It's that time again - time for an update! I spent a full 10 days at home my last set of days off so had some decent-ish time to work horses. Mostly I am trying to slow down and take a little time for myself and my own horses - my tendency is not to do so, which is exhausting and leads to my feeling burnt out at times. Sub-optimal!
Rayne - 7yo APHA mare
Guess who whinnied to me the first time I went out to catch her?! I've really developed a connection with this little horse over the course of our 6 sessions thus far, and really look forward to working with her each time. First session back she was forward and off my leg right off the bat. We struggled a bit with SI but she eventually relaxed and got in a few steps of decent SI. We worked a lot on developing that softness and relaxation and also straightness and of course developing even more responsiveness to my leg. There was a lot less resistance than in prior sessions. That evening we took Rayne out to Thorlakson's feedlot to work cattle in the Bullpen! Special thanks to Rayne's owner for taking us to Thorlakson's and also thanks to Wendy for such a great experience; she really did a great job providing me the right guidance for introducing Rayne to cows in the arena. First thing when Rayne saw the cattle entering the far side of the arena was to SHOOT backward from the center of the arena, to the end furthest from the cattle... lmao I don't think I've ever felt a horse back so fast!! Forward was an issue but it was all in her head, though of course responsiveness to my leg and relaxation and softness in general are also contributing factors. There were some pops and attempts at flight and evasion, but nothing extravagant and we finished the night on a great note with Rayne standing quietly as heifers approached her and even shot past her at times. She successfully turned a few back, and moved the herd from one end of the arena to the other a couple times, then finished by walking through the herd with me on foot. I am thinking by session 3 or 4 on cattle, that she will be (albeit perhaps tentatively at times) working the cattle effectively. It was really nice to see the level of athleticism and confidence she demonstrated though, given good guidance. Session #2 with Rayne went wonderful. We worked a lot on that SI, on a PROPER TOH (she really wanted to be lazy and just drop the inside shoulder on her turns on the forehand!), on leg yields, and on transitions and straightness. One of the exercises we focused on was to halt and back-up every so often down the long and short sides. My focus started with having her be very responsive to moving off my leg (trot to halt, halt to trot) and to also sharpen her halt, but we inadvertently also incorporated straightness when she tried to both halt and back-up crooked each time. Our hard work paid off when she was much straighter in her halts and back-up in session #3, with minimal and infrequent correction on my part. Her SI was also very successful, as were her TOH's, sidepass', and TOF's in session #3. She was very light off my leg in her halt-to-trot transitions - no resistance whatsoever. Session #2, with high winds blowing, we had some difficulty having Rayne relax and connect back to front on circles, but with good improvement session #2, she was immensely improved session #3 to the point where she was consistent in her circles and was even maintaining bend and softness in changes in direction and spiraling the circles in and out at the trot. Overall, Rayne is becoming very soft and relaxed, which is our ultimate goal. From my understanding she has never really specifically been taught to be relaxed and soft, which I feel plays a large role in the resistance and sourness she offered when I first started riding her. I like the consistency Rayne is showing between sessions - she is getting a good two weeks+ break each time between sessions yet is not regressing whatsoever and is actually making substantial progress within each ride. She seems to be becoming a much happier and willing horse under-saddle. This is translating back to the ground in that she is also no longer cinchy and is more co-operative (ie, more still) to saddle.
As far as any thoughts as they pertain to purchasing Rayne, I have decided to wait until spring to see where we sit financially as I make a job change and we (likely) move onto our property earlier than previously planned. I think all might work out where I can make an offer on Rayne in the spring, but I do not want to make such a decision now where it might not work out in the near future, which could negatively affect both myself and Rayne.
Link - 7yo Thoroughbred gelding
I was lucky enough to get in 3 rides on Link this time I was home! I really enjoyed working with him and experienced a lot of success, especially as it pertains to finding a suitable warm-up routine for Link and developing better straightness. He is really softening, relaxing, and learning to loosen up and reach over his back and streeeeetch. What I have found to work best at this point is to warm him up at the walk with of course a lot of bending and circles, but with specific focus on the SI. Counter-SI and renvers, travers, half-pass are all also in our toolbox but still require more work yet. The SI however is proving to be a very beneficial exercise in developing straightness and suppleness (it's recently really clicked how beneficial an exercise it is so I have actually been using it on a lot of horses with great success) in him. We've also worked a lot on his level of responsiveness, especially concerning his responsiveness toward the dressage whip and to my leg asking him to shift his haunches over. On the ground, I am expecting and am getting some very nice TOF's and TOH's, which is carrying over u/s. I thought that maybe I was a little too hard on Link last time I rode him - although I was both quiet and patient, I was persistent in asking him to respond to my leg to shift his haunches over, and also to respond to the wiggle and tap of the whip when he ignored the leg cue. Of course a few tantrums ensued but I was quiet and kept persistent in the proper position until he tried. Of course it sounds silly now to say that I was too hard on him considering where he is at training-wise, but he made quite the protest so at the time I had wondered if pushing him on this particular issue was the right answer. I wanted him to, instead of blocking me out and reacting, to THINK and respond appropriately. It paid off however in that he was MUCH quieter to the whip now when I had to occasionally use it to remind him to move off my leg (just with wiggling or gentle taps), and he was also MUCH more responsive to my leg when asking his haunches to move over. This especially paid off in our leg yields, SI's, and asking him to be straight in general. He tends to get a little lazy on the left rein and does not bring his haunches under sufficiently, which results in his being crooked and lugging on the left rein. A successful warm-up has really helped this, as has targeting his response to moving off my leg when I ask him to engage his haunches more. This was just an extra push in that direction and it really made the difference to our work. Overall we are developing a lot more actual impulsion and straightness, which feels absolutely phenomenal!!!!! I always ask a lot of my horses - expect a lot, accept little - and am usually happy with their progression however I am particularly chuffed at this recent sort of 'breakthrough' with Link: I CAN expect more of him and can push him more and I NEED to push him more, at the level he is at. When I do, the results are beautiful. Lastly, we worked both on canter and counter-canter, successfully.
