Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pondering the Value of the Blog

Wow, it has been five months since my last post (and that sounds like the introduction to a Catholic confession, doesn't it?).  That is why I am pondering the value of this blog, but then again, I think the whole purpose of a personal blog is just to spout off when it is convenient for the writer, yes?

The training of Wimbley has been going extremely well, since the heat and humidity this summer was not nearly as bad as last summer, and so we were able to train pretty much continuously.  We did have a couple of young-horse mishaps in the pasture, resulting in a week or two off here and there, but they were just scuffs; nothing major.  We always worry about the risk of the major stuff, don't we?

One of my students was not so lucky, and her horse had a pasture mishap that will result in several months off.  I feel SO bad for her (and her horse), and will keep my eyes open for an alternative for her, of course.

I remember posting way back when I posted last that my goals included getting my USDF Instructor Certification, since I feel that I am ready for the testing, and also signing up as a participant in one of the "L" judge's programs to start my journey to be a dressage judge.  Well, no one in all of North America has offered the certification testing (or workshops, or pre-certs, or anything), so I am still waiting for the opportunity to open up.  I do need to email the USDF liaison for the program and ask if they have a list that I can be put on to receive information for whenever someone does decide to offer any part of the program (and also to make sure they have all the information about my participation in previous workshops and pre-certs up to date!)

There were two different organizers offering the "L" program, and they were already full (there is a limit on the number of participants allowed in each program) when I contacted each organizer, so I missed out on both!  I did tell the organizer of the one here in Florida that I would like for her to contact me first when they offer the next one.  I never even heard back from the organizer of the other "L" program, so I guess she was inundated with participants.  Oh well, I will keep trying to reach her, as well.

I have decided to retire Bogart, my 27 year old gelding.  He still looks good, and is sound when not being ridden, but is starting to be just "not quite right" when worked, so I don't want to hurt him.

I have also become the sole owner of the mare that I had in partnership with another person.  I am conditioning her for next spring to breed her, and I am considering the options that are available to me.  I will be posting some of the options, and thinking out loud here on the blog about which direction to go, so I will be so grateful for suggestions as we go along here, as well!  Please feel free to jump in with a suggestion or observation as it comes up!  I will post her information, pedigree, history, etc. in subsequent posts.  Pictures, too!

Well, that catches us up on the generalities of the last five months.  I will post more specifics (and more frequently) in the future.

Monday, May 16, 2011

March and April Training for Wimbley

In mid-March, we recommenced with our training.  I started concentrating on building strength and reliability in the softer transitions, and started asking for more steps in the leg yielding.  I asked for more reaction in the down transitions, and could feel his back getting strong enough to do more sitting trot. 
He has been progressing in every aspect of his training at an increasing pace, and starting in the first week of April, I have been able to ask for more of the strength related exercises, such as a few steps of shoulder-in, transitions to the medium and collected trot, and a lengthening and shortening of the stride in canter.
April 18, Wimbley has had time off again for almost two weeks because Edie and I were both busy and then I had the flu, but when I rode him today, he was stellar, as usual.  He seems to gain strength and understanding of the work we are doing even when I don’t ride him! I was just going to take it easy and review with him, which I did, and his canter is a solid tempo with a good jump, he is light and responsive and reliable in his leads now.  He is understanding the lengthening of the trot and canter, and is really using his back and hocks correctly for a horse of his age and training in the half-halts.  A couple of the half-halts gave me the feeling that he will be quite willing to sit enough for piaffe when he is strong enough.  He is still adjustable and supple, and the lateral work went very well even into shoulder in on both reins and a bit of renvers and travers.  Mind you, I only ask for two or three strides in a very minimal renver and travers, but I can feel the increase in engagement, and a willingness to put his body in position for it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Mishap

