Friday, October 13, 2017

AL Clinic: We Went, We Bucked, We Jumped.

I geared up for my lesson on Sunday morning and picked up N on our way out - she wanted to come watch and see what kind of insight Anthony had for us. I left quite a bit earlier than necessary, since I wanted to pick up another round bale for the horses at one of the local farms. Thankfully, I didn't need to unload and unhitch the trailer like I had initially thought, so we had even more extra time to spare.

I dutifully asked N to be in charge of video and specifically requested media of any disobedience so I could look at them after the fact. Hilariously enough, N ONLY videoed the exceptionally awful parts of our lesson, haha.

Did someone say "adventure"?
We arrived to the grounds well before my lesson and after bringing Annie in with her haybag, I drug all my tack in and settled it on a saddle rack before watching the remainder of a lesson. A from Spotted Dressage was in town and we caught up over a very slow and drawn out tacking-up process. I mentally took note of Annie pinning her ears at the girth being done up and continued finishing getting ready.

I sat with a large group of friends (N, A, Horse Show Buddy, M) who were there to cheer me and Annie on, and 15 minutes before my lesson, opted to pop Annie's bridle on and start warming up. The lesson that was going on in the ring didn't look like it was coming to a close, but I wanted to be sure I was ready.

Unfortunately, I maybe should have asked the clinician if he was ready for me, because I ended up walking around for 15-20 minutes waiting. I certainly don't mind - the girl in her lesson was struggling with some concepts and Anthony wanted to ensure they finished on a good note. It was alright in the end, because Anthony ended up giving me some exercises to work on and briefly asked a history on Annie while he watched the other rider.

Spoiler alert!
Bannie was SO game for the walk/trot work!
It's a real shame about that canter :(
Not even thirty seconds into our walk work he told me Annie's front left leg stretches over and crosses her front right, causing the front right to short step and thus, giving us some issues with the canter. He told me to play around with what works to get her feeling more bent throughout the turns vs stepping over with her outside front. I did a few things, but couldn't seem to really grasp the exercise on my own. I ended up using my outside rein to "shorten" her outside leg and used my outside leg to try and bulge that inside shoulder back out vs retracting it.

I don't know if that makes any sense, but it seemed to work.

Once the real lesson started, we did quite a lot of rhythm and tempo work. I explained to Anthony about Annie's new cantering issue and the resistance I was getting from it and why I thought she was doing it.

^ This is terrible, but I like to maintain a level of transparency
for my readership and also for me to see progress.
In this video you will see Anthony and I working on slow/fast.
You will see where I get into trouble for continuing to ask Annie to
move out when she already has been ;)

We did a lot of fast/slow trot work and riding the corners as octagons to try and encourage her front right leg to step out more. I was really pleased with Annie during this - she really moved off of my leg and seat aids really well and continued to listen even when the other two horses left and we were the only pair left on the property.

Right away, Anthony nailed me for not using enough outside rein on the right rein - Annie actually tilts her head quite a bit to the inside on this rein and I need to encourage her to bend, but not that much. In addition to that, he probably yelled at me fifteen times to close my fingers. At one point, he told me to "close your fornicating fingers". On the video audio, you can hear my friends trying to decipher what he said and then giggling when they realized he said what they thought he said.

^ Working on a fast/slow response in the canter.
I see a slightly unhappy pony, but this video really
stood out as one that could lead me to believe
this really is a behavioral thing... Hmm.

The interesting thing I learned from the fast/slow work was that I ask and get the response, but keep asking... Like I had mentioned in the video above, Anthony gave me a tongue lashing for it and explained how it can muddle a horse's brain and make them sour to the leg. I find I am like this when I encounter a new way to ride/ think. I'll ask (in this case for forward motion) and be too genuine and nice about it and not garner a response. Then I'll ask and be more firm and get a response (yay). But then I'll reapply the aids again and WANT MORE. GIVE ME ALL OF IT. So... balancing act and all that.

In terms of the canter, at first Anthony pinned the whole resistance thing as pain. He mentioned getting her checked for ovarian cysts/tumors and ulcers - he explained a few things about mares and how their cycles can effect them. I nodded along and explained that I had an outstanding appointment to get Annie's teeth floated and had actually let them know to check for ulcers and cysts already.

^ It was explained that Anthony thinks she also gets
the wrong lead because she spends so much time
arguing about it vs actually just doing it.

Weirdly enough tho, as the lesson progressed, Anthony started to shift his thought process and started to piece together things. He asked me for another trot-canter transition and an "aha" moment came of it. He told me that basically, when I ask for canter and she gets pissy, I take my legs off and stop asking. To Annie, she has learned through me taking away the pressure/stimulis/whatever you want to call it, that I will leave her alone. Thus, the head toss and tail swish is born.

Anthony's tactic to tackle this finicky problem was for me to ask for canter and give "three steps of peace". Essentially, ask and continue to ask for canter (I don't necessarily need to increase the pressure or tap with the whip, just keep asking) until I get it, and once I get it, leave her alone for 3-4 strides. After that, I continue to steer/ask/maneuver my horse-beast to wherever I want.

Not the happiest creature :/
We did a ton of trot/canter transitions and it seemed like the more we did, the less disobedience occurred. Anthony had me stop and talk to him for a few moments in the middle of the arena and he talked about the problems that arise from being a "nice" rider. Make no mistake, he didn't want me to beat Annie, but when she says "NO" I instead say "Ok... well... let's do some stretchy trot because you're stressed." I confided in Anthony, telling him that this is my very baby and the greenest horse I have ever ridden or "brought along". I told him that when she started to get pissy with me, I would go onto something else or try to do something different to make her less stressed/more comfortable. In return, Anthony asked me, "Do you know what the first thing a horse needs to do when asked to canter?" I looked at him a little quizzically, "No, what?" He smirked and said, "Canter."

