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.

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.

Training Thunder- Month 6 Recap- April

April was HUGE for Thunder. I can’t believe we’ve been working for six months already! April lived up to the old rhyme about April showers; it rained and rained and rained some more. We didn’t ride as much as I would have liked, but the work we did was solid.

The physical changes in him are amazing. He went from looking like a backyard nag to looking like a quarter horse with pretty good conformation. I see the most improvement in his neck muscles, but you can see that he’s built muscle along his back and his butt too.

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I’ve started him on black oil sunflower seeds also. They’re supposed to keep dark horses from fading out in the summer sun and they have a lot of fat so they make the coat shiny. He’s been getting a half scoop mixed into his dinner for about 3 weeks now and I think he looks pretty damn shiny. You have to feed black oil seeds though. The ones human consume can’t be digested because the hull is too hard.

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I decided to try jumping him over a crossrail just for kicks. He tends to be on the lazy side but damn if he didn’t pick up the pace when I stuck a jump in front of him. The first day we jumped a board about six inches off the ground. He hit it the first time over but then figured out he had to pick up his feet. He never hit it again. The second day we jumped a regular crossrail and he killed it. I let him figure out his distances. I got him straight to the jump and then he had to find his own takeoff point. Once he got a really short spot and had an awkward up in the air jump, but every other time he did really well. I also let him decide whether to trot or canter the approach. He preferred to canter, but he wasn’t out of control or rushing. He had a good steady canter going and I think he just felt like he needed the extra momentum. Seriously though, how adorable is he jumping?

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I’ve said all along that he is going to be a cute mover when he gets muscled correctly. I saw that good movement during the jumping. He gave me a really nice trot, still high headed, but with lots of impulsion and a good rhythm.

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Jumping was fun but we really need to do more flat work. I need to work in two point at the trot to improve my leg and he needs to practice stretching and relaxing. We’re going to be doing lots and lots of trot poles for both of our fitness. After a solid month of trot poles, we’ll probably go back to jumping.

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I’m so thrilled with him though. He has turned out to be such a great little horse. His size and energy level are a good fit for me and he’s a lot of fun to ride. Originally I bought him because he wasn’t getting much attention from his former owner, but I’ve totally fallen for him. I never in a million years would have picked him out to buy. He’s a bay (my least favorite horse color), he was ewe necked and he’s little. But he’s turning into a really nice horse and I couldn’t be happier with him!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I worked Thunder hard yesterday, asked him to trot longer than I have before. I am by no means any sort of fitness queen, but I think Thunder is more out of shape than me. I get the feeling that trotting for any length of time is really, really hard for him. He has to slow down and pay attention and I think it’s actually more taxing on him than just cantering full speed ahead. The combination of having to move in rhythm and pay attention to my aids is mentally exhausting for him.

He’s learning that the easiest way to carry me is to trot rhythmically. It takes more energy to constantly speed up and slow down than it does to maintain a steady tempo. As long as he gives me a decently energized trot, I leave him alone. If he slows down to his poky, lazy trot, I add leg. If he does his weird canter hop thing, I half halt. He’s learned that it’s easier to just trot around with enough energy to keep me happy.

I’m going to show you some shots from our last ride. You can see when he throws his head in the air, when he stretches, and when he carries himself in a less giraffe-ey way. Be warned. Our ugly moments are totally, absolutely ugly. Fugly even.

So here’s the ugly stuff:

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See what I mean? Not exactly a show hunter just yet. He throws his head up during transitions and when he’s just plain over it. It’s happening less and less, but this ride I worked him hard and asked him to trot longer periods and I think he was letting me know that he needs to build up his fitness and this is hard for him. Fair enough.

Here’s the stretchy stuff.

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I love the first picture to the far left. He’s doing this more and more and throwing his head around less and less.

Finally, here’s the good stuff. These give me hope that one day he’ll be a horse and not a llama.

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Happy Anniversary Baron!

Today marks 6 years since I bought Baron. Best decision I ever made!

