While I've been very focused on my standard dressage, I didn't forget my western dressage. Let's face it, Theo will probably always get better scores in western dressage where his chill is more appreciated. He may be learning to be prancy pony but his natural state is still sound asleep.
I tried moving my stirrups back to the further back position to fix the part where I end up in chair seat in the canter when I ride in my western saddle. It fixed me going into a chair seat but they were too far back and I ended up with a heating pad on my SI joint. Ouch. I didn't even know that was a thing humans had to worry about until mine decided to lock up. So that was too much adjustment. I measured and it was about a two inch change between the two positions. I put my stirrups back in their forward spot and bumped the cantle of my saddle up a little less than an inch.
Seriously, every part of this saddle can be adjusted, the entire seat cover comes right off
This saddle is crazy adjustable. I can adjust the stirrup position, the width at the fork, the spine clearance, and can even move the cantle forward and back. Bumping it forward just under an inch got me out of the chair position and stopped the saddle from trying to suck me back by moving the lowest point forward. When I took it for a canter, it was much easier to stay where I was supposed to be. Still not as easy as my dressage saddle, but that's more a matter of practice. By the end of my ride, I was cruising around with no trouble.
Good thing since I spent my new saddle money on fixing my truck. Ugh. That truck is lucky its so sexy. I felt like such a cowgirl at the barn today when I climbed out of my big truck in my western boots and my Carhart jacket and dragged my western saddle out of the back. I was even wearing Wrangler brand jeans.
So my western saddle is home and tied to my saddle rack while I reshape it for it's new size. The cantle is what provides stability to the back half of the tree so moving it shifted the shape of the tree slightly. It needs to learn how to saddle again. I'll leave it for about a week, then ride Theo in it a couple days in a row. That should be enough to reset it and make it saddle shaped again. Theo doesn't care either way, it's purely aesthetics. The weight is spread out, off his spine, and behind his shoulders, he's a happy pony. The new cantle position makes the back skirt look a bit longer and more western like. This makes me happy. If I'm going to ride western, I want to look the part!
With that in mind, I started shopping for my western show outfit. Last year was purely experimental. I didn't know what look I wanted. I went with basics that felt familiar. The result was totally acceptable, but I felt like I still looked like an English rider.
Piper breeches, Ariat paddock boots, Charles Own helmet, and my saddle blanket is on sideways. Is it possible I'm an English rider?
This year, I'm going ranch pleasure. I ordered my very own pair of chinks.
I'm excited. It's the look without the fuss of full chaps. And not so sensitive to any weight fluctuations I might have. You think white breeches are unforgiving? Try chaps. Yikes. I got workman style chinks since extra bling on the legs makes me crazy (I really don't have the leg position to support that) and I want minimal fringe. I don't like fringe. I don't know how I'll survive riding western when I don't like fringe.
I'm pairing my chinks with some taller, brown cowboy boots and jean breeches. Should be super comfortable and familiar feeling for me. I got some tops off usedhorsestuff.com to show in. One is pink, one is light tan with purple flowers, and one is black with a white geometric pattern. I also picked up a navy one with some little bitty white horse heads on it from Tractor Supply. I already have my royal blue one. Top it off with a brown helmet and I'll totally look like a western rider.
No, I'm not giving up my helmet. Just no. And the riders that not so quietly commented on me not respecting their traditions can bite me. I make a living off my brain and I know just how devastating a concussion is. Helmet is not optional.
I finally found some saddle blankets short enough for Theo. One is purple, one is pink. What can I say, I gotta be me and I want him to match my shirts. I'm keeping my workmanlike tack, but I did see this bridle while I was on Buckaroo Leather and it totally seems like the perfect blend of workmanlike and, well, being me.
You know Theo needs a bridle with heart conchos on it. And there's matching reins! Split reins are very western but I'm constantly dropping one when I lead him. I'm better with loop reins.
My first sanctioned show of the year will be a western dressage outing at an Arabian breed show. They're hosting an open western dressage division and we really can't be too picky out here. Two days of showing and only two hours away? Yeah, we'll be there. There are not a lot of western dressage shows, so Theo and I will be overnighting at an . . .Arabian breed show. Yeah, we're going to stick out a bit.
Hubby dropped by to meet me for dinner after my ride and got to meet post ride endorphin fueled Theo.
