The ‘New Horse’ Struggles

I’m amazed, and baffled, how people can consistently trail ride a horse that barely steers. I wouldn’t feel safe doing that. Especially out where anything could happen.

Basic overview of Levi:

  • He defaults to balking when frustrated or stressed.
  • He does not like the mounting block. Apparently someone whacked him hard at the mounting block, once, when he was for sale recently. Now he tries to avoid mounting blocks.
  • Doesn’t really believe he needs to give to pressure. He will eventually give, but after some opinions on it.
  • He initially resists all rein aids.
  • Any ask for the trot results in violent head throwing.
  • He is respectful of personal space, for the most part.
  • He seems willing to please.
  • He seems confused and expecting the worst from humans.
  • He is a conserver of energy.
  • Go buttons are sticky (he was being ridden with spurs previously). Im not comfortable in spurs, so I’m re-teaching “Go” to suit me better.
  • He tosses his head any time he decides he doesn’t want to do something. Glad I wear a helmet, since our heads met at one point when I was trying to convince him to stand at the mounting block.
  • He has not offered to buck, rear, bite, or kick at any time, even when I’ve pressured him past his comfort zone. (Very sweet guy).
  • After a very short head throwing tantrum, he’s pretty amendable to whatever i ask.
  • Lighter aids seem to work really, really well on this guy. Softer the better. He’s quicker to respond and more willing. Less stressed.
  • I did have to growl at him twice when his head tossing started getting out of hand. He straightened up quickly.
  • He gets the ask/reward method really quickly. Associates thing A with thing B quickly.
  • He seems a little afraid to make a mistake.
  • I get the feeling that he actually did have some semi-decent training on him at some point long, long ago… but non-riders over the years have screwed him up. I think that base will really help me get him progressing quickly.

He travels with his head up, stiff, braced, and hollow. He goes this way in the pasture too, without any rider.

He’s far more stiff to the right than the left, overall.

I think I can make some pretty good changes in him over the next 6 months. Maybe. Assuming there aren’t any underlying physical issues. My friend, who I bought him from, said he’s had chiro, teeth, and vet check done, and that his undersaddle issues were the same regardless. I want to get his teeth re-done soon though.

He does seem to relax and move better when I give lots of praise and reward for the small right answers.

My Tolouse saddle fits him nearly perfectly. I wish it fit me as well. My legs are too short for it.

Oh, I forgot… so, I’m big on giving treats during a ride. I think it’s a tool that can quickly say “Well done!” (I haven’t had any negative issues from it in 7 years). Anyway, I’m on Levi and I reach down to hand him a treat, and he freaked out. Like “What the h*ll is THAT HAND doing here?!?!?!”

I try again, and again, and again. And finally, he figures out theres a treat there and takes it. 😆

He’s all cool with treats from the saddle now. 🙂

Poor boy thought the disembodied hand was going to get him!

Last ride he was like, “Yes, I will have a yummy treat now!” Really sweet about taking it too. All lips. lol!

He’s growing on me. 🥰

Really, really hoping the canter isn’t a train wreck. I’ve only seen 2 steps of it under saddle. He canters in the pasture, but he seems to only canter directly toward me. Haha I can’t get a side view to save my life. He seems stiff and flat from the front view though. Not the awe inspiring, big air time, canter I had hoped for. Oh well, not like any of the one’s I’ve had have had great canters either.

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It’s Inner Beauty that Counts

I bought a new horse. I felt kind of rushed to find a buddy for Joy. I worried about her being all alone.

I scoured all the normal sites for a small horse or large pony that was safe, somewhat broke to ride, wasn’t lame, and moved somewhat like it’s legs had actual joints.

Let me tell ya… slllliiiiiiiim pickings in the under $2k budget where I live. All kinds of fantastic ponies further south or waaaay up north, but I didn’t want to drive 6 hours to look at something.

Friend of mine was selling this horse.

He’s a 10 year old, small Paint gelding. Limited ridden education. Doesn’t really canter. I got about 2 steps of canter from him on my test ride. That was it.

The good points:

He’s extremely mellow. When he got here, he acted like it was nothing new.

Very laid back. His “spook” reflex seems pretty minor so far.

Supposed to load and haul easily (which would be so freaking awesome!).

Has good feet as far as I can tell.

