From racing to riding... the training diary of an off the track Standardbred

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Our First Clinic

Today Jet and I went to a Cross Training Clinic with my friend Alli and her new pony Annie. The focus of the clinic was to "use dressage to improve your jumping and use your jumping to improve your dressage" but I found that the instructor taught the two separately and never really connected them. With that aside, I had a great time and got to try some new things!

We started with introducing ourselves and telling the instructor about our riding abilities and our horses' histories. When I mentioned that Jet was a Standardbred, she started to talk about how her friend owns and trains Standardbreds out in Michigan. I was relieved that she wasn't prejudice against the breed like so many people are. She even said that they are great horses but people don't give them a shot. Lets face it...right now, Warmbloods are in, more refined horses (like TBs and STBs) are out.

We then warmed up on the flat. She set two cones on opposite sides of the long side of the ring. She had us count the number of trotting strides between the two cones at a working trot. After we found the average of strides between the cones, she had us add some strides and take some out. The point was to collect when we were adding strides and extend when we were taking them away. It felt more like she was having us adjust our tempo between cones because all me and Alli did was slow down and speed up. The other horse in our group is a Level 6 jumper and had all of these moves mastered so we definitely looked sloppy compared to her.

Next, we moved it up to a canter...well..ermm...tranter. I warned her that our canter definitely needed work (especially our right lead) and boy was I right. The first thing she said was, "Oh...that was...interesting.." She had me try to work on it in a circle which I was fine with, but her reasoning didn't make any sense to me. She said that he is falling and and balancing off the circle and corners and that I needed to lift him up when I could. She said to work on long straight a-ways. I said that he is a lot better in a field where he can't anticipate turns or use the walls or rail to balance off of. I asked her how to "lift him up" and she started her response with "when you are on a long side.." Well how am I supposed to work on that if you are keeping me on a circle?! I could tell Jet was getting frustrated. He was trying but the area she gave us to work with was too small so I brought him down to a trot.

He was MUCH better going to the left. I could actually canter multiple times around the ring without him breaking and he was somewhat balanced. His canter was much faster than the other two horses' so as soon as I got a good (well good for us...) rhythm going and when he was just starting to use his hind end...I'd have to bring him back down to a trot because we caught up to someone. We couldn't cut across the ring and there was only one or two spots we could circle (but they would be TINY circles) so I decided just to bring him back down to a trot and start up again when the opportunity arose.

The fun stuff came next! We did a lot of grid work, which is something I have never been able to do before because our ring is way too small. I was interested to see how Jet would handle it. I had a feeling that he would see the first groundpole and try to jump that AND the cross rail (a stride away from it) at the same time. He surprised me by not only going over every element separately, but by doing really well and enjoying it! I was worried that since we haven't jumped much recently, he would get sour quickly or maybe he would pin his ears, refuse or run out...but he went over EVERYTHING, no questions asked, and he did it with his ears up the entire time!

We started with a cross rail with a take off pole a stride before and a landing pole a stride after. Next, we added another crossrail, and finally, we took out the original take off groundpole and replaced it with a vertical that was about 2'3"-ish in height. This meant that there was now a bounce in the grid. We have also never done a bounce. Yet again, my Super Standardbred shocked me and did it very well. By the end, he was taking off evenly with his hind feet (something that has been a problem for him from day 1) which meant he was using his hind end evenly, resulting in a more correct, better feeling jump. I was a proud mommy (:

Overall, I felt we accomplished a lot more in the jumping phase than the dressage phase. I would not go back to this instructor for regular lessons, but I would definitely go back to the facility to rent the indoor or go for shows. But for right now, I'll stick with lessons from my Aunt in my little backyard ring and one day, we will prove to the world that Standardbreds can do ANYTHING, and they can do it well.

*Pictures and videos to be posted tomorrow*