Litter Race Update, Again

Yesterday I posted about Simon’s litter progress.  I explained how he is now moving at a walk or slow trot for his litter pick up, when previously he had to stop for it because he had difficulty making the turn while I was leaning over. Our goal is for him to be moving at a full canter, making a nice sweeping turn while I lean for my pick.

Setting up the turn and preparing to lean down for the scoop. Simon is still holding a slow canter!
Diane on team Red Solo Cup is already scooping to my left. For perspective my litter would be lined up with hers, so just in front of me and just out of the photo frame.
Photo credit: Ryan Crowley

This is a skill all of my previous ponies picked up very quickly.  The pony essentially learned the race, and as long as I set up the turn properly, they were capable of completing the turn on their own, or with very little assistance from me.  Simon is not as quick to pick up the races but he also continues to look to me for instruction during races rather than taking the initiative on his own. Which has its advantages, and like with this skill, its disadvantages.

Scooping at a strong trot, only breaking stride briefly.
Photo credit: Ryan Crowley

Simon also does not turn as smoothly as most of my previous ponies, or most agile ponies for that matter. He is stiff and clunky.  Part of this derives from his breeding, but it is also something we have been working on, and have made significant progress with over the past year.  So when turning, I need to do more than just lay the rein on his neck.

And dunking our litter into the blue bin at full speed.
Photo Credit: Ryan Crowley

Anyway, blah blah, right?  My whole point in posting about this again so soon, is that last night friend, and fellow games competitor, Nancy, posted some photos her very talented photographer son, Ryan shot of Simon and I in the litter race last weekend.

and just for fun, another cool photo Ryan took of Simon and I doing Balloon Race You can see the stick poking into the board on the right of Simon. This is just a fraction of a moment after the balloon that was in that same spot burst.
Photo credit: Ryan Crowley

Nancy is one of my favorite fossil rivals.  She rides on our greatest competition, the pink clad, Time Flies team.  Her and her pony, Marley are a fantastic pair.

Nancy and Marley making the turn while picking a flag in the Three Pot Flag Race.
Photo credit: Ryan Crowley

Side note: The footing was very very deep at this competition, which is pretty viable in the photos.  The ponys’ feet are all gone under the sand.  wow. 

Litter Race Progress

I blogged a while ago here that I had been working with Simon to improve our Litter Race.

The litter Race requires riders to ride to the far end of the lane with a 4 foot dowel in hand.  At the end of the lane are a line of 4 litter cartons with the open end facing away from the start line.  Riders circle behind the litter, scoop one up on the end of the stick and then ride back up the lane, dropping their litter in a trash bin on their way.  They then hand the litter stick over to the next rider who repeats the race sequence.

I am sure this all sounds a lot easier than it is.  I challenge you to give this a try at home.  If you do not have any MGAA standard litter, you can use a tennis ball tube or really any drink container that has the end cut off.

Photo: Genevieve of EquiStar Photography

 Previously, I had to stop to pick up my litter because Simon was having issues making his turn at speed when I leaned over to scoop my litter.  I was working to improve this portion of the race so we could pick the litter up while moving.

scooping on the move
Mid-Atlantic #2 June 9, 2012
Photo: Genevieve of EquiStar Photography

Sadly, the progress on this skill has been slow for Simon, but we are now picking our litter up at a walk, and on occasion, a slow trot.  Not exactly a flying pick up, but we are moving, and that’s a big step.

and off we go
Mid-Atlantic #2 June 9, 2012
Photo: Genevieve of EquiStar Photography

Litter Training Meets the Draft Brain

Simon is a slightly slower learner than previous ponies I have had. He tries his best, but things just don’t sink in as quickly. With most of the previous ponies I have trained for games, they seemed to pick up a skill or pattern immediately. With them I would start their first time through bending poles at a trot and by the time we turned around the end pole to bend back, they were already cantering through them.

Not Simon. Granted he is built more like an 18 wheeler and weaving is harder, my previous ponies were more like Moseratis so it was a tad easier for them, it’s been a year now and he still seems a bit confused going through the poles. After we complete a run through them I imagine his brain, “so you want me to change which side of the pole I am running on? Are you sure about that?”

Simon's first competition last April - Bending poles end turn, not pretty

Last night we were doing a little practice and went through the poles at a steady, slow, almost plodding canter, and before we made it to the 5th pole we had already knocked down two. I employ all of my bending skills with him. I neck rein, I direct rein, I throw my weight, I kick with my heels (I even had spurs on last night) and he does move over, just not nearly enough. The second pole he took out was almost smack in the middle of his chest.

I righted the poles and tried going through them again and we did a bit better, managing to leave all the pole standing, although I don’t know if it was physically possible for Simon to go any slower and still maintain the three beat canter. He often trots faster.

His end turn has really improved over the past year though. I give him that. He is developing a nice turn on the haunches. I even had to grab the pole to keep it upright when we turned around it the second time. Go Simon!

Next we worked through litter race some. This is another race that has been a particular challenge for Simon. In litter, the rider starts at the A line and rides up the field to a neatly lined up “pile” of cartons. For MGAA we use water bottle like containers with the end cut off. The open end is facing away from the A line. So the rider must ride behind the containers, turning to face the A line, and using a little stick (4 foot dowel rod), scoop up one carton. The rider then rides back to the A line, dropping the litter from the stick into a trash can that is sitting in the middle of the field. (up and back).

Simon's first competition last April - walking his turn to face the litter

All of my previous ponies quickly learned to gallop up, canter a tight turn around the cartons, leaving me enough space to lean and scoop up one littler on the turn, and gallop back with me depositing the litter on the run.

May 2011 - Pick and Run

Not so easy for Simon. Last year we cantered up, trotted a turn, stopped, I scooped the litter, and then he galloped home. Although Simon seems to have really grasped how to complete this task, breaking down to a trot and then stopping even for a second, really eats up time. So I have been making an effort to teach him to continue moving through his turn.

We have been working on this pretty rigorously for the past month and are getting mixed results. Most days, the first four or five times through the race Simon does not quite understand that I am asking him to turn completely and he turns half way. Eventually he gets it and continues through the turn although then we are still left trying to get the size of his turn perfected, which is disconcertingly inconsistent.

Spring 2011 - Stand and pick

Sometimes I ask him to turn and he drops his butt and turns nice and tight on his haunches. Other times he makes a big sweeping arch of a turn and we wind up three lanes over. Sometimes he gets distracted by a bird or a tree branch and makes the turn but with his head in the wrong direction and his body bowed awkwardly. This inconsistency makes it frustrating for me to determine just when and how much force to use to ask for the turn. Too much and he runs over the litter, too little and they are out of reach.

I am told that this is a draft brain. That drafts are generally known for their willingness and interest in pleasing their rider, but are a little slow on the uptake.

April 2011 - He knows to gallop home at least!

We are going to keep working on this particular skill and eventually we are going to get it right. Hopefully before the competition season gets going!

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