Tuesday, December 30, 2008

January: Outline, and Week 1

Did a little more clicker work last night. The light bulb's flickering, but it's not on yet. I think I will go back to target work with her in her stall, which is open across most of the top half. That way she can reach over easily to target and receive treats, but she can't get distracted or crowd me. When I tried it the other day it seemed to work very well to keep her focused. Lack of light bulb aside, she's still intrigued by the concept.

Here's my outline for January: as I mentioned, this is Dressage month.

January goal: Develop a steady and relaxed w/t/c with some degree of push from behind. Also establish and maintain smooth bend, shoulder-in, and correct leg yields.

I've mapped out the month and designated riding days and so on, to hopefully keep me on track (I am awful about actually getting my butt in the saddle in the winter). So here's Week 1:

Today 12/30
Free longe. I've a friend coming over, so not much time for riding.

Wednesday 12/31
Ride. Keep her off the forehand by keeping my upper body back and legs beneath me, and be firm with the outside rein. Don't rely too much on inside rein. INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN. INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN. Alternate between carrying and stretching, do plenty of circles.

Thursday 1/1
Clicker work (10 - 15 mins of target work in stall), then ride. Much of the same: stay off the forehand. Lots of circles and serpentines.

Friday 1/2
PC lesson. She'll focus mostly on flatwork with some light jumping at the end, which is perfect. AVOID THE CHAIR SEAT. Keep shoulders up and back.

Saturday 1/3
Ellen lesson! This will be flatwork at our own barn. Get more evaluation and assessment to figure out what to work on, though it will probably be much of the same: relax, stay off the forehand.

Sunday 1/4
Either a light, short ride or just a longeing session. Probably the latter, since I'll have to be preparing for school to start the next day - boo.

So there we have it! I'll check in with a lesson report later, then report back at the end of the week for a review and an outline of Week 2.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009 Goals

Time to plan some things out for 2009. I do things best by working backwards -- deciding where I want to be at the end of my time with Pandora and then figuring out what I need to do to get there. So I just mapped out a basic calendar for 2009 with a couple key eventing stops along the way, though it'll get filled in more as I find out when shows and things are.

Dressage to the max! January will be the month of flatwork, flatwork, flatwork. Time to get the girl up off her forehand and really working from behind.

This will be a month of working intensively on things at home. I'll haul out for a couple lessons, but the focus will be on making lots of progress in our own arena. I also plan to spend a lot of time exploring clicker work and seeing how I can use it to resolve issues we come up against.

However, the main focus will always be dressage this month.

There's a Pony Club show on the 31st that we will attend.

The month to ramp up our jumping skills. I have several books that are full of grids, patterns, and exercises, so it's time to start using them. We'll do some free-jumping, do lots of gridwork, and practice smooth courses.

I plan to take her to one or two PC jumping lessons. I would like to haul her somewhere to practice some jumping schooling on my own, but there are several PC clinics this month, so that may not be feasible.

There is also another PC dressage lesson which we'll go to, just to make sure our flatwork is still up to par.

A return to flatwork! There's a PC dressage lesson on the 1st and another PC show midmonth, which will be a good place to check progress. This month I will be focusing on flatwork as it specifically applies to jumping: smooth balanced turns, rating at all three gaits, obedience to the leg. In general, I want to spend this month truly sharpening her response to the aids -- clicker work may come in very handy here.

There's also a Showjumping Rally late in the month - definitely a possibility, but we'll see how things are going.

Time to start thinking about XC, as soon as the weather turns and courses are open for schooling. This will be the month for putting miles on Pandora: lots and lots of riding down quiet roads in the area, trailering to places for real trail rides, and just getting out of the arena.

Since May is when things start heating up, we might relax a little more this month, too. This would be a good time to really shore up weak areas in Pandora's training and behavior if she has any, especially with clicker work. April would be a good month for playing with obstacle courses and similar things, as well.

I plan to ride in a Combined Test at Inavale. Things should be going smoothly by this point. This month will probably have an emphasis on lessons -- I'll take advantage of the weekly PC jumping lessons offered. Can't forget the flatwork, of course.

