Aaaaah! Progress!

I had my first lesson since Baron got adjusted and what a difference it made!!! It was like riding a different horse. Not once did he raise his head and hollow out his back (even before we rigged up the martingale!). His walk and trot were even and he kept a slow, steady pace with a lot less nagging from me.  We also worked him for the first time in a martingale. I admit, I was skeptical. I’m not one for gimmicks, and I tend to think that gadgets are the easy way out for people too lazy or hurried to train their horses properly. In this case, I was wrong. The martingale didn’t force his head down unnaturally or at too severe an angle, but it did encourage him to lower his head and show him that a lowered head can be comfortable. By the end of the lesson he was relaxed and compliant, moving easily off my leg and paying attention to my aids. It was such a great feeling to be riding my very own, well behaved horse!

I do think we would be progressing a lot faster if I were more experienced. I read Success Stories about OTTB’s over on the Bits and Bytes Farm website (see my links) and some of those people have their ex-racers at shows within just a few months. These people have been showing and training horses for years though, and I’m just starting out with my first. And I am not a trainer! I told my trainer, whom I love, that all of my childhood fantasies will have been fulfilled when I am able to show my horse at a local schooling show. I’m not trying to go to the Rolex; I just want to have fun with my horse!

Also, I would really like to be able to trail ride with Baron. He is so spooky on the trails because the whole experience is new to him. I look forward to the time when I can take him out with one other horse and trust that he won’t bolt back to the barn. This will come with time as we trail ride more and more. Like Clinton Anderson says, the more time and work you put into your horse, the better he’ll be.

Grazing at night.
Grazing at night.
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Did I buy the right horse?

After my crappy lesson on Thursday, I was a bit disheartened and thinking, I have bought the wrong horse, I am not experienced enough to handle this crazy racehorse, my horse has loads of problems that I am not experienced enough to fix. Oh no, in a nutshell. It seems like whenever I get discouraged and think these kinds of things, something happens to reassure me that I did indeed buy the right horse for me. That reassurance came on Saturday.

I took Baron out to the round pen to lunge him and do some groundwork. He half heartedly walked when I asked him to, but wouldn’t trot more than a few steps. I don’t blame him; it was hot and his back was still bothering him. This was before the chiro had adjusted him. I gave up on the lunging and decided to do something else. I’m not sure how I did it, but I got Baron to follow me around the round pen. I would weave left and right and he stuck right behind me. Parelli calls this the “Stick to Me” game. I was also getting him to back up and move away from me just by motioning with my hands, not actually touching him. He was responsive and listening to me, and following me around because he wanted to. He likes me. I bought the right horse.

I heart the horse chiropractor.

At my last lesson Baron was a pill. My trainer thinks he has a sore back, so on Sunday I got the chiropractor out to adjust him. The chiropractor happens to be my boss’s brother and we were at a pool party at my boss’s house. I talked the chiro into leaving the party in his flip flops and board shorts and driving the 10 minutes to my barn to adjust Baron. It’s amazing what a little flirting will accomplish. 🙂

The adjustment was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I get adjusted regularly and totally believe in chiropractic, but it was amazing to see how quickly my horse responded. The chiro adjusted Baron’s right hip, his knee and several spots in his neck and back. Baron licked his lips, chewed, shook his head and started getting that half-open, drowsy look in his eyes. When the chiro stepped away from him, Baron turned to follow him. I could tell he felt better immediately. Now that he’s been adjusted, I’m hoping our rides will improve and his trot will become more even. I’m going to give him the week off and not ride until Saturday, just do groundwork.

I am supposed to go on a trail ride Saturday at a trail near my barn. I’m going with my friend Gary and his wife who also board at my barn. One of their horses is Brooke, the black paint mare that is Baron’s best friend. Their other horse is Rumble, who was with us when I fell off last time. I have some strategies to keep Baron under better control this time. First, I bought a western bridle with a curb chain. Gary recommended this to me since I know nothing about western tack. The curb chain is supposed to stop a horse on a dime. So I’ll be riding my English saddle with a western bridle, which is tacky, but oh well.  I will also make sure that Baron is at the back of the line so that he can’t take off. Some people would say that I shouldn’t trail ride, but how is he ever going to acclimate to trail riding if I never take him on a trail? I have to start somewhere and I’m taking all the precautions I can think of.

Horses will teach you patience.

I rode Baron on Tuesday and then had a lesson on Thursday. The ride went very well, the lesson not so much. On Tuesday, I rode in the round pen and did walk/trot transitions. It was probably the best ride I’ve had yet. I took him out of the pasture to ride, and sometimes this gets him agitated to the point that he spends the whole ride calling to his buddies across the fence. On Tuesday, however, he was relaxed and focused on me.  He wasn’t rushing at the trot; he settled into a nice, even pace and paid attention when I half halted him. I was thrilled!

