2014 goals · canter · training board · video

Final Training Ride

First: I’m aliiiiiiiiiiiiive!

So I know it’s almost July, but let’s review my June goal:


Unfortunately I already know that most of June will be a wasteland due to a massive work event at the end of the month. The goal for this month is to keep my head above water: stick to a schedule and keep him fit. 

Possible events for riding or volunteering: East Hill Farm Schooling Dressage (no dates yet), Vermont Morgan Heritage Days (June 14-15)

I was right. June was a total timesuck, wasteland, minefield – pick your metaphor. I got maybe a half dozen rides in the entire month.

The good news? Putting him into training for that month was one of the best horse-related decisions I’ve ever made. Hurrah and huzzah for that! He kept in work and fitness, and not only that, he made huge, HUGE improvements.

In fact, I have proof. I was able to get out last night to watch the last of his training rides and I have two short videos: the first of his first canter stretch during warmup, the second of a canter further along in the ride that shows some of what his next step is: more sit, more lift through the shoulders.

Finally, I saw this note and had to laugh. Only in Vermont would we still be worried about it being below 50 overnight. (I camped for most of last week for my work event, and on Friday night it was 38 degrees. Yep. You read that right. SO COLD.)

Here’s to more horse riding and blogging for the rest of 2014!

canter · dressage · training board


The past few days have been neverending cavalcades of Not Good, and life promises to do nothing but ramp up until my work thing, but yesterday!

Yesterday, I rode my horse. For 20 whole glorious minutes. For the first time in 8 days. It was the first time I’d done anything like schooling in closer to 15 days. I fought tooth and nail to carve the time out of the schedule. I got on not expecting anything, just wanting to have the feel of a horse underneath me again.

I asked for softness in the walk. He gave it to me. I asked for more from the hind end. He gave it to me. I asked him to stay soft and round through the transition into the trot. He gave it to me.

I asked for a canter, and I asked him to come through the outside rein, in exactly the same way I have asked futilely for years (and years and years), expecting the flung shoulders, the block-of-wood neck, the hard mouth.

He softened and rounded.

I do not exaggerate in the slightest when I say the following. It is a statement of pure fact.

I have never, ever, not once, not for one single split second, felt my horse, Tristan, soften and round in the canter. Not truly. He may have given up on bulling through for a second or two, but never, ever, EVER has he put his head down and softened to the bit.

Oh hey that’s more familiar.

I almost dropped the reins. I yelled “HOLY SHIT” at the top of my lungs to the empty arena. I felt disoriented, like the ground had dropped out beneath me in front – what was I supposed to do without his ears up my nose?

I laughed. I cried. I remembered all of a sudden how to ride a collected canter and put my leg on, and straightened him out, and then brought him down to a trot and praised him to the skies.

I may not ride again for another week, but if this is the change only four training rides has wrought, I can’t freaking wait.

canter · winter

Always Winter, Never Christmas

I am becoming a weather atheist. There is no season but winter, and weather men are false prophets.

I took this picture a few days ago, but it still looks exactly the same today.

It was below zero again last night. On March 26. Below zero. Single digits so far today, and it’s going to hail & sleet later.

I did get to ride last night, and we had a credible fitness session, including two 10 minute trot sets. The first mostly loose and low, the second incorporating all sorts of lateral work and poles. He was holding up so well I went for some short canter sets. I initially thought 1 minute canters, but during the first I glanced down at my watch and we’d gone for 1:25, so I pushed it to 2 minutes. I did them all in two point, too.

Then 2 minutes of walking, then another 2 minutes of canter. He was barely winded. Huzzah for fitness! We’ll keep adding to that. I’d love to get him up to 20 minute trot sets and 5 minute canter sets this summer.

One point of concern is that he had a barely perceptible four beat in his left canter. He felt steady and strong, and I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to do to address it in that moment. I have some ideas going forward – poles, careful attention on the longe line, continued fitness, Pentosan – but would appreciate any thoughts.

canter · lesson notes

Lesson Notes: Canter breakthrough, finally!

Just some brief outline notes to remember this lesson – it was an excellent one. Tris is finally fit enough to get some serious work done. I paced him a bit during the lesson but he stuck with me and recovered beautifully. Only uphill from here!

First things first: lovely gorgeous stretchy warmup, awesome pony. We walked and trotted on the buckle for nearly 20 minutes, and then I brought him back to the walk and picked up the reins. We did lateral work to ease him in, more transitions: shoulder-in, straight, haunches in, straight, leg yield off the wall, straight, back too the wall, straight…you get the idea.

In the trot we needed more forward so we worked on going deep into corners and coming out strong down the long side. If there was a flaw to this lesson it was that I did not install forward firmly enough and was too nagging with my leg.

Once warmed up, it was all about circles and getting him round and deep. Controlling the shoulders on the circle, getting him deep and over his back, increasing the activity of his hind end with my inside leg. Deep and firm in the reins but not diving.

The real meat was in the canter, though. First we did some circles and back to our counterflexion exercise at each “point” of the circle. As we went on it felt less like a whole body shift and more like a subtle moment of more straightness, and he got stronger and stronger through it rather than threatening to break.

Then WT (winter trainer, to differentiate from the barn’s main trainer, who is in Florida, sigh) suggested an experiment. Tristan has been getting so much stronger and more through in the canter – what would he do if I got into two point, up off his back, but kept everything else the same?

So I did. And it was a teensy bit of a learning curve, as he kept breaking, I was leaning a bit too much, and my brain clicked into jumping mode a bit and I wanted to shimmy up the reins and press my knuckles into his neck and GO…but after a few minutes of figuring each other out, I settled down into my leg, kept my hands down just in front of his withers, and reprogrammed my body.

He seemed happier almost immediately, and was surprisingly adjustable for all I didn’t have my seat – he did lose some of the straightness, but he gained in engagement through the hind end. Left, we made progress. Right? Right we had this one shining moment when his hind end connected up through his back and whooosh, there was everything we wanted, complete with a fleeting feeling of softness through the bit.

Then he broke to the trot, but he got SO much praise, pats, and he was done. His breathing recovered quickly and he was happy to go back into a stall with his cooler very soon.

Next ride, we’ll go back and forth between the deep seat + counterflexion and the two point + impulsion, and as we make progress we’ll start to marry the two together more and more.

(of course, we are getting 18″ of snow on Wednesday afternoon through Thursday, so who knows when that next ride will be? sigh.)