More Trotting

When I talked to Debbie Friday morning as we prepared MJ to ride she told me that MJ had been ridden by one of the girls in the college riding group. Apparently she had not only been super diligent about cleaning out MJ's right front hoof under the bar shoe, she had then cantered MJ a lot. MJ was not visibly lame when led in, but Debbie felt some hesitation when that hoof landed. She spent a good amount of time making sure that his hooves were CLEAN under the bar across the heel and frog. While she did that I talked to her about my decision to get MJ a set of the Shoo Fly leggings, my hypothesis is that if MJ stomps his front feet less from the flies that he will not trigger more pain in his navicular bones, or more damage if stuff gets under the bar shoe during turnout.

Leading MJ out to the ring it looked like MJ's front hooves felt more comfortable. When I mounted I had minor difficulties in getting the reins of the double bridle untwisted and under the correct fingers but finally I got the reins untwisted, in the correct place, and at the correct length. MJ started out walking just fine, since I am still not wearing spurs he was not as generous with his impulse, but he stopped dragging himself around when I started flexing my calf muscles. On one hand I miss his more prompt response when I wear spurs, on the other hand my right ankle is feeling sort of weird, the type of weird that wearing spurs would aggravate. Besides most of his riders are not wearing spurs so schooling for prompt, generous responses to a rider's naked heels is a good idea. I did not back up my leg aids with my crop during this lesson, he was responding to my leg aids more easily and I wanted him to feel rewarded for that, not corrected. Sharpening him up will come later, right now I am content with a willing response.

Since MJ felt stiff to me, like he just needed to warm up his stiff muscles, I started trotting early in my lesson. It took two or three leg aids with my flexed calf muscles to get him moving but I did not have to escalate my leg aids. I did have to work some to keep him trotting around but part of that is my fault, I have been doing short trots on him, not much more than a quarter of the way around the ring and I had to tell him that this day I expected him to keep going. I also had to get him out of his habitual Quarter Horse shuffle and into a proper English hunt seat trot with suspension. We did end up with trots that Debbie approved of, and after trotting four times I was rather tired but at least MJ performed adequately.

In between the trots I worked on my usual stuff, big gradual curves—the challenge here is to keep MJ moving at the same speed as on the straight, as well as a few turns in place. Then I also worked on the three speeds of the walk and I really felt the lack of spurs, he did lengthen and shorten his stride in response to my flexed calf muscles, but not as generously as he does when I wear the spurs (I rarely turn out my foot to emphasize the spur, just the fact I am wearing them seems to encourage obedience).

My challenge in riding spur-less is to get MJ responsive to MY leg aids while at the same time not getting him too responsive for his less knowledgeable riders. This is why I went to flexing my calf muscles as my leg aid, most beginning and intermediate riders do the normal kicks and pressing the lower leg against the horse's sides so I am not aiming for super responsiveness to the beginner level leg aids. My spur-less flexed calf muscle leg aids give MJ an aid that only I am using, just like I am usually the only one wearing spurs on him. MJ seems to realize that there is a difference between what is expected when I ride him versus his other riders, and hopefully I will be able to get him as responsive to my flexed calf muscle as he is to the spurs, while at the same time MJ remains sort of logy in responding to his other riders' leg aids. Debbie does not need for MJ to take off like a rocket with a beginner on his back, after all.

Near the end of my ride when I told Debbie I could ride Friday morning she said not this week, MJ is going to a show with a bunch of her other horses. I hope he does not show up lame, when I trotted him to the left he trotted sound but when I trotted him to the right I could feel his head moving a little bit, not extravagantly, and Debbie could hardly see it. MJ was not flinching at all when his doubtlful foot landed and he was not reluctant to move forward, but the generous YES was not there. So long as his rider cleans out his hoof completely he should be fine.

This week I got an e-mail from Fager bits advertising their 15% off Easter sale. I have been saving my money up so I went ahead and ordered three sizes of their new fixed ring sweet iron double jointed bradoon with a roller in the center, the Jacob. That will give me three non-stainless steel bradoons I can use with my double bridle, all I have to do if find out which one each horse prefers. The horses already “told” me they are not particularly impressed with the Fager single-jointed Madeleine bradoon with my hands, they do better with the double jointed lozenge Fager Madeleine bradoon. I think that the horses are “telling” me that with my proprioceptive problems I keep better contact with the double jointed Fager bits, but there will always be other horses that prefer a single-jointed bradoon. Either way I will be covered and hopefully the horses will be happier with my double bridle mania.

Because when horses wear properly sized bits they find comfortable the horses are much better rides for me.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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