Long Overdue News About Jupiter

So I realized this morning I had not updated my blog entries with anything about Jupiter in many months. As if it was not bad enough that I have not been properly tracking his progress, but worse yet, I neglected to mention the single most important bit of news concerning Jupiter, but before I get to that, a little background so we get more caught up.

Jupiter was sent to us later in 2010 for one year of training. Marti, the owner, wanted him started gently and time to be taken to make sure as to not damage his trusting, loving nature. You can read the regular updates posted on the blog up to July of last year, where the updates abruptly stopped. They stopped because something changed in the situation that made regular updates to the blog less important.

Included with many of the updates posted to this blog during his year in training, were pictures and videos showing Nancy’s interaction with Jupiter. We also sent Marti other pictures and video directly. The goal was to show her just how well he was doing, how much we loved having him in for training and what a great guy we thought the big lug was. There were many gushing comments from Nancy and lots of photos of her with him, love clearly viable.

In September we took Jupiter to his first medieval equestrian competition. Now keep in mind this was to be the trip where we were to return Jupiter to Marti, but a week or two before the event, while we were working out the logistics of returning him, Marti informed us that it was not necessary as she had decided to give Jupiter to Nancy. Unbelievable? Yes, well it was for us. We protested that there was no way we were going to allow her to pay for a year’s training on a horse then turn around and give us the horse. I mean, the value of a Lipizzaner alone would have been to great a gift, training not withstanding. Our protestations aside, Marti stood her ground and insisted that Jupiter had clearly “Found his person” in Nancy and should be with her. Add to this the fact that Marti’s time and financial situation meant that if Jupiter was to go home, he would go back out into pasture and be unused for who knows how long, so obviously it was in everyone’s best interest if he just stayed with us.

Nancy & Jupiter

So after much soul searching we agreed, but only if Marti rode Jupiter first, just to be sure she wanted to part with. At the event, where I rode Jupiter in his first competition to a respectable fourth place finish, Marti did step up on Jupiter for a ride, but when it was over, as pleased as she appeared to be at his training level, she stuck with her decision and gave him to Nancy. We agreed only after offering to take Jupiter’s full brother, Galahad, in for training some time in the future, at only the cost of boarding, thus returning at least some of the training she paid for on Jupiter.

So finally, after searching since I got Orion, Nancy has HER horse. She is in love with him and he with her and they are well matched.  We posted this news with great enthusiasm to our Facebook pages and though many emails, but only today did I realize that I had not mentioned here on the training blog.

Since then, Jupiter’s training has progressed well and Nancy has become a better rider as a result of her time on him. She has become lighter and more elastic with her hands and supple with her legs, with a more independent seat; generally riding lighter and more connected than I have ever seen her on any other horse. She plans to ride him in competition this year herself. I expect great things out of both of them.

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End of Summer Update – Curly

Since my last update on Curly, he has become a force to be reckoned with as a competitive warhorse in the medieval equestrian games we take part in regularly. Along with his owner, he has been used by my wife and one of my students as their mount. Because of this increase in use, I have put Curly into my training rotation and applied the classical horse training method I employ with Orion, Jupiter, Commander, etc.

In the past I was content to just help Raina gain better control over her horse, but in the last few months I decided to see how Curly would take to a more focused, structured training form. To this end, I started working with him in the round pen on the lunging caveson to work on his habit of hollowing out his back and counter bending while turning at the trot and canter. These behaviors cause a multitude of problems for him as far as balance and collection are concerned, not to mention making the ride less than comfortable for the rider. Helping him to find the correct bend to his body, while stepping under himself more with his hind end, has done wonders for his balance and conformation as his muscles have developed differently with the difference in how they are being used. He doesn’t even look like the same horse now.

In the saddle, the focus has been on keeping his frame together and helping him to balance and collect with the added weight of the rider to contend with. This has proven a bit of a challenge as Curly has an interesting habit of falling back on old patterns of behavior when left to his own devices. If the rider relaxes for even a few moments and allows him to start making decisions, the result, as often as not, is a reversion to old, bad habits. However, as long as the rider maintains an independent seat, strong core, consistent leg pressure and soft, elastic contact through the reins, the result is very precise control of a collected, wonderfully athletic mount.

Simply put, Curly is much happier when he has a rider who supports his frame and encourages proper collection and movement. Like most horses, he instinctively tests his rider, even though he is not very happy when a rider fails the test and allows him to make choices, which he invariably gets wrong.

It is my intent to keep him in the training rotation as long as he remains at our disposal as a warhorse. I am willing to bet that he will end up as excellent a mount for such activities and any we have yet had the pleasure of working with.

Cody Update

An updated video of Cody in training.

This is his first try at mounted archery. I have included some walk/trot/canter work that came after, as well.

