Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Arena work.. or not.

I am all for taking lessons with various people and keeping an open mind.  I think there's something to be learned from lots of disciplines.  A past jumping trainer of mine has an excellent sense of body awareness and getting me to put myself in the right place - actually, I'm way overdue for a lesson with her! - and there's a local dressage trainer who's been great about addressing whatever issues I've had, giving me something to work on, and sending me off for a few months.  They know where my goals lie and they're happy to work within that to help me achieve them.

I went into the lesson/clinic/thing on Sunday with the hope that it would be a similar experience.  I want to improve Fetti's walk.  I have a zillion trots, two canters - though whether I can choose between a big forwards canter and a prim and proper little one is totally irrelevant here! - and generally a pitiful little walk with no impulsion whatsoever and no motivation to improve it regardless of what I may do to ask it of her.  I've tried nagging with alternate heels.  I've tried pushing with my seat.  I've tried getting off and leading.  I can accept that she may never do a big flying walk downhill, and that walk has improved somewhat since I started her on Cosequin ASU, but goodness!  It wouldn't kill the pony to give me a better walk.  I know she's capable, because she'll do it from time to time, but I absolutely cannot get it on request.

We walked around the arena to warm up.  Fine.  I asked for a little trot.  Hissy fit and mild explosion - she wanted to bolt and buck and run and make it very clear that she did not want to do this.  I was not asking for a frame.  I was not asking for a bigger walk.  I just wanted a trot.  I yelled at her, held her, brought her back to a walk.  Trainer stated that she's mad because I won't let her go forwards.  Um.. okay?  I know this horse.  I'm not letting her go forwards because she wants to bolt and buck.  She won't buck when she's cantering, you say?  She's bucked me off when cantering before.   In hindsight, that's the only time she's bucked me off.

Unfortunately, while I read the pony-tude as meaning "I don't want to work in the arena right now, and I certainly don't want to do it before I finish my breakfast!", the trainer took this as showing a bigger problem.  Not only does Fetti not like arena work, but she's not moving off my leg.  She's resisting the bit!  There must be something in her past - maybe her most recent rides in the arena? - where she had bad arena experiences.

Here's the catch.  When Confetti and I head on the trail, we have an initial discussion where she says she doesn't want to go; then she gets over it, and after that, a verbal cue is often sufficient to ask for a trot.  Sometimes I'll ask with a light leg cue, and occasionally I'll get louder if I am convinced that I'm right in that she should be going faster/a gait up and I'm making a point to overrule her refusal. 

Actually, as I'm typing this out, I'm realizing I probably over-cue in the arena.. but I'm not sure if that's out of necessity, habit, or what.  Hm.
And her most recent real arena work?  That was in dressage lessons with an experienced college student who's likely to do lessons with her again this fall.  Pony was absolutely fine and has no problems with her.  She and I don't do well together in the arena asking for Real Work.  I won't deny that.

Trainer phrased it as me avoiding the problem, though.  I take her on the trail because I don't want to work her in the arena, or at least that was the implication.  We do trail because we LIKE trails.  I don't feel obligated to make my horse want to enjoy arena work when it's not something I particularly enjoy at this point.  Circles?  Meh.  Can we do it?  Yes.  We'll meander in the arena, I'll work in there when other folks are in there on occasion.  I don't feel like I can never go in the arena.  We're just happier out on the trail.  It was simultaneously frustrating and entertaining to have her trying to talk me into doing more arena work.  I know she's looking for more clients, but ugh!  I thought I made my goals pretty clear here... 

There is value in arena work.  Evenings where it's too late to go on the trail, or winter days where it's too muddy or whatever, or some summer days.. we've done some arena work, we'll keep doing more, and Fetti will get herself weekly dressage rides this fall.  Neither of us particularly desires to do a ton of it, and I'm OK with that.  There's a vast difference in gait quality and responsiveness between our arena work and our trail rides.  While our trails are still good and viable, I'd rather work her primarily on the trails and focus on those goals.  This winter, when that's not an option, we'll work in the arena and we'll do more finesse and who knows, maybe throw some flying changes at her if we've fixed my canter issues enough by then.

Back to the goals, though.  I wanted a better walk.  The only improvement on my walk she was willing to make was to ask her to go on the bit and to improve the rhythm.  Speed should come last, she said.  I'm not sure if she understands that I have no impulsion as well, but frankly by that point it didn't matter.  She thought Haflingers were gaited, so my confidence in her as a trainer was pretty well shattered.  It's not like there are no Haflingers in dressage, or that she had no warning of the breed or whatever.  I was just generally so unimpressed.

On a more positive note:  I had a very limited ride time on Tuesday, so we headed out just for the initial flat section.  The way our trails go, it's about a mile and a half of flat trails, then nearly all hill work but varying options from there on out.  We rode about 2.5 miles in total.  Average overall speed: 6.4mph.  We did a Big Trot nearly the whole time, pony broke a bit of a sweat.. that's a ride we can aim to repeat once a week or so.  I am very, very pleased.

Friday, August 16, 2013

More and more tack

I just finished getting my western-y endurance saddle all set up.  New woolback girth, sheepskin seat saver, breastplate that fits the saddle properly.. all sorts of fun stuff, the first two of which I'd been putting off for months.

Then I found a Specialized at a ridiculously reasonable price, I threw the budget out the window, and bought the saddle sight unseen.

I now have a brown Eurolight, fleece seat, with western fenders and dressage billets.

