This past weekend we hosted our fourth Working Equitation Clinic with Kimberly Garvis who flew here from Virginia.
So much to tell!
The first day Zelador and Zeloso were in the same session. All of the obstacles are SO easy for Zelador and he’s very proud of his ability to negotiate them flawlessly. Zeloso is almost as “perfect” except he has a little trouble listening to Bill when it comes to opening and closing the gate.
Zeloso has been having jumping lessons with Dominique Maida for almost a year. His canter is coming along nicely. And it’s this very canter that rubbed Zelador the wrong way. Zelador almost had a hissy fit watching Zeloso canter calmly between obstacles and receive tons of praise from everyone.
My plan for the first day of the clinic was to walk/trot the obstacles. On day two we’d add the canter. Our canter has changed during the last two months from feeling like I’m on a runaway locomotive to a rideable canter when we do 20 metre circles and go around the arena. Although the canter is improving we’re not quite ready for the tons of transitions required in Working Equitation.
After years of trying to figure out why this horse who is absolutely brilliant, cooperative, happy and a joy to be with at liberty work is so difficult under saddle. Riding him at the trot he was tense and raised his head almost every three strides. Relaxing this horse was virtually impossible. Our BIG “ah ha” moment occurred two months ago when we stumbled upon the thought, “Perhaps Zelador has ulcers.”
That day he received ulcer medication. The result? A different horse. After the word “ulcers” came up I learned that about twenty minutes into a workout the stomach acid sloshes up and splashes onto the unprotected upper part of the stomach. When I think about it, I’m really fortunate that Zelador handled the pain/discomfort so politely.
Nowadays we start our training sessions with a forward canter (probably ten laps in both directions) and go on to lovely work at all three gaits.
During the weekend Working Equitation Clinic there was no room in the arena for the forward canter. We had many obstacles set up over the two days, including the: bridge, gate, barrel/bull/barrel, slalom of five bloks, clover leaf with two tall pylons and the bridge, water bottle to lift overhead, two parallel poles to go sideways over (first in one direction, then the other), a corridor with a 90 degree bend for the rein back.
Working Equitation in our arena calls for a collected canter than is manoeuvrable, sometimes performing a turn as tight as you’d experience in an eight or nine metre circle. Zelador’s not quite ready for that.
After our session Saturday I rearranged the Sunday schedule. Zelador had a private 30 minute time spot! He was brilliant! He was calm, relaxed, attentive. We did a bit of canter. Kimberly remembered riding him at the canter several years ago and wondering if he would ever stop! She and I are looking forward to next year’s clinic. We’re both expecting a calm canter performed by a horse who can execute dozens of walk/canter/walk transitions.
One of the really neat surprises during the clinic was watching Blue with Allen Kalpin riding him. On Saturday they were the only duo practicing the dressage component of Working Equitation. On Sunday Blue did quite a few of the obstacles. I NEVER thought I’d see that! Blue is 18 years old and I do believe a new door has been opened for him. Blue possesses a lovely canter that Allen can shorten and lengthen at ease. That’s exactly the canter needed to do the obstacles. One of Blue’s (and Allen’s) accomplishments Sunday was the BULL. For this obstacle the rider lifts a 12 foot long pole out of a barrel, knocks a ball off the horns of our wooden bull with the pole, then places the pole in a second barrel. They did this at the walk and the trot. They almost pulled it off at the canter.
Ron Marino and Pax DID canter the BULL obstacle successfully once.
Lillian Tepera brought her Friesian gelding Sunday. He also cantered the Bull. This horse’s canter is calm and can be brought to a slow, non-ground-covering-cadence. Another “Wow!”
Little Miss Spring Song was led into the arena on three different occasions during the Saturday clinic while other horses were working. She never showed any apprehension and quite enjoyed these brief outings.
