Our first week of the challenge went really well. The weather was, overall, wonderful. Betty is shedding... mostly on her neck and shoulders.. why?! Why must my beautiful horse shed from front to back like a weirdo? Oh well, I'm sure her hiney will catch up eventually. Throughout the week, I've been taking a critical look at where we are at in our training and trying to set some concrete goals to mark our progress as we prepare for our clinic. Each of my rides focused on skills that are too important to only learn halfway.
Tuesday: Our ride was focused mostly on going forward. Forward has always been a sticky spot for Betty. She is willing to go, but when she wants to stop or slow down, she's pretty quick about doing so. I need her to start moving when I ask and maintain movement until I ask for something else. When we are working cattle, I can't nag at her with my legs every stride; there's a few other elements I need to be focused on. A steady, balanced canter has thus far eluded us, but we had some nice circles during our ride. My goal was to just stay out of her way and let her work, and she did! I've been a little ADD with Betty's rides lately, and I really had no idea where we would come out on this important foundation piece. That being said, I wasn't surprised that she has improved so much. This mare is so smart and loves to learn new things. I have to keep my focus, or she gets ahead of me and doesn't know what to do.
Wednesday: Since Betty is shedding like mad, I took a little extra time and refreshed her clicker training during grooming. She doesn't like to stand still when she doesn't feel like it and would also still like it to be ok for her to be nervous about me touching certain places on her body, particularly around her rump. I have no aversion to buying my horse's cooperation, so I reinforced her "Stand" command while I gave her the most thorough grooming of her life. This also tied into my plan for riding as she has gotten into the habit of wiggling around when I try to mount; I want to be able to tell her to stand and have her plant her feet immediately. We also worked on pulling her feet forward like she will have to do for her farrier appointment on 4/21. She hates holding her foot up on the hoof stand the most, and I think this cycle she will get back shoes as well, so twice as many feet as the last time. She really loves food so was very good for this practice. I'm hoping it pays off for John, the best farrier in the whole wide world. When I finally got around to riding her, I spent a few minutes working on having her stand while I mount, and showing her that this way she doesn't get bumped in the ribs with my foot, which she hates. Sadly, I forgot to check my cinch, and I ended up getting down to do that and has the bonus opportunity of practicing standing to mount again. Eventually, we got warmed up and I began working on our "5 easy pieces exercises". If you aren't familiar, it's basically a five part warm up routine that helps you break down the body into four basic pieces, head/neck, shoulders, ribs, and hindquarters. It's a great way to move front to back through your horse's body (and training) and find where you and them may need some extra work. Pieces one and two (Stretching the horse's neck in and out while traveling on a circle, nothing fancy) have been part of our routine, but I focused on emphasizing relaxation as she gave to the rein and stretching her neck out rather than down. I feel that she completely understands these two exercises but needs to spend more time doing them to get more relaxed before increasing the difficulty by asking for more give or smaller circles. She still wants to either tuck her head or stiffen her neck and dive her shoulder into the turns. I have to try to support her with my leg without hanging on her or nagging her. We rode the buttonhole exercise, which I have a separate post to talk about because I like it that much. Toward the end of our arena time, I introduced the concept of piece 3, moving the ribs, and she gave me a few nice steps. We left that one to soak, but I was very pleased with how hard she tried to figure out the puzzle. I added more guidance from my outside seat bone in the canter and we had some nice moments where I felt like we were together rather than bouncing off each other trying to find the rhythm. Also did some rollbacks along the rail at the canter for the first time, and she loved it. We had some lovely departs into the canter and some nice stops as well. It was such a beautiful day we spent some time riding the loop and visiting neighbors working on steady steps up and down hills and just going straight without worrying about much. She wanted to explore where the tree fell recently, and down by her old paddock along the fenceline. She is so smart. And weird. Here's a short video from our "trail ride"
Thursday: We took a day off from riding and did just a bit of groundwork. I focused on having her yield her head and neck to halter pressure and loosening her back. This ties in with my decision to focus on pieces one and two becoming more relaxed under saddle, and it's a huge piece of her lunging training that I skipped. I also let her free lunge with her mini me, Norman.
Friday: We did lots of trot work and changes of direction. Working on clearing up leg aids and getting response from shoulders/ribs/hips as needed. Used leg yeild on the wall to help her get the idea for piece three, and it helped a lot. Our canter was even better than the previous days. Riding in the outdoor arena where she has a little more space to get coordinated seems to have really helped her get things figured out. I was happy that she really seemed to relax into our bendy trot work and I even got some video to prove it... but you can't see it... because, even though I uploaded it to Youtube, they say I didn't. I know it's out there somewhere, but I can't figure out where or how to make it be here. So, just imagine it for now, but try not to imagine too fantastically, I don't want you to be disappointed.
Saturday: I didn't have time to ride, but we spent a few minutes hanging out in Betty's stall. I fed her too many treats and scratched her itchy neck, but then I had to take off to teach some lessons.
This week's rides were all super productive, and I am working on a post laying out my goals for the coming weeks.