Training - How to Time Things and Guage Progress?

I had a nice ride. It's about 25 and very humid, so we didn't work hard, but we touched on most of our goal areas. 
Since this is my first time training a horse, I don't have a feel for how long things should take. I sense (know??) we were an awfully long time getting to walk trot (a year and a half, including the lay offs and set backs!). I read Dressage Today and go to competitions and see that 4 year olds and even 3 year olds are in level 1 sometimes. I'm sure some horses are ready and capable of that, but even if Rogo had had an experienced trainer I know he wouldn't have been. He was sooo clumsy and awkward (confirmed by Joan, Cheryl and Megan - experienced trainers) and just had no ability to 'work', as in concentrate, cooperate, etc. As I posted earlier, this summer was when he 'clicked' with the learning and training experience and became an engaged partner. He's five now so I'd say that even accounting for my lack of experience, he's on the later to mature end of the spectrum. He still seems to be growing too (I haven't measured him since the spring but he grew 2 in. last winter), and at that rate of growth I honestly had the feeling he just didn't know where his legs were sometimes last winter!
It's been thrilling to experience him 'learn to learn'.  Once this happened, I started posting firsts of all kinds - first flying change under saddle (a happy accident), hack out, leg yield, shoulder in, ... The flying change won't be repeated as a training goal for a long time, but it demonstrates he's acquired better balance and the later two are in the very baby stages.
We started cantering at the beginning of the year and were able to transition promptly, steer, show some balance, do circles, do simple changes through trot and carry the canter by July - about 6 months. Is this an average time? Seems a little long when I read other blogs. Now I can lengthen and shorten his stride in the canter, hold him in it pretty much as long as I want and (almost) pick it up from a walk. I can't consistently do all of this, all of the time, with a quality gait (if I could we'd enter a level 1!), but it's moving in a good direction. He always gets his leads right (always has).
The leg yield and shoulder in are handicapped by my lack of knowledge. I'm learning the aid as he learns to do it so I don't have any feel. I'm learning to understand though that sometimes we just need to struggle through things until we both get it - as he gets a step or two of lateral movement and I praise the work, I start getting more of it. Then I start to get a rhythm and my aid becomes more confident and clear. Does this make sense?
Rather a rambling post - but as Rogo learns to learn, I'm trying to become trained to train :) , and it entails committing some of this to memory.
Tonight he did well in a walking leg yield to the right, not so well to the left. My aid is better to the right. We practiced shoulder in for the second time and he seemed to get some steps both ways, but I really need someone on the ground to tell me if we're actually three tracking as this is completely new to me.
He did nice canter departs, but I didn't (didn't sit and go with him well). The canter was fine, but not as 'jumping' as it has been. Bending was good and the contact is definitely improving. 


Hurricanes12 said…
you're adventure with rogo is so cool!
it's great how you're teaching him everything he knows :)
TBDancer said…
I got my horse off the track. He was four-and-a-half and had been raced when he was three. He knew walk, trot and go-like-heck (;o) AND he knew how to do flying changes at the dead run. You're right about horses maturing differently. I've read that when Secretariat and Seattle Slew were babies, no one thought they would be much of anything because when they'd take off running, they'd often fall in a heap because they forgot about "alternating feet." My gelding was never like that. He is very athletic and while he wasn't a speed demon and didn't have the heart for racing, he was graceful as could be and, I bet, very easy to back. He's certainly been a blast for me, but I haven't hurried, either. He's 16 now and we're just peeking at the movements in First Level. The problem is ME, but that's okay, too.
I've had Spider for four years, and we're doing solid second level work, touching on third level. And when I got Spider he was already trained, albeit as a jumper. I didn't have to start completely from scratch, I just needed to re-train him in dressage. He came 15 this spring, and my trainer told me that even at 15 I will have no problem training him to Prix St. George before he gets "too old". My trainer is an FEI judge, so I trust that he's not just blowing smoke ;)

I do not believe in pushing horses to gain levels quickly. In dressage, horses commonly compete into their late teens, even at the highest levels. There is absolutely no reason to push them to do 1st level as 3-4 year olds if they aren't ready. Let it take as long as it takes, you will be rewarded with a happy, sound horse. And don't compare him to other horses, he isn't other horses...he's Rogo!
Jeni said…
Carol - -it will take the time it takes, but in the end you have a sane, sound, trusting horse.

Good on you to take it a slow as needed!
TeresaA said…
Jeni is exactly right!
Jan said…
Carol, Although I've never trained a horse from the start, as you are doing, I agree with the other commenters about taking your time being a good idea. You and Rogo are certainly making lots of progress (remember your trainer said your riding is the best ever, recently)! So regardless of how long something seems to be taking, or how he seems compared with another horse, he is making good progress each week- that's a wonderful testimony to your training skills, and his willingness. Also, I think it is probably normal that, once a horse learns a skill or movement, it doesn't necessarily become consistent for them for some time. You and Rogo are doing great, in my humble opinion, and are both learning on your own timetables. Congratulations!
I'd have to agree that it takes as long as it takes. Horses are like children, each one is different with different talents/skills and some learn faster than others.

My once in a lifetime horse was Erik a 17-2 hand Dutch Warmblood imported from Holland as a 3 yr.old. That boy was very slow to learn and didn't actually mature fully until he was seven. He only started to "get it" when he was older. It took him a long time and I never heard the end of him being called a "dumb blood". Dusty on the other hand hasn't worked much in her 14 years and is still green. We have been training together for a year and she "gets it" the first or second time she is taught/shown something, but it's an ongoing process. I won't push her the way our trainer pushed Erik because he made a fearful,spooky and confused horse out of him by taking him along too fast.

The moral of these two examples are don't rush the training or feel that you or your horse are less talented than other horses you read about or see at shows. The shows will still be there whenever the two of you are ready for them.
lthorse said…
In the end, the best teacher and the best training guide is the horse itself. Listen to your horse and he will tell you when he is ready, and more importantly not ready for new things. You clearly love your horse and have a wonderful relationship with him, let that be your guide (along with a good set of eyes on the ground) and you can't go wrong.

P.S I am developing a mailing list of like minded rider/trainers/competitors who are passionate about preserving the principles of classical dressage. Check out my posts, and if you like what you read, I hope you will help me to promote it. My goal is 100 subscribers initially:
Anonymous said…
I did a post about this a while ago - called, guess what - "What Is Progress?" - it's on my favorite posts sidebar. I think things take as long as they take, and if you don't hurry, you get there faster!
smazourek said…
I'm a newbie trainer too, when I started my gelding (at 9) we walked for two months before I ever asked him to trot. I was riding him for almost a year before we cantered, which he offered on his own, and we have yet to canter in a ring.

We are taking the ssslllooowww road, but he's a much nicer ride than most other horses that I've ridden and I think it's because of the time I've taken on nailing down the very basics with him.

So I say throw out the time table, your horse is young yet so why not take the time?