Thursday, May 25, 2023

Best Trip Ever

We just got back from a 10 day trip to Scotland.  Best trip ever and we have taken some great trips.  We started with two days in Edinburgh, then picked up a rental car and drove to Oban.  The next day was Glen Etive, pictured above and a drive through Glencoe.  Scotland is so beautiful but Glen Etive and Glencoe were just absolutely stunning.  Husband and I both agreed, highlight of the trip.

Not too many horses in the west where conditions are rougher for livestock but this darling Highland pony was on the drive to Glen Etive.  I had a ride scheduled near Loch Ness but because of a misunderstanding about timing it did not work out.  Oh well.  The trip was filled with hairy driving, very narrow one lane roads with passing pull outs over shear drops, gardens, distilleries, beautiful sights like this castle below and was so, so much fun.  We covered Edinburgh, Oban, Glencoe, Skye, Inverness, and the Speyside and put 1000+ miles on our rental car in 5 days.  What a trip.

Now it’s back to real life.  The weather forecast is really nice though and it’s time to get Cruise dialed in.  We have a canter now but as a shock to no one, his attitude, trot work, and general suppleness are a little lacking.  I’m planning on spending a couple weeks just at walk and trot, working on the above and on having his focus on me be more consistent.  When things are smoothed out then back at the canter, lessons, and maybe some outings in June.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Balky Horse

I’ve always gravitated towards the hotter more sensitive type of horse, so Cruise is a new experience for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his level headed-ness in general and his lack of drama.  When the big ball rolled underneath his belly and he high centered WHILE I WAS RIDING, I pretty much thought he would be chill until I could fix things.  And I was correct.  Especially when it is above 70 degrees, he is copacetic with just about everything.  Except horse traffic, but that is another post.

The flip side is that unless he is cold or really whipped up about something, he just likes to balk.  Ask him to walk forward with a light squeeze or touch on the lead rope and sometimes you get nothing.  I remember distinctly the first time I asked him to trot in hand and he just ignored me.  Energy up, whip taps, BIGGER whip taps.  Nothing.  And he wasn’t defiant just HUH.  Through many miles of groundwork and clicker training (which has been super helpful for motivation and focus) he is much more interested in going and doing, but his default is still HUH.  And if you try really wailing on him he braces, occasionally kicks out, but mostly blocks with his body and acts like a recalcitrant mule.

So, you’re asking yourself how the hell I have gotten a canter on this horse.  It basically comes down to, in the groundwork and under saddle, lightly asking him to do whatever and if he doesn’t immediately respond positively, then tapping him lightly with a stick until he does the thing I asked for. The stimulus does not go away until he does the thing. Then asking lightly again with my regular aids and going to the tapping if there isn’t a prompt response.  This happens a few times usually until he decides it is easier to just do the thing and sometimes it will only happen once in a ride or ground work session.  But it is always there.  And if I’m not on him about having a light response, he gets duller and duller rapidly. I call him the cart horse.

We’ve had several rides this past week with successful canter transitions (and even got both leads on ride!) and the key has been following the recipe(walk trot walk trot to trot leg yield from the 1/4 line to counter bend to canter) without escalating when I’m asking for the actual canter.  If I start really pushing him and getting heavy with the whip taps and leg, he blocks with his body and can’t canter.  If I follow the recipe, use light whip taps that never escalate and just keep asking and encouraging, he usually says “FINE” and steps into it.  If he doesn’t, we go right back to the beginning of the canter recipe and try again.  Usually by round two or three he sighs, releases and steps into the canter.  

Between learning to ride his huge gaits and dealing with more of a true warmblood temperament, Cruise has been an adventure.  I just adore him though, and have learned so much getting him going.  

Have you ever had a truly balky horse by nature?  What worked for you?

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Canter Camp

After our lesson a couple of weeks ago with SW, where we got the a-okay on the current work, and decided he just needs habituation to more environments before we go to actual shows to show, I made a plan to work on canter.  When it got into the 50’s this week we started walking and trotting single, double, and triple poles.  He was nice and rhythmic and pretty polite but never offered canter steps after.  Yesterday I set up double poles at one end of the ring and triple poles to a small X on the long side. And the rodeo commenced.  See above for reference.  He bucked, he made shapes, he almost smacked me in the face flinging his head around.  At one point he was wildly cavorting and I looked up to see a guy in a power truck stopped to watch the fun.  Yeah.  Anyway, I rode through everything solidly, never even lost my stirrups, alternated easier stuff with just the trot poles, then the trot poles to the X.  After about 20 minutes of this, and 7 or 8 canters after X, he did a trip through with only minor back humps and we quit on that with lots of pats.

So, I am proud of myself for being brave, sticking to the plan, and thinking my way through his wildness.  My thoughts afterwards were: more forward on landing will keep him from being able to screw around so much, wear my sticky breeches ALWAYS when working on canter, and maybe I need to wait for a little warmer weather, say 70+, when he is a bit more lethargic to try this again.  I thought about it overnight and decided, as one will, to do some research on YouTube.  Eventually I came upon a gem by Amelia Newcomb, Three Exercises to Improve the Canter Transition.  Armed with knowledge I put my poles away, did our usual warmup, used two of the three exercises together and we got our first trot to canters ever without poles.  Quietly.  In a balanced fashion. Only one lead, but still.  Lots of peppermints were involved!

The recipe was walk trot walk until he was a little buzzy off my aids, then a trot leg yield from the 1/4 line to the track and just as he gets there counter bend/flex and ask for canter.  I added in using my voice command for canter, some light taps on his outside shoulder and waiting him out on about a 15m circle counter bent and continuing to ask.  After about a circle of that he stepped lightly into the canter and did a lovely balanced circle. I could have just about cried.  After a mint and lots of praise we tried the right lead.  I couldn’t get him to step into it but scratched him, switched back to tracking left and went through the steps and got a nicely balanced left canter again.  Lots of praise, a canter circle to a trot then halt, treats, praise, tack off and turned free.

I know the recipe might change but I am SO HAPPY to have had an actual successful trot to canter transition twice that does not involve poles or running him into it.  Today was a good day!