So today, no one is being ridden, and I am NOT putting on a pair of breeches. I'll go to the barn of course, but I am wearing shorts. And instead of yet another lengthy write up about schooling something hard, here are some pictures of Izzy enjoying a play day in the neighbor's turn out.
I've been riding the pants off my horses. I don't know about them, but I need a break. In the last six days, I've schooled Izzy twice a day for four days in the arena, trailered out for a trail ride, and trailered five hours round trip for a lesson. And somewhere in the middle of all of that, I managed to ride Speedy G four times!
So today, no one is being ridden, and I am NOT putting on a pair of breeches. I'll go to the barn of course, but I am wearing shorts. And instead of yet another lengthy write up about schooling something hard, here are some pictures of Izzy enjoying a play day in the neighbor's turn out.
For whatever reason, Izzy doesn't want to play in my arena, so I asked the neighbor if I could bring him over to her place on Saturday. She has just finished building a really unique arena. She started with a large space that was used as a dry lot pasture. In the center, she built an actual arena, now filled with lovely jumps. Around the edges of the new arena are two turn out fields that go around the riding arena. This is a very creative system because two horses can be turned out on the outside, while someone can still ride in the inside.
Laurel had Austin on the left side, so we thought Izzy might be calmer with a friend that he could see. Turns out, he thought her place was Heaven. He didn't care where Austin went. He did enjoy chatting with him at the gate, but when Austin wandered off, Izzy spent his time digging through the manure pile and running a few laps.
Both Laurel and I were shocked at how happy he was in a new turn out. He's been over to her barn a few times so that I could use the clippers (she has electricity, we don't), but I'd never turned him out before. He acted like he'd been there day in and day out. Maybe these frequent field trips are starting to pay off.
From the moment I turned him out, Izzy was calm and relaxed. He never once whinnied or called to Speedy G, who was screaming his ever lovin' head off. Instead, he gave a few playful woo-hoos and then just enjoyed the heck out of digging and playing.
Laurel has given me permission to turn him out whenever I'd like. She even encouraged me to use the arena if I need another "new" place to take him. He's definitely going to be spending a day here and there turned out at her place. I wouldn't want him to miss out on all the fun!
I am pretty sure that Chemaine would never tell a client that her horse couldn't benefit from some dressage training since dressage is good for every horse. Even so, I was a bit worried that she would have doubts about Izzy's potential as a dressage horse that could move through the levels.
Just based on Chemaine's smile and attitude, I don't think I have anything to worry about. That doesn't mean it's going to be quick or easy, but if I keep chugging along, there's no reason that Izzy can't be a solid dressage horse. Whew! That lifted a huge burden off my shoulders.
Once I got on Izzy, Chemaine had me make a few changes and keep a few things in mind. While she recognized and appreciated my effort at having a lighter seat, she quite clearly told me to sit up. You'll hear her in the video yell at me to "quit riding him like a jumper! Ride him like you ride Speedy."
I am not going to apologize for my riding, just don't be shocked. I am actually proud of myself for getting on as Izzy was a fireball ready to explode. Chemaine is so good at building a rider's confidence though, that I got on and just did what she said.
You'll hear her also tell me to regulate his speed with my core. I was trying, believe me, but he was making it quite difficult to coordinate all of my aids. I had to keep an opening outside rein, a softening inside rein, weight on my inside seat bone, and a strong core to hold him to a rhythm all while his engine was revved and needing a place to go.
When I first got on, he tried some of his don't wanna tricks, but with Chemaine's encouragement, I gave a solid jerk of the rein with a firm NO! There were several of those moments, but there were also some really good moments where I was able to get him soft and stretching.
Here's a quick burst of photos that shows him spooking and cutting the corner:
While there was a lot of that herky-jerky all over the place stuff, there were some better moments as well.
And before I get too much "advice," this was at mach 10 on a horse who has very little world experience. I was thrilled that he was even rideable on his first real trip away from home - those trail rides sure helped!
KG did manage to get a little bit of video. They're fairly short, but you'll get a sense of what Chemaine was trying to help me with.
So ... Chemaine thinks I have a nice horse, and I was able to walk, trot, and canter Izzy the next day like a REAL horse! More on that later.
