Getting Back to Basics

December 19, 2012

I have been under the weather for the past week, but I had a lesson scheduled for Sunday, so I toughed it out.

My friend Laura came out to my barn and she worked with me and both ponies.  I rode Simon and she worked with Milli.

She has a natural horseman approach, and did a lot of ground work with Milli, teaching her to step off with the correct foot, and to move back, and less on her forehand.  It was really interesting to see how quickly Milli caught on and improved.

Laura pointed out how she was licking her lips and chewing a lot, which are signs that she was processing and thinking.  Laura would pause on occasion to let Milli digest what she was being asked to do.  She also explained what she was doing, and the reasons.  One thing I found interesting was that most horses tend to have a shorter stride on their left hand side.  Since we lead from that side, they tend to have to shorten that step to keep from stepping on us.  She demonstrated and it was very easy to see what she meant.

Next she did some small lunging type of work with Milli, mainly to see where her balance was.  Which was one of the things I had stated needed to be worked on.  Milli could hardly keep her feet under her at a canter, showing her lack of balance.
Next Laura hopped on Milli, still using the rope halter, and did some walk/trot circles and movements.  Here it was even more evident to me, the spectator, how quickly Milli was catching on.  Upon mounting, Milli immediately put her head down, ready to plow ahead.  Laura explained she was saying “I am ready for you to pull on me”.  In just a few quick minutes she had Milli moving in circles, much lighter, as well as standing in a nice leisurely halt.

The pony is really smart and eager to learn.  I was amazed at how quickly she caught on and how agreeable she was.  Milli is an unflappable pony and has an outstanding work ethic.

Meanwhile Laura went over some basics with me, having me ask for turns and circles from Simon while using my legs and body properly.  It was a very basic riding skill that most beginners learn, but having it refreshed in my head, and then put into immediate practice was key.  Simon responded straightaway and we moved on to the next skill, “the doors”.

Laura explained that I want to picture a door in all four directions of my horse, front, back, right and left.  I also want to imagine a second set of doors placed between each of those, in the corners.  I always want a door open.  Then we went over the basic body position for using each door.  Position of the seat, releasing of the legs, softening of the hands, etc, all accompanied by a deep breath.  Then I practiced those transitions, stop, forward, stop, forward, and then stop, right, and stop, left.  Again, very basic, but put into practice with visual explanations for better absorption.  Simon continued to respond like a champ, and I felt successful.

I have not have a proper lesson in probably two decades, and I have recently acknowledged that some of my basics have become weak.  These basic riding skills should be automatic and practiced without thought, like picking up the correct posting diagonal without thinking, feeling or looking.  It becomes an involuntary action.  But some of my leg and seat queues, are not as programmed as they should be, and need refreshing.

I also needed a direction to go in with Milli.  I knew she needed to be better balanced, and to be less on her forehand.  But I needed a jump start on how to achieve those two goals.  And now I have somewhere to start.  I think she needs to be built back up, starting in the walk/trot, and building the balance and impulsion there, before she is worked into a proper canter or started into real games riding.  I would like to build her w/t and then work on her games turns at the w/t before we put too much work into her canter.  I think building the skill and know how at the slower gates, will make it easier for her to work toward those skills at a canter and then a gallop.

So Milli is going to be a longer term project, and an excellent opportunity for me to develop stronger horsemanship skills, while she learns as well.  I am really looking forward to this experience and opportunity.  Having a rock solid pony in Simon, where I can work on my riding skills, as well as romp around carefree, while I work with such a smart eager to please Milli, will give me an outstanding equestrian experience.

Unfortunately, I am still going to need a new games pony for the spring.  So I am continuing to shop for one.

Milli – Pony on Trial

December 10, 2012

Milli at a jumper show last summer.

Milli at a jumper show last summer.

This Sunday I hooked up the trailer (on loan from my teammate Kim.  Which is a story for another blog post in the semi-near future)and headed out onto the road at 7:30.  I drove a little over an hour to Winchester, where I met up with my teammate Kim.  She hopped in and we kept going up I-81, out of Virginia, through West Virginia and Maryland and into Pennsylvania where we picked up Lindsey and continued on our way.

Time behind the wheel goes SO much faster with friends.  We had a great time being silly and joking together.  I am so glad they both agreed to coming along with the ride.

We arrived right on time, at a really lovely hunter barn to meet Andrea, and try out her Haflinger named Milli.

Milli is a 13.2h thicker than thick, 12yo mare, with the traditional Haflinger look.  Blond, adorable and wide.  She was led up with her flowing long mane, and full blond tail.  All three of us said “awww, she’s cute” in near unison.

