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“Program” for development?

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  • “Program” for development?

    I’m trying to bring along my now-4 year old Mustang to be a very (VERY) low-level eventer. Might shift towards full-on Dressage if I start getting too cowardly as time goes by, and have been watching with interest Working Equitation as an option. I’m a decent enough rider as a pushing-fifty-returnee-that-was-never-all-that-great-before sort of way. I find that I have a hard time independently figuring out a plan for moving forward. I do have an instructor/trainer but it’s more of a weekly lesson sort of thing rather than an overall program sort of thing, if that makes sense. I find myself having a hard time figuring out what, specifically, I need to be working on in our non-lesson sessions. I know nothing is hard and fast; I’ve been trying to incorporate more conditioning-type work on the barn’s galloping track, for instance. Last time I planned on doing that it was windy, the rodeo next door was going on, EVERYBODY ELSE WAS BEING FED, so we spent a lot of time out on the “galloping” track with little circles at walk until he payed attention to the aids and relaxed, walk on loose rein “ARE THOSE COWS????” Rinse, repeat. Other times my lesson was supposed to be a jump (term loosely applied) school but heat and other factors rendered energy and enthusiasm low for all parties and we do something else because we want to keep the idea of jumping positive and forward. I’ve got a general idea of exercises that are useful, but not sure how to put everything together in a cohesive plan. Any good books or websites with a good guideline for what to be working on when?

  • #2
    You should discuss these things with your trainer. Together you can develop some homework for both you and the horse. Do you do both dressage and jumping with one instructor or two?

    One of the challenges with riding is becoming self directed and having an overall training plan. In order to do that you need to have some idea of the theory and training levels in your discipline, at least where you are meant to be headed in the next couple of steps up.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Toblersmom View Post
      I’m trying to bring along my now-4 year old Mustang to be a very (VERY) low-level eventer. Might shift towards full-on Dressage if I start getting too cowardly as time goes by...I’m a decent enough rider as a pushing-fifty-returnee-that-was-never-all-that-great-before sort of way.
      Without being too negative, are you sure this horse is a match for you and your current skill level? I'm not sure I would ever recommend an almost 50 re-rider who wasn't pretty accomplished in her early career and may have some latent fear of very low level eventing to take on a 4 year old mustang who while a green doesn't also sound like a reasonably steady eddie otherwise. Having said all that I would recommend reading and learning about different training scales. (Different because the Germans have one which is a little different than the French which alters from the Brits, etc.) When you understand what skills build on each other it's a lot easier to figure out what is missing and hence what you need to work on. US Pony Club might also be a good place to look for that type of information as their whole ranking system is based on progressive skill sets.


      • Original Poster

        Originally posted by subk View Post
        Without being too negative, are you sure this horse is a match for you and your current skill level? I'm not sure I would ever recommend an almost 50 re-rider who wasn't pretty accomplished in her early career and may have some latent fear of very low level eventing to take on a 4 year old mustang who while a green doesn't also sound like a reasonably steady eddie otherwise.
        Actually, he really is a super steady-Eddy and has been a huge confidence *booster* for me. But he IS four, and every horse has a bad day every now and then. Heck, my daughter and I went out for a joint lesson and the twenty-something school pony she was supposed to be riding (and has ridden often before) had his back up for some reason. I went ahead and caught him and led him thinking he'd settle down once he got out of sight of some horses frolicking in the pasture area (and let the eleven year old catch and bring in the mustang!), but OldFart kept acting like a poorly-mannered stallion and we had to put him back and have daughter ride a different lesson pony.

        On the rare (very) occasion Tobler has decided to be silly, he's very transparent about being tense and inattentive before anything even vaguely resembling a spook happens, and I know that it's probably a better idea to focus on things that emphasize relaxation and obedience, rather than push forward with my intended plan with things that are likely to escalate energy. He was fine, I was fine, he got enough of a grip eventually to walk on a loose rein down the line of the galloping track next to the (literal) rodeo to the dressage arena and we had some nice figure work and controlled canter. It was a great training session, just not the one I had PLANNED on.

        I am familiar with the general progression of training and what exercises are good to move toward achieving a particular end. What I struggle with is coming up with an organized plan for an independent session of flat work so neither of us gets bored (or anticipatory, he's great at that, instructor has to spell words like "walk" and "canter") and we actually make forward progress. We're in a bit of rut right now. I have a book of arena exercises, but I'd like more guidance in how to put them together in a way that makes sense and is a reasonable "ask" for a greenie.


        • #5
          Just because a riding lesson is an hour long doesn't mean that every schooling ride needs to be an hour. Pick one thing to work on every week. Do 20 minutes of that and then trail ride wtc to build up forward stamina and your comfort out of the arena which is key for eventing.


          • #6
            There's an old book by Sally O'Connor called "Practical Eventing" that might be just what you're looking for.

            It's pretty much a plan for getting a horse and rider to their first horse trials and covers all three phases plus a conditioning schedule.

            The newer edition (1998) is available on Amazon. The specific dressage tests and HT rules will be out of date but the riding and conditioning parts are still valuable.

            My copy is the first version, plus ca change, c'est plus
            la meme chose!


            • #7
              I agree with picking one thing to work on and holding yourself accountable to ONLY asking for the goals you set on a particular day, no matter how long it takes.

              For reference, I'm riding a 4 year old right now (about 90 days under saddle). We hope she will be able to go do a few training level tests with me in the fall and do the intro tests with her adult re-rider owner in the winter. These timelines are very vague and will obviously depend on our progress.

              Last ride's goals: 20 total halt/walk/trot transitions that were somewhat respectable (whether that took 15 minutes or an hour didn't matter).

