Friday, August 30, 2013

Oh Flecky....

I'm not exactly sure why but Fleck has gotten much more attached to his friends lately. Today I met Kelli at Ashland and he was obsessed with Arwyn. It was cute. She rode in the lower ring and I rode in the upper ring. Fleck did settle down and we accomplished some good work. We ran through the tests. The second level test is much easier to remember for some reason. Fleck was pretty darn good.

Towards the end Kelli had to leave but she came and sat on Arwyn for a second to watch me ride. She stood in front of the judges. Fleck and I finished our test, halted and saluted, and then I dropped the reins. Fleck took one step, then bolted into the canter towards Arwyn! Ha ha... Kelli and I were laughing so hard. It was like the movies... where it goes into slow motion and they drop everything and run to each other. Only Arwyn wasn't running. Hee hee. Kelli said I should have seen Fleck's face. goofy boy...

But yep.. it was a good day. And Kelli totally made my day! She commented on how nice my upper body position was and she could tell that I was using my core. She also said that I always had a nice following seat but today she could tell I was using my seat independently from my core and independently from my shoulders. WHAT WHAT?!?! :) GO ME!!! 

After Kelli left, Fleck and I did a bit more work. And hee hee... Man, he loves his canter/walk/canter work. I really feel like he's on the verge of changes!! He's just so balanced and ready for them! I feel like if I knew how to ask, we could get them. But he gets so excited about it that I can't get him to do the trot or walk steps in between the canter changes. Ha!! Flecky.. it's more than one walk or one trot step! Silly boy. After we finished with that, we went for a quick trail ride. He cracks me up. We came out of the woods into the XC field and he was all anxious. Ears up and pricked, head up, looking for Arwyn. Poor guy...

I so love him. 

Fancy Pants!

Whoo hooo!!! Flecky put on his fancy pants today! I really hope I can ride like this at the show this weekend. I'm not sure exactly what I did differently, but Flecky felt UP and light and fluffy! Even Cindy was impressed. We worked on my shoulder and riding how he can go. Not just how he used to go. I focused on closing my legs at the inside, not with the back of my calf. And I worked on keeping my arches soft and supple, not tensed. And I rode Fleck UP into the bridle. And wow!! He felt amazing! We got some really nice trot lengthens and some really nice SLOW canters! We worked on some of the test moves and I really need to prepare earlier for my leg yield to figure 8 to leg yield move. We finished with some half pass work and wow.... He's really getting it.  I still need to remember that I don't have to yell to him. I can whisper and he hears! For example, to half pass left... I do not need my right leg at his tail. I can put it just behind the girth and he still moves to the left quite nicely. Doh. I do need to focus on keeping my weight even in both seat bones. My hips move to the left to bring him over there with me but that doesn't mean I dive all my weight onto the left. I shift laterally left, not diagonally (that probably only makes sense in my brain!). 

So yep.. super fun ride. I'm feeling better about this weekend! Second level debut! eeeks... 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grid day

Fleck and I had a fun lesson today. We did a grid lesson with Beth at Ashland and Christina and Sham joined us. Which Fleck LOVED! He loves his BFF Sham. 

The grid started simple enough. It was all skinnies. A vertical in the middle with two flower boxes a bounce apart on each side. The goal was straightness. Fleck started through and it was so easy for him. We did it a few times and he stayed straight. I was working on me too and I think my hands and seat and legs were behaving. Then Beth raised the middle vertical and it still stayed easy. Beth said that he was cheating a bit because he was throwing in one canter stride just before the first fence. So when I really made him sit and trot until he got over the first bounce it was tougher! But we managed to get it okay. Then she added a little skinny coop as another bounce before hand. Again, Fleck went through it pretty darn well. He even surprised Beth a bit. Then Beth raised the vertical again and we worked on keeping Fleck to a trot. It was a lot tougher as the exercise got bigger. Then she added a rather scary looking but still very small skinny roll top as a final bounce at the end. Poor Christina... Sham said nope and ducked out and she came off. So Beth got her squared away and then it was our turn. Fleck jumped it the first time but did some crazy move over it. I wasn't sure what happened and Beth and everyone was laughing at us. She said he did some crazy spread eagled spider monkey move with his legs. Hee hee. So we came again and he jumped it like a normal horse but was having to reach at the final bounce. I told her I was pretty sure it was because while he started in okay, he lost energy through out so the final one got a bit desperate. She agreed and we came again and improved it when I closed my leg over the first few fences and kept it closed. Then Beth raised it again and now it was hard! Fleck was having to twist over the vertical because he wasn't using his hiney well enough. Then when we sort of got that under control, we lost control of the back half of the grid. Argh! Beth had me almost half halting as we landed after the vertical to rebalance him. Once I finally figured out my timing, it got better. We finished with a good one.

