Thursday, April 12, 2012

Good, good ride last night. Got there in decent time, groomed and tacked up quickly.

I started out with a bit of an experiment - what I was referring to in my head as the Kinder, Gentler Warm Up. Reallyreally focusing on march in the walk - not caring about bend other than that he wasn't inverted, or contact other than that I could just feel his mouth lightly. Lots of tapping and really encouraging step from behind. We just kept on walking around the ring, circles, around jumps, until he started stretching into even the very long rein I started with.

Next, trot with the same goal, focusing on my leg and his forward, only light contact and only asking him not to be counterbent, very soft chewing on the inside. He was sticky initially, so I let him canter with the same goal, and he blew out almost immediately; this is a horse who can hold his breath the length of a ride.

Once I was happy with his march and his forward (not without some frustrating moments for us) I started to pick up the reins verrrrry slowly and really ask him to reach for the bit through the trot, then gradually worked him up to a shorter and shorter rein and asked for lift off the inside leg. Nothing truly spectacular but good, solid work.

The canter was the best work of the evening: after all that time to stretch out, I really asked him to step up. Left clicked into place fairly easily, lowering and stretching through his neck while lifting through his withers from my inside leg. Now that he's starting to let go of his neck in the canter, he's become quite terrifically on the forehand, which - y'know, technically I should be going right from strength to strength, an uphill forward trot to an uphill forward canter. The idea of a heavy, flat, on-the-forehand as a sign of progress probably makes dressage queens cry. I'd like to see those dressage queens try to ride my horse on a regular basis. As long as I keep reminding him that he *ought* to be using his hind end to spring up in the canter, I'll accept that for now the only way he can unlock his neck is to be much heavier than is ideal. Once he can loosen his neck, we will put the jump back in. It worked nicely in the trot, it will work in the canter.

Right lead took longer, but I really worked it, long sequences of half-halt/wait, half-halt/wait, kick up off the inside leg but keep him going with the outside leg and judicious whip use. He got there for a few strides and I decided done, but then the trot work was soooooooo good after that that I said, y'know, he's not quite tired yet.

So we picked up the canter again, left, and came out of the circle down the long side, turned back down a center line, back to trot, then into the right lead canter. Which clicked in even faster this time, and we got a WHOLE CIRCLE and then down a side with him giving his neck to me, cantering up through his withers the tiniest bit, and coming back to me when he threatened to break.

So then we power-trotted on a loose rein, and then we were done, back for a nice trail ride with Hannah and Tucker, and P. and Glory. Even included some trotting and cantering, which I am always reluctant to do on the trails because I don't know the footing as well as I ought to, even after almost a year. Tris enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the parts where we were cantering uphill toward home. "Zoom, mom! There's hay in my stall!"

Alas, no riding this weekend, because grad school sucks a lot. I'm trying to put together a good schedule for next week so we can really prep effectively for the show. I'm really not nervous, but I'd like to do well if only for the pictures. :)

Friday, April 6, 2012


R. from the barn recommended this to me, and while it took me a few days of evening watching on Netflix to get through, I finished it last night. (No fault of the documentary - my life is such that it's rare for me to get a half-hour at a time to watch TV or Netflix.)

Overall, it was a very well-done documentary that told its story effectively and touchingly. The director seemed to know that Buck Brannaman's personality was intriguing and charismatic enough to carry the whole film, and let him talk for long chunks of time. He comes across as a truly extraordinary person who's risen above a horrific childhood to develop a real gift for handling horses.

The second half of the documentary packed more emotional punch than the first half, with two "storylines": the sorrel stud colt and Buck's relationship with his daughter, Reata.

The scenes of the colt were utterly heartbreaking. I never caught his name, but he was (is?) a three year old who was pulled from his dead mother and breathed back to life, and the vets figured that he started his life with some oxygen deprivation and brain damage. That's a tough way to start, but his owner then brought him into the house to bottle feed, never gelded him, and stopped handling him before he turned a year old, turning him out with her entire herd of uncut studs. Flash forward to three years later and she has a horse that, as Buck stated, is as near to a predator as a horse can get.

