Coach Adjusts to Big Changes

Debbie's stable changed from night turnout to day turnout Tuesday this week. Coach was NOT pleased by the change in his routine. Debbie's workers had tried to keep Coach in his stall so he would be there and nice and clean for his lesson, but when Coach realized that all his buddies got to go out while he stayed stuck in his stall, well he started protesting with loud, shrill neighs. His neighs were so irritating that Coach achieved his desire, they put him out with his buddies until Debbie brought him in for the lesson.

Coach got upset all over again when Debbie took him from his buddies for his lesson. He was tense and obviously anxious, and I was glad Debbie was grooming him. After she groomed him some with his favorite grooming tools he settled down a little bit, just enough so we felt confident that we could try my bigger butt blanket (exercise sheet) on him to see if it was big enough. Yeah, it was barely big enough to fit him, he did not seem upset about it, and I will not have to buy yet another butt blanket! That is a relief. I am trying desperately to buy all the foreign made tack I may need, with the ever escalating trade wars I am afraid that a lot of our tack will go up in price. I remember the 1960's when the US charged tariffs on foreign tack, and it tended to be twice the price of equivalent domestically made tack. Since there is not much manufacturing of Hunt Seat and Dressage tack in this country the trade war may just mean that we will just have to put up with paying for the tariffs. A LOT of the bits are made in China now (especially stainless steel bits), so if you have your eyes on a new bit I suggest you go ahead and buy it. Since I am not made of money I am trying to get the stuff I need the most before the prices escalate.

Coach protested when I tried to put the BOT poll cap on his head, he imitated a giraffe, my back was hurting, I basically told him if he did not want it that badly it was OK, but Debbie intervened so she got to put the poll cap on him. All tacked up Debbie led him out, and all of Coach's attention was on his ever so lucky friends who were happily out in the pasture while poor Coach was being subjected to working for his living.

When I mounted Coach was still fixated on his buddies. He started grinding his titanium coated Mullen mouth snaffle, but instead of his old grind, grind, grind (“maybe if I grind this bit enough it will disappear”) he would grind it twice and then stop for a while. After our first walk around the ring it was obvious that I had to do something different to get his attention, so I stopped him where he could see his buddies in the pasture, counted to ten (so he could process in his mind that his buddies were not going any further away) and then told him to walk. He protested a little bit and then started walking while mumbling under his breath about how UNFAIR it all was that his buddies got to play while he worked.

While he settled down a bit about his buddies it was time to startle at anything that got his attention, the two mares in the paddock behind the ring, and, especially, a bright blue “box” that had been moved just outside the ring's fence. That was SCARY though he did not act up too badly. He got to stop facing his new “fears”, I counted out loud to ten, and both times by the time I got to 8 he told me he had processed his fear and it was time to MOVE ON. His contact was not the steadiest, and I ended up “sponging” with my fingers while my hands followed his mouth. This kept the contact steadier and he started to pay attention to me instead of his buddies and the new horrors all around him.

I told Debbie that the first cold day I was going to ask her to ride Coach before I got up on him, and she was agreeable to that idea. She was also talking about putting him on the lunge line for when I start trotting him.

I had read an article (through the COTH Forum) on how long it takes for a horse's bones to fully ossify. Different bones ossify at different times, and the bone that ossifies the last is C7, where the base of the neck vertebrae meet the thoracic vertebrae which does not ossify until the horse is 6 to 7 years old. This made me reconsider when I will introduce Coach to the double bridle since part of the reason we use a double bridle is to elevate the head correctly (without inverting.) The article said that ALL horses and ponies tend to ossify their bones at the same age (the exception of really tall, rangy horses taking longer.) I discussed this with Debbie and I told her I was going to wait until mid-late spring to try the double bridle (Coach will be 7 next Spring.) The article also said that if a horse is mounted and ridden before 4 years old that the horse is just not strong enough to support the rider's weight, then the horse stiffens all the muscles in his back, and it ends up that the horse assumes that stiffening his back muscles is proper for riding (especially race horses.) It also said that the horse needs another 2 years of physical conditioning before it will be strong enough to do our games without harming itself. Once the horse is mature enough (6 + years old,) and strong enough, the horse can easily do most of our games without negative outcomes physically and the horse can work much, much harder than most people realize. Reading this article made me reflect on all the unsound horses I read about in the horse bulletin boards, back problems, hock problems, neck problems, stifle problems, sacroiliac problems, and leg problems. Could 95% of these problems have been prevented by WAITING to ride the horse?

After 15 minutes of walking around the jumps Coach relaxed, and he even stood for longer than 2 seconds on a loose rein. Except for some yearning glances toward his buddies Coach then settled down and paid attention to me for the rest of the lesson.

Reading that article about the bone ossification made me reconsider a lot of what I am doing on Coach. I have not been doing much, just teaching him the ABCs of my aids. Now he knows pretty much what I mean with my rein, leg and seat aids, and since he is so smart he will not forget what he has learned. I have had two main worries about Coach—when I do turns in place I've noticed a tiny flinch in one of his forelegs, and when backing up he is very sticky and inverts readily. My thinking has changed from teaching him how to do these movements to my satisfaction (correctly) to the fact that first I have to “teach” Coach how to move properly under saddle, especially with loosening up his back muscles enough so he can coordinate them better while he carries me. If his back muscles HAD TO stiffen up so he could carry a rider when he was a long yearling, it is now obvious that he needs to learn that he can carry a rider while he relaxes his back muscles somewhat, just enough so he can more easily coordinate them while he walks. When Vladimir Littauer developed what is now the American Forward Seat his goal was to develop a system that made Thoroughbreds, including ex-race horses, decent riding horses for regular riders, as well as teaching riders how to safely ride these TBs! Since I've ridden Forward Seat for the past 48 years I just have to apply what I learned from reading Littauer and ignore all that I've learned from reading the dressage masters, at least until his back moves to my satisfaction.

It is finally cool enough so I can wear my new protective vest while riding. At the tack store they ended up putting me into an extra-large child's vest because when I sat in the saddle the bottom of the vest was hitting the saddle. Last weekend when I rode Cider and I collected her going downhill the back of my vest was hitting the seat of the saddle. I described this to Debbie, showed her how I was sitting, and she told me that when I felt the back of my vest hitting the saddle I was LEANING BACK. When I sat up straight the vest did not hit the saddle and it felt much better to me.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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