At Least I Had a Lesson This Week

I only got to ride on Wednesday this week, at least I got a lesson in!

Cinnabar was my lesson horse again. It was so warm I did not have to use any of my butt blankets. I think I felt a lesser degree of the muscles in his butt moving smoothly because we did not have the BOT butt blanket on. I think in the warmer months it would be good for me to put it on just for the walk to the riding ring then taking it off before trotting, like we did with the other horses.

Right now Cinnabar is fixated on Debbie, which is an improvement over his fixation on the gate! Every movement, no matter where we went, most of his attention was on the center of the ring because Debbie, his savior, stood there (as in she is a savior in getting me off his back after 30 minutes.) This is my fault, when I start riding a new horse I introduce the phrase “go to Debbie”, steer him to Debbie, and praise him when he obeys. For me this is a basic safety feature since I never know what odd things my body will do, and sending him to Debbie by voice command can cut a lot of problems off at their start.

My basic worry is that occasionally my lower leg starts jerking and I cannot control it, or sometimes my hands are not totally reliable, and having the horse go to Debbie on voice command only is the easiest way for me to stop the horse no matter what my body is doing.

On Friday my body was working alright, no sudden muscle convulsions, but the coordination of my aids was somewhat off, at least at first I had some difficulties in getting a prompt halt with no resistance. I had to go through the escalation on my hand aids more than once, first twitching alternated fingers timed to the action of the hind leg on that side, doing that again, doing it again a little stronger, the giving the “normal” halting aid of both hands at the same time, then a little stronger, then “setting” my hands briefly, finally to “setting” my hands and not releasing until I felt him slowing a little bit, then releasing and repeating as necessary. I am afraid that Cinnabar opened his mouth more than once as while my hands were “set” but Debbie did not get after me about that, after around a minute of me asking Cinnabar for a halt she also wanted him to obey my reins. Of course Debbie has full faith that I WILL release when the horse starts slowing down, and that I will give a full release in reward for a halt.

I got really tired when we started trotting. Starting off I was not able to get more than a few trotting strides, I was keeping contact in order to prevent him from heading to Debbie or the gate. Debbie got after me about my hands being too harsh for Cinnabar at this point in his training and coached me on loosening whichever rein that was too tight. As she told me Cinnabar is used to beginners doing the trot with loose and flapping reins. Finally I got myself together and I was able to get Cinnabar into a trot, using an occasional rein aid (with immediate release) to keep him at the fence of the riding ring instead of relying on constant contact to control him.

Then I worked at directing him around at the trot, he was really resistant to turning away from Debbie which made for some interesting curve/circle shapes. I was also using my seat and leg aids to encourage him to turn in MY direction, but those were not enough to overcome his desires to get to Debbie. Instead of being able to rely on a tweak of a little finger and a light nudge from my lower leg I had to get my body together so I could use all my aids, leg, seat and hand, each at the proper time of the horse's stride to get him to go where I wanted to go, while Cinnabar tells me “I do NOT want to go there!!!!”

I do not want you all to get the wrong impression about Cinnabar. He has become a reliable beginner's horse and he does not go around scaring his beginning riders. But for Cinnabar I have disadvantages, I weigh over three times his normal riders (little girls), I have bad balance, and I am not that coordinated. He is doing the best he can within the limitations of his prior training (very little) and he does not go out of his way to curse his rider out with evasions and outright disobedience. He WILL go where I tell him to, but I have to EARN his obedience with rational aids timed to the action of his hind legs, a very forgiving hand, prompt releases at any hint of obedience, and keeping my seat as light as I can in the saddle. As long as I ride well he will eventually obey me, however reluctantly.

This week I forgot to put on his BOT poll cap, Fenwick face mask with ears, and because it was warm I left off his BOT butt blanket. My mistake, and in no way was this Cinnabar's fault. There is the added complication that Cinnabar REALLY wanted to be out in the pasture hanging out with his buddies! Carrying me around the ring is definitely not his favorite activity in life. Cinnabar tends to be lazy, and with the higher levels of equitation the horse has to work harder and develop muscles he has been able to ignore. The intellectual challenges for a horse at this level of riding are also more challenging and it takes even more energy from the horse to use his brain to figure out how to obey my aids.

It really is a lot simpler for a horse to give lessons to lightweight beginners who have minimal expectations as to proper performance.

I do not know if I will be able to get a lesson next week, the forecast low for next Wednesday morning has ranged from 17° F to 24°F, which means that the ring would still be frozen at my normal riding time. The bitter cold has alternated with rain all winter, cutting into my riding time. Maybe I can get Debbie to delay my Wednesday lesson until 10:00 AM by which time the sunlight may have thawed the frozen footing.

I suspect that I will have to spend the next 2 to 6 months getting Cinnabar to take proper contact at the walk and trot. Then I get to work on the concept that though I have contact this is NOT a signal to slow down and halt (leg, leg, leg.) Then I have to work on getting him to understand my seat, leg and hand aids while he moves forward with impulse (hopefully!) Cinnabar has all the signs of eventually being an exceptionally pleasant riding horse, so long as I do not make monstrous mistakes while training him. All it takes is patience, rational schooling and physical development, good riding, forgiving hands, well timed aids, and prompt releases when he starts to obey.

It is not Cinnabar's fault that no one schooled him properly, and as Debbie says it, Cinnabar is a good guy and an asset for her riding program.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

P.S.  Sorry for the font size changes, sometimes my word processor seems to have a mind of its own!

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