It was a good week!
Not that he'll get to see her that often, but I do have some plans to ride with Chemaine more often than before. It's a good thing he liked her!
Yesterday, KG and I loaded Izzy for his first lengthy field trip - it's a two and a half hour drive to Moorpark. He's getting really good about trailering. Most of the time he now climbs right in, but occasionally he still pauses a moment to make sure that I really want him to get in. As long as he hops in, I can deal with occasional pauses.
He was really quiet for the whole ride, but when we unloaded him, he had the typical "we're not in Kansas anymore" response. His head shot up as high as he could get it, which is already pretty dang high, and his eyes about bugged out of his head. He whinnied and cried and tried to bump and crowd me.
We put him in one of the turn out areas which was about the size of a large round pen, He had two neighbors, and KG and I stayed with him. After giving him a few minutes to pace around and look, I decided to put him to work a little. I sent him trotting around me until he started to refocus on me. When we walked back to Chemaine's barn, he was a tiny bit quieter. We popped him into a stall and left him while we went to eat the sandwiches that we had packed.
When we took him out of the stall, he was slightly less excited, but still pretty high. I put him in the cross ties to saddle him, but he had a hard time standing still. He fidgeted and wiggled, but he kept it together and let me finish up. Once he was saddled, I walked him over to the dressage ring so he could get a look at everything.
While he was still whinnying and and wiggling, He did take a few moments to nibble the few blades of grass he could find. This made me very happy. A horse can't relax when his head is sky high. Any time they drop their head, they are able to relax, even if it's just for a moment. I also lead him around the dressage court so that he could at least use up a little of the nervous energy.
Once Chemaine had finished up with the lesson she was giving, we took a few minutes to chat about what I hoped to achieve with this lesson. First and foremost, I wanted Chemaine's opinion about Izzy's ultimate suitability as a dressage horse. I wanted to know if he had any physical limitations that I hadn't seen and more importantly, did his brain seem like it could get the job done.
I also asked her to check my saddle fit - a quick assessment suggested it was fine. I also asked about his bit - that also looked fine. I just wanted to rule out any tack issues that might be causing him to be naughty.
After that, Chemaine got on him. As he can do with me, he balled up and got a little bit light in front. Chemaine was very reassuring and got him moving forward. I was happy to see that she was doing what I've been doing. She put her arms forward to give him some room, but she didn't lengthen her reins. She also bridged one of her reins (more on that tomorrow).
Just like with me, he tried to bolt, but instead of bringing his head around in a circle to stop him, she gave him a good hard jerk of the rein and said, NO! In fact, each time he tried to be a bit of a bully, she jerked the rein and repeated the NO! Within just minutes, he quit trying to be a jerk.
I've been really reluctant to give a hard jerk as Sydney was prone to rearing. To deal with the rearing, I pulled him hard to the side so that he wouldn't go up. Watching how nicely Izzy responded to the firm, but quick correction was really encouraging.
I don't know how long Chemaine rode, but it was no more than twenty or thirty minutes. First she worked on letting him go forward, and then she worked on getting him softer to the inside rein. They did a lot of canter work and changes of direction. Everything was about going forward, relaxing, and being soft.
Once he quit being a jerk, I forgot to take pictures. She had him looking so fabulous that I couldn't wipe the grin off my face! He was really fancy. Chemaine especially commented on how nice his canter is - he's naturally uphill. After schooling him for a bit, she laughed and said she was having run riding him and asked if I didn't maybe want to leave him with her!
Tomorrow, my time aboard!
It's hard to imagine a bad ride being anything but, well, bad. When my barn owner commented that it looked like Izzy was having some trouble during our ride, I smiled and replied, He sure did, and it was great!
I am sure she thought I was suffering from heat stroke or stupidity, or maybe both, but it was the truth. It finally felt like Izzy was actually thinking rather than just reacting. Hallelujah!
I try really hard not to focus on the negative or frustrating parts in my life which means that I don't write much about those things that suck, at least not in detail. So when I say that Izzy has been a frustrating half-ton of green bean, what I mean is this:
And all of this is to avoid trotting forward in a large circle. I guess I should point out that there were a few days were he did all of this to avoid walking in a large circle.
