Simon is Kicked Off the Team

November 28, 2012

Another Post with no photos (insert sad face).

This past weekend was Thanksgiving, and there was a small individual games competition in Mount Airy, Maryland, at Taylormade Stables, near my parent’s house.  So Simon, Daisy and I went up to my parents Thanksgiving morning and stayed for a few days.  I’ll spare you the non-pony details and skip right to the competitions.

It got cold the day of the competition.  Something like 30 degrees colder than the day before, plus massive winds kicked in to make it just that much more cold out.  But us games people, we truck through it all, and there was a fantastic turn out for the first Taylormade Winter Games Series Individuals.

One of the best parts about mounted games is the family like social aspect.  Most people involved in the sport know each other, and have a deep respect and strong connection with each other.  Some of these people I have known for over 20 years, and I love that I still have a relationship with them. So as typical, I spent a few hours helping set equipment and socializing with friends before it was time for me to tack Simon up for our turn in the ring.

When I did get him all ready to ride, and lead him toward the ring, he started to buck, rear and carry on behind me.  It was like having a kite back there flipping around on the string.  Although showing spunk on the lead line is out of character for Simon, him throwing in a few light bucks and a few small leaps at the start of a ride is not that out of the ordinary.  It has never lasted more than a few minutes, and is generally on the silly, non-threatening level.

But this weekend Simon took his silliness to a new level.  Two friends, Mitchell and Jessie, both hopped on him and he truly tried to get both riders off.  Very uncharacteristic for Simon who generally has an impeccably easy going nature.  We ascertained that he was ramped up by the wind and it was multiplied with his young age, and having had two days off at my parents house on grass.  But it was still a bit shocking to see him carry on and sustain this level of acrobatics for more than twenty minutes.

Jessie even rode him into the ring for the start of my first session and took him through the first few races.  She lined him up at the start, along with the other ponies, and it was like watching a switch flip.  Simon went from hot, to not.  Jessie swapped out with me and I continued the session, at a ridiculous non racing speed.  I kicked and I yelled and I pushed, and I flapped flags like whips, but Simon just plodded on at an even slower pace than usual.

It was so discouraging.

The outstanding excitement and general naughtiness I could handle, but the complete switch from that to the blah of a pony he turned into was just too much.

Simon has been actively playing games for two full seasons and taken part in over 25 competitions of varying levels.  Although I do feel he really enjoys it, he just does not have the drive to go fast.  He has helped me gain my confidence back and he has learned all I have to teach him.  It is time for me to move on to a new project that I can turn into a fast games pony and for Simon to have a new job playing games with someone interesting in going slower or other fun jobs outside of the games ring.

So I kicked Simon off the team.

Which means the pony hunt has gone from max, to extreme max overdrive.  I have even lifted the restriction of ‘gelding only’ to include mares.  EKKK now that means business!

I have two auctions lined up to attend and one pony I am going to try next weekend.  Wish me luck!

Warm Up Routine

I mentioned in my previous post that I have a standard warm up routine. It’s simple and helps warm up myself as well as Simon, and gets my arms and hand eye coordination warmed up too.  I am also the type that gets SUPER bored, SUPER easy.  Trotting in circles makes me want to cry.  I am also not very athletically, hand eye coordinated naturally, so I think the little extra effort really helps me with my skills. 

Basically I have a couple lanes of equipment set up, generally poles with mugs, balls and cones and flags and cones.    Sometimes I throw in something else, but only things that can be done on the straight away.  I try to have two set up to one side of the riding area and another lane or two set up on the other side.  I just keep them set up like this so they are always ready when I hop on. 

While warming up and trotting around the ring, I trot through the races on the straight away.  I’ll pull a diagonal across the arena from one lane and pick up in another, and I’ll throw in some 20 meter circles and serpentines in between, with lots of change of direct.  And when I trot past a cone with a flag in it, I pull the flag, when I pass a cone with a ball on it I pick it up, and when I pass a pole with a mug I shuffle it.  And I keep it all at the trot. 

I keep everything set up in lanes, vs just having a cone or pole placed along the track, which would also accomplish the task at hand, for several reasons.  One, I want to be able to actually practice without resetting everything.  So by keeping it set up in lanes, its ready to switch from warm up to practice with no added labor.  Two, it teaches my pony that he can trot past a lane of poles, or through a flag race, without speeding up.  This is a common misbehavior in games pony, and I am as guilty as the next for having ponies that see a line of poles, and bolt through them.  But since Simon has always warmed up through races, maintaining whatever speed I set him at, he understands that facing a lane of poles doesn’t necessarily mean he needs to run like his tail is on fire.  The third reason I like my warm up equipment set up in lanes, is that I find it harder to perform most of the skills straight on.  When you turn around a cone and place a flag, you have more time to do the placing as you make the turn, but going straight past it, you have a lot less time so accuracy is more difficult.  So I feel by being straight, it creates more of a challenge. 

It is also note worthy, that I only make wide sweeping turns and curves, vs tight cutting turns.  After all I am warming up, and those turns should be saved for practice, not warm up. 

I mentioned above that Simon has learned by doing this warm up routine, that he does not need to bolt off when he faces a line of equipment.  I do think this warm up has helped with this, but it should also be recognized, that Simon does understand that this is warm up and when he is in the heat of the game, he knows the difference and will launch off from a stand still directly into a gallop. 