On Thursday, I trailered to another barn for a lesson in their big arena. He loaded onto the trailer perfectly and was much calmer than last time when we arrived at the other barn. That part went well. Trotting on the lunge line did not go well. He was rushing and seemed agitated. He was also holding his head up to avoid contact with the bit. The whole point of the lesson was for me to learn how to ride with contact. He was throwing his head in the air and hollowing out his back. At first my trainer, Mary, thought I was being heavy handed with him, hanging on the reins, and that this was causing his head to go up. So she got on him, and he did the same thing with her. So at least it wasn’t my poor riding ability that was causing him to evade the bit.

Mary’s first thought was that he has a sore back and is uncomfortable when being ridden, because he has not always done this. The evasive action would be a by-product of general discomfort under saddle. Her first advice was to get him adjusted. I got right on that; I’ve got a chiro scheduled to come out to the barn this Sunday.

Secondly, Mary suggested that I ride with a martingale for a while. I had some hesitation about this. I asked, “Does that really correct the problem or is it just masking it?  When we take the martingale off, won’t he just go back to his bad habits?” Her answer was basically, “Not necessarily.” A martingale will help teach him to accept contact with the bit and help him learn how to move in a frame.

Mary’s other advice was to change my bit. I’m riding in a loose ring snaffle, the wimpiest bit out there. She said it’s like having a noodle in his mouth. This is the same bit I used on my lease horse, a 22 year old, perfect, bomb-proof mare. Riding Baron is a whole different ballgame. She suggested a slow twist, which isn’t a harsh bit, but will get his attention if need be. She said that my current bit is actually dangerous because I can’t stop him with it if I need to.

The lesson was somewhat discouraging. I basically have a horse I can’t control. I’m not going to get discouraged though, because I love a challenge. If I can turn my rushing, somewhat spastic, bit-evading ex-racer into a calm, forward, and straight dressage mount, that will be one of my biggest accomplishments EVER!

Goals

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I desperately want to start showing Baron. I have visions of ribbons as I go to sleep at night. Blue ribbons, red ribbons, yellow ribbons; whatever, I just want a freakin’ horse show ribbon! However, I do not want to roll up to a show until I am confident that I will do well. I don’t mean win a ribbon, I mean be able to control my horse and not have an embarassing situation. “Doing well” would mean nothing bad happening! With the goal of showing in mind, I made some goals for myself as a rider and for Baron.

Goals for Me (Please keep in mind that I’m a beginner!):

  1. Work on posting/ rising trot so that I am as comfortable at the trot as I am at the walk.
  2. Refine my aids and use the reins less. I want to have quieter hands and rely more on my legs and seat.
  3. Spend a lot of time trotting in two-point to improve my balance and leg position.
  4. Stop relying so much on my voice, since I won’t be allowed to use it if I do any dressage shows. Get Baron to respond to the other aids instead of clucking to speed him up and saying “whoa” to slow him down.
  5. Learn to canter!

Goals for Baron (also essentially a beginner!):

  1. Begin working him over ground poles to improve balance and teach him how to collect.
  2. After he gets the hang of ground poles, start free jumping him on the lunge over teeny tiny crossrails.
  3. Improve his “Whoa” action!
  4. Teach him to keep an even pace at the walk and trot. Right now he speeds up and slows down whenever the notion strikes him. This is where half halting comes in handy.
  5. Finally, I would like for him to be more obedient under saddle. This comes with time as he learns to trust and respect me. Right now he sometimes refuses to move forward or sidesteps when I ask him to go forward. Alois Podjhasky (sp?) says a horse is supposed to be “calm, forward and straight.” Currently he is only accomplishing this when he is in the mood to be compliant!

A Thunderstorm and A Fence Down

dsc024841In the last 2 weeks I have only worked with Baron 3 times. I was out of town, then the baby was sick and then my husband was out of town. One ride was the canter, the next was the fall, and the third ride was my first since the fall. I have to admit, my confidence was a little shaken after falling on the trail. As I prepared to mount, I had to consciously put the last ride out of my mind. I rode in the pasture and Baron was being kind of a pill, although I can’t say that I blame him because the flies were terrible and I was out of spray. He could not concentrate on me; he kept biting at flies, tossing his head and stamping his feet to keep the flies off. I kept it short and got a few nice circles out of him and some good walk-trot transitions. And then I gave up, happy not to have fallen off!

On a side note, at my barn the horses switch to night turnout in the spring and summer because I live in Georgia and it’s freakin’ hot here. They stay in the cool barn during the day and get turned out in the pasture at night. May 1st was their first night of being out, and it just so happened that severe thunderstorms hit about 9 pm. I live 2 minutes from the barn so when it started to rain, I hopped in the car and went to help bring the horses in. It was pitch black and raining cats and dogs. By some mistake, the horses had been locked in the far pasture which meant that they could not come up to the barn to be let in. So my friend Gary and I ran out into the rain and opened the gate. All of the horses went through the gate. Except Baron. He decided to jump OVER the fence.  He almost cleared it, but knocked out the top rail.  Why does my horse have to be a daredevil? Why can’t he go politely through the gate behind all the other sane, sensible horses? On the other hand, I eventually want to jump with him and he is already showing a lot of natural talent!