Friday, April 26, 2019

Another Clinic Recap!

Bad media > no media?

I mean I should probably not actually call these clinic. Really they're more like monthly lessons with my trainer's trainer but for right now clinic works and it's easier to type! This was almost a week ago at this point but still important to recap.

This one was similar to the last one but a bit tougher in a few ways. First, K's trainer had identified our ability level so she was more picky, as I'd suspected she would be, and second, we cantered early on and then Katai lost her marbles a little.

We started out warming up the walk and trot and K's trainer commented that she seemed way more relaxed and rather than just posing and going she was actually softer. Yay! success.

We cantered as part of warm up and it actually went really well. Katai went right into it and let me bring her back calmly. We cantered in each direction and then went back to working on walk. Katai was UP at that point and was not going to be told to go slower than a full hand gallop. With K's trainer's influence we were able to keep everything pretty calm and were focusing and trying to help her relax with lots of pets and verbal rewards when she was trying. we were working on getting her to listen mainly to my seat but she didn't want to listen to us at all in any way at that point.

Not sure why but clean buckets seem to be a point of contention at this barn.
They scrub them everyday and they're always super clean.

To her credit she never once pulled any real crap. No throwing down a halt, no bucking, no bolting, and no rearing. About the worst she did was walk through my aids, try to trot, or jig a little so really nothing bad at all.

It was tough though to just keep asking calmly for over 20 minutes just for her to slow down and relax when she wasn't listening at all. We did have a few break through moments and, the next day, it was clear that progress had been made so that was good. That day though was tough especially since I had a pretty bad headache which had been made worse by wearing my helmet and the relative heat after our cool spring.

Oh well, that's horses.

Our homework is all about relaxation. I'm taking it one step further though. Katai (and myself) have always been impatient. She had me pretty well trained to let her just push forward anytime things started to go south since not allowing her to go forward resulted in her going up or striking out.

Me grazing Connor while he dried from his bath
I can't believe this was over a week ago now.
Since the first clinic I've been doing a lot of groundwork just working on patience. I don't know where I read it but a trainer I was following somewhere wrote about that having a horse take a step and halt and stand, rinse and repeat, was really helpful in helping them calm down. Therefore I've been working on a lot of groundwork asking for one step at a time with lots and lots of standing. Really, tons of standing. Katai hates it and is trying to figure out why this game is so boring, but, it's been helping.

Of course spring and mare hormones have been making this worse but this week on Tuesday we worked on trailer loading. She was SUPER anxious to hop on the trailer, hop off and be done with things and got angry when I wouldn't even let her on the trailer until she stood calmly. She was trying so hard to tell me that I was wrong and didn't understand but we ended with zero escalation and zero argument with her (relatively) calmly climbing on and off just because I literally stood there and ignored her for at least 30 minutes. We're going to do this a ton more and in the meantime I'm finding all the things I can think of that usually cause her to escalate and we're going to do calm, stubborn and patient on my part, patience training.

Under saddle I'm working on mentally taking the pressure off myself and her. We're doing easy work, lunging in a halter, and spending some additional time doing stretchy forward rides with just a bit more collection. We'll see what the result of all of this is but she's been really chill recently. This weekend I plan to do a bit more collection work with lots of interspersed relaxation to see if we're able to maintain. Things have been promising so far!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Blogger Meet Up Trip!

Those of you who follow me on Instagram probably already know why I was wearing riding boots at the airport in my last post. For anyone who doesn't, I was visiting Jen from CobJockey!

Jen and I first met in person at the National Dressage Pony Cup a couple of years ago. I really felt like I clicked with her and we had a great time hanging out. We started making plans then to get together so that I could see Connor again, maybe have the chance to ride him :), meet her spouse, and visit her amazing house. Since then we've talked about it but finding a time that worked for both of us with our busy work schedules and horsey stuff was tough.

Finally, over this winter we started talking about doing something this spring. I was aiming for April/May timeframe to hopefully have decent weather but not intrude into show season too much. In the end my bf ended up picking the weekend that we were hosting the Final Four so that we could escape the craziness.

I fail at taking photos of architecture
but trust me, this church is  beautiful

It worked out great! The weather in IN was gorgeous and sunny in the 60s and 70s which was a nice break from our 40s-50s and grey skies. We left MN on Friday afternoon and got back Tuesday afternoon and we had so much fun!!