While KG and I were trail riding the other day, I boo-hooed about the fact that Izzy couldn't just trot in a circle without being a giraffe. KG cut me off and said something to the effect, Well there's your problem. You're asking him to trot AND do something else. She pointed out that while on the trail, I was simply asking him to walk. Not walk with contact, not with his head lowered, nothing. The only thing I was asking for was a forward walk.
That really got me thinking. So when I rode on Wednesday (the first time), I mapped out an easy to follow "trail" in the arena: the fence-line to the edge of the sprinklers, down to the edge of the hose, and then we circled back to the fence-line. We walked this "trail" tracking right four times. Then I asked him to cross from the sprinkler back to the fence-line where we did it in reverse four or five times.
In all, we spent ten minutes just walking. He tried to bolt and giraffe and do his Tasmanian Devil routine, but I acted exactly like I do out on the trail. I dropped the reins down to the buckle and let him gawk and geek out, but when he was naughty, I sucked those reins back in and said no. It really only took him a few minutes before he dropped his head and just moseyed around. Aha! Gotcha, Dude!
Like I've done for the past two weeks, I put him away and rode Speedy. When Izzy had had at least an hour to relax and eat, I saddled him up again. This time, my goal was to trot without any other expectation as KG had suggested. Of course, he had to behave, but I was okay with some gawking as long as he went where I pointed.
I started him off at a walk. I used the other half of the arena and once again picked out a "trail." When he was following my "path" to both the left and right without any tension, I asked him to pick up the trot. First, he bolted, but I pulled him around into a stop, patted his neck and pointed him back down the "trail."
When I asked for the trot again, he giraffed his neck and tried to get away from me that way. I again pulled his head around but kept asking for the trot. He tried a few more of his tricks, but I just sat there redirecting and asking. His back stayed loose, and the hump of tension that he usually gets never showed up. But then I felt a change in him. Instead of getting "humpy," he got very flat.
When I next asked for a trot, he slammed on the breaks. Ooh .. this is new, I thought. New and actually better! I simply gave my seat a little bounce bounce bounce, and when he didn't move forward, I kicked kicked kicked. When he finally lurched into a trot, I praised him enthusiastically, let him trot five or six strides, and then asked him to stop.
In all, I spent a solid fifteen minutes kicking him into a trot and asking him to stop. He's pretty stubborn. You would think that after getting your ribs thumped on you would hurry up into the next gear, but not Izzy. Not only did he think forward was a bad idea, he thought he could get me to QUIT IT by backing up.
I actually laughed. I even told him that his "back up" was a bit pathetic. It was pretty slow and careful - perfect for a rein back, but not so good when you're trying to intimidate your rider. He eventually gave up on backing up and decided that simply waiting out the kicks to his side was preferable. I just kept kicking.
Each time he would pick up the trot, I made a big deal out of it and only trot five to ten strides. I was hoping that he wouldn't see the trot as just being loads of work. Eventually, he started thinking that he would pick the spot to trot. The first time he volunteered, I actually praised him and patted his neck. After that, I just pulled him back to a walk and ignored his voluntary efforts. This isn't the Red Cross; we don't need volunteers.
Eventually, he picked up a semi-prompt trot twice in a row which seemed like a good place to wrap it up. I again gave him lots of atta boys with neck pats. The look on his face was pretty funny. I don't know that this lesson will stick, but he definitely got a dose of "hey, someone else seems to be in charge here."
So what made a seemingly bad ride feel so good? Izzy tried something else! I am okay with him trying new ways to get out of doing something that he views as hard, especially if he's abandoning things that didn't work out the way he envisioned. Hopefully, he'll run out of ideas and get on board.
We're trailering down to Moorpark today to meet with the always awesome Chemaine Hurtado (dressage trainer extraordinaire). I am hoping she can give me some insights into his decision-making process as well as give me a road map for how I should proceed.
I'll be share to share how it all goes.
I was really, really frustrated with Izzy the other day. So frustrated that I talked to my husband about Izzy's expiration date. If he's not a real horse by (insert date), he's out of here! If you've worked with a green or young horse before, I am sure you've thrown out one of those dates yourself.
