Boot Camp: Robbye I and Hollywood IV

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Some very quick notes from my first ride on Robbye since her training began, and my fourth ride on Hollywood, the GP schoolmaster:

Robbye:

  • I need to be even more forward on Robbye, at the trot. More, more, more!
  • Insist on a frame right away; ask just like how I’ve learned with Hollywood
  • Remember – I’m the boss with this mare!!

Hollywood:

  • And even with the gelding…be the boss. When I really insist, I get great movement. I didn’t really realize how much of a difference this makes, even with a schoolmaster like Hollywood. When I told him I was serious, he tried harder and we made a better team.
  • At the same time, I need to try less. When I overthink the shoulder-in, it’s rubbish. Just let it happen – let the horse do his or her job as I do mine!
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Boot Camp: Tonka I

Part of my boot camp agreement with my trainer was that I would not be just riding dressage horses. As soon as I felt comfortable with a horse, I’d be moving on to the next one.

When I arrived for my fourth lesson, a saintly big paint horse was giving a very young girl a barrel racing lesson. He walked at the slowest possible pace, and let her steer him with just a touch of his sides. I was very, very impressed by his kindness and patience.

…And then the lesson was over, and I learned I’d be riding him next – a barrel racing lesson of my own!

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Tonka is an older, tall paint horse with navicular. He took my trainer’s daughter to the junior championships when she was a junior, and my trainer showed him competitively in barrels as well. This is a horse who really knows what he’s doing, and used to be able to do it really well. Now, he makes the perfect beginner barrels horse, and seemed perfectly comfortable (and having a lot of fun!) despite his navicular.

First, we warmed up and I got used to the western saddle. I’ve never really ridden seriously in western tack – and definitely never taken a western lesson – so it was great to have some time to really feel how my seat was different in the big saddle. Kim emphasized that I had to really sit on my butt with Tonka, or he’d either run away from me or lurch into a back. A good lesson for me, since I have a horrible habit of perching.

Kim and her daughter insist that their barrel horses have good dressage foundations, so we next moved onto getting Tonka round. This was a perfect exercise for me; Tonka was a little harder to get round than Hollywood, and I learned a few tricks I can use on Robbye. Again, I did more moving of the head and neck than just “playing with the reins”.

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Also, as a western horse Tonka has more of a “set it and forget it” type headset. He doesn’t have to be held constantly like Hollywood. I’d never really experienced this phenomenon – it was neat. I’d tell Tonka where to put his head, then just remind him if he deviated. This let me have the looser, more relaxed frame and reins that you see in western.

For my actual barrel lesson, I started out with some basic theory. Each barrel has a “pocket”, which is even with the rider’s leg. The rider must ride straight into the pocket, not turning or even looking to turn until she’s in it. For the turn, the rider should stay an even distance from the barrel the entire turn around it, and absolutely must NOT look at the barrel! Looking at the barrel pulls the horse into the barrel, risking a knock-down.

So I started my barrel racing career by first walking the pattern, stopping in each pocket. Then I trotted the pattern, stopping in each pocket. Finally I cantered the pattern!

At one point, Tonka got a bit strong and wanted to control the pace (I wanted a slow canter – I was nervous – and he wanted to run). After a few repetitions of making Tonka canter into the pocket and then stopping in the pocket, he started listening to me and cantering at the pace I chose. This was such a great illustration of being the boss and getting an immediate reaction to that dominance.

I learned a lot about Robbye during this lesson – and even a few things about dressage. More than that, I had a sudden realization to what I love about riding. After my barrel lesson, I suddenly wanted to start jumping again. At one point I was “galloping” home from the third barrel and let out a happy whoop.

I love dressage. I think it’s really fun. I’m wondering if the fact that Robbye doesn’t think it’s fun has ruined the fun in it for me, too. And I wonder if her own boot camp will instill that joy for both of us.

I remain optimistic!

Boot Camp: Hollywood III

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WOW. SO BLAZE. MUCH FLASHY.

My first two lessons on Hollywood were at Kim’s barn in her nice little indoor. For my third, Kim brought Hollywood to my home barn, and I got to ride him in our big outdoor.

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He really does have a striking face.

Overall, it was the best of the three lessons. The light bulb moment from my second lesson proved persistent, and my confidence grew once again. Riding in the outdoor also gave us much more room to do some extended gaits and changes – neither of which I’ve had any experience with!

  • When I move my leg, I’m not moving my lower leg. I’m moving my whole leg. If I move just my lower leg, my seat isn’t affected at all! This made the most sense in asking for changes, where the cue comes from both the leg and the seat. If I ask for the change just by bumping with my new outside leg, I’m completely ditching half of the cue.
  • I need to keep more weight in my heels, with my toes up. Ultimately this will both improve my lower leg and allow me to use my whole leg better – not to mention the improvements to my seat!
  • He likes to take my reins away. I need to be more aggressive about keeping them. Really, I need to be more aggressive about everything – downward transitions, staying on the bit, disobedience.
  • I twist my body to the right. Stop it!
  • I’m overthinking the shoulder-in. Surprise, surprise.
  • Kim keeps telling me I need new, stiffer dressage boots. Any recommendations for a budget pair?.
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“I’m pretty sure this small ditch is going to eat me.”

At this point I was getting pretty comfortable with Hollywood, and I was creating some decent work. I should have expected what would greet me at my next lesson..

