Retraining a Racehorse - Moonfire (Week 4)
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   29th Aug 2010   •   5,075 views   •   3 comments
Tuesday 27 July:
By this stage I’d stepped Moony’s free jumping up to a new level. He was doing it with ease, he was enjoying it, and he was getting great height over the fences. I hadn’t, however, done any proper jumping training for a while, so I decided that it was time for him to make the connection between free jumping and jumping with a rider on his back. Basically, what I wanted to do was to get him jumping naturally beneath me, just as he would if I were free jumping him.

I began by free jumping Moony, working him until he was jumping decent height fences in good form and with loads of spring. We introduced a few spreads as well, and Moony popped over everything comfortably. Once I was satisfied that he was doing this well enough, I tacked him up and mounted. I started by giving Moony a short, light schooling session just to get him using himself and to make sure he hadn’t forgotten what he’d been taught. I also decided to work without stirrups to improve my own seat, and I decided it would be good to see how Moony reacted to having me constantly sitting. It also, of course, allowed me to feel what he was doing better than I ordinarily would have, so I could correct him more readily. Once Moony was working nicely in a frame, I started trying some lengthened strides. He showed me a lovely lengthen in his trot, but was only able to hold it for a few strides before breaking into a canter, so my plans for the future are to only ask for a few strides, then bring him back again, and gradually build on that. In the canter I selected the place on our circle where he was most balanced, and sent him forward there. He showed an amazing lengthened canter, and I was extremely pleased with that. He seemed to understand what to do almost immediately.

Once Moony was nicely schooled and loosened, I called over my loyal assistant (AKA my dear mother) and had her lower the jump I’d been free jumping him over into a tiny cross. Then I took back my stirrups, held my reins on the buckle, and had my mother free jump Moony over the cross with no interference from me whatsoever. Of course, something like this would never work with a normal, fiery racer, but by now I’ve established that Moony is so far from your average racer, than absolutely everything will have to be different.

At first, Moony would canter right up to the cross, then step over one leg at a time, unsure of what to do with himself. I explained to my mother how to drive him from behind, and to crack the whip when she thought he should take off. Once she got that right, Moony soon began to catch on. After a few more little crosses, I had the jump raised to a small upright and, confident that Moony was behaving now and would continue to do so, tied my reins in a knot and let go of them completely, just keeping a hand on Moony’s mane to make sure I wouldn’t loose my balance and put him off. The more we practiced, the better Moony got, until finally I felt what I was looking for. He had a bit of a long stride, but instead of chipping in and leaping awkwardly over as he ordinarily would have done, Moony used his natural spring and jumped from a little afar, actually jumping into the air instead of just tucking his feet up. Naturally, I made a big fuss of him and we ended that exercise there, since that way he’d know exactly what we were looking for. After that, I took back my reins and hopped him over the same jump a few more times, riding him over. I saw a definite improvement, and I was extremely pleased with what Moony had learned that session.

Riding without stirrups
Riding without stirrups to improve seat and getting Moony to come round into a light contact.

Riding without stirrups
Riding without stirrups to improve seat and getting Moony to come round into a light contact.

Wednesday 28 July:
One Wednesday I got back late, and didn’t have much time to do anything, but I decided to give Moony a little bit of work anyway, so I hopped on him bareback and took him out for a spin. We worked in our back arena, where the sand is pretty thick, but there are seldom disturbances from other horses or the like. (The actual reason for working here being that the other arenas were closed and I was too lazy to get off Moony and open them, knowing that I would have to vault up again…).

So I started by stabilizing my seat to bounce as little as possible on Moony, and adjusting his stride to make it easier to sit. Thankfully, Moony has a naturally smooth trot, so it wasn’t too hard. Once I felt I was in synch with Moony, I started working on getting him into a frame. At first he was a little reluctant, as the bareback riding was something relatively new, but he soon submitted and began working beautifully. Once he had warmed up and started working well on both reins, I decided to try out his left canter again. I tried asking him in every corner, but to no avail. Eventually, I tried swinging him in a small circle, then asking there and we managed to get it once, so I made a huge fuss of him and sent him right around the arena. I kept his canter going for a while, then decided to try another method to help him understand the left lead. In each corner, I attempted to make him break his canter, just for 1 stride, then to ask for it again instantly, so as he would easily get the correct lead. We got it right a few times, but then he got the wrong lead, so I had to repeat the entire process, and end on him getting the correct lead. He was very sweet, though, and tried very hard.

