One Day Better, One Day Worse

Last Sunday it started off cold, but then Shannon was late picking me up so it was warmer when I rode Cider.

When we got to Shannon's horses' stable yard Cider was happily standing, untied, with all her Fenwick and BOT neck and rump rugs draped over her. In the confusion of getting everything put on the top of her body all three of us forgot about Cider's pastern wraps, leg wraps and BOT exercise boots. She did have two butt blankets (BOT and wool) on, the BOT saddle pad, the BOT and Fenwick head gear and the BOT neck rug on her so she was not cold in the breeze. Cider seemed quite happy with all of this.

I did not notice about the boots until just before I mounted, my bad. I decided that it would be OK just so we could see if these various boots/leg wraps had helped Cider for the long term. I had not ridden Cider the previous weekend so she came into the ride with two weeks of not wearing any therapeutic items, so we could see if using the boots for my rides had any long lasting effects.

It was wonderful. Cider did not flinch, not even down-slope and over the more broken ground, where she felt a little bit uncertain but did not flinch with pain. When I asked her to lengthen out her walking stride some she gave me a tiny bit. When I asked for just a little bit more she broke into a trot. She did not bob her head at all though Shannon told me she “stabbed” the ground with her front feet, Cider's sign of discomfort that comes before the head bobbing. I did not feel any flinching.

After six strides we transitioned down into the walk, and there was no flinching. After a few minutes I asked her to extend her walk again and this time she gave me much more, still with no flinching. This really encourages me, obviously all the bother of putting on the pastern, leg wraps and the exercise boots over several months PAID OFF! This is the first bare legged non-flinching walks and trot that I have had for many, many years. Of course tomorrow I will make sure we put all of Cider's lower leg gear on before my ride as there is no point in risking discomfort by trying to “advance” too rapidly just to try and prove something. Besides, they keep her lower legs warm in the cold winds.

When I got to the stable for my lesson on Wednesday I learned MJ had some minor problems. The farrier had put a nail too close to a sensitive area in his right front hoof during his last shoeing, and he had started head-bobbing at the trot in the lessons. The farrier did remove the offending nail. Then MJ came in on Wednesday with a scabbed over scrape on the middle outside of his right hind cannon bone. Poor guy, hurting on two legs on the same side. Of course we mostly walked.

MJ did not flinch at all, even when Debbie asked me for a short trot. During the trot I could tell he was lame through the reins because he was bobbing his head. The good thing that there was no flinching that could indicate the beginning of an infection in his hoof. That was it for trotting.

Back at MJ's normal walking speed there were no problems, but when I asked him to extend his stride there was no response, and I could tell that no matter how much I asked him with my lower legs, spur, or making noise with my riding crop, I would not get a willing, happy extension of the walk from MJ that day. MJ was willingly giving me what he felt comfortable giving me, and if it was not “enough” for me MJ just did not care. That is fine, I'd just rather the horse not hurt himself because I demanded too much when I should have known better.

So I just walked, and I kept the walk busy by doing turns in place and wandering around the jumps, doing a deep curve in one direction, going straight a stride or two, the doing another deep curve around a jump in the other direction. When MJ did particularly well I sent him to Debbie for praise since he was doing well in spite of his feet/legs not feeling just right.

Debbie and I talked about the Haas brushes I lent her. Her “problem child” Tercel, normally an anxious, prancing, sidling basket case throwing in plenty of dirty looks and “watch it lady” comments while being groomed, turned into a placid horse who never moved a foot when she groomed him with the Haas Lipizzaner and the Haas Grundy's Finest brushes. This is a first, Tercel has NEVER stood placidly for a grooming, and I think he is over twenty years old. We had sort of figured that this was a deeply ingrained habit, only fixable with great patience and grooming him with a very light touch.

It took only ONE session with the two Haas brushes to break a habit that has lasted for almost two decades. Debbie believes in getting her horses CLEAN, so she tends to lean on the brushes just like I do, so these results were not from a super light touch. Debbie is very, very happy with her results!

I think that the Haas brushes may be the final key to my philosophy of getting the horse I ride happy with the whole procedure. I have spent a good deal of money on my saddle, the BOT, SmartTherapy and Fenwick “clothes” for the horse, even more money experimenting with oodles of bits until the horses “told” me it was titanium bits or nothing, my BOT saddle pad, the shims for the saddle pad, and listening to each and every objection of the horse, but even so the horses were not exactly happy being groomed, especially the super sensitive ones like MJ and Tercel. I had gotten everything “fixed” except for the grooming, now with the Haas brushes I might have finally gotten the answer as to how I could get a resistant horse to actually enjoy being groomed.

And I am eager to see if getting the horse to enjoy his grooming is the missing key to getting the horses I ride to actually look forward to me riding them. Don't get me wrong, the horses greatly appreciate their therapeutic “clothes” and other gear and their comfortable tack, but there was always this disgruntled attitude going into our rides due to the fact that for some horses many brushes are simply instruments of torment, irritating the horse unbearably and the bad effects last my whole ride.

It is so worthwhile to get the horse feeling comfortable being ridden. The horses relax, they feel much more cooperative, and it gets them to thinking that being handled and ridden is actually FUN. It is almost like up-grading your horse, a happy horse is more apt to be a superior riding horse than an uncomfortable and/or resentful horse. The horse is happy, I am safer, my riding teacher likes seeing her lesson horse being happy, and the whole Universe improves!

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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