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Don't Give Up on What Had Been Working Before the Plateau

If you live in the Midwest, you know we live in constant strange weather. We are currently in a warm 50-degree weather streak, however, during Thanksgiving and the week before, it was below freezing. We even had a big snowstorm come through and dump five inches of snow overnight.

Slider enjoyed his romp in the snow. Slider enjoyed his romp in the snow.

I did not make it out to the barn to see Slider as much as I would have liked due to the weather. I also hosted Thanksgiving in my new house, so my attention has been on that as opposed to working Slider as much as I should have.

On that snowy day, I took him outside to play in the snow. He hasn’t liked being turned out lately, mostly because he has to play alone because I don’t want the older Quarter Horse lesson horses to beat up on him. Maybe someday he will get to have turnout buddies. Slider had a great time galloping through the snow and tried very hard to be a show horse. He would gallop, turn, snort, and take off at a big Louisville style trot…his hocks popped out of the snow and he held his head very high. I can imagine the relief he felt getting to run through the cold snow when he was feeling so brisk. His characteristic little excited snorts could be heard as he trotted and galloped and had a fun time.

Slider in his hunt seat tack.Slider in his hunt seat tack.

I have had a lot more time to work him now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over and there is no bad weather in the foreseeable forecast. We have been working on our right canter lead a lot more in the last weeks. I have been long lining him and riding him alternately each time I am there. It is kind of the same old routine, and it seems like it is hitting a bit of a plateau in training in that he does everything I ask when we long line, but in riding, he occasionally still picks up the wrong lead, and then will flip it when I continue to cue him with my outside leg and lift the inside rein. The rein cue is what he has been learning on the long lines. It seems as though he is learning but is stuck in a rut with that canter. Even though he is close, he doesn’t pick it up 100% of the time, automatically, which is the end goal. This plateau has me frustrated but I have to keep going.

When I am training my horse, or even teaching my riding students, I try to incorporate knowledge from other areas that I have learned from. While I am not a fitness expert, I have had a few years of working out and have also consulted personal trainers to help me. I learned from them that even our own bodies plateau with weight loss or muscle gain. I am still trying to lose weight for this wedding, and have hit a weight loss plateau in that I feel like I am doing everything right nutritionally and exercise-wise, and yet cannot lose it. This is where a person needs to keep doing their routine, and keep eating right, and push through that plateau because they eventually will begin to lose weight again as their body readjusts to another weight loss stage.

I suppose this is a stretch of an analogy, but what I am trying to say is that with teaching a rider, or in teaching a horse, I realized that they have educational or training plateaus as well. The method of teaching or training may be working, however, it may take longer than anticipated due to mental or physical restrictions that need a little more time to develop. If you know what you are trying to do was working, just keep doing it and pushing toward your goal instead of giving up on what had been working before the plateau; that’s what ends most diets or even your New Year’s resolutions…people give up too quickly! Being determined, meticulous, and continuing to push towards that goal will result in your end result, as long as one is patient and persistent.

One of our engagement photos, portraying both our interests, baseball and horses. Photo by Anaberry Images. One of our engagement photos, portraying both our interests, baseball and horses. Photo by Anaberry Images.

These thoughts were floating through my mind yesterday when I went to the barn. It was a quiet day and I got him ready. As we rode, he had a typical first few rounds snorting at the light under the door, shying away from the ground poles, and then began to settle down. Still, very characteristic of him. I began working on the trot and extended trot with him. I am not sure what his role will be yet but I am thinking country pleasure. As I am sure I have hinted, I love hunt seat, especially with Saddlebreds. I cannot show in country pleasure, because I teach riding lessons and am therefore a professional. However, I can show in open hunt. That may be where he can go, because he doesn’t have a bunch of motion but still has a pretty head carriage, even when he goes lower and flexes at the pole.

I have focused him on trot and extended trot, in part to work on it in case we show, but also to build his cardio as well as build his attentiveness to my cues. He needs to be able to listen to me when I ask him for speed, but also to listen and slow down without resistance when I ask him to transition to a slower trot. I have been teaching him to move forward when I roll my tailbone under me as I post, because this then causes my calves to squeeze into his barrel. I do not squeeze hard, but he has been beginning to know that when my calves squeeze, he moves forward, and when I squeeze the reins, take my calf pressure off, and say “easy” that he needs to slow down. He has been doing very well at the trot with this, however, I have not attempted the canter yet. That will come once he masters the canter cue and comes up with the correct lead.

As I was cantering him around today (he actually took the correct lead BOTH WAYS without a fuss), my mind began to wander and I forgot who I was riding. He felt like Caraman. He was cantering slowly and calmly like Caraman. His extended trot was essentially Caraman. He was bending in his circles, listening to my cues, and being attentive to my riding demands. My mind saw a black mane and felt my “heart horse” under me once again. It was surreal and it felt like nothing was missing or gone. It was only when I pulled in the middle, and reached to pet him, that I remembered who I was on. I had to peel myself off the horse and I began to cry. Not only because I still miss my dear Caraman, but also because this horse, who I have worked so hard on, was beginning to become one with me and my cues just like Caraman had. I will never have another Caraman, but this horse seems to be trying so hard to be a good boy. As I cried I looked at Slider, and, for the first time ever, he looked at me with ears up and moved his nose closer to me. This is the first emotionally kind gesture he has given back to me, and it was just a very special moment for me.

Another engagement photo with Caraman's shoes. Photo by Anaberry Images.Another engagement photo with Caraman's shoes. Photo by Anaberry Images.I also recently got the transfer of ownership paperwork signed. I sent it to ASHA with the check. I have not heard back yet or received the paperwork back with my name on it so hopefully I will soon. We are considering changing his registered name. My fiancé and I came up with Slider because he is a huge baseball fan, and I thought a baseball name would be a fun way to combine his interests and mine (horses and baseball…we did this for our engagement pictures on the bridge where he proposed). We also did a photo together using Caraman’s horse shoes interlocked. I think it turned out beautifully, and our photographer did a lovely job capturing our love for that horse, as well as each other.

I would love suggestions on his name change. We would like to have a baseball themed name, to go with his current barn name. I am not a huge fan of his current name “Fast Friends.” If you can think of a good name, baseball themed or not, please let me know!

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