After that, I decided to work on some flying changes. Picking up a right canter, I rode him to the center of the arena, then asked him to change to the left, which he did beautifully. We had fun with this for a while, but as he wasn’t struggling at all, I decided not to work on it for too long, since it isn’t something he really needs to be taught urgently.

Next, I decided to work on his other major problem: Right bend. I started by trying to get him bending on a small circle in walk, but he just could not turn his neck and head inwards without basically doing a turn on the forehand. I persevered for a while, but I soon came to the conclusion that it was useless. Moony just wasn’t getting it. Instead, I decided to try a few serpentines. He was better with that, but still not getting it properly… As such, I decided to try something slightly different.

I walked Moony around the whole arena, and on each long side I did some suppling and counter flexion. That is to say, I bent him to the inside and to the outside on a straight line. He understood this so much better, and after a while of doing it, and using a LOAD of leg, Moony began to bend properly to the right. Still not as well as he does to the left, but an amazing improvement from how bad he was before. At the end of the session, I rode him at walk in a 10m circle with the correct bend, and he was able to do it. Major breakthrough.

Thursday 29 July:
No work with Moonfire.

Friday 30 July:
My instructor came out to give me a lesson on Moony. I started by free jumping him, since I wanted to practice more spreads, like he had learned earlier that week. I tried making them a little wider, and he flew over everything quite happily. We had one sticky moment where he found a funny stride, launched an awkward jump, and straddled himself, but he was unhurt, so I quickly put the jump down so as not to damage his confidence, and free jumped him a few more times. He went over without too much fuss, though he did seem a little shaken from his ‘ordeal’. My instructor also sent him over a few times, and by the end of it he was going beautifully again.

After that, we got him tacked up and did a little bit of schooling, just our usual, with as much right bend as we could get and a few lengthened strides thrown in. Once he was working nicely, I put a pole on the circle and worked on his left canter lead. Finally, he understood poles well enough for this method to be effective! We had great success getting him onto the correct lead over the pole, and he only struck off wrong a few times. Once he was going nicely, we set up a tiny course and tried to keep Moony flowing nicely through it. Of course, being Moony, he failed to comprehend whether the jumps counted as actual jumps or canter poles, so we had quite a few knocks, but after attempting the course a few times he was going smoothly through it, even if he wasn’t jumping much. It was great to see that he had the balance to be ready to complete a course. Another breakthrough. I also hopped him over a few little spreads at the end, and was pleased to find that he jumped them just fine under saddle, even on the left rein.

Saturday 31 July – Tuesday 3 August:
No work with Moonfire.

Wednesday 4 August:
I did some schooling with Moony with another horse working in the arena. The point, of course, was to get him working nicely even with distractions. I didn’t do much with him, as he had started loosing a tooth and I didn’t want his mouth to be sore, so I rode with a very soft hand and just tried to keep him calm, in a frame, and bending. We worked on some circles as well, trying to get his bend and rhythm consistent on the circles. I saw a lot of improvement, though we still have quite a long way to go. Once he was working well, I tried some left canter transitions over a pole, and we had some success with that again. Finally, at the end, I walked him out on a loose rein and encouraged him to stretch, which he actually did a few times.

Attempting to establish the right bend he had just started to learn
Attempting to establish the right bend he had just started to learn – I used Bronze’s bit as it is an applemouth and I was concerned about Moony’s tooth. It was on the top hole – softest setting.

Thursday 5 August:
A friend of mine came around to ride, so I leaped at the opportunity to take Moony on an outride. Coincidentally, this took place exactly a month after Moony’s first ever outride, and as I took the same track again, I can compare the two.

