Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Tuesday Night Brawl brawl is a bit overkill but man what a lesson last night turned out to be. I'm more sore today than I think I've ever been after a ride. I'm sure Leonard is tired too. It ended up being a private lesson which was a good thing. It also ended up being 1 hour 20 minutes long!!  Private lessons are generally 45 minutes and we worked for every single second of that 80 minutes. Phew. 

 The absolute coolest thing with my riding right now is that for the first time ever I'm seeing real, actual progress. I'm no longer hearing the same corrections as I was two months ago. Sure, there are lots of things to work on, but at least they aren't the same things. The same is true for Leonard. After decades of constantly working on the same thing with the same horse and never really seeing any progress, I'm now working in a program and with a horse who is learning. It is really freaking awesome. 

Leonard would like you to know that he had a near death experience right before the lesson started

This does lead to some...moments...though. Last night was one super large moment. 

The lesson started out really good. Lenny was softer than he has been in a little while, his balance was better from the start and we got A+s for our lateral work. In fact, the warm up went so well that EN decided it was time to move on to new territory: adjustability. 

She set two ground poles at 4 strides. I was familiar with this exercise from Eeyore though the goal was to always hit the same striding, we never worked on changing that striding as we went through. Last night the goal was just that: adjust the canter to get a set number of strides. We began by cheating a bit, going to his easier right side first.  He picked up the right lead super easy and we got the 4, we came back around in a more collected canter to get 5, then finished by cantering around a final lap to hit the 4 again. The goal for me was to start to feel the difference between the two canters to predict if we would get it right. 

Two baby goats were hanging by the arena. Leonard was both fascinated and extremely scared

EN had warned me that this was tricky and we may not get it right. When we did it perfectly she was shocked. I was grinning like a fool about to feel her pride get crushed by incompetence. What is the saying? Pride cometh before a fall? Something from Shakespeare along those lines. 

Both Leonard and I were feeling pretty peacock like in our ability to hit that exercise out of the park. We were also both huffing pretty hard. I don't recall ever having cantered that much in years. We took a short walk break then turned to repeat the exercise to the left. Oh man was this hard. 

The moment he braved taking a sniff, the little turd head butted him in the face! 

First it took three tries to even get the left lead. The first time through was fine. We had to get the 4 which is easy for him. Then we were to get 5. We never did manage it. It was a combination of a lot of things but mostly I wasn't getting my aides working properly and then he began to get tired as we cantered and cantered and cantered and cantered. You get the point. After the last pole I was to start collecting him which actually wasn't the hard part. He listened quite well to that. The issue became the turn to the exercise. The arena is pretty narrow. The poles were set just on the inside of the quarter line which made the turn off the short side a bit tight especially for me and Leonard. Leonard also tends to tire easily going left, making turns harder to balance this direction. 

We'd be coming in to that turn fine but then he'd drop a bit on the forehand while cutting the corner which stalled us a bit. I'd then put my leg on but he'd open up so then I'd half halt right before the first pole which several times led to him breaking to trot through the exercise. He also tended to leave a bit early over the first pole then use that as an excuse to open up and reach through the exercise to always end up getting 4 strides seemingly no matter what I tried before or during. I know that my timing wasn't good enough for the half halt plus I wasn't getting the feel of adding leg enough. We tired it several times but things started to get less organized with each passing until it got a bit out of control the final time through and I lost all brakes. 

Gemmie has been coming in from the pasture sweaty. For a mare who barely sweated through all her endurance competitions, this was concerning. I purchased some clippers to give her some relief. Wyatt thought it looked fun and asked to help. 

Looking back, I think Leonard was just plain tired by that point. We had cantered longer than ever before plus he doesn't do well mentally with drilling. He really likes getting things correct so the longer we went the more peevish he became. Anyway...we finally stopped that exercise and moved on-ish. By this point Leonard was pretty tense and no longer really listening to me much. We tried a different exercise, but again looking back I think we should have moved on to something completely different at this point. Oh well...learning is part of the game. 

The next exercise built off the first. We were to come over the poles, 4 strides was fine, then make the short side turn to come over the diagonal 4 stride line of cross rails. Ugh. This was ugly. We came over the poles but Leonard flipped me the bird after the second and decided to porpoise instead. I freaked a bit and pulled instead of pushed forward so the turn was unbalanced and ugly. It was only 2-3 strides down the short side until I needed to turn again for the line. I still didn't have him in front of my leg or listening which led to another ugly turn then flying through the combination. We manage to go over and get the 4 but it was awful feeling plus I had no brakes on the backside. Both Leonard and I were feeling frazzled. 

Since I was doing a pretty awful job, I handed the clippers to him. He did better than I had

EN took note. She had us drop way back down to basics. We walked. She had me randomly pick fences to walk over. He wasn't allowed to trot, jig or jump. We just wanted a forward walk, picking over the jump like a log on the trail, then calmly walking on to another random jump. It took about 3 or 4 jumps for him to calm down again. We spent about 10 minutes doing that then picked up the trot and repeated the exercise. He remained focused, soft, and forward. I could feel his brain kick back in. 

We ended by trotting into a single crossrail on the diagonal, cantering away, then cantering the 5 stride outside line. He remained soft the entire time. 

For having only been clipped once in her entire life, back in 2016, she stood perfectly still for the entire thing. She is the best mare. She is also now much more comfortable, no longer sweaty, and even cantering around the pasture again. 

It was a good, if hard, lesson. Not only did I learn a new tool with working on adjustability in the canter, I also learned a valuable lesson about both Leonard and I. We both get frazzled when working on something new that we don't get correct. In the future I will need to pay more attention to this and request that we move on earlier before his brain gets fried. 



  1. I think the best mindset to have when working on something new and hard, for both you and the horse, but especially the horse, is to reward effort. It’s not easy to get a new thing right on the first try, and it is unrealistic to expect it. Horses don’t know the “correct” answer except when we reward them. Pats, “good boy”s and small breaks if he is starting to struggle are ways of acknowledging try while continuing to work on a new skill, which will also help keep a horse from burning out with repetition. It also keeps the whole thing from feeling like drilling. The end result is a horse tries harder because they understand that they are on the right track, that at least some of what they are doing is what you want.

    It sounds like EN could have given both of you breaks to process and re-set between exercise repetitions. I personally don’t like that she didn’t let you develop the desired canter *before* having you approach the poles. It’s normal to want to do a large circle or two before approaching a grid so you can give yourself time to develop the gait and rhythm that you want before tackling the exercise. A circle can also be done if you’re coming off of one section of the exercise and need more time to reorganize before proceeding into the second part of the exercise (or second fence, etc.) I think that would have helped with your timing issues: it sounds like EN was having you go straight to the fences while trying to adjust Leonard on the way there.

    Good job on recognizing that it’s ok to advocate for your horse in the future.

    - Paula Anderson

    1. This is a great comment and I agree. Horses often learn faster from a well timed release/break than they do from a ton of repetition. Sounds like Leonard is a willing and honest horse with a lot of try so if you're both feeling frustrated, it may be time to re-evaluate.

    2. Paula - I agree. We needed a break as things were not getting better with each pass. As I've worked with Leonard more I've learning what he needs to succeed and I am not sure this program suits him. We will see.