Fortunately, my husband is used to these tirades. His response is always, well, you didn't like (insert horse's name here) for a long time, and look how he/she turned out. Give this one at least a year. He's usually right, but I never believe him at the time.
I've been riding Izzy six days a week for most of the summer. He gets ridden twice a day on four of those days, trail ridden twice a week, and he gets a seventh day off. It's actually for me, but whatever. He should be getting tired, but he's not. He's just getting fitter.
One positive is that even after cutting out a lot of alfalfa, he's holding his weight really well even with all of the riding. See for yourself:
I was frustrated on Monday. On Tuesday, KG and I once again hit the trail. Within eight minutes (I know because I timed it), Izzy was cruising along happy and eager to be there. My frustration flew right out of the window.
Best friends are worth their weight in gold. Who else will listen to you complain about how little progress your green bean is making every single time you get together? No one, that's who. But KG does. She listens and then offers advice or at least encouraging words.
Her response this time was to ask me a series of questions.
KG: When did you first "try" to ride him?
KG: You couldn't ride him. He wasn't rideable, and you jumped off.
Me: Yeah, I know (where's she going with this?)
KG: When did you really start riding him?
Me: Late April/May, but we did a lot of walking. Then I went on vacation for two weeks at the end of May through the middle of June.
KG: That means he's had maybe 90 days of work.
Me: Or less, really.
KG: So, in 90 days, you are now trailering him by himself, tying him to the trailer where he eats, drinks, and behaves, and trail riding calmly in the lead. So what's the issue? Your 90 days (barely) under saddle horse is naughty in the arena? Of course he is! He's had less than three months of riding!!!! (Is she stupid?)
Me: D'oh! (and yeah, I must be stupid!)
Best friends are really worth their weight in platinum.
Izzy actually did really, really well yesterday. Here's the list of what he did right.
It was definitely a successful ride. And we've only done this four times! Hitting the trail is proving to be far more instructional for Izzy than the arena work, but I am hoping the success from the one will start to carry over to the other.
Happy trails and thank goodness for Steady Eddies!
I don't know why I am so fixated on the change of lead through trot, but I am. I am being very careful not to over-school it, but it's something that I think Speedy is going to be able to do well.
The good thing about working on the change of lead is that it addresses a ton of other movements:
I am riding Speedy only every other day right now, but I am making those rides really count. Since he gets cranky if I school him every day, I'm letting him know that he has to work hard on the days we do ride. So far, he's been happier with this arrangement.
When I rode on Monday, I had to use a lot of spur and bounce him pretty hard off the left rein, but it worked. He gave me some of the best changes of lead through trot that he has done. So often I blame myself when Speedy doesn't get it. In this case, it's still my fault, but only because I need to be really firm in my expectations.
When I let him lean on me, he can't balance himself enough to get a good trot transition. And when he "falls" into the trot, he can't get under himself to pick up the new lead smoothly. I love that I am "feeling" all of this because now I can help him to fix it.
We have a two-day USDF show in a week and a half. I don't think we'll have this test 3 mastered by then, but I am feeling pretty good about it.
I am constantly amazed by how well the USDF dressage tests build from one test to the next. When I am a little bit tempted to just skate by on one movement or another because it's hard, I give myself a stern mental shake. Each movement leads to another harder movement, so skating by now will only come back to bite you in the butt later.
The downward transition from canter to trot at X while crossing the diagonal is an excellent example. This movement first appears in Training Level at test 3. The movement is done on a left lead canter. In First Level, it shows up at test one and two, also on the left lead.
For test 3 at First Level, there's a big switch. The downward transition from canter to trot now comes on the right lead with a change to the left lead canter through trot. So yeah ... just getting by on the trot to canter transitions isn't going to work.
I have been schooling Speedy like crazy on the canter to trot. He can pick up the new lead just fine, but getting a nice downward transition while crossing the diagonal has been frustrating. He can do the transition quite well on a circle, and he can do it moderately well down the long side, but when sees the diagonal, he wants to lengthen instead of staying more collected. After working on it for a solid week, at least I know why and have been able to work on a fix.
