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We Are Flying Solo

May 13, 2011

Keeping Track

I may or may not be an eensy teensy bit OCD (shush now, lifeshighway). I like to plan. Although generally my plans become playthings of the fates. I like to colour-code. Although there always seems to be one more category than I have colours.

Solo has a Google calendar (of course he does) but it frustrated me endlessly that I could only view one month at a time. I wanted multiple months viewable at once so I could get an at-a-glance feel for things and I didn't want them to be tiny.  So I may or may not have heard angels singing from parted clouds when I stumbled upon a giant dry-erase 90/120-day calendar at Office Depot.

Now, I feel so much satisfaction I think I might pop.   This is what April looked like.

In all its three months of glory, below.  Blue is for horse trials/shows, green is for lessons, red is for vet care, and black is for miscellaneous notes.  Every time I look at it, I feel like I need a cigarette or something afterwards...

May 12, 2011

Schooling For Schooling

Saturday is a local unrecognized CT. Which will also be our first foray into Training Level. My plan was to use it as a perfect prep for Virginia HT next week. It was all falling into place beautifully. I was even excited, EXCITED (probability of that happening: 1 in 10,000,000), about the Training Level Test B that we are to perform in VA; it suited Solo well and made him all supple and bendy.

Until I checked out the details of the class list for this weeks show.

We are doing Training Level Test A.

It's a completely different test with less bending, larger gaps between transitions, and the extended canter on a straightaway. I don't like it. Test B left me with a better horse at the end of it. Test A leaves me a horse who just wants to extend his canter all the way around the whole dang ring. He's really digging this extended gait thing.

We worked through Test A with P the Dressage Wonder Coach last night. I failed to make my brain focus (oooo, shiny!) and both Solo and I had a temper tantrum or two, but I came out with some tips to focus on for Saturday:

-Really use the corners to bend and package the horse, especially right before the extended trot diagonals.

-All the movements are short so even if Solo gets pissed, he'll get to do something different in about five or six strides.

-Make sure the medium walk marches forwards so we get a swinging free walk on the short diagonal.

-Don't let the 15 m circles get too big.

-Prep early for the left lead canter at M.


If I can pull off these six teensy little things, then I'll call it good. Even though it won't be the same test as next weekend, I think it will be some good ring mileage and a chance to also jump a Training stadium course before it really really counts.

The next two days will be Solo holidays so he hits Saturday rested and ready to rock. I make no predictions, but assuming I can get my brain to switch on, I am optimistic about our prospects for a decent go.

May 9, 2011

Today's Horse Is Not Yesterday's Horse Is Not Tomorrow's Horse

Talking to a friend the other day.  She was having an SFH day & fancied herself failing at progressing with her partner. I think this is something we all struggle with.

angry man graphic
I told her to take a deep breath. It's dressage. We generally always feel like we're failing at that, so it's totally normal.

If your shoulders ache & you feel like you want to scream & you call your horse very nasty are in good company (or at least my company, whose quality may at times be questionable, but is, on occasion, quite entertaining).

The Hard Lesson That Forward Is Sometimes Backwards

It is easy to get lost in the details of training.  The one thing you can count on is that it will never proceed in a straightforward, linear fashion.

We think, "Well, I have taught Dobbin skill X (say, not trotting around like a freaking giraffe), so Dobbin should therefore perform skill X whenever I ask him to." The knowledge has been implanted in his pea brain, so let's move on. Right?

Assume Stands For...?

Dobbin will, some days, spontaneously forget that you have ever ridden him.  The next day, you will swear he is the second coming of Ravel.  The day after that, well, he will probably be lame, so you won't have to worry about it.  He is a horse, after all.

doing it wrong photo
We, too, may spontaneously forget how to ride.  I may be cursing Solo's very name wondering why he won't stay soft in the bridle.  Only to find that my arms are clenched in a steely death grip & I'm leaning forward.  Oops.

How, then, are we ever supposed to make progress in light of this maddening, meandering "process?"

Take Heart

  • You are NEVER alone.  Every single person out there trying to teach a horse something is going through the same thing.  If they say they haven't, they are a flat liar.  And it doesn't just happen once.  It happens over & over & over & over.  And then it happens again.
  • Patience posterThe very fact that your horse displays resistance can mean that you are challenging him.  This is a good thing!  You cannot make progress unless you push the boundaries a little.
  • Staying patient & riding through are EXTREMELY hard skills to master.  But they do come with practice.  Solo is a jedi of the redheaded temper tantrum & he can raise my blood pressure to the stratosphere.  But I have more tools than he does; I have flexions & transitions & laterals & all kinds of instruments of sandbox torture that will eventually either distract him or wear him out.  All I have to do is...

