Saturday, 29 June 2013

A 4 year-old 6 year-old

It seems that Tuxedo is the most green-broken 6 year old going. A very frustrating and somewhat scary ride at the moment, I find myself a bit exhausted and sore this fine Sunday afternoon. Yesterday was our first ever jumping experience together and (luckily) I chose a clinic with World Cup showjumper Sandra Tremier as the place to do it! He was a complete nutcase. Apart from a more extreme version of the rearing, sideways, piaffe/passage and pig-rooting that is now a normal part of our day, he also threw in charging around as a new experience.

We started off working fairly well, that is, big trot to little canter with lots of head tossing, back to big trot. Couldn't trot over the poles, had to canter. Couldn't trot towards a jump, had to gallop the last two strides then gallop away. Wouldn't halt without a lot of head throwing work. The most memorable feeling of the day was that of his forelock grazing my nose. Not noice.

The peanut gallery were very supportive and nice but not particularly helpful. "You're a braver woman than me!" was Gay's best line. But she's always the most positive person. When we bounced a one stride double she yelled out, "Well, he's going to be a great eventer!"

I was, I'm almost ashamed to admit, reduced to tears by the middle of the second session. We were working on a little course, and it was just so damned exhausting being on this crazy horse, tearing around the place, barely keeping his feet in the wet. Did I forget to mention it was raining the whole day??

But. And there's a big but. There were moments of brilliance. For one thing, he does have the most incredible, powerful movement. And he's not worried about the jumps per se (no shying or cat leaping). And, after taking out an upright on his chest (Sandra jacked them up to about 80 or 90cm because he just wasn't noticing the littler ones), he actually calmly popped over it the second time. Then bolted off, but not as out of control as before!

So, there is some serious talent in that nutcasey thoroughbred brain. And Sandra (and Ben Netterfield) stated pretty baldly, "You've basically got a 4 year old, and a green one at that. He doesn't know anything so you'll just have to teach him." Awesome.

On a bright side, his feet are fantastic. Had Kirsten the trimmer extraordinaire out this morning and she thinks they're brilliant feet. Big frogs, becoming concave and the flare is growing out quite quickly. All in all very good. Rose's are getting flat under the growing weight of that beautiful big foal in there. You can see it moving in her belly sometimes. So exciting. I feel like it's a filly so I'm trying to think of names for her. Suggestions?

Still planning our first event to be Harden doing Newcomers. I'm tempted to enter Intro but I think that might be a mistake. Our control issues really need to be sorted out before we really need to worry about the jumps at all.

Happy riding! Hell knows I need it!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Jack Frost has landed

Happy winter everyone!
It's not particularly freezing (yet) here at Dragonwood, and has been really wet over the past couple of weeks - a very welcome change given how dry it had been leading into winter.

The horses have all settled in really well and are now good mates. It's interesting being able to observe their herd structure this close (I can just look out the window!!) and see how complex horse social behaviour is. I thought it was very linear - ie horse A was 'dominant' over horse B who was dominant over horse C. But my little herd doesn't work that way. Rose is the boss and Tux is next and Persia yields to Tux and Rose. But when hay goes out, Persia sticks with Rose who lets her eat her hay, while Tux is excluded. Rose lets Tux eat with her too, but clearly Tux and Persia aren't friends and Rose is more tolerant of Persia who is NOT tolerant of Tux. Interesting....there's an alliance for personal gain...

Anyway, riding-wise this last few weeks have been very frustrating. Firstly, now I live out of town, I have to leave by 7:45am, which means I would have to be ON Tux by 6am. It's dark til 6:30am so that could be a bit pointless. Which leaves just the weekends, as I get home in the dark too. And I'm finding that Tux is not the kind of horse that is fine to leave for a few days. If I were to do that I think it would be a very slow and frustrating road to daylight savings!

Luckily, right over the road lives a world class French showjumper called Martial, who is staying with my friends Gay and Larry for a few months. He's agreed to ride Tux for a me a couple of times during the week until he heads back to France in 6 weeks. Totally saves my bacon!!

That brings us to the second part of the frustration. Tux is the tensest, most conflict behaviour-riddled, anxious and reactive horses I've ever ridden. Today, as my arse hit the saddle after mounting he launched into a most impressive display of rearing and bucking. Bizarrely, it doesn't feel like I'm ever in danger of coming off, but you do have that feeling of just holding on and waiting for the scary ride to end. No control, just a very tense and large animal beneath you having a meltdown.

Other than doing lots of ground work establishing 'park', 'forward' and 'back', repeating mounting over and over (I get on at least twice each ride) and putting him through exercise and exercise for the next few months, I don't know what else I can do. I've decided, after a particularly crappy episode today, that I will just keep blogging about his behaviour so I can recognise progress as it happens. It will take a lot of time and work to get him relaxed, responsive and obedient. That's the fun part, right??

I've been very lucky with the saddle situation having Julia Mclean from WOW onside. She's been out three times to fit Tux with both my existing dressage saddle, and a demo jumping saddle that we've tried a few different blocks and panels on. It's a vaguely annoying process, saddle fitting, for all involved, but SO worth it. I'm very lucky to have both the financial means to afford WOW saddles (at this point anyway!) and the support of Julia who is really the most amazingly generous fitter. Need a longer girth? Sure, have this one (it's new and she just swaps it for my old one). Need a jump saddle while you wait for yours to be constructed? Sure, have this one. Think the saddle is unbalanced even though the last fitting was only two weeks ago? Sure, let me squeeze you in between my interstate trips. Nothing is too much trouble. I couldn't recommend her more. :) 

On another positive note, Tux's feet are a lot less sensitive now, despite the wet conditions, and this is really encouraging. I think he'll end up with high performance feet in a couple of months at this rate. :)

Rose is starting to look pregnant now and it's actually starting to get exciting as we enter the 8th month. Her elbow injury is possibly resolving itself - I'm keeping a hopeful eye on it and haven't noticed that weird double action as she walks downhill for a week now. Fingers and toes crossed. Woohoo!

