Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Improvements and Advancements

Mondays through Thursdays each week I try to ride Griffin. The type of riding depends on the horse I find when I arrive at the barn each day, but as with most of this year, the rides are either dressage-based on the flat or jumping in the back field. Most weeks, I only manage to ride two of those 4 days, but last week I managed to fit in all four. The first two were a 60-40 split flat-jump work and the last two were more exclusively jump/gymnastic-based.

No matter if I ride two days or four, rides tend to average around the 40-50 minute range; however, after working multiple days in a row, I definitely lessen the intensity of the work keeping in mind that Griffin is likely tired/sore from his efforts on previous days.

Currently we've got three little lines setup to work on various things.

Canter poles with a 2' -- yes, these canter poles are skinnies
Yes, I am excited about future skinny jumps

Ground pole, cavaletti, ground pole

Cavaletti oxer to a Swedish oxer of sorts

Each ride always begins with work on the flat to gain Griffin's focus and warm his muscles up. We begin at the walk and slowly build into the trot.

While I can certainly anticipate where Griffin's head is based on how he acts when I'm on the ground, I can never be absolutely certain what kind of horse I'll have until we progress into trot work. This is the gait where his mindset for work really shows itself. The majority of the time, he's just fine, but for the times he isn't (presents as stiffer on that individual day, or presents more herdboundness than another day (this is based on his favorite mare's cycle), etc.), I have to arrange our day in a manner to help him succeed.

Because that is really what my main goal is right now - setting this horse up for success. As long as he continues to find success in our workouts and enjoy the work presented to him, I'm happy. I know there will be much to work on into the future if I'm to have any luck pursuing goals of eventing, but part of achieving that goal is having a game horse that enjoys the job presented. Hopefully he won't develop glaringly huge or horrible bad habits along the way either.

As much as I try to focus on my own riding and work to better myself, it is hard without eyes on the ground or regular lessons. These are certainly things I have planned into the future when my finances can better handle it, but for now I am where I am with things. And I'm okay with that!

Griffin is doing absolutely outstanding, in my humble opinion. Whether my equitation is absolute perfection or not, he's doing wonderfully with what he's presented. I can't ask for much more than that! (Granted, I'm confident my equitation - while certainly imperfect - isn't such that I'm harming my horse in a great way! I've got things to work on (as most of us do) that will certainly better the horse's performance in addition to my own, but until such a time as I work with a trainer, I'm pretty confident my horse isn't going to turn into an asshat or become horribly crippled from my efforts. ;-) )

Our workouts typically proceed in a linear fashion through the above pictured lines: we begin with the ground poles, trotting and then cantering; we proceed to the ground poles with cavaletti, trotting and cantering; if things have gone well, we add a 2' vertical to canter poles; if that goes well, we do the paired cavaletti to the oxer (typically set between 2'6" and 3') for a few goes.

Very first attempt at 3'

If Griffin's efforts and attitude could be translated into speech, he'd tell you his favorite part of our work is jumping - the bigger the better. If you asked me, I'd tell you I really enjoy the canter poles - something Griffin certainly doesn't enjoy as much because he has to work harder!

Griffin has natural skill at jumping. He's been drawn to the jumps from the very beginning of his riding career, veerying off the track I was riding in the barnyard to hunt whatever jump I'd had setup for Q. He's just drawn to jumps for whatever reason. Even today, while more subtle than his previous efforts, he seeks out the jumps and when he's locked onto one, he GOES. He's straight with his approaches and, while I'm full aware it's certainly my job to pick (or maybe help pick?) distances, he seems to have a natural knack for that, as well.

It's all well and good that he's got natural ability, but as with most sports, there is a lot more to it than just natural skill! Exercises to hone, polish, and perfect that natural skill are absolutely critical. And that's why I really enjoy the canter poles. They're the perfect tool to hone and polish his canter into a better canter. And the canter is of the utmost importance when it comes to jumping if the topic's frequency in various publications on jumping/eventing is any indication!

Since the addition of canter poles to our routine, Griffin's definitely gaining more prowess. A single 18" cavaletti is more commonly trotted over or cantered over instead of jumped. His canter is becoming stronger and more balanced all the time.

If he's done well with the "hard" (to him) work, he receives the "reward" of getting to just jump. And boy does he love it! Being allowed to do just jump is the equivalent of a trail horse getting to turn for home. Any perceived fatigue goes out the window. Ears come up, an increase in pep is introduced into the gait, and in general, the horse's whole demeanor is one of enjoyment.

Video screenshot

And again.

And again.

He's anything if not consistent!

If Griffin could speak and you asked him what he hears most often from me as we ride, he'd tell you it was, "Good boy! Now, if only your rider could only get her shit together to be better for you!" And no, I don't say this to be hard on myself, in fact, it is quite laced with sarcasm and jest (as are most things I say, let's face it).

I'm beyond pleased with this little horse - and that definitely outweighs my own shortcomings. Besides, I know I'll have eyes on the ground helping me be better soon enough. =) Nicole has been a monumental help in reviewing videos of our efforts to this point though. --Thank you, thank you, thank you!-- It's hard to always ride alone and get better, but thanks to Nicole, I'm at least developing an eye and understanding for areas of improvement!

I'm finding the journey with Griffin to be quite a bit of fun. As much as I LOVE endurance, I also am really, really enjoying learning dressage and jumping. A LOT. I love the puzzle of dressage, what it does for the horse, and how it improves the rider. Jumping has always been a dream of mine, and I have to say, while I don't have any great expectations about where things will go with Griffin, I certainly wouldn't mind if they led to opportunities to jump big! Time will certainly tell, but until that point, I'm really enjoying the journey.

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