That was tough work though! But Fleck felt great and I'm so excited that he's happy to be back in work again. yay!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gallop time!!

Oh and it felt so good!!! After three days of dressage in a row, which don't get me wrong, was nice, was so good to get our gallop on. I think Fleck agreed. We met Cindy at Ashland this evening for a ride and it was such lovely weather! Hot still, but not bad at all for August with a nice cool breeze. We hit the trails and hacked and chatted for a good bit and then finished in the field with some intervals. Nothing too rigid as we were having fun. We did two trot sets and then two canter sets. Fleck was having fun with Buddy. And at one point we even raced the tractor. ha ha.. We won. ;)

It was a great evening and I had a blast! It was good to get Fleck stretched out. However, his left front is bothering him just a hair. He kept swapping to the left lead to canter which is odd for him. He's much happier on the right lead. But I think that put a bit more pressure on that laceration. Which, by the way, is looking great! But when we kicked it up a notch and went for our gallop stretches, he swapped back to his preferred right lead. Interesting stuff. I think I need to focus more on strengthening that right lead so he's more even. But then I worry that if he's protecting something, should I push it? But I guess the answer is to slowly build him up and maybe he won't have to work so hard to protect whatever it is he's protecting?!?!

Anyways, regardless, glorious day!


Friday, August 23, 2013

Triple Time!

Three days of dressage in a row!!! But it was GLORIOUS!!! Oh, it felt so good to get back down to work. Though... I do admit to getting frustrated with Fleck today. They were watering the arena and... he just kept spooking away from it. Not bad.. but in that I'm going to throw my barrel out and fall in and NOT go into the outside rein which you have been working so hard to accomplish kind of way. At first I let it slide.. I even giggled, glad that he feels well enough to be "spooky". But after the 8th or 9th time... I got a little frustrated. Come on Fleck.. you're 16 years old. You've been in this arena just about weekly for a year or so. You've passed her with the water hose at least 10 times. And it's a water hose!! You are a big bad event horse! So I got a little frustrated. And it showed in my riding. Argh.. shame on me. But once we got over that... we had some really good work.

I felt like today was less pretty, but I think we accomplished more. I was a bit more spazzy today. There were a few times where I thought "oh dear God, what on earth is my body doing?!?". It was spazzing the heck out, that's what! ha ha.. But we made some good progress too.

Cindy reiterated today that it's ALL ABOUT THE SEAT!! I can get slow and even and even round. But now I need to start asking for lift and suspension too. BOUNCE! :) And you know what... when I bounce my seat and ask him to lift his back.. he says "Sure thing". What?!?! That button wasn't there before! I'll take it. I just need to remember that he has the capability and can do it. But he's not going to if I don't ask. :)

Another few things from today...

Prepare earlier!!! My leg yield zig zag figure 8 thing was a disaster because I was too caught up in getting him perfect and not preparing as well as I should have. Or as quickly. And I also need to allow the 10 meter circle with my outside hand and leg. Then when we do the leg yield.. don't just shoot off the circle... leg yields are more straight than that. 

But yep.. mostly use my seat. He listens well to it.. so use it! USE IT HOLLY!!!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

He likes it, he likes it!

My horse is amazing!!! He was just as happy to be back into work as I am to have him back. Yay.... We had a really good dressage ride today! I did a lot of giggling!