We were scheduled to ride both days, but we were going to bring the horses back home overnight, instead of leaving them at Lana’s, so we didn’t have a stall.  Edie was riding after me, and so I loaded Wimbley in the trailer to let him stand while Edie and Dance had their lesson.
As I was putting up the butt bar, Wimbley moved back and I got my finger caught between the butt bar and the trailer, resulting in a rather nasty smashing injury that ultimately required stitches.
I caught Wimbley who had backed out of the trailer, and was holding him and trying to hold my finger together, which was bleeding profusely.
Lana and her friend showed up with bandages, and someone took Wimbley from me. I wasn’t paying attention, and they tied Wimbley to my trailer in a bad spot. So while I was being bandaged, Wimbley caught himself on the trailer upper door in the forehead, and pulled back, breaking the leadrope snap, and sitting down and then rolling backwards. He just laid there for a minute (I think he was stunned), and then got up as if he was supposed to be laying there, and walked over to Dance. As I took his halter, Edie realized he had cut his forehead open and required stitches as well….
To make a long story short, we had to give our second ride to another of my students; Wimbley and I received five stitches apiece, and were out of commission for two weeks.
The vet did a much better job of stitching Wimbley than the emergency room did stitching me, and I was the reason for the long delay in training.  We joked for weeks that I should have had the veterinarian stitch me up as well.  I know it would have been cheaper! 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wimbley's Second Dressage Clinic

At the end of February, we went to the second Henk van Bergen clinic.  This one was at a new facility in White Fences, in Loxahatchee, which meant a longer trailer ride.  Wimbley and Dance both took it in stride.  This was not a covered arena, but there was a mirror on the full length of the short side.  Wimbley paid it no notice.  And the footing was absolutely perfect.  The whole facility is absolutely gorgeous!  It belongs to a friend of mine that I met while I was in Germany, and before she moved to the United States, but that is a story for a different time....
Henk could see that his training was progressing since October, and seemed pleased with that progress.  His main comment was, “Yah, I see he makes a mistake here and there, but I also see that you immediately correct the mistake and go on.  I can’t say more than that; he is a young horse still.  It is a bonus that he already can do a bit of leg yielding so you are, for sure, on the right track here.” 
The further suggestion he made was that I make sure to keep him soft in the contact in the downwards transitions and that he doesn’t lean on my contact, so we practiced that a little, with Henk giving me the help from the ground to feel when it was absolutely correct. 
We ended on a great note, and I was looking forward to the second day of the clinic, when it happened…..

Friday, May 6, 2011

Great Horse, Great Owner

I must also say here that Wimbley’s owner, Edie, is one of the best clients ever. When I first assessed Wimbley as a dressage horse, I asked her what her goals were for Wimbley. She said, “I just think he has a great personality, and I want to see how his training comes along. I don’t have a plan for him to be fancy dressage horse, or get all the way to the top, but if he can, let’s just see where it goes.”

I also asked her if she planned to train him to obe sold, or to be her personal riding horse, or what, and she said she just wanted to see how far he could go; no time constraints, no pressure to sell him.
There is no better set of circumstances for a horse (or for a trainer). There is no pressure to push him too fast, to compete him before he is ready, or at a level higher than he is comfortable with. There is no pressure to find a buyer for him, or to make him ride-able for Edie (even though he is, and I tell her all the time that she can ride him if she wants to). This is the best of all worlds.

In February, I started asking for more reliability in the transitions, smaller circles in the trot and canter, transitions from left to right and back again on smaller circles and serpentines in trot, a few steps of sitting trot at a time, more engagement in the canter transitions and to stay more on the bit and come up through the shoulder for more jump into the canter.
We also worked on lengthening a little in the trot, and shortening the strides of trot a few at a time—making almost the transition to walk, and then trotting on. This works very well for strengthening the connection. We also started with a few steps of real leg yield in trot.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wimbley's First Dressage Show

January 24th was Wimbley’s first dressage show.  It was also the first time in many, many years that I have taken a green horse to their first show.  He was well prepared for the tests (2010 Introductory Test B  and 2010 Training Level Test 1), but not so much prepared for the throng of people with baby strollers, kids screaming and running so close underfoot, dogs on leashes, and a busy warmup arena. 
I am more impressed with this horse’s kindness, courage, and faith in his human than I can put into words!  I could tell that he was frightened by it all, but he still tried his level best to listen to my aids, and not overreact to all the stimuli.  I know it took every fiber of his being to “be good”, especially in the beginning of the day. 
I tried to ride him in the warmup arena, but it really was crowded, and even though he didn’t do anything wrong, he refused to canter, and trot was a challenge especially when horses were coming at him head-on.  So I picked an alley between two paddocks that were relatively quiet and did a couple walks and trots in a straight line, and then figured that was all we could do before the test, so we walked over to the show ring amidst horses, trailers, baby strollers, dogs, etc., etc. and entered at A. 
He relaxed in the arena when he realized everyone had to stay outside, and he did an admirable job for his very first test in a real arena.  The first test was Introductory Level Test B, and he did an admirable job considering the peripheral challenges.  Unfortunately, we didn't get a video of that ride.  He wound up with a 60.625% for second place. 
In the Training Level Test 1 test, part of which is embedded above, I knew his canter departs were not exactly stellar yet, but I figured that a schooling show was the best place to see exactly where our weaknesses are, and so his 59.583% in that test for 3rd place made me very happy.  That even included an error, when I made a second circle in the canter to steady it for a good experience for Wimbley, instead of crashing through a transition to save a couple points (that part of the test was not captured--above is the second half of the test).  If I had not had the error, it might have meant a higher placing, but the whole point of this show was to train Wimbley and give to him a good first show experience, not to just gather ribbons at all costs.  He was such a good boy, too, and I think the experience was positive, even though he was a bit on overload with all the excitement around him.

