Above: Tucci in the field December 2015. After a year of dressage training, he is engaged in his hind legs, strong over the back, and up and out to the bridle. A perfect example of how correct dressage training makes the horse even MORE beautiful!
A New Year always brings about time for reflection. When I look back at 2015, I not only see that I have grown as a person and a rider, I can also see the amazing difference that a year of dressage training has made for Prince Tucumcari, "Tucci." Tucci is a Freisian/Saddlebred (Georgian Grande) that I have been lucky enough to have in my daily life for the last year plus some. Not your typical dressage breed, but he is very smart and tries hard. I have also been very lucky to have had the support of his owners, Kendall and Vicki McEachern, who have been my dear friends for several years. The three of them have been through the ups and downs of the horse world with me as I strive to become the best horse person I can be. I have invested my blood, sweat, and tears into this horse. When I see what a happy athlete he has become, it makes me think it has all been worth it.
This video shows some of the early work I did with Tucci. Because of his upright build, weak back, and previous training as a western horse, Tucci's natural tendency was to tighten his back and either shoot his neck straight up, or curl up behind the contact. There was really no connection over the back and into the bridle. Working him in the long lines allowed me to teach him to start stepping into the contact and let go in his back without having to also balance the rider. Also, when I first started with him, he was not balanced enough to go to the right. Working on the long lines allowed me to teach him how to balance himself AND bend right. Teaching him to stretch down took a LONG time, as he would lose his balance as he stretched forward and did not have the strength to carry himself behind. He would also hide behind the contact until the last moment, and then snatch the reins out of my hands and throw his head in the air. Due to previous training, he was taught NOT to touch the bit, and when he finally did take contact for a moment, he thought he was going to get in trouble. Because he was so shy about contact, I had to be extra soft with my hands, and very, very patient.
In the above photo, Tucci had been in dressage training for about 6 months. I always feel that whether you are teaching a horse or a rider dressage, it starts with getting a few good moments that last a short time. These moment turn into minutes which then become the natural way of being.. Eventually those moments start to get longer, and you lose them for less. Pretty soon you are able to get the good moments back BEFORE you lose them, and eventually this turns into consistency. At this point, Tucci was not very consistent, but I was able to string together long periods of good moments without losing them for very long. The contact still felt pretty tricky to get and maintain, but it generally looked pretty consistent; though he was still not strong enough over the back to come up and out in his frame without dropping his back. I definitely did not have very much weight in my hand, and the feeling was that I was constantly giving the rein and asking him to go OUT to the bridle with a lot of supporting leg. Tucci has taught me well how to straighten the horse and half halt while still keeping the neck long!
Tucci was definitely stronger in the trot than in the canter. The canter would tend to get lateral if he got too quick or too tight. During this period of his development, some other interesting things were happening... Tucci was becoming less spooky, and trailer loading became a non-issue without me even pressing the issue. He was becoming more trusting of me, and decided that he liked the places we were going! He was really starting to become a solid partner.
Tucci and I moved to Valhalla in May 2015, and began working with Iris Eppinger, who helped me fix many of the basic problems we were having. Some times he did not even want to TURN! He would just curl his neck and go out through his shoulders. Once the basics were achieved, Tucci was able to start going up the levels in dressage as he became stronger. In his first season of showing with me, he went from training level, to first level, to finally making his 2nd level debut in December. He scored 71% at training, 69% a 1st level, and 65% at 2nd level, including some bobbles. Tucci enjoys showing, and once even started to enter the ring by himself before the judge even blew the whistle. He has been a fun horse to show, since he is so beautiful and uniquely marked that he always gets a lot of attention.
Riding Tucci bridleless was my way of testing how well he was listening to the seat and legs. I am always telling my students that the hand is the last aid to go to when asking for a down transition, or to ask the horse to turn. When you horse is listening to your seat, you don't need your hands for downward transitions. Also, your weight and your intention guide the horse's direction. That is not to say that you or your horse will not make mistakes.... but if you are always doing too much with your hands and never letting go. If you are always relying on your hands, you will never know how much or how little help your horse actually needs from you. This was only the 2nd time I had played around bridleless, and I still have to revisit it. It's a fun test of your communication!
I was a bit skeptical when Iris suggested trying him in the double bridle, as he was always so light and still wanted to be overbent. But he surpassed my expectations and took to it quickly! In fact, he was much steadier in the double, and I felt that it gave me the opportunity to work on other things besides contact. As his gaits are developing, he will actually get a bit strong in the bridle now, which for him - I LIKE! Since this video was taken, he has developed an actual piaffe and a better balance in the canter. Walk/Canter/Walk transitions are easy for him now, and he does not get tight or anticipate. He also offers a few steps of canter pirouette. We have also started working on flying changes, though he needs a bit more straightness before he will be able to do those consistently.
This was me and Tucci's first freestyle. It was FUN!
Tucci and I will soon be moving to Florida's panhandle, in Ponce DeLeon Springs, about 45 minutes from Destin, where we will continue working together. I will also be taking in outside horses for training, sale, as well as teaching lessons. Come by and say hi!