speedy, meet slowy

My next visit to Speedy wasn’t for a month after the Sheryl clinic, when we headed back to MIL’s place for Christmas. I was only able to get three rides in over nine days, since California was getting a much-needed dump of precipitation.

MIL and HJ friend had decided the best way for me to spend those rides would be to keep working on gymnastics with Speedy. So we set up several poles so we would have the option to trot through, canter through, and then raise them to bounce through. And the next three days we basically just went back and forth over those poles, after a quick warmup.

huge fan of this trot

The first day we kept it to a trot, going back and forth over placing poles on either side of an itty bitty vertical. The goal was to keep it slow and easy, and help Speedy find a steady pace to the fences and a quiet arc over the fence. I was instructed to stay out of his way, grab mane or neck strap, and use just verbal cues to slow the tempo as needed. The only things I cared about were that he went (relatively) straight and woah-ed when asked. Other than that, he got lots of praise and pats as he went, and I talked to him a lot to keep both me and him breathing. Unsurprisingly, Speedy was great.

On day two, we advanced to two raised poles about 9′ apart. A bit on the short side, but MIL was really trying to get Speedy to think about compressing his stride and body, and we were still trotting in. Speedy came out like we were picking right up where we had left off the day before. He trotted right through the trot poles like he knew where his feet went, and didn’t try to pull me down to the grid as fast as he could. No footage from day 2 since my phone ran out of space, but I left the ride feeling really positive again.

day one: a skosh flat, extremely cute

Day three, we tackled the grid at a canter. We bumped the pole risers up as high as they went and trotted back and forth a few times. Once we were trotting through nice and calmly, I asked Speedy to canter in. We kept it on a short approach so I didn’t have to negotiate the corner, and I kept up with the verbal cues to keep Speedy slow and steady.

day three: slowy mode activated

I had new homework on day three — grabbing mane. Like, really grabbing mane. Way up there. WAAAY UP THERE. Like basically HJ friend wanted me to grab Speedy’s tiny adorable little ears and use those to balance on instead of his mouth. Okay so maybe not that far up, but really, grab mane Nicole. I maybe grabbed mane.

Speedy was super at the canter also. He managed to slow it down and stay steady to the fences. It still wasn’t perfect with the distances and I had a hard time riding to the placing pole, but HJ friend and MIL assured me that wasn’t the point. The point was to get a steady canter and let Speedy figure out the rest. So that’s what I (tried to) did.

day one: what are you doing with your arms nicole dear god

Over all three days, Speedy spent a lot of time processing in between each go, dropping his head almost to the ground and chomping on the bit. I was worried that we were making him anxious, but at the same time I didn’t think there was much I could do about it at that point. I figured it was the change in how he was expected to go that was stressing him out, but being able to jump from a slower pace and a steadier tempo is necessary, and shouldn’t be stressful overall. Now that I know him a bit better, I know that he probably was stressed out, but the chomping and head dropping were also signs of Speedy thinking about the new information.

One of the best moments of the “week” was when MIL accidentally reset the placement poles to the bounce waaaaay too tight. She rolled them out to 6′ (I think we had rolled them in to see how he would do without them, but liked him better with the placement poles) and it wasn’t until I hit the first pole trotting in that I realized they were way tight. I grabbed mane and yelled “too close! way too close!” Speedy just compressed his stride even more and carefully pinged through. It was a huge accomplishment for him, since I’m pretty sure even just three rides earlier he would have been inclined to rocket through the bounce as an oxer, or take it all down in a rush.

It promptly started pouring in the afternoon of day three, so there were more rides over Christmas. But Speedy and I spent some quality time together cleaning his paddock, taste testing candy-cane peeps, and playing with balance pads. I am well on my way to an unhealthy obsession with this hony.

to the basics!!

I shan’t say back to basics since a) Speedy is in a pretty deep basics bootcamp with MIL right now but also b) we obviously never left the basics, right?

trot poles are very basic

I’ve seen a whole bunch of new horses come into TrJ’s program this year through a bizarre convergence of all the people looking for a new horse. And a funny thing I noticed with all of them was a massive backslide in their training after they arrived at the new barn. I even joked about it to one of my friends, “isn’t it funny how all these horses arrived and just…. forget how to horse?” One promptly went lame, one started bolting, one started voicing (and kicking) his opinions, one stopped going forward at all.

Most of the “new horse!”s I’d met in the past had a honeymoon period where they stayed pretty perfect for a while, then their behavior started to unravel. I always assumed it was the old trainer’s buttprint finally coming off them, and the horse realizing that they really did live in this new place with all these new rules. So it kinda cracked me up that all those horses at TrJs had that happen so much faster. I think it was actually because of TrJ though — she has a knack of finding those holes in the basics and shoving her thumb right in ouchiest one.

solution focused, that’s my boy. (and yeah, lunging him through here wasn’t a great choice to start with, but I was at the mercy of a DQ and a retired HJ rider, I just did what I was told)

We threw Speedy into a totally different program when he got here, with a pretty big focus on basics, so I expected a fair bit of embracing the suck for our first few months together. Some part of my brain still thought, though, that even though we are pretty fundamentally changing the way this horse goes, I’d just be able to bop him around 2’6″-3′ fences the whole time — even if I had to ride him “the old way”. Oh I knew — imagine dismissive hand flapping here — that there was a lot of grid work in our future as we helped him realize a new shape all the way to the base of the fences. But I figured we’d start with little Xs and work our way up to a fun, bigger oxer that would make me blush and swoon and fan my hands at my face all the while quietly demurring “Oh, it’s all him really, Speedy is just so talented.”

