Drop Him Like it's Hot

 Earlier this summer, I took Goose to a lesson at a farm where my friend boards. It's an easy drive there, and a few of my friends are interested in trailering in as well so I was hoping it could become a semi-regular thing. I love this trainer, L, who has all her dressage medals, is a badass eventer who has ridden in Rolex in years past, and she has an eye for an "off-breed", with several draft crosses in her program, so there'd be no judgement for the Goober. 

From last night. Bareback pad and butt rug because it was under 40 degrees but I was determined to do *something* with him. He was not enthused, clearly.

I never ended up writing about that lesson, because Goose promptly went lame after. Not because of what he did in the lesson, just because of the hard ground at home and what I'm guessing is probably some mild arthritis. He had a few weeks off, the summer got hot and we all traveled a bit, and before I knew it it's been six months since my lesson. Womp womp. 

The last time I had Goose in a real training program was with Kendra in 2016 before I moved. I miss it so, so much. I have 22 years of riding experience and I can get by, but there's nothing that motivates me so much as homework after a lesson, not to mention the butt kicking we get during that hour. Alyson and I have been talking a lot lately about where are horses are in their life, and how we want to take advantage of the riding years they have left. Goose will be 18 in March, Pari will be 19, and while they're both doing well (KNOCKING ON ALL THE WOOD!) I don't want to take this time for granted. This means going out and doing things, even if they're not the most fit. 

To accommodate their lack of fitness (remember we don't have an arena at the farm where we board, and the ground has been rock so it's hard to do more than a few minutes of real work), we scheduled a group lesson with our friend Meredith who boards Stella at this barn. I've seen L teach a dozen or so times, and am so impressed with her ability to read a horse and rider, and I found that to be true in my May lesson as well. 

We rolled up in time to tack up for our noon slot, and both boys were a bit sleepy in the sun. The thing about Goose is, when he's off property he gets even MORE sluggish than usual. It's absolutely infuriating when I've been getting him forward at home and then can't get him off my leg at all in a freaking lesson when you'd think he'd be a little more "up" than anything else. L immediately called me on it, told me to unclamp my leg and be more demanding about my requests rather than constantly nagging him. He immediately pooped out on me the second I relaxed at all, I smacked him forward, and then he slowed again. 

She had me work him on 10-20 meter circles, constantly varying the size so I'm not making the giant, unfit horse work too hard in a tiny space. She told me not to care as much about speed, but work on getting his inside hind underneath him and really having him bend through his body. Short inside rein, inside spur in his side, build a wall with the outside rein to keep the shoulder, and tap tap tap with the whip to encourage him to step underneath. The goal was to get moments of him carrying himself where I could really give with the inside rein. 

Alas, every time I gave with the inside rein, he'd dump on his forehand and basically stop dead in his tracks. 

What this showed me and L is how hard I'm actually working at all times to hold this beast together. He is a lot of horse - he's not hard mouthed, but he's heavy, and I'm always managing his shoulder, hind end, and keeping him lifted. He's a huge horse for me to hold together. Since I'm the person who's put in all of his training, I've essentially allowed him to train me to hold him together if I want more than him giraffe-ing around the arena. L called me out on it, but also recognized that with his type, it's hard. 

We had some really successful moments of trot and then rested while she worked 1:1 with someone else. We had a good chat about my next lesson being a private, and about her hopping on him for the first half so she can get a better feel for what we're really working with. Her goal is to have me stop working so hard and to have Goose start carrying his own beer belly around instead of me doing it for him. I told her that I agree with everything she's been telling me, but feel like it's not really working out as she'd like and we both agreed he's the kind of horse that's easier to teach on if she's ridden him. 

To try to wake him up, we trotted in to a cross rail and cantered away, then kept the canter to the cross rail a few times changing directions on a centerline figure eight. She had me work on not chasing him so forward, but creating a more bouncy canter, canter UP instead of OUT. This really resonated with me, and is a visual that has totally clicked in my brain. By jump two, she called me out again, "did you really just place him to that short distance or did he do that himself?" Oh no, I clamped my legs, half halted, and willed him to fit the stride in without making it a full chip. 

L: "What happens if you drop him at the base of a jump with a placement pole?"

Me: "Umm, he still goes? But... you want me to... drop him?"

So there I am, cantering towards a little fence with a placement pole. A few strides out, I saw the short distance, and when I normally would have held him together to place him, I simply dropped the reins a bit, sat still without leaning, and hoped he'd figure it out. It was the most counterintuitive riding I've ever done, but bless him, he flung himself through it somehow and I could feel his brain going "WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK MAH". 

The moment I dropped him, and his head giraffed

Cue the start of "Oh no"

Note how he's stepping ON the pole.

Kind of proud how much I'm sitting up, and NOT supporting him at all lol

Almost making a comeback? What exactly are my hands doing?