Trainer Z returned for our lesson on how to be big kid dressage riders. She had a lesson on her own young horse recently and it reminded her of me and Theo. Her young horse has changed dramatically since the last time she took him somewhere and sometimes she forgets what horse she has now. That made her think of me and all the years I spent correcting. Okay, great, you got it corrected. Now ride the nice horse you made. Get your hands in where they belong, he doesn't need you to ride wide anymore. Keep him in balance, he's ready for it. Just go for it.
It's totally accurate and I told her point blank that I feel like I'm still waiting for permission to ride him like a big boy dressage horse. She said 'you have permission' and off we went. Contact is easy, flexion is easy, now make his poll the highest point and keep him there. He doesn't need to come out of it every two laps, he's totally happy to stay right there. We started out with some basic movements to make sure he was right up in front of my leg. She commented how good he looked in his body and I mentioned his massage. Apparently it worked a treat because he was happily using the booty and did not protest his counter canter.
Once he was bombing around in front of my leg, we ran through the Second 1 test. In the small arena. Those movements come up fast when you have 20 less meters to work with! But we knocked through it with no major issues, I sat the trot the whole time without trouble, and Trainer Z took notes on specific spots where we need to focus (straight halts, looking at you). Having all new test patterns made Theo spicy since he knows when we're doing a test but he didn't know what to expect. Those medium canters got a bit fiery. We worked on my geometry (aim before the letter, not at it) and not letting go of the contact just because I'm thinking about getting somewhere in a pattern.
Theo gave me some lovely moments were he really lifted up his front end. Trainer Z hopped on for a minute to get a feel of what he's like.
My phone was being dumb, but hey, video! At least a few seconds.
Two big takeaways from her ride on him. First, that moment where I half halt, he comes up, and he gets light? That's good, I want that, stay there as long I can. He actually rides very light once he's in collection and it's quite lovely to ride. He'll be able to hold on to it longer and longer as we go, but he's not overly light like I thought he was. She was surprised he started offering it so quickly, but that's a good sign! She also loved that when I gave him little taps with the whip to sharpen him up for a canter depart, he started to snap his hind legs. That's the start of piaffe. Well, okay then.
The second was that I'm asking for the canter wrong. He thinks it's off the outside leg. He needs to really understand that it's off the inside leg. Kind of a scoop with my inside hip while letting him jump through the inside rein. I thought he was cantering off the inside leg, but nope. When she got on, he started swinging his haunches and she couldn't get the transition. Once she got it, she threw me back on to coach me through it. Ohhhhhhh. That'll take awhile, but Theo was happy to play along.
Between the test riding, swapping riders, and general tom foolery, we worked for about 90 minutes. Theo was a total trooper, I stuffed so many cookies in him. The feedback I got is that Second 1 is an easy test for him and won't be any problem. Good one to practice my stage fright since Theo certainly won't be stressing. She asked if I was qualifying for regionals and I said yes, but at First. I got such a weird look, but in adult ammy land, you need a totally ready Second level horse to be competitive at First. And while Theo isn't fancy dancy or flouncey bouncey (her words), he's very correct and that will take us far.
I am 100% okay with this being his new trot, he's actually got shoulders!
I've got lots of homework to work on, but it's getting to be more than just 'go forward'. I've done my homework, when I put my leg on I get a reaction. Now I get to work on my geometry and remembering how to ride when I have to steer. Because I can't always do both at the same time. I need the large arena. Is it spring yet?
I knew Theo was going to get sore with the stepped up work. I'd discussed it with Trainer Z and started shopping around for a massage therapist to get him into a regular program. Then I got sick and things got pushed off a bit. I noticed some resistance to pushing into the contact that felt like he was avoiding connecting over the topline. On Monday, he flat out put down and said 'nope' to a counter canter. Red flags go off all over my brain. Theo doesn't quit over stuff he knows unless it hurts. Pony is hurting more than he's letting on.
I palpate his back almost daily, but he wasn't reacting to it. If anything, he was leaning into it. But he had tight, sore spots here and there. I pushed hard, found a massage therapist, and due to a lucky scheduling coincidence got her out 24 hours after contact.
My poor pony. He usually loves his massages, but he didn't enjoy this one so much. Sure, there were some points where he sighed, yawned, and leaned into it. But there were more points where he threw his head in protest. He was sore in a bunch of different places. All the places you would expect with collected work, but it had snuck up on us and I don't think even Theo realized how sore he was until his therapist sunk her fingers into some spots. At one point he had his mouth open like he didn't know if he wanted to yawn or bite.
