Obstacle “Course”

Two big wins during our lesson tonight:

Win #1 – Second ride in a row that Marley has picked up the left lead canter every time. Even before his vacation he could be sticky to the left, but this spring and summer it has been really… how do you say…. ugly. Progress, though!

Win #2 – We have graduated from single ground poles to a “course” of, well, still ground poles. It’ll be a while before we’re jumping anything, but ground poles are great because they give Marley something to think about and really encourage him to use his back.

Today my trainer set up a “course” that looked vaguely like this:

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Our task was to:

  • Track left, and then trot from C to A
  • Pick up the canter at A, proceed to working trot at C
  • Across the diagonal from H to F across two ground poles
  • Track right, and circle over ground poles at V, S, R, and P
  • Working canter at A
  • Working trot at A

I can’t say that every moment was a thing of beauty, but we had a few really nice sections, including the last lap at canter.

Post-ride we did Marley’s favorite thing and wandered around the trails on the property. Tonight the bunnies were out in force – we must have passed more than 10 hopping along around the trail and in the brush. The weather has been really warm and beautiful at the barn lately, and I’m trying to soak it up as much as possible. It’s still incredible to me sometimes that I live in this crazy beautiful state!

My Red Monster.


Crises averted

Two traumatic things happened at the barn last Friday.

Crisis 1: In which Marley missed dinner

Usually when I get to the barn in the evening, Marley is eyeballs deep in his pile of hay, munching contentedly. When I arrived on Friday, he had his head over the stall door and was half snoozing, complete with droopy lower lip. As soon as I said hi, his eyes shot open, his head shot up, and he let out an ENORMOUS nicker and started throwing his head up and down. Marley throwing his head up and down is generally his way of communicating that he is dying of starvation, so I peeked in his stall. No hay.

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You guys I almost died.

Not sure how the Food Train missed him, but Marley had missed dinner and was PISSED. Barn manager was, as always, super responsive and we rectified the situation quickly, but our quiet Friday evening at the barn wasn’t off to a great start.

Crisis 2: In which there was (maybe imaginary) swelling

Usually the very first thing I do when I get to the barn is check Marley’s legs because, well, I am obsessive. I was distracted on Friday by the lack of hay, so didn’t get around to checking his legs immediately. Once Marley was inhaling his dinner, I started my traditional check and…. hmmm. Is it a little puffy? Is there filling  above the fetlock? Is it warm?

It’s possible I was stressed from the week and totally overreacting, but I swear his leg was a little puffy. He wasn’t reactive at all to palpation of his tendons, and he trotted out sound perfectly, but rather than press my luck we had an evening of hand walking and icing.

The offending leg, which in retrospect looks, um. Totally fine. See previous comment about my overreactive imagination.

By the time I left I had convinced myself that I’d imagined the whole thing but I’d rather go a little too slow than push it and end up with a broken horse. Even if we’re just puttering around in large, loopy circles – it’s still the best part of my day and I’m thankful for every ride on this beast!

Hello, friend!


Life has been nutso busy the past few weeks and I’ve been terrible about posting. Will get back on the train this weekend – in the meantime, here’s my new favorite picture of Marley, visiting with my husband’s motorcycle. I rode him around the property on Saturday while my husband was parked at the barn, and each time we walked past the bike Marley was on high alert. Decided to let him investigate post-ride, and the result was this pic. I think they like each other!

Transitions, poles, repeat.

Marley continues to build fitness and is inching closer to what I’d consider “full” flatwork. He’s cantering for close to 10 minutes and trotting 20-30 minutes per ride, and we’re re-introducing basic lateral work.

As he’s able to do more, I’ve been starting to think about how to keep him challenged and interested while working on his rhythm, relaxation, and connection. In addition to getting him out of the arena whenever possible, I’ve been devouring books and and blog posts to get ideas about training exercises.

I’ve amassed a respectable equine library over the years, but recently purchased 101 Dressage Exercises for Horse & Rider and so far have found it a wonderful resource. Very straightforward and easy to read, practical in structure, and of course many exercises that will get you and your horse thinking.

On Saturday we had a lesson and did a lot of canter work, so yesterday my goal was to focus more on the walk and trot, trying to keep a steadier connection and rhythm. Happily, we had the arena to ourselves for most of the ride so I was able to get in a quality ride and even set up some ground poles for a basic exercise at the walk.

Exercise 1: Lots of Walk-Trot

The goal of the first exercise was to help get Marley softer and more relaxed. Super simpleScreen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.06.51 AM – go around the arena, walk for approximately 10 steps, transition to a slow trot for a few steps, then transition back to a walk. Repeat. Maybe change directions. Pick you spots for the transitions so that they are intentional. Do this for 10-15 minutes.

The diagram at the right (from the book, not mine!) gives you a sense as to how frequent the transitions need to be. I found myself sometimes going a bit longer or shorter depending on how Marley was feeling; he also starts to anticipate things so I wanted to be sure he was always transitioning when I asked him to, not when he thought we were supposed to.

I can’t say that we were in perfect harmony the entire time, but Marley did definitely soften and seem to become more adjustable as we settled into the exercise.

Exercise 2: Walking Poles

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.07.06 AMI’ve been wanting to incorporate poles into our rides because I find that working over them, even at a walk, can really improve how a horse uses his back and hind end. Marley is certainly more fit than he was two months ago, but we still have work to do. I decided to start with a very basic exercise – at left, from the book, not mine! – to ease back into things.

We had some clumsy moments while Marley refreshed his memory about how to navigate things lying on the ground, but overall I was pleased with him. Very straight and focused, and the quality of his walk definitely improved over the course of the exercise.