Gee, I have Written 300 Blogs so far on Barnmice!
A little over seven years ago, I started writing blogs on Barnmice. I appreciate my readers (though a little more feedback would be appreciated) for continuing to read about my boring rides, stuck in the riding ring, proceeding mostly at a walk. I do hope that you, the reader, have been inspired by my writings to listen to your horse!
Last Sunday Shannon figured out how to put my new Amigo Fly Rider flysheet on the horse. The front Velcro fastening goes on the top of the withers, not in front on the horse’s breast. When Shannon put it on correctly, all the Velcro straps and metal loops matched up perfectly and I could appreciate how well this sheet is designed to protect the horses from the flies. This week Bingo seemed less bothered by the flysheet, and Mia had no problems with the neck attachment, unlike last week when her ears were plastered back on her neck. Debbie was a little worried that the flysheet would heat the horses up, but I figured so long as I walked there would be few problems. I am beginning to believe that the flysheet may help keep the horse a little cooler just because it blocks the sunlight from reaching a lot of the horse’s skin.
On Wednesday, my lesson on Bingo went well. It was hot and muggy, so I when I got up on Bingo I told Debbie I would mostly be walking. After starting at the rail, I rapidly changed to wending our way around the jumps in the ring, big round curves at first, then as he warmed up the curves became tighter. We did clover leafs around the jumps, figure eights around the jumps, and then I started on the tighter turns, going straight to the turn and asking for Bingo to start turning more in place rather than following a curve. Bingo seemed to find these later turns easier to do than he found the curves, at least he felt stiffer to me on the more gradual curves. I even trotted him for a minute or two, and since I did not want to waste my energy by just following the rail, I took him at the trot around the jumps with two changes of direction (along with me changing my diagonal.) Twice Bingo tried to shuffle down into a walk while on a curve, but I kept him going.
All the time while we were doing these curves Bingo’s back and neck were stiff, almost as stiff as they were when I started riding him three months ago. Don’t get me wrong, Bingo is a LOT better at turning now, he does not argue about it for long and 99.9% of the time we end up where I want to go. Instead of tightening up his neck and trying to go where HE wants to go 10 to 15 times during my ride, he just tries it 4 to 5 times and he responds to my gentle corrections quicker than before. However his back does not move correctly under my seat during the turns, so while I have made progress I have not made the progress I had anticipated.
It is obvious; I am not doing everything I could to make turning easier for Bingo!
I checked with Debbie about the work I was doing with Bingo, and how my riding was affecting Bingo. Debbie is pleased with everything I am doing with Bingo, she likes how Bingo reacts to the Pee Wee bit I put in his mouth (though she will not let beginners use this bit as the mouthpiece is so thin), how he reaches confidently for contact and how I can gently get him to obey my rein aids. She also approves of the gentle conditioning I am putting on Bingo by mostly walking with him. So I am not doing anything that is blatantly wrong, and I am sure that if I continue to do just what I am doing now that Bingo has a good chance of eventually improving even more, but to me the key word is eventually. At just 20 to 30 minutes a week riding him, eventually could take forever! I also noticed something else, I got Bingo into his super marching walk and when he transitioned into this faster walk he first put his weight on his forehand, which liberated his hind end from carrying weight, which made it easier for Bingo to move his hind legs faster and further.
So when I got home I went to my horse books for advice from the mostly dead Masters of Horsemanship. For some reason I chose to look in the U.S. Cavalry’s “Horsemanship and Horsemastership, Volume I,” and I decided to read “Part Two--Education of the Horse,” to see if the Cavalry had any guidance about riding croup high horses. On page 190 I found this, “…those (horses) that, from their conformation, have too much weight on the forehand should be frequently halted. Training is nothing more than a search for balance, and the halt is an excellent gymnastic for those horses that, high and powerful behind, are difficult to slow down.” Good, I had been avoiding too much work at halting since Bingo was so resistant to moving forward, but since he now has three months of my training maybe it is time to start working on the halt more.
Further down I ran into a paragraph on page 198 that said “the training value of such “figures” (turns, transitions, etc.) depends entirely on the manner in which they are executed, it is the position imposed on the body of the horse by the rider’s aids which makes them of value. A rider may execute all of these figures prescribed in the regulations in the most approved sequence and never obtain the result sought for. Another, working on these same figures but with a clearly defined objective, and using his aids towards the attainment of this objective, will train his horse very quickly.” Reading this it dawned on me that the aids that work readily with horses that are not croup high, may not be good enough to deal with Bingo’s problems effectively.
So then I went to the Horsetalk site (http://www.horsetalk.co.nz) where I found this article, “”Why you should keep your horse on the straight and narrow” by Neil Davies (http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2016/07/14/keep-horse-straight) that defined how straightness works on curves. Then I remembered another article on the Horsetalk site from last year, “The real meaning of straightness in the horse” by Jean Luc Cornille (http://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2015/04/30/real-meaning-straightness-horse/) which discusses that the spine of the horse is kept within a corridor by the rider’s thighs. Reading these two articles got me thinking about Bingo in a new way.
Bingo has no real idea of how to go straight, and his croup high conformation makes it more difficult for him to use his back properly, and thus the thrust of his hind legs does not go through his spine properly. Now I have tried many things to encourage straightness in Bingo, my hands through the bit, my legs, and my seat bones, and while these machinations may get a straightish step or two they do not keep him straight. I have not really explored using my thighs to encourage the back to stay within a corridor which encourages straight movement.
So the next time I ride Bingo I will be working on doing a few more halts, doing everything I can to do a proper halt. Then I will be working on keeping Bingo’s spine within the corridor of my thighs. This won’t be particularly easy; I remember reading in one of Podhajsky’s books that when a horse goes straight his weak hind leg has to work harder, which is why many horses resist going straight, and Debbie has remarked that Bingo’s hind end is weak. I practiced working Mia’s back with my thighs when I rode her yesterday, at first she was a little confused (“do you want me to halt?”) but then she got the idea. I can try doing this on Cider tomorrow; I certainly have difficulties getting her straight too. Whichever way it goes, I now have a good plan for proceeding, one that will hopefully help me attain my goal of getting Bingo to move like a well-trained riding horse. All I have to do is ride him better!
Have a great ride!