The main problem is that Speedy is heavy on my outside rein. It doesn't matter which way I school it, left to right or right to left - he still wants to run through my outside reins as we cross the diagonal. Since he is so heavy on his forehand, he can't come back to the trot without hollowing his back and jerking his head up.
To help him get back on his hind end, I've been doing zillions of canter to trot to canter transitions on the circle. When I think he's getting it, I'll try the next canter to trot transition as I come out of the circle and across the diagonal. I have to do it a number of times, but eventually, he rocks back on his butt and gives me a good canter to trot transition.
I've discovered a few things that help. As I go into the corner, I have to give a really good half halt and pay close attention to the bend. If I let him get too straight as we cross the diagonal, he gets heavy. If I keep a bit of a bend, I can keep him more firmly on the outside rein.
The other thing that is helping is that instead of using the whole length of the arena, I am doing 15-meter canter circles with a downward transition just as I leave the circle. Then we pick up the new lead into another 15-meter canter circle. In all, we make a traditional figure eight that looks like two tear drops joined at the points.
By keeping the circles small and close together, Speedy doesn't get a chance to lengthen his frame and fall onto his forehand. It is taking a ton of upper body strength to half halt him and tons of leg to keep him in the canter. I know this movement is the beginning of the flying change, so I want to make sure that we get it right. Speedy has to learn to really sit as we make the transition from canter to trot.
On the days that he gets it really right, I can feel the flying changes just bursting to come out. I need him to be patient though as he needs to improve his trot to canter on the long diagonal first, which is really about taking more weight on his hind end. I don't want just one flying change, I'm going to want a whole string of them!
This horse is going to be broke. And it might even happen sooner than I had originally planned. These trail rides are doing absolute wonders for Izzy's brain and body.
Thursday was unseasonably cool (66℉ in July????) with dark billowy clouds and a chilly breeze first thing in the morning. When I first hopped on, I was pretty sure he was going to be able to get me off. He was higher than a kite and vibrating with energy. He was at his very worst.
Izzy did everything he could think of to explode out from underneath me, but I stuck it out. Over the past week, I've learned how to diffuse or channel his energy while still riding him. I moved him back and forth with my legs, and I played with the rein so that he couldn't quite get a solid purchase on it. KG's gelding was also a tremendous help as he very patiently tolerated Izzy crowding him from behind and the side.
The first day we rode out on the river trail, Izzy was pretty tense for an hour. The second time we rode, it took him forty-five minutes to relax. As wired as he was on Thursday, it only took him fifteen minutes to let it all go. We spent the next hour and a quarter having a grand old time.
Once Izzy's brain clicked back on, he seemed to get it. He was still a little nervous here and there, but for the most part, he marched his way down the trail. He led nearly the entire way with a big swinging stride.
While on the trail, Izzy did so many things right. When he stepped on crackling branches or on the irrigation hoses, he gave little spooks, but they were really small and he stayed in place. He gave fluttering plastic bags a bit of a stink eye, but it didn't occur to him to run off. At one point, we passed some waterlines that were under repair. There was a big ditch with bright red caution flags fluttering in a group. Izzy stopped, asked to back up, but then just stood there while we waited for Taz to go first.
I am okay with that kind of stuff. That's just a young horse trying to build some confidence and screw up his courage. Stopping and thinking about something scary just shows that he has a brain, and he's using it.
The trail work is helping both of us. I know how to get a tense and anxious horse down the trail, and I can already feel him responding to my confidence. When we've gone back into the arena, I have a better sense of how much I can "push" him. There aren't a lot of choices on the trail - he doesn't get to run off wherever he'd like. Letting him do that would endanger not only us, but my riding partner and other trail users. So when he acts up on the trail, I have to ride him through it. And so far, he's trusted me enough to listen and try. Having an equine buddy helps immensely of course.
We've done this trail in a clock-wise circle each time which means we finish up by passing through the same opening in the fence. There's a large rock right near the opening as well as a gate that swings open with a horrible squeal. Both times we passed through the opening, Izzy balked and insisted that Taz go first. For this trip, Izzy gave everything a good look, but then he marched through the opening by himself without needing Taz to lead the way.
