After not competing for 2 years, I dusted off my little old man and got him ready to show. Back in May, in two weeks....
Surprisingly enough? He did really well. As in-> Well enough that I showed him in a simple ring snaffle, which hasn't happened in a really, really long time. That hasn't happened since I bought the mullen mouth butterfly bit for him at our very first CDE. I also had a rather loose connection with him thru the reins for a change. I don't remember Any remarks about letting him go, relaxing my grip on the reins or things like that, that plagued us in the comments all the times before.
The Houston driving club offers a different option for the CDE or HDT. They offer two ways to enter, Combined Training which is Dressage and Cones, or you can enter the whole thing, Dressage, Cones and the Marathon. They also narrowed it down to two days rather than three. Instead of doing Dressage- Friday, Marathon- Saturday and Cones on Sunday, you do your dressage test and then head directly over to cones on Saturday, then the marathon was on Sunday.
Since my little guy hasn't been doing a whole lot and I would mostly just be lunging and ground driving him for the two weeks leading up to the HDT, I opted to just go with competing in Combined Training. There was one other guy that did the same. For Pelim Single Pony, there were four other entries that did the HDT, competing both days. My competitive streak being long and wide, besides my curiosity getting the better of me too, I like to see how we compared to all of the entries in our respective class level.
In Dressage, our score was a straight up 73. Not great, but not abismal either. We have done better and we also could've done worse, so considering we had 2 weeks to really prepare, I'm not upset with those numbers. We didn't get eliminated so we were good. The other guy in our class scored a 59.43 so clearly he was more on his game that day. The other 4 drivers each turned in scores of 65.50, 67.67, 76.33 and 76.50. If it were all 6 of us competing together, Kat and I would have been in 4th place.
Then came the cones course. Kat and I made our way over to the course, I ditched my apron before heading in to circle around and get a heads up of the course since I never got a chance to walk it. I had gone over it on the map and had everything up to 11 or 12 down fine so I just needed to look around at it before we started our time. Cone 4 you had an option of taking one set closer or one set normally (we did the normal one) and cone 17 was also just set narrow. Although we weren't really lined up for 17 all that well, I brought Kat down to a trot, we curved this way and that and we managed to leave the balls up as we went thru, much to the surprise of everyone watching. Instead we had already knocked down a ball at cone 10. We haven't had any issues with time penalties once we moved up to Prelim and Kat made it abundantly clear how fast he can run.
With one ball down, we had 3 penalty points bringing our score up to 76. Everyone else had at least 3-4 balls down and or time penalties added to their scores. Going back for a look to see where we would have placed? After Saturdays two events, the other scores were- 70.43, 78.01, 78.67, 86.32, and 88.50. The 70.43 was the other guy who also entered as Combined Training. So if I had entered both days, we would have been in first place going into the marathon on Sunday. Knowing my little man and how well he likes doing hazards too, I can only imagine our scores might have been well enough in line to have locked in our placing.
A friend of mine from the driving club had asked me how the competition here in Houston compared to competition there in Arizona. Since we were sitting pretty much middle of the road after dressage, I had considered it much the same as what we were up against there. Going back now for another look and seeing how there were more balls down and time penalties in cones, it seems our strong areas, might be able to pull us up in the standings as long as we get respectable scores in dressage.
This was also the first and only time my new man had gotten to see us in action. He was quite impressed at how quick we were and at ease we handled things, zipping around the course like it was nothing. Impressed enough with watching us in cones, that he totally forgot to take any pictures! lol He was more focused on just watching us go and with the judges and people there to reset the cones all taking notice, he was pretty proud of us too.
I'm not sure what the club event schedule will look like for 2018, but I will be getting Kat back in shape and keeping him fit and ready to go, if there is a chance we may be able to enter one here or there and give it a whirl again. At 18 years old the little man can still Rock It! on a cones course. I think he enjoys the big circle we do afterwards to bring him back down before leaving the arena. Of course I praise him and tell him just how Badass he is while we go around slowing down. It's his very own Victory Lap.