Boot Camps: Hollywood I and II

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Obviously, this was before my light-bulb moment re: my hands.

In very late July, I decided to put Robbye into training. One of the main factors in that decision was the exciting revelation that I would get two lessons a week on my trainer’s schoolmasters – so Robbye and I would be in separate, simultaneous boot camps!

I’ve now had four of my lessons, and am obviously way behind on journaling about them. I always come home exhausted and overwhelmed, and have only managed to write bullet points of my notes. These recaps are truly for my own reference, though, so I’m trying not to feel bad that they’re super boring 😉

My first mount for boot camp was my trainer’s 20 year old Intermediare 2 thoroughbred, Hollywood. Hollywood is truly a schoolmaster. He has some really great buttons, and is generally a very willing mount. He only refused to work with me when I really truly was asking the wrong question, which I appreciate. There’s definitely value in riding a horse who only gives the correct answer when his rider asks perfectly, but right now I’m way too much of a noob for that horse!

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“Mom, I’m not exactly sure I want to be here…”

So here are my notes from my first lesson on Hollywood. He taught me a ton in that first hour:

  • Need to get my lower leg under control. GAH.
  • Need to start asking for, or maybe installing, big-girl turns on Robbye. Horses can truly turn and make a right angle, using their back ends. Robbye doesn’t need to make baby turns anymore and Hollywood certainly doesn’t need to.
  • Need to sit on my butt more – more weight directly on my seat. This point was really hammered home when I realized how much I could control Hollywood’s pace with my seat!
  • I need to make my dressage seat my “safe” seat. I consistently pop myself into a half seat in the canter, and that’s confusing and weak.
  • I need to be more vigilant about bend. At times I’d just let Hollywood fall out of his bend, or even become counterbent.
  • I need even more of a “slouchy” dressage seat. Less hunter!
  • My hips should remain open – this will directly result in more weight being put into my butt.
  • I need to cut out the tension. It’s not fair.

The second lesson was more of the same, although I started out more confident and ended much more confident. I did have a major aha moment about holding my hands like I’m driving a clown car: all of a sudden, it all made sense and I could keep my hands contained, with my thumbs up and my outer hand lower.

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KITTY BREAK

I also took two mini lessons with Robbye, on the ground. Kim and her daughter are working on instilling constant submission from Rob, and they of course need to teach me how to do the same! Here are my notes from those sessions:

  • Things need to happen quickly. Horses in the field, in their natural groups, don’t move slowly and don’t nag. I should be quick and aggressive.
  • When leading, Robbye should stop when I turn and face her. She should back immediately and quickly when I touch her chest.
  • She should never invade my personal space. My reaction to that invasion is “bites” (grabbing with my thumb and fingers) and aggression, until she submits. Again – quickly respond, then quickly remove the aggression.
  • She needs to give her neck from side to side more – carrot stretches, but more extreme and at any time in her workout. Trot > halt > immediately bend. Her willingness will show both her submission and her softness through the neck and jaw.

I’m excited to tell you about the other lessons I’ve had so far… one of which was… Not dressage!

I’ve Finally Given In!

The Story So Far, Part 3: Success!
Robbye’s first time being backed

When I bought Robbye, I was determined and excited to train her. I thought I knew what I was doing, to a certain extent, and didn’t have any lofty goals. I wanted a horse I could enjoy riding in local shows, and maybe do a BN event once a year or so.

But a combination of Robbye’s personality and my own ruined those carefree plans. She’s too stubborn and work-averse to learn quickly or easily for my really-really-amateur experience, and I’m too goal-oriented and hard-working to remain content at local hunter shows.

Plus, I got bit by the dressage bug – something I never expected.

So we started learning dressage. And…kept…working. For two years we’ve struggled, and made little progress. I’m too much of a noob and not nearly aggressive enough to counteract her personality, and she’s too hard of a ride for my inexperience to thwart.

From July 23 to August 11 I rode exactly zero times. I’ve lost my motivation and my drive. Two years is too damn long to struggle with so little fulfillment. I went from riding 5 or 6 times a week to riding once in a month.

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Even this just. Isn’t. Good enough. Not after two years of working on nothing but forward and submission

(It doesn’t help that my riding friends are all out showing, making beautiful advancements on their babies, and altogether having a great summer, while I toil away just hoping not to backslide. How long has it been since I really felt like I had a successful show?)

I didn’t have a plan except that I needed a break.

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PINK ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. AUGH. I’m so frustrated with myself.

Then Kim made her case for training, and it sounded like a godsend for me. Robbye would move to her place, so I’d get a break from the daily chores and daily driving. My silly mare would also get the kick in the pants necessary to get us finally making some serious progress – and, hopefully, she’ll get some buttons installed that I’ve never used, so wouldn’t have any idea how to train!

Best of all, Kim’s training comes with two lessons a week for her students. And not on Robbye – on her own horses. Schoolmasters.

So Robbye and I can be learning separately, and then at the end, hopefully, we’ll be able to make a good team again.

I’ve been too proud to put Robbye into training. Or…maybe that’s not it. Maybe I just felt like I’d lose the satisfaction from training her all on my own, and that riding and showing would lose all of its pleasure for me. But I’ve reached that point anyway, so there’s nothing left to lose.

I know that I’ve misplaced the heart for horses I’ve been living off of for the past three years…but I’m feeling  optimistic that a month or two of boot camp will be just what I need to get it back.