One and a half hours of hard work later, large swathes of his body were back to their natural, jello-like consistency. Some spots, like right over his hips and the inside of his left hind will need more then one session. I signed Theo up for weekly massages for the next four weeks so she has a fighting chance at getting through all of the accumulated tightness.
Theo was walking better and had a lovely canter around his field afterward. Considering the yawning and the big smooch he gave his massage therapist, he already feels better.
Weekly massages are just one thing that's going to happen. I also signed Theo up to get his stifles done when the vet comes out for their spring vaccinations. I've been hemming and hawing but he's got some compensation going on while he avoids that weaker right side. Let's shoot up those stifles and see if that helps me straighten him up. He'll also get that box of Adequan. I wanted to time that right before the start of the show season. Whelp, that time has arrived and pony is getting loaded up. I want his joints as slippery as possible so he doesn't feel like he needs to compensate. Compensating leads to whacky muscle problems.
His massage therapist didn't find anything wrong or unexpected, just a sore pony that's moving into collected work. Once she's got him caught up, he'll go on a regular maintenance schedule. And since she travels to dressage shows, we might even be able to book him some massages while he's competing! That would be a huge benefit, he really does love his massages. Even today when he was quite clearly in pain, there were plenty of sections where he looked like he was in heaven.
I dropped the ball a bit on this one. I knew it was coming and should have been more proactive, but hindsight is what it is. We'll just get him all tuned up and ready to prance in the sandbox.
I've had a complete dearth of Equisense data. No, I didn't lose it or let Theo step on it. Turns out there's a safety feature where it shuts off when temps get too cold. It protects the electronics. This may be a rare occurrence in France, but in NH? It was always off and I was usually too cold to take it into the office and plug it in to get it to work again. So for the dead of winter, no data.
It was 40 yesterday so I went ahead and plugged the unit in so I could put it back in rotation. It should be warm enough for it to stay on all week.
First, glad to see our symmetry, which had been really starting to concern me, bounce back. We'd been on a slow but steady downward drift for a lot of rides in December. For this ride, he popped right back to his 7.5 average. That's a genuine relief.
Our elevation had been drifting down while our symmetry drifted down, but now it's popped back to usual, at least for the canter. Slightly down in the trot, but he was also trying to see if he could suck behind the contact for half the ride. Using the topline is hard, mom! How about I arch my neck so I look pretty and drop my back while not allowing you to take any feel, does that work?
Our regularity scores were terrible, but I've found protest bucking in the canter will do that. Theo was having an extreme case of the opinions. By the end he was stretching into the contact again, but I could tell he'd had other riders for awhile. He is so good at setting that false frame and making everyone think he's light and soft. And then he props and threatens if you try to push through it. Yesterday was a bit of a difficult ride and I explained to him that moving your legs super fast does not equal forward. I ended up holding my outside rein and kicking until he realized sucking back off the aids wasn't actually going to make me go away. He's such a smart little puke. He's not afraid of my hand, he's just learned that if he curls back, I will put my hands forward and kick him. He can fall on his shoulders when I do that, so yay for Theo. Now I'm holding my hands no matter what and driving him forward. He's not a fan.
Thank goodness I have a lesson on Friday. Dropping behind the contact and behind my leg at the same time is not my favorite evasion. Fiona was the master of dropping behind all aids and then taking off like a bat out of hell. I'd like to not have that happen.
I haven't had the flu in a long, long time. I think I last got it in 2009? At least that's the last time I remember being bundled up in a blanket with tissues and wishing for the sweet oblivion of death.
On Sunday I was sneezing a lot. I'd body clipped my horse the day before, so okay, allergies flared up. I have allergies year round so I stepped up my allergy meds but nothing happened. What the heck? I was dosing like it was the height of spring and I was still sneezing and going through a box of tissues. It didn't register yet that something was different. On Monday I worked from home since it was snowy. I sneezed a lot and started to cough. Hmm, maybe not allergies?
