Friday, December 9, 2016

An Overview of the Year's Learning

Looking back is part of looking forward.
Training is cyclical. How often have we heard that? How often do we, as riders, have to be reminded of that?

Over the last year, I've dealt with a multitude of physical and emotional training issues. Some related to my horse's age, and some to his personality. Resolving each issue took a comprehensive look at how our training at developed to that point, where we wanted to go, and what approaches had worked in the past.
Strengthen that stifle!
At the start of the year, we were working on developing Pig's confidence. He was struggling after dealing with significant arthritis and fitness challenges following the layup for his broken splint bone. The pain and instability of the stifle joints broke his trust in his own ability, and led him to act up defensively under saddle. With steroid joint injections, estrone injections, careful strength building work, and a low pressure approach to more advanced work, he started to blossom just in time for our spring show season.
Staying relaxed and happy in the first show of the year.
Photo by PICSOFYOU.COM
Early summer saw me start to put on the pressure again. We started schooling a lot of counter canter work, and shifting his balance further and further back. The low and round confidence building work of the early part of the year went by the wayside as we worked on developing half steps and a canter suitable for 4th level.

All that pressure came to a head in the late summer, when Pig's stress levels began to become unmanageable. I took a look at our intense schooling schedule, and realized we were due for a bit of a break. I backed off the pressure considerably, taking more hacks and working on building our relationship back. An August clinic with Stephen left me with a plan to return to lower and rounder work again, improving Pig's confidence and strength.
Lower and rounder, all the time.
With relaxation once more accessible, I again put on the training pressure. We showed in early September, displaying some of our best work (though not best scores) yet. Through relaxation, we were able to turn in good work for the level. I began thinking about pushing the training envelope again, this time aiming to work on the multiple changes needed for 4-1.
So. Uh. Not these.
Photo courtesy of Jan's husband.
Keeping an eye towards the relaxation work which had helped us, I tried to ensure we continued to work in plenty of confidence building sessions. I only worked high pressure one day a week, the rest of the rides focused on the basics of connection and throughness. We began to steadily improve, but the collection work was hitting a snag.
But that relaxation, tho.
Photo by Redline Photography
Another ride with Stephen in October pointed out a misunderstanding in my training when it came to support and outside aids in turning. Stephen pointed out Pig's need to be more responsible for his own balance. We worked on turning off the inside aids, and fluctuating the amount of support I would offer. The immediate result was a drunk looking horse, sullen from lack of direction. As we worked forward, I began to be able to improve the balance without having to feel like I was holding the whole horse together. Unfortunately, at that point Pig's old age reared it's ugly head with more force.
Pig demonstrating "force" with Stephen aboard.
Pushing Pig for more collection was starting to be greeted with disobedience. It was clear his stifle was paining him again, and he began slipping more in regular work. His fitness was good, but it was time for injections or pain relief again. I put him on Previcox and we kept pushing. The disobedience continued.

At Thanksgiving, I had Pig's stifle injected again. He seemed more comfortable immediately, but his defensive reactions continued. I began to brainstorm…
Outthinking the stressed out thoroughbred is tough business.
Putting his head down relaxed him, and unlocked his back. However, he could only shift his balance back so far with his neck so round. Remembering a tidbit from a clinic I had audited early in the year, I decided to try lifting his head and neck when asking for collection. To avoid stressing Pig with the change in frame, I would lift his frame and immediately ask for collection. Then I would lower the frame to keep him relaxed. We would repeat this process until we found a place where his frame could be lifted and he could step under himself further. Alternating between raising and lowering the frame helped keep Pig's shoulders lifted, too. A pleasant byproduct.
Lift those shoulders!
Photo by Redline Photography
This work has been going on for a short time now, with good results. I'm sure this approach won't work forever, but it's a new tool coming from a hybrid of approaches that have worked for us in the path. I am excited to see where it leads! Maybe we might make it to 4th level after all!

What training concepts made the rounds in your program last year?

20 comments:

  1. You guys have had such a big year; in competition, learning, and the ups and downs of managing an older performance horse. I love reading about all of your insights, as always, and you inspire me to keep at it with my own old guy!

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  2. You guys have stayed busy. Annie and I have had our share of ups and downs. I've been lately just trying to get her to go loose and low without bracing. She's gonna get a good break while I'm visiting my family though :)

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    1. Oh breaks are so good! I always feel like they work things over in their heads over breaks. :)

      Pig struggled hard with learning to put his head down. His natural carriage is pretty high, so any request to change his frame used to be greeted with quite a bit of resistance. I find if I coax him gently, we eventually work through the tension to get a good lower frame. The first steps in the warm up are never that relaxed, though.

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  3. Huge training year of many gains. Can't wait to see how 2017 improves y'all... may the 4th be with you.....

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    1. The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is. ;)

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  4. It's all in the mental (rider) flexibility. You guys inspire us.

    And dash my hopes and dreams of it all being easy one day.

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    1. Always hard, just starts to seem more manageable after while.

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  5. Pig is such an interesting creature! I'm sure at times it can be frustrating, especially since you are the one doing the logic puzzle and he's just giving you all the pieces but its fascinating the hoops and curves that are navigated to figure it out and putting it all together.

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    1. Well, his name is LOGIC Lane. ;) Sometimes I wonder how much logic really goes into our relationship, though. Haha.

      It's funny. It's always the same answers, but the application or the question is just slightly different each time. There's more nuance as we develop, which both makes things easier AND harder.

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  6. 4th Level! I so appreciated you answering all my questions and giving advice to manage Riva's arthritis this past year. You two are our inspiration!

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  7. This was a great thought process through your training of the year. Thank you for the insight!

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  8. Confidence is my #1 theme. Believing in yourself is the single-most powerful training aid I've found!

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    1. It really is! So interesting to have to develop confidence not only in yourself, but your equine partner.

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  9. such a tricksy business finding that sweet spot where the horse can be relaxed but working well too.

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  10. You are managing a sassy, mentally special TB goals, my friend. Bobby and I aspire to you.

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    1. I think you're pretty good at managing the mental. ;)

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