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.

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Finally! A working trot!

So far January has been fantastic for Thunder. I quit riding him at anything except the walk and I lunged him instead. I free lunge because the lunge line gets in my way. I can get into a groove with just me, the horse and a lunge whip. I’m telling you, lunging can be magical.

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I don’t do side reins or a chambon either. I decided to go the hard, time consuming way of letting Thunder figure out for himself that it’s more comfortable to lift his back and use his butt than it is to run around like a llama with a hollow back and head in the air. And you know what? He’s getting it! He’s getting it really quickly actually.

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It’s not that I’m anti side reins. I know that many people with far more experience than me use them effectively and well. I’m just kind of a purist. I want him to discover on his own with no pressure from a gadget how to properly use himself.

This month he has blossomed in the round pen. He is relaxed at the walk and he stretches down at the trot. He moves like a different horse now. He lifts his back, lowers his head and he’s starting to build muscle in his back end. It’s more than a moment here or a moment there. He’ll stretch low for several strides and he no longer acts nervous and panicky. He understands what is being asked of him and he does it without any fuss.

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After his lunging routine, I hop on him for a few minutes. I usually just tie the lead rope to the halter to make reins. We walk around calmly and then I hop off. He does not move correctly at the trot with a rider, so we don’t trot. There’s no sense in trotting on him while he’s hollowed out. It reinforces all the wrong habits and builds all the wrong muscles.

Eventually our lunge work will carry over to the trot, but we’re not there yet. I completely overlooked the walk with Baron. I had no idea how much could be accomplished at the walk and how much I was missing by skipping it and focusing on the trot. That’s a mistake I won’t make with Thunder.

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This is what I love about working with horses. Good training and riding can take a ewe necked, hollow backed, nervous wreck of a horse and turn him into the equine version of a ballerina. Lunging is like yoga. The horse stretches and builds muscle, but does it in a relaxed, calm way. The horse’s overall appearance improves. His gaits improve. He becomes powerful and floaty instead of poky and dull. All horses are naturally majestic; correct work amplifies the majesty.