Body clipping, not for the faint of heart
On Tuesday I woke up with a real cough and decided to stay home so I wouldn't get my coworkers sick. One of them has a brand new baby so that wouldn't be okay. I took some Robitussin and messaged my boss to say I would be on and off due to cough syrup. General policy, I don't do analytics while drugged. I always regret it when I look back. And then I conked out at my desk. I seriously put my head down and fell asleep. When I woke up, disoriented and with a crick in my neck, I was quite sure I was sick. I took my temp and yup, low grade fever. I was also nauseous which is fun. I gave up on work, huddled on my couch with multiple blankets, and accepted my status. Yuck. I barely moved all through Wednesday. Fever broke Thursday morning and I felt normal again on Friday, so I don't think it was a full blown flu but it was a virus and it was not friendly. I continued to stay home on Saturday since I really didn't want to share whatever I'd had.
I finally left the house on Sunday after a whole week spent at home. Cabin fever barely covers the state I was in. I was so excited to get out that I went to the barn despite the fact that it was spitting snow/sleet/rain and some of the roads hadn't been treated yet. I wanted to see my pony!
Pony was so happy to see me that he cantered up to his gate despite the neighbor running the snowblower behind me. It was cute. He stood at the bottom of his field, snorting and watching the snowblower. Then he decided the cookie was worth it and jumped into a canter to book it up the field. Got to me, stopped, threw his head all the way up, and let out this huge HONK at the snow flying through the air. He let me put his halter on but he was quivering. Thankfully years of ground work kept us safe as he pranced sideways to keep an eye on the neighbor. Clearly a very dangerous demon.
Okay, I'll admit it, the long hair does make him look more like a Friesian
I spent almost an hour grooming him. I'd thought he'd been ridden most of the time I was out but I found out both of his lessons didn't happen. Ugh. I curried and curried while he wiggled around. I like to curry him loose in the aisle because he can point out exactly where there are itches. I dressed him for lunging because he'd apparently had almost as long a break as me. Loose side reins kept the sass monster focused and while he threw his head and jumped about a bit, he didn't haul me anywhere. I worked him till he was blowing a bit and he'd lost the quivering, losing his mind look. Then back up to the barn for his blanket and back into his field.
Tonight I can actually get on him and get him really over his back. The break was a bit of a blessing in disguise since he'd acted like his back was tight when I rode him before I got sick. He's using a lot more topline, it's not unexpected. He looked quite loose and happy after he got the bucks out on the lunge. A day or two in downtown and we should be ready to get back to work.
My spring shows are starting to open. We've got feet of snow on the ground, but it appears that winter really is going to end.
I managed to get something approaching media. I propped up my phone on the arena wall and let it record for five minutes. The end result is this rather boring but hopefully representative video clip.
Theo - YouTube
I love being able to see what he looks like since I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that collected feels like this. This was our third take and he was cooking in the sudden turn in temperature (first two takes the phone fell down). It's not our best with him hanging out a bit behind my leg due to fatigue and heat, but it's a very good snapshot of what our work now looks like.
My turn on the haunches didn't make it in frame, either. I'll try again with an actual camera mount and see if I can make this work. I've also found a remote control that will start the recording so I don't have to muck around with the phone to start a new clip.
Considering where we started, I'm very happy to see where we're at.
It's terrible when your momentum is shut down due to things you genuinely can't control. Yes, I'm whining about the weather.
We had a windstorm on Monday with some snow squalls mixed in for fun. I did manage to drive to the barn all dressed to ride, but those 50mph wind gusts are hard to handle. I had to dodge a lot of downed branches on the way in and the blowing snow took visibility down to 0 at times. Theo needed a blanket swap so I didn't have an option. I had to stop and visit him after work. I fought the wind to get to his gate and called him.
He's a good boy. He poked his head out of his shed, spotted me, and started heading up just like he always does. He was about halfway up when a huge gust of wind hit, bad enough I had to hunker down and hide my face as I got pelted with snow and sand from the road. My beloved jack ass turned his butt around and went right back in his shed. I've never seen a horse so definitively nope out in my life.
It looked just like this.
Horses regret going outside in the snow - 980925 - YouTube
I agreed with him, but he still needed his heavy with temps dropping through the night. He wasn't coming out no matter how I called or waved his muffin treat at him. I had to slog down the hill to his shed to get him. We kind of huddled together on our walk up to the barn, trying to keep our faces out of the blowing snow. I pulled off his medium, popped on his heavy with the insulated neck rug, and then sent him right back out. Could I have ridden? Probably, it was only 25* out and there is an indoor, but I didn't have the heart for it after fighting out to this field and down to his shed. It was so miserable and with the breaking trees, I couldn't imagine that our ride would have gone well. I don't need the kind of impulsion that comes with branches snapping loose and hitting the arena.