Getting the Equisense going

Before I get to the pony things I just have to say that Jen and her spouse were amazing hosts. Their home is gorgeous and it was great to be able to explore their hometown and visit some of the awesome places including a really adorable coffee shop that I wanted to take home with me. Also, my one worry about the trip was whether my bf would enjoy himself since he is not much of an outdoor person and definitely doesn't like to spend time at the barn. That meant that he and Jen's spouse would likely be hanging out a lot. I hoped that they would enjoy each other's company and that's exactly what happened. My bf has already been talking about when we can visit again and that he wishes that we lived closer :)

On to pony things! We had three full days at Jen's gorgeous barn and we took full advantage of our time. On Saturday we went to the barn early in the day and got to hang out and talk ponies for awhile while Jen's trainer and her husband got packed up and headed out to a clinic. Then we got Connor ready and headed to the outdoor where Jen rode first and then handed him off to me and, guys, he was SO MUCH FUN! The cues I know and use seemed to mostly transfer and the few things that didn't, and let's be honest I'm probably doing wrong, were fun to play around with to see where our understanding varied.

After we rode we gave Connor a bath and tried a new product on his mane, tail, and feather.

Connor wasn't pleased about being a punk rock unicorn.

The next day was forecast to be rainy so we planned to ride in the indoor. It was icky enough out that the horses were inside, avoiding a fairly cold downpour when we got there. Like the previous day Jen rode first and then let me climb on again. I feel so lucky to have had a couple of chances to ride her amazing pony. I was able to build on what I had figured out the previous day and it felt like we were speaking the same language on more things. I was also playing with the half halts that K's trainer wants me to do with Katai. It was so nice to be able to play with that on a more educated horse vs. trying to figure them out as Katai was figuring them out.

My phone is not good in low light so everything turned out super blurry but I had to
share this photo of Connor's amazing tail.
At any rate Jen had Connor looking awesome before I hopped up
Unfortunately I realized when I looked at these photos that I'd completely forgotten to close up my helmet strap. Oops! Quite bad on my part but luckily Connor was a good boy.

Since Jen has a show next weekend and a lesson on Tuesday we knew that Monday would need to be a quiet day. We talked about a few options but ended up going to a tack shop and then Jen giving me a lesson and some practice braiding Connor! The tack shop was awesome and I was sorely tempted by some of the clothes and brushes but I stuck to my budget and didn't get anything. Sad day for tack haul photos. With the braiding I definitely picked up some things including that braiding up is really truly important and quick braid is definitely nicer to work with than the gel that I've been using.

It was an amazing trip! I had so much fun with Jen and her spouse and Connor was just as amazing as I remember. My bf and I definitely want to visit again and would love to host here as well although maybe not during blizzard season.

Meanwhile in MN...

Friday, April 5, 2019

Confidence Builder Clinic Recap (long)

This clinic/lesson day was exactly what I needed. I feel like my confidence has been pretty low over the past year or so. We left Jane’s having issues with Katai’s behavior because of, I believe, the saddle fit and ulcer issue. They had been resolved at that point but Katai was still reactive and worried about being uncomfortable. Then we worked with S2 and I lost more confidence about our path because she had a very different way of working with horses and caused more tension than I’d like. K has been very complimentary but after all of the past issues it’s been tough for me to not worry or doubt. Having another person who was saying really positive things about Katai and myself really helped, plus K’s trainer just has that much more history of bringing people up the levels so that was especially cool to hear.

The day on Saturday was forecast to be colder than what we’ve had (mid 30s instead of mid 40s-50s) so that added to my normal anxiousness because I was riding with someone new. I managed to hang out at home most of the morning and didn’t get myself too tied into knots. I left around 11:45 so that I could catch most of the first rider’s ride but not sit around too long and get nervous or too cold. I also was meeting up with one of K’s other students who was riding to pick up the bags and tags to get my blankets over to a blanket washing service. This is something I’m doing for the first time this year since living with bf means that having horse blankets hanging around drying in the apartment isn’t very fair :)

I got there and it was sunny but breezy and chilly. I got my bags and tags picked up and then went to the arena and watched the first couple of riders. The person who was riding, and about half way done, was the person who organized the day. She was working on canter transitions but I missed most of it because I was chatting with other riders about K moving, what they were nervous about and what I was, etc. The next rider to go was one of K’s long time students and someone who’s riding at 1st level very successfully and I was able to watch a bit more. She’s just getting back into it because she was out for most of the winter due to knee surgery. K’s trainer had a lot positive to say about her improvement despite that since they had worked together in the past. I was able to watch most of this ride and then I headed down to the barn to get Katai ready so that we could have lots of time to walk around in the arena and let go of some nervous energy.

While I warmed up I was able to catch bits and pieces of the person before me who also has taken lessons with K’s trainer before. She’s the one I went to the tack sale with along with K and I’m going to call her Jo since she’ll be making more of an appearance here in the near future.

Then it was my turn and I introduced myself and Katai. Since I’d only ever had one lesson with her, many years ago, on one of her lessons horses we took some time to debrief and talk about what I’ve been working on. The items I brought up were that I had gotten busy with my hands before working with K so she’d been working on getting them more still and giving forward vs. pulling back. We talked about how Katai blows through half halts especially through my seat (which was why I had gotten busy with my hands) and was hot and could get fizzy and worried if we worked on small things for too long (partially because the previous horse was struggling with this). I also mentioned that we’ve been working on getting her to reach forward and down but that my assessment was that now she’s swung far enough in that direction that it’s time to start to include a bit more work to bring her up. Finally I mentioned that she’s been throwing her head into the canter transition and we’ve been working on letting her “roll into it” more but that my timing wasn’t as good as K’s so sometimes she really started to run.