I was really proud of him and thrilled that he was using the thinking side of his brain. When we walked up to the trailer, he immediately dropped his head so that I could pull his bridle. He also drank and munched away at his hay. While he was aware of the hay and water before, he was still too tense to really enjoy them.
KG and I spent a good thirty minutes sitting at her trailer letting Izzy hang out. Taz was sound asleep - lip hanging and hind leg cocked. Izzy was very relaxed, but bored. He played with his water bucket, nibbled at his hay, and tried to peek around the back of the trailer and into the windows.
Again, KG loaded Taz first. Izzy gave a good holler, but then he quickly settled down and seemed to ask when he could get in. He loaded without the butt rope and rode home quietly. These short, but frequent trips are helping him get some trailering confidence, too.
When we got home, I turned him out and did some more free lunging. Since it was still so cool, he had a good amount of energy, and for the first time in a while, he wanted to gallop around. Once he was quiet again and following me around, I put him away.
KG is sticking to the Tuesday/Thursday trail day, so Izzy should get quite a few rides over the next four weeks - I go back to work in mid-August. I'm hopeful that he'll be solidly green broke by then!
It's been a while since I wrote about Blue Truck. All is well with the machine, but it's not looking so fancy these days. BT is now fifteen years old with just over 122,000 miles.
BT's motor still purrs like a kitten, and its tires are solid, but its paint job is getting pretty sad. BT is starting to look like that middle-aged gentleman whose hair has receded a bit. I am so short that I can't see the hood or roof of Blue Truck, so the peeling paint doesn't usually bother me.
Blue Truck got to come home with me this week for a little bit of pampering. I got the oil changed which included checking the tire pressure and replacing the air and fuel filters. BT then got a fill up and a run through the car wash.
With Blue Truck still parked out in front of the house, I hopped onto Ford's Build Your New Truck! website. I clicked this, and I clicked that, and before I knew it, the perfect truck was sitting there smiling back at me. I've gone through this before, but every time I hit the calculate payment button, I just back away slowly.
My choices don't include leather seats or GPS or even a seat warmer. I just want a truck that's pretty similar to what I've got without the peeling paint. I also wouldn't mind having at least a few types of modern accessories. Is it too much to ask to be able to sync my phone or check the outside temperature?
When I see the price tag - $50,000, I pause. And then when I see the $850 payment for 60 months, I shake my head and ask Blue Truck if it would like some more shade or a cold can of oil. $185 for an afternoon of pampering seems like a complete bargain.
Apparently, there are at least three other owners out there struggling with their own green bean ponies. I have to say thank you for their support as it often feels like I am the only completely incompetent horse owner out there.
Every time Izzy acts like a Junior Idiot (that's what my BFF calls him), I wonder why my horse is the only one that can't walk and chew gum. After hearing from so many other owners, I feel comforted knowing that we're not idiots (at least not all of the time) and neither are our youngsters.
While I have never actually given birth myself (thank God), I imagine that raising horses is similar - we block out the horrible parts and only remember how wonderful our babies become.
Trail riding has really helped. I've started more than a couple of young horses out on the trail, so I know what I don't wanna looks like. I also know when to encourage them past the scary thing and when to let them be pulled along by a companion.
In the arena, I'm not always sure what is just baby theatrics and what is you're pushing me too fast. The trail rides are helping me to recognize the difference between I don't wanna and this is too much. As a result, I am feeling more and more confident about telling Izzy that yes, yes you can when he fusses at me in the arena.
We've started some trotting in the arena again, and he's being much more relaxed. I am learning to just sit there when he starts to throw a big fit, but I now know I can keep riding and asking through the smaller tantrums.
Izzy is starting to stretch over his back and swing again. Riding him twice a day has also helped because I can do a little and then put him away. When I take him back out, he's looser and more willing to work.
When I rode the other day, I was annoyed after round one, but then I got to thinking about how frustrated many of you get, and I realized that his shenanigans aren't personal or signs that he's basket case - he's just acting out like a kid would do. It really softened my attitude and helped make ride number two all about saying no, no, no ... YES, good boy!