Ryker has been absolutely wonderful the past couple weeks.  He's figuring life out... and I think he's liking the warmer weather.  We've been doing a lot of jumping, trying not to do too much, but it's hard... He's turned into such a jumping bean!  We've been working on single fences, turns, lead changes, lines and then putting all of that into a full course.  He has surpassed ever expectation I've ever had for him.   He is game, now that he seems to understand what I'm asking, he loves to jump!  There is no longer any serious hesitation to any fences, his unsureness to new fences that used to end in a stop or run out and then a re-attempt, now simply takes a little leg and occasionally an encouraging seat, for him to pop right over (whoohoo!).  
His dressage is progressing more and more as he starts to get a handle on real lateral work, moving his haunches and shoulders without getting tense and quick is hard for him and will continue to take more time, but we're progressing! He is much easier to pop right into a nice forward consistent rhythm, and is really getting a grasp on moving forward into a consistent contact.  We've been getting longer and longer periods of relaxed and forward moving gaits, the rest will follow in time!  
 I've also started working on rating his canter in the ring, getting my body used to aids he already knows from the track, and getting him used to the added leg to those aids.  Locking my joints and holding him back with my upper body while keeping leg on to keep his hind end engaged, and then allowing with my body in a more forward position to push his gait out.  It's pretty much old hat for him, esp. to the right, but I want to make sure those buttons aren't rusty when we really start doing more work outside in the field. 
  Speaking of, we have been doing some work out of the ring, and he is eating it up.  He's done a little trot and canter with a buddy - never getting strong, and coming right back to a walk (no jig, yay!).  We've also jumped our first "Cross Country jump".  We found a small little log out on the trail, and he trotted right over it, cantering away looking for direction as to where to go next.  Since we don't have any real cross country jumps to school over at Alfred, that's going to have to wait.
   That brings me to my next exciting bit of news, Ryker will be coming home with me for the summer (if he doesn't sell first)!  Not only have I fallen in love with him (surprise, surprise) but he seems to be turning into the just horse I was looking for (such luck!).  Since my Training horse is now retired to be a Beginner Novice packer (lucky old man!), I've been searching for my next ride, and on a limited budget - an OTTB is my best bet.  My other personally owned OTTB, She's and Optimist, who is also a bit of a re-sale project, and Ryker get to compete this summer for their spot as my next event horse (IF he doesn't sell before mid May) -- while I work my butt off to pay for board for three!  Both of them are talented, "Cheesey" is already turning into a XC machine after two schools at 6 years old, but since Ryker's natural movement in dressage will beat her any day, it's going to be tough. One of them will be sold this summer, so keep your eyes peeled, they're both awesome athletes!  (and don't worry, I'll keep you all updated on his adventures this summer at Triple Combination Farm)
 
 
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. 

Go Ryker!
 
 
Picture
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!)