Kim giving her a try

Kim giving her a try

She stood quietly while we undressed, brushed and tacked her up, all while discussing her demeanor.  Which is lovely.  She was happy to stand with the lead rope hanging to the ground, and getting all the attention she could.  We learned that Milli is registered with the name Millennium something or other (can’t remember what), she came through New Holland auction to her previous owner and was a decided to be a little too forward for the beginner driver.  She loves to jump, and gallop and has a piece of her tongue hanging off, where she bit it years past.  She showed us several times while asking for treats.  She is too strong and forward for kids, or beginner riders, but loads, clips, and is UTD on shots, etc.

This lovely facility was equipped with an indoor, which was wonderful since it had continued to rain all day.  Andrea mounted up and hacked Milli around to show us her quick pace.  And yes, she is quick.  The pony has a nice working walk/trot and clearly has somewhere to be.  She has a nice long stride that covers a lot of ground.  Andrea finished up the showing by popping Milli over a few jumps.  The pony has no refusal in her and was eager to show her stuff.

Lindsey hopped on next and gave us a little showing.  She reported a heavy strong  pony and enjoyed her ride.  I climbed on next and found her pleasantly forward, and indeed heavy in the hand.  I trotted Milli out and then asked for a sudden and full woe, followed by a few backward steps.  A typical training practice for games ponies.  Andrea, in a perfect riding instructor cadence called out, “just relax your hands-“ before realizing, this is what I wanted.  The next time I asked Milli to pull up short she did it much more quickly, and with that “I got this” attitude.
I totted on past a flag cone, pulling and placing the flag a few times.  I spun the flag and whirled it ridiculously around her head and I tell you, the mare did not even flick an ear.  And when I asked for another short stop, Milli was on it.  The pony is smart.

milli 06By the time Kim climbed on, Milli had worked up a nice healthy sweat, for a pony three months out of work and verging on (ok, fully) obese.  But Milli still trucked around, forward and moving out.

We collectively decided we like the pony.  She needs to lose some weight, and turn the flab to muscle.  Although she will never be a lightly built pony, and will always have a wide chest, and big butt, we are hoping her middle can shape up just a bit.  We like her forwardness, and quick gates.  And She has the unflappable attitude and quick mind desired in a games pony.  The only concern is that we will not be able to tack her in a way to keep the saddle from rolling when she is mounted or the rider needs to lean over.  I think with a little work, this should be doable for at least a light framed rider, although I have my reservations, with our combined round shapes, if I will be able to keep from rolling when I ride her.  But I am an optimistic person, and she is an amazing pony with so much potential, that I am going to give it a try.

milli 01Andrea was fantastic and agreed to a month trial, so we loaded Milli up in the trailer (she walked right on like a total champ) and headed home.

Denny’s  happens to be endorsing the new Hobbit movie, which I just love.  So Lindsey and Kim indulged me and agreed to stop there for a bite to eat.  Milli hung out in the trailer, not so much as stomping a hoof, while we ate our Hobbit meals.

It continued to rain (and downpour) as we drove, forcing me to keep my speed particularly low, with that boulder I was dragging around behind the truck, and very much killed our time frame.  We got Lindsey dropped off, then passed back through Maryland and West Virginia and into Virginia again.  And just about at the Virginia line, the rain let up.  I got Kim dropped off and continued down I-81 towards home and into the heavy fog laying low in the valley for the remainder of the drive.

drive 03I got Milli to the barn, and she unloaded nicely.  I led her over to Simon who had already called out to us a few times.  He looked very pleased and very excited, and I let them greet over the gate.  No squeals and Milli did not seem to care much at all.  I decided it was late, and dark and wet, and to just roll the dice, and I let Milli right out into the field with him.  Not usually the best decision with new introductions.

Milli walked in, and started to check out the paddock.  Simon followed her around.  They checked out the perimeter, then the hay piles I threw out, and Milli grabbed a quick drink.  I watched them sniff each other and wonder around for quite a while.  When I left they were standing together, Simon nibbling lightly on her neck and her just hanging out like she was at home with a back hoof propped up.

It made me a little sad, that Simon is not going to be number one anymore.  But he needs a friend, and I need a new games pony.

I am interested to see where this goes and I am hopefully Milli will work out.  Now I just need some less than wet weather to get some real work going with her and see what we can figure out.

Seeing how far I can reach.

Seeing how far I can reach.

drive 02

drive 04

denny 02

milli 07

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