Jupiter the Nurse

We have been remiss in writing up how Jupiter has been doing these past couple of months.  It has been a lot of the same.. he’s continuing to get better at balance and coming under himself, he’s getting incredibly light in response to seat and leg aids… But yesterday his wonderful personality came out yet again.  I was working him in the round pen to start, making sure he was moving well before riding him.  I was suddenly dizzy and actually had to sit down on the mounting block we have in the center of the round pen and clutched onto it as my world went roundy-round.  Jupiter immediately came over and put his nose on the back of my neck and stayed there until Troy came in..and then he only moved about a step away.   I did start feeling better so sat up while Troy continued moving Jupiter around.  Normally when the round pen work comes to an end, the horse walks up to the person who was last working them… not Jupiter… he came over to me once Troy was done to make sure I was doing okay.  Gotta love that personality.

I did ride him slowly after this and while we walked and trotted around the arena I was able to get him to change direction just from shifting weight onto seat bones and barely had to use my legs at all.   He is going to make his mama so happy when she finally gets a chance to ride him.  🙂


A Great Day With Bella

Yesterday the weather forecast was a tad bit off. I know, how could that happen? As a result I was greeted by an absolutely gorgeous day of sunshine, with a temperature in the mid 50s and a light breeze. In other words, perfect riding weather.

I got Bellatrix out as the third horse of the day and as such didn’t feel I really had time to work her on the ground and in the saddle as well, so I just took her blanket off and brought her into the round pen for a bit.

I guess I should have guessed it was going to be a good day as she walked right up to me in the pasture, while I was carrying her halter. She sometimes takes that as an invitation to play “Chase me” around a half-acre of hillside, but not this time.

She stood statue still as I took her blanket off, with that great “Friesian” look in her eye. Some of you may know it. It is a look of total calm and deep wisdom that the breed can manage. Sometimes is is somewhat undeserved, as Bella is too young to be able to call wise, but horses of Friesian blood often seem to have the “old soul” thing going for them and yesterday was Bella’s day for it.

I decided to free lunge her for a few minutes. I do this to get a chance to look for any lameness or pasture injury and to give the horse a chance to kick up their heels and romp or roll, if they want to. Bella did a few turns around the pen very quietly then came right to me when I stopped pushing her. She just put her forehead against my chest a blew a quiet relaxing breath.

I then put the lunging caveson on her. This can be tricky to do sometimes if the horse isn’t held in some way, by a rope or such. They tend to duck their head away and walk off when you try to place all this leather with rings on their faces. She just stood there calmly while I fumbled with buckles and straps and when I finally got it all secured and clipped the lunge line on, she was already moving off into a small circle at the walk.

By the time we had finished the short line session, she had walked, trotted and cantered on a three foot line, while staying bent, both laterally and at the pole through it all with no contact to speak of on the line. Just to be clear, that is cantering in less than a ten meter circle around me, properly bent, upright and balance if a wonderfully soft, collected canter. For those who may not know, this NOT an easy thing for horse to do most of the time, a young horse particularly and it takes both a natural ability and proper conditioning for a horse to be able to do it properly.

After I finished lunging her, I removed the lunge line and clipped a set of light reins to the outer rings on the caveson and climbed up on her bareback. We rode around the pen for about 30 minutes, turning this way and that, purely off the leg, backing, doing haunch and forehand turns and even side-passing a few steps each way. All this with no saddle or bit of any kind. She began walking when I shifted my pelvis forward and stopped walking when I shifted it back, maintaining an even pace when I stayed in the middle. By the end she was turning left and right when I looked in either direction with no leg contact to support the request.

When it was all over, I put her blanket back on and lead her back to the pasture, where she tried to come back out when I let her go. I guess she was not ready to stop the day’s work, but my time was short and I needed still to feed.

It may not sound like any sort of huge deal, all these things we did in this short session but there are MANY “fully trained” horses with more years of life experience that I would not have had such a good session with. I was very proud of our girl. She made me feel like quite the horseman for a time and that is a wonderful gift to receive.

Jupiter – Coming Right Along

I want to go on record again as saying, I really love working with Jupiter. I have never met as genuinely nice a horse before in my life. He simply loves everyone and is as gentle a beast as you could possibly want. Add to this the fact that he is smart, brave and physically capable, with excellent conformation and you have all the traits of a great horse.

In the last few rides I came away with the belief that I can declare him a reliable riding horse right now, even if there is more work to do and calling him a warhorse is still a little further on down the road. He has, from very early in his training, responded extremely well to leg pressure but now he is also taking cues from the riders seat as well. He already stops reliably, but has begun to soften in the bridle to a level more to my liking. There is much collection work yet to do as well, but his natural self-carriage was already well balanced when he came to me and has improved much as his conditioning has gotten better.

