Thursday, June 20, 2013

Arena Work: June 19, 2013

I was going to spend some time conditioning out in the fields, but apparently the neighborhood children had decided to start practicing for the 4th of July, so there were some small firecrackers going off.  Nimo actually did OK, but I could tell that he was getting more and more elevated with each crack, and after about 10 minutes, I could feel that we were one spook away from a spin and bolt.  I decided that it would be more prudent to work in the arena, where any craziness would be more controlled.

Luckily, I had already planned to do some work in the arena anyway, so I had a small jump set up and I had left the gate unlatched, so we could practice opening and closing it.

However, the big things that I wanted to work on were turns on the forehand and haunches, leg-yielding, and side passing.  Our struggles at the recent JPR led me to believe that Nimo's shoulders are really locked, and I need to work on loosening them up a bit.  So before we ever got to the jump, I did a lot of big circles and changes of direction, then worked on the lateral stuff.  And as I was trying to get Nimo to side pass on the rail, I realized that his lateral stiffness was a little more serious than I thought.  He was really struggling with side passing, especially to the left.  So, I will definitely be incorporating lateral work every time we ride, until I can feel that stiffness loosen.

Interestingly, despite the night being pretty cool for this time of year (low 70s) and us spending a lot of time at the walk, when we were done with the ride, there was a lot of sweat where Nimo's neck ties into his shoulders.  If you've read Jec Ballou's book, Equine Fitness, you know that she believes sweat patterns will change as a horse becomes more fit and that they will reflect the areas of the body that were worked the hardest.  I know there is some controversy about whether that belief is correct, but I have to say that I have seen it with Nimo.  If the temperature is hot, he just sweats everywhere, but in cooler temperatures or at lower intensities, I have noticed that working on particular exercises will produce sweat primarily in one or two areas of the body that correspond pretty closely to the area being worked.  It was too dark when we were done riding last night to get a decent picture, but I'll try to get one at some point to show what I'm talking about.

Anyway, after all the lateral work, came the fun stuff.  For many years (in fact, until maybe a year or so ago), Nimo has been terrified of jump standards and any jump set up in the arena.  I, of course, allowed this unreasonable fear to continue because I thought we couldn't jump anything.  After riding Nimo over quite a few 18-24 inch high jumps out on the trail, though, I realized we could certainly do that in the arena too, and it would be a great way to add variety to our arena work.  So, I've been gradually working in some cavaletti and small jumps.  To be honest, I really don't know anything about jumping and Nimo struggles to pick his feet up over the jumps, but I figure if we keep working on it, we'll figure it out.  I'm also hoping that one of the trainers in my area will once again host classes on gymnastic cavaletti and jumping for dressage horses next spring.  I wasn't able to make the classes this year, but I think they would be very worthwhile for us.

So, I put this small jump (about 16") in the center of the arena so we could do 20 meter circles incorporating it.  Normally, I put jumps or cavaletti on a straight line, because I think it's easier.  But what ends up happening is Nimo has a lot of time to see the jump and get squirrelly about it.  I figured that putting it on a circle would mean he would have less time to see it and get apprehensive about it.  And, amazingly, I was right!

Putting the jump on the circle worked a lot better.  He still was a little lazy about picking up his feet, but I think if I work on my position and make sure I keep the impulsion up, he should improve.  But, the great thing was that he stayed in the center of the jump and didn't try to duck out at the last second.  WhooHoo!

So all in all, it ended up being a productive ride, even though I didn't get to do the conditioning work that I'd originally planned.

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