A few weeks ago I took a couple horses out to a different public use arena. First off let me say that it is a quite Beautiful facility! Covered arena that is worked quite regularly, wash racks, bleachers, a consession stand and even a playground. The horses and I had the place to ourselves the whole time too, which was beyond awesome.
I have been helping the one lady at the barn with her new filly and she told me to take her to the arena and put some miles on her to see how she would do in a new place. She loaded like a champ and was well behaved the entire time. Under saddle though she had some new quirks. Of course she stared hard at the watering contraption at the other end of the arena and gave it plenty of room in case it would jump out to get her, but soon she settled right down to walking past it and ignoring it altogether. She did really good warming up.
When it came time to work on our trotting and loping a new problem came up. She was fine going to the left, but to the right she would pop her left shoulder out and seemed to be evading the bit altogether. Then she would turn her head but not her body. She would not commit to the turn or stay on a circle. I brought it back down to a walk and got things sorted out, she was relaxed and soft, giving to pressure and accepting my cues, but at the trot it all went south again. I wasn't even going to try asking for a lope, especially since we are still working on picking up the right lead. Left is fine, right we have issues. I was riding her in my western saddle. I fixed things at a walk again while I cooled her out and put some thought into what was going on, why??? and How to fix it.
Then it came time to get on my OTTB mare. I would be riding her english and since she is much further along in her training, I would be able to sort out more of MY own issues. We walked around the arena and she did give the sprinkler the stink eye, but igored it rather quickly. I was able to stretch my legs out and down, my arms up and out and found my right shoulder and neck had become really stiff and tight. This is common for me and has been an ongoing issue since back in the day when I rode my mare Tess.
When it came time to do some trot work, She had the same issue with popping her left shoulder out when going to the right. That was one of those WTH??? moments. Thing is, riding the filly and her being smaller (13.1h), yes the shoulder was noticeable. Getting on my mare and her being so much bigger (15.3h), that just magnified the issue and made it all the more obvious that the problem was me. I didn't get it sorted out for the day and it left me wondering what was going on and and how to figure out what to do to fix it?
The next day I rode my mare back at the barn. We did the same warm-up routine of big circles to help her stretch and loosen up while I did my own stretches to loosen up and relax. I thouht about the previous rides and thought about getting it right this time. When we started to trot, I remembered to breathe, I sat up and looked ahead at where I wanted to go. Then I asked my mare to trot as I picked up my diagonal and began to post. I sat up straight and my mare traveled straight. That left me wondering why she hadn't been doing that the day before? We had a good ride and my mare did really well.
As I untacked my horse and put things away, I looked at my western saddle. I remembered feeling like I had been reaching for my stirrups while riding so I decided to move them up a notch. One side was already up as high as it would go. The other side was on the second hole down. Well no wonder why my horses had been traveling 'crooked'! I was sitting crooked in the saddle, throwing everything off balance for them, DUH!!!
Sometimes it is simple, minor things that cause us bigger issues. Fix the little things and the rest will follow. Also the size of the horse you're on can show you where your problems are too. The horses aren't blaming us, they are just doing what they are being asked so don't take it personally.
By the title of this post, I'm not trying to say that discouragement can be even more discourging. Don't get me wrong, it can. But what I'm trying to convey by the title of the post is to discourage yourself from getting into a funk of being discouraged when things seem to wobble or even fall apart a little.
There will be good days and not so good days when working your horse or pony. Things won't go anywhere near according to plan. At least not Your plans of what you were hoping to accomplish that day.
Since the pic's in the last post were taken, the woman at the barn has been on the filly a few times and while eveything was going really well, she mentioned to me after the last ride that there were some serious holes in the filly's training. Major holes. As in the size of holes you could drive a truck thru.
