Building Into December

Dec 10, 2018 - 8:44 PM

I hate December. It’s cold; it’s dark, and it’s time spent twiddling my thumbs waiting to get to Florida. When I’ve had serious upper-level competition horses, December is a bit of let-down time. I take the last two weeks of November and the first few weeks of December to just fluff around, and then the last two or so weeks to build back up to hit Florida in good form. But with the young horses, there are really no peaks and valleys, just slow and steady work.

So we tread water. Fortunately, my horses are all being terribly good and smart, so trundling along isn’t a travesty. Puck wins the award for Most Improved. I’ve been at home for most of the last two weeks and on a normal schedule, so I got to just work him like a normal horse for two weeks, the first time my wild travel schedule has allowed. It was delightful.

I’ve settled into a weekly routine that seems to be working: Tuesday and Friday leaning on the canter work; Wednesday and Saturday focusing on the trot, and Thursday and Sunday hacking and stretching as the weather (and his exuberance level) permits. Puck has found this amazing gear at the trot, with super power and expression, but I don’t want to go bananas with it and have him end up hurt.

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Puck’s starting to learn his Big Boy trot. Kimberly Loushin Photo

Working along with my vet, the amazing Dr. Cricket Russillo, we devised his weekly plan such that I can get enough work in to keep him building topline and also keep his brain from getting unrideable, but follow up the trot work days with lighter stretching work to help reduce the risk of injury as he gets strong in this new work. He’s responding beautifully, day by day getting better at keeping the withers up and the power under control while I have greater mobility of his parts. In the last week he’s pretty much figured out how to make shoulder-in within the Big Boy trot; half-pass remains elusive, but I’m not worried. He’s getting awfully fun!

Elvis is also getting super fun, and I’m going to tell you all why, but its going to be one of those things that sounds ridiculous. I’m thrilled to death with where Elvis is because Elvis has pretty much fallen apart. Allow me to explain: Elvis came to me with this amazing uphill power trot, and while it is super cool and definitely what I’m going to want from him in the future, he doesn’t have any other gears to that trot. The canter is more rideable, but it’s also not nearly as strong. In short, I need to take him back to the beginning and just establish a broader spectrum of options within each gait.

I’m halfway there, in that I now have basically no options at each gait. I’ve taken him back to his most boring, basic trot and canter, killing the fancy trot he came with, but I have yet to establish the “new” power trot, the one I’m going to want that is adjustable back to half steps and out to extended trot and with every stage in between. In short, the wheels have fallen off the wagon, and I’m delighted because now I get to put them back on.

There are many things that make Elvis remarkable, but this is one of them: Through this whole process, he has been almost completely emotionally uncomplicated. He’s not completely unflappable—7-year-olds that are too well mannered make me nervous—but he’s a challenge to flap. He takes pressure, makes a reasonably honest effort, and is totally comfortable being uncomfortable, facing unfamiliar work with poise. I can’t say enough what a phenomenal and unusual quality this is. What an honor!

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Elvis is learning to use all ranges of his gaits. Kimberly Loushin Photo

Baby Swagger has been on the back burner again, always seeming to be the one for whom I have the least time. Not that it’s seemed to matter—he continues to develop beautifully, every week a little better at bringing the inside hind leg to the outside rein, and he has a half-halt that works about 40 percent of the time, which I consider a tremendous achievement for 17 hands of big-moving 4-year-old.

I just made the decision to not take him to Florida this winter, a purely financial decision, but one I’m not terribly sad about making. I love riding him, and he’s developing beautifully, and I just don’t have any real plans for him in 2019, so having him stay at home and get worked by my crack team is just what the doctor ordered to save me a little bank.

I’m also terribly excited about my mom’s little palomino Lusitano, Helio. Helio’s job in life is to make my mom happy, something he does every day just by being adorable, but he is also a pretty banging good little athlete. He had some developing to do in the connection—he spent the last year learning how to not be two men in a horse costume—but in the last month or so he’s come on like a house on fire and now gives this kind of amazing feeling! He’s got HUGE clean changes and feels like he’s another six months or so away from a really massive gear at the trot. Pretty fun for a little nugget!

I should mention, as I tell you all about the installation of the “big boy trot” on these three horses, that I am not careening around on 7-year-olds that trot like finished Grand Prix horses, because that’s a great way to make them lame or nutsy or both. But all three have shown that they’re emotionally capable of being asked to start thinking about the gait they’re going to need to be a Grand Prix horse one day, and so I visit that land and explore it in a fun, light and low-pressure way. I want them all to be very comfortable and happy in the FEI work, so no time like the present to start navigating those waters!

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