The key points from today are.... soft flexible arches in my feet. They aren't supposed to be stiff! And if I remember to ride with my calves on (the sides, not the backs) my arches are easier to keep soft and not stiff. And I need to remember to turn my shoulders and upper body without my hips. Another key point... Hips FORWARD in the transitions, especially the downs. No sashaying back and forth with my butt. Hips forward!

Then we had some really really nice half passes! I don't know why, but I insist on over-exaggerating my outside leg when we go left. My right leg goes WAY back... and there's no need. Fleck half passes just as nicely when I barely move it back. :) Doh!! Start with a whisper...he doesn't need me screaming at him.

Also, when I turn down centerline to do my halt... think halfpass!! It's so much prettier than when I panic and let him get stiff and icky. ;)

So much fun!!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Yay!!! Back to work!

I love my pony!!! I got back on today and we did some ring work. The rain finally went away and the footing at Ashland was as lovely as ever. We warmed up at the walk and then went to the trot. Fleck was a bit ... protective... at first. He wasn't really lame... wasn't really even hesitating... I just got the feeling that he was protecting that ankle just a bit. But every time I tried to back down, he wanted to keep working. So... we did. I figured I would just take it easy but we ended up doing a fair amount of work. He kept wanting to keep going. :) 

He loves to work!


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Early Morning Snuggles

Okay, so not that early but don't tell Fleck. He was a big ol' sleepy head today. I must have caught him mid-dream... I wonder.... what would Fleck dream of?? Jumping big jumps? Swimming in his lake? Sending the little squirt far far away... ? Ha ha! 

Anyways.. I came home from work and noticed Dan asleep in the grass. He got up and said hi and then I saw Fleck in his stall. Poor guy.. there's NO shavings in there because... well, it's just not staying dry. I managed to sneak in and get some pictures. He was so cute. Then I got to snuggle with him and he just laid his head in my lap and fell back asleep. It was so sweet. For a minute. Then I got paranoid that he was dying! He NEVER stays this sleepy... especially at breakfast time. So.. I got up and clucked. Nothing. Went and got feed buckets. Nothing. Danny even walked partially in his stall and Fleck pinned his ears and snaked his neck but didn't get up. Oh dear... I was about 2 seconds away from calling Christina and making her come out. Luckily I took a breath and went and got his halter. I put it on him and clucked and he sighed and got up. Walked out and looked at me like "yeah.. I'm up... so??". I took his halter off and he yawned and then turned his butt to me for scratches. Ha ha... guess you're okay buddy. Guess you're okay. 

Thank God! After that I guess he wok up because he ate well and got more scratches and then was chowing down on his hay. And his wound is looking better. I opted to not shove antibiotics down his throat this morning after his scare. Just in case his belly was tender. Though he had good gut sounds. 

But it was nice to snuggle for a bit. :)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Shame on me

Poor Flecky.... his wound ended up being MUCH deeper than I thought... and the poor guy is falling apart!!

Kip came Monday morning to put Flecks shoe back on. Poor pony... Kip accidentally quicked him and Fleck held his foot up high and waved it around so we would know. Kip replaced the nail but Fleck was still tender for a bit. Between his cut on the front and the hot nail, he limped off like a 90 year old horse. And while shoeing him, it became apparent that Fleck's little "scratch" was actually a laceration. Ooops...  Only even more oops because I still didn't really do anything about it. I mean, I was keeping it clean and putting goo on it, but I still didn't realize the extent of it. And luckily, because he does have such sensitive skin, I had started him on antibiotics already.

Anyways, I gave him a few hours to recover from the hot nail and then took him for a ride. I was hoping to do some dressage work so we did our ten minutes or warm up and then I asked him to trot. Uh oh... Super lame pony! I couldn't figure out if it was from the hot nail or the laceration. Or both! So we went back to the walk and did our homework from Kelly at the walk. I tried another trot and still lame and then I wanted to do just one canter from the walk to reinforce the "you can go into the left rein and still pick up the canter". And Fleck was game for it, but.. two strides into the canter, he broke to the walk. He said "that hurt! Mommy". So we went back to the walk for a bit and then a short hack. He was happy and sound at the walk, so... we did.