The filly is 3 y/o and hadn't hardly been touched. She is what trainers call a Clean Slate. Nothing to go back and undo, because they haven't been taught anything wrong or developed bad behavior because of it. This is good. She has been working the filly in long lines and getting on her afterwards to walk around a little and cool her out, work on leg yielding, softness and bending and somewhat reinforce some of what was worked on in the lines.
The first time getting on this filly, she stood there and didn't move. Bumping with legs, tugging the reins one way then the other, kissing, chirping and clucking to her all had no effect. She wasn't budging. I went in and led them around, but as soon as I let go and the filly realized it, she stopped. The next few rides she did start walking off on her own, then walked a little more freely, would turn beautifully and stop often of her own accord, but walked off again with little pressure. The last two rides, with a bit of stronger forward encouragement they did manage to get some trotting going on but it was short lived. That's when the holes were discovered.
While the flly is working on a rather loose rein with little or light contact and she is responding to light cues and quiet signals, she is not relaxing enough to drop her head or engaging her hind end to push up into the bridle. Since this filly is just starting out, her owner decided to go back to long line work only and fix everything to keep her working correctly. It would need to be done at some point so why wait and let things get worse before addressing it?
Is it discouraging that thngs were going so well and everything was progressing rapidly and all of a sudden they have to back up? Not really. Not if you let it be discouraging. By looking at it that way, that hiccups and bumps are to be expected, when they show up, then they can be addressed before things get worse. That's where the title comes in. Discouraging ourself from getting discouraged because things aren't still progressing at mach speed and have slowed to a snails pace at times. It happens. There will be days when we can't get it right in how we ask them to do something and if we do't ask them right, how are they supposed to know what we want to respond correctly? There will be days that they don't feel like it. They're cranky, stiff, maybe even sore ad irritable as a result. We all have our days. It's up to us to find something acceptable and good in their work and call it a day. There's plenty of time to work it out.
The photos in this post are of a 3 y/o pinto filly at the barn that is just getting started in life. Her owner has agreed to allow me to post the photos. Hopes for this pony are for her to be a little 'All Around' pony. Dressage, hunter over fences, driving, western and trails. Since this is a driving blog for the most part, after we establish the ground driving and long line work, posts will be about harness parts, fit and the purpose to each piece.
These photos are from her second time in the lines and while she isn't working perfectly yet, she is progressing very quickly. Her head is still a little high and as a result her back is a bit hollow at the trot. At the walk, we're Gucci.
Notice her head is down, she is comfortable and relaxed, working like she should. Her withers are lifted and she looks uphill, reaching under herself with the back legs with plenty of overstep. Her rear hooves typically land one and a half to two hoofprints ahead of where her front hoof was.
Change of direction and you can see she is starting to reach and coss over with her legs in the turn.
Reaching out with the front legs and up under herself with the back legs.
Again- plenty of overstep in the walk.
Moving into the trot you can see her head has come up, back hollowed and she's not reaching under herself.
She is still a bit hollow, head a little high but she is really reachng up under herself and with her front end nice and light, her length of stride is increased.
Head starting to come down a little, and still reaching forward.
Head coming down, she's starting to relax, nice and balanced and showing progress.
Her head came up a little more and someting has her attention outside of the round pen, but she's still trucking along. Rather than correct her right away, she was allowed to keep moving, waited for her to relax and come back to where she is supposed to be.
A bit out of balance and that's ok. Remember this was only her 2nd time in the lines. She's still figuring it all out.
And figure it out, she does. Head still a touch high, not in the bridle or on the bit, but moving well and improving. Since these photos were taken she has been in the lines a total of 5 times now. She has also been mounted from both sides, sat on, learning to walk off on her own and making a lot of progress. She is a nice filly and going to make an awesome pony when she's finished.
