Monday, April 17, 2017

Ditch crossing - with water!!

Sometimes I think I'm pretty clever. This spring is one of those times.

As I wrote about earlier, I started taking Pony to the dry ditch that we'd have to cross (eventually with irrigation water running through it) and schooling her in going through it. The first time we went out there I led her through, and then after that she calmly walked through on her own.

I took the day off work today and decided since I had a lot of time that today would be the day to go through it with the water. I outfitted Pony with her rope halter on under her bridle (I know, unsightly, but necessary and functional for today) and I brought a lunge line and wrapped it around her neck for the ride to the water (wrapped in jumping-strap fashion). We had a nice jaunt to the water and got to our first crossing.

I got off, wrapped her reins so they wouldn't drop over her head when she put her head down, and unwrapped the lunge line and hooked it up to her halter. I had my Dublin boots on so I could wade in the water. This crossing is narrower but deeper than crossing #2. I'd say the water is mid-calf high, depending on where I stepped. I eyeballed it so that I presented her with a path straight to the opening on the other side (this is also a narrower "out" than crossing #2), and I stood in the water to the side of that so that she could go by me without running me over. As I stood there, I just opened my leading arm to ask her to go through. She eyeballed it and decided it was narrow enough to jump! I let the lunge line slide through my hand such that she didn't get tugged on mid-air or right on landing and could go forward but I could still hold on to her. Of course it helps that the other times we went through it when it was dry she learned that she'd get a cookie for crossing it, so she stopped on her own and I walked out of the water to give her her reward. We went back and forth three or four times, with cookies each time of course, and then I hand walked her down the trail a bit and put her all back together for riding again and we continued on our loop.

We came to ditch crossing #2 and I got off again, got her all set up, and led her to this water. She eyeballed it and saw it was too wide to jump, but it is also shallower and so she felt more comfortable walking through the water, which she did without hesitation.

I counted the cookies in my pocket and we had enough for a couple more back-and-forth schoolings through the water. She did great! I'm so proud of her!

I decided I'd just hand walk her back home and on the way we came to a place where Colin was doing some fence repair and adding a gate so we (and others) can get through the fence when the ditch paths are closed off in the summer because of grazing cattle (got permission from the grazing lease holder to do so). The cattle will be put out in the next couple weeks, so the timing is perfect.

She gave Colin the almost-hairy-eyeball for a second, but then she recognized him and wanted to go up and have a chat. I gave her my last two cookies and then just hand walked her home.

I'm so proud of all she accomplished this weekend - such a brave and good pony!!!!

Pony is SO BRAVE!

I had a lesson on Saturday and I was looking forward to putting to practice the homework I've been doing, especially with having a larger arena to ride in where there's more variety in little courses I could do. Pony had zero issues in trailer loading, so I'm pretty sure the problem last weekend was of my doing.

Anyway, we had a little warm up on our own and then Trainer came in to start the lesson and warm up. She gave me some pointers on my own body positioning to help me be straighter in the saddle and more secure in my position. After our flat work part of the lesson, we did a course of trot poles, then cantered, then it was time to start some jumps.

And then the unfortunate timing of All The Things Happening began. The time had come for the fencing work to be done. A dirt bike zoomed by, followed by an ATV, followed by a tractor; somewhere in the mix were a bunch of dogs running around and probably a truck, too. The fence work to be done was to dismantle a straight line of pipe corrals. Bang, bang, bang, bang, clang, bang! That was the sound of (I'm guessing) getting the pins out of the connectors and then disconnecting them from each other. Band, clang, bang, bang, clang! That was the sound of lifting them up and loading them onto the front loader of the tractor. Chuga-chuga-chuga-chuga was the sound of the tractor being backed up and moved to the next section, combined with the zing, cling, jangle, jangle of the fence panels as they banged against each other on the tractor as it was being driven around. Oh, and this was maybe 10' or so on the other side of the arena during my lesson. Oh, and somewhere in all that, a chihuahua made its way into the arena and decided to have a lie-down.

Needless to say, we both had a bit of a hard time concentrating.

BUT! Pony is a rock star in every way imaginable. What would have probably sent my 20-year-old TB over the edge was merely a distraction for Pony. Yes, she was a bit amped and distracted by it all, but she didn't use the commotion as an excuse to lose her marbles or do anything naughty. We were able to continue with our lesson and school a few things (pace, straightness, position) and make improvements on each question that was asked of Pony.

At the end, the ATV and dirt bike were zooming around a pasture behind the arena (complete with the dirt bike jumping dirt mounds or whatever they jump), the dogs were playing, and Pony and I stood in the middle of the arena with my reins draped over her neck while she stood looking at it all.

I was eager to get out of there so we just loaded up and came home and went back to a relaxing day of grazing. While it wasn't enjoyable from a lesson standpoint, it was a good schooling experience and a confidence-builder for both of us to know we can count on each other even when there's annoying stuff going on!