Then after our ride I went to really looking at his wound. YIKES!!!! That really was way deeper than I thought.... Poor guy... Ugh.. So I cleaned it out and put goo on it. No wonder he was lame.

He got a few more days off and I was cleaning and wrapping and gooing galore! Finally on Sunday I had had enough and had to get back on him. I hopped on in the pasture bareback and bridle/halterless and tried to "stacy westfall" it... Ha!! Yeah, not so much. We went in circles. Hee hee. Come on Fleck! I thought we were making progress on seat aids! Apparently not as much as I thought. But he did seem sound at the trot. So I put him in the trailer and hauled him to Ashland. We had a fun relaxing walk hack with Cash and Judy and Fleck felt great. Him and I were both happy to get out. And at the end of the ride I did a few quick circles at the trot and there was only the ever so occasional off step!! YAY!! We even did a quick canter since I couldn't resist. Whoo hooo. The wound still looks pretty bad but he's feeling better, so I'm happy!

Now to just get it to heal before AECs. Seems like it's a trend for us to go to the AEC's with open wounds... his fourth of July laceration.... this..  Although man.. seeing the two photos together.. it actually looks worse, but I think that's just the granulation tissue looking odd. It looks healthier at least. Ordered some equiade to help with the proud flesh that is sure to start up.

Oh, and then while on our first trail ride he developed a big lump from a bug bite. Well, four days later that big lump is now swollen about 5 times the size. Then he got another tick bite on the other side of his neck and that swelled up. Jeeesh... like I said, he's falling apart!

Poor princess.....
Snuggles will make him feel better right?!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Life is Good, Life is good Indeed!

So...Fleck is so darn cute!!! Our neighbors paint ponies are back and Danny has made friends. Dan and the bigger guy were grooming each other over the fence and poor Fleck was so pitiful. He obviously had his feelings hurt. It was so sad. And cute. Hee hee... Poor Flecky! But.. unfortunately, his big brother protectiveness kicked in and I guess he was telling those poor paints who was who and managed to get his foot caught in the fence. Sigh... Luckily it just scraped him, but... Princess Sensitive skin is all poofy and oozy now. Argh... So I gave him Friday off and then Saturday too because Mike and I went to 6 Flags. Well, I hopped on him bareback and rode him from the barn to the front field and then trotted him but just long enough to realize he was lame. Poor kid. Sigh...
But today... today I couldn't stand it. And I thought that if perhaps we took a nice easy walk through Ashland he would stretch out of it?? Turns out, I was right! Yay! I'm so glad we went because it was awesome. I so needed that. 


I ended up riding bareback because I was running out of daylight and time and figured I'd just be walking anyways. We started out in the cross country fields and caught the sunset. Then we headed to the woods and enjoyed our trek. Towards the end the horse flies got bad but by this point Fleck was moving out much more smoothly so we did some trotting. And he was sound! Yay. I was giggling because we headed into a darker section of woods and it was kind of scary. I felt like Belle on Phillipe in Beauty and the Beast, when she's riding into the dark and scary woods. Hee hee.. And like a true Disney movie... Fleck delivered me safe and sound to the other side, back into the sunshine! And as we hit the open field again, a buck and two does bounded off. And there were lightning bugs flitting around. And then the moon rose... 

Disney in real life! Which is perfectly fitting... as we are both Princesses. ;)

But really... it was a wonderful night. I had fun just hanging out with Fleck. I was laughing at him because he was having trouble with one persistent horse fly and I told him that he could do whatever he wanted to in order to get it off. He could buck if he needed. Ha ha.. I swear, we both started laughing and then he bobbed his head up and down like "Good one Mom!". hee hee... 

Of course then... 20 seconds later we were surprised by the deer. He scooted... still no bucking. :)

Man I love that horse!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mr. Fancy Pants!

Whoo hoo!!! Flecky was sooo good today in our dressage lesson. Poor guy.. despite not having a hind shoe I went ahead and rode him. But he honestly felt more even behind today than usual. ;) Their footing is just so soft I didn't think he'd care. And he didn't. 