The sheepskin cover won't work - the seat isn't big enough to give me that kind of extra room.  I have a sudden, major incentive to drop weight to make the saddle fit me a bit better.  I pulled my English saddlepads out of my storage box - the lovely, wonderful Woolback pad makes the saddle too narrow.  Two dressage girths came out of the same box, only to find that the 24" girth has buckles a bit too small to comfortably work, and the 22" (I think? It might be even smaller) girth needs a bit more length to comfortably go on.  Neither has D-rings, so I found one on Ebay at a reasonable price that appeared sufficiently small, fuzzy, and equipped with a D-ring in the center.  I bought a nylon D-attachment for the girths at Horse Expo, but that adds 3-4 inches to the length of the breastcollar, which makes it REALLY loose at the bottom strap.

Incidentally, dressage girths do not appear to ever come with D-rings at a moderate price. You start looking at $80-90+ for a 24" piece of material.  Ridiculous.

 I mostly like how the saddle fits the horse.  Nice sweat patterns, moves out well enough.  The one main difference?  She's not offering to trot down every hill, only 50% of them.  I'm baffled.  She's not even trotting down some of that 50% when I ask.  I have no idea if it's a saddle fit issue, or if she finally figured out that I didn't actually want her trotting down all the hills all the time, and now she thinks she's Not Supposed to Trot Down All Hills?  Which absolutely sounds ridiculous, but is a very real possibility.  I'd be a bit happier if she had stuck with the trotting down hills for another few weeks.

I'm hoping to have saddle fit addressed tomorrow, with a dressage trainer who supposedly does all sorts of saddle fitting stuff.  I also have a set of 1/2" pads coming in the mail, and I'll probably order a set of shims to play around with.  The crupper is still engaging on any steep hills, and it would be really nice if I could have the crupper at a normal horse kinda loose setting, and not a pony in hills must be snug setting.

But girths.  Back to girths.  The Ebay girth showed up, clearly brand new in bag but without tags, just as described.  Attached breastplate snugly as per my usual and headed out for a spin.  Everything went well heading out, my position at the canter is clearly not sufficient for her to offer one when I ask, but that's all me and not her.  Our usual loop was blocked by a downed tree; we detoured over to a more hilly out-and-back.  Decent speed heading up the hills, decent heart rate given the heat, and then she took 5 minutes to pulse down to 60 when we paused at our turn-around point.  Granted, we did a Big Trot up the hill to that point, and it was hot - but that was only three miles in, and I'm not sure what to make of that.  Turned around, Big Canter up a hill, walk down, Big Canter up - screech into a spook-at-something-trot - back to a Big Trot when I asked.  Then things started jangling.  Left breastplate attachment, check.  Right attachment, check. Reach down and.. ARGH.  D-ring was no longer attached to girth, only to breastplate.

I have hopes it can be fixed, and I handed it off to my friend with the nice sturdy sewing machine to see if she can work her magic on it, but it's really frustrating to have it break on the first ride out.

Work's been busy, and I haven't gotten in the rides that I was before Fireworks.  I think I'm okay with that.  The focus right now is more on getting that Big Trot more and having her hold it without ramping her HR up to the point where she wants to break to walk.  Our last mile-split before we made it home had a 6mph average.  For us - that is AWESOME to hold that for that long.  Next goal: to get that several times in a ride, in a row would be really nice...

Friday, August 2, 2013

"Any horse can do a 25".

It's something you hear a lot when you're just starting out in endurance - any horse can do a 25-mile ride.  Theoretically, they can do it several months after being Pasture Puffs.

The conclusion I am coming to is that, in fact, not every horse can or should do a 25.  Maybe every Arab could do a 25.  But not every horse.

I'm working hard to keep my admittedly forwards Haflinger in sufficient shape to do a 25 and not quit on me partway through.  Her walk?  Terrible.  Her trot?  Decent, and on flat terrain we could probably comfortably sustain 7mph or so on conditioning rides when I'm asking for it.  I know we got a more forwards trot at the actual ride, so I'm comfortable saying she probably COULD do a bit more.  Get near 10mph, and I'm riding a very extended trot, and not one powered terribly well from behind.  She just doesn't trot that fast.

We're not conditioning on flat ground much, though.  We have a mile/mile and a half of flat trail, but it's also heavily populated by hikers, dogs, and bikes.  Then we have some lovely sections of hills. Same with real rides out here - 25s aren't generally on flat terrain that I'm aware of.  So the pony and I end up booking it on the flat sections, recovering on the downhills (though trotting some in our LDs out of necessity), and power-trotting up the hills as her recoveries allow.

The other thing generally not mentioned, and perhaps that doesn't occur to most folks with Arabs or riding distance already - 5mph isn't slow.  It's a heck of a lot faster than your average trail rider goes.  My rides with friends?  3.5mph or so.  That's not a sustainable pace for a LD.  My 6-7mph trot is Too Fast for them.  Your average trail rider doesn't necessarily want a horse with that much go.

On the flip side, I do have a friend with a horse whose trot is closer to 8-9mph without her pushing him at all.  I think he could probably complete a LD just fine in a few months.  I know they're out there.  But at my little barn, there just aren't that many of them with that much forwards momentum.

Related: I made some point on the AERC facebook earlier this week somewhat to that effect.  I wouldn't buy a Haflinger for endurance.  Would I buy a Haflinger as a lovely all-around horse and do endurance if it seemed suited?  Sure.  I love my pony and enjoy riding her, 'slow' finishes that we may have, and we'll do LDs as long as she's sound and happily completing them.  But looking specifically for my next endurance prospect?  Probably not a Haflinger.