The last several weeks have been hit or miss when it comes to barn time. It seems that every time I want to get to the barn to work with Sig, something gets in the way: work, weather, lack of daylight, frozen or flooded footing, more crappy weather, more crises at work. He has had a very sporadic training program at best, which is not ideal for young horses. Not that he needs to be working a lot or working hard (I keep telling myself: HE’S THREE!!!), but I like for him to be doing a little bit, maybe 20 or so minutes four to five days a week. Enough to be a routine. Enough to build off. Not so much that we tax his growing body or attention span.
But despite all that, he is making noticeable progress. My focus has been on hacking, and while we’re hacking out building strength over the gentle hills around the property, I’ve been trying to educate him more about moving forward off the leg and up into the bridle. I have been getting him more confident in the contact. Before he would just tuck his nose in and pose (a neck and head position only), whereas now he’s really starting to lay a more classic/correct foundation. He is starting to connect the dots, and when I put my leg on now, he is not only stepping forward and getting softer through the topline, he is also starting to want to take that contact down and offer some stretch. It’s a whole body position, instead of just tucking his nose in and posing.
The last week or so I’ve been able to get on him a couple times a week more consistently, and because of the extremely wet weather, we’ve had to do a lot more ring work than I usually like to do because it’s just too wet to hack. Sig has been a total champ and doesn’t mind, though. And as a silver lining, almost overnight he started to ride like a much more educated horse in the ring. We ride straight lines, we don’t completely blow out through the shoulder or hind end around circles….he just is riding more and more like a “normal” horse and not a baby. And hot damn does he feel awesome!
"Inside leg to outside rein" is his new Jesus, and I am 100% here for that.
"Inside leg to outside rein" is his new Jesus, and I am 100% here for that.
Here’s a video from very early on (December 17, 2017), where he was in Soon’s old bridle. Between the couple weeks off from work, the loose ring snaffle which was probably too busy for his mouth (for now anyway), and the headstall that wasn’t really giving him enough room behind the ears, he started off extremely fussy and not wanting to come forward or stay steady on the contact. And when I say on the contact, I don’t mean “on the bit.” At three, I’m not so concerned where his head is, just that he’s coming forward, tracking straight, and I can feel both sides of his mouth. If his nose is poked out, that’s completely fine. Again….three year old.
But it felt like he didn’t like or feel confident in any kind of contact, and was constantly looking to be above it or below it (doesn’t look as bad on the video as it felt when we initially started):
Here’s a video from January 11. I had switched him into a Micklem headstall, as he liked the extra room behind the ears, and his busy mouth seemed to like the dropped noseband effect it offered (he had been in a similar rig in Kentucky so was used to it). I also switched him into a rubber French Link Dee; he had been in a rubber D before, and he probably could use a little extra support on the turns from the stable D. He’s starting to understand the forward into the bridle, but it hasn’t really clicked with him yet in this video. He’s still a bit tight through the body and straight/not falling out are really tough. At least we got the equipment right and were headed in the right direction:
And here’s the video from today. Again, the extra ring work has paid off as the lightbulb went on and he has been feeling super on the flat. He’s looser and more relaxed through the body, he’s more confident on the contact and even offers to be on the bit (or close to it) somewhat consistently. I try not to ask for him to be round, for the most part he just starts going that way when I apply my inside leg and push him into my outside rein. He does occasionally get above the contact or just behind it by dropping his poll, which I have to correct by keeping his outside shoulder straighter with my outside aids.
He has a short neck so it’s deceptively easy for him to get behind the vertical, so in general I like him to be longer and lower with his nose poked out and just focus on him being relaxed and in rhythm. Which is a difference I’m seeing from the early videos to today’s video: earlier on he’d tuck his nose and pose in a shorter/higher frame, but now he’s a little bit longer in the outline and you can see the positive improvement across his entire body as he's starting to push a little more behind and let go a little across the back.
This wasn’t even the good part of the ride; just before I asked for the video he was really feeling loose, stepping well from behind and was very consistent in the bridle. We lost a little bit of that after the short video request break, and the mare long lining in the adjacent ring started trotting around which was slightly distracting. But all in all, looking at the earlier videos to today, I see a noticeable difference in his whole body, which is exciting. Baby steps!
He is great over the poles, I'm going to start making more complicated ground pole exercises to keep him thinking. He also cantered yesterday for the first time since he arrived, and of course he was totally perfect. I've just avoided cantering for awhile until we get a little stronger and better balanced. We'll be adding a little more canter work from now on. I plan to start jumping again in probably mid-late March and doing a bunch of gridwork.
Sig's also been doing great with his groundwork too. He really loves to work, whether it's undersaddle or on the ground. He likes to be engaged, loves being around people, and always wants to please. Lately we've been working on him minding my personal space, instead of constantly being on top of me (I love the love, buddy, but maybe just when I want it thanks!). He is not pushy at ALL, he just is a snuggle bug and probably the one thing he's always known about basic human interaction is that they want you right next to them. Always be next to the human (think leading, some groundwork exercises, etc). So now I'm just trying to teach him I want him next to me sometimes, and sometimes I want him to stay away from my bubble. And it's okay to be outside my bubble, you have your own bubble. And you're totally capable of handling yourself in your bubble.
|"Are you SURE you don't want me next to you??"|
|"...okay that's fine. I'm fine."|
I've talked to him about it on the ground just around the barn, but today was the first real groundwork session focusing on it, and it took him about five minutes to be a total pro. We'll reinforce this with more sessions, but the fact that I was able to drop the rope and walk that far away, and for him to not immediately follow me, is pretty huge. He tries so hard to please and is SO smart!!
I also worked with him on the rope working on getting him to disengage and yield his hindquarters, step under with the inside hind and bend through the body as I come into his space and ask him to move out. Two good trainers on YouTube that help illustrate this, Joseph Newcomb (dressage trainer), and Warwick Schiller:
Just good basic horsemanship tidbits. This is all stuff I've been introducing to Sig and playing with, he really seems to have fun with it and is such a chill dude about everything. I am totally impressed with his brain, his work ethic, his temperament, and his attitude. His personality is just icing on the cake, because it's impossible not to fall in love with this guy. I am so excited about our future!