I started off my ride thinking "We will be dressagey and fancy and not mincy" from the get go. So while I did warm up at the walk, I made sure it was connected, even while long and low, and we did some lateral work. Then as soon as I picked up the trot I was determined to not get mincy. Cindy was proud of me for working so hard for the slow steps and sure enough, he wasn't quick. But he was sluggish, so I had to get a bit more energy out of him. I managed to do that and was able to really get some decent work. I was trying to remember the stuff that Kelly had told me in the last lesson as well as all the gems that Cindy has always had me do. And I think I was actually able to accomplish a good bit of it! Fleck was definitely tougher to get into the left rein again and now that I realize what's going on, it was a bit more frustrating to me. But we managed some good work. Until our left lead canter. I was determined to get a connection on that left rein and Flecky.... he just...couldn't.... canter... while... being... held... on...the...left....!!!! hee hee. And I remember trying to long him years ago with side reins. He is just convinced that there is no way in heck that it is possible to canter with a connection on the left side. To the point of falling down! Or counter cantering. And we did manage to get it but it was never pretty. So that will definitely be some homework. Our left lead counter canter three loop serpentine was a drunken weaving falling in and out mess. Hee hee. But our right lead one was quite pretty! And I think we did a pretty decent job on our simple changes across the short diagonal. Those are especially tough for us. I was even a bit better about sitting through them and not getting pulled forward. i did however, lose my elbows a good bit and my shoulders. I must remember to soften my shoulders and keep them back behind me. My elbows need to stay at my side yet be elastic. I was losing the connection there. And Cindy kept telling me that I wasn't riding with the back half of my body. I needed to "ride the back half of my body". That meant to put my shoulders back and down, my elbows back and down and strengthen and use that core. Oh, and then I also was losing my loose draping leg, but when I focused on rolling it in a little so I used the inside of my calf, not the back, it was better.
We finished up with some shoulder in to renvers and then some mediums. And HOLY SMOKES!!!! We had some REAL honest to goodness mediums!! I just allowed it and man... he just extended out there! And in the corner... rather than grab... I just tightened my core and held it a bit and he came right back to me!! No bracing, no falling on his forehand, no inverting... it was awesome!!! I'm so proud of him!! And me! :)

Oh, and.. hee hee... during our right lead canter... at the open end of the arena.. I wasn't sure what happened while it was happening but after talking about it with Peri... I think I inadvertently asked for flying change.. and he gave it to me!! It was "clean" but definitely not pretty. Hee hee. I think I was working so hard to get him into my left rein and then I remembered that to help him bend his ribcage I needed to turn my right shoulder in, and... suddenly his head flew up in the air and he hollowed but were suddenly on the other lead. Cindy immediately told me to not pull back, reward him, and go forward. I was so confused as to what had just happened, I did what she said. But I think she was afraid that I would get mad at him and pull back and punish him when he really did what I asked. He was expecting me to get mad though (That's a humbling reality... :( poor Fleck.....) and so he braced and hollowed ready for it. We came back to the trot and then carried on so hopefully I can break that habit which will then allow him to trust in me and break his habit. But it was kind of neat that he gave me one. I didn't even have to really ask. ;) At least.. I didn't realize that's what I was doing.

But yep... he felt really good today despite some really horrible moments too. But you know what?! That's okay because those horrible moments mean that at least I'm trying and we can work through those. 

Such a super boy!

