He jumps!

Eragon is really progressing.  His dressage/canter is getting very uphill, and he jumps!  Here are some stills and a short clip of the two of us jumping.  He’s awesome….me, a bit rusty. The video link on the right has two other vids…

 

Canterjump from Monica Robinson on Vimeo.

Finally! Some new pics & vids!

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Here’s Eragon as a 5 year old.  He’s gone through a ton of physical changes that have made training challenging at times, but he is growing up to be a lovely horse.  He’s getting a lot stronger, too, and learning how to use his loooong back legs!  The “video” link on the right includes a recent workout.

Breathers and Pointers

Right now, Eragon is on a training hiatus until (if I can control myself) 1/1/12.  He had a mysteriously stocked up back leg and while he wasn’t lame, the coming-and-going nature of the swelling worried me, so I gave him a week off.   The leg looks fine now, but then I got to thinking:  the holiday is coming up.  Work is crazy.  I’m going to be out of town for part of the month.  Maybe this would be a good time to give Eragon a breather?  He’s in a big growth spurt right now.  His mental abilities are way above what his gangly, growing body can handle right now, so training is sort of stalled anyway.  A month off to just be a horse might be a good thing.

I’ve still been going out to the barn, though, and Eragon exhibited some behavior the other day that surprised me.  I’ve always thought Eragon was unusually smart–and I don’t think its just because he’s my special little pony friend.  It’s because he does things that I’ve never observed another horse doing.  For instance, he seemed to understand my pointed finger the other day.  This doesn’t sound big, but according to experts, only dogs can understand pointing.  From the article:

Understanding a pointed finger may seem easy, but consider this: while humans and canines can do it naturally, no other known species in the animal kingdom can. Consider too all the mental work that goes into figuring out what a pointed finger means: paying close attention to a person, recognizing that a gesture reflects a thought, that another animal can even have a thought

So did Eragon really understand the gesture?  Decide for yourself:
Here’s the scenario:
Eragon is pastured in a very muddy lot right now, which is attached to a drier grass pasture that is being rested.  There are two gates.  Since I don’t want to step into his muddy pasture to get him, I’ve taken to open the gate and letting him into the grass pasture, and haltering him there.  Since he’s so food obsessed, he sometimes only takes a step or two out of the muddy pasture and then starts eating.  When he does this, he’s standing in the way of the gate that I need to close.  So sometimes I growl at him to keep moving, or push him or slap him lightly with the lead rope.
The other day, I opened the gate like always.  He stepped out and started to eat.  I said “no Eragon, keep going” and he lifted his head.   I pointed where he needed to go.  He looked at me (and I think at my hand) and walked  in the direction my finger was pointing.   Then he put his head down, in that spot, and started munching grass.
He really seemed to get that the finger was indicating where he needed to be.   I don’t think he was responding to my voice because usually my voice alone won’t do it.  Plus, the odd part was that he looked at me and my hand and then moved.  Perhaps he was responding more generally to my “keep going” body language, and not the finger itself?    Maybe.  But it seemed to me that he took note of my finger and then moved away that exact direction (which wasn’t straight forward, but off to the side a bit).
Even if Eragon didn’t understand the finger itself, his habit of looking at me for direction  is different than most horses.  Most horses I’ve worked with do not look at their handler as often as Eragon looks at me, and most don’t lock onto their handler’s face even if they are watching the handler.  Horses mainly work off body language–not faces–since equines do not have a broad array of facial expressions themselves.   The head–eyes, ears, etc–is a pretty small part of how a horse communicates.  That’s why its odd to me that Eragon watches me so closely, and likes to follow my face.   Perhaps he is just uniquely attentive?
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Later that same day, in the indoor, I did little experiment.  I pointed towards a random spot on the wall to see if he’d turn to see where I was pointing.  He looked at my face, looked at my hand, reached his head over and….nibbled my index finger.

Pics! And Eragon’s first jumps!

 

Eragon is doing great.  Here are some recent pics, and there’s a few recent videos posted at the link to the right.  I shouldn’t be jumping in a dressage saddle, but Eragon handled it like a pro.   I think he likes jumping.

Can I just say I love this horse?

Well, pointless post here.  But I just have to say– I love this horse!   I just had 5 hours of work-related meetings and then came out to the barn.  I was exhausted, but Eragon makes all efforts to come ride 100% worth it.  He is such a great partner–willing, smart, composed, professional, fun, sweet…I could go on and on.

We’ve been together a year now and I am just so happy.  I honestly never thought I would  enjoy working with a horse as much as I loved working with Fancy.  And while I still miss Fancy every day, and will miss him until the day I die, I am so glad to have found a partner in Eragon.

