Cloud's Honor Racing

Cloud's Honor Racing
www.GoodHorse.org

Cloud's Honor Riding

Cloud's Honor Riding
www.LeightonFarm.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beautiful Girl

I've gotten my beautiful girl back in training - finally. It's been a very long haul, but she was weaned from her baby a month ago and came back home to Leighton Farm. I was worried about her reaction to being separated from Z but she basically told me she'd gladly trade that baby for her turn out blanket. Graycie gets colder than any horse I've ever met and Jerry looked at me like I had six heads when I asked him about blanketing her at his place. I decided to wait until she got home. To be honest she did cry about the separation, but the blanket helped.

I know much more about training horses from racing to riding horse now than I knew when I had her in training before. Graycie spent her entire race career as the Queen of the World and I thought she could have that when she became a riding horse too. Not so much! She needs to learn to listen to me and have at least a shred of obedience. She basically looks as me as a convenience, not a boss. This made for some exciting rides on this incredibly athletic horse.

I made a plan to retrain her with all of my new knowledge starting with the behavior modification and I had visions of her being really mad and nasty. I expected this to be a very long haul, but I made a pact with myself that I would not move on in her training until we establish our new relationship. This was a real opportunity to start over. This time I want to do it right.

About a week ago I put her in the grooming stall on cross ties which was her first time with no problem. I groomed her, which she loves and saddled her without issue. It was the first time she'd had a saddle in over a year and a half. As we walked down the drive to the arena we did walk halts and after the third one she willingly walked when I spoke the words "walk on" and halted when I said "ho". She is very, very smart. Wow, I thought, this is going to be easier than I thought, but in the back of my mind I knew, this was Graycie. She wasn't going to give up her power that easy.

We proceeded into the arena where I planned to longe her. Now in the past, longeing was considered by Graycie to be the most heinous activity a human could dream up. To say she hated it would be an understatement. Add to that the fact that I did not understand longeing when I taught her how to do it and you have a recipe for failure. She basically knew how to run around in a circle on the longe line. Not much control there.

I know have tools in my tool box. I knew I had to start from the beginning with complete control and I also knew she expected complete chaos. She went out on the line uptight and on the verge of cutting and running. I asked her said "ho", she walked a bit faster and her head came up. I said "Graycie, I'm going to shank you." She said "so what" and started to trot. I shanked her and said "ho, walking". She did the downward transition to walk as she looked at me with the expression of I can't believe you did that. I did not want to trot until I had the walk. We did walk, halt transitions and in true Graycie style, she understood quickly and began to respond to my voice commands. "This is fun, Human, aren't you cute." When she would tighten her frame and lift her head, I would halt her because I knew she was thinking trot.

It was going well. Much better than I expected, but I also knew it couldn't be this easy, could it? She was becoming more obedient with each passing moment. I changed directions. To the right is a little more difficult for her, but she managed well. After about the fourth walk/halt transition, a disgusted look came over her face. As if to express "Wait a minute here, you're taking my power away, forget it human" and with that she was Airborne One. That's a little expression I use to describe what she does when she's not happy. It's not pretty and did I mention she is the most athletic horse I have ever encountered? I kept my composure and we "conferred" on who really was in control, out of the arena and up to the side of the barn. I never left my goal of the walk/halts. Graycie eventually gave in and went back to responding when I asked. It was a good day.

Now over the past ten days, I have worked her every day. She is now doing walk/halt, walk/trot, and most recently trot/canter transitions. Aside from a few disagreements, she has been doing as asked. This is good.

Yesterday I did not get to her until late. I normally do her as the first horse in the morning, but we've just changed her turn out time so I did her around 5 p.m. Last horse of the day. She seemed really grateful and it occurred to me that she probably thought I wasn't going to work with her. Graycie has always loved training, except when she had the foot problem. She enjoys a routine. I am starting to see a softer side to her. I think she is happy that I am taking more control. The responsibility is off of her and she seems to be relaxing.

I know she will always be Graycie and she will always have that athletic ability to manufacture exciting resistance, but this new foundation I am laying with her is exciting because I think she is embracing it.

My beautiful girl is back and this is very good for me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hanging on the bit and dropping his head

I got the video of my ride on Willie at Morven before his last competition which was at Rubicon. As I watched it, it occurred to me that I over reacted to the fact that I couldn't keep hold of the left rein. This made Willie pull harder. I could clearly see that what I should have done is just dropped him. If I hadn't given him something to pull on, he couldn't have pulled. He would have been responsible for carrying the both of us and I wouldn't have had to imitate Gumby. My mistake, but I think the fact that I didn't have much use of the left rein made this pulling situation very clear to me.

So, fast forward to Rubicon. I was tired and looking forward to the end of competitions for the year. I had backed off of Willie considerably because I felt he needed a break. He had done a lot this year. The day before the event, I didn't gallop him as usual. I was still on the take it easy thing. Oh, boy, that was a mistake.

I arrived at Morven with a completely fit, feeling good, ex racehorse. He was sharp. That's how we describe a horse that's in need of a race. He was.

It was blustery and cold and that made Willie feel all the better. One good thing I can note is that he was very happy to be there. So happy that when I got on him, he was a bear! He was ready. Ready for anything but dressage. "Are you kidding, Human? You want to do circle, circle now? I came here to run and jump!!"

Needless to say, warm up for dressage was exciting, but not fun. I dreaded the test. I knew it was going to be a stinker. Willie basically dragged me around the dressage arena with me hanging on his face to keep him in the dressage arena. I tried to soften when I could, but it was a horrible test that was horribly ridden. So much for all my dressage work. The score reflected that and I owned it. I haven't learned how to ride a horse that "high" in the dressage. I know I'm missing something and plan to work on it this winter.

