Monday, August 28, 2017

Hunter Pony

On Saturday morning I loaded Cupid on our trailer and took him over to the Horse Park.  We have a schooling show series that does ticketed rounds, and since our rides have been going pretty well at home I thought this would be a good experience to go over some real show courses.  The plan was to take it one step at a time: see how it goes in the warm up ring, and then if that goes well we'll do the 2' hunters, and maybe if everything went well the 0.6-.65 meter jumpers.

My trainer was there to coach me, and we walked the courses.  The hunter ring was set up with a single fence on the diagonal, around to a line down the end, a line on the other diagonal, and then another line down the other long side.  The jumps were all verticals with flower boxes underneath, and looked a bit bigger than I expected!  The jumper course was trickier, with a rollback and bending lines and oxers. 

Cupid was very relaxed as I tacked him up, standing nicely and no whinnying.  Despite the bath I gave him the night before he had gotten a little dirty, and since his winter coat is starting to grow in he is not looking quite as sleek as he had a week or two ago.  But we cleaned him up best we could, and I got on and we walked quietly to the warm up arena.
The warm up was not too hectic, just a few other horses.  Cupid was not quick at all, he was pretty much the same as he is at home.  We walked a few laps, then picked up the trot.  Cupid shied sideways once when people came up from the hill behind the ring, and we had a near miss with another horse!  But he settled back down.  We went over a cross rail a few times to warm up.  The first few times Cupid trotted lazily over it, not even picking up the canter on landing which my trainer was not pleased about but I was pretty happy he was so relaxed!  We had another spook when some of the vendors were setting up and made a loud noise, but again not a big deal Cupid was focused again right after.  We did a vertical a few times and then our trainer declared us ready.

We went into the ring and started trotting a circle.  Midway through I asked Cupid for a canter response.  We finished our circle and headed towards our first jump, and a few strides before we finally got the canter.  We did a trot change and headed to our first line, and I felt Cupid hesitate.  I think it was the fancy winged standards.  I kept my leg on and Cupid went over.  Like most thoroughbreds he likes to jump and is pretty brave, so even if he thinks a jump is funny looking (like the blocks we jumped our last practice at home) he will still usually go over.  But the next fence I thought was scarier looking with a big pink flower box so I decided to trot it.  We picked up a canter and got our last line.

I was super happy with how that went, even though we did trot a little.  Cupid was relaxed and didn't run at the jumps or land quick, and was very good jumping different looking jumps.  I wanted to try again.  Our second round was even better, we cantered the entire course!  Cupid landed on the correct lead after the first jump, and this time didn't hesitate.  We did add a stride in the lines and did a trot change, so it wasn't a perfect hunter trip but I was very proud of us!  Not long ago I could barely work up the nerve to canter jumps at home, and to come to a new place and canter an entire course was a huge deal for me.  Three years in the making!  It was a hot day, we were tired and Cupid had been so good I decided to save the jumper ring for another day.  But I was very proud of both of us!
Clear round ribbons
We were done by 9:30, but it already felt like midday it was  so hot!  I was very thankfully the smaller jump divisions were first.  I hosed Cupid off before we left, and of course gave him plenty of carrots and an apple and told him what a good boy he was.
Nice cool bath!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How Cupid got his Groove Back

Cupid and I had a few rides that felt a little mediocre.  I didn't even notice at first.  He wasn't misbehaving, in fact he was being very good.  He didn't feel like he was hurting.  But he just seemed a little flat, there was a little spark missing.  It wasn't until after I saw my trainer riding him, then I had another ride, that I even put it together.  So I gave him a day off, and then tried to make sure we vary our rides a little so he doesn't get bored.  Even just warm up different, start asking him to do a little leg yielding or serpentines sooner instead of starting out just walking along the rail each direction.  Also canter a little earlier, more stretchy trot circles because he seems to like that.

We had a few really good rides, where Cupid was very responsive and forward and just seemed happy to do his job.  But then on Sunday when I was supposed to have a jump lesson he was a little too forward!  He hadn't felt rushy in a long time so it scared me a little.  He actually didn't do anything bad just was quicker than usual.  So my trainer lowered all the jumps so I can focus on the stuff in between rather than the jumps themselves and we did several full courses.  Once I was able to relax Cupid was very good!

