Finding a Rhythm

Last week’s lesson with Troy began with a question, “So how is this guy going?”, to which I answered, “Champion and champion”.  Troys response was, “that’s all fine and good, but how did he go”?  What a great reminder of priorities to have when horse showing!  Troy and I talked about how we have asked so much of Banker by accepting the challenge and taking him to horse shows, and that he has done everything willingly and with great trust. Typically, a horse would have more time over fences before going to a show, but we needed to see how Banker would fit into the ‘horse show scene’.  He proved to us what a great mind he has, and that he thinks standing around at a horse show is no big deal.

After our warm-up, Troy started us trotting over a single cross-rail set on the rail coming toward the gate.  After several times over that, he built a second fence set at 2 strides.  As we trotted into the gymnastic, I concentrated on having impulsion and a good rhythm, the things we worked on in our last lesson.  Banker easily took the 2 strides and landed in a soft canter.  Troy then built a 3rd element at 1 stride, which really made Banker think about rocking back to jump off his hind end.  Again, he was soft thru the entire exercise.  We then moved on to trot a brick box set on an angle at the quarter line a few times, then started at the beginning with the gymnastic and continued around to canter the brick box.  As we cantered to the single jump, I counted 1,2,1,2,1,2 to keep the rhythm and we hit a nice distance.  The last element Troy added to the small course was a line across the diagonal that we trotted into and cantered a nice easy 5 strides to the last jump.  We did that twice by itself, then went back to the beginning gymnastic.  Banker continued to have a consistent rhythm and had a nice canter-trot transition before the last line. I needed to keep my leg on thru the corner to keep the impulsion, but then I could just relax to the jump.  We ended the session by putting together a consistent course.  I so enjoy riding with Troy because he builds a team’s confidence slowly and easily.  Everything he has asked of Banker and I is built on what we learned in the previous lesson.

Banker and I went to our final show this past Saturday. I had planned on doing the 2’3″ divisions, but the morning was damp, the rain was fast approaching and there was an hour delay in starting our ring. Instead, we did the first 2 cross-rail divisions in order to get done before the storms hit.  Banker won the hacks in our 2 divisions and was champion Thoroughbred over x-rails.  But the best part was the feel that he had jumping: rhythmical and steady. He came up in front of my leg and marched down the lines in our first 2 classes.  It showed me that he really learned about pace and consistency in our lesson on Thursday.  During the last 2 jumping classes, I could feel him getting a bit strung out, so we’ll work on staying balanced at home this week. We ended with a 2nd and 3rd in those classes.

 

After all he’s done so far, Banker has earned a bit of a rest. Even though he gets the day off after a show or lesson,  I’ll give him a few extra days to relax.

Making Progress!

Before I talk about our latest adventures, can I tell you how comfortable this horse is?  The first time I rode him, he was so boing-y I thought I would bounce off.  Heels down, I kept thinking! Now after consistent riding, his stride has lengthened and he has become a soft, smooth ride, one where you could ‘do your hair’ as you trot along. His canter transitions are no longer rushed, and its easy to sit and enjoy the ride.  Although I’ve never ridden side saddle, I imagine his gaits would be perfect for it!

LCJumping1

LC1Labor day weekend brought Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show, the big Chester County 3-day show and country fair with lots of white tents, ponies and people everywhere.  As Banker and I headed down to the main ring, I felt him tense up under me as he saw all the tents and general busyness.  A cowboy friend of mine told me that when a horse is tense and unsure, do something they are comfortable doing. So we headed to the schooling ring and after 3 minutes of just trotting around, Banker was much more relaxed.  When our turn came to school in the ring before our classes, he kinda kept his eye on what the other horses were doing, I think to make sure no one ran into him.  Banker showed very well, jumping the jumps easily and getting all his flying changes.  We had a few baby mistakes where he didn’t understand what I was asking, but I was very proud of him.