Friday, April 14, 2017

VIDEO! Cavaletti work today

I decided at the last minute to set up my video camera to capture today's schooling session. Yay for having a video camera, but when you only have a tripod available to work with, you don't get good following coverage and close-ups.

Anyway, I tried again to focus on keeping my hands quieter and I think for the most part I did a good job. We started out at a walk, of course, walking over poles or doing circles or changes of direction. Then moving up to trot, Pony noticed the deer in the woods behind the arena. Instead of having the boogey-deer lurking in the corner (granted, they were napping, not being rude), I decided we should go chase them away so we left the arena to move the deer and then came back and had a nice ride.

We did some trot work over the poles and I tried to focus on straightness and pace, which are harder than they should be! Sometimes I'm sure I make it harder for Pony. I notice if I let my upper body creep forward in an exaggerated forward-seat position, then she slows down and gets sort of balled-up, so we had some bobbles in that respect, especially at the canter.

Anyway, here's our first round of cavaletti/pole work.

Then we did our first little cavaletti jumps on a figure eight.

And we finished with some more little cavaletti jumps on the figure eight, but this time I focused a little more on schooling the straightness after the jump. She's pretty smart and clever so it doesn't take much for her to get the idea.

We finished with some trotting over the two poles and then had a nice walk cool-out on the trails out back, chasing the deer out of our path.

Just for good measure, I did trailer loading again to be sure I got my body positioning right and again she walked right on!

Such a good pony!


Even though we had a successful first schooling show over the weekend, I felt like I didn't ride as well as I wanted and the feedback the judge gave was the same as Trainer gives in a lesson (I use too much rein to steer on a course, especially down a line if Pony is wiggly). So I gave myself some homework to do, which was to set up a poles/cavaletti course in the arena to practice on at home.

There's a line down a long side that is three canter strides, then two poles sort of where X is that are on the diagonal, one for each direction, then another two cavaletti on a diagonal that I could do singly or in a bending line. And then I can mix and match as desired.

I started out deciding to be more discreet with my aids. Pony is far enough along now that I don't need any sort of big opening rein movements, and it is distracting. So I shortened my reins and practiced warming up with focusing on little rein movements if needed. We walked around and did some circles and changes of direction and she was just as responsive with my new rein length. Good.

We moved up to a trot and got into the pole work right away. I focused on keeping my hands closer together and my reins shorter so they aren't in my lap and I'm not tempted to make grand gestures with them. It was actually really good! We did all sorts of variations of the poles - down the line (or up the line), across one pole diagonal to the other, then around the empty long side to the shorter pole diagonal, back to the line but only do one cavaletto and come at it through the middle, etc. One of the cavaletto I had up in the highest setting so we could jump it and that went very well, also. I did realize that those that I set on the shorter diagonal made for a hard turn around the corner, so I re-set them last night and swapped out the poles and the cavaletti and put the two middle cavaletti at jumping height.

We also cantered the line and cantered the poles on the diagonal, with a flying change over each pole!

By moving the jumping-height cavaletti last night to the middle of the arena, I think it will be better for actual jumping - that way I'll have a longer diagonal for preparation and landing. And then with the poles I can do a bending line. Sounds good - off to ride!

Take a step back

Since Pony stomped her little pony feet about trailer loading over the weekend, I thought I'd work on it this week. I rode her on Wednesday and afterward did a trailer-loading session. Stomp, stomp, stomp. It had me scratching my head, as the first time I loaded her up this spring (test loading session before our first lesson), she walked right on. Colin says, "that's girls for you." Ultimately, she figured out that getting on was easier and more pleasant than making a big deal out of it and so she did.

Then yesterday I practiced again before I took Mac out for a ride. And she walked right on. Again Colin said, "that's girls for you - it is Thursday, right?" (Meaning, there's no rhyme or reason to Miss Pony Mare's feet stomping.)

But I realized something yesterday. I took a step back in my body positioning. I think the other day I was "blocking" her space to get into the trailer. In my mind there was plenty of space for her to walk between me and the center divider to load onto her space on the trailer. But maybe in her mind if I generally "claim" a certain amount of space around me as mine then she is invading it and doesn't feel comfortable doing that?

Anyway, all I did was take a step back so that I was standing farther away from the trailer opening and she walked right in! I had her quietly load and unload a few times, then I had her load and I put the butt bar up and gave her butt scratches and lots of Good Girls and then I unloaded her. It was less than five minutes. She was perfect. I brought her back to her stall and gave her a bunch of cookies.

Maybe it just was Thursday.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Pony's first hunter/jumper schooling show!

There was a small in-barn h/j schooling show today. Even though we just had our first lesson of the season last week, I thought why not go and give it a whirl? We entered the ittyies-bittiest classes we could. The goal was to have the experience of prepping for a show (got a new fitted pad - yeah!), ride with other horses in the warm up arena and flat classes, go into the arena on our own, and make it through a small course without making a fool of ourselves. We succeeded in all of those!

