Saturday, January 30, 2010

Working Three Gaits

It has been a while since I posted last- we had a wicked cold snap again this week which put a small delay on our training again. But, we have been working on something new this week when we can find warm enough weather to work in: the canter- in long lines!

I had never asked Louie to canter in the long lines for fear of confusing him for driving, which is walk and trot only. But after hearing some good thoughts and feedback from other Saddlebred amateurs and trainers who also canter their horses in long lines without trouble, I thought it would be worth a shot. The issue that Louie and I have been facing with our right lead, I believe, is aggravated by the lack of a way to set him up to correctly step off into his right lead. On a lunge line, he bends his head to the inside of the circle, throws his butt to the outside and naturally takes the left lead. It was a little bit better in side reins, but we still had to fight the shifting of the haunches. In the pessoa, well, right now working on the canter in that isn't any better either- he can shift as much as he wants to, yet he is irritated by being goosed by the haunch strap. We were in need of a new way to work on the canter, though not under saddle as I would really, really, really like to get this down on the ground in a somewhat consistent manner before asking from saddle again (don't want to get into fights and add in the challenge of carrying a rider).

I thought it was time that we should have another go on that right lead canter before show season creeps up on us and we once again have to tackle the issue in the middle of show season. He is more muscled up now, more filled out and balanced, and not so lanky and clumsy as he was last summer. He is quite a different horse now (physically)- perhaps will be better able to canter on both leads, plus he has been taking both leads easily while running free. So we looked into trying the canter in long lines. This way, I can shift his haunches in by wrapping the far line down around his haunches, and I can add an outside bend, which, though not technically correct, can help us to get into that right lead. For now, I'll take an incorrect bend in exchange for a right lead. The lesson of compromise and the give and take of horse training is something I learned early on in my horse training adventures when schooling my old Arabian in the canter- you settle for one small step at a time, it doesn't have to be perfect right off the bat.

So, earlier last week, Louie and I attempted the canter for the first time in long lines. We started to the left I thought it best to learn what I am asking going his good way first. The first few cues he acted confused, trotted, rushed, etc. After about 3 attempts, I cued him again from a walk, shifting his haunches towards the middle with my line around his haunches, giving him a "half halt" and a kiss with a flick of the whip. He stepped off into a beautiful little left lead canter. I ran as fas as I could to keep up with him, fighting the urge to "canter" myself! He continued to the end of the arena where he was met with increased rein pressure behind his haunches as he rounded the corner. I loosened that rein as best I could, but Louie thought this felt funny and gave a little buck expressing his suprise, then continued on cantering. We only went about a lap, which is about as far as I can run and keep up with him right now anyhow. I asked him again a few more times and off he stepped onto his left lead quite nicely a couple more times. He definately was figuring this out, so I thought it was time to try the right lead.

So, we changed directions, extended our walk, then when we reached a corner heading into a straightaway, I shifted his haunches to the inside, bent him to the outside a bit, and cued him for the canter. Off he went in 1 stride on the right lead, then broke down to a trot, I quickly cued him again, we got 1 more stride of right lead, then trot. Finally I cued him one more time, he took one stride once again, then bucked, kicked, shook his head, and deteriorated into an angry/excited trot. We stopped there for the day as I worried that he might be sore on his left hind leg, causing that bucking.

We left the canter aside for a few days as the cold weather crept in. Then today I had Sandy out to watch us and help me decide if Louie looked off at all and if I should have the vet out for him. We warmed up at a walk and trot, and though there was a lot of excitement going on at the barn (bringing horses in, feeding time, etc), Louie cooperated fairly nicely. This kind of excitement and desensitization is really good for him, though we rarely encounter it at the times of day I usually work him. Anyhow, during one of the quiet moments we attempted the canter. This time the left lead was met with the same type of bucking/kicking as we had experienced earlier in the week on the right lead. Sandy pointed out that he was kicking out at either the crupper or the rein behind his butt, which he is not used to feeling. This seems quite likely, as this horse does goose really easily and has one of the most sensitive tails I have ever seen.

