Posted by: shannonc | December 11, 2009

Happy endings

On the balance, I believe I was totally nuts to go to a clinic today.  We had a major storm Weds, leaving us with five or six inches on the ground compressed with an inch or two of ice that was strong enough to hold my weight as I walked across.  But long ago I committed to this clinic – since so far the fall to winter thing had been progressing mildly – and I felt bad about cancelling especially after a few others did.  I was alone on the farm for the storm, and had time to shovel out most of the house and driveways and the long path to the muck pile, but I didn’t quite get to the snow on top of the trailer.  So I was worried about that falling while the pony was in there.  I was worried about the fact that I haven’t replaced the truck tires yet, and I slipped badly earlier this year and put a hole in the trailer.  It has been so cold that even plowed areas retain ice.  And it was about 22 degrees today with strong winds making the real temp feel like about 9.  I’d ridden the pony one time this week, hacking him out in the snow, walk-trot.  What was I thinking, exactly, bound and determined to go?  I have a hyperactive sense of responsibility that says, apparently, don’t let anyone else down, even if you have to act like an idiot to do that.  But Vicki’s is only 10 minutes away, the roads were good, I just had to worry about the driveways and parking, and the trailer itself.  I figured if it felt slippery, I’d unload the pony on a straightaway so he wouldn’t be in there if things got ugly. 

The pony looked at me like I was crazy when I brushed him off, but I noticed that he was in his runout with his ears on alert when I hitched the trailer and (surprisingly) successfully hauled it out of the ice bank. 

It’s funny, I think I’ve learned that with any horse one of the keys to success is to figure out how they feel rewarded, then capitalize on that.  Kisses likes attention, and will do anything for a treat.  So that’s how I handle him – and he knows that lots of attention and treats will be involved in any field trip.  And when I walked him out through the ice to the trailer ramp, he loaded right up happily.  Landing at Vicki’s, he came out head-high but quickly settled right in, let me tack him up in a stall with no lead, and walked over through the trail of snow and ice to the indoor.  I did have an apple in my pocket just in case I needed immediate incentive for something…lol!

He was very interested in the mirrors and the chain on the short sides.  It was so cute – he seemed to be saying look at me, I’m adorable!  I of course agreed, so he got a few neck rubs and good boys, then I bumped him with my leg and put him to work.  His ears flipped right back at me and he tried to get himself in gear.

Joy had left us to warm up a little and when she returned, she said right away that she could already tell we’d done our homework and he was much better, much more accepting of the contact, much straighter, much more in the outside rein.  YAY!  We did some very nice (if still inconsistent in the bridle) 20m trot work, some free walk work, stretchy trot work, then she asked if we’d like to address anything in particular, and of course my head went right to the up transition to canter, our yawning black hole of ickiness. 

She set up an exercise where we changed rein through a 20m circle on the centerline at the trot (holy 10m turns…I needed to practice them a few times – I’m so busy using my inside leg for bend that I often let him drift wide), then asked for canter once the new inside leg and outside rein were confirmed.  She wanted the inside leg to be responsible for 70% of the cue, and the outside leg for only 30%.  We did left to right first because right is a much easier direction for the pony.  Silly pony exploded on the up transition – with a little buck and a kick out at my leg, which as usual resulted in me giggling instead of fixing it seriously like I should.  I corrected that, but the fact still remains that a big project for me is making the pony more responsive to my leg.  The kick out came because he wasn’t listening, so I gave him a big jab.  Joy kept encouraging me to lengthen my inside leg, I shouldn’t have to lift my calf and turn out my toe to get a forward response from him.  This will be a priority come spring.

We got several nice canter transitions – one really nice one, where he came up through his back – and some good quality strides.  One tip I got that really helped was to keep letting go of the inside rein to the left (the more difficult direction) in spite of his falling in.  Keep bothering him with my leg, but refuse to hang on the rein.

So our homework now is change of direction through the circle, transitions within the trot to make him stronger behind, stretchy work to make him stronger on his topline, and keep working the response to leg especially in the free walk. 

What was so wonderful was that we were riding around and she kept saying how much progress we’d made in a month, even admitting surprise at it…lol.  She said his gaits had already opened up.  She even said once, “you’re going to do GREAT in dressage!” and she started picking on small things like where we hit the letters – they were placed a little awkwardly in the ring – and how to pick him up and let him down.  She said she had worn her boots just so she could get on him, but she said I was doing so well she didn’t want or need to do it.  Honestly, I think that had a lot to do with the saddle, plus probably the pure D work I’ve been doing with Blue for the last couple of months.  And maybe he was just having a good day (but I’ll take it!).  She didn’t love the fit of this saddle on him, but encouraged me to keep looking at D balance saddles to help us.  She thinks the Roosli may have a bit of a scoopier tree – lots of used Rooslis around last I looked, so that’s good.  And she seems to genuinely enjoy him!  She’s not a Warmblood purist.  I really appreciate that!

It feels good to have a great ride as the very last one of the year.  I really believe the dressage is something we can be successful at if we keep good work going, so that’s where we’ll pick up in the spring.  And I really love this particular instructor.  I can ask things and her answers make so much sense.  I confessed at one point when she was liking his outline that he was quite heavy in the reins and she explained to me that it wasn’t something to worry about, it was just a phase greenies go through when they start to look for the contact.  He’s not resisting or opening his mouth, he’s not coming behind, he’s chewing the bit – just figuring it out.  Once he is really confirmed in acceptance of the contact, she said I can take it to the next level with more half halts and transitions (our transitions got lots of compliments!!) and strength.  But no worries – don’t freak out and immediately try to fix it.  I needed to hear that.

Best of all.  I had to walk the pony quite a distance from the trailer parking to the indoor – I parked at Vicki’s and there was lots of space and ice to get across to reach the lesson.  On the way back, it was pitch dark.  The pony was wonderful – not spooky, completely foot perfect, and unworried.  I love my sensible pony!!

Finally, to my great relief, not one slip by the rig.  I did leave the pony in the barn to turn it around in the drive because I thought that might be dicey, but it went fine and we got home safely.  Happy endings all around.

And here he is modeling his early XMas present:

My cooler matches me!

I was so focused on catching his cute expression that I just left the surcingles where they were :P



  1. YAY! So were you riding in a new dressage saddle or something? Or is this the cc amerigo you bought earlier this year? I had a custom Roosli for Dancer and LOVED it. I would bet it would go nice on Kisses because they have similar backs!

    Oh…and Buck has that same fleece sheet except in blue :D

  2. The saddle was a Sankey Barracuda monoflap. I really really like it – I think the mono really helps get different kinds of leg on the little pony sides. I will try some Rooslis, but not until he is in some kind of shape in the spring. So I am stuck with D in the jump saddle for at least the beginning of the year, unfortunately.

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