I’m not sure what happened, but it’s like someone flipped a switch and Baron became a hunter. I’m not sure if my riding is finally improving enough for him to improve, or if all the trail riding taught him to carry himself in a rounder way, or if we’ve just logged the necessary hours for him to strengthen his back and move correctly. But whatever it is, I’ll take it! He looks great!

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My favorite part of all this is that we didn’t use any gadgets to accomplish it. We ride in a snaffle bit and I’ve never ridden him with a martingale. We put in a lot of time and I obsessed about my position. I knew the secret to getting a round horse wasn’t in tying his head down. I knew that if I improved, he would eventually improve. It took a lot of time, but now he rides like this all time. All the time! Even on trails! This is how he carries himself and it has nothing to do with equipment!

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We’re not perfect, but most riders never reach perfection. Is there even a such thing as perfection in riding? We are definitely improving however, and that’s enough for me. I’ll never be a professional, Grand Prix rider, but I can work hard to have a stronger leg and softer hands, to be the kind of rider that improves a horse by riding him. That’s a worthy goal and one that takes time!

Better every day.

Thunder is improving, ever so slightly, but definitely improving. My main goal is relaxation. He’s relaxed at the walk and now I’m working for it at the trot. I’m also working on the never ending project of my own position. I’m a project rider as much as he’s a project horse. I can’t wait til the day these pictures below are the “before” pictures and I can show you some “after” shots.

 

Walking nicely.
Walking nicely.

 

See how he has no muscle on the top of his neck? It's all on the underside. We're working on that!
See how he has no muscle on the top of his neck? It’s all on the underside. We’re working on that!

 

Stretching down, looking good!
Stretching down, looking good!

 

This one is my favorite. He looks really good here-more relaxed and round.
This one is my favorite. He looks really good here-more relaxed and round.
Add leg for the trot and AAAAGH!!! Head goes up and he gets nervous. This is what we have to work on- that moment of transition.
Add leg for the trot and AAAAGH!!! Head goes up and he gets nervous. This is what we have to work on- that moment of transition. Doesn’t he look upset here? He always goes up like this, gives me two or three canter strides and then sometimes he trots. Sometimes he just walks again. Our transitions are UGLY, folks! UGLY!!!

As you can see from the pictures, he’s relaxed at the walk, doesn’t seem upset or confused about what’s being asked. Upward transitions are an absolute mess though. I have my work cut out for me.

Trot Poles

Thunder’s main issue is thinking I want him to canter when I add any leg at all. Previous owner never trotted, apparently. I thought I would work him over some trot poles to get him to slow down and think about where he was putting his feet. If nothing else they would force him to trot instead of canter. What I learned from this exercise is that I need to raise my stirrups one hole if I’m going to be in two point. I also learned that trot poles are awesome and get a horse to slow down and use his noodle.

My hands look like crap in this picture. I’m aware. Stirrups need to come up a hole too.

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I think Thunder is naturally a nicer mover than Baron. He has more suspension and he seems to move effortlessly across the ground. I’ll try to get some video of him trotting in the pasture. You know those really cute ponies who have what they call “daisy cutter” movement? Thunder reminds me of that. The trick is to bring that out of him under saddle.

Picking up those feet!
Picking up those feet!

My game plan with him hasn’t changed. It’s basically lots of lots of trail riding with light contact to build muscle and relax. When we’re not on the trails I’ll add in some trot poles to keep him thinking and some typical dressage-ey stuff (serpentines, big circles) to work on balance and bending. He has to learn to carry himself and me as well and there’s no trick or shortcut for that. He’ll get it eventually if I keep riding him correctly. Even though I’d like him to do hunter/jumpers eventually, I have no plans of jumping anything any time soon. We have way too much work to do on the flat.

He is starting to stretch down and chew the bit. We have moments where he lowers his head and stretches, so I know he’s catching on. I want to tell him that it’s okay to chill out and stretch. The other day we rode in the vacant lot and I have no pictures but it was magical. We had long sequences of him stretching down, accepting the contact and moving really loosely. It was all at the walk, but hey, it’s a start! Any suggestions on encouraging him to stretch down are appreciated!

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