After a little bit of work, we set him up and asked Louie to canter again, this time he took off beautifully on his left lead, we cantered a lap, then stopped and praised. Time to try it on the right. We had a few false starts, confused trotting, a left lead, a kick or two, then off he went on his right lead. We continued along a straight away without incident, around the corner where he spooked at something happening in the barn and switched his fronts. As he headed around the turn he switched his fronts back onto the right lead and continued along and down the next straight away. We stopped and praised, as this was his first time he had actually taken and sort-of maintained a right lead in the long lines. Louie trotted out totally sound after the cantering we had done, which was really reassuring to me that he seemed to be feeling fine.

Sandy pointed out again that she really felt that the kicking he has been doing is due to the feeling of either the crupper or the rein behind his haunches, niether of which he is used to feeling in a canter. I really do believe that this is true, as now I see that he has done this in both directions and really non-specifically. So, we will continue to work on all 3 gaits in the long lines as long as he stays sound. We won't work on the canter every time we long line, or even both leads in one day necessarily, because we need to keep a routine from forming with this smarty pants or he will anticipate, but we can at least work on it a little bit at a time. It is quite promising, though ugly at times, that Louie was able to take his right lead today and I am hopeful that this will continue and eventually we'll be able to translate these lessons to our under saddle work.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We Have Slow!

Louie and I have been working pretty hard in the long lines the past few weeks. By the way, the only reason I say I'm working hard is because my running to keep up with him usually renders me breathless. It has got to be hilarious listening to my verbal cues to him as I'm huffing, then clucking, then huffing, it's amazing I'm able to communicate at all breathing like that lol. Anyhow, we've been working on the usual, steering, transitions, halt/stand, bending and flexing, serpentines, ground poles, etc. And, we've been working a lot more in the past few sessions on speed variation.

I had been asking Louie to extend his stride at the walk by clucking with each stride and that had been working great, producing 12" of over stride at times. So, I thought we should probably work on the converse, asking him to slow down, take shorter steps, and cover less ground. We started with the trot and were met with a little bit of resistance at first, over-flexion, pulling, and bit chewing, but after a few tries, this smart horse had it figured out. Our slower speed in the trot is not yet super consistent, sometimes like a working/sitting english trot, sometimes a western jog, but we do have both the ability to slow down and to speed up on command now. We have worked on this at both the walk and the trot, and hopefully someday, this lesson will translate to the canter.

It is interesting to note, and maybe it is because I have to pull back on the reins a little bit, or perhaps it has to do with the natural headset changes of "collection" and "extension," but Louie naturally raises his head when he slows down, taking on more of a traditional saddle seat headset. Then when he moves out into a more extended, ground-covering gait, he lowers his head and almost reaches down for the bit. I would imagine this is probably the result of my cues rather than true extension and collection, but hey, we can pretend! Overall, I'm quite happy with his performance the past few sessions, proving that he has more than two different gears.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Multitasking!

Well I snapped a few photos of Louie today while long lining. This is quite challenging, as usually I have to give my full attention and use of all 4 extremities at the same time in order to bring out the best of his abilities, running along side him- not too close, not too far, rating my speed as well as his, steering, bending/flexing, operating the whip, etc. Mixing a camera into this whole ordeal was quite a challenge, though I was up for it since I've become fairly coordinated on the end of long lines. So, after a warm up, I *attempted* to snap a few photos. They're certainly not great, quite grainy quality due to the indoor arena, dust, and lighting, but I think you get the idea.
First, walking to warm up. . .
We work on a very long strided and loose walk, head held low, which always surprises me how low he is willing to carry it when you look at the line of pull from the bit to the terrets. I do give him verbal praise and acknowledgement for giving me a loose, low headed, free walk, so I think that's why he is willing to drop down despite the placement of the lines.
Trotting past the "scary end" of the arena, just about where the sky fell in front of him on Thursday. My line here almost looks like a lightning bolt headed straight towards Louie's feet, but rest assured, it's just the flash on the camera. Trotting more, this time along a straight away. I really didn't capture any of the photos that I wanted, as we have been progressing nicely to a low headed (which really balances out his back) arched neck with just a little better tuck on the nose, and a longer, more floaty stride. This does takes some work on my part to bring out, thus I am not coordinated enough to do this and photograph together. . . you'll have to use your imagination. ;)Lastly, here is Louie, standing at the end of the workout. He is very funny, when wearing blinkers, he always turns (just his head) to look at me once he stops to make sure I'm okay, and of course looking for approval. Now let's hope he doesn't scare himself when he turns to see the green meanie behind him! Oh, and don't worry, he's not on fire, the white "smoke" in the air is simply a result of cold MN weather, and my accelerated respiratory rate after running with my horse for 30 minutes. ;)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Back in the Swing

