Posted by: shannonc | April 24, 2010

Two steps forward, one step back?

At least, I hope it isn’t more like two back and one forward!

In the good news category, the pony and I finally had one (1) good dressage ride this week.  It was mostly produced, I think, by me backing off.  I was wondering why things seemed so difficult the past two weeks.  Looking back, I thought that six weeks ago, he didn’t understand what I was asking in this new level of work – specifically, asking him to step under just that much more so that the connection becomes more confirmed.  Four weeks ago, I felt he was saying he was getting it.  Then the last two weeks, things have fallen apart.  It doesn’t feel like he is being naughty, or obstinate – it feels a little bit like “I’m not sure I can.”

Maybe it’s “no thank you, this is hard, I don’t want to,” but it feels more like, “this is physically difficult.”

When something is weird I always look first for pain.  His feet are good, his legs pretty clean.  I know his saddles are okay and I know he has some soreness, but nothing unexpected for being on a fitness curve.  I know his alignment is okay.  I have continually checked and/or had all these things checked.

His body looks good:  weight is good, muscling is starting to really show, topline finally coming little bit by little bit.

Taking all this into account…it makes sense to me that he might be on a strength curve.  The past two weeks he has been bumped up another level in terms of work – especially, the jumping work, so that comes into play in and of itself – but also, frequency and intensity are increasing.

I was mulling all this over in terms of the flatwork.  I wasn’t really worried too much about the jumping because he was pretty wonderful at the Michael Page clinic.  Then, Wednesday, we went on our first xc school of the year, at Apple Knoll Farm

And it was pretty awful.  Tending towards frightening awful.

He was putting in strides he did not need that were getting him underneath solid fences.  Sometimes when the distance was already at the base of the fence.  He didn’t feel like he was stopping, he felt super sticky.  As we crawled over one or two things exceptionally badly, I found myself wishing he were in fact stopping, because it would have been safer.

Was he worried?  Did he forget he understands xc?  Was I doing something that was bothering him?  Was he feeling weak or sore?  Was it just the first school of the year?

We ended on a good note…good, in this case, being 5 unscary fences out of the last 7.  We stopped trying to jump new things or different things or big or funny looking things.  We just found a Novice log and put it on a circle.  I was able to get a relaxed canter, get in the middle, and change nothing on the approach, which is great, though it’s something I can’t produce at a competition fence 1 xc.  It takes some jumping to get him out of his rush-and-pause mechanics.  I’m also in a funny place in terms of when and how much I feel I can get out of the backseat.

The very next day we had a D lesson scheduled, which under the circumstances I would have rather skipped, but couldn’t cancel last minute.  So I buted him PM and AM.  Then I went and ran my theory by Rachel:  something is going on.  Maybe it’s brain, maybe it’s body, maybe a bit of both, but I think I need to ride him at the bottom of the training scale Sunday – rhythm, tempo, relaxation, suppleness.

He’s a good pony.  I want to make sure he keeps having fun.  I feel like he’s telling me not to press this any more right now.

I was a little worried about saying that because I have been hearing a lot of “it’s time to ask a little more each time you ride.”  But I have ridden enough to have learned to listen to what I think the horse is telling me, so I said it anyway.

Rachel said fine, go out and ride your warmup and test that way.  So I did.  And he was more relaxed and balanced and rhythmic and consistent than he’s been in two weeks.

So that is what we’re going with Sunday.

I put up a small fence yesterday with a jacket on the rail just to check in with the pony (and to try out my new lightweight stirrups, courtesy of the SmartPak clearance section!).  He was still sticky.  He didn’t put his head up and try to run then leave from underneath, but he was still sticky.  He felt a little tired.

So he has today off, and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.  The competition, at Valinor Farm, is a 2-phase with xc schooling.  The stadium is concerning me a little because it’s on a hill and intermittent showers are predicted, so it could get slippery.  I think we have some options:

  1. Do dressage, warm up for sj, scratch if he feels lousy.
  2. Do dressage, warm up for sj, if he feels okay trot the course or start it trotting.
  3. Do dressage, warm up for sj, if he feels okay go for it, come back to trot if it’s not progressing well.
  4. Do dressage, warm up for sj, if he feels okay in w/u but lousy in the ring, retire.

I guess it is safe to say, at least, we will be doing our dressage test :)

I plan to keep xc schooling, if we get that far, to small with repetitions rather than trying to jump everything that’s available.

Wish us luck.



  1. That sort of thing is always so hard to tell. With McKinna, it’s often attitude: I walk up to the stall, she turns around and walks out into her run. “No thanks, don’t want to see you today…”

    It’s difficult because Pandora is always so eager to come in and work, so I always wonder if I’m pushing too hard. But then she seems fine under saddle.

    Has he recently been put on grass? Last year McKinna got quite sluggish right after going out in a big lush field for the first time. I don’t think the barn owner made the transition gradual enough. Just a thought.

    Good luck with the pony, and I hope his day off helps!

  2. That’s really interesting about the grass Brianna! Mine aren’t out yet except for a little hand grazing, but it’s a good thing to remember.

    Totally with you on the understanding the individual personalities thing!

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