Hanging out in Dressage comfort zone. Photo: By Peggy Porter

Hanging out in Dressage comfort zone. Photo: By Peggy Porter

Somewhere around the end of summer, I had reassessed my goals for myself and Festin and had come to terms with the fact that he was not going to be the eventing or combined training horse that I had hoped.

After several years of saying to myself, “this will be the year that I get him successfully started over fences”, spikes in my heart rate and blood pressure when there were jumps in the arena that we may consider attempting, and spending time refusing, rearing, or rapidly moon-walking away from any crossrail put in front of us, I changed my focus and long term goal to dressage only.

In November, our barn hosted a jumping clinic with Ken and Erin Dierks that I was able to audit.  Check them out here. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of flatwork and ground pole gridwork they did before the jumping even began.  My desire to jump was reawakened and I realized that with the right person leading the way and the proper approach, jumping may be something within reach for us.  The good news for us was that there was already another clinic at our barn with Ken scheduled for the end of February.  With a date in mind I began in hand work with Festin over ground pole grids and introduced individual poles under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter.

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. –Christopher Robin

Before my clinic the crossrail on the left was MUCH scarier than jumping out of a plane!

Before my clinic, the crossrail on the left was MUCH scarier than jumping out of a plane!

So the day of the clinic was finally here and the starter group was the final group to go. I was a bit unsure exactly what to expect from Festin, as he has a sincere disdain for change and new horses invading “his barn”.  Our jumping experiences to date had not been very positive and it was safe to say that I started our lesson more nervous than I was before I went skydiving.  Our group consisted of us and two other riders who hauled their Thoroughbreds in for the clinic.

Before I mounted I lead Festin around the arena and gave him a good chance to evaluate the gridwork that was laid out in the indoor and he took every opportunity to give it a head-tilt and suspicious eyeball followed immediately by his fiercest dragon snort.  Once I was in the saddle Ken took the time to ask us all about our horses, our riding experience, our experiences with our horses, and what we wanted to get from our lesson.  He guided us through flatwork exercises, asking our horses to relax their minds and backs, develop a working cadence, and become responsive to our aids.

That's a lot of lumber.

That’s a lot of lumber.

After assessing how our horses went, Ken asked if he could ride Festin so he could better understand what made him tick and what approach would work best for him.  Festin was a bit defiant and pulled every trick out of his bag but Ken calmly, quietly, and assertively assured him that everything would be ok and that he was going to do things his way.  Within 15 minutes they were quietly working as a team and Festin was going with more confidence, less questions and handling the ground poles without hesitation.

When it was my turn again we tackled the ground pole grids.  Ken had arranged an arc at one the end of the arena nearest the viewing area, two grids in the center to that could be approached on the diagonals, and two grids along the long side.

We started slowly with one section at a time, then continued adding on until we were trotting each obstacle as part of a figure-eight.  Ken worked with each of us very patiently until we were able to successfully master each and every exercise, then he added a small crossrail.   Actually, for Festin he started with a pyramid of three ground poles to trot over since he suspected change might cause an OTTB hissy fit.  With some hesitation and a lot of encouragement and help from Ken, we were able to trot the scary pole pyramid and move on to a half cross rail, and finally a full crossrail.  By the end of our lesson Festin and I were confidently working over a 20” vertical and returning to our grid.

Ken taught me so much during our lesson and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to ride with him.  He told me that it is ok for Festin to have questions, but that he needs to listen to me the first time when I answer them.  He reinforced the idea that there should not be a refusal.

Success!! Festin and I finding a new comfort zone.

Success!! Festin and I finding a new comfort zone.

When schooling, he should have the option of going over the fence or through the fence, but never around it.  This was a particularly hard lesson for me because it takes a lot of confidence to tell a 1000 plus pound animal that he will be doing something he doesn’t want to.

Ken was also instrumental in teaching me where to look.  It seems simple enough, but this has been something I have struggled with for a while and now feel like I have a good grasp on.

It’s hard to find trainers that understand both you and your horse and really gel with you.  I am extremely blessed to have found two (one to focus on our dressage and the other our jumping).  Thank you Ken Borden and Ken Dierks for believing in Festin and I and encouraging us to follow our dreams!  I have clinics scheduled with both in the coming weeks and hope to keep you updated on our progress!  Also, a huge thanks to my Horse Quarters family for planning such amazing clinics and being my biggest cheerleaders!

Thanks for sharing our journey!

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