Til next time, safe and happy riding!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Landed Gentry

Hi peeps!
It's been a long time - or at least it feels like it! So much has been happening and I'll try to cover it all.

First and foremost, Tux has now been barefoot for coming up to three weeks. The first couple of weeks seemed almost unbelievably easy. The last week, since the second trim, have been a bit more interesting. Kirsten took a little more than she was planning to as we had decided to forgo Bungendore ODE last weekend in the interests of sanity. More on that later! Since that trim, Tux's hooves are a lot more correct in shape but he's become quite 'footy' and finds it difficult to walk on the gravel road. He's perfectly fine on grass, bitumen and the mulch of the arena.

I've taken some pics from the last trim:

You can see that the feet are a generally good shape, though the off fore is a bit flared and high in the heels, and the hind feet are still a bit steep in the angle of the hoof, but are improving. Kirsten really set the shape up for the next few weeks of growth and change as his frog and heels start to take more weight more correctly, and his hoof becomes more concave. Hopefully, the sensitivity will diminish over the next couple of weeks. I don't think the rain helped on the day before the trim - they were standing in water for at least a day:

That makes hooves a little more porous and I suspect a bit softer. Certainly, I've found the ideal conditions for tough hooves is dry, hard, clay. And lots of exercise over it!

So, we were aiming for Berrima to be our first comp together but, after attending Manuela Mclean's clinic together, we realised there was a LOT of work to be done before Tux was ready for even trot poles, let alone a course of jumps! Tux is not a raving hot loon as first thought, but a pure stress-head. After getting past the initial couple of rides (only one of which I actually attempted myself, instead enlisting the help of the wonderful Martial (French Showjumper extraordinaire) to sit on the snorting beast, I've found underneath all that is a willing but confused and probably poorly trained horse. Yes, he holds an outline, yes he can produce a powerful trot and a measured canter, and yes he probably looks pretty good while doing it. But he doesn't understand most of the nuances of the cues from the bit - he's only got a basic understanding of what a direct turn is, preferring to turn stiffly from an indirect turn. He still won't transition from a walk to a trot without quite a bit of piaffe, pig-rooting and head-tossing. He finds it very had to maintain a slow rhythm and really struggles to stay straight and forward in self-carriage while not charging. He is very weak through the back, hindquarter and stifle and will take a fair bit of hill work to build all that up.

BUT. He is such a fabulous horse underneath it all. I feel the power in there, especially in the canter. He's going to be a cross country machine! And he's pretty trainable. The worst he does is a bit of plunging about and being an idiot. No bucking bronco work or truly dangerous stuff. I don't feel unsafe on him and he does start to listen. I feel like he needs a lot of time to get the basics right but, once we've got them, he'll be a champion.

So, Manu's clinic was very good, as usual, with great timing for me having just acquired a challenging horse. The first lesson was extremely helpful, focusing very much on establishing that slow rhythmical trot out of a walk, using trot/walk and trot/halt, and also 'almost' transitions - walk to 'almost' halt by stopping the hind legs and just as the last front leg is about to halt pushing on for walk again. This was really helpful as he was reacting well to the definite transitions but just taking up the super-fast trot with the head tossing and stuffing around straight away. The 'almost' walk gave him another correct answer - 'slow down' - that he hadn't contemplated. This seemed to clarify the rein aids for Tux a bit so that he didn't fight when I half-halted him as I was trying to slow him in the trot.

There was a lot to concentrate on - as always! Manu wanted me to 'lock my body' a bit more, basically turning on my core stabilisers, squeezing with my thighs to create the feeling of 'narrow in front' and this really helped keep Tux active and straight while strengthening my position so I was a lot more centred and could cope with his idiotic carrying on. I also focused on closing my hands to 'hold the little birds' as I was learning to do with Assegai, not opening my fingers but holding a light contact and simply closing my fist when I wanted to use a rein aid. That seemed to work well too in stabilising his head.

The second day was a private which was really great. Lots of stuff to work on. Slowing and controlling my rising was a big part of the lesson. Using that 'positive tension' and switching on my core was helpful and counting to myself so that I would simply rise in that rhythm no matter what Tux was doing. After about 10 mins we had a much more definite and stable rhythm and I was pretty stoked. We will work on that quite a bit, as well as 'wiggly lines' using direct turns and a real focus on allowing with my right rein to help his left hind come through more strongly. We even popped in a canter which was remarkably calm and well-maintained. He clearly finds canter easier and less stressful than trot. Interesting - also fed into our theory that it was confusion that led to his behaviour issues, not an inherent reactivity or 'being hot'.

All this means no Berrima next weekend. Major bummer, though I thought it would be a real stretch! Harden at the beginning of August looks like the first comp for us now, and that one is not a bad start. I'll still be judging at Berrima, though, as is now becoming my privilege to do every event, and I'm really looking forward to that.

The farm is slowing shaping up, little by little. The yards have been started, and will hopefully be completed on Monday. The first of our order of Electrobraid from How High has arrived and now I have to figure out what to fence with it first! Water troughs are next and a way of watering the horses must be devised (do we use the dam water, tank water, tank water from the stable to go only to the troughs, dam water trickle fed to a tank that will then fill the troughs by solar pump....the options are many!). We've gotten a few round bales of second season hay to help keep the horses' fibre up and reduce the pressure on the only paddock we have right now. All are looking well, fingers crossed they'll keep out of trouble!

Massive blog post over. Til next time!