I’ve spent the past few days pondering what I might be doing to hinder Johnny in the ring. When you spend more days riding without instruction than with instruction, you’re forced to think a lot and come up with solutions to problems on your own. (I’m not suggesting riding without a trainer is the way to go–I want a trainer. I want one bad. Soon, I shall have one.) In the meantime, I’ve had some lightbulb moments.
#1: I spend too much time trying to hold Johnny together in the ring.
#2: I spend too much time trying to hold Johnny together in the ring.
#3: I’ve been babying Johnny too much to avoid ‘blow-ups,’ only to result in blow-ups when real pressure is applied (such as at a horse show).
I realized that by trying to keep him packaged together, I only hindered his forward movement, and anyone with any basic understanding of dressage has heard the old adage–you can’t do anything without forward movement. (In your best German accent) “Ze horse must always be thinking forwards!”
Henceforth, our new training regime involves less of me trying to hold him together and more letting Johnny figure out how not to fall on his face. Common sense, right? Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Let me tell you, it’s very hard to train yourself. You don’t always think objectively, so sometimes the most mundane answers don’t pop right out at you.
Saturday’s ride started with a very brisk trail ride for warm-up. We walked out, and then, using his desire to return home to my advantage, I asked him to trot back. When he took off in his standardbred trot pace, I let it ride. Instead of trying to slow him down, I just asked for contact and then did my best to keep from flying off. The impulsion created by that trot will throw you to his ears if you don’t utilize your core strength. Who needs a gym?
In the ring, I worked the heck out of some half-halts. It meant we had to go to halt quite a bit before he’d listen to me, but I threw subtlety out the window and demanded he listen to me. No more Mrs. Nice Eventer. Around and around a 20m circle we went at the trot–half-halting and halting for no particular reason at all except to get his attention. I wasn’t even half-halting to improve his trot–I simply needed him to quit tuning me out. And when I had him listening at the trot, we began to work on canter transitions. When he began to anticipate and launch into the canter of his own volition, I brought him back to our half-halt session. And you know what? It worked. Go figure. Basic dressage 101 for the win.
Yesterday I had another lightbulb moment. I don’t have adequate facilities to further progress in our training. Our riding ring is approximately 20m x 45 or 50 meters. And it’s filled with sand. I had thought about doing some jumping exercises, but other than gymnastic lines, we don’t have the room. Additionally, we do need to work some at 3’6″ height. Can’t do that in the deep sand. When the sand is damp (as it has been most of the winter), it’s not quite so deep–there’s give, but it holds its shape. When the stuff is dry, it’s like trying to run on the beach–in the deep sand.
I settled for plan B: gallop sets. Ah yes, the best part about owning an OTTB: galloping. I set out toward the trails but was quickly averted by the barn manager mentioning that she’d seen the golf cart head that way with shotgun in tow. Well, the soccer kids would just have to share.
Our farm is close enough to the local sports complex and subsequent trails that it’s a popular place for us to ride. However, I wasn’t interested in the straight-line dirt road today. I needed the varying and unpredictable terrain that we might encounter on XC. After using the 20 minute walk and trot ride to the complex to warm up, we hit the ground running, so to speak. We galloped around the outside of the baseball fields, and then, since they were devoid of population, we galloped in and around them until we hit the four minute mark. I used the opportunity to practice showing Johnny the turns without pulling him in that direction. We have such a partnership, he and I. For all that we lack, when it comes to directional vectors, we’re in sync. All I had to do was look where I wanted to go, open that rein, and he went. By not actually sitting up and balancing him ahead of the turn, I gave him the opportunity to set himself up. It was so awesome to feel him shift his balance and adjust his speed to make those turns.
As we cooled down in the walk interval, we made our way around the sports complex. There was a soccer game going on in one of the fields. As we walked past the soccer fields, I think I heard the faint cries of, “MOM! LOOK, IT’S A HORSE!” I found some new trails perfect for short trot sets along a beautifully clear pond, so we took advantage of those before turning back. They’d set the soccer fields amongst some varying terrain, and as much as I didn’t want to interrupt the game, I wanted the conditioning advantages more. So, we galloped up and down the mini-hills that led us right behind the goalie. (The soccer fields are fenced in, by the way.) The kids playing were old enough to focus on the game, but the distracting crowd and running kids were great for Johnny–I used the noise and movement distractions to help remind him to focus on me no matter what.
I wish I’d thought to grab my GPS watch or at least map it on my phone, but I basically used feedback from his respiratory rate to determine how hard to push him. We did 2 x 6 minute trot sets and 2 x 4 minute gallop sets. I’d rather have done 3 x 5 minute trot sets (with 2 minute walk intervals) and 2 x 4 minute gallop sets, but we just didn’t have enough terrain for 5 minute sets without winding circles. I didn’t want to put the off-track pony in the endless circle mindframe.
I did remember to take pictures on the way home. While I may not have the right training capacity for my needs, you sure can’t beat the scenery our barn has to offer.
Nutrition-wise, I’ve added an alfalfa pellet lunch to Johnny’s feeding regime. But Saturday, before the feed delivery, he got to eat all the yummy ‘this side of the fence’ grass he’s been eyeballing.
And, as an added bonus for you, dear reader, let me share another beautiful, albeit non-horse related photo. The hubs & I used some of our income tax return to upgrade the landscaping in the front. On a recent trip to Lowe’s, I saw Asian Lilies on sale for $10 a container. Since Stargazer Lilies are my hands-down absolute favorite flower, two of those containers found their way into my shopping cart next to the herbs for my herb garden. One flower opened yesterday.