Here is a wonderful training update from Lisa, Ben’s volunteer rider:
Ben continues to amaze! When I broke my wrist in December and was forced to take a 3-month hiatus from his training, volunteer rider Jolene took over, continuing his groundwork, re-introducing lunging, and teaching him to stretch while in movement, which helps him connect comfort and relaxation to movement and work, instead of… well, just plain ol’ work! I came back mid-march to a horse that was even softer in responses than when I had last worked him, and seemed more comfortable reaching in both front and back.
When Ben was restarted in regular work, he never missed a step; which, for our big, goofy, handsome thoroughbred, is a great thing! He still seems to genuinely look forward to his time under saddle, learning new movements, tying his education to more advanced riding skills, and even hacking out around the beautiful new SAFE property. Ben still gets excited and a little nervous about new environments, so any time he is introduced to a new space (the indoor arena… then the covered outdoor arena…. Then the uncovered outdoor arena….), he needs some time to revisit his groundwork routine, then a good bout of basics from the saddle. Returning to his basic education calms him and reassures him that, no matter WHERE we are, he will not be made physically uncomfortable or asked to do too much, too fast. When he does settle into the space and move into our session calmly, this horse’s willingness to TRY and to THINK about what is being asked is absolutely amazing. He no longer gets frustrated when he doesn’t understand (he literally used to STOMP his feet in frustration like a toddler!), but he waits, watches, thinks, then moves… and if I continue to ask, he keeps thinking and tries something else, without panicking and flipping through is “Rolodex” of answers in anticipation.
Ben is progressing BEAUTIFULLY at the walk and trot (including a (*gasp!*) VARIETY of speeds and movements in each gait!) and continues to improve his canter transitions in terms of balance and smoothness. He still exhibits the occasional, “canter… canter… can-RUN!!” tendency, but those moments are fewer, farther between, and calmly collected and slowed.
With the weather FINALLY moving toward a real spring and some dry days, I am working on getting Ben out of the arenas more often, with the hopes of introducing him to and working on the trails in Farrel McWhirter Park (right next door to our new home!) and into a couple of spring schooling shows and ride & reviews around the area.
SAFE’s volunteer riders and their horses spent last weekend working with Joel Conner. Here’s a report from Melinda SAFE’s Herd Health Manager about her session with Ben:
I had the pleasure of working with Ben for both groundwork sessions of the Joel Conner clinic over the weekend. He was a rock star! Lisa has done an incredible job in building his confidence and getting him to relax and focus. I wasn’t sure at first about how he would behave with a relative stranger at the other end of the rope, but from the get-go he was attentive and respectful of me. There were a few times when something would distract him, but just a gentle reminder to pay attention was all he ever needed.
He knows the groundwork exercises well. He responds with a soft feel easily when backing and is sensitive enough to body language that he picks up on what you’re about to ask him almost before even needing to ask it. It was like he was the “old pro” in the arena, there to show all the newcomers how things are done. Heck, he was the old pro in the arena who was there to show me how things are done! Whenever I fumbled, he’d wait for me to get my act together and try again. I was very appreciative of his patience.
I wasn’t able to make it to the most recent clinic in August, but I audited the two clinics prior and got to see Ben’s progression. The work that has gone into getting him where he is now has paid off tenfold. The gelding who first came to us as a bundle of energy mixed with fear and insecurity is now a calm, cool, collected kind of guy. Even when one of the other horses spooked and caused a bit of commotion, Ben just stood there and watched on, totally unfazed.
It warms my heart when I think about the changes we’ve seen in Ben. I really can’t say enough about how much he impressed me this weekend. He really is something special and I’m glad I got the chance to know him a little better.
(as reported by his regular rider, Lisa Garr)
In September, Ben and I once again worked under the tutelage of Joel Conner at a SAFE-hosted clinic. This weekend showed a completely new horse in our big ol’ redheaded fellow. Now able to handle pressure from the bit without panicking, we worked on soft feel, isolating front-quarters and hindquarters, and transitioning down off of two reins (although, always, continuing to use the seat to ask for transitions as well) for more punctuality. Ben is learning to reach for a soft feel and to collect himself at the walk and trot so he can stay balanced throughout his body. He worked through the entire weekend without ONCE mentally “checking out”, staying relaxed and confident. As we did in April, we worked on walk-trot-canter transitions around the group, but this time Ben was able to work THROUGH these transitions, up, down, and back up again, with my seat, my feel, and the bit as aids.
Ben has started progressing in leaps and bounds throughout the past six months. While we are still working on balance, proper engagement, punctual responses, and calm transitions, I can say with utter confidence that, with support, understanding, patience, and a FAIR approach, this lanky redhead is going to make someone a willing, smart, hardworking equine partner with enough heart and “try” to blow you away. I can’t express how proud I am of this horse nor how honored I am to be a part of the SAFE Training Team that gives these animals a chance to prove how truly amazing they can be.
Stevie and Ben have a whale of a time together in turnout. Geldings love to pretend that they are fierce stallions battling it out on the wild plains. Well, Stevie does, anyway. From Ben’s expression, he might be wishing he was back with Oscar, who was a bit less rambunctious than Stevie is! Thanks to SAFE volunteer Caren M — who also sponsors Stevie with a monthly donation — for catching this action photo.
(as reported by his regular rider, Lisa Garr)
On July 27, 3 days before our annual SAFE Benefit Horse Show, I decided to go for it and ask if our biggest redhead could go along – even if just to BE at the show, competing or not. Ben was reported to have a lot of anxiety in a show environment the previous summer, even when not participating, to an almost-dangerous degree. But he had come SO FAR in the 10 months we had been working together in his ability to accept new situations calmly and to work through trouble, I really wanted to give him the chance to have a positive experience in a high-energy environment. We got the go-ahead, and we loaded everyone up on Friday afternoon and headed out.
Ben did indeed have a lot of anxiety on that first evening, as horses were constantly being hauled in, excited competitors were everywhere, and trucks and trailers were constantly coming and going. So, Friday evening, several times over, we exited his stall, grabbed our gear, and worked- on the same things we did at home every day. We did a little groundwork at a time, in various locations throughout the (extensive and beautiful) showgrounds, and when he focused on me and worked calmly for a minute, we went back to the stall and he had some hay. We took a walk with all the other SAFE horses to check out the grounds. We did some work. We gave everyone baths. Everyone munched on some grass. We did some work- all with breaks in between.
On Saturday, it was the same idea, but sometimes we were in a show ring for a little while and he was asked to stand still for a bit. If he was too anxious, we went to work for a little while. Then he was asked to stand, walk a little, work a little, and back to the stall. A few times in the morning, in the warm-up ring and even once in a class, he got so worked up he reared (his former go-to escape from mental pressure). “No big deal, big guy, but now to work – if you’re going to move your feet, it needs to be forward, not up.” This utter lack of pressure and reaction between times in his stall, I feel, was great for him. By mid-day Saturday, I could approach his stall and, instead of his head snapping up, eyes wide, ears LOCKED forward, he just looked at me… like, “Oh, hey. We’re going out again? Cool.” WHAT A TRANSFORMATION! We did in-hand obstacle courses, walked (more-or-less) over bridges, through (OK, UP to) cowboy curtains, across tarps, serpentines through cones and trotted over ground poles, all while staying relaxed and willing. Ben even scored HUGE on an in-hand dressage test!
Ben may not have taken home many ribbons, but this guy was without doubt the biggest winner in my book.