I've since noticed that he is shedding.  Summer isn't really over yet, but the days are getting shorter.  I've joked before that he has seasonal affective disorder, he does tend to get a little funny when the seasons change!

Yesterday I went to the arena for my lesson, and all the jumps were stacked because I think they were doing maintenance on the arena.  I saw the big empty arena and the white plastic barrels that we use as jump fillers, and of course I thought about setting up a barrel pattern!  I told my trainer, and she said we can use the barrels.  But not race them, lol.  We did various patterns around the barrels, practicing 20 meter circles and smaller circles, straight lines and turns, and some shoulder fore and leg yielding.  The same things we do generally, but in a different way so it felt fresh.  I hope Cupid enjoyed it too!

This morning I was thinking about lunging, but I had left my equipment in the trailer and didn't have the key.  So instead I hopped on Cupid bareback and we had a nice stroll around.  He was very good, except did try to stop and eat a few times!  There is a spiky plant he seems to like eating, but I worry he will cut himself or worse get a thorn stuck in his gums or something.  He did have a little startle when an automatic gate along the driveway started opening right when we passed it, but he quickly realized it wasn't anything to be worried about.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Los Altos Hills Town Ring

After practicing pulling my trailer empty a few times, I felt ready to try it with Cupid inside.  Mostly ready, I was nervous about it because I don't want to hurt Cupid!!  I selected a public arena about half and hour away as my destination, and asked my sister to come with me.  I put a hay bag in the trailer and put treats in the manger.  Cupid loaded right up, though it seemed like the floor was a little slippery under him.  I hadn't noticed, but now I was worried.  I put him in the front stall, with the divider closed.

We set off, and it really didn't feel different than pulling the trailer empty.  There was one time where I think I should have started breaking earlier, but overall the trip seemed smooth.  When we arrived Cupid was eager to get out, but calm.  Initially I was planning on tying him to the trailer, but I was parked on asphalt.   Luckily there was a holding pen, and he seemed happy eating the weeds inside.

There weren't any other horses in sight, which was new for us.  I was expecting Cupid to be anxious and whinnying, but he seemed totally relaxed!  I tacked him up while he was loose in the pen, mounted on a picnic table, and went into the arena.  Cupid remained totally calm, I would even describe him as lazy!  We walked around the ring a few minutes, then picked up a trot.  We trotted over some poles on the ground.  Then cantered both directions.  I kept it simple, the main point was just to ride someplace new.  Cupid was very good, though I did have to work a bit to keep him going!

Then my sister got on, and he was the same with her - good just a little lazy.  But he got both his leads correct.  I set up a little cavalleti, and then a crossrail.  Cupid jumped it a little big.

There was a very nice wash station I took advantage of, then let Cupid graze a little while he dried off.  He was good getting back up on the trailer, and we headed home.  Overall I am very happy with how our first excursion went!!  Hopefully Cupid will be this relaxed other new places too!  I am excited about exploring new places and hopefully getting to do more trail riding soon.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lead Changes

Cupid has been pretty consistent about getting the correct canter leads both directions, so we've been working a little more towards training automatic lead changes.  We started just organically, as part of our flatwork or while jumping courses we would change direction and while in the turn ask for a lead change - use new inside leg to create bend, and cue with new outside leg behind the girth.  No big deal if nothing happens, just do a trot change.  (We pretty much always ended up doing the trot change.)

Then last Friday my trainer got on Cupid, and got a lead change out of him!  It was right to left, which I thought would be his harder direction.  But maybe it helps coming from the more balanced right lead?

On Sunday we had a fantastic jumping lesson.  We started warming up cantering over a pole, then made it a small vertical doing it a few times each direction focusing on getting right to the base.  Cupid was very relaxed, giving me confidence to move onto a little course of 1-2' crossrails and verticals, cantering the entire thing!  Cupid kept a nice steady rhythm before and after each jump.  He was cruising along like a nice little hunter!

One of the jumps was on a diagonal, and I was supposed to ask for the lead change going into the corner.  The first several times we ended up doing a trot change, so my trainer decided to put a pole on the ground and we got the change.  Overall that whole round felt very good so we decided to end on a good note!

Thursday, August 3, 2017


My last few rides I've had to work a little extra to get or keep Cupid going.  He was "behind my leg" according to my trainer.  I just assumed that since it's been hot he hasn't felt like working to hard.  But whatever the case might be, my trainer said that my leg has been improving and more still/secure, so suggested I try riding with spurs.