I did not figure that we’d trot him through a set of canter poles and he would go “what in the actual fuck is this shit on the ground I’m going to stomp on it”.

speedy stomp?

And then do a variety of different interpretive dances over the poles.

boing boing motherfucker

To his credit, he did actually try to solve the problem, and he didn’t panic. Unfortunately, his range of solutions ranged from “canter bigger” to “go faster” at various points before or during the poles. We set them on a 12 foot stride, and what Speedy really needed to do was compress his stride a bit to get through them properly, an absolutely bizarre feeling for someone who came from a horse with a preferred canter size of about 3.7 feet.

Speedy would go from calmly walking to pulling to the poles pretty quickly as we approached them, and my half halts were utterly ineffective. The next day, we got serious about the half halt (something we got to explore more with our groundwork trainer also!) and threw a halt in before the poles. The first time I tried that I got nothing, and just hauled on Speedy’s mouth through the grid. Next time around MIL reminded me to actually get the halt. Make it ugly if I needed to, but get the halt and then release right away.

it is the best canter

We clobbered our way through the little bounces a few times until Speedy and I found a much more settled canter on a circle. It is tempting to let him just pound down to the fences in whatever size canter he wants, because it’s a very pleasant canter at all the sizes. I also really didn’t have enough space, or spatial awareness, to help manage his canter to the placement pole so we could get a smoother ride through the grid. That will come, though!

bounce bounce bounce

Speedy definitely has some basics-shaped holes we need to fill in. And to be abundantly clear, I don’t think this reflects poorly on his trainers at all. They — one of them being a 16 year old — took a green-broke 4 year old and got him to Bundeschampionate finals as a 5 year old less than 18 months later without frying his brain, destroying his personality, or shutting down those amazing gaits of his. Speedy also deserves some of the credit. He’s a pretty reasonable and biddable fellow and is naturally quite clever and careful over the fences. So it was probably easy to skip some of those basics in favor of moving him up to the more impressive heights that were most likely to sell him. And some of those holes are definitely just “I don’t speak American!” issues, as well.

So yeah. There’s going to be some hanging around in basics-land for a while. I forsee alot of grids in our future. I am soooo excited about how super he’s going to be over the fences after we shore up this basics foundation a bit!

12/4 Lesson Recap

Hump Day Jump Day was cancelled in favor of pony play time and earthworks around the barn (though I did end up jumping that evening AND achieving my goal of trotting at least ten jumps), so I had my jump lesson on Thursday morning instead.  Since we’ve been getting a lot of rain in California lately, all lessons have been moved to the indoor, which is both a blessing and a curse.  Indoors we tend to work a lot more on skills — grids, timing, placement poles, etc. —  because there isn’t as much space, but it’s really hard to course inside, as the arena is basically just a full size dressage court.

But whatever, we make it work.

This week we had a 4-jump line down one long side, set up as a one-stride, one-stride, two-stride, and then one jump across the diagonal and our quarter round down the other long side.  If I thought I could draw it quickly in a graphics program, I would.  But… I can’t.

Anyway, after warming up we went straight into the grid with some of the jumps pulled down.  Because it’s down the long side of the arena, and only about 7-8 strides from the wall, all the horses have wanted to turn really early, so I worked hard getting Murray straight after the final jump.  I also tend to push Murray left over jumps (over-strong right leg) so I kept my left leg firm to keep him straight.  Unfortunately, those two things have somewhat opposite effects (left leg on for straightness –> turning right immediately after the last fence) but we got it.

Alana put all the jumps up, and we popped through several more times.  The turn through the short side really made Murray want to pull down, so I will have to practice balanced, ahead-of-the leg circles and corners in the future.  I also worked on keeping Murray ahead of my leg into the grid while packaging his canter so he wasn’t rushing.  When he’s pulling, Murray feels astonishingly quick and out of control, but watching the video I can see that we really weren’t moving that quickly at all.  M can be very challenging to ride when he knows the course (which he tends to learn within two rounds), because he thinks he knows exactly where we are going and how, and ignores my requests and suggestions on how we should approach things.  So just more to practice.

I put together this video of the last time we did a couple of one-strides strung together, from back in July.  There are a lot of changes from July to December!!  Not only the height of the jumps, but Murray’s balance and impulsion as well.

In July I still  rode around with pretty long reins and used speed to get Murray straight to the fences.  In the beginning of the clip, you can see him pulling down as he almost always did back then (and still occasionally does now, but much less, as I am better at encouraging him to get his head up), although he lifts his head and focuses as we approach the line.  In the second clip, Murray tapped the rail of the blue oxer with his hind feet because I got ahead — I drop my seat too quickly when I do that.

Overall, a really productive lesson and a good comparison of our improvement!  This week we’re doing MORE grids, but they’re set up so you have to take them at an angle, from a rollback. Joy.