Monday, June 9, 2008

Progress, Progress

I haven't posted in awhile (has anyone ever told you how busy the last two weeks of a high school career are?), but I haven't disappeared! We took both McKinna and Chaucer to an Eventing Derby this weekend. It was pretty fun -- a dressage test, then a big loopy course in the big field on their XC course using both stadium and solid fences.

McKinna's ride times were first, since they went from the top down and I was doing Beginner Novice on her and Intro on him (again: little horse doing bigger stuff than the big horse). The dressage test was not exactly pretty, but I was expecting that. You know all those canter problems we have? It's not like they fix themselves when we go to a show. But the whole point of taking them to the show was to get them out into the big bad world, the more of which McKinna does the calmer she is. Naturally.

So Dressage was rushed and hollow and above-the-bit, but on the plus side, she also had a few moments of nice walk, a few steps of nice trot where she thought about relaxing (right before the canter, unfortunately), and she went where I wanted her to go. At this stage, with a horse who's done maybe three dressage tests in her life and is still having a midlife crisis about cantering and rounding in general, that's all I'm expecting. I've talked it over with Ellen, and I'm going to get once-weekly flat lessons (probably twice-weekly this summer if I can swing it), so before she knows what's hit her, McKinna will have the muscle and the mental capacity to canter beautifully. Once you start working in earnest on something, it doesn't take her long to figure it out.

Jumping was...a little disappointing at first. Of all the fences out there, she spooked hardcore at the little stadium ones. You know, pretty painted post-and-rail fences that she may glance at, but never ever really tries to stop. Well we had several refusals (hooray for schooling shows), and then at fence four: I could feel her wanting to stop. She was squirrely, she was sucking back, she was spooky, and I put my leg on as solidly as I could and drove with my seat. No dice. She planted her forelegs and sliiiiiiiiiiiiid to a stop on the grass, dumping me neatly off her shoulder as she lowered her head for balance. Nice. I landed on my butt, too.


So I haul my sorry self back up in the saddle, check with the judge-person (is there a technical name for that?) to make sure I can keep going, then leg her over it and away. She has one more stop at 5A (another stadium fence), but then we truck around the rest of the course with no problem. Except that I couldn't find fence 6. Don't ask me where it went. I knew where it was SUPPOSED to be from the map. I saw a fence 6 in black on white, which was not my colors (I was black on yellow). But I did not see a fence 6 in my colors. After pulling up and looking around hopelessly for a minute, I gathered up my frustrated self and went from fence 7 through the end without issue. She had no problem with the solid XC fences that just a couple weeks ago were still making her wobble and stop, so there was a small victory for the day. At any rate, she jumped everything eventually, just not always on the first try -- and it was a good learning experience for her, since I could feel her getting more brave as we went around. Really it's only her third time on an XC course, so she gets a little slack.

Chaucer actually impressed me very much with his dressage test, incidentally the same one as McKinna's (up until the morning of, I mistakenly thought we were doing a walk-trot test. Which also shows you how far ahead I plan things like memorizing my test). I told the judge we were there for schooling and I didn't expect to be able to finish the test, but we actually did it, with some really nice canter strides and everything. Chaucer's weakness is definitely NOT cantering -- it's beautiful, I tell you. It was a terrible test at any rate, but the point is that for him, it's wonderful that he completed the whole thing without A. frying his brain and stopping dead, or B. tuning me out completely.

Anyway, we took him out to jumping warmup, and he was just too tense. Trying to leap over things and the like. I ended up walking up to little crossrails and picking up the trot a few strides out, which kept him fairly manageable. We did a little cantering around the field, he got acquainted with Mr. Pulley-Rein when he wanted to take off, and then Ellen and I agreed that taking him out on the course would be an unnecessary stressful experience for him. We had enough jumping in the warmup field, and if he wasn't doing it calmly out there, why would he do it calmly in the bigger, scarier field? So we called it a day and headed home.

I was really, really tired anyway!

I'm learning a lot about handling Chaucer. It's been very good for me, because while some of McKinna's problems are similar to Bailey's and thus old frustrating problems, the challenges that Chaucer offers me are new. It's interesting to think through how I am going to handle him or what I should do next.

I did some groundwork the other day and had him walk through a series of oddly-spaced scattered poles. He was very, very careful about the placement of his feet, leading me to believe that he's not stupid about his feet, he just likes to be slow about it. Which could explain a lot about his jumping-terrors: he gets overwhelmed and since he doesn't have time to think about where to put his feet, he just trusts brute strength and throws himself over. Something to ponder. He's definitely a horse that needs to be taken along slowly.

I also think lots of miles on trails would help him out. Nothing too challenging, just moseying along for a couple hours over varying terrain and through water and such. I think it would really improve his confidence and his sense of balance.

Any thoughts on working with this type of horse? I'm thinking gridwork would be a good idea.

(Pictures soon, I have to get them on my other computer!)

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