Monday, April 25, 2011

November and December 2010 Training Journal

In November and December, we concentrated on becoming stronger and more consistent in the quality of the working gaits, a clearer understanding of the driving aids and suppling aids, and started with a few steps of leg yield.  His understanding of leads is getting much better, and he steps into the canter rather than running into it.  He still wants to use his neck to help him jump into the canter, but again, strength and balance will improve the quality of the jump, so I am not worried about that.  Just more consistent practice in the training schedule will rectify that.  This is part of the journey that we can’t hurry.  It will come; things take time.  I can't help but say again that he is one of the easiest and most willing horses I have ever had the pleasure to ride.  It is difficult to resist the urge to ask him to try more than he is strong enough to do, but I do resist.  It is too important to have this horse remain willing, trusting and happy in his work to mess around with the silly stuff that will come in time.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fall Training, and Wimbley's First Clinic with Henk van Bergen

I started back in earnest training Wimbley in mid-September. I had been concerned that the time off would set his training back to the very beginning, but I worried needlessly. From the moment I got back on, he was better than in the spring. I was so impressed with him! When I found out that he was a year younger than I thought, I was glad that I had to give him the time off. We started out reviewing the things I had taught him in the spring, and he proved to me that he hadn’t forgotten anything, so we just developed what he knew for a few weeks. He was still a bit weak in the canter, with the departs kind of running and unbalanced, and he didn’t get the lead that was asked for all the time. But I knew that would come with practice.
At the end of October, we had an opportunity to clinic with Henk van Bergen, and I was excited to ride Wimbley for him, so I could have an independent (and masterful) assessment of the work I had done so far on Wimbley. My favorite picture of the clinic is on the last post, here.  I am happy to report that Henk was impressed with Wimbley. This was the first time Wimbley had been ridden off Edie's property, and the first time he had been in an arena (up until this point I had trained him exclusively on an open polo field), and the first time he had ever been ridden in a covered arena (with mirrors!). He went around like he had been ridden in there his whole life.

As you can see in the clip, he complains about the contact, and he still didn’t get the canter leads 100% of the time, and he is still very gangly and unbalanced, but he was beginning to strengthen a bit, could trot in a steady and relaxed tempo, and could hold the canter for a few circles without breaking. The second day of the clinic he was a bit more tired, but steadier in the bridle then the first day, and he was still taking everything in stride with a very good attitude.  I was very proud of him!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wimbley's Journal

In the beginning couple of weeks, I basically did just walking and trotting Wimbley four days a week, letting him get stronger and more balanced under saddle in the free gaits, with little to no contact and just letting him pick the tempo. He was very gangly and awkward, but he had such a willing disposition, and an interest in trying to figure out what I wanted him to do.

For two and a half months, I worked on introducing him to the different aids from the leg, seat and hand, and taught him to move forwards and sideways away from the leg, to give to the hand, and work in tune with the rhythm of my seat aid. It was all about relaxation, rhythm, suppleness and understanding what the different aids meant with no pressure.

In June, I found a wonderful schoolmaster for Edie.  Her name is Dancing on Air, and she is a 16 year old Hanoverian Mare, who is trained through Prix St. George.  She is the one who Edie is learning on and having fun with.  Edie is very committed to her dressage education, as well as to her other riding passion--Polo.  She rides her dressage horse 4-5 days a week, practices 2-3 polo horses twice a week, and has polo matches 1 or 2 times per week.  She is amazing.  But I digress.....

