Hello! It has been a while! It’ll be pretty easy to catch y’all up, though. In short, we have been making really great progress with our Parelli groundwork, and not so great progress under saddle. In our groundwork, I really came home from Florida motivated, and we have been playing pretty much every trip out to the barn. My boyfriend built Cloud and I a pedestal, and we are working on his confidence to get up on that. He isn’t nervous about it, just doesn’t understand yet that I want him to put his feet on it. But he will get there. On Friday I went out to the barn with Rob and we both played with Cloud, because Rob really likes to play with Cloud, too. When we were done for the day, I unhooked Cloud and went about putting away my barrels and pedestal. Cloud went over to the gate and was pacing, but Rob decided to go over and play with him some more…he went up to Cloud, then jogged down the long side of the arena, with Cloud trotting along beside him. I stopped what I was doing and watched my boyfriend (a non-horse person, but he’s getting close to graduating from that title!) play at liberty with my horse. I’ve done things at liberty with Cloud here and there…I never have a halter on him to groom and tack anymore. I actually find it more convenient, lol. I’ve also done a lot of ‘liberty’ stuff in the barn…backing him into his stall without his halter or rope on, but I haven’t done much in the arena at liberty. Well, I couldn’t let Rob have all the fun, so I copied Rob, meeting Cloud at the gate and coaxing him to come trot with me. I yielded his hindquarters and switched directions, trotting the other way. I lost him a couple of times, he really was distracted by the gate, but I was still pretty impressed with the communication that we had! I even did some sideways down the long side. Fun stuff! So thanks, Rob, for showing me my horse is coming along very nicely!
Under saddle, it’s a bit of a different story. For starters, we have not been able to have a lesson since October!!! Tracey comes every other week, and I had to cancel twice and she had to cancel twice. I think we would have been okay, but Cloud has been super hot for the last month or so. It’s a typical thoroughbred winter, although I haven’t seen Cloud this ‘up’ for a couple of years. I can only guess that it has to do with how healthy he is and how good he feels. But it hasn’t been all that fun to ride! Cloud just wants to run around….if it were up to him he’d canter for an hour and call it a day. I’ve struggled with his energy, trying to figure out how to get him to go my pace without just pulling on the reins. I didn’t want to lose what we have gained by riding him naturally. He wasn’t completely out of control, but wasn’t exactly in control either. I didn’t have much say in how fast we were going, except to control what gait he was in (for the most part). I had control over where we were going, but not with crisp square turns or even shaped circles. Basically each ride was a power struggle, with emphasis on the power part. I don’t really fault Cloud, he can’t help it if he feels good, and obviously I wasn’t asserting myself to my full potential. I tried a lot of different things, but I just never achieved what I needed to to have quality rides.
Enter Tracey! In the first 5 minutes of our lesson this morning I told her what was going on, and how frustrated I was…I told her I wasn’t having much fun riding, because we just weren’t working in harmony together. Tracey has a lot of experience with Thoroughbreds, so she knew where I was coming from, and she definitely was prepared. She set us up with her hot thoroughbred go-to exercise. Staying at one end of the arena, I was to ride a small square (not a circle). On one side of the square, she placed a ground pole, which had yellow paint in the very center of it. I was to make my square turn so that I was headed straight for the yellow. When I got to the pole, I was to do whatever I needed to do to halt Cloud as close to the pole as possible without going over. If Cloud turned early at a corner, I was instructed to halt before the turn, make the turn, halt again. In my head, I was thinking this exercise sounded disastrous. Cloud hates to halt, especially when he’s hot. But we set about the square, getting some coaching on our square turns. We came up to the pole and I halted behind it, with his toes right at the line. Perfect! We waited a bit, then proceeded over the pole. A gray ear flicked back to me, then back forward. Hm. Made it around the square again, halted behind the pole and waited a few, then walked on. The gray ear pinned back to listen. I smiled ear to ear. “Are you kidding me??” I asked my instructor. “What?” she replied. “He is listening to me” I said. And not just with his ear, Cloud wasn’t jigging, and he was making crisp turns.
It was the simplest exercise. Easier than anything I had tried in my month of dealing with his energy on my own. We didn’t stop perfectly behind the pole each time, a couple of times I didn’t time it right and we stepped over. If it was my fault, it was okay, but if it was his fault, we backed up over the pole to put his toes where we wanted them. If he stopped too far back, we didn’t do anything because he would trip on the pole anyways, and learn for himself. After a few laps each direction, I picked up the trot and continued the exercise. We did some halts at the pole, and some halts at corners if he tried to turn before I told him to. After a while, Tracey told me to approach the pole as though I were going to halt, and then just do a walk transition. Easy!
Now, I had told Tracey that our major trouble came down the long sides of the arena. Her exercise was very contained, I didn’t see how we could generalize. She put another pole in the center of the arena, leaving the original pole. Now I could ride Cloud on a rectangle, lengthening the time between visits to the magic transition pole. Because she didn’t put a pole at the other end of the arena, after a while we did a lot of changes of directions, and practiced going without the pole. We also started continuing to trot over the pole, instead of walking or halting…I would just act like I was going to halt, and if he was listening I would let him keep trotting. I had so much control, and I really had Cloud’s attention. And he wasn’t fussy about giving up control either, because we were keeping him on his toes by changing things up so much. We had our harmony back!