Today it's still windy and freaking cold. That'll be a second day off. This time it's too cold to safely breathe hard or risk sweating. Stupid weather.
I really wanted to keep up the momentum, but I have to accept that it's February and the hands down worst month to ride in New Hampshire. Five days a week of real work is actually very good for this time of year. That doesn't change my grumbling or glaring at the weather reports.
Today was session 2 with Trainer Z. I've been diligent with my homework, so I was feeling nice and prepared. Theo go forward is becoming just another day at the office. No repeat of the broncing incident, so we appear to be past that wall for the moment.
I met Trainer Z down at the ring so she wouldn't have to sit through our long walk warmup. Theo's 15, so I won't rush our ten minutes of walking, especially in the winter. He needs that time to get the muscles warmed up and moving. I trotted him on a long rein so he could get the cobwebs out, then right up into his new big boy trot with a light contact. It takes about ten minutes of encouraging trot and canter for the engine to really kick in. I'm finding that he does need to ease into the idea mentally or I end up with him in the bad mental place. So we take about 20 minutes to physically warm up these days. By the time we're done with that, he's on a contact and happily motoring along with his new big gaits. Cool, time to work.
First thing was that I needed more contact. The whole circle of aids things isn't going to happen if I just let it all zoom out the front. I, of course, struggle with any time I'm told to have more contact. More contact usually sucks because it's heavy, unpleasant, and I feel like I lose communication with the bit. This, however, feels different. I don't feel like I'm hauling on him, I feel like I'm just closing the door a bit more and his pushing into it. I'm not pulling, I'm holding as he pushes. No shoulder pain and I don't feel like I'm losing communication, I just feel like I've got a lot of horse to hold back.
Good gravy look at the neck he's developing
I could tell when I got the right amount of contact because suddenly, magically, that last bit of topline connected and I could see everything in front of the withers lift up and his neck felt like an expanding fan (love that visual for this stage in my training, make his neck open up like a fan, keeps me from getting him short in the neck). His shoulders freed up and I could see them swinging in the mirrors. And it makes sitting his trot freaking impossible but that's beside the point.
I heard 'There it is! That's your Second level trot!' and realized I had definitely made the right call getting help. Because that? Is not at all like anything I'd ever asked Theo to do before. It was not at all small, little, or slow. It was big and powerful but I wasn't letting it get away from me. I was keeping all of that new, big gait boxed up underneath me. That's what I was aiming for, to have that much power but not let any of it get away. Ohhhhhhhh.
It's hard right now because I'm fighting with my hands. My motor memory keeps letting go because it feels like too much pressure. My conscious mind is going 'nope, that's fine, we're in a good spot' but the second my attention wavers or I dare to think about a different body part, I let it go. Poor Trainer Z. 'Look at that fancy trot! Why would you let go of that fancy trot?!'. I dunno, my hands are crazy and possessed by the devil. Especially my right hand that likes to go for a wander. Where the hell are you going, right hand? Is it really that much better over there?
We worked the canter transitions, really getting the idea pounded into my head that I am not to release my outside rein for that transition. Release the inside, not the outside! Theo is totally cool with this and has no issue with pushing into the aid so long as I can convince myself to hold it. That one is going to be hard for me. Theo continues to show that he's 100% ready to move up while I'm the one questioning if this is okay or if I'm asking for too much.
We did have to discuss his odd habits with his mouth. She mentioned she could see his tongue while we were doing traver/renver/shoulder in transitions. I said yeah, he licks and chews a lot and does it even more when he's thinking. Even during tests, he licks and chews. Judges like it because it's very clearly not an evasion, he doesn't stick his tongue out in a bad way. When he's thinking super hard, he sticks the tip of his tongue out and just keeps it there. I think it's cute. She was a bit less sure about that, but if it's not something judges are marking down, then it's not a problem. I shrugged. Pony is weird. If he's evading me, she'll see his mouth completely stop moving. If she can see his tongue, it's a good sign. It means he's thinking and engaged and playing with the bit in a good way. I'm not sure just what he's doing with his mouth when he's sticking the tip of his tongue out, but the bit is definitely moving and both of us are working with it so whatever. You do you, pony.
