I entered Elvis in our first show together. He’s been training terrific, feeling really good in his body, and, as always, fantastic in his brain.
Of course, three days before the show it occurred to me that I’d never attempted a canter-halt transition. I’d done maybe two extended trots in my entire time with Elvis, zero extended canters and zero rein-backs.
So I was super well prepared.
Fortunately, Elvis is super at extended canter, very obedient in the rein-back, and good enough in the canter-halt transition, so off to the show we went. My goal on the first day was to put together an obedient and organized test—and other than the moment where I forgot that the half-pass zig-zag started at the centerline until I was nearly at the quarterline, which made for some creative steering, I did. But he won the Developing Prix St. Georges on a 69 percent, with the comment that for higher scores, I needed more expression and finesse.
So I went in pursuit of expression and finesse on Day 2 and got just a little greedy. Going for it a bit in extended trot made for some irregular steps. The test just lacked the fluidity that I had on the first day, and while no other mistakes were made and some of the individual movements were lovely, I had too much of my horse trainer hat on and not enough of my competitor hat.
Elvis is still young and still gaining strength. When I turn up the power, he needs more help to stay light and elastic in the contact. I need to learn how to balance those two things, finding the point where I can get the most expression while still showing the ease within the work.
It’s a fine line, and it’s a line I don’t want to explore every day, because that’s a LOT of strain to take on a horse’s body. I don’t practice extended trot every day, because that’s how horses get hurt. But I need to touch on it more often, because how will my horse improve it if I don’t practice it?
While Puck is not showing, making a workload plan is a similar challenge. Puck is BIG and POWERFUL, and he’s really only got two trots at the moment—a nice civilized little one, and the big boy WOW trot. Slowly but surely I’m developing an in-between, but it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take time at the extremes. So my program for him is to do canter work with the upper levels in mind on Tuesdays and Fridays, work on the power trot on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and fluff around with little gaits and a nice low, stretchy outline on Thursdays and Sundays. It strikes a good balance of development and of relaxation, always with an eye on obedience and compliance (something Puck thinks is SO hard).
Swagger is easy. At 5, and with the muscular capacity of Jell-O, I’m mostly worried about trying to keep all his parts pointed in the same direction. He’s working nicely four days a week with a day of hacking. He spends the first day spooking at everything and the last day plodding along and reaching for the bit, and all the days in between somewhere in between.
Elvis is the first horse I’ve had at this age who wasn’t still a bit of a rogue, so I’m in a little bit of uncharted waters, but I see the plan being a bit like my Puck plan. I’ll have trot days and canter days, but for him, I think I’ll make sure each day has a bit more up and down to his neck. He’s also adjusting to life in the double bridle with me, so I’m alternating back and forth between that and the snaffle. I try and do more training, more picking his body apart and making it my own, in the snaffle. In the double, I’m steadier in the contact (because he wants to noodle around a bit more), and my transitions within the gait are smaller until he gets more comfortable in it.
And I have to do more extended trot, which I hate, because too many extended trots is a great way to hurt a horse, but it is, oddly enough, the thing that was hardest for me at the show. So I’ll touch on them a bit more, to build strength and confidence. And I’ll be much better prepared for the next show!