So We Begin The Game Plan

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A bunch off hoof, seven months worth. The bottom left photo is a before and after: the left is trimmed, the right is not.

After TJ got a much need trim, was introduced to Apache (the two had a sleep over in a private paddock), and on day three at the barn was introduced to the herd; We began our training program. Since TJ is very green and has gaps in his fundamentals, we are generally starting at square one to solidify his uber-basic skills before advancing.

Because I am going to school to become a teacher, I generally think in terms of lesson plans. So, I will sketch out what our lesson plan today was. It consists of 4 sections: Pre-work (before schooling skills), warm up, schooling, wrap up. Within the sections are skills we focus on- typically these are things that either annoy the piss out of me and I want them stamped out, or important preliminary skills that will prove beneficial in future development.

PRE-WORK

  • Ground tying skillsminimal nervous fidgeting! Yes! But still forgets that the head can turn without feet moving.
  • Hoof handling- quick to give hind legs and supports himself, fronts are still sticky and quick to attempt to jerk them away.
  • Bridling- Good at putting head down with nose pressure. Still goofy about taking the bit past canines (I think it is habitual for him, since he was used to his canines being too long and getting hit). Excellent at dropping his head immediately after conniption.
  • Notes: TJ is very easy to saddle promptly, not girthy at all. Very pleasant to groom- no touchy spots and loves his face handled. SUPER with fly spray!

WARM UP- on lunge line

  • Prompt walk to trot transitions on vocal cue. These are quickly improving! Sometimes he is a little lazy about being sent off at a walk and occasionally needs a wiggle of the line to enforce downward transitions.
  • Prompt direction changes. TJ is very responsive to this, as we have really worked on this particular skill in the last week or so. My standard cue is a leading rein/point in the direction I wish him to go, followed up with a swing of the rope to drive him in that direction. Now I am beginning to phase him out of the driving swing. My goal is for him to alter directions by a suggestive point.
  • Whoa. I expect prompt halting from any gait. Mr. TJ however is not that skilled yet. He halts from a walk beautifully, the trot may need a wiggle of the line to enforce the vocal command. If TJ is being a space cadet or energetic, I may need to firmly pop him- but generally only once.
  • Cantering. This is just sucky. We are all over the damn place. Rushing into the canter, inconsistent rhythm, breaking gait. He’s just a severely unbalanced grey blur with scrambling legs. We are breaking this gait down. Our focus for now is: (a) canter departure from a steady not-spazztastic trot and (b) not breaking gait until instructed to do so. We did have one loop of this in each direction- so it possible, TJ! Baby Pony needs to be able to handle himself properly on the line, before I ask him to canter when I’m on his back. Unbalance is the source of his bucking issue, not misbehavior. This gait may take a month or so of solid work to be acceptable. That’s ok though… we have time. 🙂
  • NOTES: TJ was very respectful on the line. As soon as he halted after commanded to whoa, he would drop his head submissively and lick his lips. I love that body language of relaxation and cooperation. I usually wait ten seconds or so before going to him and giving him a face rub. He is a great balance between attentive and desensitized. He is learning my language and I do my best to be consistent.

SCHOOLING

On Thursday we had worked primarily on standing still while I mount up and remaining stationary under saddle until asked to move forward. We worked on that for about 30 minutes while there was quite a lot of activity in the barn- other boarders, horses being fed, even a show Saddlebred mare being bit rigged/lunged with side-reins in the arena with us. I would mount up, wait for him to stand quietly for 30 seconds, walk to the far side of the arena, stand for a while, dismount and repeat. TJ did fantastically, considering he has never been handled while another horse is in the arena with him, his old barn was very quiet with limited distraction, and (even though he is six years old) he has a baby brain.

Today, our previous session paid off and he stood like a statue as I mounted, waiting patiently until I clicked for him to walk forward. Yaya patience and consistency! We rode for 40 minutes. Since TJ does not know any of your standard arena/dressage figures i.e. circles, figure eights, serpentines, etc… we schooled two at a walk, and once I was satisfied with his ability to correctly negotiate the figures, we trotted them focusing on maintaining a consistent rhythm and introducing leg aids (while minimizing direct reins).

Serpentines: Squiggly baby is learning how to go straight like a big boy horsie. He is also learning a cool skill called inside leg/outside rein- it helps us make beautiful half circles at the top of our serpentines, in which we stay balanced and use our itty-bitty tootsie to cross under ourselves. When ever I would correct him with leg pressure to keep him straight, he would swish his tail. It reminded me of a teenager who scoffs at their parent when told to take out the garbage: “Yeah, I KNOW, mom. OK!” It was cute, his little protests. They faded as our schooling continued.

Circles: Big boy ponies also need to learn to make circles and not distorted amoebas. We didn’t do too many circles, because we are still learning to track straight and sometimes with circles he becomes super bendy- not in a good way. We focused on making nice even 25m circles while staying relaxed and forward at a consistent pace.

NOTES: As I have mentioned before: when I ride properly, TJ is sensitive enough where he carries himself correctly and everything goes smoothly. It has made it clear to me that if I don’t want to F*uck my horse up, I need to get some lessons. I am not a bad rider, I was once fairly good and accomplished. But riding the same horse for 11 years, and going to university where I took maybe 3 lessons a summer while I was home on break, has left me with some rather bad habits that need to get beat out of me. I drop my hands (especially my left), like all jumpers tend to do.. oh, and I ride on my crotch in a relaxed 3-point if I am not consciously telling myself “SIT UP! SIT UP!” I started my career as a jumper, so I regress back to those days in my comfort zone- especially if I am riding defensively. What I need to do is find some mean old bi-atch of a dressage trainer, who I will positively hate, be plunked on a level three horse who expects clear directions, and get my act together so I don’t frustrate my green bean TJ.

WRAP UP

When I was happy with our work on serpentines and circles, I had us walk an old training level test; just so we could integrate out straightness/bending/ turning skills. TJ did really good at halting on X and waited patiently for my cue to proceed. After we tooled around, I halted him at the far side of the arena, gave him a good rub, hopped off and loved on him more for being a super star and trying his best today.

TJ really is a nice horse. He has handled the move, a new environment, new herd and a change in lifestyle amazingly well. I know that having clear rules for simple things like leading and ground tying, have helped him feel there was  a consistent in the upheaval of his life. He has really bonded well to me and I can tell that he genuinely does want to try to do as I ask. In the beginning stages of the game, to succeed all he has to do is try.
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