This time, Moony was a lot more eager and forward going, He saw the jumps and charged merrily toward them, rather than cantering placidly up to them and hopping obediently over as he did before. He was still in perfect control, and I felt I had him a lot more between hand and leg, so I was able to adjust his stride more and actually place him for the jumps. As such, he gave me wonderfully large, springy jumps that were a real treat to ride and almost sent me flying out of the saddle. Moony was using spring instead of just picking his legs up, and nothing could have made me happier. He really enjoyed himself and we had a great ride. Coming back over the same track, Moony settled into a frame and started working brilliantly from behind, so I concentrated on riding him into the jumps and making even better use of his spring. Wow! The limits I had felt in him before have vanished completely now, and I can tell that he’ll soon be ready to take things to the next level. The transition between racer and jumper is complete. He went behind another horse in an eventer’s gallop, and not once did he tug me or try to go past, despite being eager and excited. He flew over all the jumps beautifully, and behaved as any good riding horse should.
After the ride, we rode to another friend’s place and I asked her if I could pop Moony over her little course, since she has a grass arena and some colourful poles and panels, whereas my training items back home are mediocre at best, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for Moony. He goggled in utter horror at the first panel, a tiny egg-yellow thing with a pole beneath it, then launched a massive cat-leap over when I asked him to jump. After that, though, the ride went smoothly. He happily jumped all the jumps, easily completing a little course including a combination with a spread. By the end of it, however, Moony started to get clumsy with his back legs as he always does when he doesn’t feel challenged enough. When I felt that, I hopped him over the one he was jumping biggest, then called it a day. I don’t want knocking low jumps to become a habit with him. All in all, though, I was incredibly pleased with Moony’s performance!

Unfortunately, I found myself with very little time to write after this point, so I shall just sum up briefly what we did between here and Monday the 16th.

I lightened Moony’s workload slightly as he started losing a tooth, and I didn’t want to do too much with him while it was loose, though of course I could not leave him completely, and the vet said that it would be fine to continue riding him, so I did.

We managed to get the odd outride in here and there when I had somebody to ride with me, and I was very pleased to see how much Moony’s jumping had progressed. We did quite a few relatively intense schooling sessions as well – drilling what we had learned about bend and attempting to establish the left lead. Moony occasionally gets it right now, but it is still a large weak point that needs to be addressed, and will be during all rides from this point on. I also began jumping him more, working on lots of grids.

One exercise I chose was a very short striding line of 3 bounce fences into a small 1-stride on the end, then a very tight turn away from the fence to the left. The first 3 bounces remained crosses to keep Moony straight, and the last one we toyed with – alternating between a cross, upright and spread.

During this time, I also had a vet out to fill in Moony’s passport and check out his tooth. At the same time, I decided to get the vet’s opinion on what Moony should be doing, and what height it is safe to jump him at this age.

The vet in question would not specify a height. He simply stated that it was fine to jump Moony over anything within his comfort zone, but that it would be most unwise to push him until age 5.

As such, I decided it was time to begin working with some slightly more substantial heights once again, as Moony was certainly not learning anything from jumping heights that he simply couldn’t comprehend as ‘jumps’. We were working mostly on the same line – trying to correct errors and build jumping muscles – and Moony jumped comfortably up to 90cm without touching the pole once or showing any inclination that he did not want to comply with my wishes. Thus, I have decided that 90cm is well within his comfort zone. Not an entire course, mind you, but a single jump at that height will certainly not harm Moony in any way.

Comfortably clearing 85cm – 90cm
Comfortably clearing 85cm – 90cm.

The horse has improved, and he has improved a lot. In fact, I can barely connect him to the slightly lazy, unbalanced creature I had at the start. Moony is willing, fluid, obedient, balanced and eager. He absolutely loves jumping, he is always glad to be ridden and he certainly no longer performs like a green youngster off the track. Moony is no longer a racehorse, but has taken his first step on the ladder to becoming a true competition horse, be it in jumping, eventing, dressage, who knows? The possibilities are endless, but I am sure of one thing: Moony is going to go somewhere.

Moony is sound, he is happy and he is performing well. I am pleased with my training and his responses to it up until this point, and even if I was given the chance to do it all again, I’d not do a single thing differently, for I am fully confident that the results Moony is giving me are the best I could ask for. In addition, his attitude to his work has improved phenomenally, which proves to me that he is perfectly happy and comfortable with his training.

I apologize sincerely for my lapse in daily updates – I hope that this will do.
GREAT! You are doing well with him and he is also!
  Aug 30, 2010  •  3,624 views
Polo the Weirdo  MOD 
Thank you. :D I am very proud of him. :)
  Aug 31, 2010  •  3,598 views
Inactive Member  
Wow, he has got so much better in just 4 weeks!!!!
  Sep 4, 2010  •  3,625 views
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