XC schooling

Well..... I wish I could say it went swimmingly well and we're ready for AECs. But... it wasn't that great. It wasn't horrid. And perhaps more of it had to do with a minimal warm up, lack of coaching, and me being tired. But... I wish it had gone better. We hauled to Full Gallop as I had a free school for volunteering and we were heading to that area anyway to help out a friend. And I wanted to give that ditch and wall the evil eye. ;) We got there and put Fleck in a paddock while I helped a friend and then it was my turn to ride. It was 3 pm and it was hot and humid. Sure, not as bad as it could have been for August in SC, but still hot and humid. I got on and did a short warm up. I decided not to do too much as he had been in the paddock cruising around and it was hot. We jumped a jump or two and then I gave myself a small course. And it was a decent sized small course. I warmed up over a BN coop, a novice table and then a training house. He wasn't phenomenal - just a little pecky to them and not really going forward but by the training house he was in better gear. We took a breather and started our course. It was the training table, then the big fairly impressive prelim table, to the prelim brush and then we went to the up bank, ditch, bank down combo. I had planned to then come around and do the brush backwards (flagged for both) and then do an s curve to the angled roll tops (which were the scary ones at the last show.. much less scary without the brush!) to the tractor. Which may have been prelim but may have been intermediate. If it was intermediate it was an EASY intermediate. I jumped the novice coop one last time to get him rocked back and bouncy and then we did our course. We started out fine and he nailed the brush fence. However, I got towards the bank and felt his shoulder darting out. I knew it wasn't a good approach and tried to fix it and I managed to get him up the bank but he stopped at the ditch. Drats.. We circled and came again and I got him over the whole complex but it wasn't pretty. I kept getting ahead of him and my feet kept sliding back. So we attempted it a third time and I finally got it accomplished fairly well. I let him have a breather and then we did the training/prelim roll top and came straight to the bank combo and NAILED it this time!! I had great landing gear and he went up and over happily. So then we turned and did the brush backwards, which was awesome! I saw that one 3 strides back and we rocked and rolled. Then he jumped the tractor. Mostly. ;) The line was a bit more angled/bent that I thought and so my approach was horrid. It was a very bad mommy moment as I put him at it at a fair angle and it's a pretty wide tractor. Bless his heart.. he went, but he had to drift hard left to avoid landing on it or something so we would have taken out a flag. Doh! We circled and came again at a much better line and better canter and it was good. 
Then we went to do the training level trakenher and went to the regular ditch first. And he was just sticky to it...shoulders popping in and out but he went. I don't know if I was overdoing the half halt as it was on a slight downhill or what. We came again and it was a little better. It was the same ride to the trakenher though much better the second time. We then moved on to the water. I was smart and a good girl and we did the drop in to the up bank out, then the skinny training level drop in and then up the mound out and then the skinny prelim drop. The first time wasn't pretty. He did his patented Flecky pitter patter step and kinda rolled in. He didn't pick his shoulders up. So the second attempt I thought I should make him be braver and go a little more bold at it. Yep... that didn't work. It was a little scary. He got to a better distance but had to twist over it. Probably not fun for Peri who was watching. So then she suggested that perhaps he needed a more collected canter, not bolder. And I think that I knew that and knew that he needed to be more rocked back and on his butt and more powerful but I sort of sacrificed that for more bold. And achieved bold through bigger stride rather than more powerful packaged stride. So when I rode it thinking package instead of bold... it was actually quite nice. He didn't pat the ground, picked up his knees, jumping boldly enough in, and we didn't scare anyone. Yay! Success.
 We then headed down to the other water so I could just look at the ditch and wall. At this point we realized he had pulled a hind shoe, so I figured I'd just cool him off. And yep.. ditch and wall still looks terrifying! Apparently to Fleck too. I decided that perhaps I should jump him over the trakenher next to it, since he spooked at it last time and bolted out for the run out. So we headed over the ditch and again, he was sticky to the ditch. I turned him around and did it again and got a nice jump and then we headed to the trakenher. From the get go I was fighting his shoulders. What?!?! That jump really didn't bother me. Yes, the ditch and wall right next to it did, but not that jump. I'm not sure if Fleck was spooking at the ditch and wall or what but of course we came to it crooked, bent, and behind the leg so he stopped. I smacked him and we came again and I worked VERY hard to keep him straight. And we jumped it but it certainly was a fight to get him to it. Really?! So we came again and while it was much nicer I still had to ride VERY hard to keep him from blowing out that left shoulder. We finished over the hanging log afterwards and he jumped that nicely. Even moved up to the long spot. 