He’s a cute mover under saddle. Nothing to write home about, but not a total train wreck.

The few canter steps I got felt wonderful.

The bad points:

Bit ewe neck, bit straight behind, neck set too low, and something wonky about his loin/butt (not sure if its just the fact that he has no muscle and padding along there, or if he’s built wrong and/or has an issue).

I’m not sure how much correct training and maybe a change in diet will improve his topline. I’m hoping a lot. He’s all bone up there.

This is what you get when you’re limited on funds and also don’t want the challenge of unstarted horses. You either get a “something’s not quite right” or you buy a youngster and do all the breaking out yourself.

He’s still a little suspicious of me. He over-reacts a bit when I correct him.

Pasture with Paint horse

I hate his color, I think he’s ugly, I didn’t want a Paint at all, AND I wanted a mare. Hahaha But, he seems safe enough and malleable.

And his ears are HUGE!!! 😁

One of the things I’m hoping to do with this guy is some low level eventing. I figure I have approximately 10 months to get him steering, stopping, and going in all three gaits reliably, and put some (at least basics) lateral work on him. Then next spring we can start jump training and see how he goes. If it doesn’t work out then I’ll find a nice 4H kid to buy him, or a trail rider, and then I’ll have upfront cash to buy another horse.

We’ll see though… I thought I’d sell Joy after a year of training too. It’s been 5 years with her. 😆 But dang.. she’s a cool pony.

I’m having a hard time connecting with horses. Ava died 10 months ago, Jessie a week ago. I feel shut down emotionally. I’m trying to remain open and optimistic, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

My senior mare died

I recently lost my old mare, Jessie. She died unexpectedly last Sunday from what appears to be colic. She was 34 this year.

I had noticed that she stopped laying down to sleep this year. The last few months she’d really slowed down, had more trouble stepping over things, and a few occasions where she seemed unsteady walking.

And then one day, I found her down, sweating profusely and in distress. The vet came and palpated her. Checked gut and stomach and intestines. It was not a good outcome. So we euthanized her in the pasture, and buried her near Ava.

She was such a sweet mare. I really miss her.

Show #2 Recap

The second show went well.

I won a lot of swag.

Two first places (Test 2 and 3), one second place (Test 1). We won High Point Grand Champion for First Level, and Reserve High Percentage Champion. There were 6 to 8 riders in each test.

My scores sucked. 63% was the highest score (Test 3). Ironically, the scores increased the more wore out Joy became. haha
No scores below 60 though (whew).

I was really tight that day. You ever just have one of those days where you can’t ride as well as you’d like? This show was my day.

You can watch First level Test 1 here (movement w/scores): https://youtu.be/xMYPnT8hjLE

Judge was an ‘S’ judge. The main issues she noted were bracing, short, tight neck, rushing, and balance issues. Pretty much the same as the first show.

However, our stretchy trot and lengthens improved greatly.

I decided after this show that I’m done showing for the year. I wanted to see if Joy could handle a dressage show, and if she was ready to compete at First Level. I think I achieved both of those. I’m not getting the scores I’d like because I have some holes in my training that need to be addressed first. Yet, she’s competent enough at this level to beat out 7 other riders and receive a 63% under an S judge. We have room to improve, but I’m feel like we’re on the right track.

I’m spending the remaining 4 to 5 months on monthly lessons and fixing the holes so we can move up next year. Along with the bracing/tightness, the canter needs a great deal of work. The jump from First to Second, in my experience, is pretty hard to make, and I want to make sure we can do it successfully. I think this pony has a lot of potential for collected work, and I’d love to see her excel at dressage. Maybe eventually go to someone with the money to show her at the upper levels? That would be so awesome.

So, that’s my plan for this summer. A lot of consistent (as consistent as I can make it) work for both Joy and I. I’ve been trying to stick to a running routine to increase my stamina. I’ve added a similar routine for Joy, but at the canter. Both of us are not in the physical shape needed to be true athletes, but we’ll get there.

Recap of Lesson

I should’ve written this right away, while it was all fresh… but here goes.

Joy’s first time in an arena with mirrors! It didn’t occur to me that this would be an issue. I’ve never had a horse react very much to mirrors.

It took a good 15 minutes of airs above the grounds before she settled enough to listen to me again. Didn’t stop the constant nickering to her reflection, but at least her feet were closer to the ground.

