Monday, 28 October 2013

Light at the end of the tunnel

So, another week elapses and I now have a more concrete plan for Tux. After a week of essentially mulling over my options, I had a really great lesson with super Ben Netterfield on Saturday afternoon where he both gave credence to my misgivings and boosted my confidence. For some reason, Tux really chills out at Ben's place - he's calmer, no blow-ups, a bit tense still, but a different horse. He's more the horse I rode the one time before I decided to buy him. Interesting.....

Ben and I talked a lot. And the plan was hatched: give Tux til the AEBC intensive in a month, use that 4 days as a platform to channel our progress and training, then execute the homework arising from the intensive over the following two or three months and evaluate his progress. Ben put it in a way that really validated what I have been feeling. Yes, there has been progress, but is it enough progress for the amount of time and effort I've been putting in? Is there enough of a change and improvement for me to keep pouring time, sweat and money into this horse?

The actual riding part of the lesson (the second half, really, but Ben and I can both talk, that's for sure!) was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. Ben had two very clear suggestions, both of which made complete sense to me and both of which worked well with Tux.

Firstly, I have been skipping ahead with Tux, asking for more than he was ready for and not being super clear about what it was I was really asking for. The best example was the canter, which I've really been struggling with. Tux usually resists into the canter, bounding or pig-rooting, or chucking his head up and down as he canters sideways. Then if I do get him into a nice canter but ask for a change, like slower or turn, he chucks his head around and swaps onto the wrong lead. Ben just said 'keep going, push him on, just keep cantering on a big circle on the wrong lead'. Soon, we had a really nice counter canter and Ben would say, change reins in a big loop, and then we'd be on the correct lead. After a while, I'd upset Tux and he'd do his lead swapping thing again, disuniting and mucking around, but I pushed him on, made him canter and then when we got balanced and rhythmic we'd change reins again.

Essentially, Ben was saying that hot horses change the goal posts all the time. One minute it's, 'don't touch my mouth!', then it's, 'don't touch my sides!', then it's 'hell no, I'm not going to go forward!'. I need to be flexible and recognise resistance wherever it comes from. Tux will go from being super-sensitive to leg aids to really needing a boot to get going. Interesting....

So, that was lesson number one. Be really clear what you're asking and expecting. If you're having trouble with getting a canter, screw what lead you're on, focus on getting canter. Then worry about the leads once you get a consistent correct, calm reaction from the aid you're giving.

Lesson number two was about my position. I am letting him move me around a lot which, in turn, makes him more worried and reactive as he isn't sure where he's supposed to be. If I focus on maintaining my balance, my rhythm, my position and stay upright, he will learn that being under me, with me, is comfortable and safe. It's hard work, but the more I focused on keeping my line (shoulder, elbow, hip, heel), the better and calmer he became. Slowing and speeding up, keeping him with me, not fighting him and hanging on.

This is very true in my jumping position. I have this bloody stupid habit of, for the first fence at least, jumping before the horse does. It's obviously because I don't want to be left behind and catch him in the mouth, but as Ben explained, being ahead of the movement makes you more likely to be left behind. The horse is put on his forehand by my weight throwing forward, so he jumps badly and I'm not in balance so I get caught behind him. Makes sense when Ben explains it.

But, if I concentrate on simply sitting upright and still coming into the fence, it all just happens underneath me. He jumps up into me, I fold from the hips and I don't over-release the contact. It felt a lot smoother. And, Tux actually came calmly back to a trot which I've been trying to achieve for weeks. He really does like it at Ben's place.

So, Manu lesson on Friday. I'm a bit apprehensive as it's a shared lesson with a lovely girl on an even lovelier little stockhorse mare and I don't want to ruin their lesson with a crazy Tux. I'm also a bit peeved as I really need the help and the only lesson I could get to was the Friday as I've got Canberra HT on the Saturday. But beggars can't be choosers, and you just have to take what you can get when it comes to clinics.