During our riding session on day one Spring Song did every one of the Working Equitation obstacles. Kimberly Garvis had a microphone around her neck so Spring Song had lots of exposure to the noise of Kimberly’s shirt rubbing the microphone and tons of loud talking. Cassie Levy with her draft cross, Faith, was in the session with us. I learned that I’ve never asked Spring Song to stand for any length of time! When I stood and waited for Cassie to learn how to do an obstacle Spring Song started tossing her head around. She first did this when her tooth cap was hurting her. She tries to do it at the trot. Never at the walk or canter. So it was quite a surprise to be sitting on this non-stop head shaker! I chose to walk around while Cassie and Faith had their time with Kimberly Garvis. I should have gone to a pedestal and parked on top of it. This didn’t occur to me at the time because the pedestals were close to the auditors and we would have blocked their view. Thinking back on it, parking her there probably would have stopped the head tossing and helped her understand how to relax and wait. She also decided she preferred to back up, even when not asked. That was quickly stopped by me sending her forward. Alex Reinfels and I dealt with that Thursday. During that lesson Spring Song took backing up to a new “art form” level.
After thirty minutes I left. Prior to the session we all decided that 30 minutes was “enough”. The obstacles she did: halt under the bell, ring the bell. Walk through a corridor, halt at the end, back up in the corridor. Pick up a 12’ garrocha pole out of a barrel, I carry it and put the end of the pole through a ring, carry the ring and pole to another barrel and place them in the barrel. Over the bridge. Figure 8 around to tall cones. Go to a pedestal, halt, pick up a bottle of water, hold the bottle over my head, place it on the pedestal. Slalom through five objects. (These are the obstacles I remember.) After our last obstacle I demonstrated Spring Song’s double circle under the garrocha pole, to the left and to the right. Just before we left the arena she demonstrated her Spanish Walk as I led her out.
The feedback I received Saturday from auditors and Kimberly: they were impressed with the three-year-old. (I, of course, was dismayed with Spring Song’s head tossing and, as a result, quite surprised that people thought she did great.)
On day two I gave Kimberly a clicker and treats. We worked for 15 minutes on not moving at the halt. Not shaking the head at the halt. Not shaking the head while walking. At first Spring Song kicked at her belly (probably five times). Kimberly felt the filly was kicking at an annoying fly. I was thinking Spring Song was kicking at an annoying situation!
It took about eight click/treats for Spring Song to drop all the annoying behaviors. She was able to walk quietly. Stand quietly.
The day after the clinic on Monday morning I started the training by introducing Spring Song to the many new jumps (brightly coloured) in the stadium jumping paddock (located in a large field north of the arena). She didn’t put a foot wrong. There were two poles set up for a horse to trot over (first one pole, then the other). They were wide enough apart for me to lead her between them and then have her back up between them.
I put her in a stall for a while, then fetched her and took her into the round pen attached to the lower barn. We went through all of her liberty tasks for the October finals and she was perfect. Back to the stall to relax. I rode Zelador. He was amazing. Soft, supple, on the bit, able to respond to the slightest cues and numerous half-halts which helped him maintain a constant cadence at the trot.
Tacked up Spring Song and rode her in the arena. She never tried to back up. She halted and stood quietly. Once or twice she let me know that she was thinking of tossing her head. I quietly encouraged her to listen to me and she did, which resulted in her forgetting to toss her head. Also trotted and changed direction. I kept the session short and sweet.
Back to the stall to untack. Before we left the stall so that I could return her to her paddock we practiced the piaffe steps. I decided about two weeks ago to practice the piaffe steps every day. We haven’t missed a day!!!! Today she was able to do at least ten alternate steps, almost in rhythm, lifting one hind foot, then the other. This is the best she’s ever done. The system for training the piaffe that I’m using is based on a DVD I have of Albert Ostermaier which I got from Allen Pogue. Ostermaier put the piaffe on about 100 horses. He focuses on the hind feet and perhaps one out of twenty horses needs help with the front feet. Spring Song won’t need any help with those front feet!!!! She automatically lifts them to play.