My Third Lesson in a Row

Yes, I lucked out again, and I got a riding lesson.

I got to the stable a little early on Wednesday, MJ was in the wash stall and Debbie was busy in the back of the barn so I started grooming him. Due to the pandemic I have not gotten to groom MJ much at all so I was not familiar with all his quirks.

MJ does not like thorough currying. HandsOn gloves? He cringes away and “says” NO!!!! I do not dare try another curry comb with hard rubber. I looked through my grooming tool bag and came up with the Retriever Palm Grooming Glove that I found at the Tractor Supply Company store in the dog section, this glove is really made for bathing dogs but it also works well dry as a horse currying tool. This went over better but MJ made it perfectly clear (by jigging around in the cross-ties) that I could only use it on him GENTLY which meant I could not get aggressive on the patches of dried mud. I went back to my grooming bag and took out my Rainbow Mane and Tail Paddle Brush and finally I found something that MJ could stand to get the dried mud off. MJ is a chestnut QH gelding but he was acting like a chestnut Thoroughbred mare, notoriously the most sensitive equine of all. Could he be so darn sensitive now because his coat is starting to shed?

I got MJ curried, somewhat, and then Debbie appeared and took over grooming him. I just stood back a good distance and let her do his body while I got his head. Luckily I had previously found a grooming tool he actually LIKES on his head (the Kong cat grooming tool) so I did not have any problems there.

Debbie tacked him up. Before she bridled him she told me that MJ has lately been giving them problems with bridling, first he found a previously acceptable bit unbearable (titanium coated 20mm single jointed snaffle) then the same with the next two bits they tried. She told me that when she finally got a horse dental specialist to do his mouth the MJ is missing some teeth and that she really NEEDED to get a equine dental speculum of her own so she would not have to set up an appointment with her veterinarian just to look inside his mouth. The horse dentist had told her to never do the old fashioned method of grabbing the tongue and pulling it out of the mouth because there are important nerves in the tongue and it is very sensitive. So I went on line and found speculums through Amazon that were a good deal cheaper than the veterinary grade speculums that get used a lot. There are also equine dental speculums made for ponies which are smaller.

Debbie finally got MJ to open his mouth for the bits (double bridle, yeah!) and we went down to the ring. The weeks without much riding have left me unbalanced and I had to walk very carefully to get to the ring. I finally crawled up onto his back and MJ reverted to the calm horse I remembered from months ago.

When I started my ride MJ's back and loins felt sensitive. Debbie told me they had used him for lessons. I was so glad that I could put my Fenwick Western saddle pad that covers the loin on him, plus the BOT exercise sheet for his croup. At least moving around his muscles can get comfortably warm and relax somewhat. I got myself into my half-seat so he would not have to deal with my seat bones, used my lower legs to encourage extending some, and his back finally started “swinging”. Then I did some turns in place. I thought about backing up but his back had been so stiff I decided not too, and Debbie agreed since his back always seems to stiffen up after I back him up.

Then I trotted. Even though I felt really wonky physically I was able to trot three times as long as usual, then I remembered I wanted to do a change of direction at the trot so we trotted some more. Debbie praised my change of direction, how I turned my head first with my shoulders following it which got the rest of my body in the proper position to help MJ through the turn. I made good and sure to have my lower legs ready for when he wanted to slow down, because after all the bit had moved in his mouth, that MUST mean I want him to slow down—uh, no MJ, you need to go on trotting.

After that I was just too tired to do much more, and anyway my thirty minutes were up.

Over the last few rides I have been playing with doing a leg yield, with less than satisfactory results. So I hit my equitation books, and I remembered one, “The Art of Training” by Hans von Blixen-Finecke who got trained in the Swedish Army Equitation School, becoming the Commandant there and competing in Sweden and internationally. By the time he wrote this book he had been training horses and riders for 60 years, so he had a lot of experience! He has a slightly different way of giving aids with the lower legs than the method I had learned, he names two “buttons”, the hind leg button maybe an inch or two behind the girth and the foreleg button with the leg right on the girth, just a few inches difference, with the leg resting in between these “buttons” right behind the girth for the driving/restraining leg aids.

I had gotten this book years ago, but with my MS I could not really figure out how to tell where my feet were in relation to his side, and besides my lower leg seemed to be permanently too far back. Then I reread Chamberlin's book and figured out that I needed to keep some tension in my rectus femoris muscle on the front of my thigh, and that enabled me to keep my feet and lower legs where they belonged for proper riding. Right now I am thinking that if I use just a little bit more tension in this muscle that my foot would get far enough forward to his the foreleg button, then I could relax the muscle to get my foot back into the neutral position. I hope this method would not leave me guessing where my foot hits the horse's side. Maybe this would work better for me, and I am thinking about trying it my next ride. What I am doing now, using my leg at the neutral position, ends up with a very crooked leg yield even though MJ does cross his legs. I'll let you all know if this works though it may take a while for me to get coordinated enough to teach MJ this “new” method of signaling.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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