Then Canberra, then in a few weeks' time it's the big drive down to Clonbinane for the intensive where I will be blogging every day, people! When too much Barefoot Eventer is barely enough! With pics!

Til then, happy riding. Might see some of you at Canberra.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Two steps forward, one step back - and meet Uno!

Craziness and uber cuteness have taken over the last couple of weeks. Crazy horse, uber cute Uno the brand new baby son of Rose, crazy weather, uber cute Jellybean the tiny shetland much to talk about!

Tuxedo and I have hit a new low. I am feeling quite depressed about his lack of progress at the moment, and literally dread getting on him. He's still very unpredictable (though much less dramatic) and I constantly feel like I'm sitting on a very tense leopard about to flip its lid and launch into a very athletic turn. Which he does. He still rears, though not the proper high-ho-Silver's, and he's taken to popping in some decent pig roots when I ask for canter.

It all sounds quite boring when I write it down, but he's a very tense, reactive horse and exhausting to ride. He is making riding not particularly fun and more like work, which is hardly the point. I keep trying to see all the progress we've made - he's so much quieter on the ground, he stands fairly well, he actually eats his dinner (admittedly, I've halved it so he will), he stands well while I mount and will trot rhythmically in general. We've even got some good calmish jumping going.

But he is still prone to becoming very excited, very nervy, and prances and stuffs around, cantering sideways, rearing when he doesn't get his way. It's confidence-sapping to say the least. And I haven't really once felt like I'd come off. Go figure! I've got a lesson with Manu coming up in just over a week, followed directly by the Canberra HT, so I think I'll see how that goes. Then I've got the Intensive Clinic at AEBC in Clonbinane, VIC, a month later and I'll use that as a re-training masterclass. I'll re-evaluate my work with Tux after that to see if I think I can take him on from there.

Moving on to the uber cuteness Uno:

He's probably the most unco-cordinated foal you'll meet in a while, on account of the most enormous back legs he was born with:
You may be able to just see the tendon laxity in his hind pasterns which made it very hard for him to balance and walk properly for the first 3 or 4 days. That has resolved with time and exercise, but he still has some issues with those big back legs. The near hind is not tracking through straight, winging out to the side from the stifle. I've got Robyn from Equine Miracle coming out to treat Rose and she'll have a look at Uno too. I'll keep you posted.

Jellybean you'll just have to read about in the next post! I haven't even taken photos of her yet with all the excitement about Uno. But she's probably almost as cute.

Had a great morning judging out at Lynton on the weekend. The atmosphere was a little tense with smoke from the bushfires casting a bit of a weird light over all the quality horses warming up for the stressage. Some riders had fires close to their homes and had to dash home to get other horses just in case. Amazing that they came back, I say! Not the best pic as I had to wait til we'd finished, but the smoke is visible....

A really great event. Can't wait to ride there - maybe next year!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Tuxedo's Barefoot Adventure - next installment

So, it's been about 6 months since Tuxedo came to live with us and got his shoes taken off. I'm going to post some pics to see if we can see much of a change....

Straight after taking his shoes off:
 Near Fore:

Off Fore:

Off Hind (the boxiest foot):

 Near Hind:

Off Fore:

And now, 6 months later:
You can see the big rings halfway down his hoof that show where the shoes came off. The hoof above the ring is a lot tighter, with less flare and no abscesses.

 Off Fore - you can clearly see the flare below the big ring line showing where the shoe came off:

Near Fore: More concavity, frog is really prominent, still a bit to go at the toe

You can see the abscess hole below the line showing where the shoes came off:

And another one here on the off fore (the boxy one is still boxy but much improved):

So, huge changes and that's in a horse that we think didn't have shoes on for very long! His feet are much smaller, stronger and don't chip at all. Very proud. :)

What a month!

Well, it's been a while and so much has happened since my last post it's hard to know where to start! In fact, there's so much to talk about I've decided to post a separate post just on Tuxedo's feet with some pics I took at the last trimming, just to show the amazing changes in his feet since the shoes were removed.

