Great lesson before Nicaragua trip!

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Training Session 7/24/12

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Beyond the Track by Anna Ford


I haven’t posted in over a week, and the most obvious reason for this is that the blogging class I was taking has ended.  Naturally, this blog has become much more than a course requirement for me.  It has been a platform for me to put into words my growing partnership with Ngugi.  Had I never signed up for this class, I might not have gotten into this whole blogging thing.  But I did, and I am eager to keep it alive based on personal motivation. 

I may not be able to keep up with the 1,500 words / 5 posts per week consistency that my class required, but I will try to keep it fresh and updated.

Today, I want to share a link to a piece of racehorse literature that I saw via facebook post from New Vocations Racehorse Adoption ProgramBeyond the Track, Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racehorse to Riding Horse is written by the New Vocations program director, Anna Ford, who has a palpable passion for making sure that a thoroughbred’s life does not end the moment he is no longer fit to race.  Through her experience and desire to truly listen to horses’ language, she writes a book that seems to echo my commitment to Ngugi’s Word (i.e. the understanding that one must learn the language of each horse in order to build a partnership based on connection and respect).  She argues that six factors lead to successful OTTB transitioning: 

  • Patience
  • Commitment
  • Experience
  • Assistance
  • Environment
  • Partnership

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Yes, Thoroughbreds are bred to run. But, they are not just “running machines”; they have great hearts, too. Once a Thoroughbred is retrained for riding he will do anything for his rider and handler. Many act like children and constantly seek their owners’ approval. Give these guys a job to do, and they will wholeheartedly give it their all.

Check out this link for a more in depth look at this book:

Slow, Steady Trot

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Gugi 7 11 12

Video of ground driving from April 2012

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Here’s some footage of trainer Kim ground driving Gugi to help her learn various aids.  For our first months of training, this was all we did.  We had to teach her to respond to pressure to halt, side-pass, yield her hind-quarters, etc. 

Ground line-driving

Just watching this video again now, I recognize the amount of focus Gugi gives to Kim.  You can really get a sense of her tryto learn and do well.  She never really gets flustered or unmanageable.  It is a lovely training session.

For our first several months under Kim’s training, we would begin with lunging (see pictures below) to get a sense of Gugi’s mood and energy.  Then, we would do some ground driving and maybe practice the mounting block.  I love watching this video now because it reminds me of how far we’ve come.  Sure, we still lunge her before getting on, but she is now capable of working with a rider without any ground driving which helped to collect her mind. 

 Pictures of lunging Gugi: More

Finding a relaxed walk on Gugi


Okay, so I have finally figured out how to upload videos from my cell phone onto YouTube, which then allows me to link the video to my blog. 

The following video is from at least a month ago when I was still working on finding a relaxed walk with Gugi.  You’ll hear trainer Kim talk to me about using my seat to help Gugi bend and turn, and you’ll hear her correct my hands a lot–something that, believe it or not, is one of the toughest details to think about when riding. 

Finding a relaxed walk on Gugi

Things I need to work on:

1) Relaxing my back–

From all my years of playing piano, my back is super erect and perky!  I need to work on not sticking my chest out so far and tightening in my back.  In this video, I can really see how stiff I look.  Sure, there are moments where my back loosens up and moves with the cadence of Gugi’s walk, but it is something that I am working on.

2) Steering–You’ll hear trainer Kim talk to me a lot about my steering.  I tend to use either one rein or the other, and she is teaching me to use both.  In any given turn, I should be steadying my outside rein to keep her straight while simply sqeezing (or milking) the direct rein.  Too often, I over-do it by opening up my direct rein. 

3) Pushing too hard on stirrups– Ever since I was a young girl growing up taking riding lessons, every instructor I’ve ever  had has repeated the mantra “push your heels down!”  With Gugi things need to be different.  Because she is so sensitive to pressure and placement of weight, we have to be real careful with leg position–at least at this point in her training.  Kim has taught me to lighten my leg contact on her and put more focus on finding my thighs.  Through my thighs and seat, I can control her trot more.  You’ll hear Kim point when I push down into my heels too much, and then my foot gets planted too far forward.

Kim relaxing Gugi through cones

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Here’s a video from about a month ago where trainer Kim works on relaxing Gugi through a zigzag cone pattern. 

Kim Trotting Gugi

A few things to pay attention to:

1) You’ll notice that Gugi points her nose up and tosses her head periodically.  This video was taken prior to her teeth floating, so at this point I’m sure part of it was that her teeth were bothering her.  Doc said she did have several sharp points that had caused cheek ulcers similar to what we might get with braces.  This is a common reaction if the horse feels pain in its mouth.  But we’ve noticed that she typically does this with her head when she loses her rhythm.  It’s almost as if she gets flustered with getting out of step and then reacts by reaching up with her head.  As riders, we need to steady our hands low and push her forward with our thighs.  This is difficult to see with Kim because movements need to be done subtlely and steadily as to not fluster Gugi even more.  Eventually, she will need either a standing or running martingale, but Kim wants to introduce it when it’s absolutely necessary.  This will probably be when we begin cantering. 

2)  Really pay attention to her nice and slow trot.  At this point, we were only sitting the trot.  The sitting trot should have a shorter step and more of a “jogging rhythm” than the posting trot.  Although she has a lovely-looking extended trot, we are still working to establish the foundation of balance and bending before we ask her to really stretch out.  To get this, we practice a very loose seat and lower back, almost massaging her back through the saddle, and press down through our thighs.  The result is a short-stepped, controllable trot that has not led to any bucking or rearing since March!

3)  Again, this cone pattern is used to keep Gugi’s mind occupied.  The visual of the cones seems to give her something to focus on–as opposed to having the whole arena to think about–and because of this, she is much more manageable.  If she loses her rhythm and speeds up, you’ll notice that Kim just takes her back through the cones or through a tighter circle.  The moments where she allows her to open up in a larger distance becomes a reward then. 

This was at least one month ago…

Since then, Gugi has graduated from these cones!  She can now trot comfortably and confidently around the arena–or, half the arena if she struggles to concentrate.  I will post an updated video soon.

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