A Good Cushion Can Help

I got to try my new ThinLine shock absorbing pad on MJ during my lesson on Wednesday.

Addison helped me groom MJ and tack him up until Debbie drove up. We put MJ's Fenwick Western pad on first with the ThinLine+ Contour pad on top of it, then the saddle. I had brought out a longer girth just in case we needed it but MJ's regular girth worked fine. It was not too hot, sort of misty, so I did not have to wear my ice vest. I did wear my Q30 collar and my neck fan.

I had put MJ's butt sheet on for the walk to the ring to help warm him up, so he was pretty good to go when I mounted. MJ walked out fine, and he was a little bit more enthusiastic about extending his stride. We toddled around, practiced some turns not using the reins, and my saddle was not shifting around as much--though at a walk this was sort of subtle.

When MJ sort of shrugged off his butt blanket I figured he was warmed up enough to trot. We did the posting trot around a quarter of the way of the edge of the ring, then I asked him to slow down a little bit and then I sat down.

As a recap, before the Q30 collar I could only bear sitting two strides of his slow trot, then my brain would “tell” me to stop jostling it around. With the Q30 collar my brain was happier but by the third stride my back HURT from MJ's jack-hammer trot. Wednesday, with the ThinLine+ Contour pad I managed to sit his slow trot for FOURTEEN STRIDES before my back started hurting. That is almost 5 times more than I had been able to stand before using this pad.

WOW! It works!

MJ's back even felt a little bit more relaxed, at least I did not get the unbending concrete bar feeling from his spine. He started “swinging” his back some, reached out to the bit a little bit more, and he generally acted like his back did not hurt as much as it did without this pad. My saddle was more stable under me, not shifting side to side, and I could concentrate more on getting myself into a proper position to ride the slow trot effectively which pleased Debbie greatly.

This is just the beginning. Now that I have finally!!!!! gotten MJ to relax his back enough so I can sit down some at his slow trot I have to slowly extend the time that I sit his trot so that his back muscles will start getting strong enough to actively support my seat. As his back muscles relax somewhat his hind legs are freer to swing forward under his center of gravity, and when that happens MJ can start bringing his back up under my seat. This can be a slow process and the first step, and the most important step with MJ, is getting him to trust that I will not go BAM, BAM, BAM! on his back.

And until he trusts my seat there can be no real progress in his training and physical development, at least where the sitting trot is concerned.

All the basic ABC stuff I do with MJ for 30 minutes a week does help him, or at least it does not harm him. Debbie tells me about his progress with his part leaser, and he is improving. Last week he finally took the right lead at the canter and kept in the right lead. This was not from any direct input from me, I have not worked MJ at the canter. But by slowly exercising his legs and training him by showing him that he does not HAVE TO move stiffly (plus his newer corrective shoeing) MJ has gotten his body sorted out and his old skills are coming back while the muscles he needs to carry a rider are getting stronger and more efficient. This is a positive training circle, and the proof is that MJ is improving instead of getting worse.

And now I have convinced MJ he can afford to relax his back muscles some I can finally work on improving my sitting trot, the position of my upper body, how I use my legs to maintain a steady speed, and the steadiness of my hands when I keep contact with his mouth. I also have to work on eliminating my head bob as his back goes up and down, keeping my face vertical and letting my spine absorb the shocks instead of my neck muscles. My aim for the position of my upper body is to get it as near to vertical as my body will let me, and as my back muscles get more fit I will be able to get myself into a more vertical position, in line with MJ's center of gravity and where my pelvis and spine can absorb the push of his hind legs so I do not bounce in the saddle.

Once I get this (yet again) I should be stable enough in the saddle so that I dare sit his canter instead of HAVING TO get up into two-point immediately, something that right now gets me really, really tired at the canter.

THIS is training the horse, the trainer must be willing to take the time to physically develop the horse so it can carry the rider easily. When the horse can carry the rider easily with pliable muscles then the rider can start influencing the horse's stride, making it longer or shorter, switching the horse's weight from more to the front to more to the rear (with subtleness!), and increasing the activity of the horse's hind legs. As the horse's back, hind legs and haunches get stronger then the rider can start to worry about how the horse uses its head and neck. Without a properly working hind end working on the horses forehand is a waste of time, the horse is not strong enough to use his forehand properly when his hindquarters cannot carry the load. And as long as the horse's back is strong enough to carry the rider NOTHING will work properly whether on the hind end or the forehand.

First things first. My new pad makes it possible for me to effectively sit on MJ's back and it keeps my saddle more stable on his back. I recommend the ThinLine Contour pad for riding a horse with an iffy back, it worked for MJ and his jack-hammer trot.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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