I Got to Ride MJ Again

The last two weeks Debbie had summer camps so I could not get a lesson. It worked out because I was sick the first week and recovering the second week, getting over the scary weakness and exhaustion.

I got to ride Cider last Sunday and I took it really easy, not hard since nowadays Cider is not very interested in moving under saddle. I was weak and shaky, but at least my body re-learned where it was instead of wandering off into the ozone layer.

Friday I finally got a lesson again. When Debbie brought MJ in she noticed that he was not happy with his right front hoof. When she went to clean the hoof out MJ was not cooperative at all, repeatedly trying to snatch his hoof from her hand. She then went to clean out his left front hoof without any problems, and when she got back to his right front hoof MJ let her clean it out thoroughly. MJ had been used the first week of camp, but the second week he had not been used and his hooves had not been cleaned out. Debbie found a lot of gunk under the heel shims on his hooves which the farrier put on him to treat his navicular disease, and it took her a while to clean out the right hoof thoroughly. He then moved a little better, she trotted him in hand down the barn aisle and he had a minor head bob. I suggested that she get one of her granddaughters to clean out his front hooves twice a day for a while to prevent further problems.

I told Debbie I was still too tired to do anything more than a walk, and since the ring is footed with deep sand we decided to try him for the lesson. If her riding ring had harder footing we would have put him back out again.

When I started riding him he was not “flinching” much worse than he had at the start of my last lesson when his right hoof bore weight, but he was quite reluctant to move on out extending his stride. I accepted this and dialed back all my expectations for the ride. We moved around the ring much slower than I like. They had moved the jumps much closer to the fence of the ring for the summer camps and MJ did not particularly want to walk on the more rutted narrow path so we mostly meandered around the center of the ring. I asked for larger curves, and when he did not “warm up” out of his minor flinches I asked him to collect some using just my alternating lower legs (when the horse's barrel moves out against my leg I hold my lower leg steady instead of letting the barrel move it out) mostly on sagging reins. MJ slowed down and shortened his stride but he felt a little stiff in his hind end. Debbie had not wanted to use the BOT exercise sheet because it was getting HOT, I told her for my next lesson it might be nice for MJ if we used the exercise sheet for the walk to the ring then take it off when it came time for me to mount. One sore foot can affect all the horse's back and croup muscles, they work harder and can get sore from the new type of work.

Then I started working on halting, and MJ really did not want to halt. I had to use escalating rein aids, starting with the alternating hand aids in time with the forward motion of his hind legs and I ended up having to “set” my hands rather hard before he obeyed me. Debbie liked that I released my hand aids fully when we finally stopped. When I asked Debbie if he was showing any signs of irritation with the bit she said he opened his mouth a little bit when I set my hands, but when I released the pressure he was happy to go back to playing with the bit so I did not upset him too much. I told MJ that we were going to spend the rest of the lesson schooling at the halt.

Of course we did other things than just halt. I asked for a step or two of a turn in place, fore and hind, and we also worked some on backing up. Every few minutes I asked him to halt, mostly heading towards Debbie and heading towards the gate. At first he was quite resistant to halting even when we were headed away from the gate. He gradually improved and I could finally stop “setting” my hands which made me happy, but he was still loathe to halt. Why? I don't know. Debbie found no fault in how I was asking him to halt, he was just not paying much attention to my aids.

When I got to the stable I put on my protective vest, but by the time we got him groomed I was just too hot to keep it on. I figured with my summer technical fabric shirt I would stay cool enough for my ride but by the end of it I was feeling HOT and sweaty, next ride I will be using my ice vest for sure! So around the 30 minute mark I took full advantage of a so-so halt heading toward the gate and I gave him the best reward for obeying me, I dismounted in the center of the ring. I was too hot to go on riding anyway.

At least he was walking better when Debbie led him back to the barn so I knew I had not made it worse for him.

I asked Debbie about MJ's other rider. She is an eleven year old girl and she has “fallen in love” with MJ and wants her parents to lease &/or buy him. Debbie is gently trying to discourage this, the girl is starting off and Debbie does not want her saddled long time with a horse she cannot jump or otherwise have fun with (long trail rides or galloping). A lot of beginners “fall in love” with the horse they are riding in the controlled circumstances of a lesson in the riding ring. The child gets to feeling safe on that particular horse and the day dreams start of a long friendship full of ever better riding begin. However even though the horse may be safe to ride in a controlled setting that is no guarantee that the horse will be particularly safe in a more uncontrolled environment. Both the horse and young rider can end up with serious problems with control, as in that horse is no longer particularly safe for the starry eyed young child who starts getting scared and ends up losing all interest in riding horses.

It is so much better if parents do not buy a young beginning rider their own horse. After a few years of lessons sure, but not before. A beginning rider of any age has absolutely no idea of what to do when things get hairy and the horse learns that he can ignore his rider and do what he wants to, usually heading back to the barn.

This also applies to older beginning riders. Learn to ride decently before you buy your first horse. Believe me you will still have problems, but at least you will have an idea of what to do and you will have a chance of not making things worse. Nobody wants to buy a ruined horse, so learn to ride decently before you buy your first horse so you will not ruin your precious horse.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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Comment by B. G. Hearns on July 30, 2020 at 8:00am

I suspect that all the romantic movies starring some child who finds the horse of their dreams and becomes a great rider on that horse are inspiring but are, like all stories, fantastical and made up. It's easy to fall in love with a particular horse, I'm watching it happen to a friend of mine, even though she is over 50.
I was lucky enough to have a good teacher who swapped me out on virtually every horse in the barn. They were all well trained, so I didn't ride the same horse twice in a row for the first few months. I think that helped a lot to avoid the fall-in-love-with-this-one syndrome. I got my horse when I was ready and able to get one.

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