I had noticed through the other riders that K’s trainer was working a lot on position things and I was excited about it. Jane worked a TON on my position but since then I haven’t been getting any advice. I’ve been thinking that it was because it just wasn’t something that either instructor focused on much since I’ve ridden with people who seem to either work a ton on position or really not at all. It turns out though that one of K’s trainer’s first assessments was that I had a really solid position. I’m still a little in disbelief about that actually because I was such a mess when I started riding with Jane and would have guessed that it would have been falling apart again in the interim. It’s not that I don’t have things to do, like closing the back of my armpits a bit and being more relaxed through transitions (more on that later) but otherwise K’s trainer didn’t have much to say. That felt amazing.

She had me get started and just do sort of a warm up with her watching. I did some walk and then went to trot and did 20 meter circles, went large, did some 10 meter circles and some leg yield in both directions at the trot and then we did some canter in each direction. Then K’s trainer had me come back to walk and we got into the meat of the lesson. To start she had us do trot/walk/trot transitions with just a couple steps of walk. This is very consistent with what K and Jane have both had us work on. Basically Katai likes to ignore half halts and needs to learn to step under a bit more. We did fine but during that work K’s trainer also identified that we were both trying too hard. I was too demanding with my seat, although she complimented me on my hands.

She called out several times that Katai is her favorite sort of horse. Super obedient, a little hot, and trying so hard to do what I asked. She said that we were similar in that I was trying super hard and by doing that I was sometimes too demanding with my seat and asking for something immediate vs. letting it happen slower. She acknowledged that one of the toughest things we do as riders is to deal with the pendulum of obedience vs. relaxation and that right now we needed more relaxation. She asked me to relax my seat more into transitions vs. making the transition happen. It was tough for both of us and for a while it meant I was walking Katai into walls to teach her what I was looking for. She picked it up really quickly, more so than me, though so that was encouraging. Now I just need to work on it.

Finally we worked on some SI at the sitting trot and here K’s trainer again wanted a bit more relaxation especially through Katai’s pole and jaw. She did say that we were getting a medium trot through it though which made me celebrate since the biggest issue when I was working with Jane was that I was shutting her down with my seat and getting a tiny little trot through it. Cue minor internal celebration. Obviously we’ll need to get it more collected but the bigger looser trot is so much better than the tiny prancy steps we were getting. To help with the relaxation K’s trainer just wanted me to slightly counter flex her and then return to inside flexion to help her relax her pole, jaw, and body a bit. It was hugely helpful when I did this so some homework for us! She also said through the work that she agrees with me that Katai is stretching forward and down really well. We want to keep as much of that as possible, and return there if we lose it obviously, but that it is time to start to ask her to come up during rides.

Overall I felt sort of showered with compliments. K’s trainer was impressed by us and by the work we’d done. She said she wouldn’t have guessed that I was getting busy with my hands because they looked good in this lesson. She also complimented my position a few times which, again, felt really unreal. She also had so many nice things to say about Katai including that I could get a lot of money for her if I ever decided to sell her, especially with her size and that she was “worth her weight in gold”. That felt almost nicer than the compliments about my riding because Katai has certainly not always been a horse that people have said those things about.

I’m normally really uncomfortable about compliments and if they swing too far to just that during lessons I always wonder what I paid for. In this lesson though I got a lot of stuff to work on and I know we’ll build on this when I ride with her in April. In addition, I’ve just had so little motivation, so many doubts, and so little faith in our path this past year that hearing such nice and affirming things about us was just what I needed right now.

After I finished my ride Katai got stuffed with treats as we cooled out and while she was groomed and put away. She was happy to be back outside with her favorite mare bear friend. Then I went back to watch the next couple of lessons.

It turned out that Jo’s niece was getting a lesson with K’s trainer as well so we had a chance to talk while that was going on and we made some plans! Jo used to trailer over to get lessons from K’s trainer every week but it just got to be too much so she stopped. So, with that in mind, we made a plan to trailer over to K’s trainer’s farm (which is about 10 minutes away) monthly for lessons through the summer when K’s trainer isn’t able to make it out to our barn. I’m super pumped because it will not only be great to have regular access to lesson but it will also mean that we can get some good, low key trailering experience with way less pressure! K’s trainer’s farm is also lovely and she has a large heated arena with lovely footing. We’re going to talk with her when she’s here in April and make a plan. Fingers crossed it all works out the way we want it to!


With my current decision to move I didn't have to think that long to decide which barn I would move to if I could. The barn I'm movi...