His natural asymmetry is starting to even out, allowing him to move straight and balance well in both direction. This makes it easier for him to carry a rider of my size at the canter without being scared of compromising his balance.

He is a very brave animal who puts a great deal of trust in his rider. In fact, he is the type of horse that looks to humans to solve problems rather than as the cause of them.

He is proving to be a very solid trail horse who, while balking at new obstacles momentarily, has not refused anything asked of him.

The next few months should see rapid improvement in his overall performance and I expect great things from him as training continues.

Cody – Now a riding horse

In a few short months, Cody has already reached the milestone of being a reliable general riding horse.

Nancy is riding him regularly now and I have put novice riders on him to give lessons.  While I am the only one cantering him at the moment, he is perfectly trustworthy at the walk and trot for anyone.  His response to leg pressure and changes in seat are better than most horses I have ridden after a much greater period of time in training, as he has picked up this part of this training at a remarkable rate. All he really needs now is time  under saddle, carrying a rider, to develop his balance to the point that it becomes as natural for him as the lesser gaits are currently.

Mentally he has proven to be just a steady as we first believed. Not just smart and a quick study, but also brave and confident. His response to new, potentially frightening things, is to stop and look for several seconds, mulling it over, then he just moves on. As long as you give him the short time he needs to process, you can pretty much count on him getting past it and never having the same issue again. Nancy says this particular trait has allowed her to come to trust this young horse very quickly.

I believe another trait that has helped Nancy form a trust bond with him is the fact that he has never come close to bucking or similar behavior. Even when pushed to do things that put his balance at risk, he has never reacted adversely. Instead he just keeps plugging away as he is told, apparently willing to trust the rider not to let him get hurt. As long as we never betray this trust, I predict his meteoric rise toward finished warhorse to continue.

Year Wrap-up Orion

Orion sees the end of his sixth year of life as a fully mature horse. It is has been a long time coming and he has distinguished himself while still a growing boy but finally I can start really pushing him physically.

This year I have learned a great deal more about training a horse than I did when I began with him and have just started working to fill in the gaps I now know I left in his training so far. I worried that I might have to spend a long time retraining him to correct the things I didn’t get quite right the first time, but true to what I have come to expect of him, he has easily adapted to the new things I have asked of him.

I know I have said it before many times, but I am going to say again how impressed I am by my boy. While there are many fine horses in my life and I regularly surprised by one or another of them as they improve under training, Orion is still MY horse. Our partnership is different from the relationship I have with any of the other horses I have trained.

In the upcoming year I will push him harder than I have to date. I am going to be asking him to collect more and become more responsive to the aids, as well as more sensitive to the rider’s seat. He has always had a tendency to hesitate if he is not sure the rider really means something they are asking and that has made him a great horse for letting less experience riders get lessons on, but starting this next year, I am going to have to limit who gets to ride him and how. If I am successful in making him lighter to the touch and more responsive, he is going to intimidate many riders.

So I am raising the bar a bit next year. I have no doubt Orion will rise to the occasion.

Year Wrap-up Jupiter

Jupiter will finish up this year a riding horse. He is already comfortable with a rider for walk and trot, while yielding off the leg and started taking cues from the rider’s seat. His canter, while balanced and smooth, is “big” and still a little exciting for him, but improves each ride.

His physical conditioning is also much improved from his arrival few months ago. He is stronger and lighter, with a better top line and more defined musculature. His stamina has increased and he no longer finishes standard workouts dripping with sweat as he once did. I have ridden him with weapons in hand and struck several of the gaming elements with them, with no adverse response.

In the next couple months I hope to work extensively on his left/right asymmetry and get him collecting a lot better so that all his gates will smooth out and become lighter and more controlled. This should keep him calmer when greater speed is asked for, while helping him to transition between gates and stop when asked to.

If all goes as planned, he will have is debut as a warhorse sometime this next season. I expect his word fame will begin to spread quickly.

Year Wrap-up Cody

We have only had Cody for a short time, but he has made great advancement in the time we have had. He is one of the faster learners I have ever had the pleasure of working with. In the last couple weeks his balance and collection have improved exponentially. This is due as much to his willingness to work and desire to please. He just tries so very hard and catches on so quickly. Add this to his superior conformation and you get an animal that takes to training much quicker than most.

In the coming months we will continue with his foundation training in balance and collection and will add an introduction to weapons use and the elements to medieval martial equitation. He has proven so far to be as brave a horse we have come to expect from the Morgan breed, so I expect great things from him.

I hope to have him ready for competition by the time the event season begins this year so that Nancy will finally have a mount of her own that is just as capable as any out there, that she can hopefully connect with and feel competitive on him.