It’s been a while since a “Life with Isley” post, and that’s because quite honestly, life with Isley has been fairly mundane lately. Young horses go through so many development stages and oftentimes there are stretches of time where nothing particularly exciting happens, and you find yourself in the training trenches going over the same lessons until your baby horse is fitter, more balanced, and ready for the next thing. Unfortunately repetition can lead to tension, boredom, and anticipation, so these stages should be handled with some imagination. For me, I have to make sure my cross-training ideas don’t get me into trouble lest Nina come out to discover that I’ve taught Isley to bow at X or some other nonsense that inadvertently creates a problem because now he will ONLY bow at X and not just halt like a normal horse – and I’ve ruined the show season till we sort it out.
I am a huge believer in introducing new exercises and getting out of the same old routine, so while Isley has been in a “baby funk” these past few weeks, I have done my best to keep the lessons from getting repetitive and change things up just enough that he flexes both brain and body.
PHASE ONE a.k.a “Ground poles are not oxers”
The first thing I attempted was pole work. In the past Isley has shown a natural capacity for extension at liberty, but under saddle when you ask for “bigger” he suddenly has 4 left feet. Reaching for different stride distances over poles seemed like the perfect exercise to help him start to find the muscles required to open up his stride.
Important fact about Isley, he has two nemesis in this world. 1.) Spray bottles (don’t ask me why, I’ve worked on it since he was 4 months old and he is convinced that battery acid is the only thing they could possible contain), and 2.) Obstacles. He immediately becomes a snorting, fire-breathing mess when asked to walk over a single ground pole. I have always ignored his antics and made him do it anyway, but the sudden lack of coordination and complete offense he takes at the suggestion of jumping/stepping/or otherwise crossing a line on the ground is incredibly embarrassing (for him). Months and months ago Nina suggested we put a pole in
the round pen and lunge him over it. At first she didn’t understand my Cheshire-cat smile and response of “be my guest”, but upon seeing his sudden departure from sanity and snort/bolt/three footed leap 4 feet off the ground with the coordination of a newborn taking its first steps it, was quite clear that jumping is not Isley’s forte.
I made many attempts to re-introduce and incorporate poles into Isley’s day off exercises – letting him romp around the roundpen at liberty with poles set up (FAIL), lunging him over single and double trot poles (NOPE), and riding over single poles at all three gaits (despite an obscene amount of offended snorting surprisingly this was not a disaster). He had a few good moments, but all in all not great.
PHASE TWO a.k.a “Fine, then I’ll give you something to jump about!”
I thought it might be beneficial for Isley to use his body in a different way, find his feet, and work his hind end. What better way to do that than over fences at liberty? If the look on his face was any indication, he strongly disagreed, but I got him to jump little cross rails and it definitely got him thinking different (probably more violent) thoughts during his work outs.
PHASE THREE a.k.a. “YEE-HAWWWW!”
Frustration has no place in the arena. I tell myself this time and time again – but it is much harder to practice what you preach, and honestly – sometimes I get pretty frustrated. Fortunately I can commend myself on not taking it out on my horse and trying to manage it in ways that minimize it hindering my riding. To combat frustration, I always try to break things down to a more simplified version of what I’m aiming for, so success can be had on a smaller scale that will still aid in putting together the big picture in the long run. Can’t get the trot leg yields today? Lets get them at the walk. 75% of the time, I’m frustrated with myself – when I feel ineffective or like I can’t get myself together enough to clarify my communication to Isley. 20% of the time I’m frustrated with outside factors – a day where everyone decides to garden, dump stuff with the tractor, or pressure spray the barn, etc. during my ride and any attempted exercise turns into a spook zigzag down the long side with minimal steering and maximum cursing. 5% of the time I get frustrated by my own impatience – I know my horse can do what I’m asking, I know I’m asking him well, and I know that some day soon it will come together, but that day is not today and that just gets my feather ruffled.
I was having one of those 5% days where the canter was just miserable, Isley felt sucked back and tight, and nothing I did at the trot or walk was helping to relax him – he was grinding the bit at the stretch circle even while giving me a good stretch, he would plod along at the walk, but when I asked him to move up and march out he would get immediately tense and shuffle into a trot. He was fussing around in the cater and I was at my wits end when, on a short side, I had an idea. I suppled him in front a bit around the corner, picked up my hands, kept my seat light, and gave him a big ol’ “Yee-Haw”. I’m not sure his reaction could have been funnier – there
was a moment of in-air suspension where his body language SCREAMED “wait, you’re not serious?”, but I kept my leg on, gave a big kiss with every stride, sat quiet, and asked him to get his butt FORWARD. The first long side was a little silly, he barely moved up as he dithered in disbelief – but on the next short side I sat deep, aimed for some baby collection, and cantered a balanced 10-15 meter circle before giving a big “Yee- Haw!” again and asking him to take me down the long side. This time he pricked his ears forward, opened up the canter, and WENT. By the time I hit the short side again I couldn’t help but have a huge grin on my face – this was fun! We did the exercise a few more times, each time coming back easier, getting more balanced on the circle, and having more and more fun extending down the long side. We were both enjoying the work and that’s when it hit me – Sometimes the best training for rider and horse is just having fun!