It's a bit hard to know exactly what I'll do this month since it's so far out! Since June is such a big month, we'll probably just work on whatever it is that needs an extra boost.

June is competition month! Inavale will have Eventing Derbies on the 6th and 7th, though I may not make it to them because this is right around the end of school and I remember being very busy around this time last year.

However, Inavale's annual Horse Trials is the 26th through the 28th. This is my major focus point for the year. It's most likely that we'll run Beginner Novice, but if we blaze through the year and I manage to put a ton of riding time in, it's possible that we could go Novice.

According to my Pony Club's website, there's an Eventing camp from the 17th through the 20th. Dunno anything about it, but if it's local and not too expensive, that would be an excellent way to prepare for the Recognized HT.

So basically, June will be focused around these things!

It's likely that sometime in June it will be time to start preparing to sell Pandora. Therefore, I'm pretty unsure what July will hold. Taking her to a show or two, if I can find them. Advertising, advertising, advertising. It really all depends on how the rest of the year goes.

Ideally, Pandora will be happy and competing in a new home by this time!

The later it gets in this calendar, the less sure I am of things, of course. These are more like guidelines -- and they're pretty ambitious guidelines -- but it gives me something to work off of.

To finish, here's a few non-time-specific goals for the year:
  • Get Pandora accustomed to many different riders, so that after a brief adjustment period she is comfortable under a strange rider. This should be pretty easy to accomplish in Pony Club, since catch riding is an important part of things anyway.
  • Use clicker work to establish a wicked solid "come" command. I mean, really. Who doesn't want a horse that gallops up and stops politely in front of you from a whistle??
  • Develop an "old hat" personality about shows -- I think that without too much work, Pandora can easily become a "been there, done that" relaxed type of horse.
So there we have it. Let's see how things turn out.

Dressage Lesson 12/28

Took Pandora to a PC dressage lesson today. She was anxious at first but settled down pretty well, no major spooks or anything. The lesson gave me some very solid ideas of areas to work on with her -- so far I've just been kind of puttering around, trying to figure her out and help her figure me out.

The trainer wants me to work on getting her off her forehand. Since she tucked behind the vertical so much when I first got her, I'd been encouraging leaning forward into my hands. Which helped get rid of her anxious tucking....but led to leaning and running on the forehand!

So we worked a lot on bringing my upper body back so I don't add my weight to her forehand. I also need to stop letting her take the reins and lean on them; she told me to really be steady and solid with my outside rein to keep her from leaning on the forehand, then ask her to bend with my inside rein but then relax so she doesn't curl her nose, all while using my inside leg to support.

It certainly made her anxious and a little frustrated -- she's a bit of a perfectionist and tends to get nervous when she's not sure what we're doing -- but we made some progress and I could feel her starting to understand what I was asking.

I liked that the trainer had plenty of balance between asking for her to come up off her forehand and allowing her to stretch in a free walk or trot. As she pointed out, it's the "carry, relax, carry, relax" that will help Pandora to become supple and strong.

I felt like it was a very constructive lesson.

Pandora's been having a little loose stool lately - not every pile is loose, but some are. I think it's because she accidentally got some alfalfa yesterday, so I'll keep an eye on her, but she seems to be feeling fine.

Haven't had a chance to play with the clicker again yet. I'm going to go make a new and improved target now (we have a dog ball-throwing stick that got pretty beat up, so I'm going to duct tape a dead tennis ball to the end) and do another 20-minute session with her tomorrow. She responded so well the first time that I think we'll be able to take this pretty far.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Started doing some clicker work today -- I've been meaning to do it forever.

I'm interested to see how this goes, because I feel like she's the perfect horse to do this work with. Very intelligent, eager to please, but sometimes gets a bit anxious about doing the right thing. I really feel that the positive reinforcement and mental engagement will work well with her.

I started with targeting, as is pretty typical for doing this with horses. Worked for maybe 20 minutes total, split up into 3 or 4 sessions. For lack of a more convenient object I used an orange traffic cone, but I've got plans for a less unwieldy target next time.

