Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Horses, + Goal Beginnings

The longer I have horses, the more I begin to notice patterns. Yearly cycles, I guess.

As January draws near, instead of making small resolutions I'll never keep, I start itching to plan out my year for riding and training. Last year in January was when I began systematically logging my rides on Pandora and mapped out a weekly training schedule as well as monthly goals. I haven't sat down to sketch those things out for this year yet, but I will do that this week.

I've been tossing goals around in my head, and I keep running up against something I kind of struggle with. It's a nice problem to have, but still.

I always have a hard time balancing my goals with each horse.

Pandora and McKinna are both very talented and fun to work with. McKinna has been my partner in misadventuring for a few years now - from cows and gaming in OHSET to a last-minute substitution for eventing camp this past summer, she's always been up for whatever I throw at her. And it's not just that she's willing - she's good at it. I took her to the eventing camp with about a week's warning, and it had been a full year since she schooled XC. (The full report is here and here, with lots of pictures, if you missed it!)

She was so much fun that week. Not perfect. A little rushy in stadium, sometimes a little unfocused on XC. But she ate up all the XC fences way more than the year before, also a product of the improvement in my riding. Our instructor had us working off a 3ft bank the first day and McKinna casually sent herself down the drop without a second glance, and we'd never schooled real drops.

You get the idea. She's just a blast, and so willing, and such a cute jumper.

But dressage is more difficult on her, and galloping would be too. She's also somewhere in her mid to late teens. I don't know if that means much, but it means something. I know horses compete into their 20s, but not every horse does. Am I wasting some of her good competing years by not actively riding her? Would I be putting the soundness of her joints in danger by introducing the additional pounding of consistent jump schooling and galloping?

Pandora is younger and generally more shaped for galloping. Not that that means much, at my level. She's level-headed and in general a fantastic horse for a learning kid like me to figure stuff out on. Not perfect, but so far I can muddle through our problems without too much suffering. I'm impressed every day by how cheerful and friendly she is - even more than McKinna, who can get act grumpy sometimes in the winter. She's bay, which is a hell of a lot easier to keep clean! In a year of schooling we've come a long way, especially given all the out-of-whack body issues we had to deal with.

So it's just hard to find time for both of them. The priority goes to Pandora, obviously, since McKinna is my mom's horse. These are just the kinds of things I worry about - I don't want to waste any talent! And I also have a huge loyalty to McKinna, who was my primary mount for a year or so and who has always been there for me when I need a partner for my next intrepid adventure. I just have to tell myself to chill out a little bit, I think. I doubt either of them particularly cares if they explore the extent of their abilities.

I guess I just needed to get that out there a little bit. Like I said, it's certainly not a bad problem to have, and I'm not trying to complain (too much). Just thinking, uh, out loud. In text?

Finally, here's a bit of brainstorming about goals I'd like to take care of this year.

I picked up Practical Eventing, by Sally O'Connor, while I was in Portland. It's a fantastic book. I'm not all the way through with it, but it lays out systematic training systems from a green horse through Preliminary three-days. It also has detailed conditioning schedules for each level.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to do a similar map for our year, to include the usual monthly goals but also a really broken-down schedule to follow. I always think it's easier if I can look at the calendar and it tells me what I'm supposed to do today, so that might help me keep rolling. My ultimate goal is to master Novice and perhaps begin to school Training by the end of the year. I'd like to compete Novice at Inavale's June HT, but that's more a function of my summer finances than anything!

To get there, I want to take REGULAR dressage lessons, 2 - 4 a month for several months if possible. I've been talking about needing a sustained push to bring us to the next level, and that's what I'll do.

I need to school fences at home more regularly, so I'll make it a goal to do that at least three times a month. Once a week would be better, but I'll settle for an achievable goal and make it more ambitious later if I can.

