Posted by: shannonc | September 3, 2009

Dances with green ponies

There’s been some activity in Ponyland since I last wrote:

  • Pony got his very own saddle, an Amerigo DJ;
  • Pony and I competed BN at a Derby cross;
  • I went and groomed for my friend Hilary at the GMHA T3D – not strictly a Ponyland activity, but my idea was that by making the BN fences appear small, it would serve as a sports psychology installment.  For some reason, it didn’t work.  But Hilary and her horse Star were fabulous!
  • Pony and I did a full 70 minutes of supervised flatwork;
  • …and we had a cross country school today.

As the clock ticks down to King Oak, I find myself keeping a sharp eye out for miraculous leaps and bounds arriving to transport us to a whole new level.  If angels want to sing and cherubs want to play the harp in this land of sunshine and wonder, that’s okay with me too.  Like I always say, it’s good to set the bar low.  Maybe leave out the harps.

What I *can* say is we aren’t suffering from a lack of preparation.  We’ve been doing our homework.  Right now, the payoffs are more incremental than astonishing – incremental, and, occasionally, confusing.

I believed that the saddle, well fitted to the pony, would make him more willing to work over his back, I believed he would move and jump better in it, and I believed it would be something I could do flatwork in.  Well.  The saddle is making him a little sore, possibly because it is so hard, or possibly because he is moving more freely under it.  I ramped up working in it (albeit a little steeply) starting with only 15 minutes of walking, I’ve given him a little bute on days he’s worked especially hard, and I’m on an oiling campaign like you’ve never seen.  I’m still a little worried, though.  And finally, I absolutely hate riding dressage in it so far.  I’m fighting it every minute and feeling pretty frustrated about the idea that I might have invested in something that just isn’t going to work.  The demo felt much better, so I’m holding out hope that some of this might be a breaking-in issue.  It was probably unfair to expect I’d sit in it on Day One and everything would feel easy.  See angels and harps, above.

I believed that we’d come off the Derby cross, which was practically on the pony’s home turf, saying, “we’re ready.”  Not so much.  The pony was pretty sticky.  It was very hilly and there were lots of things he hadn’t seen before, that’s all good, and we were slow, which was the plan, but he just wasn’t answering my leg very well.  Not even after a giant uphill gallop following fence 4.  He was the least straight he’s ever felt – which is saying a lot! – and when I insisted he get out in front of my leg, the energy shot through his left shoulder.  He was really getting to the bottom of things in a way that felt sort of…crouchy…and we had one runout.  I thought and thought about it.  Greenness?  It’s not like he has that many happy miles under his belt at 2’6″ by any means.  Discomfort?  Maybe…this was before his saddle came, and I knew what I was riding in was a tiny bit narrow, so he could have been feeling a little pinch.  Fatigue?  Possible – we’d been doing more conditioning work in the past couple of weeks.

I believed that a whole lesson devoted to flatwork would produce a strategy for the upcoming test.  Sitting vs posting, short rein vs long rein, in front of my leg and quick vs behind my leg and relaxed, round vs long and low, and what to do with that up transition to canter?  But although we did play around with a lot of different things, we didn’t add a lot of clarity.  Overall, he is getting straighter, but the patterns can still be challenging.  He wants to flip me off my left seatbone and sometimes that sneaks right by me.  At times with a short rein he becomes a truckful of rocks in my hand, and sometimes he uses his neck less as leverage than he will with a longer rein.  I end up adjusting my reins way too much.  He’s happy to change constantly and throw something new out there for me to ride nanosecond by nanosecond.  Honestly, it’s making me crazy.  How difficult can it be to put in a decent training level dressage test? 

So by today, I believed that the outcome of our cross country work would be…a complete mystery.

See, I’m catching on.

My goals were to ride him forward, especially to take a bigger leap of faith riding down hills at speed, to keep him straight, and to prevent stops.

I am forcing myself to carry a longer whip and to carry it in my left hand, where it’s strategically placed to give that wayward shoulder a smack.  Normally, when I’m not looking, the thing disapparates from my left hand and appears uninvited in my right (yes – just reread all 7 HP books :)).  Today it stayed in my left hand the *whole* time. 

Now the expectations are getting much more finely calibrated, aren’t they!

The pony took the hell off with me several times today.  Saddle more comfy?  Stronger from conditioning?  More determined riding?  Who the hell knows.

I’m embracing my new, improved, answerless self.

It felt like he used himself very, very well today.  I was getting a little overexcited in the air over his bascule and unintentionally putting myself where I’d be if the fences were a couple feet higher, because when he gives me that place, it feels so good and balanced and soft I feel like I could drink a cup of tea up there and still get perfectly to the next.  Not to say he didn’t think of being crooked or stopping.  But the left-whack helped a lot with the crookedness, and the stops were green ones.  He did not understand the first log-into-water question.  Today was the first day I’ve ever brought him to water with more pace than a walk, so we might have gotten a bit carried away with the whole incrementally building the question project.  But after a few more trots straight through, he went willingly and even pricked his ears and bounced a little on landing as if to say, wow, I can do that!  He ran in and jumped out up a bank, he jumped in and out over the log, and even jumped in and cantered out.  That’s a lot of progress for him in one school!

Then he completely blew me off after a biggish house landing downhill to a ditch, heading home.  Whoa, I said.  Whoa…whoa…whoa.  PONY!  Finally, three strides out I stopped asking for trot and started kicking, and then he saw the question and threw on the brakes.  Very honest, straight stop from 60 to 0, complete with eyes bugging out of head.  I tried to tell you!  I scolded him as I said a silent prayer of thanks to the fact that Feet on the Dash 2.0 was running, and kicked him on over. 

He wasn’t sticky to any of the solid fences, he was quite bold.  In short the Derby cross pony did not show up today.  He got a variety of distances and galloped in several new gears.  Sometimes he under-responded to me, sometimes he over-responded; so sometimes I undermanaged, sometimes I overmanaged.  Green pony ping-pong. 

And there is no reason to believe he will click into Packer mode on Sept 12, but there is a very good chance we could have some fun!



  1. YAY!!!!!!!!!

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