That said, Simon has been doing this routine since I purchased him as a four year old, and was new to the sport of mounted games.  I do feel it helped acclimate him to the equipment, although he never batted an eye at any of it from the start.  But I did also incorporate this into my semi-retired pony, Osh Kosh’s training several years ago.  This was after Osh Kosh had been an accomplished masters level games pony for over a decade, and he was, and still is, completely guilty of not being able to walk past a line of equipment with 3 hooves on the ground at the same time.  After a few weeks of using this warm up daily he did begin to settle into it.  He still tended to try and bolt off if I leaned over to place a flag, or pick a mug, but the more time he spent warming up this way, the more relaxed he became. 

I find this technique helpful for myself, and also for my ponies. 

Plus, it sure beats just going in circles to warm up!

Focused Practice

Tuesday and Wednesday were nice cool days.  I love riding on days like that.  Tuesday it didn’t even reach the 80s.  Awesome.  Simon and I upped the mark and incorporated some more games practice into our rides and focused on a few specific skills that I personally need to improve.  

One of these skills is placing the orb back onto the turret in the Windsor Castle race.  This is the task of the third rider in this race, which is generally the position I ride for Windsor Castle, and I want to be able to accurately place my orb at a greater speed.  So I have been working on that and am currently placing the orb at a solid canter with consistency. 

I am also working on my flag placement skills.  Two flag placement is something I have generally continued to practice over the years, as this is a skill that I need to keep at to really trust in.  It requires the rider to stick a flag into a cone on a straight away.  So you are cantering past the cone and must place the flag into it.  This is a common place for mistakes in all divisions,  It is also a skill, that if done with speed, can really push a team into the lead in that race.  So I practice that skill quite a bit.       

This has been compounded by the recent rewrite of the Three Pot Flag Race.  This race is set up with three flag cones going up the lane.  One in line with the first pole, one on the B line and a third at the far end of the lane.  There are four flags placed in the center cone at the start of the race with all riders starting behind the A line.  In the end of the race there should be two flags in either end cone.  They can be moved in any order by any rider with each rider moving one flag.  This means that one rider will need to place a flag on the straight away into the first cone while heading for home, when there is already a flag in that cone.  Already having a flag in that cone can make a clean placement at speed a tad harder.  So I have been practicing this placement and am happy to report I am consistently getting it clean at Simon’s full speed.  Woo, go me! 

Another skill I am working on is part of the Bottle Shuttle race.  This race has a barrel set on the B line and a second barrel set at the end of the lane.  one barrel has a bottle on it and the rider carries a second bottle out from the start line.  Formerly I rode this race as rider 2 or 4, which means I would ride to the end of the lane, place my bottle on that barrel, and then pick up the other bottle as I galloped past the other barrel on my way back to the start line.  But, now that I am on a slower pony, and have teammates  that are skilled at this position and riding faster ponies, I have switched to riding position 1 or 3.  This means I ride to the first barrel and place my bottle and then pick my second bottle up from the end barrel before running for home.  Simple right?  Actually yes, simple.  But to place the first bottle on the first barrel with speed takes some practice.  Which I have been doing a lot of.  And so far so good, as I have sped up my placement and accuracy greatly.  I still have a ways to go though, so I’ll keep at it.  

And now he is ready to eat.

Those are the three main skill improvements for myself that I am working on right now.   I still spend time with Simon and his litter turn, and other skills for myself like ball and cone, which I should probably bump up to a main practice skill set soon.  And I usually warm up through mug shuffle.  Actually, I have a whole warm up routine I do most days that I’ll have to blog about soon.  It’s pretty simple and great for the rider that gets bored overly fast trotting in circles.

Getting Back to Practice

I ride most days, but I don’t practice games every time I ride.    I incorporate games into a riding session about three times a week when we are prepping for competition and about once a week in the winter off season.   Sometimes I run through races, and sometimes I just do drills and work on my skills.  Sometimes I focus specifically on something that Simon or I need to work on. 

We have a pretty lengthy break between competitions right now, with our last one two and a half weeks ago, and our next one not until the end of July.  This is a little strange for the middle of the season, but team Old School opted to skip MGAA Nationals in Ohio, which starts tomorrow, and I am going to skip the smaller one day Summer Sizzler competitions for now. 

With the break, I decided to give Simon and myself a good two weeks off from games all together.  We didn’t practice, we didn’t drill, we didn’t do anything even slightly games like at all.  I also had an unexpected last minute trip out of town come up that ended up with Simon getting nearly a full week off from riding all together. 

This Monday, I got Simon and I back into a riding program and we started with a full out individual practice.  Which means we ran through about a half dozen races repeatedly; Mug Shuffle, 2 Flag, Windsor Castle, Bottle Shuttle, Ball and Cone and Litter races.  With the exception of litter, we rocked.  Simon had his head into it, and was ready to pick up his hooves and show some speed.  Not to brag, but my skills were pretty hot too.  I accomplished all my picks and puts at a slightly faster than usual pace without a single miss. 

Our only nemesis was litter.  Which wasn’t bad per say, but that is a race we have been working on diligently (and I have blogged about three times already) with the goal being to teach Simon to keep moving around the turn while I lean over to pick the litter, without tossing his head or falling out of or into the turn.    We had just begun to continuously accomplish this at a working trot in practice, and with only a slight break into a forward walk in competition.   But we seem to have regressed a bit over the past two weeks.  We were moving at a steady walk, but Simon was tossing his head when pushing into the trot. 


I suppose litter will remain on our top priority list, along with the other skills I targeted in on during our last two competitions.  I suppose it’s nice to have goals and objectives to work on.

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

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