Horse Training

The Horse (and Rider) with Many Hats – Plans for the “Off” Season

Ay, ay, ay… it’s Wednesday, already! Last week was incredibly busy (yes, the same song we all sing), full of early mornings and late evenings, as well as a weekend camping trip. Needless to say, I didn’t have any time to write, though I had plenty I wanted to write about. This week is proving to be the same, so I guess I will just have to write in bits and pieces.

Our endurance race season has come to an end, as tempting as it is to attend some out of state fall races… However, my goal this year was to successfully complete one Limited Distance (LD) ride, and Sego and I completed TWO! I will have to be satisfied with that and plan/budget for next year’s races. I plan on entering all of the Montana LD rides, which I believe there are three, and enter at least one out of state ride. I would absolutely love to do either the Maah Daah Hey Ride through the North Dakota Badlands, OR The Outlaw and Virgin Pioneer Ride in my home state Utah. Eeep! I get butterflies just thinking about it! After a full season of 25’s, we will see if Sego and I are ready for a 50 in the year 2020.

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Trail riders on the Maah Daah Hey Trail in North Dakota. Looks amazing! Photo credit unknown. 
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The Outlaw and Virgin Pioneer Ride in southern Utah- it’s my dream to ride through the desert! Photo by Steve Bradley.

Though the season is over for us, conditioning certainly isn’t. I am still working on Sego’s stamina in the trot (as well as my own, glad I chose the world’s bounciest horse for endurance riding!) and her ability to go up and down hills, which she still struggles with. Once I feel like she has some hold power, I will begin introducing the canter to our conditioning, perhaps in the next month or so. That being said, without a race in the near future, conditioning has slackened slightly as weekends spent trotting trails turn into weekends scouting for game. Yes, it’s that time of year where Sego will now have to take the role of “pack animal” (and yes, by next year we better damn well have three horses so Sego can stay an endurance horse and not a pack mule!) where she walks the trails and gets tied up while we hunt.

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Seg playing the role of a hunting horse last weekend.

I keep telling myself that I will continue to condition her throughout the winter so long as temperatures are above freezing, but we’ll see how long that will last. If I get sick of riding I will just train Sego to drive and have her pull me on my skis! She’d be a great (yet slightly terrifying) skijor horse with that big trot of hers. And one day, she’ll pull a cart, too, so I can visit friends/neighbors the old fashion way of travel. Sorry pony girl, I am interested in EVERYTHING horse and you will have to wear many hats!

I am also excited to continue Seg’s arena education this off season. It’s a little slow going in this area as I can only haul out to the arena in town 1-2 times a week. Sego is still very green in the arena. She is off balance going to the left and has difficulty controlling her speed (she is all or nothing). While her trot has come a long ways, her canter feels like we are racing in the derby on the world’s tiniest racetrack (HANG ON TO YOUR BREECHES!). Cantering makes Sego super hot, and we need to work on relaxing before and after transitions. I plan on working on her loosening up, working through the back, rhythm, suppleness and contact in the next year through the (gentle) use of a surcingle and basic dressage. Not because I have dressage aspirations, but because I believe all horses, endurance horses included, can greatly benefit from a base in dressage. Dressage helps horses build proportionate muscle, be soft on the rider’s hands and sensitive to the rider’s cues. It can also help to gather up the tired endurance horse on the last ten mile stretch, and there’s nothing quite like building up impulsion to blast you all the way back home!

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Sego being introduced to the surcingle and running reins.

And, of course, what is horseback riding without jumping? Jumping was my first love. Show jumping, because I like speed. I used to hate any riding lesson that was focused on the flat only (though the flat is the foundation to all riding! It’s like not wanting to learn about habitat when you want to work with wildlife…). I was a jumping junkie, sneaking the bars up higher on the standards when riding on my own because I never jumped high enough in my lessons (PS- I had no business attempting to make schooling horses jump 3’6 – 3’9 on my own!!). I always knew that whatever horse I ended up buying would have at least have some jumping potential, if not just for fun. I’ve jumped Sego over small logs on the trail, lunged her over small verticals, and have ridden her over some small cross rails. She’s incredibly honest, she has not stopped or ducked out on a jump with me once. However, I was involved with the training of an OTTB who turned out to be very sour towards jumping, he despised it. He would constantly run out and throw a fit even on the most insignificant little jump. Jumping gave him anxiety, making him very difficult to ride. My gut feeling is that he was rushed into it too fast without having a solid foundation in flat, grid, and cavalletti work first. While I can’t see Sego behaving like this (she is trusting and willing, things that particular OTTB was not), I am going to take jumping very slowly. Lots of flat and pole work first so that she understands how to balance herself when jumps are thrown into the mix. I want her to always be confident and willing, I don’t want to ruin that by pushing her training too fast. Maybe one day we’ll enter some jumping shows, but for now, it’s a secondary aspiration and mainly just something I want to do with her for fun.

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Me jumping a pony named “Pippin” at Lynleigh Farm in Sandy, Utah, several years ago. I definitely have the look of a jumping-junkie… ha ha! PS- Charlie my Australian Shepherd was waiting for his turn to jump it!

Sego was introduced to the surcingle for the first time last week. I didn’t think she was ready for it until she could carry herself on the lunge line and had more basic ground work well understood. I am very excited to use the surcingle and running reins once a week to help Sego work through the back and build the muscle she needs to stay in balance. I’ve structured it to a loose setting in front of the vertical so that she can gently learn suppleness. Seeing her calmly chew the bit and stretch down in the walk and trot makes me very happy! I also had her walk and trot cavalleti on the lunge last week. Due to poor set up by myself, Sego accidentally fell out of the circle of cavalleti on her first round, but made me laugh as she awkwardly aimed for the middle to purposefully trot over each one the second time around (it took me a couple of tries to get the setup right!). After hitting the poles the first time, she went through perfectly the next few times! She’s a quick learner, and I think cavalleti work will not only help her straighten out and build muscle, but help her navigate obstacles and varying terrain with more sure-footedness trotting the trails.

On our conditioning ride last week, I chose to work on trot holding power for an hour. Sego was a ROCKSTAR. For the first time ever, she seemed very down to business (usually she questions/challenges me for the first 10 minutes of the ride, then turns into a wiggly centipede as I consume a surprising amount of energy just trying to get her to ride straight). She trotted straight with ears pricked forward like she knew what her job was and enjoyed it. We trotted close to 10 miles traveling at an average speed of seven mph, and a max trotting speed of 20 mph. She was so much dang fun. I hopped off and let Jordan (my husband) climb aboard in my AP english saddle. He trotted her a little up and down the road, it was fun watching them. He almost experienced her speed trot, she was getting there but then broke into the canter. Next time! Seg girl got lots of treats and pats that night, and she was feeling quite proud of herself, too.

 

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How cute are these two?!

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When Jordan and I headed for the mountains last weekend and Sego wore her western saddle, I couldn’t help but just beam at her. There she was, standing on the top of a mountain she had just climbed, wearing a western saddle and pack bags, hobbled and calmly grazing. Just the day prior I had her in a surcingle trotting over cavalletti. She is the “Horse with Many Hats”, my “Do it All” horse. I truly adore her, and I am loving every step of this journey we are taking together.

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Sego, the multi-purpose horse!

 

 

 

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