Being that our Minnesotan weather system has finally come out of the deep freeze we had, with highs now in the 20's-30's, I saw fit to get Louie back on track with his regular work routine. Sunday we lunged, as I have learned that a very fresh horse in long lines can sometimes be a recipe for disaster, so I felt lunging was just a bit safer to start with, burning off some steam. While we did work on all 3 gaits, the right lead canter continues to frustrate me. But for the sake of keeping his walk and trot good and true, on Monday, Tuesday, and today, we long lined.

The first real day back, Louie's work did not go quite as smoothly as it had before our break. Louie was a little fresh, not super easy to handle, and trotted out in more of a stilty type, short strided gait. Throughout the week, we've improved upon that, now with more of a ground-covering stride, and the ability to both slow down and to extend within both the walk and the trot. We have been working on a nice loose and relaxed, swingy walk, aiming for an overstride with good stretch. We've been focusing on walk-trot transitions too, trying to avoid the whole head-lift jump-start into the faster gait. This has been better overall, but will need lots of work to stay consistent.

Louie is responding pretty nicely to my cues, but is tending to walk off before asked from the halt. We find it especially tempting to walk off when there is something or somebody of interest within a 15-foot circle from where we have stopped. This is a challenge that we will encounter regularly, however, so it is good to recognize these areas which need improvement so that we know what to work towards. This is definately something that we can improve upon, and standing is a very important skill for a driving horse, yet quite challenging for a youngster.

Today we did a few 3- and 4-loop serpentines at the trot, and on Tuesday, we worked small serpentines from the rail at the walk, with me walking behind and using the reins around his haunches to ask him to bend and yield with his hind end. These, in addition to his stall exercises and stretches, are wonderful for suppling and developing better communication and responsiveness in the lines.

Today we did have a few "spirited" moments. I worked Louie in the early afternoon, while the other horses were still outside, as the barn is always a little different when the stalls are empty. With the warm up, there has been some snow melting on the roof of the arena and falling through the vents periodically. Today just as we were trotting by the far end of the arena, a little bit of snow fell right in front of Louie. Shocked at what kind of awful creature might have fallen from the sky right before him, he stopped, snorted, jumped in place and stopped again, then cantered off with a few bucks and head flips. I gathered him up, re-framed him, and got him into a beautiful animated and lofty trot, and had him do a few circles in that end of the arena until he passed that spot without breaking gait or drifting from the rail. Periodically throughout the remainder of the workout, bits of snow would fall down or he'd hear a noise that startled him, and he'd have a little "spirited moment." These were few and far between, fortunately, but really quite fun to watch!

Overall, we seem to be picking up about where we left off. Our goals within the coming weeks including restoring that beautiful floaty extended trot that we had been doing, improving our halt, and continuing to work on responsiveness and suppling. And of course. . . the cart.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Cold Start to 2010

We have vitually nothing to write about because it has been too cold to do much of anything with Louie for the past week. The past few days the morning temps have been -20, with highs in the single digits, and it's not looking promising for the next week or so. . .

So needless to say, Louie has not been doing any real work, but has been turned out to stretch his legs in the indoor arena a few times. He has a lot of fun out there, bucking, kicking, rolling, head-flipping Arabian style, and of course running! He's got some pretty good speed when he sets out to move! He loves to prance around at a trot, canter, or gallop. It's fun for now, just too cold to do anything else.

On a slightly more exciting note, I got a new hunt coat for myself for Christmas and it arrived today. I don't think I got the coat that I ordered, but I'm pretty happy with the one I got. It is a navy windowpane with a very subtle and fine light blue and raspberry plaid. So it isn't just plain old navy like everyone else has, it's a little lighter, and I think it will look really nice on Louie. In the next few months, I'm going to be working on putting together my hunt seat ensemble, so I'm hoping that we will be able to get to some shows next year!