              Ride before that: 1 whole trip around the ring without getting distracted, flipping our head, and almost falling over (I knew right as I got on that the goals for the day needed to be small).

              Ride before that: little bit of baby leg yield in trot and several nice canter transitions. This was a very good day.

              I am hopeful that the next time I ride that we will canter a whole 20ish meter circle or two in a somewhat organized fashion each direction.

              Clearly, the path forward is not a straight line, which I think you know. Our path forward does rely on two things: being in a structured program with a professional, and consistent riding by somebody with feel for progress and readiness for a new goal. Books help (I like Jimmy Wofford's book too since you're an eventer). Eyes on the ground and between the ears are better.


              • #8
                First off - good for you for getting back into riding.
                Second - kudos to you for taking on a mustang, I had one years back and he was amazing.
                Third, I commend you for listening to your horse, in your example of the day the rodeo was next door and everyone else was being fed, working in little circles and getting his attention sounds like it was the right thing for that day.

                John Lyons and other natural horsemanship trainers have a lot of good "lessons" and skills to add into your daily work to build your relationship with your horse. I recommend reading and sampling, none of them are perfect, and none of them are terrible either.

                I also recommend reading through the dressage tests, start with Intro A, can you accomplish all the maneuvers in that test? If so, great, move on to Intro B.

                I'm also riding a 4 year old and I work on the basics every ride right now.....can you take the contact, can you softly bend right, can you softly bend left, can you pick up the trot in balance without losing the contact, can you maintain a straight line, can you do a 30 meter circle, can you do a 20 meter circle, can you do a smooth change of direction across the diagonal.....etc, all the parts of the dressage tests, broken down into small pieces, returning to repeat what needs to be repeated, not drilling what is executed correctly.

                Be clear, consistent and kind. Praise often.



                • #9
                  You could look at the book 101 dressage exercises. Has nice charts of each one and you can just pick one for a session and focus on it.

                  You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Toblersmom View Post

                    [COLOR=#252C2F] I was fine, he got enough of a grip eventually to walk on a loose rein down the line of the galloping track next to the (literal) rodeo to the dressage arena and we had some nice figure work and controlled canter. It was a great training session, just not the one I had PLANNED on.
                    Hmmm...it seems to me that the school you had was much more valuable and important than one you might have had "planned." How lucky you were to be able to give him that experience, ride through and recover his equilibrium. There isn't a much better "school" to develop relaxation than to lose then recover it. Riding youngsters rarely goes according to any plan because you have to ride the horse that he his that day in that moment. The better you take a read of them and adjust your school to where their brains are in that moment the better you will be at working with youngsters.

                    I'm also riding a 4 year old and I work on the basics every ride right now.....[/QUOTE]

                    This is really important and much more informative than you might think. A story: when I was a teenager my instructor/trainer was invited to go to Virginia and watch Jimmy Wofford train his students for a week. She sat in his indoor and filled a spiral notebook full of notes. She watched him teach David O'Connor, Karen Lende and a hand full of other people who had or would go on to ride on the US Team and win medals. She came home with a huge epiphany: they work on all the same things and do all the same things that her handful of pony clubbers did at home--they worked on the basics, but just continued to refine the details.

                    No one is going to be able to give you a "plan" because it should be unique to each horse and unique to each day, but you are always working on the basics regardless of your level: Forward off the leg, transitions up and down (within the gait and from one gait to another), and lateral flexibility and responsiveness. And with youngster you have to find what combination of things produces relaxation and calmness. You just have to figure out what in that moment is going to be the best thing to do to develop one of those skills with an understanding of what the progression is for each basic concept.

                    I've brought along dozens of young ones and I've never once tacked up and thought, "gee, today we are going to do 20 meter circles working on a change of bend and direction at x, then do upward and downward canter transitions in each corner, 5 minutes of stretchy trot, then cross the diagonal and start some simple leg yielding as we cross over x, then work on turns on and off the centerline. Instead I might think back to the last few session and realize he keeps popping the left shoulder out on the bend. As I walk over the mounting block I might think about what kind of things I could do to emphasize a little more control of the shoulder like maybe asking for a step or two of turning on the haunches and seeing if I can make that translate to improving the shoulder popping. Or maybe riding a square would help...and then for some reason leaving the barn and leaving his buddies has him wound up and the challenge for today is just getting to the damn ring. So if we get there I decide we are going to emphasize stretching his neck down and forward because its my favorite trick to entice them to relax. Then once he chills we call it a day and maybe ride around the farm a little...because he's 4 and everything needs to be a pleasant experience.

                    I'm not a big fan of trying to rider youngster according to a plan.


                    • #11
                      I'm riding a 5 year old right now that was an awful, awful curler in response to contact. Since I cannot stand a horse that ducks underneath the contact, our very first job was to fix that. So he went in a side pull until he learned sticking his nose out was okay.

                      Back in the snaffle, now he's learning to push from behind in transitions and not go shooting off because the contact gets light. In the western world they call it "long trotting", and really it is the very beginnings of self carriage.

                      Some baby lateral work. Leg yeilds, shoulder in, haunches in. Just a step at a time, sometimes, but an awareness of moving his body in interesting ways.

                      We aren't doing much jumping right now, but will start soon. Part of that is my own comfort level, part of that is him being naturally very collected, so until we establish "forward and relaxed" he jumps like a deer.

                      And we work on the above while trail riding, fox hunting, riding in the pasture, riding at neighbor's houses and on the roads, playdays, any place I can get my trailer or take a horse. As soon as we had basic steering, brakes, and forward installed we started doing stuff.

                      Have fun with your horse.