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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Month 5 Recap- March

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March was AWESOME for Thunder and me. After hardly working at all in February because of the miserable weather, we came back to work in March and made real progress. I’ve started riding him again instead of only lunging. We either ride in the little pasture or we do a big loop that takes us on a residential road and on a trail.

He doesn’t hate the arena work anymore. He actually gets right down to business instead of figuring out how to evade any sort of work. I know he’s gotten stronger and the work is more enjoyable for him now. I do think horses have a sense of accomplishment in their work. They know when they’ve done well when we reward them, and they can sense how proud we are of them. Instead of being a neglected horse with problems under saddle, he’s a loved and pampered athlete in training.

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Our biggest accomplishment in March is that Thunder is able to work over his back with a rider. He has a decent working walk now. It’s active and relaxed with lowered head and legs stepping underneath.

He can only stay long and low at the trot for a few strides, but his stamina is improving with every ride. We’re finally getting in sync with each other. I’m staying in balance because he’s staying more rhythmic. He has a NICE trot when he gets going in a rhythm and starts tracking up. Best of all, he doesn’t throw his head in the air during upward transitions. He goes into a trot without a lot of fuss. It was so bad before! He did his horrible canter hop thing and flung his head up every single time I asked for a trot. Now we can do walk/trot without a lot of drama- just a clean, calm transition.

It’s so refreshing! It gives me hope that he can improve and become a beautiful, nicely muscled horse and that I’m not screwing him up even worse! Next month’s goal is to keep building fitness with trail rides and to keep plugging away at the working trot.

I never was good at geometry.

Do you know how hard it is to make a horse go in a perfect circle? Pretty damn hard.

We rode Intro Test A in my mini arena for the second time. It’s basically walk/ trot, do a circle, walk diagonally across the arena, do another circle, trot some more and then stop perfectly square. Sounds easy enough, right? Not so much. We’re pretty rough. Things that sound simple and look simple when performed by well trained horses (like stopping perfectly square, trotting in steady rhythm and walking in a perfectly straight line) are surprisingly difficult when performed by greenies like me and Baron. We have our work cut out for us.

I must say that I am enjoying immensely our little foray into dressage. I always liked yoga and gymnastics because they were about muscle control and core power. Dressage is the equivalent for horses. I am also a teensy little bit of a control freak and a perfectionist. In dressage you don’t just trot, you trot perfectly- with rhythm, impulsion, and perfect posture. You don’t just walk haphazardly around the arena and stop any old way. You walk proudly in a straight line and you stop square, with all four of your horse’s feet firmly planted. It’s about quality.

If you read this blog you know that I don’t have as much time or money as I’d like to spend with a trainer so a lot of what I’ve done with Baron I’ve had to figure out for myself. After riding the test, I asked myself how in the world am I going to get better? What do we work on first? So I looked up the dressage training scale. It’s a pyramid that shows you how to progress in training a horse. Here it is:

Here’s the website I stole this from: http://www.artofriding.com/articles/trainingscale.html

At the bottom of the pyramid is rhythm. There’s my answer. The first thing we have to work on is getting rhythmic gaits. Baron’s default response when he doesn’t understand what I’m asking is to go faster. I’ll put my leg on him to ask him to move a little closer to the rail and he thinks I’m asking him to go faster. At the racetrack the right answer was always “Go faster!” From now on, whenever I ride I’ll be focusing on getting a slow, steady trot, not an “I’m tired, can we walk now?” shuffle, not a hurried “Please, please can I canter?” jiggy dance. Again, way harder than it sounds. 🙂