I've been looking forward to going to Breeders' Cup at Del Mar for a very long time, since I knew that it would be held there, and it's FINALLY here! There are a couple of bloggers that I know are going. My plans have been a little up in the air, so if I haven't reached out to you, I will soon. If there are any other bloggers going, feel free to give me a shout. I'd love to catch up with you where the turf meets the surf!
The day after BC at Keeneland 2015
BC Santa Anita 2016
Bourbon BC 2015. Because bourbon.
Freaking love Tourist! Can't wait to see how he does as a sire.
I have a hard time turning down an opportunity to ride in a clinic. I LOVE them! As much as I enjoy showing, clinics are even more fun to me. So, when a friend in my barn was bringing in Siegfried Winkler and needed more spots filled, I decided to sign Summer and I up.
Watching us warm up.
I was worried how Siegfried would feel about a green OTTB, but was assured that he is very kind and gladly works with all levels of horses and riders. My main concern was over-facing Summer and everyone agreed that Siegfried would not do that. With that in mind, I figured that it was only money and my pride at risk, I might as well give it a try
Summer was really excited about it!
Six weeks after his last race, Summer and I participated in our first clinic. Siegfried was amazing! He is kind and patient. He pushes, but not past your and your horse's limits. He points out everything that needs to be fixed, yet let's you know every time you and your horse do something correctly. There were lots of walk breaks in which he made sure that I understood what he was saying and why it was important. One thing that I really loved about him is that he taught everyone with the same amount of enthusiasm, it didn't matter what kind of horse the rider's had or what level they were at. It's very obvious how much he loves horses and his job.
I had only signed up for two of the three days, figuring that three might be too much for where Summer is at mentally and physically. He's still only four and I do my best to remember that.
Working in the quality of the walk.
The first day of the clinic was fairly easy. We just walked and trotted, as I told Siegfried that we hadn't done a whole lot of canter work yet. Here was the focus on day one:
Keeping my lower leg closer to the girth. I ride with my stirrups shorter on Summer, which jams my long legs up into my thigh blocks more, which causes my lower leg to come back too far. I can keep it where it needs to be, but it was something I wasn't even aware I was doing until Siegfried pointed it out. Keeping more weight in my heels and not letting them come up in the transitions was also part of this. He had me do this to help keep Summer more forward (especially when he tries to pull down) and to help with him wanting to drift over a shoulder.
Play with the bit and supple, don't hold. Summer steers pretty well, but not great. Sometimes, I use the inside rein a bit too much to get him lined out since he doesn't quite understand the outside rein concept yet. We worked on this a lot with supplying to the left and right.
Turning my shoulders to weight my inside seat bone to create bend. I was keeping my outside shoulder back too much, so when I was trying to get Summer to circle left or right, my shoulders were positioned as if we were going straight. #dumbass Between correcting this and the previous two issues, Summer's steering improved immensely.
Keeping my shoulders back. I do this well in sitting trot, everything else, not so much. Especially, when I'm riding green horses.
Downward transitions when Summer wants to start pulling down.
We worked on these things in the walk and trot, doing lots of transitions and introducing some leg yielding. I had a much improved horse by the end of my ride.
On day two, we worked on pretty much the same things, only we added canter work. Siegfried worked us both A LOT harder. Summer started out even better than he had ended up the day before. Having the time to process everything the evening after my ride really helped. We struggled with picking up the correct lead, especially to the right. Summer would pick it up when we were going to the left, but not when we were going to the right. Siegfried suggested that I should continue on and then change my direction to the right when he picks it up like that, just so Summer starts to associate going to the right with his right lead. I'm not too worried about it. At least he can canter on both leads, it's just a lack of understanding on something that we've barely worked on. My little guy is smart, I have no doubt he'll understand the concept soon. This is a short clip towards the end of our lesson on the second day:
This video makes me want to smack myself, but love Summer all that much more.
Summer was so good as far as behavior. He never set a foot out of place, even when a guy was cracking his whip while free-lunging his horse a hundred miles an hour in the pen next to the arena. He gave me 100% even when he was beginning to get tired on the second day. The improvement he made in two days was incredible.
I am definitely looking forward to riding with Siegfried again in Colorado. I was ecstatic to find a clinician that frequently goes to both cities that I bounce between throughout the year. Riding with him was one of the best investments I've made in my riding education.
Summer was trained by my good friend's husband. After the meet at Denver was over last year, his trainer decided to take a short break before Turf Paradise started. Summer had just broken his maiden and his owner didn't want to interrupt his training. The Fiancé and I ended up taking care of Summer for a few days before he was shipped down to Albuquerque to another friend of ours.
The Fiancé had me tack up Summer one day for him to ride. After being on him for a few minutes, TF told me to grab my helmet. I had SO much fun riding him! Afterwards, I said that I wanted this horse when he was done running. I didn't expect that would actually happen, or that it would only be a few months later, or that The Fiancé would agree to another horse (especially since I splurged on a new pony-horse the month before that). The stars aligned and now Summer is mine.
