Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Solid Discoveries.

I headed off to the barn a little late last night, after spending some time searching for a new ipod clock radio...that doesn't illuminate the whole room. Fail.

Regardless, I was happy to make it to the barn when the last lesson was finishing and even managed to sneak in some book reviews from W. Can't wait to get that Chapter's gift card in and get some fresh reading!

W understood my temporary post-ponement of lessons and was pretty excited when I told her about our 1/2 circle of canter. She guided me to move him into a smaller trot circle when he falls out of canter at the corner, circle and then ask again.

The first thing we worked on though, was from a book (can't remember the title) which spoke of the basic lessons your horse should know. One was standing still. FAIL. Moon walks off the instant I'm mounted, though consistent work has meant that he now stands nicely at the mounting block...till I'm on. So I started by asserting that he WILL stand still when I tell him to. VERY difficult for Moon, who does everything just short of levade to not have to stop. We'll keep working on this one, and I know consistency will pay off.

Last night we practiced our canter a bit and while we didn't get success, I think we're progressing. For one, he seemed to respond to my canter aids better, though I've made the mistake of asking for canter from the same spot every time...and now he predicts it and starts rushing as he nears the corner, raising his nose up. Thankfully, I just had to start changing where I asked and getting him to continue his trot circles past the point where he normally canters.

I did make two solid discoveries. One: My stirrups were uneven. I SWEAR I set them at the same number, but when I checked today, they were 2 holes off! Yikes. Two: My position needs to improve to assist our canter as well.

This one I found in an interesting sort of way. Moon-pie had given me some really lovely work at the trot, including transitions, serpentines and circles, to the point where I started to wonder if my little guy was starting to collect on the bit. Or at the very least, maintain contact and almost 'round' up with his body. Instead of being long and strung out. He couldn't do it for very long, but he seemed to do it in spurts. hmmmm...

Regardless, he was giving me these wonderful 'blowing' trot circles. I've been reading about horse's 'blowing' or as some call it, 'triffles', where the horse exhales in time to their paces. I LOVE hearing the horses in competitive show jumping do this and only once before really caught Moon doing it for me. Today, he was doing it at a trot and maintaining it. Apparently, this is an indicator of relaxation and the horse being 'loose' and relaxed through the ribcage. : ) Loving it. He sounds so...majestic.

I opted to pull out our cross-rail to practice, since he was so good. Of course, this is when I got to raise my stirrups and discover how lopsided they were : P I set the x-rail at 15" (as I later measured) and a little placing pole in front of it. For once, I was able to slow down his fast trot as he approached, though he ducked out to the right our first two tries.

Why? Because of me. The first time I was staring at the cross-rail. The second time, I dropped all contact, threw the reins away and perched.

Keep in mind, that I still haven't gotten around to asking about poles, and we're still using little 5' fence posts. Which on my cross rail, makes my jumps about 4 1/2' wide. Or NARROW! So narrow that if you're not pointing him directly at the middle of it, he's going around.

Third time, he cleared the standard, which is about 2'. And proved to me that I need to work on my position and contact. While I kept us rhythmic and direct to the jump, I was left behind him over it, and then in an attempt not to haul on his face, threw my contact away again. I DID manage to gather it up and trot us onward though.

Fourth time, was awesome, though I'm still learning how to keep contact but not be hard on the face. He even landed and continued to trot the rest of the circle.

Fifth time, we landed, trotted a few strides and then CANTERED! 1/2 a circle! Score!

So I asked for canter again. And got another 1/2 circle. For some reason, the shorter stirrups offer me a better position where I don't tip forward and am able to stay off his forehand when he departs. He still lacks the balance through the second turn and falls to trot, but it seemed better then our longer stirrup version. He also responded a lot quicker with my legs in their new position...interesting.

We jumped our little cross-rail a few more times, with me asking him to canter after he landed. I won't say we made much more success, but we're at least working out our canter departs.

My plan now is to raise my stirrups one hole from my regular dressage length and use that when working on our canter. I can lower them as we progress, but will take whatever artificial help I can get right now. I also hope to have a spare moment of day-light where I can practice our canter outside on W's 'grass' (12" snow covered) to see if the larger circle or open environment will change things. As they say, a good canter is better then a long canter, so all things in time. I'm REALLY hoping to have us cantering a full circle when we get back into lessons at the end of the month. And am gaining belief that we'll be able to do some training level shows by the end of summer.

I'm also pretty pleased with his jumping. I've been reading another book on gymnastic jumping and plan on continuing our little trot jump-lessons. One thing I read actually quelled a concern I had about jumping. Moon is a bit 'cow-hocked' in the back, which means his toes point a bit out. His legs are pretty straight, just turned. My thought was that this might be negative for his jumping, but according to the book, it can be a positive as it reduces the chance of them striking themself while jumping.

The lucky boy got to spend the night inside, which is always a treat for him. A friend sent me an article about how horses when given a choice will at times choose to be indoors. I've witnessed the very same thing when it comes to dairy cattle. In university, I worked at our Agriculture facilities experimental dairy barn, and quite often, the cattle given a choice, would be inside at their stalls (they even knew which stall was theirs). Especially when it was cold out. Those days we'd have to chase them outside and they'd be standing around the door waiting to get back in!

Moon, certainly seems to enjoy spending his nights inside. He'll try to go into his stall when I finish grooming him and when he does spend his nights outside, he's a bit of a hoof-dragger to get him back out the door. Last weekend I had a chance to watch him after putting him in his stall (it was awesome to spend 20 minutes just observing him in his natural state...I obviously enjoyed my animal science classes too much).

Moon LOVES to observe the other horses. He stands there with his head hanging over the door and just watches. And BOY does he stretch his jaw a TON! For 20 minutes, every 2 minutes or so, he'd open his mouth wide, move his jaw from side to side, twist his tongue, stick it out, bare his teeth and then chew. Before resuming his watch out the door. He just stands there looking out the door and stretching his jaw.

Weird pony.

Tonight, perhaps another practice ride. Bring the ol'camera out this time, and see how much stretching we can get out of Moon. And hopefully hear back about that trailer... ; )


  1. Congratulations on the progress you're making in your trot circles! I've never had a horse exhale in time with their hoof beats - not even Handsome and he loved his stretchy trot circles.

    Here's a tip on how to "keep contact but not be hard on the face," and it might help you land in a canter. Charlene McMullen had me do this exercise:

    Position your cross-rail so that you come out of the corner and get three or four trot sides before you have to jump it. Ride through your corner at a strong posting trot. Make a nice square turn in your corner, using strong outside aids to turn. A couple strides before the fence, take a two-point position and burry your knuckles in his crest. Keep your reins short enough that there's no droop in them, and keep both legs on to keep him straight.

    At the base of the fence, put both legs on to support him and cluck.

    You might find that when you crest-release in two-point position, your hands are higher up his neck and you won't interfere with his face. If you're in a true two-point (bum completely out of the saddle), you should feel like Moon rises up to you and closes your hip angle. Because you will both feel nice and balanced, and because you kept your leg on and clucked, he should land in a lovely canter.

    If you decide to try that, let me know how it goes!

  2. Sounds like you're having some lovely rides and I'm so glad Moon is improving so much for you! There's just something about being able to feel your horse improve with each ride, and that he's been cantering some is fantastic! :) Good luck with your trailer search!