When JJ crawled in bed with me this morning to snuggle, I said, "Hi sweet boy." He replied with a knowing sigh, "I am." So then he got tickle tortured instead of snuggles.
I started off the morning with Drama. Magdalene had worked him a little bit last night for me because my legs were shot after having ridden BB and Sammy, she just essentially exercised him and let him do his stretches, but even with that I could tell that he wasn't starting off fresh and stiff from a whole weekend off, in other words, he felt ready to go, his muscles were there, his framework was ready to go. We went over first and checked out the new fence that is going up on the East side of the arena. Because when he's fresh and not yet in the "zone" with you, he can be a spook, so we check out our surroundings when they've changed where possible. It helps. He was satisfied nothing was going to jump out and get him so then we went right to work with stretching the topline. After nearly three weeks of constant work, I can finally start to feel that his body is loosening and becoming more supple, instead of being that tight and contracted horse that his summer off due to injury left him. Which helps then when I put him to work in his working gaits, I actually have consistent contact with his mouth. Lateral work does the best. After I've put him through an exercise of leg-yeilds, his haunches have come forward, his back comes up and his mouth comes down well into my hands and wishes to stay there. Because I had him so solidly inside of all my aids, I asked him for a medium trot and he lengthened nicely as he powered forward for several strides. It really encouraged me to see this developing in him; lengthening is NOT his strength.
Sammy was absolutely a charm yesterday; he worked hard and was mentally "there" and we stayed communicating the entire time, through the easy things and even still through the more difficult things. Today, on the contrary, I felt he didn't ever show up for work. He wasn't spooked by the new fence and the guys who were putting it up or anything, but during our ride they were packing up to leave and they were driving trucks around the arena as they exited the gate, so he was always aware of their presence. It was a distraction and he wasn't willing to let it go. Also, the cows were moving up towards the arena, so he had his eye on them and their whereabouts as well, and then when the trucks left, the cows came up into the arena to check out the fence. He was also keenly aware of their every move. So this is the ride where the lights are on, but nobody was home, because his focus was elsewhere. Finally after tying to work around it for too long, I parked Sammy and yelled at the cows to scoot on out, with the help of Tipper and her herding expertise. Once the arena was clear and we were all by ourselves, I finally got a little of something from him. He never does anything "wrong" when he's distracted, he doesn't prance, jig, spook, stop or anything like that, he just stonewalls me from affecting him in any way. He wears a hollow frame just in case he wants a quick exit, and keeps the corner of his eye on whatever he wants to keep in his sights and doesn't drop his nose down onto contact; there is no bend and his back is nowhere to be found, making his strides short. Everything about his body, frame and stride shout self-preservation. And this is precisely the moment when I ask myself, do I power through it or clear the arena and try to reset the scene. I chose to reset today. And I got a little work from him at the end, however, nothing near what I got yesterday. We got a few fantastic shoulder-ins, a lot of good engagement from the hindquarters. I didn't do any canter work though, I knew that was going to be a road I didn't want to go down today.
I gleaned a little nugget into Sammy's psyche this weekend from coach Karen. I was helping her to warm-up her mare, Pixie, a little, petite TB. I've only ever seen Pixie ridden by Magdalene during one of her IEA lessons and have heard a few things here and there through the grapevine about this horse. When I got on her to warm up and to have her go over some crossrails, Karen told me she likes a lot of leg, and she doesn't like traffic coming at her face. We were in a very crowded arena with everyone going here and there and everywhere, so it was really hard to keep her out of traffic. Me and my dressage arena are pretty much empty... I've not been accustomed to for some time having to vie for rail space. So when I thought "traffic", I thought to myself just not to try to thread the needle or something between two oncoming horses. Turns out this meant any horse coming at her, even if we were 15 feet apart. So the first time I had her pass a horse, to the inside of this horse, she did a sudden veer towards the inside of the arena and left me hanging over her outside shoulder for a moment. So then, lesson learned, I kept her as best as I could from any head-on traffic. Then a younger rider with obvious lack of arena etiquette came cantering down a line of fences and decided to pull a u-turn right behind Pixie's butt... I didn't see her coming when Pixie launched into a buck and I heard the girl exclaim, "sorry!" I made another mental note that rear traffic wasn't exactly welcome, either.
James Lane Photography
Pixie didn't know me and I certainly didn't know her and she communicated to me as clearly as she could that she needed to a have generous amount of room around her in order for her to feel safe and quiet in this warm-up arena. The second time I rode her for warm-up, I watched around me like a hawk and when horse ahead was approaching me on the rail, I checked my "rearview mirrors" first, and then turned her well to the inside of the arena until we had clear airspace back on the rail again. This second ride was much different, she knew I was watching out for her and she completely relaxed.
So as I have mulled this over and over in my head, I started to see where my approach with Sammy, ie "If I say it's good enough for you to be here, it is, so suck it up and deal with it!" obviously is not helping comfort him. Although I have never beaten him or roughly handled him in any way, I certainly think somebody has in his way-past, and he is reminded of that during my strong leg aid or rein aid during a moment of correction. I don't like it when I ride past another horse head-on, and he veers to the side. I want the horse to be so focused on my aids that there simply isn't another horse passing.