I won't spoil the ending of his story, but it was hard to watch. Really hard. Thankfully, no words were minced about how the owner had created the situation and would go on making it worse unless she stepped up and took some responsibility for the danger she had put everyone else in.

The scenes digging into the relationship between Buck and Reata were equally emotional, for a different reason. I was especially struck when Buck mused, watching his daughter, that she was so much like him, and that he was looking at the child that he might have been, had he not been so systematically abused by his father.

In terms of the horsemanship involved, I didn't necessarily agree with everything he did, but I never found fault with his basic approach: soft, gentle, patient, and unemotional. He was firm when he needed to be and gave when he needed to. It was lovely to watch him ride and handle his own horses with soft, fluid motion. One theme that the documentary hit perhaps a bit too hard was that he was dramatically different from every other horse trainer, which is...not true. Good classical horsemanship has all the same elements he uses. I can appreciate that in the Western horse world he represents a dramatic alternate path, but with a broader lens, he is part of a long tradition.

At only 88 minutes, it's a quick watch, and it's available on Netflix streaming. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in horses and horse people.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lesson Notes: Outside Rein

It's been a frustrating couple of weeks. I've been extremely busy and stressed in the rest of my life, and some of that has bled through to my riding. My last two lessons weren't great; one was outright awful. Tris is having what T.  has characterized as a "rebellious phase." We've fallen off the edge of the plateau and are slowly climbing up again.

Last night's lesson was better, though. Tris had his teeth done, and I think that helped him feel a bit softer and looser in the mouth, because he was more willing to work with me than he has been. We even got to some fairly nice work by the end of it, and are slowly touching on good stuff in the canter.

My next step is to really solidify my outside rein. Tris gets so stuck either overbent or stiff as a board that I have trouble feeling that sweet spot, that just-enough-bend moment when I can drive him through to the outside rein. I tend to overcompensate on the inside and focus on that instead of really balancing from outside aids. T.'s new mantra for me is "your inside aids are doing enough." I'm also working hard to half-halt through my hips instead of using my elbows, which is bearing fruit in the canter.

After a really, really rough patch with the right lead canter we are slowly getting that back. Tris learned a bit of an evasion in flinging his neck and shoulders around, picking up the wrong lead, and then dropping into trot; we're getting the right lead more consistently now, and I have more ways to fix that problem.

I spoke with T. about a conditioning schedule as well. There has been some back and forth on the COTH forums about conditioning, and I described the two camps to T. and asked for his opinion. My gut, as I explained to him, is that Tristan is not currently fit enough to come off a BN cross-country course in the kind of condition I'd want, so I've been doing a schedule that looks something like:

15 minutes brisk walk
8 minutes trot
2 minutes rest
8 minutes trot
2 minutes rest
8 minutes trot
5 minutes rest
2 minutes canter
1 minute rest
2 minutes canter
1-2 minutes loose trot into walk and done.

T. agreed with the schedule. Tristan doesn't have the base of fitness that many event horses do - he wasn't started until he was 11, after all - and he doesn't exactly exercise himself in the field. (T. described at length Tristan's attitude when others in his field are cavorting around: "You guys, that looks like a lot of work and effort and there is hay, right here, for me to eat. You're all stupid." I commented that Tris is constantly saving his energy for when a mountain lion actually does attack, and in the meantime, he sees no point to it.)

Conditioning will also tighten up his ligaments to get ready for the concussion of a XC course, and I've been instructed to do my sets in two-point, which will work on my lower leg. I can already see what a difference riding in short stirrups more regularly has made, so tonight it's a conditioning night in two point for us. I was glad to have my gut feeling confirmed.

We are officially entered at Elementary at the Valinor Farm CT, and will be schooling XC afterwards. We'll also enter Hitching Post at the end of May at Grasshopper, and are arranging stabling for that.