By the end of the whole session she knew exactly what she was doing and would stretch high or low to touch the cone for her reward. I left her hungry for more! Next time we'll spend more time targeting and start increasing the time she must touch it before getting a click/treat.

No pictures with the cone, unfortunately, but I'll get some tomorrow.

I'm going to take this as far as she tells me she wants to go. She really enjoyed it today (she got loads of treats for touching a big orange cone, who wouldn't enjoy it?!) and I think clicker work will provide a fun break from schooling under saddle.

Brief outline of the main areas I want to address with the clicker as we go along.

The first one is to help her develop a solid understanding of what it is that we're doing by picking easy and relaxed behaviors to reinforce.
  • Targeting
  • Relaxing while hooves are handled (she's still a little tense about the hind legs)
  • Head Down
  • Carrot stretches
Then we'll move to ground manners. After doing in-hand obstacle relay with McKinna, I will never underestimate the value of a supremely obedient horse. Pandora leads well, but I want to really fine-tune her ground work.
Ground Work
  • Leading on the off side (she leads, but not confidently)
  • Turn on the forehand (already does pretty well)
  • Turn on the haunches (knows, but not well)
  • Sidepass
  • Backing (she is slow and slightly resistant to backing up)
Then we'll move to playing with spooky things just for the fun of it.
Spooky Things
  • Tarps
  • Plastic bags, plus cans inside later
  • Balloons
  • Costume (I have my Batman horse/rider costume still!)
  • Ropes/restraint (staying calm about ropes around legs, etc)
Then, if we get through all of that and it's still going well, I'd like to add in clicker work under saddle, probably beginning with sharpening transitions and gait quality.

These are more like ideas I've set down for myself -- just areas of interest to explore with her. To me, clicker training is just another tool to have in the toolbox, and I want to try it on Pandora.

I'm taking Pandora to a Pony Club dressage lesson on Sunday, which should be fun. It's at the same place as the very first schooling show we went to, so I'm not worried about spookiness at all. She's much more fit these days, thanks partly to frequent free-longing in the arena (not much turnout lately, sigh) so we should be able to get a lot out of the lesson.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Update 12/16

I know, I know - it's been ages. College does that to a girl.

Talked about the chiro work over on my main blog.

It really worked wonders for her. She's smoother, more relaxed, doesn't clamp her tail whenever you touch her hind end. Her canter has improved massively as well. It's actually about time to have him out again, I'm starting to see a little stiffness in her hind end again -- she's just not reaching under herself as far as she has been. Doesn't concern me much, as she still had so many issues last time that I figured it would take another session or two until she's 100% on track.

Her weight is excellent. She's getting six [big] flakes of hay per day (I really need to weigh one to get an idea of how much they weigh), Ultium, vitamins, and a little beet pulp. She's shiny, soft, and happy.

Awhile back I bought a 5" D-ring Happy Mouth Mullen Mouth bit. (Say that five times fast.) She really seems to prefer it over the double-jointed french link I used earlier. Her head fussing has faded a lot with me, to where she gives me a lovely contact most of the time. She fusses when she gets nervous, but it's far less pronounced, and to be fair I've only ridden her maybe ten or twelve times in the past couple months. When my mom got on her the other day, the mouthing was more pronounced, which tells me that I need to get more riders on her so she's comfortable with more than just me.

Weather permitting, I should be taking a lesson on her tomorrow evening. I feel like she's fit enough that a lesson won't be asking too much, and I feel like she's ready to try a little low-level jumping just so we can see what we have to work with.

In short, all is going well. Weight is excellent, temperament is mind-bogglingly good considering she's been stuck inside for more than a week, under-saddle work is improving. Hooves are great, stiffness fades as I work her more consistently but I think I'll aim for a chiro visit sometime next month. She's been a pleasure to work with, and I'm really impressed that she's stayed so calm while being cooped up. You can tell she wants so badly to get out and run (and she does, when we let them loose in the arena) but she is never pushy. Definite plus.

I'm going to try some clicker work with her tonight, probably on backing up since she dislikes backing. I'm curious to see her reaction when she catches on.