Drama is that way. I could literally run Drama through a fence or over the edge of a cliff because he becomes so engaged in the little things he just simply doesn't look around. He's a very secure horse with his rider. But also on the flip side, Drama just is a terrible (as in, not a natural) jumper, he second-guesses himself and then second-guesses his second-guessing. And when the rider isn't right there telling him which distance to take and how to take it, he takes a wild stab in the dark (which is different every time) and I swear if he jumped things that were solid objects he'd kill himself.
Now that I'm connecting the dots here, I remember trail riding years ago, the difference between him and Blazer, I used to tell this story many times and had nearly forgotten it until now. We'd be along on a trail, just chilling, and there would be a puddle ahead that would take up 9/10ths of the width of the trail. From as far back as we could see it, Blazer was already communicating to me, "There's a puddle up ahead. Just so you know." I would respond, "I know" and continue riding. When we'd get a little closer, he'd start it up again, "So, this puddle. You do see it, right? Just so you know." I'd reply, "I know" and we'd keep going. Then when we'd get right up to this puddle, the conversation would continue, "We're here at this puddle. Would you like me to go through the puddle or around to the side?"
And it wouldn't matter where or how I asked Blazer to navigate the puddle, he was fine with it, but we just had to go through this whole process of communicating about it from as far back as could be seen. It wasn't a good or bad thing, it just was the way it was, he liked to have all this communication/conversation going on the whole time.
Then the next day I took out Drama, same trail, same puddle, he was very young at this time. We'd be chilling, going along, he was practically on auto-pilot as he moseyed along, and I could see this puddle up ahead. First time encounter, same as with Blazer. He did not notice the puddle. We got closer, still no response from Drama, he was just cruising. We came right up to the puddle and only when he actually stepped in it, tripped and nearly fell on his face did he acknowledge that the puddle existed. It was like he woke up and exclaimed, "Oh look! It's a puddle!"
And nothing has changed about his personality to this day. He is completely secure and relaxed when someone else is in control, he is very trusting, almost overly-so. However, just because he's trusting, doesn't make him a simple or straightforward plod. The horse is fascinatingly complex, and he does notice a thousand things at once, which is why he's hard to ride, because he's hard to completely capture. He's like water, and needs all this precisely engineered framework to contain it. When you (as the rider) spring a leak in that framework, he all comes gushing out. I compare him often to the complexity of driving a Formula One car.
Sammy could not be more opposite. Sammy doesn't necessarily trust you, he just allows you to be on his back. If you ask for something reasonable, he doesn't necessarily mind giving it to you. But if you start barking orders, making demands, or in general doing all the talking and no listening, you can just forget it. And while he's trained to the point where he knows he can't misbehave, he settles with the stonewall approach. So you end up with... nothing, hence, the-lights-are-on-but-no-one-answers-the-door kind of thing.
So, all this information is overwhelming my system as I try to process it into what it actually looks like to work with him. And I mean to talk to Karen at a later time to have her explain more in depth what she meant and how that works.
Moving on, my last ride was Big Bird, who was quite relaxed for most of the time. We leg-yeilded a little here and there on the circle. There was something that startled him in one of the corners of the arena and he shot forwards and to the inside, so I used an inside rein to bring him back to earth and circled around to that same spot again. He startled again and did the very same thing, I exclaimed, "You whippersnapper!" before I could catch myself... it just came out. I must be getting old.
As Magdalene rode Gallery tonight, we have been teaching her the shoulder-in, which she is just barely beginning to comprehend the concept that the haunches begin to push and carry instead of just trail somewhere behind. As Magdalene began to ask for engagement from those baby hindquarters of hers, you could see the dispute happening up at Gallery's face as she tried to throw out her nose and pop up into the canter. Magdalene said, "She thinks I want her to canter." So I reminded her that as long as she knows she is not giving the aids for the canter, Gallery's job is to listen to the aids that she knows and to consistently respond to them. If the inside leg meant bend, it still means bend, so dropping her shoulder in and throwing up her nose isn't the right answer. So go back to reestablishing that the inside leg means bend.
Ansley has some of the same problem with Starbucks, but with going up into the canter, he loves to counter-bend and trot-trot-trot-trottrottrot into it instead of a crisp depart. Same thing with the inside leg. If it meant bend back in the trot, and it means bend at the canter, it means stay bent through the transition.
And Kendle, poor Kendle. Abbey has been feeling a little too much of her oats lately and after once or twice of a kid falling off purely on accident, she has now taken to the idea that she can quicken the process and just dump the kid and run off. So at precisely the moment Kendle asked for the trot, Abbey bolts forwards and leaves the arena, Kendle stayed on until they turned the corner up at the barn. I took Abbey back out and longed her, she was really worked up until she realized that she really wasn't in trouble, just more along the lines that she needed to work until she was settled and back to her steady self, once that was accomplished I took her back to the barn. Kendle rode her for a few more minutes while I led her around the barn, and then I told her later I would plan on longeing Abbey in the future first and then keep Abbey on the longe until we got the rest of the arena fence put up.
Cool weather. It turns completely steady school horses into Preakness wannabes. Sigh, can I please have summer back now?
Lastly, my evening still not yet over, I drive over to the Weiss' to trim Luna. It was dark and we worked by flashlight, but got the job done. My first time trimming her since I learned the new trim from the AANHCP certified practitioner, I can definitely see how it will work. I am loving the progress it is making on all of mine.