The horse you are sitting on will change every single day.  If you try to ride Yesterday's horse today, your chances of success are slim.  As soon as your butt touches that saddle, you have to ride Right Now's horse.

assess adapt evolve and repeat
The Answer?  Adapt

Very often, I go in the arena, thinking, "Well, Yesterday Solo had some really nice canter transitions, so today we'll add lateral work at the canter."  Only to find out that Today Solo has forgotten how to do a downward transition without snatching the bit out of my hands.

I must then alter my ride plan to set up Today Solo to succeed.  Tomorrow Solo might suddenly remember lovely transitions but decide he's just not feeling shoulder-in.

In biology, we call this adaptive management: change the plan on a continuum, based on feedback from the data you have now.  The more data you gather, the more you tweak & tailor your plan.  It prevents us from becoming mired in a static process that "seemed like a good idea at the time."

Be willing to adapt to the Today Horse.  Never be afraid to ask for help.  And never forget to step back & breathe.

If It Was Easy, We'd Run Out Of Blue Ribbons

Horse training is a little bit science, a little bit art, a little bit luck, & a whole lot of trial & error.  Each horse is different; what is easy for one may be very difficult for the next & they all have their unique quirks alongside moments of brilliance.

one day at a timeSo take it one day at a time.  If you feel yourself getting hot under the collar, take a break, take a breath, take stock of who your Today partner is.

The horse doesn't know what your original goal was.  So far as he's concerned, you were planning on taking a quiet hack through the field all along.  Bingo: you both win!

May 8, 2011

The Studs Are Here!

Sadly, no, not that kind.

Friday was a busy day. Solo and I met with P to review the Training Level dressage test we'll be doing in Virginia. It started ugly, with Solo insisting on being a redhead, throwing himself around and whining in protest. I stopped, took a deep breath, replaced the rage with zen and we started over.

The test is far more complex than we've done before -- which turned out to be a good thing! Figures and transitions fire in rapid succession, which means Solo never had time to get all stiff and brace-y, which means all of a sudden, I had a supple horse on my hands!

In bigger news, though, Friday was Stud Hole Installation Day. And I don't mean a pit filled with cabana boys. Although that would have been exciting too.

Having never seen the process of drilling and tapping shoes, I of course had to whip out the camera to capture Stud Master Johnathan (aka Hoof Shaper Extraordinaire and Fixer Of All Solo Foot Problems) as he single-handedly wrestled uncooperative steel shoes into submission. It looked strikingly similar to convincing Solo to do dressage.

First you drill the holes.
Then you use the tap to cut threads in the steel.
Solo supervises.
Then you install the shoe while the dogs mug you for hoof bits.

This process was HARD work. I suspect that Johnathan may have chased me off with the hoof nippers if I had asked him to do all four feet. Luckily for his shoulders, I did not want to stud the front shoes -- I do not want to slow down Solo's front feet while galloping and jumping as that would seem to court disaster for over-reaches and blown out tendons.

The end result: four nice neat holes, shown here with plugs intact.  And of course, four lovely reshod feet, which is a typical result when Johnathan applies his awesomeness to the Shiny Red Beast.

Yesterday, I screwed in four road studs for our jump school just to see how everything worked. Lesson: screwing in studs is a meticulous process that takes a long time. Will not be doing that unless I have to!

I am now off to read even more about studs while hoping that I don't manage to make any giant mistakes and hurt my horse. No pressure or anything.

May 2, 2011

On The Way To The Farm This Evening...

I stopped by the local post office.  Which means our three lucky contest winners, Braffie, molly, and sumaclab, will be receiving an exciting giant envelope soon.  Some sooner than others since for some reason Mr. Shiny favoured the Canadians with his nose!  My apologies for the delay but Solo takes forEVER to address a package. Just because he has no thumbs...

Yesterday morning, Solo and I met with P for a dressage lesson to chat about the new challenges the Training Level test has to offer.  Basically, it adds 15 meter canter circles, extended trot, extended canter on a circle, and a stretchy circle.  Both extended gaits only ask that you develop them, which allows for more gradual transitions, easier on horse and rider.  Solo loves nothing more than stretching so I think we're good there as well. 

Tonight we did a very small jump school. BO had set up a four-bounce gymnastic line that I wanted to work, as well as a couple of oxers.

The gymnastic went great -- I only set the jumps at about 2', except for the last one which was maybe 2'9" or so. I wanted to focus on the rhythm and letting Solo work it out. He worked through great as we added one vertical at a time until he bounced through all four, curling beautifully over the last.

Then we rode each oxer, the first I set with barrels beneath it, the second I spread a big blue tarp under to mimic a certain liverpool that will be coming up soon. Wow, it's amazing how nicely jumps flow when I just keep my leg on.

After Solo jumped each one, I felt a little catch in my throat. My horse was finally strong enough that he was jumping casually up and around each jump, using muscle and balance instead of simply hurling himself to the other side. This is a really big deal for a giant-shouldered-downhill-motivated beast. So, yeah, I was pretty much speechless -- this means that Sunday WASN'T a fluke. This out, Training Level, here we come.