Recap of the past week - Ryker had his most wonderful dressage ride (to date), turned 8, and conquered his first gymnastic line.
After his wonderful dressage ride (see post below) he got the day off, followed by our first jump school in a while. He wasn't solid going over more than one or two single fences during our previous attempts; he wasn't confident and would occasionally slam on the brakes for no apparent reason. I figured we needed more flat work and more work with poles, and then we'd try again, if there was little to no improvement, he was simply telling me he did not want to jump. After our wonderful dressage ride he felt like a different horse, confident to the point of almost cocky - he was ready. An boy did he prove he was ready!! We started with just trotting a simple Xrail, and then cantering. From there we progressed to a small vertical, and finished with a 2'6" vertical. (just ignore his little toe catch trip... the footing on that side of the ring was pretty deep and uneven, and we went a little too far over -- On the plus side, he saved himself and didn't lose his marbles afterwards!!)
The following day we made our first attempt at going through a gymnastic line since the week we first introduced jumping. The first time he tried a gymnastics (about a month ago) he got in and panicked, it was simply too much too soon -- not wanting to push the issue when he was just starting out, I kept his routine gymnastic free - just slowing adding more poles after and before single fences. This time we started with three poles, one stride apart each, and built the 1st and then 3rd obstacles up, leaving the 2nd just a pole. The first time through he slammed on the brakes at the 3rd element, it wasn't that he didn't want to jump it, more that he didn't realize it was there, and wasn't sure what to do. We then trotted just the 2nd pole and 3rd obstacle, and tried the whole thing again. He went through unquestioning, and it was beautiful. The same stop and then eventual go happened again when we built up the 2nd obstacle. Once we conquered all three, the light bulb went off, and he started to take me through it, instead of relying on me to push him through. We built up the 3rd to his first oxer, did it a few times, put it up once, and called it a day.
Here is the video of his first solid gymnastic work:
The next day, we repeated the exercise in the opposite direction, we wanted to repeat and solidify what we had worked on the day before, since it was obvious that he wanted to do it, and that he understood it enough to go through it well. We started the same way, simply building the 1st to an X and keeping the 2nd and 3rd poles. Then we switched it up, putting up the 2nd before the 3rd, he slammed on the brakes. At this point it was obvious it was not misunderstanding but he was testing the waters --he is a little bit of a trickster on occasion, I tend to forget because he is so willing otherwise... I walked him into the line and started from the halt and from a small trot we did just the second obstacle. We then walked for a bit and started over, he went though, but it was a tough ride; the following time through was beautiful, and he was ready for the 3rd. From here on, there were no more sliding stops, he understood the game and wanted to jump the fences. He was taking me to the first, second and third elements. Having to hold him steady to the first fence was an unbelievable feeling on him! We then put the 3rd element up because what we were giving him was obviously too easy at that point. We finished before he was by any means taxed, but our last effort was a decently wide 3' oxer, which he made feel easy.
Here is to two months of hard work and patience - OTTBs really are the best!
At this point we're around two months in! Ryker is going very well, especially in his dressage work. Yesterday I let him run around in the ring, not something I like to do, since I do not want to associate the place of play with the place of work, but he needed to move out. The turnout, is our course, muddy... so Ryker does very little moving around when he's outside. All that unused energy was building up, making him more an more distractible (typical thoroughbred...). He ran, and ran, and ran - back and forth and around the ring, strutting his stuff and finally trotted over to the center of the ring, where Kait and I were watching, to say hello. His expression was vastly different, he loves to run, and was so happy to finally have a chance to do so; when he was done he was ready to work.
He looked so content, relaxed, and focused, I made the comment to Kait, "I bet I could get some serious dressage work out of him now"... and well, watch the video :) He is still working on getting a grasp on moving forward into the contact, I can get a little too strong in my hands and curl him up on occasion, so I apologize for that... he is so willing and tries so hard!
Enjoy a little snippet of our first "time to put on the big boy pants" dressage ride:
(Thank you Kait for your eyes and input from the ground, and of course the video!)
Ryker is loving spring! He's been out on his first trail ride - it was not super exciting, he had so take some time to think about a "nasty pile of rocks, drainage ditch" - but he went over no problem with a little prodding. He also was convinced he was going to the track and jigged a bunch, he wasn't going anywhere, just excited, and was totally fine with not being in the lead. Once he realized we were back at the barn his expression changed from amped and nervous to slightly confused and relaxed, I foresee many successful trail rides to come :)
On another note, he is officially listed for sale! So exciting and so sad, I love him to pieces and want to bring him home with me to VT, but he is awaiting his lucky person! http://www.equine.com/horses-for-sale/horse-ad-2000747.html
Also, here is our most recent video --- In the rain! (that's how us Eventers do! He was so good out in the rain, he seemed to almost enjoy it!)
Ryker is moving forward, both in his flat work and over fences. He's been working on creating more of a connection with the bit in his trot work, his back and shoulders are slowing beginning to come up; he is still figuring out how to canter with a light contact while allowing me to sit on his back. I threw a flash noseband on him the last day before spring break, because he felt like he was ready for it. He is a sensitive soul, so I didn't want to immediately clamp his mouth shut, but as he's progressed with his understanding of contact and half-halts he's been using an open mouth as an evasion to the bit. Although it took him time to calm down about it, he was wonderful once he settled. The previous day we had a great jump school, working on adding poles to single fences - we had a pole, one stride to a vertical, on stride to a pole. He was quite calm about it, hopefully we can start adding more poles and eventually build them up into gymnastics.
I decided instead of having him ridden lightly while I was away for spring break (Down in Southern Pines, NC to work with my personal OTTB with Denny Emerson at Tamarack Hill Farm) to give him a week off to contemplate the two wonderful progressive rides we had just had, and to recharge his batteries for when I return home.
At my last school on my mare with Denny yesterday, there was a horse, Hawk, who was nearly identical to Ryker both in build, way of going, and in attitude. It felt like I was watching my own horse school with someone else. It was wonderful to see a horse with a very similar mental state, and to soak up all of the advice Denny gave to the rider and to see the horse progress (hopefully Ryker will be just as athletic and willing as this horse). Denny's biggest comment with Hawk was to "lower the intensity"; that he needed to learn that everything is not as intense as the race track. Denny had them trot everything first, calmly and quietly to bring everything down a notch. This will be Ryker's M.O. for the rest of the semester, calm quiet rides, getting him to settle and focus on the job at hand - I have high hopes for him, and hopefully Denny's advice for Hawk will help Ryker progress.