A Bigger Release

Amid all the depressing news going out nowadays I have found two bright spots.

First, Debbie and I went in together for a Guardian Horse Mask for Bingo http://www.guardianmask.com/, hopefully it will help Bingo with his moon-blindness. The company got it to me QUICKLY—two days after I ordered it—and I got out to the stable this morning to give it to Debbie. Bingo was in the wash stall getting his scratches treated so it was convenient to put it on him right away. You HAVE to take two head measurements to be sure to get a properly fitting mask for the horse in question plus the horse's height and breeding, so it is probably best to order it from the company. I called, had a very nice and encouraging conversation with the lady about Bingo. I hope this will help him a lot and help get him rideable for other people so Debbie can use him as a lesson horse.

Second--ever since I read about relaxing my knee joint to keep my lower leg from drifting back I have been working at it every ride. During my lesson Debbie only got after my right lower leg once, and it was not as far back as usual. I was concentrating so much on my right knee and lower leg that I lost track of my back and shoulders, Debbie said I was slouching again. So I asked for the Equicube and when I held it my back, shoulders and head immediately lined up correctly and Debbie stopped getting after me about slouching even after I gave the Equicube back to her.

When I got home I started thinking about my ride, my knees, and my lower legs. Though Debbie has not gotten down to much on me about my left lower leg the responses I normally get are not quite up to my expectations. Luckily for Bingo I automatically assume that any and all difficulties I have with a horse are my fault (except for veterinary issues) so I do not punish the horse for not obeying me as readily as I desire. If I use the crop the whip lands on my half-chaps, not on the horse. Since I have to turn my toes out some to use my gentle spurs (Spursuaders) I am pretty good at taking my spur off the horse, so the horses do not seem to think that I am torturing them for their less-than-ideal response to my leg aids and they graciously put up with my imperfections.

During my “homework ride” yesterday I, of course, concentrated on my right knee and lower leg again. Since I had to ride in full sunshine I was expecting Bingo to be dull to the leg because he cannot see that well.

During my ride it occurred to me that by keeping my right lower leg too far back that I was not releasing my leg aid enough. Yes, I always lighten the pressure of my lower leg, but that may not be release enough so that the horse can UNDERSTAND that I released my leg aid. I have had this problem of full release of an aid with my hands, sometimes when I did an indirect rein of opposition my hand stayed up by the horse's neck and my riding teacher had to point it out to me. I have improved with my hands doing a full release, now it is time to improve the full release of my leg aids.

So I paid a lot off attention to my lower legs and knees, making sure that whenever I gave a leg aid with my lower leg that I immediately stiffened up my tight muscle to move my lower leg back forward to where it belonged. I did this for all my driving leg aids and all my turning leg aids, concentrating, concentrating, concentrating, while trying to also make sure my upper body did not slouch.

And after several minutes of this something remarkable happened.

I gave Bingo a leg aid to extend his walk some Bingo responded fully and with impulse. He was not sucking back, he was not dragging his hind leg, he pricked up his ears and he marched forward cheerfully and without fear. He UNDERSTOOD my leg aid completely. I did not have to repeat my leg aid either, like I've had to do forever with Bingo.

Wow!

I have been getting really tired from my rides lately from getting the muscle in the front of my thigh slightly tense, just enough so my lower leg will stay in its proper place by the girth. I have come home and had to rest for hours before I could do anything else.

While I am getting tired now I am sure that will change as that thigh muscle gets used to working more. In the meantime, if I have to use fewer lower leg aids to keep Bingo moving it will save my energy there.

Bingo has patiently putting up with my imperfections all the months I have been riding him. He has patiently tried to figure out my aids, he has tried to understand my aids, and he has tried to obey my aids. Now it turns out that what I thought were my problems with Bingo were actually my problems with my body, by not releasing my leg aids completely I was leaving him guessing about what I wanted with the leg aids.

The other good result is that Bingo obeyed my HAND aids better too. He reached for the bit with more confidence, he obeyed my hand aids promptly and he got light in hand.

No matter how experienced a rider one is, it is extremely easy to get into bad habits without even noticing what you are doing wrong. This is one of the reasons why riders still take riding lessons even after decades of riding experience. If Debbie had not gotten after me about my lower leg I would have had no reason to hit my riding books and I would not have read that part of a sentence that showed me the way out of my problems.

Bingo, by being sluggish to my leg aids, was telling me that I had a problem. This badly conformed, badly trained, and supremely ugly little horse managed to point out one of my major riding faults, a fault that all the other horses I've ridden have pointed out to me though they all tried to obey me in spite of my confusing lower right leg! I know a lot of people look down upon lesson horses, I used to in fact, but no longer. Bingo has proven to me that EVERY horse can teach even a rider with 50 years of riding experience something “new”, and teach their rider how to ride better.

Bless the lesson horses, they are true angels even if we cannot see their halos.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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