July 16, 2008

It has been a very busy spring.  I apologize to myself for not keeping a better journal as I intended.  I think that maybe there should be 35 hours in a day instead of 24. 

I have so much to write about that I am not sure where to begin.  I suppose I should start by saying that Vincere had a wonderful spring season.  He is undefeated at First Level so far.  We also ventured out and did Second Level - test 4 for the first time.  We did manage to win the class with a 65.9 but I KNOW we can do much better.  I will explain more a bit later.

First, working all winter on Vinny seeking and receiving my contact paid off during the show season.  He is very easily distracted but when I felt it, I asked him to look for the contact and he followed it down through his neck.  I was able to sit up and enjoy the rides unlike last year, when it felt I was trying to survive them. 

He has taught me to ride as if I have all the time in the world.  Vinny is also very smart.  I have made sure to date that I have trained him to be quick off the leg and ready to go.  That readiness kicked me in the behind when I went into a medium walk.  He would tense and jig because he thought he was supposed to go.  Therefore, for 3 weeks back in April after our first show, we worked at the walk.  I did transition work but when I did a transition to walk I would give long rein, go to medium, halt, give long rein, and the moment I felt tension, I would walk a very small circle.  You see, I created this habit because I was more concerned with a horse that was quick off my leg to go.  I needed to reassure him that when I took the reins, it did not mean to work.  Actually, for a few days, I would ride him two times a day and only do walk work during one session.  The next shows he consistently got 7,8, 9s in his free walk as well as medium walk. 

I have worked on the "rubber band exercises" (forward and back) much of the time.  In the first show, the little collection after the lengthened canter was a bit difficult for him.  So in all paces, we worked on this through the spring.  When I did a forward/back canter, it would take 5 strides to try to get an organized sitting canter again.  Sometimes we would break to a trot.  Now, I close up my knees, and he is back in 3 strides but in a feeling that he is really sitting and not using my hand as a 5th leg.  At first, it was hard for him not to and I really could not blame him.  I also used my voice to help him understand what I wanted so he did not confuse it with a trot transition which horses are bound to do at first.  I would say, "And back, back, back."  I know you might think this crazy but I use my voice very much for training.  If I want him to energize, I use my legs and say "hind leg".  Sometimes I just have to say "hind leg" and it is there. 

Circus trainers have two aids to train with: the voice and the whip.  Reading and watching my in-hand books and videos, the author will say many times that using your voice is essential.  It helps with the timing.  With my voice, I have trained all my horses to lengthen on the lunge line.  It is not what you say so much but how you say it and apply it day after day. 

Now I will tell you what happened in our 2nd level test.  I had schooled all the figures but I NEVER put the test together at home.  That was a BIG MISTAKE with Vinny.  He is very sensitive besides being smart.  He entered the ring thinking, "First level; piece of cake."  As I am riding him through the first shoulder-in, renvers movement, I sensed him feeling a bit confused.  Then came the halt and rein back.  His rein backs are ok but on that day, he was not happy when I asked for it.  Then came the medium walk, to shortening and then turn on the haunches.  You remember that I was working to build his confidence at the walk?  Well, I lost it through that tour of movements.  He was happy to have a free walk but when I asked him to go medium into canter, it was as if he said, "This is not how the test goes" and started to leap and buck 4 to 5 times.  I told him "Knock it off!" and he continued his test (serpentines with walk transitions) like it never happened.  I made sure I petted him for the next walk-canter on the left lead.  We finished the test okay.  I told him I was sorry and I scratched the next days 2nd level test.  I knew what I needed to work on over the summer. 

So, we are working on our walks adding in the "school walk" which is a very collected walk then into medium, back, and free walk.  We are working on "short step" trot as well as canter walk and medium canter back.  I am trying to step up the pressure a bit more with quicker transitions.  I am also doing exercises to prepare for flying changes in a month or so.  Before that, I intend to do a little jumping working on figure eights over a low fence so he learns to change in the air. 

I must say, I enjoy training this horse.  He is not a horse you can drill.  Many horses I have trained were ones that needed drilling.  He needs me to be a little smarter than him.  I hope that I will be able to bring some insights of the next months in my journal. 

Until the next time.........................always be fair, forgiving, and give great praise.