I have a an old pair of tom thumb spurs, about 1/2", but I've never really ridden with them.  I tried them once or twice on my old horse but she did not seem very happy.  I was terrified I would be poking Cupid inadvertently, so I tried extra hard to make sure my toes were pointing forward!  This is hard for me, I've always had a problem with it, but I think today I managed pretty well!

Usually our first trot transition can be a little sticky.  Today I tried to touch Cupid gently with the spurs to let him know it's time to get to work.  I felt him almost shudder a moment, then he picked up the trot.  He was very good in our lesson.  I don't know if he would have been better today regardless, but it did feel like I didn't have to work as hard.  Aside from the first trot I didn't even really use them.

After our warm up we did a line of three trot poles, a few times each direction.  Then we did the poles, picked up the canter and cantered over a pole pile.  We cantered the pole pile a few times each direction, focusing on straightness and getting to the base.  I appreciate how much my trainer has been helping me develop my eyes, taking extra time to show me where I should begin my turns, etc.

We then did two canter poles, one stride apart.  A few times when we didn't get close enough to the first pole Cupid had to adjust and quicken a little to get the second pole.  This was a good exercise for both of us to kind of figure it out!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Seeing Ghosts

I've been slowly bringing Cupid back to work.  We had a few days of just walking around the property.  Then we did a few days with walk and trot work in the ring - lots of stretching trot and light lateral work.  Cupid felt great!  Then we added a little canter, which went well and we didn't have any problem getting the left lead.  But then something unexplainable happened.  Best I can come up with is Cupid is seeing ghosts!

It started during our lesson on Sunday.  Starting out Cupid was good, just a touch lazy.  So we were trying to get him moving more forward.  We decided adding some trot poles would help, and it did perk him right up.  So I had a happy horse, the lesson was going well, when out of nowhere he spooked in the far end of the arena.  It was a small spook, I didn't think too much of it.  But he did it again in the same area.  Then he got very distracted coming out of that corner.  The arena has a wall on that side, I assumed someone must be working or doing something on the other side.  After a few minutes I asked my trainer to look out and see what was going on, she said there's nothing there. We kept working, it was okay except Cupid was clearly a little distracted.  We thought maybe it was the sound of the sprinklers from the other arena.

The next day I thought I would walk around outside for a warm up before going into the arena.  We were walking along calmly, when all of the sudden Cupid stopped dead.  We were in front of his turn out paddock, where there is a little incline up to a path that runs between the outdoor arena and a house.  Cupid did not want to go up the incline.  I thought maybe there was someone riding in the arena and he was watching them, but no.  I asked Cupid to go forward and he backed up.  I tried again, same result.  I tapped him with the crop and he kicked out, still refusing to move forward.  After a few minutes I decided to get off; I wasn't scared but I felt like we weren't getting anywhere and I didn't want to have to hit him harder.  He still didn't want to go at first, but eventually walked up with his head in the air, ears pricked, looking around.  He jigged a little.

We got in the arena, and had an okay ride except he was still distracted and didn't want to stay along the rail towards the house.  We did some leg yielding, circles, serpentines, and cantered each direction.  Cupid did pretty much everything I asked but he was not relaxed and clearly something was bothering him.  After about half an hour in the arena we walked back out, and he didn't really want to walk back down that path.  He did back up a bit, and kicked out again, but finally walked.  I could feel his heart pounding, he really did seem scared not just like he was trying to get out of work!

I didn't hear anything, or see anything new that would surprise him.  I have no idea what he is reacting too.

This morning we had a lesson in the covered ring, and he was more relaxed except a few times when deer came bounding up along the ring he shied a little.  But at least that is explainable!  Otherwise, we just still need to work on getting him in front of the leg, he was quite lazy again.

We had some good trot work, on a large circle doing a little shoulder fore to the inside then straightening and coming more forward out of it.  Then my trainer had me practice cantering on a large circle, holding my whip under my thumbs to keep my hands together.  It felt easier then the last time I did this exercise (when I had trouble keeping any sort of contact, and didn't canter). 

I walked Cupid down the scary path after our ride to turn him out.  He was a little alert, head up and snorting a little, but less of a reaction today.  Hopefully whatever it is will pass soon and I have my old Cupid back!  But regardless of how we progress, the dressage show I was planning on going to in a few weeks was unfortunately cancelled.