LC hack1

 

During the hack class, he started each transition with his head in the air, then would relax into my hand and lengthen his stride. Our canter was so soft!  While we didn’t win any ribbons that day, I was thrilled with how he accepted the commotion that is Ludwig’s Corner and focused on his new job.

That next week we went for a lesson with Troy.  Banker warmed up with a nice trot showing off his much improved long and low hunter pace.  Troy had us trotting a 2′ jump with a ground pole 9′ out and told me to just let Banker figure it out.  I used a lot of leg to get Banker moving up into my hand and balanced around the corner and coming down to the pole, then just supported him.  He was slow off the ground the first few times, then figured out how to roll back and jump off his hind end.  Troy had us alternating the approach direction  to prevent becoming one-sided.   We finished the lesson by trotting a 2′ brick-colored box with a rail on top, which really got Banker’s attention.  He had to think about what he was doing and ended by cantering off nicely with a balanced turn.  Troy is very happy with Banker’s progress.

This past weekend found us at the Fair Hill Thoroughbred Horse Show, a lovely show with inviting jumps and friendly volunteers. We met Bev at the show grounds and headed in to school before our classes. Banker felt like an old pro, hacking around on a loose rein and jumping the jumps.  We didn’t school very long, I just wanted to make sure he saw all of the jumps.  While I know as his career progresses he may not be able to look at the jumps before going into a class, there is no reason not to let him see them now.  Our goal is to build his confidence, so no surprises! The first division had 2 hack classes and Banker won them both! He just poked his nose out and relaxed. All his upward transitions happened quietly and he kept his head down! The jumping class in the first division went very well until the last line where he pulled 2 rails on a line coming home. Whether it was the heat, the gate or just being a green bean, we don’t know, but he wasn’t upset by it.  We ended that division with the championship!

The next division found us with 2 more blues in the under saddle classes. I’d say he has the hack class down pat! The last class was a hunter hack where we had to jump the 2 fences where he pulled the rails. I was anxious to redeem ourselves, but we pulled a rail over the first jump in the line. We finished 6th in the class and Champion in this division, too!Fair Hill Ribbons

I’m not too concerned about the rails we had down because he is so green and is so careful about picking up his feet in our lessons. Since he’s been with me, he hasn’t pulled a rail at home or at Troy’s.  Being at a horse show is a totally different experience than being at home, with lots of noises and sights to distract even the most seasoned horse. I am confident that with more time and training that his concentration will develop to match his jumping talent.  He is one super horse!

Horse Showing 101

With several lessons and one foray into the horse show world under our belt, it was time to go to the Maryland State Fair Thoroughbred Horse Show. Because of parking issues, Banker, my friend Gwen and I drove down to Timonium on Tuesday night for the Wednesday horse show. The barns and showing arena are tucked away behind the main fair, so even though all the rides and games were in full swing when we arrived, we unpacked and got settled in quickly and easily.
Wednesday morning dawned beautifully as we arrived at the quite fairgrounds to find Banker braided and ready for breakfast. Once he was done eating, I tacked him up and headed into the ring to school a bit before the show started. As we got to the ring, Bev and Valerie arrived just in time to watch as Banker picked up the trot and soon relaxed into a nice rhythm. We cantered a bit, then trotted to a jump. I was not quite sure what to expect, but he put his eye on it and just popped right over it. We cantered off, turned the corner and went down to the first jump in the line, and he jumped in beautifully. He just kept cantering and jumped his first oxer! We finished up with a few more fences before letting him take a break and relax.
Our first class was the Jump Start Hunter Under Saddle, which was not a big class, so we were able to find a spot on the rail and not have to worry about other horses. I was most concerned about our canter transitions, and rode my plan which was to hear the command, take a deep breath, think outside leg, inside rein, and ask. By taking my time, Banker hit the correct lead each time and settled into an easy rhythm. We were 2nd in the class!
Next up, the cross rails class, 6 jumps around the outside. My plan was to ride deep into the corners and get straight to the first fence in the line, then just support him. The turn to the first fence was by the gate and I had to press him past it, as he always wants to slow down and chat with the spectators. Once we got over that fence, he just clocked around, even getting a flying change. We finished off with a nice circle and I left the ring ecstatic! Minutes later it was announced, “In first place, D’Sauvage”!! No time for celebrations, I had to focus and go back for the second trip. I learned during this trip that coming home towards the gate I need to sit back and hold a bit as he wants to get to that gate again. He understood what I asked and adjusted beautifully and put down a lovely trip. We won that class, too! I am proud to say he was champion of the Jump Start Hunter.