That's it. It's not like I'm asking for rocket science.

Jumping isn't rocket science either.
It was a bit of a "aha" moment in a way. I was making the whole cantering thing into some beast that it didn't need to be and pussy-footing around it for longer than I probably should've. I mean, yah, if she's hurting it probably is well warranted but if she isn't, it means that I need to start rolling up my sleeves and following the good old 4-H manual of ask-tell-demand.

Another interesting point of the lesson was when Anthony called me to the middle to talk about my dressage whip. He told me that my whip is getting me into trouble with my horse. He mentioned that each time the whip "taps" or accidentally "skims" Annie's hind end, she pins her ear at it and swishes her tail. We went into a good conversation about the use of whips and as we chatted, he took hold of my reins and started to ask Annie to yield her haunches with the whip. He then asked me if I had taught Annie to yield to the whip under saddle - to which I replied no. Admittedly, I have been using the whip as a "no no" stick vs a tool that also directs her body movements.

Unhappy pig.
We moved the whip into my outside hand vs the inside and found it was much less offensive to Annie there. I made a mental note of this and reminded myself to try spurs out instead. Handling a whip can be such a troublesome thing - half the time I don't even know where the lash is pointing. Grrr.

The lesson went on though, and it got pretty interesting when we started to work on two point. The idea Anthony likes to create behind his horses is that he wants them to step into a more forward trot when he gets into two point and uses his calves - the idea behind it is that when you are in two point, you want your horse to realize "Ah, we are going to be forward and committed". So I practiced going from a "normal trot" into a two point and squeezing with my calves. The result?

The snake-head returned and much to my displeasure, it seemed to continue to be a theme for the lesson. There were a few moments where I asked for her to step out and she obliged without any theatrics or issues.

^ If you can learn anything from this video, learn to close your fingers.

Although, Anthony did specifically state to be sure to cross off any pain issues just to be on the safe side. He is a huge advocate for animal health and wouldn't want me to needlessly beat my horse into the ground for resistance when it could very well be a physical issue.

We finished the lesson off with jumping and although it was a disaster, I really enjoyed the "mental break" from endless 20m circles. Horse Show Buddy was pretty astonished I was allowed to jump, given that Anthony usually has people do a lesson of flat before graduating to jumping. And at the end of the lesson, Anthony offered an olive branch of assistance should I need it. I really appreciated he is willing to answer any questions I may have or talk strategy with me outside of lessons. I nodded my appreciation and told him I'd let him know what came of the vet visit on the weekend.

Overall, I was really pleased with the lesson. Annie was super game for the walk/trot stuff and although the canter fell apart and caused some issues, I still feel pretty confident about most of it. I do worry about what could be causing this issue, so hopefully we will be able to pinpoint more at the Vets this weekend to ease my mind.


  1. That sounds like a fabulous clinic! Lots of good insights. As a fellow green horse rider... I feel your pain about wanting to "be nice". Mystic had a similar swishy vibe when she was first going under saddle but was all talk and no action in terms of really bucking or being naughty. Henry was a complete saint and then launched me out of nowhere. Go figure. I'm curious about how your vet appt goes, keep us posted!

    1. It was a lot of fun! I really liked how Anthony broke it down and assessed things throughout the lesson. I wonder if Annie has some inner-Mystic feels going on. :P

  2. It's so hard when the horse is being amiable not to nag, nag, nag and ask for more, more, more. Especially the young ones who aren't mentally or physically ready for more. (I sometimes get caught up with asking for more and more too). Sounds like a good clinic and I'm glad you were able to go and do the thing!

    1. I appreciate that you guys are so wonderful in your comments <3 It makes me feel not so alone haha.

  3. The concept of asking/reward/asking for more is a really difficult thing to grasp and makes the difference between a good rider and a great trainer. We have to always be aware of how what we ask and reward effects the horse. He sounds like a great clinician and I don't think those videos are bad whatsoever!

    1. Exactly - his entire concept of the lessons was for me to be more aware about what I'm doing and what I'm asking. I'm not sure if you watched the videos, but if you have the volume up you can hear him ask me "did you ask for forward or did you ask for canter?" and I replied, "forward." and he said, "Well, I saw her get pretty forward and you didn't take off the aid."

      It's hard to find a middle ground sometimes, esp when we overdo it. And thank you for your kind comments - to me the videos look pretty terrible haha!

  4. Glad you had so many aha moments! Sounds like a super productive clinic :) I find that a lot of people keep asking after they already get a response. Glad to see you actively working through that! I love the solution to your cantering problem. The phrase "three strides of peace" is going to be making its way into my lessons from now on! Great recap :)

  5. What a great clinic! Oh my gosh, you did so great! I think I would have been yelled at for the same things - half open fingers for life! I think I have installed a solid ear pin/tail swish in Savvy for canter too. Even though she is getting so much better with canter transitions and correct leads now, the sass is always still there. Very interesting stuff!

  6. I have been guilty of the asking for more and then more! it sounds like you found someone to work with you both.

  7. Sounds like a great lesson. You packed a lot of learning in.

  8. omg i feel all the feels reading this. I honestly think that Remus has some of the same issues as Annie (not that he has ovaries or anything HA) but he and the canter are similar to her and he is 14 years old!! GRHH a lot of what you posted makes so much sense to me!! Looks like it was a worthwhile clinic! And just imagine if we were perfect, all those clinicians would be out of a job :) HA