Trainer Z is super happy with his progress and excited to help us get ready for his Second level debut. No doubt on her part at all, pony is ready. Probably more ready than I am. I'm supposed to work on the S turn from Second 2 as my homework (10m half circle to 10m half circle) since that revealed some balance weaknesses for me. Also need to make sure my hands understand the new rules with contact. Theo's settled into it just fine. It appears I'm the one that needs the miles.
Seriously, Theo, quit making me look bad, being all perfect and willing. Geeze. And while you're at it, stop looking so freaking fancy when I get it right. It's kind of addictive seeing that last bit of topline fill in and feeling like I actually got the whole horse together. Just knock that off.
I'll try to get video. I'm too polite to ask my trainer to do it. She's busy dealing with my hands going rogue, she's not going to take video of me. When it's warmer I may draft the hubby to do it. I'm kind of desperate for media, but I'll make due with what I've got. My truck has a cracked exhaust manifold, so I know where my annual bonus is going and it's not for a Pixio. *sobbing forever*
My horse is so predictable. When we introduced the idea that leg = go forward, he threw a temper tantrum three rides in. When we introduced the idea that blowing through my left rein was not an option, he threw a temper tantrum three rides in. Monday was my third ride of our new 'make him crazy forward' homework. Guess what happened?
It started out fine. I dressed him in his western gear while I fiddled with his saddle to see if I can make it work for me, we warmed up, and then I put my leg on and said 'big trot'. He humped his back at me and tried to haul the reins through my hands. Uh, no, go forward. Big trot. He decided that he no longer had a big trot and started breaking to the canter. I said fine, if you want to canter so bad, big canter. The wheels came off.
All of a sudden the window at C was terrifying and he flew off of the wall in his patented spin/buck/bolt combo. I had to stop the bolt for safety reasons but immediately applied spurs to ribs and sent him back into his big canter. He dove down on the bit and started popping his butt. Haul his head up, get way in the back seat, and continue to push. No relief until he goes forward, no matter how much he threatens and twists and bucks.
It was not a fun twenty minutes. He was flat out looking for a way out of this work and when in doubt, try scaring the rider. Bucking and bolting is a great way to get someone to take their leg off. I had to keep my leg on even with him bucking and diving sideways because I know I need to get through it or it will be worse next time. I used some circles to keep the bolting at a reasonable level and micromanaged his left shoulder to keep the spin from happening on his strong side. He'll spin right, but it's slow and not very committed. If he spins left? I'll be spitting out arena footing.
After twenty minutes of loud protest while I made him transition between big trot and big canter, he decided that he was tired and just wanted to stop. We got one lap around the arena with a big, well behaved canter on a soft contact and called it a day. He was blowing like a freight train and I was coming down from the adrenaline that comes with sitting on a barrel of TNT. Nothing else was going to be accomplished after that, so we went for a walk in the snow.
By the time we'd moseyed around the property for half an hour, we'd made up and his ears had gone soft again. No more spooking and spinning, even when we went for a walk down the road.
Today he has the day off. I knew this was going to happen so I planned out his rides accordingly. He needs today off to mentally reset and rest what are probably some sore muscles after that nonsense. Hopefully that was the wall and we're now through it. Tomorrow Trainer A rides him and she'll happily kick him up as far in front of her leg as possible. Thursday is his lesson with his other rider, so that will be a bit of a slack day for him. I'll jump him on Friday to make sure all of the negativity has been shaken out while still getting him super forward. Trainer Z is in the area on Sunday so we're going to have another session to check on our progress. I'd like to have that lesson be something more productive than watching my horse throw a temper tantrum over these new rules.
I have my lumbar support pillow and a Salon Pas patch for my lower back. I thought fifteen year olds didn't do this nonsense anymore.
So I had my lesson with the Grand Prix student of Mary Howard today. I won't lie, I was a nervous wreck. I was so worried that I would be told 'nope, he isn't there' that I didn't each lunch. I showed up at the barn early because I couldn't focus at work anyway. I dressed him up with polos and braided his mane up and out of the way so his neck was actually visible. Fortunately it was 40* out so he didn't want to double barrel me for taking off his blankets.
Trainer Z, as she is now officially dubbed, has been a working student of Mary's for nine years. She owns a stallion that she brought up to Grand Prix. Her stallion's barn name is Muffin. I started laughing and she explained that he used to be quite scary and she needed the cutest name possible for him. So he's Muffin. She was a grade school teacher but this year, after the birth of her first kid, she's decided to go all in and be a full time trainer. She's fixing up a barn on her property for her own horses and traveling around to teach and train horses for other people.
