So, I wanted to recap the good and the better and the best parts of what I learned about my horse this weekend.
1. ASHKE TRAVELS WELL
This was the third time I have taken Ashke off property for a show type environment. The first time was the Spring is Flung Working Equitation clinic and schooling show that TJ put on last June. At that environment, Ashke was stressed and anxious, although he took to working the obstacles very well. At that point we were still trying to figure out our bit situation and I fluctuated between the Myler shank bit and the Raised Rockin' S bit. Neither were really working for us at that show. To compound that, I was stressed and nervous, which made Ashke nervous.
The second time we went off property for a clinic was the Nuno Matos clinic in July. That time, Ashke actually spent the night at a strange barn so we didn't have to haul back and forth. He hung out in a small pen with food and water, waiting for our hour one-on-one session with Nuno. That session was very intense. I was sweat-covered and exhausted at the end. Again, Ashke handled the environment fairly well, but we were still working out what bit was going to work the best for us and I bounced between the Myler shank and the Myler snaffle. Neither were a relaxing bit. Ashke worked better on the second day of the clinic than the first, mostly because I think his overall anxiety had diminished. It didn't hurt that we didn't canter as much the second day because he was sore on his haunches.
This time, Ashke settled right in once he recognized I wasn't planning on selling him. I took him out and walked him around, letting him see and smell and sniff. I bathed him and then covered him with the BOT cooler to keep him back loose. I spent time just hanging out with him, in no rush to go any where. J and I spent several hours sitting in front of the stall, just being close by for him to smell and hear and interact with. By Friday morning he was pretty chill. He was happy to see me and interested in what was going on, but the frantic calling and movement was gone. He spent the weekend in a small stall, eating well, drinking well, and being interested in what was going on around him. I couldn't have asked for a better response than that.
The way he responded to being off property and the way in which he took care of himself, I have fewer worries or concerns about trying our first LD this year. Horses all around us were wrought with anxiety: one Lusitano had colic concerns, a Paint QH horse had a runny nose and cough, the Gypsy Cob broke out in hives (be careful of treatments utilizing essential oils), others were just out of sorts. Ashke was chill. It's the best word to describe him.
2. ASHKE LOVES HIS JOB
I am so impressed with my horse. There was a moment on Friday morning, where we had been riding in the warm up arena and went to walk into the big arena. We were two or three steps through the tunnel when Ashke saw the obstacles being set up. He stopped and looked at the obstacles, looked around the arena, and went back to the obstacles. I swear to God I could hear him think "oh. That's why we are here." I could feel the knowledge flow through his body and settle into his bones. From that moment on, there was no stress or worry present in him. He was chill and relaxed and ready to try whatever I asked of him.
I know Ashke loves to trail ride. He makes that known every time he steps off the trailer into some wide open lot with a trail leading away. He never fusses and is always eager to set off exploring whatever trail we are riding. He is calm and focused and intent on the trail and loves looking at every thing. He reacts with eagerness when we hit a new spot he hasn't done before and loves to move along looking at every thing around him. I know I will always have an eager, willing partner on trail.
That said, I think Ashke loves Working Equitation just as much as a trail ride. Exercises that are a pain or difficult become easier when we do them around obstacles. He works hard to figure out what I am asking him to do and I know he's going to memorize the obstacles if I'm not careful. For instance, he knows we always turn to the right first, so is willing to pick up the right lead when I ask for a canter, because that positions him the best. I know he loves the speed test the best, but also really enjoys the diversity and challenge of the multitude of obstacles we do. He is smart and curious and Working Equitation addresses those qualities in the best of ways.
I think smart horses get bored riding in circles. I know my horse does. He hates it. However, if I set up a couple of bending poles or barrels, or the bell or bring out the garroucha, then riding in circles suddenly has a purpose and my horse is much more willing to try for me. Working Equitation is a thinking horse's game. He is figuring it out.
3. ASHKE HAS SO MUCH TRY
My horse tried so hard to do what I asked him to do this weekend, even when he wasn't sure what I wanted him to do. He works his mouth like a little kid sticking his tongue out to help make throw. (I still stick my tongue out when working on something difficult.) There were many obstacles we had never tried before this weekend, and he was willing to step up and try each one.He was focused and fairly calm in the warm up pen. He got into the spirit of playing follow the leader with CS and C O. I think he would love to do more of that.
