As Summer Nears

It is getting warmer down here. This weekend starts a string of days at 90° F on up. On Wednesday for my lesson I had put on my protective vest, and after grooming and walking to the ring I took it off as I was just getting too warm. I did not even put it on for my ride on Friday. I am hoping to delay wearing my ice vest and at least the weather is cooperating with that, the humidity has been manageable, low enough so that my technical fabric summer shirt works like it should.

I do wish someone made a riding helmet with a built in air-conditioner, that would really help.

When I got to the stable for my lesson on Wednesday Debbie had gone off with a few of her students to school off property so I got my lesson from her daughter, Sam. Sam was all alone in the stable, so after she brought MJ in and picked out his feet I took over his grooming. With my new Strip Hair Gentle Groomer I can do a better job with a lot less work which helps save me some energy. Right now I am doing the Strip Hair first all over, including getting the crud off his cannon bones and the dried mud off from around his hooves. Then I use the Tiger's Tongue concentrating on where the saddle goes, then I finished his body with the Haas Diva body brush. That got him clean and shiny. Sam reappeared to put on his pad, saddle, fly sheet and BOT butt blanket while I brushed out his mane, cleaned his head and put his “hats” on.

All this meant I was pretty tired when I finally mounted MJ.

I have been reading my new Sylvia Loch dressage books looking for ideas and methods that I can easily integrate into my Forward Seat riding. Sylvia Loch makes this much easier than other authors, for one she says that the only proper seat on a horse with a weak back is Forward Seat, up in a full two-point position completely off the saddle. She is VERY protective of the horse's back, and talks about protecting the horse's back like most equitation riders write about protecting the horse's mouth, as a sensitive part of the horse that just cannot deal with harsh, abusive methods. That is fine with me!

My lesson on Wednesday just made it so obvious that MJ's back needs to be developed with great care and sensitivity, something he missed out on the last two decades or so. While his back “swung” I could still feel jarring every step if I dared to sit down some at the trot (usually only when I transition down to the walk.) I concentrated on trying to sit down LIGHTLY in the saddle but I obviously have to get some of my thigh muscles stronger. I worked on making my inside leg like a post for turning and this worked quite well, at times he would turn with my post-like inside leg being the only aid for the turn.

When I asked MJ to stretch out his walk stride his reaction was “not today, lady.” Sam noticed that when he was trotting he was dragging his right hind hoof some, in both directions, so I quit asking for extension. Instead I worked on the regular walk, transitioning to a super slow walk, and back up again. MJ does not mind too much when I ask him to go really slow, and when we got slow enough for me he starts “getting into it” and would keep the slow speed on sagging reins.

On Friday I was determined to do better with MJ's back.

I had to do most of the grooming again on Friday and the tacking up. I did not even bring my protective vest to the stable, I probably won't wear it again until the Fall. On Friday I used MJ's snaffle bridle with the Fager Alexander sweet-iron with a center copper plate three piece snaffle. As usual MJ is much less responsive to my rein aids with just a snaffle, to him just a snaffle reminds him of all his other riders that do not have my expectations of prompt obedience to really light hand aids. He was not bad, it was just that I would give a hand aid, then after a short pause MJ would go “you said something?”, I'd repeat my hand aid and I'd get “I guess you said something, what a bother” to, at my third light hand aid “OK lady, whatever.”

When I mounted I tried to keep up off his back, I went into two-point immediately and I did my best not to touch the seat of the saddle with my bottom, at all. This included NOT going into a half-seat, something I had been to prone to do when I got tired. I tried and failed to do this a full five minutes, and when I had to sit down I tried to keep my seat as light as I could, first by using my upper thigh which MJ did not seem to think was enough, to finally squeezing the bottom of my butt cheeks together which MJ seemed to think liberated his back, not enough but better than my full weight in the saddle. After a minute or two my muscles just got too tired, and I sat down gently on my full three point seat, the front of my rocker seat bones going up to the pubic bone and my two seat bones resting lightly in the saddle. MJ would have preferred if I had kept my weight off the saddle for longer, sorry MJ.

But all my extra effort paid off. I did one trot, and while I trotted towards the barn another rider was leading her horse to the ring. She told me it was a really nice trot! That was nice to hear, but to me the BIG difference was when I sat the last three strides of the trot when transitioning down to the walk. MJ has always swung his back during these downward transitions, but this time he did not jar my seat at all! That was a big surprise for me and a welcome relief to my sore back. Maybe in a few more months of working at taking tender care of MJ's back I'll be able to sit his trot normally, but I'm not going to rush it. After all he has to put up with all his other riders.

I am finding that keeping my seat light in the saddle while keeping my upper body erect is hard work for me. It is just so much easier to just slouch in the saddle, but MJ does not find that comfortable at all. I will just have to become a better, more fit rider to give MJ the ride he deserves (he is such a GOOD boy!)

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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