I wish I’d gotten some pics of it. She was quite the sight. Prancing and preening to herself in the mirror.

I put her back in her stall while we waited for our lesson and she screamed her fool head off. I assure you, this pony has a good set of lungs on her.

Oh.. i bought some splint/dressage boots, all white with the fluffy fake wool, for the lesson. I figured if we couldn’t awe them with our riding skills, then we could dazzle them with fashy stuff, right?

For some reason, it was really important for me to convince them she was a nice dressage pony. I guess because I’ve invested so much effort into her training, and have done it all myself… it wasn’t really about the pony.

Anyway, they looked sharp on her.

We start the lesson, and of course new trainer is feeling us out and I’m not riding all that sophisticated.. but she’s offering good suggestions and I’m seeing where I need to improve.

All good stuff.

Then she gets on the pony (I asked her too).

My God! She made Joy look like a million bucks! Like those fancy horses you see that are light years out of your budget. Just beautiful. Fluid, and soft, and powerful.

Trainer on Joy

Look at that hind leg!

She even got Joy to do a really nice lengthen on the first try. A lengthen I have never come anywhere near creating. It was so awesome!!!

What was really nice to hear:

She said Joy had a great walk and trot. Great shoulder in. Great lateral work. Was one of the few ponies she’s ridden that you could ride with your core. That she thought Joy would do Piaffe easily (once there). And that if I decide to sell her, to let her know. 😁

But her canter sucks.

Which I knew. No shocker there.(she didn’t really say it sucked, she was far too nice to put it that way).

And then I got back on…

I tried to replicate the lengthen and failed miserable. She said my hips were too tight. Which embarresed me, because I don’t want to be one of those old people with tight hips, but apparently I am (will work on this).

I did get great suggestions on improving the stretchy circle, leg yields, lengthens, and the trot overall.

And she gave me homework for the canter.

When I rode Joy again, after the lesson, I tried applying the homework she gave me for the canter and found i could duplicate a good canter at home. I think spending more time focusing on the canter overall will help a great deal over time.

Anyway, what I liked most was that this instructor was able to make quite significant changes and effect change within the first 15 minutes of my lesson, that she saw Joy as a pony with potential, and that she was excited to work with us.

I’m really digging the new trainer!

We go back again July 6th. Hopefully I’ll have everything we covered this lesson addressed and we can start working towards bigger goals!

Also, I have vid, but my video editing software is a pain and I’m lazy, so you’ll get it later…

Dressage Lesson!

I have a dressage lesson Saturday!

I’ve been really struggling to find a dressage instructor near me who has ridden at a level higher than me, can teach it effectively, and I can access them without requiring a four hour haul.

Oh, and that aren’t over $100 per 45 minute lesson.

I learned about this trainer after attending one of the GMO hosted clinics in my area. I’d never heard of her before, so I was really delighted with how effective she was as an instructor with some really run-of-the-mill type horses.

Then I had the opportunity to see her teach again at an eventing barn.

I’m extremely hopeful that she’ll be able to help Joy and I fill in the holes in our training.

So that’s my big news this week.

I already signed up for second lesson with her the beginning of July.

I’m a little nervous about it.  Every instructor is unique in how they approach things. Sometimes their approach conflicts with the ways I was taught previously.  This isn’t usually an issue if the instructor is knowledgeable enough to convey why the change is needed, or what it will improve, but I find I’m resistant to change if the “why” for why it should change isn’t clear.

I have a hard time blindly trusting people the way you need to trust your trainer.

But I’m hopeful about this trainer/instructor. She seems to know her stuff, she’s ridden through PSG, her scores match up with what she’s claimed, and it appears she’s taken horses from training level up through PSG.

So, I’m hopeful. And it feels really good to be “hopeful” again.

Joy’s First Dressage Show

Our first dressage show is completed!

We survived!!

Joy loaded and hauled like a champ. <- That was actually my main concern for the show.

She hopped right on and I latched her in with ease. She hauled quietly and without issues. Whew!

Once we got to the show, she was a million times better than I expected her to be. She was hyped, but easily controllable. She listened to me. I bet a few more shows and she’ll be completely unfazed by it all.

