I don’t have time for super long conditioning rides. I fit in small rides 2 or 3 times a week and try to make the most of the time I have.
Today my friend and I did 3 miles, mostly walking. Baron was a little lethargic today. I’m not sure if his feet were bothering him (we went on some gravel) or if he is body sore or if he just wasn’t feeling it today. I’ve learned that I’m normally a practical, optimistic person, but with Baron I turn into a worrying, paranoid psycho. If he so much as flicks an ear wrong, I freak. He’s been injured so many times that I’m ultra sensitive about it. My friend had to remind me that he’s in great shape, his feet look good, and he’s looking better than he has in a while. That helped me calm down.
I do want to get him some boots though. His feet are a work in progress. He is ouchy on gravel and he needs boots for rocky rides. In the pasture and on the road, he’s sound as can be, and eventually I’d like his feet to get tougher, but in the meantime he needs boots.
That’ll be my next big expenditure. It’s always something with horses!
I bought Baron in 2008. We’ve had ups and downs, the downs coming mostly in the form of injuries to Baron. When I got Baron, I didn’t know what I was doing and I was a beginner rider. Eight years later I’m an intermediate rider but I still have so much to learn.
For the past three years I’ve had project horses. Thunder, Heidi, Spirit and Stanley were horses I either bought as a project or fostered for a local rescue. I was able to do that because I had incredibly cheap board at a beautiful piece of property. That property is most likely selling to a developer and I’ll have to move. It will be just me and Baron again, no project horses.
I’m excited to focus on him again. Last summer was really rough. He started acting weird, very lackluster and “nqh” (not quite right). He was losing weight and seemed miserable. I could tell he was in pain but had no obvious symptoms. It was to the point where I was thinking of euthanasia. It was that bad. I thought maybe all his old injuries were catching up to him and he was just arthritic and miserable. Then one day he started limping, not just a little, I mean three legged lame, could barely get around. Then, not surprisingly, he blew an abscess not once but 4 times. Three places in the sole and one at the coronary band. And then he was perfectly fine! I was riding my project horse Heidi during that time so, once he was all healed up, my friend Karen started riding Baron on the trails. Since then, he’s kept improving. His weight is up, his coat is slick and shiny, and he is happy to be back in work. He’s the type of horse that enjoys having a job.
With that in mind, I’d like to pursue a new challenge with him. Endurance riding. It’s a little crazy, I know. He’s a 14 year old, 16.1 ottb with arthritis. He is not the ideal endurance mount. I’m not looking to do Tevis. I would be happy to complete a 25 mile ride with a sound horse. We may start conditioning and find out that he just can’t hold up to the work. But we may find out that the conditioning keeps his joints loose and helps him stay healthy. My vet and farrier both say that movement is the best thing for him. We shall see. If he can’t do the big mileage stuff, we’ll be trail riders. I’ll be happy either way!
I feel like my horsemanship journey over the past year has been incredible. When I bought Thunder, he was about as broken and upside down as a horse can be. I did not know how to fix him. Nothing I learned at hunter jumper barns prepared me for the mess that was Thunder. I started doing research because I needed help. What I found is classical dressage.
I’m not talking about the stuff you see at the big international competitions with $100,000 horses that fling their front legs out like saddlebreds. I’m talking about the classical dressage training scale. It begins with relaxation. Thunder was not relaxed under saddle. He had no idea what I wanted. We started there.
Then I found this guy on YouTube called Will Faerber. His channel is Art2Ride. He has this video on engaging the back that revolutionized my entire life with horses. Why had none of my riding instructors talked to me about getting my horse to move correctly over his back? Why did everybody just say I should slap on a martingale? I started watching every single one of Will’s videos. I saw horses transformed before my eyes. THIS is what I had been looking for! Now I had a road map to follow in fixing Thunder.
For three months all I did was lunge Thunder at the walk and trot. When he started stretching, I started riding him at the walk. A few more months and I could get him to stretch at the trot with me on him. Now I’m a year into training him and I have a horse that has a decent walk and trot. The canter is still a mess, but that’s my next project.
He is a happy horse now. He is relaxed and he trusts me. We still have a lot of things to work on, and by no means is he a finished show horse. But he is so much better than he used to be, and we have a wonderful partnership.