So show jumping. Willie was less than cooperative at first, but in his defense, I was not riding him assertively. He needs that. He took the first rail and I started riding him assertively and he started jumping great. No worries in show jumping. The answer is ride him assertively throughout the entire round. Relatively easy to fix.

I went to cross country nursing a grudge against Willie for the lack of cooperation in dressage. I had also made up my mind there would be no hanging on me today. I'm not here for you buddy. It's your turn to be here for me!

I left the start box sending him. It wasn't working out that well because he came up to fence 1 slowing with each stride and then bounded over it. I hate it when he does that. The second fence was the same. Then we went into a strip of woods where a galloping brush fence awaited. "You've got to get going, fella." I did my Ned the Coachman imitation and he started picking it up. As we came out of the woods he searched for me to hang on and I dropped him. There was nothing there to hang on. The more he reached for me, the more I dropped him and I kicked.

I kicked him along and he was going. My goal was to come as close to minimum time as possible without going under. My other goal, NO Hanging on the reins. We never did a bank so easy. Up, u-turn, down. Willie started listening to me because I wasn't there to hang on. When he's hanging on me he's not that responsive, I suppose because he has me where he wants me.

I was mad. I don't lose my temper when I'm mad at my horses, but I was mad. As we galloped through the woods to make another u-turn, the footing was greasy. Again, Willie searched for me and he found me. I kicked him and told him to stand up. He grappled through the woods with no help from me, although I think it helped him more that he didn't have me to hang on.

As we galloped along his head was about a foot from the ground. I told him I bet he was one of those racehorses that galloped with their head on the ground, which is fine at the track - there are no jumps to look out for. I told him he was going to be sorry because I knew there was a left turn coming to a good size log and then the dreaded water. He should be looking for these things, but he kept his head down.

As we turned left, Willie said Oh sh**, but he jumped the log. At that point I said, go ahead stop at the water. Then I can beat you for the horrible dressage test you gave me today. Willie wasted no time galloping through the water. I never even lifted the stick. Funny, sometimes I think they do understand our language.

We finished up four seconds over the minimum time. I left there a better rider than when I came. My most important thought was, how can I drop his head and ride him like that going cross country, but I hang all over his face in dressage? The one thing I do really well while galloping is relax. I mean totally relax. When the horse is being a jerk in dressage, I tense up. This is the thing I need to master over the winter. Ride show jumping and dressage with the same suppleness in my body I have in galloping.

Oh, the other lesson - I already knew - I dropped his head and he didn't run off. To the contrary, he was much more receptive and easier to ride.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More on Galloping

I competed quite a bit in my first eventing season and it was generally all good. The bad spots led me to a greater understanding of this sport and what skills are needed to be a better competitor. It was an advantage to have two completely opposite horses. I was able to expand my riding skills and at the same time get to quite a few venues. I'll be writing about some of our exploits later on, but I want to write about a lesson I learned on galloping for eventing before my mind moves on.

I have two retired racehorses and they already know how to gallop. Horses are taught to gallop. I know they do "gallop" in the field, but that is usually just running. Sometimes you'll see them extend their strides and grab up the ground for a few strides - that's galloping. If you don't know much about galloping and you have an ottb, he can teach you - if you let him. Exercise riders communicate with the horse with subtle changes in our position. With Birdie I can tighten my abs and he will shorten his stride. I can relax my shoulders a bit and he will extend his stride. That's all it takes to "control" him. If I start pulling, he'll pull back and it will get unpleasant awfully quick. With most retired racehorses, the more you "ride" them, the harder it is to "control" them. My advice in general is to try less, you'll probably find out it's more.

When I was competing Willie at Beginner Novice, I had an awful time keeping a rhythm cross country at that speed. He was heavy throughout and not a willing partner. It was slow and it irritated Willie. I never did find a way to make the time and relax him. I finally decided to try a new approach at Seneca and I let him gallop. He went the same pace for the entire ride. He was comfortable, easy and relaxed. He was willing. Best ride I'd had on him, but alas, we got what I lovingly refer to as a speeding ticket. We came in under minimum time. I decided the thing to do was move up to Novice rather than try to hold him to BN speed.

Right about this time I started to compete Birdie. What I found from the onset is that yes, he's a handful in dressage and a little quirky in show jumping, but if every horse went cross country the way he does, everyone in the world would event. He is so responsive and willing. He's light as a feather and nimble as cat. Yes this is the same crazy horse you see warming up for dressage with his head in the air and his eyes popping out. I did one BN with him and moved up to Novice immediately. Too slow to relax him properly. By this time I had a goal. To get as close to minimum time without going under. We are not running, we are completely in control (well except for a few moments at Morven, but I had an excuse that day). We are galloping and relaxed. The horse is very responsive. Why?

When you ride at the track you are given instructions on what to do with each horse, each day. One of the most common is "back him up to the wire and gallop him (insert distance here). Notice there is no speed discussed.

Each horse has a comfortable gallop. Some faster, some slower, but most fall into an area. So when you are told to gallop, that's the normal everyday gallop. That speed falls into the fast Novice/regular Training Level speed. So what I'm saying is most racehorses are most comfortable going Training Level pace. It's the pace they go most days. We keep a rhythm you can set a metronome to. We don't speed up and slow down. If the horse wants to accelerate, say a horse is coming by, we stay the same and hold the pace. It probably annoys and upsets most ex racers if you are galloping cross country and speeding up and slowing down a lot. They know it's wrong and it makes their job harder. It also makes it almost impossible to relax.

When a trainer tells us to gallop easy, it's rarely ever easy. This would mean a Beginner Novice type of pace. The horse is usually frustrated and we have to hold them the entire way. They're usually a jerk going home too.

I have more to write on galloping for future posts. I have learned enough about eventing this year to start applying what I already knew about some of it's aspects.