Peak brain activity in his noggin

Oops, now I'm starting to lean a little

This is the "through" of his over-under-through nature

We are beauty, we are grace

Sitting up again, so that's good. I didn't realize we took the standard down too until I watched the video

The moment he went, "MA WHAT WAS THAT"

As I cackled away from the jump, L, Alyson, and Meredith were cheering. I was told they could see the actual wheels in his little peanut brain trying to configure what was happening, and L said that this was exactly what she had wanted to happen. He's an over-under-through kind of dude, so there was never a doubt in mind he would stop. Keep in mind this is NOT an exercise you can do with every horse, and L said as much. The goal was to get him thinking for himself, and boy was it effective.

We came back around and cantered it again, me just kind of over-giving with my reins a few strides out and damn if he didn't jump a 10, stretching to take a longer distance to the placement pole and neatly popping over the jump without any help from me. The video and stills certainly don't look very exciting especially since the jump is tiny, but it was one of those jumps that just reminds me of why I do this in the first place. 

Dropping him but seeing a better distance this time that he locked onto all on his own

Still sitting tall, he is ON to this exercise now!

I still, and probably always will, have that hunch over fences, ugh

Honestly this felt so great even if I am over-jumping with my position 

A careful hind end for once, yay!

Celebratory tail swishes

The best part about L is that she's British, and it made my heart sing when she exclaimed, "CLEVER BOY!!!" and was really impressed how quickly he picked up the point of the whole exercise. Goose has always been very clever in grids, and this is just a reminder to me that I don't need to micromanage him, he's super capable on his own. 

Eventually this exercise turned into a line, both jumps small verticals with placement poles. I was told to build a bouncy canter to the first one, drop him, land and bounce him for two strides, drop him again, and don't count line strides just let him figure it out. The first one he botched the in again, but got out just fine. The second time he left me behind because he took the long one to the pole and first jump, but it was actually lovely and the out was perfect too. We ended there with lots of praise, good boy! I have a lot of videos from this lesson, but blogger eats videos these days unless they're on YouTube, and I'm just not doing that today. Hope you enjoy the stills as much as I do - I find it hysterical that a ride can feel so great and then I cringe so badly when I see stills. At least I can learn from them, right? 


Trying to figure out wtf he's going to do with this distance and sitting up because surely he won't take the long one

Well shit he's doing it

A little left behind but at least I'm not leaning?

Making up for it by jumping up his neck, it's fine but look at the tail propeller for maximum lift-off

Not bad for a baby jump! 

Careful hind end again, I'll take it

The perfect Out of that line, clever boy!

Takeways: I need to work him on circles more and build up his hind end strength. This includes walk poles, trot poles, and circles to get his inside hind underneath him. With the ground so hard at my farm (or muddy, as it soon will be), L told me to do lots of this at the walk. It's less impact on his joints when the ground isn't great, and will be translatable to the trot when I can do that. Also, drop him at fences, and always jump things with placement poles when possible. When the ground isn't good enough to jumps, canter poles if possible doing the same thing - dropping him. We can build on his self-carriage to fences over time, but for now I'm not to worry if he giraffes his way through them. 

I feel like I got great homework out of this lesson. I was super frustrated in the first half, mostly with myself for not being able to accurately apply what L was telling me, but the jumping really clicked. Hoping to get to her again before the holidays, but as that's unlikely Alyson and I are at least planning for January. L knows our situation and said she's always happy to accommodate whatever fitness level they're at, and whenever we're able to come out. 

Meredith's daughter, C, happens to be Goose's favorite kid of all time, and he took her for a nice ride at the end of our lesson. She's been riding him with me for a few years and I swear he wants to be her kid's pony for his retirement job. We trotted and cantered for a minute and then she stuffed him full of carrots. Sometimes he really is a unicorn. 



Comments

  1. YAY LESSON!!! And lesson media even! You and Goose look great! I'm glad you found someone who can work with you where you are - that's so important as an AA without access to the latest and greatest facilities (which is also my struggle, lol).

    I had to laugh about him being lazier in the lesson, lol. Whenever I ride Ruby at home its GO GO GO GO GO ANTICIPATE THE CANTER OMG and then I take her to lessons and she just.... plugs around like a school horse. I think my trainer thinks I'm insane for complaining about how hot she is at home because she NEVER sees that horse, lol.

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  2. omg his propeller tail <3 that first blow-by-blow progression through the exercise is like.... straight outta the charlie playbook, omg... i've def had to practice letting charlie go (literally) and let him be responsible for his own damn legs. it's.... hard haha. he still prefers a lot more contact while actually jumping around -- but this kind of practice is so so useful for getting him to not lean and be accountable for his own engine. seems like Goose got the same sorta takeaway!

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