Our third ride consisted of a lesson; we did some flat work and worked on the aforementioned but finished with some jumping, up to about 2'6. Contrary to (recent) prior jumping experiences, I actually felt very confident and secure on Link this time. I learned the mistakes that we were making over fences were NOT actually MY fault, that he had a large role to play as well (haha!) and that I could also push him harder in certain areas. The additional confidence and security really allowed me to focus on myself and though I am not back up to par with where I used to be (or at least, where I think I used to be - hah!), I made great strides and am happy with not only Link's progression over fences, but also mine. We are focusing particularly on developing a rounder jump in Link, which is where all our flatwork and dressage work comes into play. Overall he is doing very well and I look forward to building to a course over our next couple of lessons together (hopefully over the Christmas break). I am aiming toward a couple of spring shows with Link, likely hunter to start.
Soraya - 4yo CWB mare
I had the chance to put 2 more rides on Soraya while I was home. She did wonderful - her groundwork was great (she is really learning to respect my space no matter the circumstances, for one, she is learning to WATCH me and to be responsive yet relaxed, etc) and under-saddle she was relaxed and accepting of everything. She was fantastic at the trot for the first time (u/s) - her trot was beautiful to ride (so nice I badly just wanted to sit it and revel in it, haha). A little head-shaking ride #2 as she wanted her own way, however she responded well to my gentle corrections. The second ride we rode with one other horse and rider in the arena - horse and rider would be 20' away and Soraya was already giving them the stink eye, haha! By the finish of the session however, with a few corrections, she was much better at focusing on her own work and ignoring the other horse. While she took to the process very well, I did not feel Soraya was actually looking to me for guidance u/s as much as I wanted her to, so more work to do in that regard. I think some work with her at liberty might be the key, as well as furthering our current work (preferably, on a consistent schedule!) of course. A lot of athleticism and power there though - I am really liking this mare the more I work with her.
PA Lady Daringer - 3yo Quarab mare
So we finally got up to Edmonton to see our most recent purchase! We were very happy with what we saw in our new filly - she seems sensitive, responsive (ie, light to moving off pressure, etc), intelligent, and confident (ie, not excessively spooky). We really look forward to bringing her home to work with. Of course she is intended as a project horse however we will see what she is all about once we start actually working with her and once we start her u/s, and decide at that time where she is best suited. Very nice mare from working bloodlines (Doc's Blonde Buckshot x TW Fire Whorl) - should be a pleasure to work with! Her prior owners are currently boarding her for us over the winter and have been very gracious in a number of ways. It was lovely to see both her sire and dam on site, as well as a number of full and half siblings!
Lastly, I did ride Bella once - she was recently moved to a new facility (just across the road from the facility I board at, actually!) and has been settling in well but had not been ridden in the indoor yet. She was initially quite nervous and forward but did not take too long to relax and really work nicely from behind. We went over some trot poles with minimal fuss (just a couple looks initially!) and she surprised me with some beautifully balanced canter in either direction. Her owner took over from there and confidently rode her around at the walk before calling it a day on a great note!
Silver is currently being prepped for 4H by the young rider currently riding Onyx (mom's Thoroughbred mare) and is now moved into the same pasture as Link.
Oh, last note - first weekend I was home I also traveled down to Longview with Charlee's owner to check out a prospective trainer to continue Charlee's training (since I am not specifically working any horses over the winter on a schedule). Keith Stewart is blunt and to the point and seemed a very effective trainer for Charlee, in my opinion. I saw a lot of Buck Brannaman in what he does. I learned a little I can add to my arsenal of tools and much was reinforced. Something I had not considered that he did mention - the horse who is cinchy is also likely to be sticky in transitions. Reason being is that the horse is not entirely comfortable with the entire process - the catching, the saddling, the cinching - all are indicators of what the horse thinks about work under-saddle and thus are predictors of the horse's behaviour and tendencies under-saddle, including what he is going to do in transitions (ie, potentially buck). I had not thought about cinchiness as it relates to transitions but it makes sense to me and I found the note interesting. I sensed a wealth of knowledge in the man and look forward to the opportunity to learn more from him.
I am looking forward to being home for Christmas and New Years; hopefully I can get in some more good rides on each of the horses!