There was a moment on Saturday, when it was just me at the barn, and I went into Ashke's stall. I started using my fingernails to scratch the itchy spots on him. He turned his head and moved my hand to where he was especially itchy and I accommodated his request. That's how we roll. He asks and I respond. I ask and he responds. This flows into every thing we do together. I really want a horse that wants to try for me, that tries because he likes what we are doing and who tries for love of me.
He is also the same horse pretty much every time I go to ride him. He behaved the same way at the Expo as he does in the arena at the barn. In fact, he was less spooky at the Expo then he has been in the indoor at SQA. In the warm up area he offered a smooth fast walk and was willing to demonstrate his walk pirouette (1/4 turns) despite the traffic we were dealing with. His canter was smooth and he was less rushy to the right than he has ever been. He really was an absolute Rock Star.
4. NOT AFRAID TO CANTER
Several months ago, I made the statement that this would be the winter of canter. It has been and it has wrought some changes.
When I was a kid, riding the canter was second nature. I rode bareback at a canter probably 80% of the time. Queenie had high bony withers and her trot was awful, but she had a wonderfully smooth running-walk gait and a smooth canter, so those were our go to gaits. I rode as if we were one creature, connected at the waist, and my legs were fused to her body. She could canter or gallop, turn and spin, slide stop, cut cattle, you name it, and I could ride it. Without thought. As if I was part of her.
I have been longing for that relaxed, deep seat to find it's way through years of non-riding, child bearing, child birth and wrecked back. It was incredibly painful to canter when I first started riding again, and that was made worse by the physical issues Ashke was also dealing with. I have spent a lot of time in the past three years cantering while holding onto the saddle or an O-Shit-Strap. My body just could not remember how to stay in the middle of the horse, move with him, react to his reactions and not wait for my brain to catch up (trust me, if you have to wait for your brain to say, "stay on", it's too darn late). It's been a struggle and I have just had to trust that if I kept at it, my body would finally catch up.
Sometime in the past month, things have changed. I am finally feeling confident in my ability to ride out a spook or maintain a good seat at the canter. Even when he tried to duck his head and buck and rear on Thursday, my reaction was amusement, mostly because my seat didn't move. I wasn't sliding or feeling off balance. The only time I came close to losing my seat was during the clinic when we were practicing jumping. I dropped a stirrup and it took half the arena to get it back, with Ashke in full flight and me hollering whoa while I laughed out loud at my horse.
We cantered a lot this weekend. In the big arena carrying a 13' pole. Between obstacles. To get back in line. In the warm up pen. He was so good. And now that his canter has gotten better and I have gotten better at sitting it, we can work on slowing down and collecting him. He will piaffe when excited. I just have to figure out how to channel that when I am riding him. And I am excited to figure out how to do canter pirouettes. With the garroucha pole.
Oh. And full seat breeches are the absolute best!!
5. THINGS TO WORK ON
Ashke and I have some things to work on, which actually has me at least as excited to do arena work as I am to do trail riding, which is saying something. We found some opportunities to improve that I can address. So, in no particular order, I want to work on the following items:
- I would like to get Ashke strong enough that he will respond to my requests without throwing his head in the air. He's not doing this in response to my hands, but in reaction to how difficult it is for him to move his body. And I have not been as good at requesting him to keep his nose down. I'm not talking about him dropping his head to his knees, but that rather he flex some at the poll, with his nose down. This is especially important when I am riding him with one hand.
- We need additional work on positioning correctly at the obstacle. He needs to step over the pole so that it is positioned under my boot, not closer to his front legs. He also needs to step up to the post on the gate, so the post is even with my leg and not the front of his shoulder.
- He needs to learn to pause and stand when we are working the obstacles, regardless of how fast we approach and leave. I think using cookies or peppermints to reward the standing still part will help make it really important in his mind.
- I need to carry the garroucha around more. And teach Ashke how to dance with it. There is a DVD for $40 that I would love to order (if I was made of money) but since I have other things on my wish list that I am saving for, it will have to wait. I can work on the things I've seen, practicing turns and spins and lateral work with the pole. It should be fun.
- We need to learn to jump one puny little 24" jump without me being thrown out of the saddle. And without Ashke leaping like a deer.
- We need a lot more backing. Backing in patterns, in narrow pole lanes, and in circles.
- I need to save money to buy a Spanish outfit (El Sueno Espanol), which will need to include shirt, pants, boots, jacket, vest and bridle for me to show in. Thankfully, I probably will not need it this year, but it is something I am saving for.