Month 8 Recap – July

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.

Thunder with some homeschoolers.
Thunder with some homeschoolers.

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.

Looking shiny!
Looking shiny!

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.

How good does he look here?!?
How good does he look here?!?

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.

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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.

Canter!
Canter!

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.

Beginning lateral work.
Beginning lateral work.

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.

We borrowed a pony!

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.

Meet James.
Meet James.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Month 7 Recap- May

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.

My 6 year old trotting on Thunder by herself for the first time.
My 6 year old trotting on Thunder by herself for the first time.

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.

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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.

Look at that perfect hunter trot!!!
Look at that perfect hunter 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.

Relaxation and Trust: One Month With Thunder

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I’ve had Thunder for a month. My game plan with him is first and foremost to help him relax under saddle. On a trail ride, he’s the happiest fellow around. He knows what’s expected of him (get the rider back to the barn in one piece!); but in a more formal situation, when I’m asking him to trot or halt on command, he acts nervous and confused and sometimes downright annoyed! In one month of riding him, I’ve discovered several big gaps in his training, the worst being trotting and halting. He does neither of those things very well. First let’s cover his weaknesses.

1. Trotting- his old owner cantered him. Pretty much all the time. All he knew how to do was canter. Canter, canter, canter. What is trotting? Poor confused horsey.

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2. Halting- If you ask for a square, prompt halt, he will run right through your hands. Oh sure, if he’s tired and he feels like stopping anyway, he’ll stop. But if you’re headed back to the barn for a snack and a roll in the mud, heck no. Thunder says, “Screw you guys. I’m going home.” When I discovered this little gap in training, I immediately started asking for halts at all the times he didn’t want to halt. He’ll give me six or seven extra strides and completely ignore seat and rein aids before he finally, grudgingly halts, all the while looking wistfully in the direction of the barn. He knows what I’m asking him to do, he just doesn’t want to do it.

Let’s move on to improvements. What has dear old Thunder learned in one month of being asked to do something other than canter through the meadow?

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1. He trots now. I can proudly say that Thunder doesn’t immediately canter with the slightest leg pressure. He goes from walk to trot like a normal horse now! He trotted his first figure eight without breaking gait. It was a proud moment for me. Before, in the rare moments when I could get him to trot, it was a poky, lazy shuffle instead of a busy, working trot. He still tries the lazy trot sometimes but I can get him into an active trot by adding leg. We’ve had some moments of the big strided, swinging his back trot that we’re looking for, but he doesn’t sustain that for long. He’s getting stronger and more balanced with every ride so that will come as his fitness improves (and my own strength and balance). He’s learning that it’s actually easier to just do the work and carry me in balance than it is to hollow and brace and evade. We’re getting there.

2. He’s loads more relaxed. At the walk Thunder will do exactly what he’s supposed to- active steps, relax his neck and accept the contact. He will do serpentines and figure eights and snuffle and chew his bit. I can tell that he’s listening and trying to figure out his job. We do a shit ton of geometry at the walk before I ever ask for the trot. We ride squares, diagonal lines, circles, figure eights and serpentines until I feel like he’s relaxed and thinking. Once I’ve got his attention, we start trotting. The snuffling and bit chewing is starting to happen at the trot too. Where before it was head straight up in the air with crazy eyes and braced back, now it’s a purposeful trot with some stretching down and bit chewing. I honestly think this is the first time in a really long time that he’s been asked to really participate in his rides beyond just going fast and not dumping anybody off. I’m asking for specific, complicated things (like halt right here, right now and I don’t care if dinner is waiting back at the barn).

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I think horses like having a job and like doing it well. Thunder is learning that I ask him to work hard for a few minutes and then he gets his dinner. It’s not a bad gig.

The Equestrian’s Bucket List

I found this on Fugly’s blog and I think it came originally from the Practical Horseman website (maybe?). Forgot to write down the original web address, so let me apologize. If you wrote this, please let me know and I will credit you! I crossed out the ones I’ve done…

1 Gallop on the beach. I’ve cantered. Does that count?

2 Win a blue ribbon, even if it’s for the egg and spoon race! This would have to be my number 1! Oh, how I dream of blue ribbons!!!

3 Enjoy an evening of equestrian theater, from major touring productions such as Cavalia to local performance troupes. Saw Cavalia this year.

4 Try your hand at cattle work. Find out what it means when they say a horse is “cowy.” We go to a little mountain town in Colorado every year, so maybe on one of those trips I’ll have a chance to work some cows.

5 Jump! From crossrails to cross-country obstacles, experience the thrill of soaring over fences. I’ve only jumped crossrails, so I’m going to jump some bigger obstacles before I cross this one off.

6 Fall off and get right back on again. Conquering fear is empowering. I’ve done this too many times to count. I grew up riding Banker Ponies on the island I grew up on and they were green broke at best.

7 See the majestic white Lipizzan stallions at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. This is would be my number 2 pick. I’ve wanted to visit the Spanish Riding School since I read “White Stallion of Lipizza” when I was a kid. It’s my all time favorite children’s book.

8 Come to a sliding stop on a well-trained reining horse. Never had a chance to do this, maybe some day!

9 Take a lesson with your equestrian idol, _________ (you fill in the blank). Not sure who this would be. Maybe Jane Savoie? Or George Morris? 

10 Nurse a horse through a crisis and back to full health. Um, yeah. I’d rather not have to do this. I like my horse healthy, thank you.

11 Experience the smooth ride of a gaited horse. I got to ride my barn owner’s Tennessee Walker. It is a smooth ride, but I prefer the look of my Thoroughbred even with his bouncy trot.

12 Watch the horses come through the Head of the Lake on cross-country day at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. I’d rather watch the ponies come up out of the water after the round up at Chincoteague.

13 Have the courage to do the right thing for your horse, even when it’s not easy.  I’m going to say I’ve done this, but this is something you do over and over again. The specific time I’m thinking about was at a lesson this summer when Baron wasn’t feeling his best and instead of pushing him to continue, I hopped off and trailered him home. I still had to pay for the lesson even though I only rode for about 5 minutes.  

14 Attend the Kentucky Derby dressed to the nines—including hat! Would love to do this. Kentucky is not that far from Georgia!

15 Tackle a trail accessible only by horseback and enjoy the view.  I would say I’ve done this in Whistler and Colorado. I went to Whistler with my now husband back when we were first dating. I loved that he was willing to go horseback riding! 

16 Take your dream vacation on horseback. I would love to ride the Irish countryside. I’ve also heard that there’s a horseback tour of Austria and Hungary that takes you through the countryside and lets you stay in castles.

17 Master the sitting trot. Nope, not even close.

18 Ride a fine-tuned horse in your discipline of choice, be it dressage schoolmaster or barrel champ. Again, nope. My horse and I are both green as grass.

19 Watch polo. Even better, try your hand at it! Can’t say I’m super interested in this one.

20 Feed, muck, groom, ride. Repeat daily.  Been there, done that.

21 Wake up to a whinny every morning. I board, so this one will probably never happen for me. My husband has no interest in owning a small farm.

22 Fly down the track on a Thoroughbred.  I have galloped full speed ahead on Baron, just not on a track. It was actually on a trail when he bolted and I fell off.  NOT looking to do that again.

23 Meet one of your favorite famous horses in person. I don’t have any favorite horses really. My favorite horses are fictional and my favorite horse of all time is MY horse!

24 Ride bareback, bridleless … or both!  Done it many times as a kid.

25 Share a bond with your horse that’s deeper than words. Working on it…