I signed us up for a "trot-a-pole" class, one walk-trot equitation class, a cross rail equitation class and a cross rail jumper class.

There was a dusting of snow (!?) this morning and the ground was hard, so the show was in the indoor arena, which made for a challenging warm-up/class management, as we did a joint warm-up in the arena, then cleared out into the barn aisle or outdoors to wait, then back in the arena for the class. But it was actually a great introduction to Pony of being well-mannered with horses all around her, waiting, and waiting.

I did a little lunge at home (and then groomed her) before we left since it was chilly and the horses didn't get their normal turnout yesterday due to a crazy wind storm (60-mph winds that knocked over a couple trees/branches - thought they'd be safer in their paddocks in case any fence damage was done in the pastures). She was fine so we loaded up (which she did not want to do - need to work on schooling that more).

When we got there I pretty much just took her out of the trailer, tacked her up, walked into the arena, hand-walked around just a bit, and got on to warm up. There was a fresh horse there who was a little spooky and look at stuff in the corner, so he had a bit of a naughty moment and then someone else's horse reacted and that rider came off. Pony was a little looky about that, but she got over it quickly.

We were then led through a group warm-up of walking and trotting. There's a little viewing area in the corner that is a balcony that overlooks the arena and some people went up there to watch and that really bothered some horses as well. The one spooky horse was spooky about that and did a spin and a bit of a runaway and his rider came off. Pony was near him so she did just a bit of a scoot as well but then stood and the spooky horse came up to her and then he was caught. Both of us riders did some schooling in that corner with the people up there. It wasn't ideal, but it worked out okay.

We left the arena and then the trot-a-pole class started. It was a simple hunter course of diagonal, outside line, diagonal, other outside line. We just trotted it and that was that. Pony was good. I steer too much with my hands so really need to work on that. But I thought I did a good job of picking a line and (mostly) sticking to it. We cut the scary corner a little bit but it was otherwise non-eventful. We left the arena and waited.

Then we went in for the walk-trot eq class. We walked. We trotted. We reversed. We walked. We trotted.

Trainer asked if anyone who didn't sign up for the walk-trot hunter class wanted to stay and I figured riding was better than standing around waiting, so I rode in that one, too.

Then the judge had us all gather around and she pinned each class and gave us feedback for why she pinned the way she did. That was so very helpful! There were no ribbons, but Pony pinned first in the trot-a-pole class (comment was that I had a plan and stuck to it!), second in the hunter walk-trot class (comment was that even though she doesn't move like a hunter, she was forward and consistent and had a nice expression and our turnout was nice). We got fifth (don't exactly remember?) in the walk-trot eq class because I carried a crop (I dropped it before the hunter class, per Trainer's instructions) and that's a no-no. I swear way back in my old showing days that we did carry crops in the flat classes, too, but now I can't even remember. Oh well. She said otherwise we we did a good job in the class.

Some feedback related to other riders that's good to remember was about diagonals (that was for the kids), tack (no twisted reins, please! No martingale in a flat class), turnout (for a young rider to have longer jods, or appropriate saddle pads), consistency of pace.

Then it was time for the jumping classes. Since we were already in the arena we just stayed for a short warm up to pop over two cross rails. Pony was great.

The cross rail eq class was first and the course was the same. I tried to have my plan and stick to it. The cross rails were small enough to just trot over and not really jump, so mostly that's what we did. I trotted after each one because I feel a little claustrophobic in there and didn't want to canter, so that was part of my plan. I thought our round was just fine, but Trainer commented that I needed to open my chest and carry my eyes more. Got it.

Went out after we finished and waited for the next class. Course was a bit different with two more jumps. The first jump was pretty much up centerline. When we landed she veered right and almost ran into a standard for another jump (it was a bit tight)! I got her straightened out and continued and almost forgot where I was going, but we worked it out. I tried to be better with my shoulder and my eye and thought I was successful with that. But we were more wiggly in this class so less good in that respect. But we were done anyway!

I took Pony back to the trailer to untack her and then brought her back to the barn area and put her in the round pen to roll while I had a pee. I'm sure she had to pee, but she didn't. We got the call to come back into the arena because the judge was ready to pin the two classes.

Pony got first in the eq cross rail class - yay! Again, we stuck with our plan, although I need to be more subtle with my corrections. Pony got good feedback for her willing attitude and pleasant expression. In the jumper class we got second. I'll take it! The judge did say she recognizes I'm on a green horse, but I very much appreciate the feedback.

I have been schooling a jump on my back trail, which is fun, but I think it is time to move the jumps in the arena and work on trot pole courses with maybe a jump here and there, focusing on straightness and steering more from my legs.

I consider it a very successful first outing for Pony. Her attitude and professionalism outshone her green-ness and I'm so proud of her!

No pictures or anything, as I didn't have any accompaniment, but I can assure you that Pony looked very cute!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I was wrong

The water is on. There is no more dry-ditch practice time. The real deal challenge has arrived! Maybe this weekend we'll venture our there again...