Posted by: shannonc | June 2, 2009

Blue and the ICP

Yesterday was a fairly major turning point in my plans for Blue.

I’d volunteered both ponies for the eventing ICP Dressage Workshop, but when the schedule came out they’d assigned me to back-to-back sessions, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the second horse ready and going by myself without putting them way behind…so I had to pick a pony.

I first realized I had this problem last Thursday.  My thought process on it went: hmm.  And then pretty much stopped.

I would tell you that the problem remained at a standstill all through Saturday, during which I clipped, cleaned, mane-pulled, rode and generally polished…Blue.  That was just, you know, all stuff I needed to do anyway.

Sunday night, return from Green Acres and my allotted procrastination time is up.  Long story short (I know, I don’t often make any story short here), in the contest of Blue versus the pony I didn’t ride all weekend, who was dirty and whiskery, Blue won :)

I was concerned a little bit that I hadn’t taken him out to do much, but mostly I was concerned about his NQR syndrome.  The canter is still hoppy and especially weak to the left.  I know it’s a hind end issue and more a right hind issue, but that’s all we’ve really been able to figure out.  He isn’t lame, he’s just…NQR.  He’s been getting stronger, though, and doing harder and better work more comfortably.  I miss being in the game with him, and I’d really like to figure this out.  So I thought maybe a room full of certification candidates would have some new ideas for me, gave him a little bute and off we went.

It's about time I get a turn!

It's about time I get a turn!

Blue practically ran onto the trailer – I’m not exaggerating much here – he locked on and almost trotted up in front of me.  On arrival he was completely polite and relaxed.  He didn’t even mess up his nice white tail on the way (phew!).  I was early and they were running late so we hung out and I reminded myself that I wasn’t here for a real lesson, I was here to be a teaching tool for the cert candidates, and my job was to be a good student. 

I drew the first ride, which was the faculty demo with Jerry Schurink.  He asked me a few questions then put us into a directed warmup.  Blue was super relaxed and…lazy.  After a wtc both directions he pulled us in and began the assessment.  I’d been warned this could be ugly – basically it’s their job to discuss what’s most wrong with you so that they can choose the correct lesson plan.  It wasn’t too bad though, and it was mostly horse-focused.  I got lambasted for my clucking and they correctly identified the fact that the canter is not in a good place.  I did look around for another horse in the ring when I heard the comment “good acceptance of the bridle,” but everything else was pretty familiar.  In a normal lesson I would have said something, but here, where they’re supposed to be going on what they see today versus synthesizing 11 years of history, I kept my mouth shut and just listened.  Then he sent me back out for the lesson piece.

Well, of course I had to work on the canter.  First he had me walk and trot some figures, aiming for correct bend and better engagement of the inside hind.  I made some geometry errors (uh, which letters for 3-loop serpentines?   And when he says to start at C, does that mean only loop to CL?) and sometimes didn’t know exactly what he wanted from me, but I didn’t want to interrupt his flow, so I didn’t ask, I just kept going figuring he would correct me as needed, and he did.  Then he had me pick up sitting trot.

And I sat the trot, and sat the trot, and sat the trot.  For the better part of  a half hour.  Yow.  Tell me again about how this is going to be a 20-minute lesson!

He kept the canter work to 15m circles.  At first it was upward transition – Blue is doing these happily now, although they were a complete mess a month ago – and canter several circles (which progressively fell apart with him grabbing the bit, getting low and way too long), then he had to back it up, so it became one circle, sitting trot, re-depart, and when Blue started to anticipate and get tense, sitting trot serpentine, rinse and repeat both directions.  When we got some good work, he had me do a little stretchy trot to finish, and then started the debrief.  I was relieved to stop because Blue had started grinding the bit about 3/4 of the way through the right canter work, which came first, and I knew he was tired.

I already felt like I’d gotten a lot more out of the ride than I expected, including the exercise itself, which I planned to take home with me, so the debrief was a happy surprise.  Jerry asked if anyone could say what exactly the issue was behind.  One person thought maybe right stifle.  Interestingly, no one thought it was his back.  Jerry thought it might be simply habit or weakness and encouraged me to do a lot of work in the canter to strengthen, to keep it no larger than a 15m circle, and to refuse to hold him up.  I’ve been doing the opposite – focusing on walk and trot in long slow work and on hills and hoping the canter will fix itself.  So new input.  He advised me to take advantage of the fact that my horse is relaxed by changes in direction, which I thought was a great tip.  He also wanted me to correct the flatness of my hands and get on my seatbones a bit more especially in the canter so I could hold him more with my thigh.  But he didn’t tell me to give up riding, or to give up the idea of eventing my horse again.  I left reasonably sure that the people in the room who knew me were still speaking to me, so that was a good thing!  I got some compliments on my leg and back and Blue got some compliments too – especially on how willing he was to relax after getting tense, and then try the thing that was making him tense again.  They thought that although the canter was a hole right now, he had 3 solid gaits (I haven’t always thought so).  And I pulled off a half hour of mostly sitting trot.  Who knew!

Since I have been having some good rides on this horse I have loved for so long and been through so much with, my imagination has kicked into fantasy overdrive, and my ICP ride tipped the scales toward making some of those dreams seem possible.  I want to see if I can bring him back.  The ditch thing will demand careful address, but I have some ideas on that.  The other day, he let me clip his left ear for the first time ever – now there is an opinion I thought he’d never let go.  Maybe hating ditches could be next.  And if the complexity of a P ditch question is too much, maybe T won’t be.  I would love to do a half-star with him.

One thing at a time.  But as far as I’m concerned, hope springs eternal and Blue is on his way back.



  1. :) it was lovely to watch and I can only imagine the pressure. Miraculously, Jeannie not ask me to do *any* sitting trot. Whew!

  2. How fun to get so much out of being a “good student!” Sounds like you and Blue might get tehre – dreaming is good!

    Keep the faith (and soak those seatbones – 20 min of sitting trot… OUCH!

  3. OMG, your abs must be KILLING you?!?!! Or have you been working those in preparation?!?! hehehehehehehe

    I’m really happy that you might give it another try :) I always thought Blue was the epitome of an event horse!!!!

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