Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Kathy Stanley Clinic: Spud

We're both just awko tacos.
The last three days have been chock full of learning new things, experimenting, and a crap-ton of hauling. With the onset of the Kathy Stanley clinic, I had a few things I wanted to work on and a few things to experiment with. 

This would be the second clinic I've ever taken with Spud, and it would be with the same clinician as last year, so I was a bit nervous and excited to see how well we had progressed considering the first clinic was spent mostly at the walk... especially after he reared under harness. But still, despite that mess, I was excited to learn something new since I felt Spud was more grown up and more schooled than the previous clinic.

Thankfully, I didn't have to travel as far for this clinic and opted to haul Finn out as well to make use of the Fairgrounds and ride him after my driving lessons on the Monday and Tuesday (today).

Day 3 media.
  Sunday was the first day of the clinic and I hauled out a bit early since the horse chiropractor was up in the area and offered to take a look at Spud re: the head shaking issue we've been having. Much like I had anticipated, Spud was out in his poll and was quite reactive to the treatment, which included many licks and chews afterwards. I would've preferred to have had him adjusted after my lesson, but with the time constraints the body worker had since she is not local, I had to make do with what I had. Other than some other mild body soreness in his left loin and another portion of his mid-neck, Spud was pretty solid all over.

After he had been worked on, the poor bugger tried to go to sleep and I rudely had to wake him whilst I tacked him up. I had a feeling that he was going to be a bit pissy during the lesson since most of the time, body workers prefer to work on a horse after their work-out or during their day off.

No media from day 1, but here is day 2.
 Unfortunately, Spud head-shook during this lesson, but I'm quite confident that it was due to the fact he had just gotten adjusted and then we worked on Dressage-type stuff in the lesson. Despite the head-shaking (which was mostly whenever we went from a trot - walk for the first few steps or so), he worked quite agreeably and we made some good progress. Mostly, we experimented with his extended trot, a bit of long and low walking, and establishing a more forward working trot.

The main take-aways from Sunday's lesson were:
  • The walk should be a FORWARD walk. A working walk does not = lollygagging walk. His head should swing slightly and he should be tracking up easily.
  • When you establish bend, keep it consistent. Do not drop him or tighten the bend and make it more difficult for him.
  • Realize that when going over bumps, it'll make your hands move and in turn, it moves the bit in his mouth. Be cautious of allowing your hands to juggle around with the bumps you feel in the cart.
  • When he gets too deep in his neck (ie. ducking behind the contact), push him forwards and lengthen your reins to let him poke his nose out a bit.
  • Work more on his right side - he doesn't track up as well on this side.
  • I have a lot of inconsistent contact with him - I need to be light, but consistent.

The clinician was quite happy with how much we had progressed as a pair and even commented how fit Spud was - at one point during the lesson, she told me to let Spud walk and catch his breath and when I did, the clinician stuttered and said, "Oh... he's not even breathing hard." I mentioned that I hadn't done much "dressage" stuff with Spud this year, and it had been more or less marathon-type work-outs.

I felt like Spud wasn't totally on his A-game, but at the same time, he was pretty cool with whatever I threw at him and gave me 110%, even when he had no real idea what I was trying to get across. And that felt pretty cool.

Which brought us to Monday, Day Two.

Surprisingly, there was absolutely NO head shaking at all. I felt more like the adjustments he had been given had "settled" in more. Most of this lesson was spent establishing bend to both sides evenly, riding true circles, and playing with a bit of a cones course. A few little "bad habits" popped up and were able to be corrected, which was nice.

Some of the key points from Day 2 were:

  • He likes to chomp at the bit when he gets a bit tense; utilize the inside rein and give a more firm and definitive half halt to soften his jaw. After 2-3 repetitions, he completely stopped this habit.
  • Use your voice to give him direction - don't be afraid to get after him if he does not obey within a reasonable time-frame.
  • Allow your reins to grow longer when he pulls into them - this is his way of asking for a longer rein. It will not be 3ft longer; it'll most likely only be 3mm or even cm longer which is what he needs to help himself stay balanced vs tense and "held" during his turns.
  • Be purposeful in your corrections. You do not have to be mean or tip-toe around him, but be fair.
  • He would make a wonderful CDE horse.
Most of the day was playing with rein length, the severity of half-halts, and roundness. It was fun to see Spud "argue" about bending left and once I gave him that little 2cm of rein length, he arched around the circle and was much more comfortable and agreeable. Not only this, but the clinician actually complimented me on Spud, saying that for being mostly self-taught and having only taken one clinic previously, we were quite advanced.

My heart sung a little bit, truthfully. It was nice to see our hard work pay off, even so much to have a clinician who barely knows us sing our praises.

Which brings us to Day 3, today.

The feel-good vibes continued and we spent more time working on circling, balance around corners, and ended the lesson with practicing the first portion of a Dressage test (ie. A enter working trot, X halt/salute, proceed working trot, track L/R).

Spud felt a bit more tired during this last lesson, mostly because I think the things we were working on were much more technical and used all kinds of different muscles he hadn't needed to use yet this year. Self-carriage is so different in driving dressage-land vs long-trotting down a forestry road. So with that being said, doing the dressage stuff is very demanding, very physical, and very mentally-involved work. I could feel him sizzling out, and I knew I would have to get after him a bit more.

And I wasn't wrong. We had some mild disagreements which stemmed from his lack of energy and one which came about because Spud suddenly decided he didn't know how to bend right. After I "won" that argument, we quickly moved on to something else.

He is so fucking fancy.
I almost wish he were a full-sized horse.
We really nailed the A enter working trot, X halt salute practice runs after a few botched attempts and the clinician was really, really impressed with how well Spud had done over the three days.

Some of the take-aways were:

  • Sometimes when he wants to argue, it's best to just stop and stand for a few minutes and then get back to it. Once he gives you what you are looking for, end it there and move on.
  • If your half-halts are not working, you may need to give a more firmer half-halt or a longer half-halt to help him balance himself. Applying half-halts that are being ignored is not beneficial for either of you.
  •  Accuracy is the key in Dressage - be accurate in the dimensions of your circles and be accurate in your straight lines.
  • Smile at the judge during the halt/salute - you want her to think "What a cute pony" and it'll probably get her on your side.
  • He is such an honest and cool guy.
  • You both pretty much have a lot of these exercises "down pat", it's just making them more consistent and polished.

So fucking happy with him.

In truth, I am pretty happy with my little mini right now. He's starting to become less and less green and more and more like a competition horse. 


  1. Look at that Spud-Muffin O-O so fancy!!

  2. What fun that was! You two look great!

  3. what an awesome clinic! sounds like he's really settling into the work too - you must be so thrilled with him!

    1. He's starting to transform from green to show pony and I love it! He's really grown into himself this year.

  4. HE IS SO CUTE I CAN'T EVEN STAND IT!! What a fantastic clinic!

    1. Hehehe :)
      He is the cutest little mini ever!

  5. You're making me want to get my own driving mini!

  6. He's so cute. I love his tiny little ear bonnet.

  7. When I grow up, I'm getting a Spud. Glad the clinic went so well!

    1. Everyone needs a Spud, so no argument here!

  8. Isn't it nice to hear that you are on the right track? Good for you!

  9. Those photos are wonderful! So happy you guys had such a good experience :)

  10. I had no idea that you could use dressage while pulling a cart! I'm really enjoying reading about all this, and I hope one day I get the chance to do it myself.

    1. Heck yes!
      You can pretty much do anything (save for jumping, lol)! Glad you are enjoying my journey with Spud thus far.