Champion!

Next up was the 2’ hunter, and Bev and I thought it would be good experience for him to jump a course with boxes and gates. He hacked well, but the class was big and had several more seasoned horses in it. Our first trip contained several baby mistakes. For instance, he wasn’t paying attention to the first jump by the grandstand and kind of tripped over it. My goal for this trip was to give him a positive experience, so I turned him out of the line and regrouped. Once he relaxed, we picked up the canter and finished the course confidently. As we jumped our second course, the light bulb went on and he seemed to understand the new questions being asked when jumping 8 fences with turns in between.  He settled in the lines and made very nice turns and was 6th place in that class. I was so proud of him!! Oh, and his auto changes kicked in during these classes. I would think about asking for a change, look down and realize he already changed. He’s so smart!

After a rest, we caught up with our lead-line jockey at the barn, and got him all saddled up for the class.  George was boosted up and he gave Banker a big pat as we headed to the ring.  Banker seems to know when little George is up there as he seems to take care with each step.  After a few passes around the ring, George was awarded first place – he got a ribbon and one of the softest teddy bears I have ever held!  Well done, boys!

George's bear

Here is a video of our day where you can see Banker’s great attitude about horse shows.

I do need to mention that on the way home I had a tire blow out on the trailer. We had to drive on the busted tire in order to get off a dangerous road and find a parking lot to hang out in until Justine came to our rescue. During this whole process, Banker was cool as a cucumber. It was during our wait I discovered that he is a dunker. I offered him a bucket of water and he took a mouthful of hay from his hay manger and dunked it right in the bucket! I placed the bucket in the manger during our wait and he just dunked and munched away. Once Justine arrived, we unloaded him and put him into Justine’s trailer and continued our trek home. As I said before, Mr. Steady Eddy!

After another lesson with Troy, we headed off the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show, the big Chester County show and country fair.  More about that next time!

Long and low

Life with Banker is, well, consistent, and in my book, reliability counts for a lot! When asked to share about Banker’s personality, I struggled at first because how do you describe a horse that has done everything you ask without one iota of disrespect? He is Mr. Steady Eddy in the stall, under saddle, over jumps, in the cross ties, on the trailer. I look forward to riding him because I know what I’m going to get when I put my foot in the stirrup. Today, I had one of those days where mounting was a challenge (those days come as you age) and he just stood and waited as I righted myself. When we finish our ride, he sniffs my pockets for treats and takes them gently from my outstretched hand. He does enjoy a roll in his stall after a refreshing wash down!
We’ve had 2 more lessons with Troy Hendricks, and Banker has learned to jump real jumps with gate, boxes and colored flowers. Again, no fuss, no muss, he just goes to the jump. On the flat, he is beginning to lengthen his stride and has even begun to stretch his head down during our warm-up. I really enjoy working with Troy because of the way he instills confidence in his horses and riders, knowing how to ask for just a little bit more without over-facing either one. He is usually teaching when I arrive at the farm, and I try to absorb as much as I can as he transitions to my lesson. In this clip, Troy shares what he like to see in a hunter on the flat.

 

Starting a young hunter can be challenging as they don’t always understand going long and low, but as Troy said, the correct head carriage has to start in the back end. So when we work on the flat, my mantra is leg, leg, leg.  Then more leg, and around the corners, more leg.

Banker continues to do whatever is asked of him, including his second show, TB Day at the Maryland State Fair……more about that soon!