The last 20 minutes of our lesson we spent cantering with our magic transition poles. I approached the pole at a trot, acting like a halt, and asked him to canter just before the pole. If he gave me a nice controlled canter, away we went, either on the rail or over the other pole, but if he got too fast, we’d find one of our poles and make the transition. Yes, we could have done the transitions anywhere, but the poles kept him in line, and kept him listening. It just worked. We did do some halts at various points around the arena, but only if really really necessary. I also got some flack for leaning into my upward transitions, letting my reins slip, and meeting Cloud’s pace with my post instead of defining my pace. Some things to keep working on.
I am just amazed by her solution to my problems with Cloud’s energy. With past trainers, they have just yelled at me to half halt, MAKE him halt, MAKE him walk, MAKE him trot – which just bottled Cloud up and made him fight me harder. This method gave Cloud more responsibility, and kept him guessing at *when* I was going to ask for a downward transition. Instead of fighting me, he was listening. And I still don’t really understand why the exercise worked as well as it did!! Amazing.
I suppose this will probably be my last entry of 2012, and I usually like to try to look back on my year to see how far we’ve come. And this year, there is a lot to say for how far we have come. At the beginning of last year, we were at Silver Fern, getting more and more frustrated over lameness issues and hoof issues, from the style of riding that I was doing and from the poor conditions of turnout at Silver Fern. I was riding with Christy, planning on taking Cloud to more dressage schooling shows in the summer. Our lameness issues were really getting me down, and I was constantly reminded that my horse could only do so much in the dressage world with his gaits and joints being what they were. Talk about discouraging. I loved my horse so much, it hurt to feel like he was less than superb, instead of enjoying him like I should.
It all began with a budget haha! Over time, I decided against showing, lessened my lessons, then quit altogether. I decided I needed to save the money, and later realized that I actually felt like I was wasting money on dressage lessons, instead of needing to ‘give those things up’. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing with my horse, and I was becoming more and more unhappy with the environment that he was living in. I knew that Cloud deserved better, both in a boarding facility, and in what I was doing with my horse. And he really deserved for me to believe in him.
And so I went back to Parelli, and began searching for a new barn. I saw instant results with Parelli – in the way Cloud responded to me, and in that I began to enjoy my time with him again. I looked a few boarding stables closer to home, but wasn’t finding what I was looking for until I decided on a whim to tour a barn that I originally felt was outside my price range. I had been looking for equal or less than what I was paying at Silver Fern, not keeping in mind that Silver Fern was providing sub par care and quality of facilities than what I wanted. One tour of Cliffwood, and I was sold. Cloud and I deserved that facility, and I felt instantly that it would be a game changer.
We moved in May, and it was the single best decision that I have made for that horse in my 10 years of owning him. We moved from a mudhole, to the lovely option of limestone paddocks for poor conditions, and grass pastures in nice, dry weather. The atmosphere was different too, with lovely arenas, lovely pastures, beautiful scenery, open, airy, barns with good natural light…it was zen-like for us. Cloud made some new friends, and genuinely seemed happy with his home, for, unfortunately, the first time in years. It’s hard to see that your horse is unhappy, until you see him happy. Cloud’s feet began to grow and be healthy, and our regular nightmare farrier visits became a dream. Cliffwood literally took years off of Cloud’s feet.
We continued with our Parelli work, picking up a Parelli instructor to help us progress. Then, on a whim, I picked up Tracey after catching a few of her lessons as I rode on the weekends. My first ride with her and I was sold. Her principles closely aligned with what I was doing with Parelli, and her motto seemed to be “Be all that you can be”….she believes in building each horse to the best of their ability, with the sky being the limit. Gone was the undertone that my horse isn’t good enough, and with her training and my confidence in my horse, he has begun to show his stuff, catching the eye of others and ridding us of the lameness plague. Today at the end of my lesson, another rider commented on how good he looks, and from the center of the ring, my trainer exclaimed, “I know, I LOVE this horse”. And that, is the best way to end the year…a beautiful facility taking superb care of my horse, a horse feeling happy at his home, an owner feeling happy and confident, a relationship that is better than ever on the ground and under saddle, and a trainer that really truly loves my horse – exactly the way that he is.
I will work on my resolutions and post them in the new year. I already feel like this upcoming new year has such promise in comparison to last year…simply because we are starting in a better place. I am so grateful for everything that went down over the last year, and I am trying to not have regrets from our past…I needed to experience what I experienced to get where I am, and appreciate it. So I need to let go of the past and focus on the present and future!
Before I go, I do need to write a little blurb about an unfortunate experience from Thursday. I have been working at Main Stay most of my holiday break, to give Art his days off. Thursday morning when I went out to feed breakfast, one of our horses, Buck, had something terribly wrong with him. He did not make it in the barn for breakfast, but went down and passed away right there. Luckily, Art was out walking his dog and was able to come and help, but really all we could do is say goodbye and try to calm him. It was his time, and it was a big loss. EVERYONE at Main Stay loves those horses, all of them. They are all very different horses, but we love all of them for the qualities they bring to our program. Working with them so closely and taking care of them on the weekends, I have come to know each of them and love them as if they were my own. Buck has been at Main Stay for close to 10 years…I remember when I first met him, as senior in high school when I was volunteering at Main Stay. He was a big part of the Main Stay family over all of those years, and we already miss him dearly. Rest in Peace, Buckaroo…we love you!