This is a very short video from that day. Summer was three years old. I wasn't planning on riding that day, so please excuse the sloppy tank.
Everyone, meet Summer Meeting. He is a four year old off the track thoroughbred by Cause Ur Mine (Giant's Causeway) out of a General Meeting mare. He last ran February 22nd, ending his career with 14 starts and 4 wins. Summer was a gift, both literally and figuratively speaking.
Summer AKA #themaskedbandit
I'll get more into the details of Summer in another post, but I wanted to talk about what it's like to be riding an OTTB straight off of the track again and how he reminds me of what is important every single time.
When I first started riding Beefheart after he retired, I made a lot of mistakes. I didn't use enough leg, because he was naturally sensitive and forward. I didn't keep enough contact with his mouth, because he stayed in a frame and was super light in the mouth. Doing less seemed like the kindest way to start him out, but it certainly wasn't the best way to go and created a lot of issues down the road. I left a lot of holes in his foundation.
Love his sweet face!
My first ride on Summer, I tried to make sure to keep my leg on and to keep focusing on getting him to step up into a contact. If he wanted to drift over his outside shoulder, which is a pretty common problem with horses off of the track, I increased my aids to make sure that he stayed as in front of my leg as possible, focusing on keeping his hind end active without quickening. I'm lucky in that he naturally keeps a fairly steady rhythm and tempo. Summer still drifted a little on the circle, but not nearly as bad as he would have if I had taken my leg off and tried to guide him with just my hands. He didn't pull or get iron jawed and stayed in a fairly steady frame as long as I rode well enough (easier said than done). It wasn't perfect, but there is definitely a lot of promise there.
After a few more rides.
TRANSITIONS ARE MY BEST FRIEND
Here was another mistake I made with Beefheart. He did pretty good transitions from the get-go, so I didn't do enough of them. We would just kind of get into cruise control and go several minutes without doing a full transition.
After a few rides on Summer, he started to try to pull down on me. It wasn't bad and he wasn't trying to run off, but I could feel him just daring me to pull back on him. I tried to focus on keeping his hind end active in the gate we were in, but that didn't always work, so we started doing LOTS of transitions. A quality transition along with some well-timed half halts did the trick. I couldn't do too many. Again, it is all about being very conscientious to keep his hind end active in the transitions.
MIX IT UP
I was riding Summer in the arena one day and was getting way too caught up in the training aspect. The Fiancé stopped me and said, "Come on, let's go."
He opened the gate and Summer and I followed him onto the track that goes around the outside of the property. We walked on it, then toodled around the trail course some. I trotted him on the track a little and then we walked around on it to get back to the barn.
Car washes are meant for Summer.
Afterwards, The Fiancé reiterated the fact that even though Summer was dead fit for racing, our dressage work is a whole different group of muscles and riding in the arena for very long is tiring for him. He said I need to make sure to do lots of serpentines (rather than too many circles), both shallow and large in the arena, and that I need to do some straight work along with some shallow serpentines on the track every once in a while too. As much as it pains me to admit it, he's absolutely right. It's not right or healthy to take a horse straight off of the track and constantly hone on their training in the arena. Especially, with a horse as kind and willing as Summer.
IT NEVER HURTS TO KNOW HOW TO GALLOP
I really don't like galloping at the racetrack. It's not the horse, but the traffic that gives me anxiety. To me, it's about like driving on a freeway with way too many idiots and jerks. Yeah, there's a lot of people that obey the rules and pay attention, but it only takes one ignorant asshole to get you killed.
That being said, knowing how to gallop helps a lot when you're riding an OTTB. I never take a cross on one for training purposes, it could easily become too tempting to use it to force a frame instead of developing one correctly. However, knowing how to use one when things start to get a little out of control can come in handy.
He's so cute! Don't worry, I bought him a better fitting girth after having to make due for a couple of rides with this one.
Summer is pretty solid guy, he's not spooky and is rarely reactive. Still, he's only four and not entirely bombproof yet. The other day, a bird flew out of a barrel right in front of him. He ducked sideways and then bolted. I had just gotten on and was walking him on a loose rein when Tweetie decided to make an appearance. As he took off, I was still scrambling for my reins. He didn't go more than a half a lap before I got him to come back, but if I hadn't known how to take and use a cross, it could have been a lot worse. Summer had just raced less than two weeks ago and I would have never had the strength to stop him if I had just pulled back on the reins.
ENJOY THE PROCESS
I was extremely blessed to be gifted a horse with such a great head on him. It keeps it fun. It can also make it easy to put too much pressure on myself. He was going so well from the beginning that I started getting down on myself if I felt like he didn't make enough progress during our ride. I'm always proud of him, I'm a HUGE hardass when it comes to me. Trying be as perfect as possible can end up putting more pressure on him too though. Once again, The Fiancé chimed in and told me there is no pressure, just have fun with him. Damn it! Another time he proved himself wiser than I ever wanted to have to admit.
