMN COOKIE MONSTER BONNET." 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014


He is the best at trotting like a hunk
My favorite Alyssa came out and took pictures the other day. She was going to ride another horse, but Courage was already tacked up and they get along famously.

I really need to do a full write up. GUYS I HAVE SO MANY PRETTY PICTURES I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO DO.

Let's just agree that Courage is in a really cool place, training-wise and I will write you a better wrap up soon. Like Monday.

Yup. Still best.
Anywho. As I said, Alyssa rode C-rage.

She has this totally awesome way of just riding freely forward without pulling and horses respond really well to it. Especially Courage. HE LOVES HER.

They were all w/t/c and jumping a baby grid and the little stink went better for her than he did for me, which I guess means I ought to work on some things.

Good friends don't stop you. They take pics.
And then we were hanging out in the middle of the arena waiting for Prisoner to finish up.

Courage looks at the epic sky
The little dude was all content and happy and mostly asleep and let's just agree that Alyssa is waaaaay braver and more balanced than me.

I so love that my horse can do this, even if I'm 100% sure I will never try it.

What I will try is entering Alyssa's sweet fly bonnet contest over at Four Mares, No Money. Custom bonnet! Fun piping! Easy entry! Closes today!!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Ammy Dilemma: Schoolmaster or Greenie?

Nothing like experience
When you're a one-horse amateur, picking the right horse is a very stressful event. Most of us don't have unlimited funds and a private farm, and unless we're very lucky, we generally have to choose between an old road warrior or a young, green thing.

I've done it both ways. 

Here are my thoughts:

Plus he had scope
1) I frequently hear ammies say that they want a horse with enough scope to save them when they make bad decisions and use that as a rationale to buy a younger, fancier horse vs an older packer. That isn't necessarily bad logic, but here are some better thought processes:

  • A more athletic and younger horse is going to use more athletic and greener evasions that are by definition harder to ride. Almost no one gets bucked off an unfit old draft horse because, hello, that horse can't buck for shit. The same is not true of your young, green warmblood. I'm not advocating for unfit draft horses here, but you get my point.
  • A wise old campaigner has a lot more options than scope to save you with. Instead of relying on sheer athletic ability and raw talent, the horse can make solid decisions because it understands the questions being asked both by the rider and by the obstacles. He may not really want to leap that square oxer from a standstill since you completely buried him, but he can see that you're going to bury him and adjust accordingly. Or stop, which is actually about 1000% safer for everyone involved. 
Maintain that
2) Another common objection to a schoolmaster type is that a one horse ammy is going to have a hard time affording the maintenance that comes along with some wear and tear that you'd expect to see on a more established horse. 
  • First off, a horse coming down from a more vigorous career generally already has an established maintenance routine. Can I just say how much easier it is to budget for something that you know exists? 
  • This seems like a no-brainer to me, but I would always always always rather pay for some corrective shoeing or hock injections or special supplements instead of training and (unfortunate reality) medical bills in the event of a mishap. Horses are going to cost you money--be smart about where you choose to spend it. 
3) The last really big objection to the older schoolmaster horse is just that a one-horse ammy isn't set up to provide a proper retirement for that eventual day when the horse needs to step down even more. Having one horse is a financial strain and no one wants to set themselves up to have that horse be unrideable. This is a really hard question and I get it, absolutely.
  • Where there's a will, there's a way. I never, ever thought I'd be able to afford two horses, but last summer/fall, I found a way to make it work. Yeah, it wasn't a fancy showing situation, but everyone was having their needs met. It definitely requires creative thinking and hard work. It's totally worth it. 
  • No one likes to think about this, but young horses are far from immune to career ending injuries. It raises a lot of difficult questions that we need to be willing to address if we're going to have horses in our lives. 
4) Ok, one more. Be realistic about your actual goals. If you aren't prepared with sponsors and training facilities and a thorough understanding of the upper levels, don't buy buy a horse with the talent for Rolex "just in case". No one gets to Rolex (or Grand Prix, or Tevis, or what-have-you) by mistake. If you're getting back into horses for the first time as an adult, look for an appropriate match that will give you experience and build your confidence. 
  • Just because a horse is older (or less fancy) doesn't mean it can't perform perfectly well. This is especially true if you're wanting to trail ride and do dressage or compete on your local circuit or just have fun with your horse. He may not be a world beater, but he can still be your friend.
  • A young horse doesn't care if it ever goes to Rolex, but that talent isn't going to be wasted. If he can jump five feet from a standstill, well, that's great for Phillip Dutton dropping in to the head of the lake, but it's going to SUCK BALLS when he does it in the dressage arena with you up. 
When I hear fellow ammies talk about buying ridiculously green and athletic horses, I cringe just a little bit. It can certainly be done successfully, but by definition, we ammies are more jack-of-all-trade types instead of qualified specialists. We have to be able to hold down a job, interact with friends, co-workers, and family (who are usually non-horsey), and function in an unrelenting world of normal people. We don't get to follow the circuit and ride 10 horses a day and develop the kind of skills that go along with it, so we absolutely need to benefit from the sort of people who do. 

If you have the resources and patience to start a greenie, by all means, go for it! It can be a fun and rewarding process. It's not for everyone and I'd say there are HUGE perks to letting yourself learn from a horse who's been around the block a few times. 

Let's face it. The only reason I can have fun with Courage right now is because of all the things that Cuna taught me when we were together. 

<3 those golden oldies.
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