I decided to take Thunder to a hunter schooling show on September 5th. It was at a farm about an hour away and I rented a truck and borrowed a trailer. I rode two divisions, green horse and the crossrails division. I’m not going to lie. It was rough.
Thunder has never been to a show before. As we all know, it can be a little much for horses with all the people and other horses. Thunder was PERFECT outside the arena. He hung out quietly in the shade and dozed off. People were commenting on what a good boy he is, especially for his first time out. For his first class, we did leadline with my 7 year old daughter. The judge was lovely and complimented him and he behaved like a perfect gentleman. There was only one other horse- a 24 year old pony actually- and Thunder was just as calm as the elderly pony.
Then it was my turn. We went in for green horse division and Thunder was EXCITED. He walked like an old pro, but when the judge asked for a trot, he wanted to canter. I spent the whole class trying to keep him at a consistent gait. He cantered when it was trot time and trotted when it was canter time. It was rough. He also parked himself at the gate every time we got near it and had to be cajoled back onto the rail to continue trot/canter/hopping.
Then it was time for our green horse over fences class. It was just crossrails, but he was EXCITED about jumping. Holy moly. It was like riding a freight train. He wanted to race around the jumps and I spent the whole time trying to keep him under control. I didn’t have time to think about being nervous or whether I was on the right diagonal. It was all I could do to keep him going around with some semblance of a smooth ride. After the last jump he would high tail it to the gate, no matter how hard I tried to steer him into a courtesy circle. Thunder thinks courtesy circles are for chumps.
We came in last or second to last in every class. That’s a really sucky feeling. But I wanted to do my other division, and see if I could get a more behaved ride out of him. It didn’t happen. He was still really, really excited and it was not smooth or hunter-ey. We had some good moments, but it was not a smooth, consistent ride.
So yeah. It was rough. It was rough to the point that people on the rail were encouraging me. It was obvious that my horse was exuberant and slightly naughty. By our last class he had calmed down a little and we got some nice trot and canter work. When we exited our final class, one guy said, “That time he did much better!” It was a little embarrassing to tell the truth, but I just laughed it off. You can’t win every time, especially on a green horse at our first show. All the spectators on the rail were polite and sympathetic. I told everyone that it was his first show and someone said, “Hey, we’ve all been there!”
There were some definite positives though. He jumped like a champ and didn’t knock any rails. He understands that his job is jumping. I just need to teach him that his job is also to do courtesy circles before and after jumping.
He looked like he belonged at the show. A year ago he was muscled in all the wrong places and looked like a backyard nag. Even though our classes were rough, a year ago he could not have competed at all. A year ago he did not even have three decent gaits.
In spite of not placing very well, I think I actually rode pretty well. I kept my cool and kept him under control. I didn’t get frustrated with him and I managed to calmly bring him down when he tried to rush. My position was decent in all the pictures. Mainly I was concentrating on slowing him down. We had a lot of rough edges, but I rode as effectively as I know how. I just need some lessons and more practice over fences!
This show did a great job of showing me where our weaknesses are. First and foremost, regularity in the gaits is a huge problem. We need to do a whole lot of walk/trot and trot/canter transitions. I think at the show he was excited, but we have to get to the point where he is obedient to me even when he’s excited. Second, he is very naughty at the gate. He tried to turn around on me a couple times, which is a BIG problem. I’m going to start schooling him right next to the gate at home until he gets over that crap. Finally, we’re just really rough around the edges. He likes to jump and he’s honest to the jumps. Now it’s time to start smoothing out the ride. We have our work cut out for us!
I’m not counting June as a training month because I hardly rode at all. I’m a member of a homeschooling group and I invited the homeschoolers to come out to the barn for a riding and horse care lesson. Tons of families took me up on the offer and, for the month of June, Thunder was a prince and ponied around the homeschool kids. All the kids had a blast but I got no training done.
July, however, was probably the best month yet in terms of improvement. We changed barns and I now have a huge flat pasture to ride in, and even jumps! We’re close to the lake so we can do a trail ride down to the lake and back. So far it’s been a fantastic improvement for us. We have the space we need to get our work done.
In July I focused on riding Intro A (dressage test) and jumping little crossrails to build his confidence. Turns out Thunder wants to be a jumper. If there are jumps set up in the pasture and I don’t let him jump them, he gets pissy. He does not, on the other hand, love dressage. He gets pretty bored on our flat work days.
