Thursday 24 June 2021

First Away Clinic - Day 2


Day 1

Day 2 repeated and built on what we did Day 1. 

Naia loaded well, but did have some nervous poops as soon as she got on the trailer, so I knew that she wasn't super comfortable with the hauling process yet, but I will still very pleased that she loaded for me. When we got back to the ranch, she wanted no part of being near the trailers and tried multiple times to drag me to the arena. When I first got her Naia frequently liked to pull a move where she would turn away from me and just start pulling like a freight train. I have mostly eliminated that nasty habit but it still makes the occasional appearance when she is stressed. Clearly Naia needed some ground work out by the trailers so I immediately started asking her to yield her hip and back up, making sure she gave me space and didn't try to leave. She didn't truly relaxed but seemed to resign herself to the situation so I tied her to the trailer for a bit as we waited our turn. 

Not loving the trailer

Once we entered the arena Naia immediately relaxed and gave multiple big yawn releases. It was a pretty amazing transformation. She was as calm and cool as a cucumber when our lesson started. For day 2 we were down 1 person, and one of the riders had brought her more experienced horse instead of the greenie she had brought on Saturday. We repeated the ground work from the day before, but this time AM purposely tried to distract our horses by walking around swinging a rope or waving a flag. This rattled a couple of the other horses but Naia kept calmly doing whatever exercise we were doing no matter the distraction. AM then encouraged me to get Naia a bit snappier with her responses. She was backing up or moving her shoulder when I asked but in a bit of a slow dragging way. AM had me be clear with my visualization of what I was asking for (e.g. am I asking for a backup or a quick backup?), and then gave me some new tools to communicate that to Naia and escalate if necessary. Naia will sometimes be very unreactive to an aid so having multiple aids in my toolbox is great for getting a response when I need one. She quickly realized I meant business and responded accordingly. 

Sunday was also sunnier and I gave myself a full equestrian sunburn, farmer tan plus glove tan =P

This time around for obstacles, I spent as much time with the mounting block as I could. I have played mounting block games with Naia before to get her to line up with the mounting block and stand steady, but a lot of that work happened in the indoor arena at home and with one particular mounting block. Even at our home barn, I found that in the outdoor arena with a different block, Naia would want to swing her hip away or walk off. She hadn't stood great for mounting on Saturday either, so I realized I had a hole I needed to fill. There was one proper mounting block, and one large upturned circular water trough, so I went back and forth between the two of them having her line up and stand. It took some repetition but she showed a noticeable improvement. 

The field we rode in

We again tacked up and did individual sessions in the round pen. On Saturday I had worked with Naia in the round pen with her wearing a bridle, halter, and lunge line. On Sunday I instead let Naia completely loose in the round pen and asked for canter that way. I don't know if it was improvement from the day before, the lack of lunge line, or something else, but this day she was able to maintain a full circle of canter each direction on the correct lead so we stopped there. 

A close up of the flat "open arena", complete with canoe

On Sunday our group session was 4 hours instead of 3 so we had a lot more time for actual riding. We started in the arena again but this time left it fairly quickly. We went back into the small field and worked through the tension that a couple horses had about potentially encountering sheep again (no sheep today), and then went out a second gate into more open prairie, the ranch manager had to bow out at this stage to attend to other things so it was only 4 of us including AM that went out. It wasn't true open prairie, as it was a fenced pasture, but the ranch is 5500 acres overall and the field we were in was probably around 200 acres so there was still lots of riding to be done without encountering a fenceline. For the open riding, AM had equipped us each with headsets so she could still talk to us even when we were more spread out. She encouraged us to do lots of stopping, circling, and doubling back so that our horses wouldn't get too excited or forward, but the goal was to slowly get across the field to a specific large level piece of ground without gopher holes that we could use as our "open arena". Once there, she had us spread out to stand at 4 corners of a square and wanted us to work on turn on the forehand and sidepass. I explained that I hadn't actually done either of those things under saddle yet so she coached me through the basics. I was amazed at how quickly Naia caught on, especially to moving her haunches. She wanted to back up a bit in the sidepass but it was still quite good for a first effort. Next, we rearranged so that 3 of us were spread out to form the corners of a triangle (red lines below depict horse locations), and then the 4th person would do a 3 circle cloverleaf around the the other 3. Once you had completed your 3 loops, you would go replace someone in the triangle and it was their turn to go. 

3 Leaf Cloverleaf pattern

This exercise was so simple but so good in a number of ways. When it was our turn to ride the pattern we did all circles to the left the first time and then all to the right the next time. Initially the goal was just to go and trot, but each time we worked on improving things a little more, by getting a steadier rhythm, or better bend around the turns. The standing part while other horses had their turns was equally good, teaching our horses that just standing on a loose rein while other horses did things around them was also such a valuable lesson. 

Our turn to stand, relaxed enough where I could take my cell phone out for a photo

Our turn to trot - photo very nicely sent to me by one of my fellow riders

Naia felt pretty good to me during the exercise, she was responsive and relaxed and went exactly where I asked her to, but when one of the other riders sent me the following photo my jaw dropped. I would be pleased with this active balanced reaching trot in pretty much any situation, so to see this quality of trot by my 5 year old, on her 30th ride ever, while out on the open prairie in a brand new place made me pretty ecstatic. 

I love this photo of Naia!

Once upon a time I saw a photo of a nicely tracking up trot in the sale ad for a grade pinto named Kachina and thought "I can make a dressage horse out of that". I know that a photo only tells a moment of time and that a trot isn't even the most important gait in dressage, but I did make a dressage horse out of Kachina, and I get the same excitement and hope for the future when I see this photo of Naia. I can make a dressage horse out of this too! 

After the 3 circle cloverleaf exercise, me and one other rider worked some more on just parking and turn on the forehand, while the other 2 did some canter work with their horses. Then we all walked back to the arena together. When we were almost back, the two dreaded llamas decided to crash the party. As well as being tall and weird looking, llamas don't move away from horses the way cows or sheep do, instead they started erratically running at us! A couple people dismounted immediately including AM who tried to clear a way through the llamas for the rest of us. I stayed on initially and Naia was definitely giving the llamas a nervous eye but she was being good. However when it became clear that being charged by a llama was a distinctive possibility, I elected to dismount as well. It turned out to be good timing because as soon as I was on the ground, the two llamas zipped by Naia from opposite directions. We ran after one of them a little way because it was good for Naia to face the danger and feel a little bit in control., but then we escaped the rest of the way back to the arena by foot.  

Walking back to the arena (before the llamas)

Overall the clinic was a great experience and I couldn't have been more proud of how Naia handled everything. AM was very impressed with us as well. She essentially had to reverse her statement from the start of Day 1 about how Naia was a hotter more reactive horse, because all our work really has made her more relaxed. She was also really impressed with how Naia is physically maturing, from a fat younger horse to a well muscled mature mare. I'm excited to work on our new homework and keep building from here! 


  1. That sounds like such a great exercise for young horses! I would have probably died when the llamas came running :)

    1. Honestly I was dreading a potential llama encounter all weekend!

  2. I would have been hesitant to head out into that field with my well-behaved nine-year-old gelding - so kudos to you! You're giving her such a great, well-rounded early education, and it will pay off so much!