So... while he was good.. he wasn't great. And it wasn't a very confidence inspiring ride for me. I'm feeling a little blue about it quite frankly. There was too many issues for me to feel confident going to the AECs. So I think have changed my mind YET AGAIN and decided that I need to run him there in a week and a half for a run before Texas. I'll run him P/T (or maybe even training to practice that test... I hate that I won't get to do the prelim stadium and I really really really hate Training Test B, but... argh.. I don't know). I'm just frustrated. He's been feeling so good and now suddenly... this.?! And maybe it's my fault for the earlier mentioned reasons. I wasn't on my game either and didn't really prepare him as well as I could have. I'm sure I wasn't riding as well as I should have either. But.. I guess I'll spend the money and run and get ourselves back in the game before Texas. 

Argh... now to decide whether to do P/T or just T. And deal with the frustrated husband. And the lack of sleep. 

But you know what?! It's still a fun show! I'm sure we'll get back in gear and have a blast. And maybe, just maybe... I'll wish we had gone ahead and run prelim. Ha!! Not if that ditch and wall is on course. ;)

Monday, August 5, 2013

My big bad ass rock star pony... who is also a redneck!

Fleck and I had so much fun today! We ended up not riding Wednesday as it was raining on and off and I wanted to nap. I don't think Fleck minded not going the 8th day in a row. ;) Then Saturday I promised Mike would be a no horse day... and ended up mowing the pastures for 3 hours, but at least that got done. So Sunday was a Fleck day. We had signed up for the Kelly Eaton clinic at Wishing Tree Farm and headed out fairly early for our rides. We started with dressage in the morning, had a break, and then jumped. I'm so glad we did both. Kelly is super helpful and super fun. 

We started out at the walk in a circle around Kelly. She pointed out that Fleck was very supple and obediant longitudinally, but not so much laterally. She said that in the circle he was almost walking out with his hips. He was stepping wide and around (almost sashaying his hips) rather than stepping over and under with his inside leg. That was due to lack of bend and outside rein connection. She said that many times we underestimate the weight that we want to feel in our hands to get the connection. I was definitely doing too much wiggling and suppling with my fingers. FIRST I had to get the connection. THEN I could supple it with the wiggles. But until I had that connection, my wiggling was just that... So... at the walk, inside leg to get him to bend around me. I had to keep a firm connection in both reins and leg him into that connection. If he fussed or got hollow or inverted that just meant we were on the verge and I wasn't to give up or let go or soften. Just keep asking him to step up into it. Then once he was in the connection, I could wiggle a bit and soften a bit to get him to take that last step of true connection and drop his head a bit, softening into it. And it was awesome!!! His back came up, his withers came up and the muscles on the side of his neck were bulging... the right muscles too! And sure, it was only seconds at first, before he would throw his shoulders out or counter bend out of it. The big key was legging him into it and not wiggling. It was easier going to the left and I got an explanation of why. It makes perfect sense. Fleck prefers the right rein. He will go into that rein. So when we track left, it's easy enough for him to go from my left leg into my right rein. But when we track to the right... he doesn't want to go into the left rein but instead still wants to go to the right. So he throws his shoulders to the inside and counter bends to get the weight on that right rein. Aha!! I knew he was coming in but it's not that he's leaning.. it's that he's throwing those shoulders around and counter bending. Aha. So she had me do an indirect rein with the right rein and slide both hands to the outside, but making sure they stayed low. This would help put his shoulders back where they belong. The other key factor to getting him connected was to get the bend. And that was so much easier when my body cooperated. I had to focus on having an independent upper body from my lower body. So when I want right bend, I need to turn my shoulders in to the right. But my hips and seat need to stay the same. That was hard for me and while Kelly kept saying "Now you are straight" I kept thinking holy smokes I'm so over turned! I also kept pulling my left shoulder up and tensing it, no matter which direction I was going. By turning my shoulders/upper body, but maintaining my hips and seat and legging him into the connection, I got true bend!! His back was curved and I saw the proverbial "Nostril and eyelashes" of the inside. Whoo hooo. It was great. 
Then we moved on to the trot. Oh dear. Ha!! Of course, especially going to the right, Fleck kept cantering. Kelly wants me to really focus on NOT using my right leg as a canter aid because I felt Fleck was somewhat justified in cantering when I closed my right leg. Though thinking back on it... I think it's just his excuse. He doesn't canter when I close my right leg and ask him to leg yield or bend and he's not really working hard. And when we canter, it's more from me scooping my right hip. BUT... I do remember having to get the right lead back when I first got him by   asking that way, so perhaps it is a confusing aid to him. So I will focus on not using it for the next few months and seeing what happens. We were able to get the nice roundness and throughness and connection at the trot much easier going to the left so we did that and then came back to the right. We did manage to get it eventually but it took longer and didn't last as long. But we DID get it. Yay! And holy smokes!!! That trot... jeepers creepers that pony can move!!! It was AWESOME. He had hang time and was floating. And when I just relaxed my core and allowed it, his trot opened up and got bigger. And then to bring it back down to a working trot, I just tightened up my core and slowed my seat a hair and viola! No rein changes. It was great. 
We did a little bit at the canter too and surprisingly, that was even harder than the trot. I wasn't expecting that. He's easier to bend, but harder to keep the connection with. It may be me. Or maybe we were both getting tired. But it's all the same principles. Legging him into the connection, which is a solid and somewhat heavy rein connection without any wiggling. Then once he's there, I can wiggle to supple and soften when he's obedient and allow him to drop/hang his head just a hair. I have to turn my inside shoulder in to allow the bend and give just a hair with the outside rein. When he tries to fall in to the right...sit up back on my seatbones, half halt and use an indirect rein to get his shoulders back in line. My upwards were still a bit off but my downward transitions were getting lovely. Whoo hooo... Lots of homework.