July, August and half of September were too hot to ride, so Wimbley (and Dance, the schoolmaster) got a very long break in the training and conditioning.  This was the first time I have ever taken so much time off due entirely to the weather, but I was afraid that either the horses or I would get heatstroke.  Edie was in a cooler climate for much of this period.
I also said that I would tell you the story of Wimbley's full name.  Manuel found Wimbley on a farm in Tennessee where he was turned out with several mules, who had obviously taught him the ways of the world in terms of manners.  He was calm and respectful of space, and not mouthy or pushy, and he remains so to this day.  He loves people and attention, and every once in a while he gets a bit nervous if you do something unexpected or scary, but he never reacts by kicking or becoming angry.  We were trying to decide a fitting name for him, and we wanted to acknowledge his rather unique heritage, so.....  Senor is to honor Manuel, who is Mexican and started him kindly and gently under saddle.  Wimbledon is for his English Thoroughbred ancestry. Von is German (because his higher education is going to be dressage). and Mule, of course, is his family name.  So, we present to you, in his full name,      Senor Wimbledon von Mule

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Senor Wimbledon von Mule (We call him "Wimbley")

Wimbley the first month
The title of this post is a link to my official website, where my resume can be viewed.  It gives a run-down of my experience and qualifications but I want to share a bit more personal background before embarking on the training journal for Wimbley.

I have a pretty common beginning in the equestrian experience, and I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I have started and trained quite a few young horses over the course of my career.  I stopped doing it for three reasons: 

1. If it was a horse that I bred, people bought it before it was old enough to be trained and either didn't bring it back to me for training, or wouldn't leave it with me for long enough for the training to be set (people want "90 day wonders") 
2.  If it was a horse that was owned by someone else, they never wanted to commit to the actual time it took to really train a horse for an amateur to ride safely and reliably or they put competition pressure on the horse before it was ready. 
3.  If I owned the horse that was old enough to be started, I succombed to the pressure from potential buyers to sell before the horse was finished.  Of course, in dressage, "finished" is relative, but if you have a horse for sale, it is not cost-effective to keep it until it reaches Grand Prix, so my horses generally sold when they were solid Training Level or First Level, tops.  I got tired of making horses for other people, so I concentrated on teaching people on their own horses to make them better, and bought a lesson horse for those who were just starting to ride or were without their own horse.  So I haven't had a "prospect" for many years.

Wimbley the second month
Then came Edie.  She came to me for dressage lessons in April of 2010, and we hit it off right away.  I had known her for longer, but she was the student of  a friend of mine.  My friend had a (human) baby, and moved farther away than was feasible for Edie to drive for lessons, so she came to me on my friend's recommendation.

A couple of weeks later, Edie said she would like me to evaluate a horse that she had that was started for polo but would be too tall.  She wanted to know if he had any potential for dressage.  I said that every horse benefitted from dressage training, but how far they can go in their training depends on many factors, including their gaits and temperament.  Most important is whether the owner is willing to take as much time as needed for that particular horse to develop their strength and understanding of the job, and to not rush things, and be willing to stop or adjust the training at any point in which the horse indicates that it is too much.  I told her that the training process takes years, not months, and with the most talented horse and the most gifted trainer, and the stars aligning in the heavens the road from training level to grand prix would take at least 5 or 6 years.  With a horse who has any conformational, strength, or temperament issues it can take much longer, or s/he he may never get there at all.  Her response was "well, if you think he has any talent for it at all, let's see what happens".

I started riding Senor Wimbledon von Mule (“Wimbley”) for Edie in the beginning of May 2010.  I thought he was 3 years old, almost four at this point, but later (in November) I found out he was 2 years old, becoming 3 in April 2010.  He had been backed in October of 2009 by Edie’s Polo Trainer, Manuel D’Avila, and Manuel started riding him in January 2010 to prepare him for polo.  Manuel owned him at that point, but he felt that Wimbley would be too tall for polo, and Edie really liked his disposition so she asked me if I would evaluate him for dressage.  Manuel rode him for me, and I told Edie that he would certainly make a good lower level horse, since he had three good gaits, and a very good nature.  Edie bought him from Manuel and put him in training with me for dressage.  There is a story behind his name, too, which I will tell in the next post.
                                                          (to be continued........)