Pandora has been having some rushing problems on XC lately, but it's not just fence-related. I've talked about this before - she seems very anxious, even when just cantering without jumping any fences, so I've decided the solution is to take her XC schooling a couple times on my own. We haven't had much of that, because every time we're on XC it's in a lesson format. Which is good, but I think we may have fried her little brain a bit. My goal is to take her schooling to at least two different places (probably Make Your Mark and Inavale) to calmly and quietly trot and canter over all kinds of fences until she relaxes. Knowing Pandora as I do, I really think this will solve the majority of our rushing issues and allow her to feel confident about XC.

I want to pass my C2 rating this summer. At this level, most fences are 3'. Your position is expected to be rock-solid at all times, and you should be developing an independent seat (that is, able to influence your horse independently of what he/she is doing); your courses should be very rhythmical and coordinated. You do a little longeing, and all horse management knowledge deepens as usual. I'm not at the C2 level right now, but I think getting there in six months is very achievable for me.

How about goals for myself? I've started taking rider fitness more seriously, ever since I rode in that clinic and was so exhausted from the morning ride that I couldn't hold things together on XC. (I'd also been sick that whole week, but still.) I started running twice a week this term, but next term I'd like to bump that up to working out 3 and then maybe 4 times per week - not necessarily running, but something. I have easy access to the rec center, which is nice. I also have a couple yoga and pilates workout videos, which for me is awesomely convenient.

And, finally, I want to clean my darn tack more often! I have established the habit of cleaning my bit in Pandora's water bucket after every ride, and this summer I was actually wiping down all my tack with a damp rag after I rode (until it got so freaking cold I didn't want to deal with the water). I'm going to bring a sponge out and get back in that habit. And also make it a point to bring everything home at least once a month for a more thorough cleaning.

So there's some outlines. I have other, more specific goals in mind, but this is what's on my mind for now.

Tell me what your goals are! I love hearing about goals.


Deered said...

A question for Pandoras rushing - does she rush or get unsettled when you gallop her at xc pace for a while? Some horses find the pace a little difficult to hold in a balanced fashion if they are not doing it regularly.

I also found that it was often eaiser to get the horses to settle if you were able to work then at the ideal pace without jumping then jump over 2-3 xc fences while keeping that same gallop/canter rythm going. Another book you may find interesting is Andrew Nicholsons book on eventing training. I can't remember the title, but hes a fantastic xc rider and has a lot of helpful tips in there

Andrea said...

A girl after my own heart! I am itching to get the goals all laid out and I've been a little down lately given the injury and my loss of training time. BUT, it's time to get everything sorted... blog post coming soon!

And I have GOT to get my hands on that Practical Eventing book!!

manymisadventures said...

Deered - it doesn't seem to be triggered by anything other than getting out on the XC course. She wants to blow through my outside aids and run. Not crazy bolting, but she wants to go, in an anxious sort of way. She rushes the last few strides before a fence, jumps poorly, and REALLY wants to dig in and take off on the landing side.

When I school fences I will try establishing a steady rhythm and then keeping it over some fences. And I'll take a look at Nicholson's book!

Andrea, you and I are on the same page, needing to be organized and goal-driven :) It's gotta be so hard dealing with her injury, but I'm excited to see what you guys get to do in the coming year.

My version of Practical Eventing is the original, 1980 version. From my quick Amazon search it appears the Revised Edition is actually more expensive and harder to find, but there's one for $30 used.

Albigears said...

I have the two horse dilemma too. I have my young 4-year-old eventing prospect, and my 17-year-old warmblood gelding who just doesn't get the attention he used to. I'm considering taking an ad out on Craigslist and seeing if someone would want to lease a big Friesian cross trail horse with the condition he stays at my barn. The problem is that though he is very obedient and excellent on trails, he has a huge trot that you HAVE to post. Not for beginners or western riders who are used to sitting. The other problem is that I have control issues and want to be in charge of him.
My goals are to go as far as I can with my horse given the situations that we're in presently. One is that I'm unemployed at the moment. The horse is at a facility with no indoor, so conditioning in the spring will depend on weather and footing.
But, if everything goes well, I'm planning on taking him to the schooling shows and derbys in the area. If I get a job, maybe even our very first (his AND mine) recognized event at BN! I guess that's the ultimate goal. A "real" event. :)

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