We had to delay the lesson a bit as Trainer A warned us that two of the hot heads were in the arena together, losing their minds. We waited ten minutes while I introduced Trainer Z and Theo. Theo decided she was acceptable as she was quick to adore him and give him many, many scritches under his braid. She did remember him from our visits to Mary's barn, but didn't remember any details about him except his browband.
I am so that rider.
We dodged the last of the chaos in the ring and she loved the fact that Theo simply watched while a TB mare performed caprioles with her bareback rider (that teen has an amazing seat). Everyone cleared out about the same time Theo started warming up, so that worked well. I walked, trotted, and cantered on a light contact, giving her a baseline.
Her conclusion? He's very sound, has three perfectly nice gaits, and is very nice in the connection now. She loves the way he foams up the bit. She was surprised that such a big guy with his cold-blood breeding was as forward as he was. That's about the point where I started to breathe again.
Surprisingly content post ride pony
Then we discussed what needs to happen to make my 2019 goals a reality. For the next four weeks, we're going to see just how forward we can get Theo. He should be expecting to jump forward at any moment and offering to do it, not waiting for me to suggest the idea. He needs to go forward to the contact much more. Yes, he's round and soft and lovely, but there needs to be more if I want to move up. More jump, more power, more forward thinking, more strength. The first time I feel like I have to hold him back a bit instead of driving him forward, I'll know I'm where I'm trying to go.
Unlike last time someone decided I needed to get him far more forward, I could actually do it this time. He was a bit mystified by my sudden insistence on massive power, but we could actually do it. Big, big trot with a nice neck, sitting on the outside rein and giving the inside rein so he had somewhere to go. Big canter. Even bigger. Big enough that you're almost afraid of what you're creating. Then stay there.
Holy crap, that's scary because I know what's under the surface, but as I keep reminding myself that's distant history now. His eyes and ears stayed soft. He went big in the canter and after thinking about it once or twice, decided to stay with me and put all that excess energy into a big ass canter instead of blowing his top and pulling a porpoise. Then we leg yielded in trot and canter without losing all that forward. And then we did transitions (BIG transitions) in the leg yield. Never ever let him suck back, he needs to mentally shift to this being his new normal, where he expects to be. Because this is how much energy I need to successfully collect. All the foundation pieces are there, we just need to add the power.
She loved him. Straight up loved him. We did some walk to canter and she said 'wow, he's better at that than you, he's going to have a gorgeous pirouette'. I mentioned that we struggle with positive tension becoming negative tension. She laughed and said 'yeah, you're definitely ready for Second'. He swapped leads on me and we had to get into the nuts and bolts of how I ask for a lead. It's from the hips, not my legs. He's sensitive enough, if my hips aren't there, he picks up the wrong lead or tries to swap. Oh ho, so that's what that mystery issue is when I know damn well I mis-cued but couldn't figure out what part of me was moving wrong. He will ignore what leg goes back if I have the wrong hip forward. He's a very, very smart horse. And I'm a very freaky rider that can push my hip forward while taking my leg back. So weird, but at least I know what I'm looking for now.
So yes, Second this summer is totally green lighted. And frankly, she expects us to hop along to Third pretty quickly. We've got all the building blocks, he just needs more strength and that will come from all of the forward that's going to happen over the next four weeks. Once that's established, we'll collect him and he can start really building up that booty of his. She can't wait to put a pirouette on him since she expects that will be a highlight for him. Which means, of course, that we won't stop at Third.
She said 'there's no reason to stop at Third with this horse, no reason at all'.
He was thinking so hard his ears got sweaty
I probably looked like a stranded fish for a second. I'd braced myself to be told that he'd already hit his ceiling. Instead, sky's the limit. No matter how hard we pushed him tonight, he stayed with us and worked. No resentment, only one little buck while getting the big canter started, no curling or fighting my hand. Dare I say he enjoyed using his body that much?
So yes, Trainer Z will be back. This is the perfect time of year to rack up lessons and form new habits. Come May, when the show season starts, time will be scarce and I'll have more trouble finding a regular time. But by then we'll hopefully have this paradigm shift completed and less regular check ups will be fine. OMG WE'RE MOVING TO SECOND!!!