The only thing that wigged her out the entire show was when a horse unloaded from a trailer next to her. She wigged out… as in, all four feet left the ground, she started bucking and leaping around. I was walking next to her, so I just ignored it and kept walking. She was back to normal a moment later, but I didn’t stand her near unloading trailers after that. 😮😁

The actual test scores weren’t very good. The rides, while riding them, felt awesome! Not perfect, but the stretchy trot felt balanced and as if she had massive stretch. The lengthens felt like she lengthened well (for her and where she’s at right now). It felt… Good.

The scores and video show it was was not good. It was crap. Rushing, braced, unbalanced… not good at all.

That disconnect between how it felt and how it scored/looked, really had me bummed.

Final Scores:

  • First Level Test 1 – 60.172%
    • 4th place out of 5
  • First Level Test 2 – 63.286%
    • 2nd place out of 4
  • First Level Test 3 – 62.22%
    • 3rd place out of 4

We somehow eeked out a Reserve Champion High Point tie with the girl that womped our butts in test 2 and 3. Don’t ask me how.

The overall theme in the comments on each test was: Tension, bracing, lack of suppleness, lack of balance, lack of bend.
That pretty much describes all three tests in a nut-shell.

First Level Test 1 Video Link: https://youtu.be/1P4VtMRlWUI

First Level Test 1 Score Sheet:

First Level Test 1 Collective Marks

 

First Level Test 2 Video Link:  https://youtu.be/fzAVGxnhHP0

First Level Test 2 Score Sheet:

First Level Test 2 Collective Marks

 

First Level Test 3 Video Link: https://youtu.be/haGVdILY98Q

First Level Test 3 Score Sheet:

First Level Test 3 Collective Marks

 

My friend takes beautiful photographs!

Count Down to Show

We successfully loaded and hauled Joy around the block this week. I was nervous. She hasn’t been in the trailer in two years. She did great.

I’m feeling a touch more confident about at least getting to the show Saturday.

I got my ride times.

First ride is 8:37 AM.

  • It’s a 45-ish minute drive.
  • It’s her first off-property event in two years.
  • It’s supposed to thunderstorm.

I should’ve gotten an overnight stall.

I thought the rides would be closer to noon for my level. Nope.. all the First Level rides are first thing in the morning. *sigh*

I have test 1 and 2 mostly committed to memory. The flow on the First level tests seems so odd to me.

Straight from strerchy trot to lengthen?

Why is free walk in test 1 so short?

Why are there random spots where you’re just tooling down the rail after they jammed in 7 movements in 12 meters earlier?

Do we trot at C or M?!?

Do we hit the rail at V or K?!?

Ack!!!

The joy of being an AA

Work has been killing me. 50 to 70 hour weeks for over a month. I am exhausted. Burnt out.

I also don’t get anything for all this overtime. No overtime pay, no extra time off..

I can’t even reap extra money for all this hard work. *sigh* No new brushing boots for Joy again this year.

My first show is a week away. I’m not sure what to expect.

I’m still struggling every ride with either making her too hot and tense, yet better balanced, or supple and relaxed, yet horribly on her forehand. I can’t seem to get balanced, supple, forward, and relaxed all in one ride.

We have some fabulous moments though.

Our lengthen canter (aka go fast) elludes me, but we have a very nice downward transition. She engages well under herself. It’s quite neat to feel. There’s not much length of back on a pony so you really feel the back coil and the haunches come under.

Our lengthen trot has gotten a wee bit better. More lengthen in the stride. However, we can’t hold it long. Not long enough even for a short diagonal.

You know what’s really improved? We can do simple transistions down the quarter line like nobody’s business. Not exactly a staple of dressage tests though. Super fun to ride though! Weeee!!!

Anyway, I just don’t know how this whole show will go. We’re not really ready for First Level Test 3. We’ve got the canter loops and leg yields, but no real lengthens. I can’t get a stretchy trot at all if she gets tense. It’s so easy to accidentally make her tense, and so hard to relax her again.

Since this will be her first time off property in 2 years, and only the second show she’s ever been to, I’m not expecting it to go all that well…

But… I’m hoping to take her to a few more shows this year, and I think she’ll get used to it pretty fast. She’s always had a really fantastic brain on her. Adapts well. Maybe the second show we can show off our training a bit better, or the third. We’ll see.