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........)