Fleck and I had a short break and we cooled off before jumping. We were jumping with Stephanie and Beth and it was a blast. It was so neat to see the changes Kelly was making with them and how they and their ponies responded to those changes. Very cool. We started with a grid that ended up being a one stride to a bounce to a one stride. Kelly was focusing on straightness and getting the horse between your aids (Ie.. between your leg aids and hand aids). We were actually pretty darn straight! Whoo hoo. Kelly wanted us all to do more of an automatic release. She said it saves us time by not having to do the crest release and then regroup. I asked about preventing myself from catching him in the mouth and having him as my seatbelt. In my last lesson.. I wasn't getting left behind necessarily, but he was almost having to pull me out of the tack. She said it was related to my lower leg and once my lower leg was secure and underneath me, it wouldn't be an issue. So she wanted me to almost kick my leg out in front of me over the jumps. Then she wanted me to do the same motion with my legs as I was doing with my hands. So as my hands came forward and down his neck, my legs were to kick forward the same amount. Bigger release equaled bigger reach forward with my feet. So I did that. Or tried. And was somewhat successful. I need to remember to sit back up in between fences and there were times when I forgot one or the other, but overall, an improvement I think. So then we added the barrels. We had wings on them and they started out down on their sides. The "In" had wings funneling us in, but the out had wings going the opposite way. It was another test of straightness. All the same concepts applied. Though Kelly had to tell me that she would prefer to see me more back and waiting with wide hands. She said that Fleck was obviously a big ol' bad ass ready to rock and roll and I didn't need it with him as he was taking me to them. BUT... on another horse that wasn't so confident or brave, I would appreciate the wide hands and slightly behind seat. And you know... I actually liked it on Fleck too. It made it a bit easier to control his shoulders and I know he likes to wiggle those all over the place. And I didn't feel likely to get left behind but was more likely to wait and not launch myself at them. So after we did that a few times she raised the barrels upright, one at a time. And same thing. At this point we were both getting a little tired as it was VERY hot so we never quite got the big bold gallop in jump, but we managed to big bold gallop out jump and decided to quit there. He was still jumping in and wasn't saying no, so rather than punish him for trying and going while I was trying to correct myself, we rewarded him for trying and being good. I can work on myself later, when it's not at his expense.

So a really really good day!!! Super fun and Kelly is funny. We had a good time. I'm very proud of my beast!

I think the camera was overheated so the pictures are rather.... ghostly!  And for the record.. the dressage photo was from when we first started... and does NOT in any way shape or form, depict the final gorgeous outcome!!!