What’s interesting is that Eragon shares a lot of positive qualities with Fancy.  He’s smart.  He’s confident.  He will take direction from his rider, but he is also okay with making his own decisions.  He’s brave.  He’s self-possessed.  He’s balanced and knows where he is in space.  In short, he gives the rider a great feel.   One thing I miss about Fancy and thought I’d never find again is that sense of identity that he had.  When you worked around Fancy, you really felt his “horsehood,” that is, his identity and force of personality.  That’s what made him such a thrilling partner–he had such a strong identity and such inward confidence.  While this made him difficult at times, it was ultimately a great strength, since he was able to take over and make smart decisions (particularly on the jump course) if I got nervous or made a rider error.  We were true collaborators–you could not boss Fancy into doing anything.  You could convince and finesse him, but never control him.

 

While Eragon is more “zen” than Fancy, he has a strong identity, too.  You really get the sense that you are working with a distinct personality and consciousness when you work with Eragon.   He is always willing to listen to me, but he also has his own clear contributions to the dialogue.    It is a comfort to work with an animal who has such an obvious sense of self.  I really feel like lightening has struck twice for me.  I owned the most beautiful, generous, funny, and lovely horse for 15 years.    That was an amazing bit a of fortune and would have been enough for one lifetime.  But, amazingly, I now have another special horse.   I feel so lucky.

But damn, I still miss Fancy.  Everyday.  I think I’ll use the next few blog posts here to talk about what I learned from that amazing animal.  I owe so much of who am I as a person and rider to that horse.

 

Okay is it just me…

Or does my Welsh pony have a Celtic cross on his head??

Testing the Partnership

Eragon and I have had several tests of our partnership in the last few weeks.  We’ve started training outside, I’ve taken him for short jaunts around the property, and we’ve had our first little argument.  We’ve also had our first show!  Let’s start with the argument, though.

So Eragon has basically been a perfect angel since I started riding him in November.   He is focused under saddle, likes learning new things, works hard, and doesn’t melt down when I put pressure on him.   He has been naughty on the ground, but undersaddle he’s been absolutely consistent and a total doll.  But, he just turned four. Trainers and other experienced horse folks tell me this is the age when baby horses might start “challenging” their rider.  I got to experience one of these “challenges” last week.

We’ve been working on asking Eragon to move in a more uphill frame with more lightness in front.  Kate, one of my instructors, has put a few rides on Eragon (mostly because I can only be at the barn 4 days and I’d like another ride on him to make a 5 day work week) and she’s been asking for this more active carriage here and there, and so have I.  We both make sure he gets plenty of stretch breaks, but this work is difficult for him, both mentally and physically.   Last week, I rode for about 45 minutes inside.  It was a productive ride with some tough work.  We then went out to the open field.  I asked for a tiny bit of trot work (since I wanted to practice riding in the open when he was a bit tired, to make it safer) and he melted down.  He decided he was done.  He went sideways backed up, reared, bucked in place, every time I asked him to trot up this tiny hill.  I brought him down to the walk.  I didn’t want to put him away (since that would teach him fits=I get to quit) but I was intimidated by his behavior.  Luckily, Kate was around and she was nice enough to coach us through the behavior.  I’m glad we both got through our little argument and ended on a positive note.   Beyond that, I took Eragon’s behavior seriously.  He was communicating with me.  Yes, it was naughty that he was behaving that way.  But it was probably also true that I worked him a bit too long/hard that day.  So I’ve learned to pay better attention to his physical AND mental energy.  Eragon puts a lot of mental energy in his work.  I think his brain tires faster than his body, so I’m going to be more sensitive and not throw too much at him in a single session.  It’s easy to forget he’s only 4 when he normally acts so mature.   I think Eragon also learned that dangerous behavior will get him nowhere.  We both learned lessons that will only strengthen the partnership, I think.

Now, onto the good stuff.  Last weekend, we went to our first show!  I’ve never ridden Eragon off the property, so I was pretty nervous.  We were entered in Intro tests A & B at a dressage schooling show.   The first warmup was a bit dicey, since I was nervous and had trouble riding as well as I do at home (our steering went out a few times and sent him diving for the gate).  But, he marched into the dressage ring without batting an eye at anything.  We scored a 52% on that test, mostly because I was so tense and he jigged through the walk work.

When we entered the ring for our second test, I knew the minute we went down the centerline that Eragon and I were clicking again.  He marched in that ring like he owned the place and laid down an awesome test, full of 7’s for his trotwork, his freewalk, his gaits in the collective marks, etc.  We scored a very respectable 65% with “Nice test!” written in the comments and took second place.   I was so thrilled.  It only took one time around the ring for Eragon (and me) to be “on.”  He was so poised and serious–the pictures tell the story.  I couldn’t be prouder.  Now, on to fix those “6’s” I got for rider position…