Now that your horse trusts you and you have pushed them forward into the trot, how do you get them balanced? Let's be honest here, you will have to get them balanced because they won't just pick up a trot and do it on their own. This is where it comes to You stepping up and doing some work. Your inside rein is going to be for support, the outside rein is going to be your brakes and your voice and body is going to be your gas pedal. In the saddle, add in your legs as part of the gas pedal.
I like to use split reins when riding and when doing long line work I hold my lines much the same, bridged and running thu both hands so that I can easily slide my hands up or down the lines as needed. Working in the lines, I like to use the rings that are a bit lower and wider for the horse. When riding, I also try to keep my hands a little wider since a friend of mine pointed it out to me. Somewhere over the years, I developed the habit of riding with my hands practically ON the horses withers. On the withers and close together they did not move much away from that position for whatever reason. Her comment (praphrasing here) was to use my hands a little wider as if they were the sides of a channel in which the horses energy was flowing. Well that was when I was riding my WB mare Aruba. She was a BIG mare and needed a Wider channel for all of her energy. That made sense to me and when I widened my hands it made a big difference in her way of going. Same with the work in the lines, the reins are the sides of a channel to guide the horses energy. They need somewhere to move.
Once you have pushed the horse up into the trot, you will want to make contact using your inside rein. You want the horse to accept it that you are there for support with that rein and hold them slightly bent to the inside. When you want to slow them down or make adjustments, you will simply close your hand on the outside rein and if needed, make small tugs on that rein, letting them know that you're asking something of them. As they are moving, watch the ground for overstep and if there isn't any going on, you may need to push them up into the bridle using your voice and body positioning. Your hands will take a hold of the lines and stiffen slighty, giving the horse a 'barrier' of sorts and letting them know that this is where they need to soften and submit, breaking over at the poll and driving up into the bridle.
When they do this, You need to let them know that THIS is what you wanted them to do. Praise them loudly and make a big deal out of it. Use a happy voice since they can hear it in the tone of your words. When you get a few strides, let them relax little and then ask for a few more. Now that they heard you get excited and know what your asking of them, getting a few more strides will be a bit easier. Help them hold it as long as they can and praise them for it. Call it good on that side and change directions. Same exercise. Ask for forward movement and push them up into the bridle. When you get a few strides, praise them heavily, let them rest a little, do it again and call it a day.
There are a few other things to consider here and I will cover them in my next post, with pitures to illustrate for us 'visual' people.
Working at the walk you should have gotten a feel for being able to get your horse working IN the bridle and ON the bit. Some of you may still be asking "What does that mean?"
When the horse is In the bridle, they are working with their head in a position that allows them to use it to balance and typically they are working on the vertical, meaning that if there were a line or a wall in front of them, their forehead down to their nose would be flat up against it. Sometimes their head will be lowered and other times it may be carried a bit higher, but they should be breaking over at the poll which should be relatively level with or just slightly higher than their withers. I will use the photo of Kat again here to illustrate this. He is on the vertical and his poll is slightly higher than his withers.
When the horse is On the bit, they are literally on the bit. They aren't sucked back behind it, which is typically a reaction of having too much bit and they aren't gaping at the mouth, sticking their nose in the air, running thru the bit or ignoring it. Being On the bit, when you move your hand to give a cue, the horse will respond instantly. In order for the horse to be on the bit, they have to be comfortable with the bit. It has been chosen for this horse based on their level of training and what you will be trying to accomplish. The bit will also be adjusted properly to fit this particular horse, they readily accept it and are confident and submissive to your hands, not trying to escape, evade or run away from it. This means you have shown them that they can trust you not to hang onto them with a death grip or yank and jerk them around.
Another way you can look at the In and On ideas is this- In the bridle is the up and down movement of the horses head and neck. On the bit is the lateral or side to side movement of the head and bending of the neck. With both Up, Down and side to side movement all going on at once, it can be easy for things to get out of control quickly. This is where small movements come into play and can make big changes. If you can instill the confidence in them from the begining that contact is not a bad thing, it is much, much easier to pick them up and guide them along, rather than dealing with a horse who has been 'beat up' in the face and has a learned fear reaction. You have to trust your horse so they can trust you.
