Hello readers! I have once again let too much time pass since my last blog post but life has been keeping me busy. At least that busy life gives me more to write about! Now I just have to get it done. I hope you remember where I left off but in case you need a refresher, here is a link to my last post.
And here is where we went from there….
After our second lesson with Jayne, I planned to work on what she had us doing in the lessons throughout the winter as the weather allowed. My attitude was definitely more positive and I tried to begin each ride with no expectations and just see what the day brought. Some days were easier than others and my positivity still ebbed and flowed from time to time. I had spent so long on the Grady rollercoaster and I was getting worn out by it. But, just as in the past, something made me keep coming out and trying again.
In between riding, one thing I had begun to dabble with was groundwork. Grady seemed to gain more confidence with me next to him rather than on his back. I learned as much as I could through research from good sources, but I also went with what felt right. I had done some desensitization work with him even before this point because when he began to be so spooky, my gut told me that I needed to expose him to things that made him nervous and help him face his fears.
I brought out a big green tarp and laid it out in the ring, asking him to walk over it. When he hesitated, I would toss a treat on the tarp and encourage him to get it, which he usually did. As he learned this game, the slight hesitation that was present at the beginning disappeared and he marched right over the tarp.
I also went to the Dollar Store and looked for fun things to use such as windsocks, pinwheels and various holiday decorations. (Pool noodles would come later). He was pretty tolerant of these things and I always focused on keeping the sessions fun.
In order to simulate trailer loading which could sometimes be an issue, I set up two jumps parallel to each other a few feet apart. I hung a folded tarp on each jump and encouraged Grady to walk through with me. We would walk in and halt. Sometimes I would ask him to back out, sometimes we would walk forward. The goal was to have him stay with me and wait to see what I would ask next. Unloading him from the trailer was often a challenge because he would want to bolt out backwards so I thought this would be good practice.
Another exercise I tried with Grady was long reining. I had never done it before but again, I did some research and then I decided to give it a try. I’m not quite sure what made me think of trying long reining but I’m glad I did because Grady really took to it. Sometimes I had a harder time figuring out how to hold all those lines in my hands than he had figuring out what I wanted him to do. He would often do things right even when I messed up. Most of the time our sessions went very well but there was one day when things didn’t go quite according to plan.
The session started out normally and Grady was being a good boy. I was having him do some canter work and I had the outside line behind his hindquarters (as opposed to over his back which is another way I often used it). Things were going along fine until Grady started to get a little strong and I accidentally let the outside line get too high which he then clamped under his strong tailbone. This only caused him to get stronger and I was unable to release the tension. I tried keeping up with his increasing pace but eventually, I was pulled off my feet falling forward in a complete face plant in the dirt. With this, I let the reins go and Grady was off and running to the end of the ring. Luckily I was able to get right back on my feet and go catch Grady without too much trouble. We finished up by doing a little more work at the walk and trot and called it a day. That experience taught me to be extra aware of the outside line when using it behind the hindquarters but it didn’t deter me from continuing to practice. Years later, I had the opportunity to take some long reining lessons with Karen, another great trainer who worked with Jayne, and I learned a lot. I eventually got much better at it and even incorporated it into my work with clients’ horses in the future.
In April 2012, Jayne returned from Florida and we resumed our lessons. I was looking forward to continuing what we had started and being consistent now that it was spring. Our work with Jayne involved teaching Grady to understand specific aids from my leg, seat and hands to help influence certain parts of his body. This also required me to make some subtle changes to my own position in the saddle. Learning to sit deeper in the saddle, with a longer leg and more vertical upper body would help Grady differentiate the work he was doing now compared to the work he did as a youngster at the racetrack. Even though his racing days were long behind him, those were his earliest memories of carrying a rider and racing was what he was bred to do.
Grady would sometimes get frustrated when he was learning new things but Jayne always stayed calm and patient and that was invaluable to us. Over time, Grady found comfort in the new aids he was learning and really began to progress.
One thing I noticed as time went on was that our lessons were always great, but my rides on my own were still touch and go. Some days were good and some not great. Grady seemed to really enjoy our time with Jayne and it helped focus me as well. As much as I tried to be mindful and focused during our rides on our own, I just wasn’t always able to replicate the amazing feelings I would get out of Grady in our lessons. We were progressing though, and we were having fun.
Even though it was still difficult, I found that I was looking forward to riding Grady again, rather than dreading it. Grady was gaining confidence in all that he was learning and his body was getting stronger. He began to look bigger and I got the feeling that he was happy to be working consistently again. The groundwork I had done continued to be a part of our program and I felt like he enjoyed the variety in the things we did together.
The spring, summer and fall of 2012 was a time of growth for Grady and me and we both evolved quite a bit. By November, we were ready for an outing. We were going to spend a few days at Jayne’s farm and ride in a clinic with an Olympic dressage rider. What a difference a year makes!