He is jumping like a pro though. His form needs work; he still doesn’t tuck his knees well, but he’s just starting to jump verticals and I think his form will improve as the jumps require more work out of him. I need to work on my position as well. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a lesson and I need one.
I am so happy with how he’s progressing. We still have high headed moments, but he is such a changed horse from last fall. His way of going has changed immensely and his gaits have improved. We’re even starting to work on cantering. It needs work of course, but considering that he almost could not trot when I bought him, I think he’s doing pretty damn good.
As much as I love Baron, the stars just never aligned for us. As soon as we started progressing, he would get hurt or I would get pregnant and then we would stagnate for months and months. With Thunder I finally feel like I have the right partner for me. He’s easy to deal with, cheap to feed, and feels like the perfect horse for me. I trust him to be level headed and take care of me, and he trusts me not to ask him to do anything crazy.
My next step is to start preparing for a schooling show. I’m deciding if I want to do a Combined Training show and ride Intro A and a show jumping class (with 12 inch jumps), or if I want to take him to a hunter show and do walk-trot-canter and a crossrail class. In any case, I could not be happier with him. I am so proud of the horse he has turned into and I’m grateful to have him as my partner.
I got my daughter a pony. Kind of. I’m doing a “domestic exchange” with Baron and the pony indefinitely. My friend is using Baron in her lesson program and we’re taking James the pony up to stay with us.
James the pony has terrible allergies and the summer at my friend’s farm in south Georgia is brutal for him. The vet told her James would be happier further north with less humidity. While it’s hot in my area of north Georgia, it’s not quite as miserably humid and the gnats aren’t so terrible. It seemed like a great situation for us to trade.
James is pretty much the perfect pony. He’s taken several kids through Pony Club, he jumps, he does dressage, and holy frickin’ moly is he a cute mover. I mean, perfect ten hunter mover all the way. He is also a total love bug. He canters to the fence with his pendulous belly when he sees us coming. He likes my daughter to hold his bucket on her lap while he eats and he likes her to hand feed him the last few bites. He *might* be a little spoiled.
His allergies seem to be improving. His eyes aren’t crusty and he’s breathing better. We’re feeding him local honey, which is supposed to help with allergies. So far, so good.
My daughter is riding him either bareback or in a child’s western saddle right now (because that’s all we have). I’m looking for a used English saddle for him. She is doing so well. She is trotting on her own, and her sitting trot would make many dressage queens jealous. She’s getting the hang of posting but she finds it more difficult. She hasn’t cantered yet but she will be in no time, I’m sure.
Up til now, she hasn’t been all that interested in the horses. She liked riding all right, but it was more my thing that she tagged along for, instead of her thing. Now that she has a pony to love, it’s her thing all the way. She asks to go to the barn and she’s taking responsibility for feeding and grooming. I’m beyond thrilled. I hope she stays interested and wants to show with me. Horses are the best thing for kids and I’m so thankful that we’ve been able to get James.
I rode a lot in May but I didn’t get a lot of video or pictures to share. We didn’t jump at all in May. We trotted poles and worked on cantering. We still need loads of work at the canter, but he seems to enjoy a good canter every now and then so I let him. I’m still having trouble with him going straight to the canter instead of the trot. I’ve noticed it works better to let him “canter it out” for a few strides and then go back to the trot on his own, rather than half-halting or attempting to “pull” him back down with the reins. The more I stay out of his mouth, the better.
He is getting very accustomed to moving off my leg. We’ve started lateral work at the walk, just moving sideways across the pasture, and he caught on to that quickly. We’ve also been spiraling in and out on a circle. The goal is to build muscle in his hindquarters. I love how he’s looking and I can’t wait to see how his topline continues to fill out.
The biggest difference I can see in him is that his walk-trot transitions are so much better now. He doesn’t throw his head in the air every time. I can actually get a decent working trot out of him now, which is huge, because he used to be an absolute disaster at the trot.
Overall, I am thrilled with him. I’m really hoping to show him either this fall or next spring. I’d like to do a green hunter crossrail course or a super low level eventing show. In my area, the lowest level of eventing is called pre-amoeba and the fences are only 12 inches high. I think we can handle that!
I have some very exciting news as well, so check back for my next post. Here’s a hint: It has fuzzy hair and tiny hooves and is quite possibly the cutest thing ever.