Now that we have developed the walk, it is time to move on to the trot. Same principals apply, we want the horse moving forward with freedom of movement in a balanced and relaxed way of going. We will still be looking for the overstep in their stride and something else we will be looking for is that the legs on the diagonal are moving in hamony with each other. What does that mean?
When looking at pictures of horses moving at the trot, not only will there be overstep and sometime overreaching, (see photo below) but if you were to draw a line thru the cannon bone of the front leg and hind leg on the diagonals- they should be parallel. Looking at the legs in the air, if the front leg is in front of the parallel and going to be on the ground before the hind leg, the horse is heavy on the forehand. This is often paired with the horse having No overstep. This is typical as the horse hasn't learned how to move properly yet and if you look at them, most of their weight is in their front end anyways.
Developing the walk, we taught the horse to reach up under them with their hind legs and use their rear end more, engaging it and pushing themselves forward. With their hind legs coming up under them, it allows their front end to become lighter. Think of it like a teeter totter. If you're sitting in the middle and you want the board behind you to go down (rear end coming up under you) the board in front of you (the horses front end) will obviously go up making the horse lighter and more forward. In the photo of Kat, although he is built slightly downhill, he is moving in such a way that his withers are actully a touch higher than his rear end.
It is important to remember to be fair to the horse here. Their muscles are in development and they won't be able to hold this frame and way of moving for long. At first you may get a couple of strides at best in either direction. One reason is because 1) the horse is trying to figure out what you're asking them to do and 2) because they aren't used to actually doing it. We are trying to develop *New* muscle memory in their way of going. It takes time. Compare it to your own riding. Think about where you were at when you fist started and how far you've come to where you're at today. Think about the different muscles you use and how they remind us we weren't using them when we took a week or two off from riding.
Part of long line work is being able to take up contact and to remain soft and following when needed. Long line work is similar to riding. Same cues with your hands and reins, you're just on the ground, not in the saddle. If you have done ground work and lunging with your horse, they will be familiar with you asking for different gaits. As you ask them to move forward into the trot you will also take up contact. You're asking them to move up into the bridle and giving them a reference point of where they need to be.
This part is a balancing act for both of you. The horse finding that *sweet spot* where they are balanced in their movement and for you, where you know when to use a little more rein to bring them back, voice and body language to push them forward or when to praise them for doing it right and leave them alone otherwise. Too much of one, not enough of the other and some days it will feel like you're never going to get there. It won't happen overnight and some days it takes more to get it than others. It's not a race and keep in mind, you're just setting up the base of things to come later on.
Last night I put my pony in long lines. I haven't driven him much or really worked him either in a long time. I think we've driven a whopping total of twice since the end of last summer. I pulled his old harness out and wrapped his legs since I couldn't find his boots right off, grabbed my lines and out to the round pen we went.
He wanted to start out by tearing around like a little maniac, but I wasn't having it. Since Aruba spoiled me with a horse that walks out a few laps to loosen up and then picked up the trot, I've switched over to that way of thinking for getting my horses going. It's so much nicer, seriously.
After he walked a bit in both directions and loosened up, I asked him to pick up a trot. He was right there and responded nicely, going into a beautifully balanced working trot. I let him go for a bit before asking him to really pick it up and give me an extended trot. Kat obliged and just rolled into it.
After a few times around, I signaled him for a regular working trot, then to slow down a little more in a collected trot. Again, he did what I asked without a fuss. I asked for a stop, walk forward, a few serpentines and changing direction. Picked up the trot, did a bit of collection, extension, then collection and called it good. My little man was a.w.e.s.o.m.e. in his work. For not having done anything in a while, its good to know he remembers everything. Any wonder why I love him?