It's more fun outside of an arena!
*On another note, TF wanted to get on Summer one day to see what he felt like. He said that I've done a good job with him. The man doesn't say anything he doesn't mean, so I glowed a little with pride on that one.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO HAVE AN IDEAL HORSE
Summer isn't very tall. He's 15.1, yet he's broad and deep enough that my 5'11" frame doesn't look completely ridiculous and my long legs don't go down to his knees. I've never minded riding a smaller horse as long as they had some substance to them. When a lady at the barn told me that Summer was the perfect height for me, it made me chuckle a little. I just hadn't expected anyone to say that.
He thinks that turnout is the best thing ever.
Summer may not be tall, but he is strong and athletic. He has a really good mind. He's EXTREMELY smart, but uses it in a way that makes my life easier instead of more difficult (unlike a certain elephant-horse I know). He's taken everything I've thrown at him in stride and has never lost his cool (the bird incident doesn't count since he went right back to his normal self right after). He may not have "10" gates, but he has solid gates that will be able to be improved because of all of his other good attributes. Summer is cute and he's fun. The horse is kind, willing, and forgiving. I may make a thousand mistakes throughout the training process, but he's not going to hold it against me. Summer is ideal in all of the ways I need him to be.
As the Oh-So-Wise and honest to a fault Fiancé has said many times, Summer is a nice horse. I guess I'll have to admit that he's right AGAIN.
I've been pretty conservative with bringing Indy back from her injury. According to the rehab protocol, we could have started cantering a couple of weeks ago. Giving her an extra month didn't seem like such a horrible idea, so I was going to wait until early February before getting back to any canter work. How silly of me to think that I could stick to anyone's time schedule but Indy's.
What more could I possibly need?
At our lesson the week before, Indy had gone FANTASTIC and my trainer said that if she was going like that again, it probably wouldn't hurt to do a small amount of canter work. You know, because it's the elephant horse and any time she is doing things correctly and willingly, you might as well take the opportunity to do a bit more.
Blurry screenshots because YouTube hates me. I'll edit this with video if it ever uploads.
*Before anyone starts wondering why I'm taking lessons on a horse being rehabbed, you should know that the lessons are aligned with the rehab protocol. They aren't ultra long lessons and have been just walk-trot up to this point. Basically, my trainer is just helping me with managing and getting quality work from Indy through the process of building her up to full work.
A couple of days after my lesson, Indy had a ton of energy. She wasn't doing anything bad, but I could feel her just wanting to go. I'd go as far to say that she was trying really hard to be good, yet was begging to be able to get some of that energy out. I mumbled something to myself about how she damn well better not buck me off and asked her to canter.
She doesn't do resting bitchface anymore!
Much to my surprise, she gave me a gorgeous transition and went on with a lovely, balanced canter. It shocked me so much that I just sat there like a dumbfounded sack of potatoes, being nothing but a passenger, and she STILL cantered around like a pro. On a circle. This mare can canter balanced for days in a straight line, yet 20 meter circles have always been a challenge for her.
I don't know how much I've talked about this, but I've gone through HELL with this horse and her canter work. Seriously, everything. All of it. I've had to make her gallop very FORWARD to get in front of my legs, which wasn't all that fun at the time since her steering wasn't the greatest and if I used too much hand her head would be in my face, which led to having to galloping even more forward. If we weren't forward enough, I had her ears up my nose. Then SHE decided that forward wasn't forward enough and that the thoroughbred side of her needed to be shown off. After that we went through a cantering sideways stage, which involved kicking at my leg every time I tried to get her in front of it. That was followed by drama llama canter transitions. Oh, and let's not forget the stage where she thought charging at other horses would be fun. There's more, but you get the general idea of her masterful evasions. Submission has definitely not come easily with this horse.
Hopefully, I can get some canter pictures soon. Until then you're stuck with boring trot pictures.
Back to the present, Indy gave me three good circles to the left and I asked her for a downward, which she did flawlessly. Obviously, I had to canter her to the right too. The transition was decent enough. She was a little fussy and wanted to drift over her left shoulder. We went back to the trot. I let her settle and reminded myself that I might actually have to ride her instead of just sitting there. I asked again and it was better. It took a circle to get everything togther, then she gave me the same beautiful canter that she had given to the left, which was followed by another beautiful downward. What the holy hell?!
So we cantered. In a respectable manner. After not cantering for almost eight months. It wasn't 100% under the terms that I had originally wanted, but maybe it was good for me to be reminded that waiting for near perfection isn't always ideal. I would love to say that we're over the hump and we'll continue to get this quality of work that we can really begin to build on. However, it's day by day with horses. With Indy, it can be minute by minute. We'll still have our good and bad days, like anyone. I'm very glad for the good moments I get from her because they bring promise to the worse ones. They remind my of why I've stuck it out with Indy for as long as I have, of why I've always maintained hope for us. And the bad moments; I know we will get through them in time. Stride by stride.