So, first things first, I have finally finished my damn law degree. It's been eight long, boring, tiring, frustrating years. Some of my friends who started years after me finished years before me. But none of that is important. What's important is, I did it. Woohoo!

Since my last post I've managed to still squeeze in a bit of judging and a bit of riding, but not too much of either. The highlights have been judging at a local Pony Cub ODE and then following that up with judging a local dressage event with other judges the following day. I hadn't judge with another judge before so it was quite helpful and more than a little intimidating as both the other judges were very experienced. This obviously means they were also very opinionated!

I came away from that day with a slightly bruised ego, but also a much deeper appreciation of the attempts by EA to standardise judging as much as possible. It's all very well for me to have taken up judging with the idea of doing it my way, but that's in reality quite unfair and arbitrary. It leads to frustration and grumpiness on the part of riders who are training and riding thinking judges want to see certain things. Like 'roundness' or 'collection' or 'in a frame' or whatever the hell judges call it when the horse has its head tucked in like a knight's charger. At the lower levels I judge, this can be a recipe for disaster and the majority of horses I see are not in the correct frame at all, being forced into a very stiff and hard contact and completely jammed up in front.

I used to be cross with the riders, but now I find myself a little cross with a lot of the judges I meet, too, who penalise riders who don't have their horse in these tight, stilted and unnatural frames. At the Prep, Prelim and even Novice level, there should be no evidence of 'collection'....just a relaxed outline with the back swinging rhythmically and a soft contact between the rider's hands and the bit. But, since many judges knock off two marks for being 'above the vertical' (which is perfectly correct, by the way) or 'resisting', riders feel pressured to simply pull the horse down and make it stay there. This produces tense horses with inconsistent head carriage who simply cannot use their hindquarters. Shouldn't happen, but that's how it is.

Anyway, enough about judging already! We have a new pony called Jellybean. The cutest, tiniest, furriest member of our family by far, Jellybean arrived this morning. She's a little Shetland and she'll be training the kids about horses. :) Pics to come!!

Tux and I have been coming along in leaps and bounds since the Andrew Mclean clinic. I've been working very little in the arena and a lot out in the paddocks, on the slopes to help build strength through his core and stifles. We've had less and less blow ups and the last ride featured nil blow ups and lots of great slow trot. We're really nailing the stop button with lots of repetition, not holding for more than two beats, increasing the pressure very rapidly when there's no, or too slow, response to the initial very light pressure. And he's really responding.

I've also been doing a lot of groundwork (well, a lot for me!!), using the dressage whip to tap him to ask him to move calmly and promptly away for two steps. He's really quite reactive around his hindquarter which tells me he's been whacked with a dressage whip before I think. But we're getting to the point where he will semi-reliably move the right way without freaking out about it.

I've also noticed that, after the groundwork, he's a calmer and much more pliable horse to ride. He used to shake sometimes as I mounted him, start plunging around like an idiot as soon as my bum hit the saddle, and take 5 to 10 minutes to get his act together. Now he will, 8 times out of 10, stand still while I get on, not move until I ask, and be quite calm once I do ask him to move. Goes to show that groundwork has quite a big impact on the horse when you're on.

Had a really fun saddle adjustment today with Super Julia from WOW. Apart from Tuxedo throwing in some whopper bucks when I asked for canter, it was a really great visit. We actually went down a headplate size which is not unusual, but that probably won't last long as he keeps developing muscle across his topline. At the moment he's a lean, mean fighting machine and carrying no extra fat at all. That should change as he relaxes more and the spring grass does its thing.

And poor Rose is going to foal any moment. She's massive, ungainly and lumbering around over at Piplyn Lodge like an elephant. She's primed but the right moment obviously hasn't presented itself yet. I'll keep you posted!

Next event isn't til the beginning of November now - Canberra Horse Trials. I'm judging at the NSW State Eventing Championships in a couple of weeks, though, which should be seriously fun. I'm also judging at Canberra which should be seriously interesting! And at Berrima a month later, where I'm also planning on riding. Will have to see how that all works out. :)

Happy riding!