Friday 30 December 2016

The Progression Plan

2016 was a year of learning. I figured out a lot more about what training approaches work for Kachina. I got a saddle that wasn't working against me. I improved my position a lot (still lots more work to do, but it's passable for now). I also filled in a lot of holes in Kachina's basic training, teaching her about relaxation, bend, bit responses, groundwork manners, etc. Our consistency also improved a lot. All of that was very important work. That said, we started the year off as a passable Walk/Trot pair attempting Training Level, and we finished the year off as a passable Walk/Trot pair attempting Training Level.

In the last month, we've finally hit some breakthroughs and are starting to be able to actually move forward instead of just filling in holes. I'm sure I'll discover another hole at some point, but for now I want to keep up with the forward momentum and that means developing a progression plan.

Where we are Now

Note, for the purposes of this post, right now "good" = relaxed + rounded topline + even rhythm + slow tempo (not overly slow, but not running) + correct bend + acceptance of bit
(we can do more things with 4 or 5 out of 6, but that isn't enough to be considered "good")

Good walk work - achieved in 2015
One good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in late 2015
One good 20m trot circle - achieved in spring/summer 2016
Consistently (every ride) able to get one good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in December 2016, this took a long time, but the clinic in November gave us the final keys and we finally got there and were able to move on
Consistently able to get one good 20m trot circle - achieved in December 2016
Multiple good 20m trot circles - achieved December 2016
Consistently able to get multiple good 10-15m trot circles - achieved December 2016
Good trot circles with good walk-trot and trot-walk transitions - achieved December 2016 (my last ride)

No related media, so please enjoy this photo of me attempting to put my
elf hat on Kachina, she was not impressed with the plan and this was the closest I got

Near Future

Consistently able to get multiple good 20m trot circles
Consistently able to get good trot circles with good walk-trot/trot-walk transitions
Good Walk/Trot test patterns (circles, large arena, diagonals, transitions, direction changes, etc)
Consistently good Walk/Trot test patterns

We're not too far off this point and I think that all of these steps are realistically achievable in the next 4-6 weeks.

Next Steps

Good stretchy trot circle
Consistently good stretchy trot circle with transitions in/out
Good trot circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion
Consistently good transitions within trot
Good canter circle
Consistently good canter circle
Good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions
Consistently good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions
Good Training test patterns
Consistently good Training test patterns

These are the next stages that we need to reach. Any one of these steps might end up being another wall that we need plenty of time and new strategies to conquer, so the timeline is a lot more uncertain. However long it takes, once we get to this point I will feel like I finally have a solid walk/trot/canter horse and that will be fantastic. If we get to this point before the summer show season I will be ecstatic. I'd love to go to a couple recognized shows and feel like we were actually contenders at Training Level instead of just there for exposure.

Note, trot lengthen is in this grouping, even though it's not a Training level movement, because I feel that coming back to a good trot after a big trot is a good tool to have before we tackle the canter (so I can more easily come back to a good place if the canter gets messy).

First Level

Add more strides of lengthened trot
Consistently good lengthened trot diagonals
Good trot leg yields
Consistently good trot leg yields
Good canter circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion
Consistently good transitions within canter
Good long side of lengthened canter
Consistently good long side of lengthened canter
Good First 1 & 2 test patterns
Consistently good  First 1 & 2 test patterns.

After we get Training Level down, these are what we need to approach First Level. I'd like to check at least a few of these off by the end of 2017 if possible. Somewhere in here we'll also have to up our definition of "good" to be more consistently on the bit (instead of just accepting it) and to have more impulsion, balance and throughness.

That's where I'm going to stop for even my ambitious plan. I can see the progression up to this point, but I can see the counter canter loop to X in First Level Test 3 being a tough movement for Kachina. I think introducing that too early could reverse the important lessons we've learned about bend and balance so I will do a hard re-evaluation before then.

If all this works, we will end 2017 as a good (not just passable) Training Level pair attempting First Level. Of course horses and life like to throw a lot of wrenches into any plan so we'll see what happens.

Do you plan your training in a series of steps like this or take it more day by day as to what needs to be worked on? How many steps ahead do you plan? This is essentially my first time doing this style of plan, but I think I need it to keep me focused and stop me stagnating in the same place. I am totally willing to rethink this at any time if the need arises though.


  1. That sounds like a great plan! Hope to see you guys at the shows in 2017 (not that I'll be riding necessarily...but I hope to watch!)

    1. Would be cool to meet you in person, but you should compete too!

  2. I am a planner and get anxious without a plan. But I am also decent at scraping a plan and reevaluating (it does typically involve some sulking). I think that this is a good way to break things down into doable steps while pushing for more at the same time.

    1. I think you're absolutely right. Sometimes horses do require us to throw away the plan and I'm really okay with that, but when Kachina is doing well I want to have the next step in the back of my mind so I can take it instead of going nowhere while I figure it out on the fly (because I'm not good at coming up with a good training plan out of the blue)

  3. I think that your goals sound specific and achievable. It will make it easier to move ahead. I really need to sit down and write out some goals.

    1. I started to make some end goals for 2017, but then I realized that I needed to break it down into little steps to see what was actually realistically achievable. I wasn't great at meeting my 2016 riding goals so I'll see if this approach works better for 2017

  4. I like your plans - ambitious but doable! Personally I haven't ever really laid it out like this for myself, mostly bc of lacking a deeper understanding of how the pieces fit together, and by being perhaps overly reliant on my trainer to figure that part out haha. One thing my trainer does often, that was very helpful for my last mare, was throw in new or more complicated movements (like shoulder in, or canter loops, or leg yield zig zags, or whatever) to kinda change my focus from fussing about the connection to actually riding a movement. And, more often than not, the connection would improve for it. So that's given me a little bravery to try newer harder things even when some of our basics aren't necessarily as confirmed or consistent.

    Anyway long story short - I'm looking forward to following you and kachina through 2017!

    1. I used to be reliant on trainers for this too, which is why I'm new at this. I don't have a regular trainer though so I feel like I have to think more about the larger plan. That said, this plan was impacted by some questions I asked Sandra during my last clinic, so I had some help.

      The throwing in new things approach was great for my last horse Ellie (mostly because she'd anticipate like crazy if you didn't mix things up), but I've learned that Kachina needs a slower steadier approach

  5. Great way to break down goals so the incremental progress is felt

    1. This year I'm all about the small achievable goals instead of the big ones that may or may not happen!